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Don't leave home without them
10 indispensable things to take on holiday with you
Member Name: duncantorr
10 indispensable things to take on holiday with you
Advantages: "We must not think of the things we could do with . . . "
Disadvantages: "... only of the things that we can't do without . " (Jerome K Jerome)
I like to think I'm a seasoned traveller. By this I do not mean one with salt and pepper already added, but one who has been to a few places, seen them and come away with T-shirts to swell the wardrobes of my long-suffering offspring. In the course of travelling one does acquire many things: not only T-shirts, but stamps in passports, insect bites, a smattering of odd words in even odder languages, and above all experience. Experience, as Oscar Wilde once observed, is the name we give to our mistakes, but we can learn from our mistakes. I know from experience which items are essential to take on holiday because I'm always cursing myself for having forgotten them.
Or rather, my wife is always cursing me for having forgotten them, her forgiveness threshold where my omissions are concerned being somewhat higher than my own. She probably finds forgiveness hard because I have forgotten these items despite their inclusion on the list of things to take that she has painstakingly prepared. She and I have contrasting attitudes to lists. Lists feature high up her list of important aids to efficient personal organisation; they do not feature at all on mine because I have never found the time to compile one. When I go shopping she frequently writes out a list to assist me in the task and then becomes irate on finding that I have absent-mindedly left it on the kitchen table, which I have to confess is rather remiss of me. I should have the tact and presence of mind to take it with me and mislay it somewhere else.
Not that I have anything against lists in principle. On the contrary, I greatly enjoy thinking out what to include on them. Anyone idly inclined to glance through my reviews will find I have posted lists of my preferred selections of - among others - children's books, TV programmes, Christmas gifts I'd like to receive, authors and reasons why I think I'm strange, though I forgot to include on the last-named my preference for lists that are essentially impractical. These lists share the virtue of being theoretical and, once completed, requiring no further action on my part. However, I am now going to break the habit of a lifetime and compile a practical list, a list to which I might actually refer before I next go abroad, even if the items mentioned are probably already to be found on my wife's list. The difference is that her list is so long and daunting that my mind goes numb whenever I so much as glance at it, to the extent that I no longer wish to travel. Let's hope I remember when the time comes that this one exists as well, as a reminder to take:
1. If at all possible, some SMALL CHANGE in the currency of the country to be visited. What happens when you first touch down/disembark/pass through the checkpoint/swim ashore? You need small change - for left luggage lockers, public toilets, call-boxes, ticket machines, bus fares, tips. In an unfamiliar environment you do not want to be lumbered with trying to break the high-denomination notes the bank or foreign exchange dealer has insisted on selling you because it suits their convenience; you want to be able to put your hand in your pocket or purse for the requisite coins. How to obtain them? First, try to persuade the bank/dealer to give you them, or at least small-denomination notes, by asking for a non-round number, say $487 rather than $500. Secondly, retain a pocketful whenever heading home from any country you may want to visit again, resisting the temptation to use up every last cent with ill-considered airport purchases or contributions to the airline's charity collection. Never fear, your money is unlikely to lose much of its value with keeping; the currency is almost bound to appreciate against the pound, and you will avoid paying dealers' spreads and/or commissions twice. Thirdly, ask around your friends and relatives who may have visited the country lately to see if they have any such small change that they would be willing to sell you. You never know: lacking your foresight and not having read this review, they may be only too glad to let you have it.
2. An ADAPTOR to allow you to plug your electrical devices into whatever sockets are the norm in your country of destination. My wife and I are fortunate in possessing a multiple adaptor that contorts itself transformer-style (toy transformer, that is, not electrical transformer) to suit many socket configurations, but I have not often seen them on sale. Failing such a device, there are numerous adaptors for particular socket shapes. Which one applies in your destination country? Easy, look on http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/electricity .htm for guidance. Of course, if you are going to be using several devices simultaneously, you may need more than one adaptor, or separate leads/plugs for some devices. For example in case we cannot wait for a cup of tea on arrival, we have a lead with a plug that will fit most continental sockets for our...
3. ...travelling KETTLE. Essential unless you are going somewhere where you know one will already be provided. You do not want to go thirsty, or to have to venture out every time you require liquid sustenance. Nor, even if your hotel is posh enough to offer room service, do you want to be ordering any tea or coffee that way - it will invariably be over-priced and incur an awkward uncertainty about tipping - any more than you want to be drinking booze at an extortionate tariff from a hotel minibar. Talking of which, buy a few bevvies on arrival from the local convenience store and use the minibar to keep them chilled. Again, talking of which you will also want to take a...
4. ...Swiss-army-style KNIFE, if only for the bottle opening device that it incorporates. I understand that an Uzi sub-machine gun also incorporates a bottle opening device, but that is even harder to carry through airport security. So, if travelling by air, remember to stow your preferred appliance in your hold baggage, though even this may not be sufficient to prevent your apprehension in the case of the Uzi, which will delay your holiday, maybe for some years. Apart from which the knife is the more versatile option because it has a corkscrew as well as a crown-cap opener, as well as all kinds of other implements to help you cope with other, lesser, emergencies.
5. A simple FIRST AID KIT for when you accidentally cut yourself trying to work out the purpose of all those implements on your Swiss-army-style knife. As well as sticking plasters and antiseptic cream, this should include a few pills and remedies for popular holiday ailments: tummy upsets, sunburn, hangovers and so forth. We also take a course of antibiotics, in case of infected cuts, grazes or other wounds. A pair of tweezers too, for extracting splinters, cactus hairs and sea urchin spines. Taking these things with you not only saves you time when the emergency arises, but spares you having to explain your predicament publicly in a foreign tongue to the local pharmacist, or trying to read the instructions for use on the packet with the aid of a phrase-book that proves to omit the crucial words, or worse, to offer an ambiguous interpretation which you will still be trying to decipher as you bleed to death or your wound goes gangrenous.
6. Talking of which, a tube or two of SUPERGLUE. No, not for re-attaching the finger or sealing the wound. So why "talking of which", you may be wondering? I meant talking of the phrase-book, and let me offer the following example of the pitfalls of phrase-books. When the soles of my walking boots started to split on a recent trip to Portugal, I sought out the general store in the next village, which also turned out to double as the local bar. Having checked in the glossary at the back of my phrase-book, I knew that the Portuguese for 'glue' was 'cola', so that was what I asked for, and was promptly presented with a glass of fizzy brown liquid. How anyone could mistake me for a drinker of such stuff is a bit beyond me, but I suppose I brought it on myself. Only when I resorted to the English word 'glue' did the serving staff understand. Even when there is no room for confusion, looking up words and expressions in phrase-books normally takes too long for everyday exchanges, which is why no phrase-book is included here; pidgin, sign-language, waving one's arms about and pointing are normally a better bet. Glue, by contrast, is always handy to have around on holiday even if your footwear fails to disintegrate, since something else will: belt, jewellery, spectacles and sunglasses, baggage mistreated by airport handlers, travelling kettle, whatever. Superglue, being strong, multi-purpose, fast-drying and available in small tubes, is the ideal kind.
7. For the visually challenged among us, just in case the superglue is unequal to the task, a spare pair of SPECTACLES. And the main pair, of course. There is nothing like a holiday for losing or breaking spectacles. All those unfamiliar cafés and restaurants in which to take them out to read the menu and leave them on the table, all those unfamiliar seats on which to put them down and then sit on them, all those beaches where they might become buried in the sand as you snooze over your reading-matter after a liquid lunch. Even if they are not lost and gone forever, you will need the second pair to help you to locate the first. My wife goes a step further and takes an optician's prescription specifying her requirements in case she has to have a third pair made up in situ, having lost or broken both of the first two, but I think this is going too far, and probably pointless in any case. How would you recognise the optician's shop without your specs?
8. A CAMERA. I could say this is to enable you to see later what you have missed if you are unable to replace your missing specs until you reach home, but I am not quite that much of a pessimist. In my youth, I was such an optimist that I thought I would remember everything without the aid of photographs. This optimism I now know, too late, to have been but the hubristic bravado of the inexperienced. Memory, like all our mortal attributes, atrophies with age. So now I have far too few photographs from my teens and twenties to trigger reminiscences, bore my descendants and acquaintances, or help settle arguments, not even arguments with myself. In this brave new digital age, without even the cost of developing film to take into account, whenever I travel my camera seldom stops snapping. The resultant pics crowd my hard disk and will probably all be lost when the computer finally crashes or becomes obsolete. But at least I have them in the meantime, and can use them to illustrate my Ciao reviews...
9. ...which brings me inevitably to NOTEPAD AND PENS, or pencils, in the plural because a single pen is always lost in no time at all, however carefully you guard it. It probably ends up buried in the sand with the specs, or requisitioned by your spouse for the allegedly more important task of marking off completed rows on her knitting pattern. As if any task could be more important than making notes for all your holiday reviews, a cast-iron case you might think, but a spouse's steely determination is often made of still sterner stuff. I believe that some people go so far as to take a laptop with them for note-taking, doubtless among many other purposes. Personally, I regard this as dangerous; before you know where you are you will find yourself spending all day online, just as you would at home, except you're running up enormous wifi connection charges in the process. In a way, much the same concern applies to mobile phones, but I believe a mobile phone should be taken provided it is strictly disciplined. My wife and I restrict ours to the following essential uses: (i) being kept informed by text of Chelsea results and other football news by our mate Gary, a service we perform reciprocally for him when he is travelling; (ii) making or changing hotel reservations if all other methods fail; and (iii) in case of an emergency covered by...
10. ...our WYGC list. The initials WYGC, in case you are wondering, stand for 'Whom You Gonna Call?' and I apologise for the grammar. This sets out all the relevant telephone numbers to contact in the event of loss of credit cards, travellers' cheques or passports, news of the car being stolen or the house being broken into at home, need to claim on travel insurance, and all the other hazards of modern life, especially those encountered when travelling. Practically the only number not there is that of Ghost-busters, which I rather hope I won't be needing. These are not numbers you would want to try to discover from afar amid the chaos of an emergency if it arises. Keep the list up-to-date on your computer and print two copies each time you go abroad. One copy you keep about you at all times, but not in the same pocket or handbag as your wallet, credit cards or passport, since there would be little point if it were stolen with them. The other copy you keep in your luggage, in case the first is lost notwithstanding; but just having a copy in your luggage is not sufficient in case it is the luggage that goes missing. I am glad to say that we have never had to use our WYGC list from abroad, but we always feel just that bit more secure to have it with us. Since it also has the distinction of being the only practical household list for the upkeep of which I am responsible, I know how grievously I would have to answer for any shortcomings if it were to be called upon and found wanting.
You will observe that this list does not include some of the things commonly considered essential for overseas travel: ticket and passport, for example. Frankly, if you've failed to think of those on your own initiative not only is it doubtful whether you can safely be allowed to venture into foreign parts, but you won't be allowed to venture there in any case, since you'll be turned back at the airport, docks or Chunnel terminal. So it seemed better to leave them out to make room for the essentials listed above, the absence of which will not prevent your travelling but the presence of which might enhance your trip once there. I hope they will prove as helpful to you as they do to me, on those occasions when I remember them. Bon voyage.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2011
Summary: A few things to take when going abroad