It’s easier than ever these days to hop on an aeroplane and jet off somewhere for an exciting break from normal life. Destinations such as Barcelona, Rome and Paris are but a short flight away, offering fantastic culture, extraordinary history and an altogether different atmosphere. But while international air travel has become more accessible, that doesn’t mean you can book your flight and just skip off to the airport. Preparation is key, whether you’re on your way to a beach pad in Benidorm or flying to London for a night on the town.
So what are those all-essential items that you can’t do without? We take a look at some of the most innovative packing aids on the market these days.
We’ll start with the obvious. If you don’t already have a suitcase, then you need to put serious thought into the one you acquire. Think about what you want from it. Will you be carrying it for long distances? If so, wheels are essential. Do you want to avoid putting it in the cargo hold of the plane? Then it’s important to check the dimensions. Are you a light packer? A heavy loader? Would you prefer a case with lots of little pockets as opposed to one large compartment? These are all important considerations. there is still one absolute characteristic your case should possess. It should be sturdy and able to protect what it contains – polycarbonate is a good option and is very light as well.
Coming off the back of the above point, a luggage scale can be really useful if you want to avoid those pesky airline fees. Pretty much all of the companies have some sort of limit on luggage going in the hold or in the cabin, and some are more generous. If you can work out how much your bag weighs before heading to the airport, you can avoid the embarrassment of putting your underwear on display as you desperately shuffle everything around in a bid to cheat the scales. Domestic-use scales are widely available and extremely useful for travellers who are prone to taking more than they should.
Toiletry pouch and 100ml containers
We’re all familiar with the pain of airport security. Will they want you to take your shoes off? Why do you have to take your laptop out? Will your trousers fall down when you take your belt off? It’s a metaphorical minefield and the rules seem mad and inconsistently enforced. But don’t complain – the people carrying out the checks are notoriously touchy!
For those who don’t know, if you’re planning on taking toiletries into the cabin, they need to be in volumes of just 100 millimetres and in a clear plastic bag, removed from your hand-luggage and sent through the scanner separately. Although the airports generally provide a fancy selection of flimsy plastic bags, the prepared traveller will always opt for their own one, since it’s one less thing to worry about at the airport. Little 100ml bottles are also useful – everyone knows that buying toiletries in large quantities is better value, and you can avoid shelling out extra for smaller ones if you simply decant your snazzy dragon fruit-flavoured shower gel into a smaller container. Nice one.
The bulk of what you’re going to be packing is likely to be clothes, so we should look over these in some detail. Of course, you know your wardrobe best, but the key word here is practicality. Underwear should be among the first objects to go in. For city breaks, you want to look trendy – one or two pairs of skinny jeans generally do the trick. Even if you’re confident of warm weather where you’re going, take a cardigan or two for in the evenings or in case of a cloudy day (they do happen on the continent!) and waterproof shoes are also advisable. Beachwear if you’re going to the beach is an obvious essential, but jewellery can be a little more tricky. Wearing too much is asking for trouble and you don’t want to lose any of your favourite choices while travelling around. When it comes to shoes, comfort should definitely be a factor. And finally, a scarf is a necessity in all countries, even warm ones. They can be immensely useful for covering the shoulders in
sensitive buildings, or you can use them as a pillow, or a blanket. Obviously, Douglas Adams never heard of scarves or he would have chosen them as the most useful object in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
Where would we be without our beloved gadgets? Kindles, phones, tablets, MP3 players – they all make travel that little bit easier by providing us with entertainment, apps or maps and while you’re not likely to forget the devices themselves, it’s worth keeping the following in mind.
Firstly, have you packed your chargers? Nothing is more frustrating than putting your phone on to charge the night before you fly, then hastily picking the device up in the morning and forgetting the damn charger. Adapters are also one of those things that simply escape the mind – you’ve likely brought them on past trips so be sure to root around in the drawers for them before you leave. Also on the charger front – smartphones are notorious for running out of battery at exactly the time when you need to download a crucial map or address. So take our advice and get hold of a portable battery.
You thought we’d dealt with toiletries above didn’t you? Well, HA! We tricked you! Besides working out the best way to store the blasted things without ending up with a bag smothered in toothpaste, you need to decide which are the essentials. Of course, your own bathroom rituals are sacred to you and you alone – we’re not here to boss anyone around. But if there’s one aspect you shouldn’t skimp on, it’s skin care. Your skin – face and hands in particular – is subjected to the harsh realities of a new environment, be it the freezing air of Vienna in the depths of winter or the moisture-free warmth of Tenerife in August. Either way, it’s pretty punishing and moisturiser is simply a must. If you have a particularly severe skin condition, remember that the more advanced creams and products can be significantly more expensive in other countries.
Then there are those essentials that don’t really fit into a specific category. First on the list should be your survival kit. This doesn’t have to be particularly dramatic – there’s no need to pack a rope ladder and grapnel, for example. But when you have a thumping headache or a nasty cut, you’ll be glad of having paracetamol or bandages to hand rather than having to race around in search of the nearest pharmacy.