Packing tips from someone who learnt the hard way
1995. The end of a six week holiday in Peru, my first big trip. I’d been completely clueless when it came to packing, wondering how I’d fit six weeks’ worth of clothes into my suitcase (did I even have six weeks’ worth of clothes?) and trying to check in at the airport with the entire stock of Arequipa’s souvenir vendors. It took a lot of begging but I somehow managed to avoid excess baggage charges despite the fact that I couldn’t even lift my suitcase onto the weighing scales. I was then the kind of traveller I laugh at now. How easy it is to forget.
1997. I’d downsized my suitcase, though not by much, and figured a lightweight trolley would help me drag it around Morocco. The dust, potholes and uneven surfaces took their toll and once again I was heaving half my worldly goods on and off trains in the August heat. It was uncomfortable, ineffective and something had to change. A backpack was out as I could never trust my dodgy back to cope, and a little hard-sided wheelie became my saviour and trusty travelling companion for over a decade, only to be replaced when its lightweight sibling hit the market. I’ve never looked back.
Fitting my stuff into a tiny wheelie has taken practice, but I reckon now I’ve got it down to a fine art. Here’s my top tips.
Take as few clothes as you can get away with
It’s never very far to a laundry. Look for one that operates by weight rather than by individual item and avoid hotel laundries like the plague. Alternatively, pack a couple of washing capsules in a small plastic tub and do it yourself in a self-service laundrette. You’ll meet local people and who knows where that might lead?
Pack things that work together
Take clothes that don’t need ironing and roll them as you pack them to avoid any creases. Make sure everything goes together and never take something just in case you might need it – you won’t. Don’t forget a swimsuit and flip flops. Forget about a hair drier or straighteners. You’re on holiday, who cares?
Wear the heavy stuff
Hiking boots are bulky and heavy. They’ll take up way too much space in your suitcase so if you need them, travel in them. Ditto a thick fleece or coat; if you don’t need it in your plane/train/automobile you can fold it up and use it as a pillow. Ignore anyone who says you can do that with a sarong. They’re just not thick enough to be any good.
Decant toiletries to travel sized containers
In terms of shampoo and the like, you’re really only taking emergency rations. Reasonable hotels and guest houses will provide toiletries anyway. If they don’t, you’re never far from a supermarket to go and buy some.
Take wipes instead of bottles
When it comes to insect repellent, take plenty. It’s not always possible to buy it and there’s nothing that spoils a good holiday faster than a leg full of itchy bites. Sprays are messy. Take individually-wrapped wipes instead and as your travels progress, you are making space for shopping. Don’t forget some wet wipes too to clean your hands afterwards, but again, choose the flat plastic packs not the rigid tubs.
Consider posting things home
A word of caution needed here, obviously. Don’t post anything you’d be devastated to lose and be prepared for things to take months to get home. I’ve successfully sent books from Cuba, a bulky throw from Turkey and even dirty laundry! No matter what the vendors say, though, breakable stuff will rarely be packed well enough to make the journey back unscathed.
Have you got a tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!