It’s been 18 years since I took off on the road. I have learnt an awful lot.
The most important lessons of all: I am part of the human family made up of people in every corner of the world, and it’s important to know about and care for each other. This is something you learn on your travels and can’t be taught at school.
Also no one washes their hands enough.
There’s so much you’ll pick up on your own journey through life, but before you set out on the road, the least I can do is share with you what I’ve learnt. These are the rules I live by as a professional traveller:
- Wheels! Your bag needs wheels. the 4-spinner wheel ultra-light suitcases weren’t on the market yet when I started travelling, and my rucksack did well for many years. But those days are over. You almost never need to wear your luggage, it’s always easy to pull along. In Italy and India you’ll encounter stairs – but that’s probably 1% of your journey. Get wheels! Personally I like a backpack as a carry-on bag. Or a comfortable tote
- Regarding clothing: if you’re travelling somewhere hot you need 3 outfits as a minimum. In cold weather make it 4. If you’re travelling across hemispheres and equators then you may well need 5 or 6 trans-seasonal outfits. I wouldn’t go less and I usually bring more. Have twice as many undergarments as you think you need. Only buy shoes and bags that go with everything. I like having at least half of my items to be hand-washable in a bathroom sink so you can wear it the next day, laundry can be a hassle if you’re on the move
- Old people appreciate post cards. Noone else does, so everyone else gets digital communication. Save your stamps for Granny, she’ll love that card or letter.
- You never need a beach towel, or a towel at all. At least not of the terry-cloth variety. Traditional fluffy towels are heavy, take up twice as much room and are difficult to dry. Go for the Turkish or Arabic hammam towels. They are thinner, more hygenic, hold as much water as a regular towel and dry quicker. They make a chic curtain or sarong for the beach. You’ll never look back
- Be nice to everyone you meet. It’s a simple truth that if you treat everyone in the way you’d like to be treated you’ll have few problems in life. No one likes a bastard. Anywhere
- If you have a hairdo that requires blowdrying, straightening, professional braiding, curling, dying or hairspray: change it. You need a low-maintenance style that doesn’t look awful in your travel pics (which you want to keep forever and frame, not hide in disgrace) and who wants to waste time doing their hair when they could be exploring the world?
- If you’re travelling for a long time it can be stressful and hard work. Make sure to give yourself a treat at least once a week. That could be a massage, a cocktail, 4 pints of lager, a shopping spree, lunch in a French bistro, a hot bath, an upgrade on a train ride or a night in a posh hotel. It all depends on your budget and what you consider a luxury. I’d rather have 6 weeks on the road with a little enjoyment than 9 weeks of POW camp conditions. I never understood those who eat out of a can and forego a bath to travel longer. Life’s too short. If you’re really low on funds and it’s possible to do so, interrupt your travels for 3-6 months and work as a nanny, a ski instructor, or in a bar, or performing in a revue – whatever matches your skill set – save 20% of your income then continue with your travels…
- Wash your hands, carry hand wipes take probiotics, eat prebiotics wherever you can. Take a double dose of vitamin C. Since I started doing all these things 5 years ago I’ve never been sick in my travels. I wash my hands not only before I eat and after the bathroom but also after touching money and shaking hands. Oh – and if in doubt go vegetarian.
- Finally, if its not replaceable, leave it at home