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Travel Advice

Once upon a time, in a very different world from the one we live in today, I used to fly.

It was over 20 years ago, and the flying involved planes.  I would fly around Europe a couple of times a week, and could bank on an intercontinental flight once a month.  My packing checklist was very simple – tickets, passport, wallet (UK cash, credit cards, driving license).  Visas would have been arranged, and collected, beforehand.  The rest was trivial – as flights were almost all business class, suiter or overnight bag with washing kit (razor, gel, shampoo for long trips), socks, underpants, spare shirt, spare suit.  Long trips would get a change of shoes, which is a smart tip for the inexperienced.  I might even have packed a Leatherman!  Then change money to the local currency at the airport as I was leaving.

But it’s a different world now, and my circumstances have changed.  No sharps, no liquids over 100ml, strict baggage size checks, charges for checked baggage, diabetes, and economy class.


The essentials haven’t changed – ticket, passport, wallet – although a lot has been added, and they don’t work the same way.  Tickets can be an e-ticket; most airlines will expect you to have printed them (which is as dumb a thing as I can imagine).  Make sure that your passport is valid for long enough – I think the USA wants at least six month, but then you will also need to have paid for the ESTA form online ($14; lasts for two years, and it is very important to make a note of your reference number, as it won’t be sent to you).


Phone your bank (for your credit cards) and tell them that you will be travelling, and where.  I have several times now had my credit cards sneakily deactivated.  If credit cards are a problem, in the USA you should be able to purchase fixed amount cards at gas stations and other places (I haven’t ever needed to do this, so I’m not sure of the details).

Wash kit

Wash kit hasn’t much changed; disposable razor and gel. You can’t readily get gel in 100ml sizes, so buy some at your destination, although l’Occitane make some small size aerosol gels.  Lush make some good solid shampoo bars, and if you experiment you can probably find some hand soaps that work for shampoo, shaving (but then you’ll need a brush) and clothes washing.

Medical issues

Medical issues make this all a lot more complicated.  Travel insurance is essential: for Europe, you can get the EHIC form, but it may be worthwhile buying annual insurance for a family, rather than single trip insurance; I have used Centurion for some time.  Make sure that you declare any pre-existing conditions – you only need one medical evacuation to repay the premiums for a millennium.  If you need medications, take the tear off bottom part of your repeat prescription with you, and ask for a doctor’s letter (this will cost money – £10 for my last one).  A copy of an eyeglasses prescription may also be useful in emergencies.

Take more than enough medicines for your trip; if they include needles, the doctor’s letter is essential.  General recommendations are to take double the supplies you need, pack one set in baggage, and keep the other with you.  If you are travelling with hand-luggage only, which is a really good idea if you can do it, put one set in your carry on and try to have the other set on your person: even carry on bags can get stolen.


For other packing, I try to go with hand luggage only, even for a one/two week stay.  That is likely to mean that I plan on buying some change of clothing at my destination, as well as hand washing dirties.  Useful tip: the cheaper motels usually have a laundrette available for guests; stock up on quarters. There can be a lot of discussion about using a hold-all or a wheelie bag; personally, I hate the impact of a heavy bag on my back, so I often prefer a wheelie.  But the wheels and extendable handle take up a lot of space.  As the heaviest items are often books, invest in a Kindle (or just use iBooks, if you are that way inclined).  Remember that the walk from security to your checkin gate can take 15-20 minutes at a large airport; when changing flights, you may have to do that twice (once at the arriving terminal, change terminals, then again at your departure terminal).


Turn off data plans; in fact, don’t use your UK SIM abroad except in emergencies.  It may be possible to get a short-term pay as you go SIM at your destination, but the USA certainly isn’t as sophisticated as the UK for these matters.  The smart part of smartphones will often work – free wifi is more widely available (now) in the USA than it is in the UK.  But the phone part will be dangerously expensive, especially data.

Take chargers.  UK plugs are bulky, so it’s worth seeing if you have US (two prong) plugs for important devices.  If not, there’s a good chance that your devices can be charged via a USB socket, so you may be able to share the charger.  Both Apple and Kindle have this sort of charging system.

Airline food sucks

So refuse it, and either pack your own, or see if one of the airport restaurants sells a decent salad or sandwich.  Drinking alcohol on a plane isn’t usually a good idea, although it can help put you to sleep in desperation.

Security checkpoints

When packing, put any liquids, in individual containers no more than 100ml each (that’s about 1.6 fl oz, I believe?), into a large, transparent, plastic bag, and have that in the top of your carry-on.  Wear shoes that can easily be taken on and off (so boots are bad, and so are complex laces), and pack any belt.  You will be told (if you are lucky) to put shoes, belt, liquids bag, all outer clothing (jackets and coats) and laptop into trays and put them through the X-ray machine.  It’s a good idea to make sure that your pockets are empty, as keys and loose coins will probably set off the metal detectors.

There’s a long list of food items that you can’t take through security checkpoints: meat, fruit, bottles of water.  So plan on buying any of these supplies air-side.

When filling in the landing forms, remember that you must have a street address for your first night’s stay; just “Motel 6” won’t pass muster – so write down an address for Motel 6 or Holiday Inn at your destination, before leaving.

Finally – the Leatherman?  Sorry, I’ve lost too many of these by forgetting to remove them from my bags. Let’s add scissors, forks (that one’s for Chris!), sewing kits and loads of others to that list.  All of which means you won’t be able to break into the stupid thick plastic most gadget purchases are wrapped in.

Stupid story: if you’re British, you know what Christmas pudding is. It’s outstanding characteristic is that it is solid. Well, Americans think that “pudding” is a semi-liquid goop. So the security goons decided we couldn’t take it as a present to our son.

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