A friend’s husband once turned up for a two-week holiday in Bali with a giant suitcase straining at the seams.
Among its myriad contents unpacked in the hotel room, she was amazed to discover no fewer than three pairs of sunglasses, three suits, a hairdryer, one pair of underpants and no socks at all.
With baggage weight limits now being reduced by many airlines, and so much charged for anything extra, it’s become more important than ever to pack wisely, and to travel as lightly as possible.
If your suitcase or bag is more than eight years old, the first trip you should take is to check out more modern luggage. The latest fabrics and plastics are much lighter, more durable and far easier to wheel or to carry than they’ve ever been. Many include good ideas for better packing, with separate compartments, expandable sides, strong zippers, easy-to-manoeuvre wheels and longer handles.
“Any bag should be well-designed, and strong enough for what you want it for,” says Jenny Cusick, director of travel stores Lightweight Traveller (lwtraveller.com). “Wheels should be wide enough apart for good balance and have good clearance from the ground, or the strap should be sturdy and comfortable for carrying.”
Aim for both stylish and functional luggage, bearing in mind what you’ll use it most for. Would a soft holdall that can be squashed into the boot of a car, for instance, be more useful than a rigid case? Also bear in mind the size, especially for carry-on bags. A good short-trip travel bag should always be within the size limits set by airlines for cabin baggage, either a total dimension of 105cm for domestic travel on, say, Qantas, or 115cm for an overseas business trip.
2. TAKE A SMALL DAY-BAG TOO
A lightweight smaller bag is also a necessity, either a little shoulder day-pack or a bag with a strap that can be worn across the body, for going out at your destination. Avoid a bag with wheels as this will limit where you’ll be able to walk – up and down stairs or across cobblestones – and can quickly become a nuisance.
Check the climate of your destination, and choose your clothing accordingly. Pack a careful array of mix-and-match items that can all be worn with each other, in easy wash and drip-dry fabrics, that don’t need ironing. Also consider investing in a couple of tops made of lightweight superfine merino wool (hedrena.com.au) that wicks away moisture and resists odour so they can be worn again and again without washing.
Roll clothes instead of folding to take up less room and end up less creased. Even if you have a garment that needs an iron, most hotels will supply one. If they don’t, either hang the item in a steamy bathroom or dampen it and then smooth it out and dry with a hairdryer which will have exactly the same effect.
Stuff small items, like socks, into shoes, to make the most of space and, if you’re going away for a while and really do need a lot of clothes for all weathers, consider buying a compression bag, either an automatic one, or one that works off a vacuum cleaner, to suck out all the air before putting into a suitcase.
Always include a sarong, which can become a versatile shawl/skirt/dress/cover-up depending on how it’s tied, and don’t worry about running out of clothes as there are always laundry facilities, or someone willing to do it for you (always good to help the local economy!). And, of course, what better excuse will there ever be to go shopping?
Take enough for a seven-day trip; anything more, be prepared to do some laundry yourself, or have someone do it for you. If the former, take travel company Sea to Summit’s (seatosummit.com.au) Pocket Laundry Wash – a small flip top pack containing thin leaves of eco-friendly, biodegradable soap.
There’ve been plenty of experiments with disposable underwear over the years, but it’s an expensive, often uncomfortable, and environmentally wasteful way to go. In addition, the blueprint for responsible travel of leaving only footprints, memories and a boost for the local economy, says nothing about dirty knickers.
Depending on the type of holiday you’re taking, wear the good pair of walking shoes on the plane to avoid having to pack and carry them, and take a casual pair of shoes, a smart pair and trainers plus thongs or Crocs for the beach.
Shoes can take up a lot of space so try to minimise the number of pairs. Make sure the ones you bring are comfortable and sturdy enough for plenty of strolls, and never bring new shoes you haven’t yet worn in, especially if they’re intended for walking. Words can never adequately describe the pain of walking Australia’s Larapinta Trail in brand new walking boots. And I speak from miserable, and ineffably stupid, experience.
Leave all heavy glass bottles at home. Decant your favourite shampoo, conditioner and any face and skin lotions into small plastic travel bottles and buy a sample size of toothpaste, and put all of them into a clear, resealable plastic pouch. Count out the number of pills or vitamins necessary for your time away, and put them into small empty plastic tubs.
Avoid the temptation to take tablets in case of constipation, loose bowels, stomach ache, dysentery, cream for bites and rashes, Band-Aids of all shapes and sizes, and a selection of bandages. Unless the final destination is in the middle of Antarctica, anything needed can be bought from a local pharmacy. And don’t forget the one, definite essential: travel insurance.
Technology has freed us these days from taking piles of airport paperbacks to read. Now a lightweight tablet or Kindle can be pre-loaded with any number of heavyweight tomes, although don’t forget the charger. Hopefully that will power up all the rest of your devices, too, or otherwise invest in a universal charger and cable that can keep everything fired up via the tablet. Make sure your phone is pre-loaded with the Skype app too (skype.com) for cheap, or free, calls.
A small torch or a head-torch can prove invaluable on any trips that involve some camping, night-walks, glow worm caves or where you might want to read at night without disturbing a partner. Ear plugs can also prove invaluable.
Leave the hairdryer at home and even if there’s not one at your destination, go au naturelle, or visit a local hairdresser for what, at best, might be a really fun experience and, at worst, open your eyes to how bad your hair could look. Ditch also the eyelash curler, hair straightener and portable Nespresso coffee machine. The whole point of getting away from it all, is just that.
Emergency baked beans a la Shane Warne are out, but if you have certain dietary needs, either check that they’ll be available at your destination or pack some to take with you, bearing in mind that certain foodstuffs are not permitted to cross borders.
A small jar of decaf coffee or a packet of herbal teas, for example, are a survival essential for me, while for others that might be a bottle of duty-free wine or vodka.
If you’re going hiking, trail-mix for emergencies might be useful, or travel guides loaded on to a tablet to point you in the direction of great cafes and food stores. For bushwalking and camping out, a few packets of dehydrated food could be useful, and wraps which are much lighter than bread for bushwalking.
And however much the idea might appeal when you’re packing at home to plan to lose weight on holiday by not eating enough – unless you’re going to a health retreat – never works. Never.
9. HOW TO DRESS FOR TRAVEL
If you’re travelling by plane and hoping for an upgrade, men should always wear a collar with a shirt and have a smart jacket handy. Women should equally look smart, with shoes rather than trainers. Only those expecting to be met by a posse of paparazzi at their destination should wear heels and plenty of eye make-up.
For any other travel, comfort is king, with loose clothing, shoes that can be easily untied or slipped off, and a casual jacket, wrap or Pashmina to help if the temperature drops. If it’s a long flight, put on compression socks too. On an airline that has a strict low baggage limit, wear a travel jacket with big pockets. It’s amazing how much you can carry on your person.
10. AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS …
Shop! It’s one of the true, enduring delights of travel: shopping in an unfamiliar place for items you need or might like, in shops you may not know, among items you don’t recognise and along with locals you’d like to meet. You can always pretend you meant to do that all along.