This fall, I will be experiencing three different kinds of travel: a sixteen day OAT trip to Ireland, two weeks with friends at two different vacation rentals in England and eight days on my own in London and Paris. After reading about the problems with lost luggage and flight cancellations, it seems prudent to forgo checking luggage.
It can be done. I know, because I’ve done it before, but the aging process has killed a whole lot of memory cells. (Or was it copious amounts of wine? Or both?) Covid has put a damper on the frequency of our travel, and climate change has made it very difficult to predict what weather will be like in September and October. All of the above has made me feel like a travel newbie, so this blog post is primarily for me (as a memory aid) and for my travel buddy, Sally, who asked for packing tips. Okay, so that was fair warning that this will be a stream of consciousness post–but I hope others will find the information helpful.
It all starts with the right luggage. Back in the day when I was traveling regularly, I saw many travelers using a 4 wheeled clamshell carryon, so I ordered a cheap one from Amazon, in a very distinctive color. I’ve used it many times since my 2018 purchase and have been very pleased with the amount of stuff it can hold.
The blue bag was a recent purchase, made after I saw it demonstrated on a very misleading Facebook video. The video showed the bag standing upright, which made it very easy to pack, with double zippers on the bottom, so it could be compressed and used as a shoulder bag. You’ve probably seen it too. Take a look at what it REALLY is like. Although the photo doesn’t show there is no 2nd zipper on the bottom (so no shoulder bag option), trust me. It doesn’t have one. You CAN see that it CLEARLY is incapable of standing upright. Having said that, I’m finding its light weight and many pockets make it an attractive 2nd bag. Plus I discovered a “work around”. If you stick a full packing cube in the bottom compartment, the bag WILL stand upright (sorta), making it much easier to load. That bottom compartment is jammed with clothing that I don’t expect to use during my first 8-10 days traveling.
Okay: Luggage chosen. Everything I take has to fit into those two bags. Next step: what are the airline rules? For the international flight, I decided to cash in my miles and fly business. Ordinarily, I would have saved those miles for a much longer flight, but during covid, I figured the additional space business offers was worth using those miles, plus two carryons will be no problem. My regional flight from Dublin to Newquay, however, is a different story. The best I could do was buy a slightly more expensive ticket that allows one carry on and one checked bag, so I just need to make sure that my carryon is not too heavy. With less than 80 people on the flight, a small destination airport, and a little luck, all should go well, but just in case, I have purchased an Apple Air Tag so, if necessary, I can hunt down my checked luggage.
I always make a packing list, which helps me remember what I need to pack, what I HAVE packed, and serves as an inventory for insurance purposes should my luggage get lost or stolen. I start laying out everything in the guest room a couple weeks before departure. I sort items into two piles: need to have, nice to have. I won’t insert everything into my luggage until the day before departure, but this advanced gathering helps me identify any gaps that a shopping trip needs to rectify.
In addition to packing cubes, I also use jumbo zip lock bags, which allow me to see the contents AND if you sit on them, they compress very nicely. Jumbo zip lock bags also can be used as a washing machine. All you need is a little soap and water, some dirty clothes, then zip and shake, shake shake. My OTHER friend named Sally recommended the various clips and hangers–all available through Amazon. The microfiber towel is a “nice to have” that may or may not make it past the final cut.
I expect that I will only have to hand wash during the 16 day OAT trip, because the following two weeks will be spent in vacation rentals (one with VRBO and one with AirBNB, so I will have access to washers and dryers.)
Dressing in layers is always good advice, especially for longer trips and particularly with the climate changes we have been experiencing. Although I’ll do a last minute weather check before packing, with a trip this length, it makes sense to be prepared for warm, cool and wet weather.
Because my iPhone 11 takes photos that suit my purposes (internet posts, memory jogs, and photo book creation), I no longer carry a camera. But my electronic devices keep increasing, along with their various cables and connectors. My Apple Watch and iPad both use the new USB C, while my iPhone uses the Lightening charger, which has a USB A dangling on the end of it. And of course, because I will be in the UK and Northern Europe, I need two different types of plug adapters–a G for the UK (that sucker is HUGE) and an F for France. I have those. But what if I want to charge multiple devices? I don’t want to carry an adapter for each. And what if there aren’t a lot of outlets in the room? Well, take a look at this very cool, very compact “power strip” that accommodates both kinds of USBs. And it only requires ONE G plug. Being obsessive compulsive, I had to try it out at home to make sure I could fit everything in, and that I had the correct combo of electrical “thingies”. It may look like spaghetti to the untrained eye, but to ME it looks like success. (I took the photo with my iPhone, which is why the lightening cable is just dangling there.) Best of all–these plugs and wires take up less room than my camera did.
So now that I have space efficient charging equipment–the next step is finding affordable internet connections. In the past, I have used a variety of plans: for short trips, I used Verizon’s Travel Pass, which charged $10 for every 24 hours you accessed the internet. For our trip to Australia in 2019, I purchased a local plan, which required me to install a different physical SIM card on my phone. That was much less expensive than the $100 Verizon monthly international plan with 5 GB.
Now there is a MUCH better option that Ann Bouey (who I’ve never met) posted about on the Friends of OAT Facebook page. She suggested that I check out Airalo. For $20, I was able to purchase an eSIM with 5 GB of data that would work in 39 European countries (I only need 3!) for 30 days. Best of all, I will be able to “top up” another GB for $5 to have access for 7 more days– all for 1/4 of the cost of a monthly Verizon plan.
Here’s the catch: You have to have an unlocked phone that will accommodate an eSIM. Airalo only provides access to the internet, no phone line. I rarely use voice while traveling anyway, but if the need arises, I can use WhatsApp or some other application–like FaceTime, or Google Duo.
Remember a few sentences ago, I mentioned that I used a physical SIM card in Australia? I knew that the iPhone 11 allows owners to have two different phone numbers via a physical SIM and an eSIM. So, I figured I’d set the phone up so that I could add a physical SIM card when traveling, with my Verizon phone and internet connection utilizing the eSIM slot. (Yeah, I don’t know what it is either–I just know the words and what it does). That caused a bit of a kerfuffle when I downloaded the Airalo eSIM. After consulting with Airalo customer service, then spending time in both the Apple and Verizon stores, the Verizon rep finally figured out that she had to replace my current SIM card and start again. If that all sounds like technical mumbo jumbo, it is. Here’s hoping that it is information you never need! If you don’t, then the Airalo download is very, very easy. The 30 days don’t start until I arrive in one of the European countries, and turn it on.
What else have I learned during my trip preparation? I discovered the Rick Steves app, which allowed me to download talks, including, for example, a guided tour of the Orsay Museum, and a Dublin City Walk, complete with a map–and a whole lot of other stuff.
Well, the consciousness lingers, but the stream has run dry.