I’m at the reflective stage of this current journey, where I begin to assess what’s gone well, and what could be better.
Each trip I take, I get better at learning which items work well, and which don’t; what’s necessary, and what I should have left at home. Since I travel for months at a time, there are some things I’ve learned that have made life a little easier while moving from place to place.
First is the necessity of a rolling carry-on bag of a certain size, cubic capacity, weight, and durability-factor; in this case, it’s a Samsonite rolling backpack, which I could have gotten from ebags, an online company I like, but didn’t. Instead I picked mine up in a bag shop here in Sweden last summer.
When it comes to traveling in Europe, there’s a great lie promulgated in the States that you can take larger bags, when in fact, much of the travel you’ll do will be on trains. If you have ever tried to disembark from a train while jet-lagged and dizzy from lack of sleep, hauling a 25″ “world-traveler-gone for more than 3 weeks at a time” bag, you’ll end up throwing it off the train, little caring where it lands, since it is too heavy and you overpacked a bag intended, in my opinion, for cruises and other single-destination journeys.
If you intend to move around at all while you’re traveling in Europe, though, be warned ahead of time that there are very few places to put a larger bag on a train, since most trains are set up for locals, all of whom bring a small rolling bag, or the ubiquitous ‘backpacker’, as my Swedish friends call it.
My small rolling Samsonite does well on cobblestones, which almost every town or city in Europe still has, since cobblestones are hard to pull up and tourists like them, in spite of how difficult they are to walk on. I took my rolling backpack to Paris for a week last summer, since it’s large enough to carry clothes and toiletries, shoes, etc. It’s also, crucially, small enough to fit on Ryanair flights. Ryanair, just FYI, is being challenged in its cheapness and availability of flights by Norwegian Air, a relative newcomer, an airline that should be encouraged if only to teach Ryanair that its horrible customer service is unacceptable and must change.
Dealing with Ryanair is a LARGE pain in the tuckus, literally; the eeny weeny narrow seats are designed for its most likely favorite passenger-type, football hooligans with skinny derrieres off to matches in Barcelona. Combined with its absolute lack of compassion, plus its very Catholic desire to make you suffer, it has become my least favorite airline, but it’s cheap. Hopefully Norwegian Air will give Ryanair a run for its money. It wouldn’t be the first time in human history the Vikings raided the Irish.
The next item I am always grateful for are my fast-drying Tilley travel socks. They are seemingly made of iron, and are therefore not only durable, but can be washed and dried in the same day if you’re desperate and find an airy place in which to hang them. I have two pair of these and without them, I can honestly say that no trip would have been possible. Their unique construction means that my feet stay cool, and I do not get blisters (which is what makes any trip possible).
However, when I do get blisters (usually when I am not wearing my Tilley’s) I am glad I packed my indispensable Compeed blister bandaids. In fact, in the past few days, I bought a container of Compeeds at an apotek (drug store) because I am breaking in a new pair of sandals, bought under a certain amount of duress since the weather is unreasonably warm here right now. I don’t need more sandals, but I also do not have any with me, since I was trying to pack light.
My new discovery are Sloggis, which are underwear from Great Britain, available across most of Europe, it seems. I had never heard of Sloggis, but in rather desperate need for cotton underwear, having had the cavalier and entirely false belief that stretchy garments made of lycra and iron would be cool enough when the weather got warmer (wrong), I was in despair until I visited Åhléns, one of the local chain department stores here in Växjö.
Thank god for cotton, that’s all I can say. A little on the expensive side, about $16 per pair, but they wash by hand and dry very quickly, and when you’re traveling, the combination of comfort and quick-drying are crucial. They also come in a wide variety of sizes for wide derrieres, plus mine are woven with elastane, a fabric with which I am prepared to become more familiar, since it’s very comfortable.
I took a risk and paid what I think is a lot of money for a Baggallini bag, but now I am very glad I did, because I carry this bag every day while I’m here, and it’s so well-made, it’s holding up really well, in spite of a fair amount of abuse.
Its chief virtues are that it is light and strong, made of some very serious waterproof material. But because it’s Baggallini, it doesn’t look like a travel bag. When I travel, I do not want to look like an absolute tourist, so I try to find bags and shoes that allow me to look more like a local.
The Baggallini I bought is the Milano tote, which is a good size for someone who carries a sweater, a scarf, an iPad, a camera, a 400 mm lens attachment, and possibly a book or two, all on a daily basis. Others will prefer a backpack, but the primary virtue of this bag is that it packed flat in the otherwise unused part of the rolling backpack where the backpack straps are located. Anything that packs flat and weighs about 8 oz. is not an insignificant thing, in my consideration.
I have also brought travel packets of Wen conditioner. Wen anticipated that I would require this, and started selling them this past April, right before I left. One obvious good thing about Wen conditioner and shampoo in one product is that it means you do not carry a bunch of bottles with you. Nothing is more wasteful of space and weight (a major consideration when you’re flying these days) than fluids.
The second important thing about Wen in particular is that it is a non-shampoo product that has nothing in it to destroy your hair or your hair color if you go that route, as I do. The downside to Wen is the cost; I keep looking for less expensive alternatives, but having found none as of yet, I have come to the conclusion that although Wen appears expensive on the surface, it’s saving me money in the long run.
This is because it replaces the expensive shampoo and conditioner I was using that strips my color, as every other product on the market does (since they all contain sodium laureth or some version of sodium laureth, a harsh ingredient that dries your hair and strips out hair dye). Anything that prolongs the amount of time between colorings makes Wen less expensive overall. Plus, the various scents are clean and fresh, and my hair, for the first time in my life, looks really good, if I do say so myself.
There are many more items that make any trip go well; these are just some of the few I’ve tried or discovered this time around that have been particularly worthy of mention. There are many, many other things that have been difficult, or gone wrong, or just been weird, like the time the lovely hairdressing lady gleefully tried to make me Swedish and turned me blonde. “I give you lots of highlights!,” she cried. It was a phrase I have learned means: we use chemicals outlawed for a reason in other countries.
- Ryanair taking the biscuit? (speedcommunications.com)
- Losing My Ryanair Virginity (gadling.com)
- Ryanair shuts website but demands online check-in (independent.co.uk)