Over the last 18 months I’ve been in more planes, trains and automobiles than I can count and in that time, by my rough reckoning, I’ve spent at least one night in each of 12 different countries. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have had so many amazing travel opportunities and experiences. Travelling well and easily is not something that comes naturally to all of us (packing is still something I can improve on), but there are quite a few tricks to learn that can make any journey just that little bit easier. I’m no expert, so I won’t claim this list is definitive, but I figure I have a few runs on the board so am qualified to share some of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. Buy luggage with wheels. If you have old luggage lying around that you think will do – think again. There have been great leaps forward in the field of luggage design, making it much lighter and easier to use. You can usually pick up half-way decent brands on special all year round and I’d suggest going for bags with four wheels, rather than just two. These can just be steered through airports, rather than having to drag them along behind you and lighter pieces can be balanced on on top of another. I’ve invested in wheeled cabin baggage now too and my back and shoulders thank me for it.
2. Do some homework. If you are like me, you probably didn’t get around to taking that conversational Bulgarian language course before touching down in sunny Sofia. However, it is well worth spending half an hour on the plane working out how to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you” in the language of your destination. Most places expect little of their tourists in the way of local linguistics, but everyone appreciates the fact that you’ve made an effort with what is basically a display of good manners.
3. Make sure you always carry a map or card with the address of your hotel. Taxi drivers are usually local experts, but can’t be expected to always know everything – even though many think they do. So that gorgeous little back-streets boutique hotel you discovered online might be something of a local secret too and impossible to find after a day of sightseeing. I learned this lesson the hard way after a heated one-way discussion in Turkish with a harried cabbie in the narrow lanes of the old town of Istanbul.
4. Pack a selection of different sized plastic bags. These will take up no space or weight at all and will come in very handy for those smelly sneakers after a hard day on foot or that bottle of shampoo with the dodgy lid.
5. Divide your cash and ATM cards and store them separately. Carrying everything together is just asking for trouble. I always split my cash into three separate lots so if my wallet is lost or stolen I have a plan B. Unlike my son when he went on his first solo international trip. Just saying.
6. Make copies of your passport and tickets. This is simple common sense and can save a world of pain. I copy both and send them to a friend or family member who I know I can contact at any time. Other alternatives are to send copies to Dropbox or something similar.
7. Buy some little plastic bottles. Big bottles of shampoo and conditioner take up a lot of weight, but I have curly hair and don’t like to switch brands. I bought a selection of small, cheapo plastic bottles and decant hair products and cleanser into them whenever I travel.
8. Buy travel insurance. After my disastrous experience in Italy at Christmas time I can’t stress just how important this is (or how expensive a Harley Street surgeon is, for that matter). Just do it.
9. Keep a change of clothes or underwear, at the very least, in your carry on luggage. You know all those stories of lost or delayed luggage? Well they happen and, if you travel enough, one day it will happen to you. You will cope much better with the hassle if you know you have clean knickers to rely on, trust me on this.
10. Never, ever forget to pack your curiosity and joy. Travel is one of the most gratifying experiences you will have. Prepare yourself well for it, then expect the unexpected. Learn how to haggle, eat where the locals eat, visit local markets and supermarkets, ask questions of the locals and embrace the whole adventure. It all makes for the most wonderful memories – yes, even if it is a memory of the ambulance attendants in Pisa trying to communicate with my husband by using Google Translate on their smart-phones!