Packing it in

As I shiver under my plug-in, heated, faux-fur throw and write the last update of 2022, I am very glad to report that I will soon be shedding a layer or two and giving the storage heaters a well-earned break. Anyone who knows me will realise I don’t winter well, and the view from my sofa is of grey-white snow, ice and now, gales. I love this place, but I can’t be here when it does this – even though I understand it must do it. I just don’t want to be involved, thanks. So I am delighted to report that after two year-ends of enforced captivity, I am once again hastening to sunnier climes.

Of course, travel at this time of year is neither simple nor pleasant: the icy road conditions, rail strikes, airport chaos (hopefully considerably less than in summer) and the sheer distance between ‘here’ and ‘there’ means that I will be spending as many nights ‘on the road’ on this island than in Tenerife, my eventual destination. This is causing havoc with the packing.

I travel light. Excess baggage – on a trip, or life in general – weighs me down. I rarely check-in hold luggage, except when I’m taking a painting group and lugging all their art materials with me. Airlines continually reduce the size of bag allowed on as hand luggage, so I challenge myself to fit everything into smaller and smaller containers until eventually I’ll be going with just the clothes I’m standing in, and won’t that be a joy?

I once met someone who was on a year-long exploration of South America with the tiniest rucksack. He had brought just what he was wearing (shorts, t-shirt and sandals); one spare pair of underpants which doubled as swimming trunks; a toothbrush, full-size salt and pepper grinders and a shaggy, black, rock-star wig which he wore in every photograph. I guess, then, he must have brought a camera as well, as a considered indulgence. Personally, I would have ditched the salt and pepper for an extra t-shirt but he just shrugged and bought a new one as the need arose. Perhaps he also carried deodorant. Marcus, if you ever read this, you were an inspiration, and I will spend forever trying to emulate your style.

This kind of travelling isn’t always possible, of course. Not only will I need everything from Ugg boots and duvet jacket to swimwear and flip-flops on this occasion – along with everything in between – I also have a favour or two to carry. My old friend Karen and her husband Mark have lived on Tenerife for decades, and don’t get the chance to return very often. So when I asked if there was anything they might like me to bring over that they couldn’t find locally I was expecting them to say Marmite, PG tips, or even smoked salmon (which I would have refused – too stinky). But Karen is not normal, which is why I love her. She did, indeed, want me to bring something: a hoe. I had to draw the line at a whole one (I might have been arrested), so a compromise was reached, and I now have two large, second-hand, iron hoe heads nestled between the cosy pyjamas and summer skirts. I imagine I will be earning my keep by doing a spot of gardening, which will be much less of a problem than the issues caused with my packing.

The upshot of all this is that it’s important to know:

1. When to admit defeat and check in a bag, and

2. When to call on the wisdom of Liz, and the sight of her opened case during our first trip to Sri Lanka.

‘It can only come if it goes,’ she explained, as I gazed in wonder at her tightly-rolled clothing items in shades of ecru, white and dark blue. Every top went with every bottom, shoes and accessories included. It seemed a little dull at the time but it was a travel packing lesson well-learned and now, on the rare occasions I shop, I do so with future trips in mind. Basically, it all depends on which flip-flops I’m taking: black, or blue?

My only problem now is in deciding which books to bring, out of the mountain I have waiting to be read. That, and if I can possibly squeeze in a vegan haggis.

A warm and happy Winter Solstice, everyone!