10 Packing Essentials I Simply Can’t Travel Without
“When you figure out your suitcase, you figure out your life.” – Diane von Furstenberg.
Along with all the joys of travelling as much as possible, comes the inevitable chore of a lot of packing and unpacking. Sometimes I do actually enjoy packing and it can get me in the mood for my trip, but invariably it ends up being a last minute rush of throwing things at random into a bag, meaning I often play a game of ‘Lucky Dip’ when unpacking at my destination. Throughout my teens I spent pretty much every other weekend travelling between my mother’s house and my father’s house, so packing became a very regular ritual and is something I most definitely do not remember fondly.
But years and years of practice, and plenty of travelling, means I can now pack almost on auto-pilot. It’s a handy skill for a traveller and it all starts with one of my beloved lists. (I adore my to-do lists, and the thought of deleting one by accident strikes fear into my heart!) So here’s my packing list of travel essentials.
1. Passport and tickets/reservations
I have never lost a passport, thank goodness, and I keep my well-used and much-stamped one in my gorgeous Turquoise Lizard Aspinal of London passport holder (here’s their whole collection) along with all my boarding passes & hotel reservations, etc. in a Cath Kidson travel wallet I was given by my housemate in London. The Aspinal’s holder costs £35 (and the full set with matching wallet and luggage tags is £150) but I consider my passport to be my most valuable possession (read my blog post about why) so it deserves to be guarded safely in a smart leather holder.
2. Travel Insurance & EHIC card
I’m still not sure why anyone travels without travel insurance – it’s so cheap and has come in handy on so many occasions. Now that I’m working, I buy annual worldwide insurance including off-piste winter sports, covering every eventuality, and then I can just forget about it until the following year when I renew it. I pack the policy number & the contact details of my insurance company safely inside my travel wallet. My EHIC card is another essential which is free for all EU citizens and allows free healthcare anywhere in the EU.
I mainly use two suitcases: one light, hand luggage-sized Samsonite for weekends away and budget airlines, and another larger, light, white polypropylene shell four-wheeled Antler suitcase that I use for longer trips (and occasional weekends when I’m being indecisive about which clothes to take). Both are lockable with a padlock and really easy to move around with. My Antler suitcase is a recent addition which I debuted on a weekend away in Bath and which I reviewed in this blog post.
As well as an iPhone and iPod I also take a really lightweight, small laptop with me. I must be the only travel blogger in the world to not have an iPad! Camera-wise I recently bought myself a Panasonic Lumix G5, a slightly smaller version of a DSLR, and I occasionally take along my GoPro too, although I really need to buy some accessories for it. Chargers & adapters for everything all go into one little pouch. When staying in one place for a while I just take one adaptor and an extension plug so I can charge up multiple devices.
5. iPhone Apps
- Calculating currency: XE Currency
- Maps & public transport: Google Maps
- Translations: Word Reference or Word Lens
- Flights: Skyscanner and British Airways (and others, most big airlines have their own app for mobile boarding passes)
- Digital postcards: Postagram Postcards
- City Guides: LUXE City Guides or TripAdvisor Offline City Guides
- Skiing: Ski Club Snow Reports and Ski Tracks
6. Toiletries & Medicine
Even if I’m checking in hold baggage, I still only travel with miniature toiletries under 100ml, to save on weight and space. On holiday with a group of friends we buy one bottle of shampoo, one of conditioner & one of shower gel once we get to the country and we all just share. Medicine-wise, I have a standard pouch of painkillers, anti-histamines and multivitamins, and if I’m taking a long-haul flight then I’ll take some sleeping pills for the journey. Sleeping upright is not my forte so an inflatable pillow and eye mask to block out the light are also essentials.
A friend recently told me about Metro Bank, whose current account offers free withdrawals and purchases within the European Union. They only have branches in and around London unfortunately, but it’s fantastic while I’m out in Madrid. Outside of the EU I get all my currency in advance from the Post Office, up to a maximum of £500, and if I need more then I withdraw directly from a cashpoint. To avoid fraud I never pay on card in shops/restaurants. I also have a second wallet for foreign currency, so I don’t mix up my coins.
8. Guidebooks & Insider Tips
I have three main sources of info for a trip. (1) A guidebook with pull-out map from the library – if I’m only visiting the destination once then I don’t see the point in buying a book. (2) Other travel blogs and articles online, which I copy & paste all into one offline doc to read on the plane. (3) Friends’ and readers’ tips. If I know someone who’s visited or lived in the destination then I’ll beg them for insider suggestions and authentic places a guidebook would never have told me about. I’ve also started asking for tips on my Twitter (@VStuartTaylor) and my Facebook Page, as well as here on my blog, as you lot reading my blog are a pretty worldly bunch with a similar travel-addicted mindset as me!
A lot of the places I visit aren’t ‘fly and flop’ – they’re not a-beach-and-a-book type holidays. Having said that, whenever I’ve sailed around the Mediterranean (Italy and Croatia in 2009, Greece in 2012, Turkey in 2013) I always manage to consume a startling number of novels. I love novels set abroad (see my two reviews here and here of Victoria Hislop’s books set in Spain & Greece) and novels written by Italian, Spanish or South American authors. I studied literature as part of my Modern Languages degree and I have an ever-growing reading list of novels. I try to begin reading a book set in my destination a few weeks before my trip, so the surroundings can add colour and context to the plot. If you’re wondering what to read on your next trip then take a look at ‘What’s On My Bookshelf‘ where I’ve listed by country many of the books I love. I don’t actually have a Kindle but if I did then without a doubt that would be on this list too!
Here’s an easy rule to live by: put all the clothes you’d like to take with you on your bed, take a good look at the pile, and then put half of it back in the wardrobe. You’ll never wear it all.