Archive | August 2014

Mine for the taking…

So, what do I take with me when I’m heading off on my travels?

Nothing new is the first rule. Yes, I spent years taking brand new products on the hill either straight from the bag or from the box, but not any more (unless there’s a Houston size problem and getting something new is the only solution).

All of my recent trips have revolved around items which were tried and tested before packing choices were made and the bag was finally zipped up. Items were also chosen because of their usefulness in the weather conditions that were likely to be encountered, something that was easy to do by adding favourites to the weather listings on that section of the BBC website.

Once the relevant ten day forecasts had been studied, then the final decision on what to pack is made the day before travel based upon what information is to hand at that time. It doesn’t always work as we were caught in a downpour at Sagres on The Algarve last year, but that was it (we just stayed in the hostel at Lagos for a couple of hours a couple of nights later when it rained, and rained…).

Every piece of clothing that’s taken along can be washed and then worn again in a matter of hours. Some items can be worn for days on end as they doesn’t suffer from smellyitis and these plus the other items are simply washed in a sink using Lifeventure’s Fabric Wash or All Purpose Soap.

They’re then air wrapped (swung over the head or in front of you) before being rolled up in a travel towel two or three times. After that they’re left to dry over the bath if I’ve got a travel clothes line with me or hung on coat hangers and scattered around the room, hung on the windows or hooked over chairs or balcony rails. The only items that didn’t dry quickly last year were a couple of pairs of cotton based trainer socks and a locally purchased cotton t-shirt that proved my point.

Two types of technical fabric t-shirts were packed – two Core Silver shirts from Rohan plus two of the same brand’s Essential shirts. The combination of one red, two blue and one white ensured that they went with anything and by the time it came around to wearing the first worn and washed shirt again, we’d already moved to a different town. 

As one location’s accommodation was a few stars above what we would normally stay in, a couple of smart shirts were packed in order to conform to any dress code (we did, others didn’t) and these were also from Rohan. Although it’s years since I wore suits on a day to day basis, I sill have a couple of smart shirts around for business meetings and it’s these that headed off to Portugal last year. They’re light, long-sleeved, have sun protection and natty loops inside to hang the shirts by when they’re drying out.

Now I would normally take just two pairs of trousers on a trip, but I took three on that trip. Yes, it was down to that dress code hotel, but I could easily have stuck to just taking two. I’d taken along a pair of Craghoppers Base Camp trousers and whilst they were comfortable, I wished that I’d just packed the Rohan Trailblazers and Grand Tour Chinos.

All three pairs were easily washed and dried, but it’s going to be the last two that are packed for a long trip – Trailblazers for daytime, Chinos for nighttime. Both pairs had well placed pockets, zipped ones for safer storage and a little bit of give in them for those moments when you realised that the lunch you’ve just had was bigger than you thought it would be.

Socks and underwear came from M&S, Rohan and Zara and a solitary TNF (The North Face) micro fleece zip neck pullover as a warm layer. I didn’t take a jacket, but did take a long-sleeved windproof shirt with a couple of chest pockets. This however was only used onto the plane at Manchester Airport on the way out and once more when we got back to the same airport two weeks later – it won’t be packed again methinks on journeys to warmer climes!

My wash kit was kept to a minimum – toothbrush, travel toothpaste/mouthwash combination, mini shower gel for the first couple of days, a part-used roll-on antiperspirant, one travel size Lynx body spray and that was it. Razors, a bigger shower gel and a bigger can of Lynx were bought in Lisbon and what wasn’t used was left at Lagos Youth Hostel for use by fellow travellers on our last morning there.

Travel towels worked a treat wherever we went for drying ourselves and clothing after washing sessions. A small first aid selection was also packed alongside my usual batch of post-stroke meds and the all-important copy of my prescriptions and my hospital discharge papers that explain why the meds are being packed. 

Other items? A small torch, one fully charged Kindle, my digital compact camera plus charger and plug adaptor, a couple of thin Moleskine notebooks, a couple of pens and a paper copy of the local guidebook. Although I had books with local information on the Kindle, I didn’t find it that easy to access and much preferred to use the guidebook instead. The same route may be taken on future trips or I may simply cannibalise an older copy of the guide and take relevant parts with me or photocopy those parts from the latest edition and take those along for personal use..

And footwear? A pair of smart approach shoes that were branded Rohan, but made by brasher. They were smart, comfortable, had a silver content to keep smells down and did the business in hotels, restaurants and smarter touristy places. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on wisepacking, Crocs have proved their worth over the last year or so, so a pair of these were also packed.

By wearing the heaviest stuff on the plane out and the plane back, all of the above items went into and Osprey Farpoint 40 travel pack. Not only did this satisfy TAP Portugal’s hand luggage criteria, the packed bag came in at just over 6kg on the way out. It was slightly heavier on the way back as i’d had to buy a new digital compact camera whilst in Portugal as my Lumix packed up three days into the trip. I did have another bag on the way back though, but that contained an airport bought bottle of Tawny Port…

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Hi ho…

One of the ways that I’ve managed to keep items and pack weights down over the last three years or so is to pack items that have some kind of silver content. So far I’ve bought and used socks from M&S and t-shirts and underwear from Rohan.

The M&S socks have either been cotton rich city style socks or trainer liners and their use came about after Caroline made one or ten comments about sweaty feet smells when I came in from work. 

At the time I was wearing approach shoes or Gore-tex lined boots to work and as I will admit to having feet that do smell after being encased in such footwear for a day, then something had to be done about it.

Fortunately I was working near the local branch of M&S at the time, so I popped in one lunchtime and took a look around to see whether there was anything around that could deal with the problem. And there was…

So after buying a pack of trainer socks, I started wearing them for work without telling Caroline and only fessed up when she made a comment about my feet being better recently – ‘not as smelly’ came into it somewhere along the line if memory serves me right.

Since then, all of my city socks and trainer socks have been from M&S and those with a high foot pong factor who have also tried them have rated them too. Prices start at £12 for five pairs of trainer socks and the same for city socks (number of pairs vary according to style chosen). Prices checked on 28/8/14.

After that came a discovery on Rohan’s website. They were advertising t-shirts and underwear containing silver so again a couple of tester purchases were made. Whilst the t-shirt was worn under a fleece for a few days at a time, not even I wear shreddies for more than one day. 

In both cases though, there were no close encounters of a smelly kind and no complaints either so a couple of more shirts and pairs of Cool Silver Trunks were bought. All of these items had one further factor in their favour – the ease in which they could be washed and worn again. 

Whilst the fabric of the underwear hasn’t changed over the years, that used on the t-shirts has. The slinky, smooth material has been replaced by a more textured marl outer finish that gives the shirt a less outdoorsy look. The shirts still have those high wicking/low odour/easy care qualities, but the colour palette changes as seasons change. 

My first two were red and blue and whilst I missed out on the green of a certain frog puppet, I could be tempted to buy another blue and one of the new charcoal shirts later in the year. The fabric is 100% polyester with Coolant, Dynamic Moisture Control and that silver based Polygiene thrown in for good measure. Sun protection UPF is 40+.

In each case, the shirts are from Rohan’s Core Silver line-up and they are currently £36 each (28/8/14) is , the Cool Silver Trunks are £19 per pair (briefs are also available at £17 a pair). The t-shirts and trunks (only) are also available in lighter weight Ultra formats at £28 and £21 respectively. Rohan products are available in their own stores or via www.rohan.co.uk where details of the brand’s silver ladies items can also be found…

To Croc or not to Croc, that is the question…

Yes, I used to be a fully paid-up member of the fashion police who hated the look of Crocs and wouldn’t touch them with five bargepoles lashed together (I lived in a town at the time that is known for the popularity of its local attractions around the canal and the canal basin).

And then I tried a pair on. And bought them.

I’d been looking for a pair of water friendly sandals whilst down in North Norfolk for a few days because we were planning on heading to Holkham Beach and would probably be doing some wading whilst we were there. Only problem – no water friendly sandals available in either the outdoor shops, the beach shops or the local chandler. So it was time for Plan B.

Now I was around 160 miles from home and hadn’t seen anyone that I knew, so I guessed that the chances of being spotted whilst trying a pair of Crocs on would be minimal. I’d seen a stockist on the main shopping street in Wells-Next-The-Sea, so I dived inside and found a navy blue pair in my size. 

They fitted me, they were comfortable and from that point onwards, I was converted to the Crocs cause. They never did see Holkham Beach (it’s the beach that Gwyneth Paltrow walks on at the end of Shakespeare In Love) and neither did I because the area was hit by a thunderstorm the following morning and the rain continued, and continued and you now get the picture. 

When I got back to work the following day, the shop I was managing at the time had had a delivery of new footwear and guess what was in amongst it? Crocs… They’d been allocated to us rather than ordered – and allocated to the wrong shop as it turned out because they should have been in Blackpool, not in a Yorkshire mill town.

They were also on offer as it was sale time, so the card came out and two more pairs were bought – a black pair and a slightly posher khaki pair that would match up with some Craghoppers and Rohan trousers that I’d just bought.

That was a year ago and all three pairs have been given a good hammering. The black and navy pairs have been used at home, around town and on campsites too whilst the khaki pair came into their own out in Portugal last year. Any dirt is easily washed off and they’re light enough to be packed into hand luggage as beach shoes/spare shoes when heading off.

They’ve worn well and kept me upright whenever they’ve been used on uneven ground. The black pair went with me to The Lakes at the weekend and were ideal for padding around the campsite in as there had been heavy rainfall one morning and a good dew cover the following day.

Feet were allowed to breathe and were ‘washed’ as I wandered around the site, a good thing as the first site didn’t have any showers and the second had a queue at the showers that saw me reaching for a pack of baby wipes and a can of Lynx instead (and a t-shirt with a silver lining – more will be revealed about that in the next few days!).

So Crocs wear well, are comfortable and are easily washed. So what are the downsides? The fashion police looking down on you as you pad about your own business and a little matter of an interesting aroma emanating from them along the way. 

Yes, if your feet are prone to sweatyitis in warm/hot weather, then you need to be aware that it is the only downside that I’ve found in over a year of wearing Crocs. Padding around campsites after rain or a heavy dew is one way to deal with the problem, but others include using them as shower shoes in hostels or on campsites or giving them a damn good wash in the bath or shower in your hotel room or hired cottage/apartment/caravan.

So dear readers, we have Crocs. Here endeth the blog’s first review!

Tech? Or no tech?

As an early adopter of both home computer technology (Apricot xi back in 1985) and mobile phones (in 1995), you may think that I’m all for taking and using tech products whilst on the road. But the short answer to that is NO!

A laptop has been packed on just two occasions in the last fifteen years. The first was for a work trip around Aviemore and Aberdeen in the days of dial-up connections whilst the second was a case of needs must. A magazine deadline was approaching so the piece had to be written and sent before I headed off for the ferry to Orkney. The piece was written, sent and acknowledged on the day of the sailing, so I could rest easy and enjoy the next fortnight away.

That was in 2008 and since then, the iBook has been used at home, over lunch breaks at my old day job and at a couple of copy meetings over lunch down at Salt’s Diner, Salt’s Mill, Saltaire. I use it when Caroline’s using the Mac Mini desktop or when I need to download any photos from a camera before emailing them to myself so they can be picked up and used or forwarded to magazines or websites as the case may be.

It’s been interesting to see people in backpackers hostels or hotels sitting over their netbooks, laptops or tablets for whole evenings rather than getting out exploring the locality and what the nearby nightlife’s like. It’s been good to people watch on those occasions, just to see how often the faces move away from the screen and how many times these users speak to someone else. Or just grunt as the night wears on…

You can play the same game with smartphone users too – no matter how young or old they are. One ‘princess’ spent the length of a three course meal messing around with her iPhone last year rather than joining in with what was going on at what appeared to be a family event.

It’s got to the point at home now that we ask people to either switch their phones off or put them in the other room whilst we have a sit-down meal. That came about after a couple of family meals out where the under 30 blokes at the table spent more time messing about with their phones than they did eating…

I could go on griping, but there are more practical matters to take into account. Does the amount of kit you have mark you out as a thief magnet? Does your travel insurance provide enough cover for all eventualities should one or more pieces of tech stuff go AWOL or are damaged beyond repair?

Can you get a wi-fi signal in all of the places you need one – especially if your laptop is one of those which requires wi-fi in order for various programs to work at all? Is the wi-fi source a secure one? Can you trust it whilst you do your online banking for instance?

And that’s before you taking into account packing the piece of tech and protecting it from the elements. One other thing to consider is the compatibility of chargers, differences in electricity supplies and the availability of places to plug in and charge your piece of kit.

So what do we take with in the way of tech kit? A fully charged Kindle each and one charging lead plugged into an appropriate adaptor plus our Pentax and Nikon digital compact cameras and respective chargers. My Sony DSLR has been used in Cyprus, but it now stays at home as the shots from the Nikon are just as useful to illustrate any written work. And the Nikon can be slipped into a shirt or trouser pocket, something that the Sony can’t do.

I used to take my old talk and text phone with me on holiday, but that’s no longer the case. My phone stays at home so my trip can’t be interrupted by unimportant calls or stupid texts (one of an old boss’s specialities at 1am…). Caroline did take her smartphone with her to Portugal last year, but apart from a trio of texts to her youngest son, that was it. The phone didn’t work when trying to make calls, so we ended up using a hotel lobby phone or went in and talked to people instead.

And emails or web access? Again, most people are primed when we’re heading off, so emails have to be important ones. These are checked about once a week on lobby computers if they’re available and if they aren’t then so be it. Although I’ve been using the web since 1994, if there’s a weekend, week or fortnight that I don’t log on to check out websites, then it’s no big deal.

Last September’s web access in Portugal amounted to looking at weather forecasts on chained down iPads in a bar in Sagres and that was it. The forecast was for sunshine over the next couple of days. So how come we got drenched in a longer than average rain shower? Did we question the parentage of the forecaster whose material was on those iPads? Oh yes!

Will I get a tablet or a top end laptop to use whilst out and about to keep this blog on a roll when I’m away from base? I still don’t know the answer to that one yet. I’ve tried iPads and spoken to friends with them. I’ve tried the MacBook Air and spoken to Caroline’s youngest son who runs his business from one and I’ve tried a Kindle Fire too. I’m just not convinced by the necessity to buy any of these just yet. Reckon that I’ll still be using Moleskine paper notebooks on my travels for the foreseeable future. I’ve been using them for about fifteen years so far and if they’re good enough for Hemingway and Chatwin, then they’re good enough for me.

And whilst I’m on the subject of paper, I still take paper copies (or parts thereof in either cannibalised book or photocopied formats) of guidebooks when I head off. I’ve got a few guides on my Kindle, but I find that the paper version is still the most convenient to use, doesn’t attract that much attention in a street or cafe and doesn’t need charging up in order to work either! And I’m not the only one either as that question was posed on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forums recently and a few people came out in favour of using paper guides on the road.

As seen yesterday…

Spotted at The Outgate Inn, Outgate near Hawkshead;

‘Sorry we don’t have wi-fi. Get drunk and talk to each other.’

Apart from a great line in signs, The Outgate Inn does a very good Sunday lunch.

Two roasts, two drinks and a large pot of coffee for £28. Was tempting to go for a sweet course, but the meal was a good plateful – evening meal wasn’t made until 9pm or thereabouts.

Some ideas…

So, how do you go about wisepacking?

Think about your last few trips. 

How much stuff did you take with on your travels? 

Did everything get used or worn? 

Did you need to take all of those toiletries or could you buy them locally?  

Did you need the smartphone/tablet/laptop/DSLR camera? 

The snacks/tea bags/Marmite/Branston Pickle or Hob Nobs? 

The towels from home, all of those tops and did you really need all of those pairs of shoes? 

Was it easy to get the zips or the lid of your bag/holdall/suitcase done up? 

Or was it problematical?

Take a pen and a notepad, think about your usual packing list and then write it all down. 

Was it a short list, long list or excessive? If it’s long or excessive, then think of ways that you could cut down on what you take with you. 

Some decisions regarding what you take with you may be forced upon you if you’re taking hold luggage and the airline has a 15kg allowance rather than a 20kg allowance. 

Or if the charge for a bag in the hold is higher than the cost of the flight on a low-cost airline.

Myself and partner Caroline have refined our packing over a number of years. We’ve checked into five star hotels carrying a briefcase style bag for our overnight and still adhered to the hotel’s dress code. 

Our main holiday last year used a mix of guest houses, hotels, Pousadas, a youth hostel and a night in Lisbon airport, yet our packing coped with everything apart from the lack of comfy chairs in Lisbon airport…

Although TAP gave us a hold luggage option for nowt, we flew hand luggage only using a brace of Osprey Farpoint 40 travel packs that we’d bought earlier in the year. 

The clothes chosen for the trip reflected the weather predictions and the accommodation mix and whilst there was an element of wash and wear involved, we travelled with bags that weighed in at 6kg or thereabouts.

Yes, we started off with a pile of clothes, footwear and tech when we began to pack, but as the packing went on, the process was refined and clothing and oddments were left behind. 

We flew out wearing the heaviest clothing and footwear, so that the bags contained a few t-shirts, spare trousers in my case, capri pants and dress in Caroline’s plus respective socks/underwear, travel wash, a small amount of toiletries (shower gel, body sprays and razors were bought in-country), beach shoes/sandals and a little tech. Oh and my post-stroke meds too.

Tech items were kept to a minimum – we both took our Kindles and our digital compact cameras plus respective chargers. Caroline took her smartphone along and I left mine at home. And that was it… 

Email was checked out on the lobby computers in a couple of hotels, but we didn’t miss daily computer checks. Caroline received a couple of texts from her son and whilst we tried to use the phone once or twice, it didn’t work out there so we ended up using a hotel phone and talking to people instead… 

The one last minute addition to my bag was the paper Lonely Planet guide. Surprised? I’d tried using a couple of eBook guides on my Kindle before setting off and wasn’t too happy with the experience, so I packed the book instead. It was much easier to use when needed and didn’t rely upon being charged up or needing wi-fi to work either.

I did however notice one lady carrying sections of a cannibalised LP guide in Tavira Tourist Information and others with photocopied sections of the LP or other guidebooks. The way forward? Quite possibly…

Did we use everything we packed? Yes.

Did we pack anything that was surplus to requirements? No.

Were we a bit smug at times? Er, we might have been…

Did we get around easier than those sporting big wheelie bags? Yes.

Did we pay for any luggage going in the boot of a taxi? No.

Did we use any taxis apart from the one into Lisbon from the airport? No – we walked and saved the money for a cold beer or an espresso instead.

So what did we take with us? That’s where the next few posts come in!

Tavira, The Algarve

Tavira, The Algarve
A good place to relax and unwind over food, wine or coffee…

Tavira, The Algarve A good place to relax and unwind over food, wine or coffee...