Hitting the Road or How I Survived The London Journey

I used to travel a great deal. During the 1990s, I traveled abroad almost once a year, mostly to Europe.  London was such a frequent spot, tourists there stop me for directions -and I can tell them.  One year averaged a trip once every three months (mostly in the US).  Ah, those were the days.

packed suitcase

When you travel that much, you tend to suss out the best way to pack and travel.  In 1991, I embarked on my first trip abroad on one of those 16 countries in 1o days tours, otherwise known as “blink and miss it.”  Seriously, I dozed for 5 minutes on the bus and missed Lichtenstein.  (Okay, maybe it was 12 countries in 10 day – my memory is fuzzy and this was pre-Twitter and Facebook).  In preparation, I bought an international suitcase, one of those humongous monsters to hold a new wardrobe.  Oh, I was a fashion plate with a new daily outfit complete with shoes and jewelry.  But it all made for a heavy suitcase at the beginning and an even heavier case at the end filled with souvenirs and dirty laundry.  It was a pain to roll over cobblestones and through narrow doorways.  That suitcase survived two trips.  After having to lug it up three flights of stairs, I swore never again.  Over the time, I acquired a to-do list for how to travel.  Here are a few tips.

Everything you’ll need should fit in a carry-on suitcase.  Yes, the kind you roll onto a plane.  How?

  • All your clothes should be neutral colors that are interchangeable. If one piece doesn’t go with everything, then discard it.  The material should be wrinkle-free and easy to roll.

packed sardines

  • A rolled article takes up less room than a folded one and can be packed more tightly.  You can roll underwear, bagged shoes and breakable souvenirs in the clothes if needed.
  • On my trip to London that was supposed to last seven days, I packed according to a formula: 7 days minus 2 days traveling, divided by 2 = how many outfits to pack.  Wear the same outfit coming and going; unless it’s a stinking mess, hang it up and let it air.  It should be ready for the return trip. Don’t wear the traveling outfit at any other time.  I recommend a cotton blend top and jeans; they are breathable, wrinkle-free and the best material should disaster strike.
  • So I on my seven day trip, I could take two or three whole outfits.  In a pinch you can take two for day and one for evening that can changed with scarves, jewelry etc.  Since I didn’t intend to dress, I opted for three outfits and and an extra pair of walking shoes.  Always take an extra pair and alternate them every day; your feet will thank you. Never pack shoes with no arch support like flats or ballet slippers.  If  I’d brought a dress, I would have selected not -new (already broken in) shoes with a comfortable heel and scuffed soles to prevent slipping on pavements.  Underwear and socks follow the same formula.  Ideally, I should wash my undies out in the sink at night but I can’t be bothered. So I took daily changes.
  • If you’re bringing a bulky coat, try to wear or carry it.
  • If traveling more than a week, take small packets of detergent and portable clothesline.  Fourteen changes of undies gets bulky; the whole idea is to economize on space. If you trip is 14 days or more, it’s time to start washing clothes.  There is usually some laundry facility in the hotel or nearby.  A carry-on bag can only hold so much even expanded. The most I’ve gotten into one is 5-7 outfits plus daily undies and two pairs of shoes.  On long trips bring a collapsible bag for those souvenirs and gifts you’ll want.
  • Bring a small toiletries bag with things you need in small travel bottles, not the bulky regular sizes.  Don’t worry about running out; most everything you need can be found at nearby store.
  • Bring several spare plastics bags for dirty and wet items and to separate out things.  You’ll be surprised when you need them.  Inquire if the room has an iron and dryer; they usually do.
  • If you have a high ick factor, bring plastic hair baggies you can put on your feet to shower.  Pack thin traveler’s slippers to avoid walking on carpet.
  • If you’re traveling abroad, don’t forget to bring the smallest, lightest plug adapters (and voltage changer if needed) you can find.  Remember, DO NOT USE A VOLTAGE CHANGER ON ELECTRONICS.  They have internal adapters; you’ll burn them out.
packed living in suitcase
  • Bring a tote bag big enough to carry a slim wallet, a collapsible umbrella, spare glasses, sun glasses, lipstick (leave the make-up kit in the toiletries bag) and other sundries you can’t do without.
  • Most importantly, buy a waist wallet you can wear under your clothes.  This should hold: a copy of the inside of your passport; a copy of your birth certificate; you driver’s license; any traveler’s checks; and temporarily unneeded cash and credit cards.  This will be a lifesaver should you lose the tote bag I told you bring. When my backpack was stolen in London years ago, my waist wallet helped get me a new passport in a matter of a few hours.
  • Lastly I’ve forgotten this every time, but in case of flying internationally and encountering a journey like my Rome adventure where my bag was AWOL for two days, pack in the tote bag a change of undies, a top and maybe a bottom if it will fit. Then while your suitcase journeys elsewhere, you can feel fresh while you wait.

So if you travel lightly and prepared, you have half the battle won.  May the travel karma be with you.



16 thoughts on “Hitting the Road or How I Survived The London Journey

  1. I’m printing this out for my husband, who is constitutionally incapable of travelling without a week’s worth of clothes for a four day trip. Drives me crazy.

  2. Excellent advice. I would suggest two changes/additions.

    For washing your clothes and yourself, if need be, you need camp soap. You can get it at Walmart. It is free rinsing so you do not have to worry about rinsing your clothes for half an hour so they are not stiff from detergent. You can also use it for dishes and yourself if you find yourself without soap. It is concentrated so a small bottle (4oz or less) should go a long way.

    The other thing I never leave home without is a shawl. You can use it for a blanket, roll it for back support, a neck scarf if it is cold where you are going and a shawl in case you end up some place with a draft. I read this on a travel website before my first trip to India and it has come in handy for every other trip I have taken. I just wear it onto the plane.

    And, on the trips to India, where I will not be getting too dressed up, I take thrift store or clothes that are past their prime and donate them to make room in my bag to bring things home.

    • Welcome Kathleen!

      Camp soap! Never thought of that before; good point about needing to rinse forever. The shawl is a great idea. I bought one of those fine woven thin blankets they sell at the airport and it occurred to me it could be used for many purposes. I’d love to visit India; thanks for the heads up about donating.

  3. When my backpack was stolen in London years ago, my waist wallet helped get me a new passport in a matter of a few hours.

    Also helped to have your good & dear friend Trina along to vouch for you. “Yup, I swears that’s, erm, Jude. Er, Judy. Yeah. Known her for, um, three hours. I mean weeks! Years – yeah, years.”

    Oddly enough, I was also with you on the trip to Rome where your luggage was AWOL for two days. I suspect I’m just a curse that you drag with you on trips. 😉

  4. Some seriously good advice there! Will definitely keep it in mind for going abroad. 🙂 Not that we tend to go any further abroad than to my family in Sweden, but we might do!

  5. Something I feel strongly about: don’t go on a “blink and you miss it” trip. I understand the urge because the tendency is to think it’s the only time you’ll go. But: Most people will enjoy themselves just as much if they get a little more depth and few fewer places — and they’ll remember more of it afterwards because their exposure will have been less superficial and they’ll have learned more to begin with. It gives you a little time to think about why you’re enjoying something as opposed to simply constantly picking your jaw up off the ground.

    And a suggestion: there are some really neat travel dresses made now out of synthetic fabrics that don’t look cheap, rinse out easily in a washbasin, and drip dry quickly. I call mine “the teflon dress.” Easily dressed up with sandals, or appropriate for day wear while touring, with sneakers, and very comfortable.

    • I know what you mean about those trips but I don’t regret going. I got a taste of the places I wanted to visit again and have been going back and seeing spots in depth every since. I also got to see places I probably won’t again.

      Ooh, where do I find travel dresses? Not heard of them.

  6. My DD will be doing a “blink and you miss it” two week tour of Europe next summer (it’s a school trip so she had no choice of itinerary) and her biggest concern is her HAIR. Luggage space obviously is limited, but she refuses to just pull it up and be done with it. This issue will be causing major grief in my home.

    Anyway, two hints that I have come up with (apologies in advance to those who will view these as wasteful)

    !. I take underwear that is not new(meaning it’s clean but not fresh out of the pack) and throw it away after I wear it. Then I purchase replacements when I’m home. Sounds gross, but you get all new underwear out of it.

    2. When I travel to somewhere tropical (we did a lot of Caribbean islands in my younger days) I would just buy cheap tourist t-shirts and again throw them away instead of bringing them home. The shirts could be bought for a couple dollars each and were perfectly acceptable for casual days on the beach or just sitting around the hotel. I would just pack a couple pairs of shorts and any necessary clothes for evenings out, although even nights out in the Caribbean are pretty casual.

    I must admit though, that like my daughter, I NEVER travel without my hair straightener.

    • Her hair? LOL! I haven’t seen model hair on an extended trip yet. Good luck to her and hope she has a blast.

      I’ve heard of recycling clothes. Do you know some travel sites sell disposable biodegradable undies? You wear them once, then throw them away. Thanks for sharing Cindy. 😀

      • Biodegradable undies? I would check those out, but can’t help but wonder if they are made of the same material as those paper gowns you wear at the doctor’s office. Are they stiff and scratchy? Do they make paper noises when you walk? Will other tourists stare at you wondering where the odd noises are coming from?

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