Lucy and I are headed to Vancouver soon for a family visit and friend’s wedding. I usually go home 1-2 times a year, but this is Lucy’s first visit. It’s also been a while since she has travelled internationally, so I’ve been telling her some of my tips for travelling to and from Vancouver, which inspired me to write this post.
We have the added complication of having to pack for both formal and informal events, and we aren’t entirely sure what the weather is going to be like, so we’re bringing an array of warm and cool clothes. The bonus of vacationing at my second home is that we don’t need to worry about hotel bookings, dietary restrictions/restaurants, and I keep a stash of most toiletries and hair tools at my parents’ house, which saves luggage space.
For those of you who travel regularly, these tips might seem obvious (or you may think they’re stupid), so I encourage everyone to share their tips in the comments. If you’ve never travelled internationally before, or always find yourself over-packed and stressed out, maybe this advice will help!
Of course, I’ve excluded the most obvious advice including: making sure you have your travel insurance sorted and the emergency number on hand, collect your air miles, and get to the airport stupidly early (especially if you’re trying to get to Heathrow).
So, here are my top 10 tips for travelling and packing!
1: Make a list!
Obvious perhaps, but I mean a really detailed list in Excel of exactly what you will be bringing. I also suggest creating said list a couple of weeks in advance so that you have time to plan your outfits, figure out what you need to buy, and do your laundry. A list also means that on the morning of your flight you can double-check to make sure you haven’t forgotten things you use up until the last-minute like phone, chargers, makeup etc.
2: Check-in online and submit passenger details
I learned this the hard way one of the earlier times I travelled back to Canada from the UK. I’d never used the online check-in option before and I figured I’d be at the airport in plenty of time. However, I had major delays getting to Heathrow and, while I was still there an hour and a half before my flight, they’d given up the seat I’d purchased months ago (due to over booking) and stuck me in a middle seat next to a smelly man who’d been back-packing for months and was drunk. It’s of course unacceptable for the airlines to over book flights and give away your seat when you’re on time, but it happens.
I suggest checking in online the night before and actually printing off your boarding pass. Until recently, I didn’t own a smart phone so couldn’t do the mobile check-in, but I frankly don’t trust my phone and would hate for it to crap out on me right when I try to board the plane.
Regarding passenger details, this likely depends on your airline and where you’re going. For Air Canada, they send a link with your booking confirmation and want you to fill in the passenger details before you fly. I’ve never not done this, but I assume it saves you time at the airport. Also bear in mind that visitors (non-residents/non-citizens) of Canada are now required to pay a $7 Electronic Travel Authorization, which Lucy had to pay.
3: Noise-cancelling headphones
I will never travel without my headphones. I have an old pair of Sony ear bud style noise-cancelling headphones and they’re great. I have them in my purse at all times (along with a spare AAA battery) and I stick them in pretty much when I get to my seat. I watch movies most of the flight and they block out a lot of the engine noise, and they’re helpful to dull the noise of other passengers, particularly if I want to sleep. The only somewhat gross thing I recommend is pulling them out mid-flight and give your ears a chance to breathe because they get… moist?
4: Bring a portable hard drive
This won’t apply to everyone, but since I go back-and-forth between the UK and Canada, I bring a small portable hard drive so that I can use my parents’ computer. I bring my tablet, but it’s for general internet use and useless with files. My hard drive is crucial for bringing research material, personal documents, backing up photos, and writing blog posts.
Tying into this tip is pack the hard drive and any other valuable electronics you have (all valuables, actually) in your carry-on if at all possible. And don’t forget those cables and chargers!
5: Buy a luggage scale
I’ve had my hand-held luggage scale for years and, although it is sometimes difficult to weigh my suitcase and read the number with my back problems (i.e. I get someone to help), I find it gives me a more accurate reading than a body scale. For Air Canada, the weight limit is 23kg, and I always try to make sure my bag is no more than 21kg because my scale has differed from the airport one on many occasions. The last thing I want to do is unpack my suitcase, or pay for an overweight bag.
6: Have a distinct luggage tag
I had a very unfortunate situation regarding luggage, and since then I have purchased a bright orange luggage tag. I used to have a purple and grey suitcase which is fairly distinct and unusual. But, after a tiring flight back to the UK I picked up what I thought was my suitcase and started to walk out with it before a woman ran up to me and said I’d taken her suitcase by mistake. Sure enough, we had the exact same bag, weighing about the same, from the same flight. Now I always look for my (now red) bag with its orange tag, and I always double-check the airline tag to see my name before I walk out.
7: Pack versatile clothing items
It’s tempting to buy cute vacation outfits like playsuits or sundresses, or want to bring your favourite sweater, but they’re a waste of space if you aren’t going to wear them more than once. Bring staple items that can be mixed-and-matched and layered according to the weather. I list all the clothing items I might want to bring and then lay out my choices, selecting items which are practical, and which I can get the most use out of. Also, try on the items you want to bring if you haven’t worn them in a while because I packed a pair of shorts and then tried them on, only to find they’re to small… grumble. I also like to pack items which I deem “Watson proof” so that the dog doesn’t snag his claws on a work blouse, or chew my favourite pair of socks.
8: Roll roll roll!
Everyone has different techniques for packing. Some fold, some use packing cubes, and I roll. Rolling saves space, and allows you to see and easily access the items you’ve packed. Clothes rolled around fragile objects (such as a bottle of liquid wrapped a billion times in bags to avoid leaking) helps protect them from breaking, and rolled items prevent things from shifting too much in a suitcase that isn’t full.
9: Avoid those leg cramps
The past few years I’ve succumbed to the dreaded leg cramps. I get general back pain anyways, but I find after about 5 hours I also get throbbing leg pain. Therefore, I always take a pain-killer (usually ibprophin) at the start of the flight and again mid-flight. I also find it helps to wear loose socks and take my shoes off, and drink A LOT of water. This means I’ve given up filling my normal water bottle after security because it simply doesn’t hold enough. I do my part in destroying the planet by buying one of those large bottles of water in the airport to get me through the flight. P.S. Drinking lots of water will also help with constipation.
10: For those left-handers
If, like me, you’re left-handed, I highly suggest picking an aisle seat on the right hand side of the plane to give you optimal elbow room for eating your dinner (but avoid the trolley bashing into you!). It’s so uncomfortable trying to eat your meal when you’re elbowing your neighbour. Unfortunately, because I booked two seats for this flight and gave Lucy the window seat so that she can see the mountains, I get stuck in the middle seat. I am so selfless and loving…
I waffled on whether to include this tip in my top 10, but always have a pen on you. You need it to fill out the immigration form and it saves you from having to do it at the beginning of the queue while everyone rushes in front of you. You definitely need to do this coming into the UK, but apparently Vancouver just got electronic customs declaration kiosks so we no longer need to fill out the form during the flight. I don’t like this change because I hate those machines (last time it told me I had an invalid passport), but I guess we’ll see what happens.
Happy flying and I’ll be posting next time from Vancouver!