TOP TRAVEL TIPS – FOR PACKING LIGHT
CABIN OR CHECK-IN?
Cabin bag. You don’t risk an airline losing your luggage or have painful waits for baggage to appear on the carousel. Cabin bags are less likely to be tampered with or damaged too. Downside is that if you’re in a big airport you can end up having to heft your bag miles from the lounge to the gate.
You can eek out a week on what you’d pack for a weekend, if you're very careful about clothes combinations (see below). And what lasts a week can last much longer if you have access to laundry. Shoes are the usual bag buster. That all-round shoe: comfortable, easy to walk in but presentable is hard to find. Ballet flats for woman and dressy flip-flops or wedges are good all-rounders, both easy to wear and pack. Shoes are a bit easier for gents.
Pack clothes that don’t crease or are meant to look creased. Squish these items or undies into all the nooks and crannies around bulkier items. Wrap them around anything breakable or sharp. Use plastic bags around shoes or leaky items – these double as laundry bags on return. Put things you’ll need first (toothbrush, swim togs) within easy reach. Pack a thin fold-away bag if you’re going to shop while away.
Lave time to decant toiletries into smaller bottles. Lay clothes out somewhere a couple of days before departure and come back to the pile, taking things away – rather than adding to it. Be brutal – you will rarely regret it. Try to pack lots of clothes that go together and can mix and match; easier if you stick to a few complimenting colours. Don’t skimp on undies. A fresh pair of undies can make all the difference to a day/evening and it’s impractical to wash them out in a sink if you’re only away for a couple of nights.
Go easy on the potions and lotions. They’re bulky and if you’re travelling with a carry on bag, in most airports you’ll still be expected to get all liquids into a small plastic bag. Buy what you need airside at the airport or at your destination. Most hotels have hair dryers/irons and many will have UK adapters if you find yourself stuck. For a short trip, take a phone fully charged and turn it off at night/unless you’re using it – saves on cables and travel plugs. The alarm clock will still work with the phone turned off.
Ditch chunky jumpers and pack thin layers – they’re more thermal efficient and fold down smaller. Wraps/shawls double up as blankets on chilly planes. A sarong is another good multi-tasker, even for men. It works as a wrap, beach towel (much lighter/thinner) and also as a dressing gown or even a bed sheet if your hotel’s are suspect.
Limits to the amount and size of liquids you can take on board varies with each airport – even within Europe. So make sure you can fit everything in a small clear plastic bag – a small freezer bag size – and only take bottles under 100mls. UK airports certainly enforce this.
Unless you’re doing something intrepid and need a backpack, get a wheelie bag – but go for a soft bag, as opposed to a hard cased one, as these can be more easily crammed into luggage racks and are generally lighter. It’s a waste of time paying too much for luggage. Even the most expensive bags aren’t immortal and those bullet-proof, lightweight bags usually cost silly money. You could pay for a flight somewhere with sort of cash. If you’re allowed two cabin bags, take a small backpack. It allows you to be hands-free, makes the heavy stuff easier to bear and can serve as a day bag at your destination.
The Department for Transport no longer sets a maximum size for items of hand baggage. So always check allowances with your airline before you travel. Airlines may also have their own rules about the number of bags you can carry on the aircraft. Ryanair, for example, only allows one bag and this has to include any laptop bags or handbags. And their size limit is more meagre than most: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Standard IATA (International Air Transport Association) hand baggage allowance (followed by easyJet and British Airways and others) is 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. Weight is an issue too. You may be able to cram it into a small bag but go over 10kilos and many airlines in Europe will issue a hefty fine.
The bulk packer is happier aboard a coach, train or ferry but allowance still depend on how you’re travelling. Eurostar, for example has no weight restriction and allows two medium-sized items on board, plus one small item of hand luggage per person. Eurotunnel has no restrictions, ditto ex-UK ferries. Coach operators differ. National Express allows a maximum of two medium sized suitcases weighing no more than 20kg and one piece of hand luggage per person. Hand luggage must be capable of fitting in luggage racks or under seats so has to be pretty modestly-sized. UK coach holiday operator, Shearings, allows one “medium sized” suitcase, not over 18kgs.
There’s little besides medication that you can’t get abroad nowadays: disposable nappies and formula milk, even books. Major cities and big airports sell English language books and plenty of hotels or self-catering properties have “libraries” these days. It’s quite fun to take pot-luck on what you read, gets you out of habits. If you’re going somewhere in the developing world, how about packing a present? Wildlife presenter, Kate Humble has just launched the website: www.stuffyourrucksack.com, which details specific things needed in different countries – either by poor communities or local charities. Could be as simple as a pack of pens or toothbrushes.
Try to avoid taking expensive stuff but whatever you pack, never travel without that invisible essential: travel insurance, even if you only travel with hand luggage. You can get comprehensive cover so cheaply nowadays it’s a false economy to do without it but a surprising percentage of holidaymakers do.
Some of the stranger things left behind by holiday-makers work as good guides for the light-packer. Travelodge maintains it’s had a pet lizard, a life-size cut out of comedian Lenny Henry and a show-jumping horse left behind by guests. Manchester International Airport has reported finding a passenger trying to conceal a chainsaw in a bag and another passenger, a flat pack kitchen. And there was a report last year of a bag found at Edinburgh’s Waverly station containing a dead octopus. So no matter how much you pack, use these items as an over-packing benchmark and you’ll be footloose a baggage-free.
Travel tips from freelance travel writer, Sarah Barrell
Bringing you the funny bits from the last week on BBC Radio Scotland.