Dos And Don’ts For Travellers By Julia Crouch
As part of the book tour for her new book ‘The Long Fall’, Julia Crough shares her top tips and advice for budding travellers.
When I was eighteen, I backpacked around Europe on my own for six months. As is still my habit, I kept a journal. My notes from back then have formed the background for ‘The Long Fall’, part of which is set in Greece in 1980.
The wanderlust has stayed with me: I have travelled whenever I can, and plan to do a whole load more now my children have practically all grown up.
I like to go away alone, but I have also gone off and away for whole summers with my family when my three children were all sorts of ages, and I love taking one or two of them off with me for no-agenda adventures – going where our noses lead us.
So here are my top tips, gleaned from all these years of gadding on planes, trains and automobiles.
Don’t fret about packing. All you really need to do is repeat this mantra:
Passport, Ticket, Money Wallet, Keys. I did have a boyfriend who added Fags, Prick to the end of the list, but I find I can do very happily without either.
Don’t pack stupid shoes. You won’t wear them. Sandals and trainers are all you need.
But (unless you are going specifically to run a marathon or something) don’t take your running gear. You will not be running.
Don’t pack stuff like shampoo and all that nonsense. It makes taking just carry-on a total bore (and carry-on only should always be your packing aim). Just buy it when you get there and leave it behind when you leave (but remember to leave some space in your bag if you are travelling around).
Take a length of sturdy string and some clothes pegs – you can then hang stuff up to dry wherever you are sleeping, so you only need 3 pairs of knickers: wearers, dirties and just washed. Take a torch, a big, lightweight cloth bag for day trips, shopping, etc, a flannel for quick all-over washes when no shower is handy, and a corkscrew. This is all the emergency equipment you need.
On the subject of luggage and planes: Wear as many of your clothes as you can when flying. If they say your luggage is too heavy and you’re putting it in the hold, just calmly open your bag and put on more clothes until the weight comes down. Carry your laptop hidden in a newspaper at check in so it doesn’t get included in your cabin baggage weight.
But don’t wear an M&S underwired bra. They always set off the metal detectors. This is a particularly hot tip for the chaps.
Chill. Extra reading time. What’s not to like? Unless you have kids with you (see below)
TAKE THE PAPER PART OF YOUR DRIVING LICENCE WITH YOU. Especially if travelling in the UK or Ireland.
Make sure all the scratches and bumps on your low cost car rental are marked on the diagram they give you. Photograph them too, with a time stamp (you can get an app for your phone). Be aware that this is a war: most car hire firms will try to rip you off for everything. Buy car hire excess insurance. It costs about £60/year and can save you up to £1000 if you have a prang. Photograph the car when you return it as well, particularly if the car hire office is shut and you can’t get someone to sign off the condition of the vehicle.
Driving in some places can be really hairy. Crete, for example. Or Rome. The trick is to stay calm and drive slowly and don’t take the horn-hooting personally. In some places it is a national sport. This particularly applies to New York City, where you might even find yourself taking part and good-naturedly shouting ‘asswipe’ in a Brooklyn accent as someone cuts you up.
Book through booking.com. You can change your mind at the last minute, the descriptions and reviews are brilliant and I’ve found they have been fantastic when things go wrong.
If travelling around a bit, mix up the hotels – stay in real cheapo places, then treat yourself to something a bit more comfortable from time to time.
Don’t stay in anything too fancy, though. It will be full of idiots and they tend to play horrible muzak all the time, everywhere. I bitterly recall two different Brian Adams tracks completely spoiling the gobsmacking view as I sat on my balcony between two terraces in a posh hotel in Santorini. Also, they charge you if you so much as breathe.
The joys of a cheap chain hotel are often overlooked. I find that if you complain that your room, say, smells of vomit, they are very happy to find you another one. The unsmelly rooms are generally very clean indeed, but they like to try you with a stinker first, particularly if you are with kids.
As a young woman travelling on her own, I suffered from constant unwelcome male attention. I therefore found it difficult to strike a balance between being over cautious about speaking to randoms and being taken as giving someone the come-on. You do have to trust your instinct to some extent, but here are some obvious but oft-overlooked tips:
Don’t let anyone see your hotel key or know your room number.
Ask to stay on upper floors.
Don’t be too precise about posting where you are staying on social media – or watch your security settings if you can’t help yourself.
Always put the chain on the door, and never, ever answer if you don’t know who’s knocking.
Make friends with the front desk, so they can help you if you have a problem.
Don’t take the short cut home at night. Even if it seems like a safe, rural area.
Also: People drive like nutters in safe, rural areas. Take your torch with you, and climb into the verge if someone passes you.
When I was younger, I had a very baggy black t-shirt dress that I wore when I was travelling. I resented the fact, but it really did make a difference to my freedom of movement. It’s sad, but you can’t change an entire macho culture on your own.
If there’s a nun on the train, sit by her.
If you find you are being plagued by male hasslers though, the best tip is to turn forty. No one bothers you at all when you’ve turned forty. It is really refreshing.
Travelling With Kids
Always take a pack of cards and book with new games, so you can extend your repertoire.
Breastfeed as long as possible: far simpler than bottles when travelling (although please, please have stopped by the time they hit puberty). Also be aware that old ladies in southern European countries are delighted to see a younger woman breastfeeding. Just don’t flash your tits everywhere and you will find yourself being congratulated like some sort of superhero whenever you nurse your baby.
iPads. Just that. Preload with great books, games and movies for long journeys. Drawfree is an excellent app. Kept me and Joey, then 12, happy for hours of delays in Corfu airport.
Get them involved in planning, choosing where to stay, etc. You can always influence heavily.
Economy tip: take a tiny camp stove so you can cook meals on hotel balconies, or (as I have) in public squares in cities.
Get them to do their fair share of the carrying: small wheely suitcases are better than rucksacks. Even better are the wheeled cases that you can wear on your back if you have to negotiate rough ground or steps. If they are very young, though, you have to accept that at some times it’s easier to do all the lugging rather than put up with the whining.
If they’re teenagers, for god’s sake let them sleep on in the mornings and have a bit of you time. Why on earth would you get them up early?
Be prepared for your home to feel utterly constraining for at least a week after you have returned. You can cure this by planning the next trip.
You can buy Julia’s new book The Long Fall from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.