Carry on

Travel light: advice heard from day one but not so easy to follow. As a budding interpreter I felt the need to carry a complete set of age - and interest - appropriate “civilian” clothing in addition to my businesswear, so I habitually found myself lumbered with a backpack stuffed with jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and martial arts outfits – but no underwear!

Some interpreters drop comments like, “Oh, I bought that leather jacket in Istanbul, and the sarong is from Thailand, of course, and where would I have bought my pashmina but the foothills of the Himalayas!” Me – I finger through my lingerie drawer and murmur, “Those really nice cotton print underpants were from that time in Andorra, but they had stopped stocking them when I went back, and these horrible deathless nylon ones were the sole item that fit in the one open shop at that off-season Lloret de Mar gig.”

But wait. Start listening to everyone's advice when you’re a novice interpreter and your pack just gets heavier. “Always have some chocolate as a pick-me-up in case your blood sugar drops and you have to keep going in the booth.” My own chocolate has never made it to that point, of course. “I can't live without my travel kettle.” I still pack assorted herbal teabags – at least they're light – but count on coffee breaks or cafés for boiling water. “Hotel blow-dryers are no good.” “Make sure you iron your clothes properly when you get to the hotel.” “Never forget your consecutive notepad.” Do you know how heavy paper can be? “Always carry a spare pair of shoes.” Always did – until hand-luggage-only became my motto: it was either shoes or laptop. Most of the other items went out the window, too.

Packing is stressful, especially when you're changing climate and time zone and need to factor in unplanned layovers (I'm typing this sentence in some hotel an hour's ride from Istanbul Airport, when I was supposed to have arrived in Bangkok by now...). Light-travel experts say “Don't think 'What if', just buy it there” – but what if you're too tall or too fat for Chinese clothes? What if your conference program and location simply don't allow for much emergency shopping time?

The trick is to be organised, get your contingency planning just right... and grow blister-proof feet and ultrastrong knees. (Why are my comfortable walking shoes so inappropriate to wear in a business context anyway?) Buy easy-wash, quick-dry, wrinkle-resistant clothing and save it for travel. Plan to wash clothes if away for three days or more. Make good use of sarongs, shawls and other wraps, which pack small and serve all sorts of purposes in sub-zero conference halls and sweltering heat alike. (Sorry, guys!) Buy and wear compatible colors, at least for travel. One colleague only ever wears black – but I just couldn't manage this in the tropics. Use bundle wrapping to fit more items into your carry-on (but watch that weight!)

A toiletry kit that lives in my carry-on was my first breakthrough, after my first hairbrush-less trips to Strasbourg in the early days. Great idea, as long as you replenish the products and don't wind up collecting little bottles of hotel shampoo, hair softener or moisturizer that somehow linger on in your clear ziplocked one-liter bag till they get cleared out and take up permanent residence collecting dust in your bathroom, always overlooked in favor of your regular toiletries.

If you're anything like me, the blogger who undertook to travel around the world luggage-free will seem a hero (though I can't imagine having to extract all metal and electronics from each of 30-odd jacket and trouser pockets at security checks!). But right now, one of my fellow stranded business-class passengers, who was merrily waltzing from Vienna to Shanghai in just trousers and a t-shirt, is ranting about having no change of clothes – and here I am, smugly wearing my unwrinkable fake-silk blouse and stretch-cotton trouser suit. My skin is moist, my hair looks fine and I'm ready to resume my trip, having brushed my teeth last night with my own special toothpaste. I could turn up with just my hand luggage and handle the job competently from beginning to end – with no sartorial flourish whatsoever but none the worse for wear.

Recommended citation format:
Mary FONS I FLEMING. "Carry on". December 10, 2010. Accessed July 7, 2020. <>.

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;-) thanks for a good chuckle, Mary.. well do I remember a whole month in the early eighties combing my hair - I still had it then, woe is me :-) - with a fork, because no other hair-tamers were to be had for love or money in the whole of Luanda ;-)

Enjoy ur Xmas and New Year!

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