Johannesburg - I watched a movie a while ago that suggested that the man who invented the wheelie suitcase was an airline captain who had firsthand knowledge of dragging bulky, unwieldly suitcases across the world.
Whether or not that is true, I think the inventor deserves a UN award for services to humanity.
And, lest we forget, it is a comparitive recent innovation in the transport sector.
I remember my first visit to Paris, in 1987, with my wife and our “conventional” suitcases. We had to walk through a subway to a Metro station to transfer from the train which brought us from Calais to the Metro which would take us to our hotel (or at least close to it).
It was January, the sun had gone down a few hours ealier and the temperature was hovering around zero. Yet, by the time I got to the hotel, I was soaked in sweat.
Part of that was the difficulty of carrying two heavy suitcases (newly married and chivalrous, I lugged the heavy stuff while my wife shouldered the travel bags), but partly it was because we had taken far too much with us when we left for Europe.
It’s bizarre to think of it now but I took a set of long johns and fleece underwear, imagining the worst of Europe in winter.
It didn’t take me long to realise that Europe – unless you are trapped in a blizzard – is not that bad in winter. Dress in layers – T-shirt, shirt, jersey, jacket – and a waterproof outer layer and you’ll be fine.
With the abundance of public transport (and it’s all heated – car, trains, trams, planes) and the ubiquitous central heating, you will seldom really feel the cold.
I’m sure many of you have come home and unpacked and thought: I didn’t even wear that!
That was one lesson about overpacking: don’t take too much warm stuff. And what you do take, make sure it is multi-purpose and “mix and match” so that you can wear it repeatedly.
Ditto with shoes – as I have learnt over the past few years on many visits to Europe and elsewhere.
I used to take as many as four pairs of shoes: running shoes, formal and semi-formal ones.
Now I normally go with just two: my Nikes for running and a pair of cheap (to buy, but not cheap looking) black fake leather slip-ons.
The latter are comfortable and light – you can walk in them and they are easily slipped off and on when your on board the plane.
And lest you think that is minor, wait until the end of the flight, when your feet resemble balloons and you have to slip them into something that laces up…
One of the other reasons I bought them was because they are totally X-ray safe. I was stopped for a very thorough (and unpleasant) body search at Zurich airport when my enormous Caterpillar boots set off the alarm. Apparently, they have a metal spine in them. The other problem with the Cats was that I had to wear them all the time because packing them (at more than 2kg) would have compromised my suitcase weight limit.
A good buy if you are travelling a lot for business is a non-crease jacket or suit – and in blue or black, which are the de rigueur colours of business in Britain and Europe. It doesn’t have to be brilliant quality – everybody is wearing something similar so no one will notice.
Non-crease, or easily washable, clothing is a must when you realise that you seldom find irons in hotel rooms.
Of course, none of this applies to women – not being sexist, but generally women care more about their appearance than men do and they will ensure they have an appropriate change of outfit.
Also, if you are travelling by yourself and not as part of a tour group, you can take far less in the way of clothes. You’re hardly going to see the same people twice…
The opposite might apply when you cruise, because it is nice to be able to put on a glamorous formal suit or dress when dining in a restaurant, or – if you are lucky – at the captain’s table.
My colleague Chris Moerdyk travelled on Queen Mary last year and took his tuxedo along with him. It is a special occasion, so why not treat it appropriately?
Over the years, the more you travel, the more you learn to leave at home. But the main rules apply: don’t leave anything you would hate to lose in your suitcase, which goes into the hold. Keep all valuables in a travel bag or rucksack.
I have a sturdy, German-made Deuter rucksack which has several water-resistant compartments, into which I put my wallet and passport (each wrapped in their own plastic bag ), as well as change and a book to read.
My camera equipment, cellphone and laptop also goes in there – as does a rain mac or poncho (although I have learnt that my current one is not that waterproof) and a small fold-up umbrella.
And don’t forget something to keep your head warm or shaded if sunny climes.
I also take my chargers, because nothing works without them and include notebooks and pens to make the rucksack self-contained, so I have everything I need should my suitcase disappear or get looted.
The bottom line to successful packing is to ask yourself just one question: Do I really need this?
If in doubt, leave it out.
Then make the case lighter still.