Wanderer

Bypassing Airline Limits

It’s fair to say, no matter how much I cut down the contents of my suitcase, no matter how strict I am with myself or how many hybrid items I buy (note, an IPod Touch and all-in-one makeup have saved me so much space and weight), I always struggle to remain within the 10KG weight limit of certain airlines.

The reason is simple: I’m a photographer. If I were not, I would not have a bulky camera, with its heavy lenses, and those little items that build up fast; chargers, spare batteries, blah blah blah. If I were not a photographer, I would drop the laptop, and all of the extras that go with it – again, charger, external hard drive, mouse (how some people can use Photoshop sans mouse, I don’t know). I could get by with a tablet – an IPod Touch, even. Camera – check, access to WordPress – check, email – check, the ability to show off to the world via various social networking sites – check. Kindle’s app – check. And then I swear, my travelling ways would be much simpler. I would not have been forced to swap a backpack for a suitcase to save myself from having to carry my life with my limited upper body strength… by limited I mean, barely existent, it seems.

Nevertheless, I am a photographer, and while my ‘kit bag’ is way more limited than so many that I have seen on the road, being an equipment minimalist, I did the maths last night, and the results were scary. I calculated exactly how much weight my camera, lenses (and extra snappity-snap related bits) and my laptop (and extra clickity-click related bits) take up alone.

My basic equipment comes to a grand total of 4.5KG. 4.5KG – that weight comes from a grand total of the following list:

1x 5D MKII

1x zoom lens, e.g. 24-105mm

1x 50mm prime lens

Camera charger

2x batteries

Several CompactFlash cards

A couple of filters

Camera bag

A teeny tiny cleaning kit

My Dell Ultrabook – aka – the working man’s MacBook Air.

Laptop charger

External Hard drive

Mouse

Laptop sleeve

IPod touch

IPod charger

Phone

Phone charger

Portable charger (because something always loses charge just at the wrong moment)

Various camera-to-laptop, laptop-to-screen, charger-to-blah-blah-blah cables

And that 4.5KG total is not including the bag in which I weighed it all. Had I included my tripod, the total weight would have included an extra 1.8KG. So that’s 6.3KG out of 10KG used up on equipment alone.

That doesn’t leave much for clothes, even if I do try to select the lightest fabrics, and minimalise my makeup bag.

Sure, I could merge my IPod and Phone and just get an IPhone – I know that that’s the obvious choice, but I’m not about to pay for an insanely expensive phone contract, nor do I want to buy a PAYG IPhone. Most of the time, I’m seriously considering just leaving my phone behind entirely, I use it so rarely.

I’m getting off track… so I’ve given a lot of thought over the years as to how to sneak through airport security with much more than I ought to be carrying. I’ve looked into the recommended methods of others, for example, Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Months has made a few videos talking about ho he carries more than the weight limit. There are jackets and cargo trousers and magic handbags that turn into cardigans with seven-thousand hidden pockets, such as the Jaktogo, and if you want to go for that method, great, good for you. It’s definitely a clever design, as are the many other similar products, but I’m just… I guess, if I were to be honest with myself, I’m too vain to walk through any airport wearing something that resembles a Mr Potato Head fancy dress costume. Nor am I about to buy an old jacket just to tear a ‘pocket opening’ into the lining and strut through the terminal with a Kim Kardashian bum and boobs because I’ve stuffed the lining with my possessions.

Filling my pockets with items would be my go-to solution, but I don’t really buy clothes with pockets very often. My winter coat has sewn-up pockets for detail only, my jeans are jeggings… I have one fairly new trench coat with pockets, one jumper with pockets, and one cardigan with pockets… that’s about it. Ooo, and my new chinos! Ok, I guess the number of pockets in my wardrobe is growing. If pockets are available, stuff them with as much as you can.

Next – and quite obviously, I think – I layer. I wear as much of my wardrobe as I can get away with – as much as can be worn as an outfit without looking like this:

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I’ll also make sure that I wear my bulkiest item of clothing – my favourite pink skirt, with its 100 layers of tulle. Not only does it take up a lot of space, no matter how carefully I roll or fold it, but it’s quite heavy, so I almost always fly while wearing it.

I also realised that a waist belt over a baggy shirt can be a great way to hold a few items. Purely by chance – this is the sort of discovery one makes while juggling my passport, boarding ticket, wallet, a novel, my IPod/IPad, my camera, and whatever else I’m trying to carry all at once. The waist belt makes a nice little pocket of space, and I’ve been known to shove a few things in there discreetly… though of course, emptying your shirt in the middle of airport security would be rather annoying.

These aren’t my main methods for slipping past strict weight limits though. The combination of a knee-length trench coat and a discreet shoulder bag is my best friend when flying. I’ve learnt that when passing through security, no one questions how many bags I have – I can be carrying a handbag as well as a suitcase, and even if my boarding pass clearly shows that I’m flying with an airline that won’t allow two bags, I need not actually put the handbag away until I’m about to board. And then, rather than shoving it in my suitcase like I see everyone else in line doing at the last moment, I chose a bag with a ‘flat cut’; you’ll need something stiffer than a tote or canvas bag, which will just bulge out rather than holding the contents flat and upright. I bought my particular bag in a small boutique in Budapest, but you’d need something like these:

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Nette’ Leather Goods. Olivia Laptop Case. £185. Available here.
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LK Bennett. Karina mini leather tote. £225. Available here.


Wear it beneath your coat, and no one need know that it’s there. I use mine to hold my laptop, external hard drive, a novel, my travel journal, passport and wallet, which immediately removes about 2KG (1.37 being the laptop) from my suitcase. The second I’m in my seat, I see everyone else awkwardly opening up their suitcases to pull out their handbags, or trying to balance their wallets, books, IPads and phones on their fingertips while pulling along their case behind them. Instead, I sit down, take off my coat, the bag goes under my seat, and bam, done. As long as you don’t fill it with anything bulky, no one can see that it’s there.

I’ve heard people talk about stuffing possessions in their socks, bras, even using safety-pins to attach socks to the linings of hats or folds of scarves. Bypassing airline limits comes down to creativity, and just how silly you’re willing to look in public. But if you’re as vain as me, buy a flat shoulder bag.

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Wanderer

My 5 Travel Site Musts

The verdant limestone bluffs that form the Phi Phi Islands open at Wang Long, a famed dive site with submarine tunnels and caverns. Though hit hard by the December 2004 tsunami, the place has been cleared of debris, and diving is as popular as ever

At a glance, I have about 1050385 travel-related web pages listed in my web bookmarks. I’ve become weirdly OCD about organising my bookmarks, so I know exactly how to find just that exact website whose entire url name escapes me.

Still, out of those 1050385 bookmarked web pages, there are a select few that I use again and again, be it for booking my flights, finding a bed for the night, or reading about the adventures of others.

  1. Skyscanner. Let’s start with the most addictive, shall we? Skyscanner is simple enough: select the airport/city/country from which you wish to depart, choosing either a specific date or the month in which you will be flying, select where you’re flying to, and behold, a list of prices with various airlines. It’s a flight comparison website. What I find most addictive is the ‘fly anywhere’ option… I love browsing and seeing where I can jet off to. Many a spontaneous trip has been born from my Skyscanner addiction, I can tell you. Sure, it has a few hiccups – sometimes it will display an incorrect flight price, but generally it’s accurate. And you always find those mistakes before booking any flights, so no worries there.
  2. Couchsurfing. I have met so many lovely people through this website, many of whom I’m now fortunate enough to call my friends. Thanks to the freedom of modern day travel, I have friends in more countries than I have visited – often due to this website! This is the perfect website for if you’re short of cash, or, like me, you simply prefer to stay with locals when you’re travelling. It’s an online community designed to bring together ‘surfers’ – aka, the adventurous traveller, to you and me – with hosts, who will offer them a bed for the night, or if they can’t do that, their company, a drinking partner, a tour guide – whatever. Yes, there can be some safety concerns. I’ve heard them all from my loving but a tad over-protective friends. You know, warnings about lone young women staying with strange men, in a strange city, in a strange country with a strange language and no money. Blah blah blah. Honestly, as long as you’re careful, and you keep your creep-radar on full at all times, you’ll be fine. There are women hosts too, you know (if it does worry you).
  3. Seat61. While I love flying (a little too much, perhaps. I get such a rush from take off), I like to travel by train as often as possible. The views are nicer (and there are many more window seats, so it’s much less likely that I find myself wrestling with strangers over the best seat), the ride kinder on my ears, and it gives me a chance to say ‘ooo what a lovely little village… I think I’ll go and explore’. Somewhat adrenaline junkie I may be, but I am not about to jump out of a plane because ‘ooo, that mystery space of Earth 30,000ft (at a guess) below me looks pretty… I’m sure they won’t notice if I borrow a chute and just float on down there for a browse.’ This site is the creation of Mark Smith, ‘career railwayman’, who luckily saw a need to breakdown to us wanderlusters exactly how to get from any A to any B via train, from routes, approximate prices and timetables. Very handy!
  4. NomadicMatt. This guy is something of a budget travel king. His blog focuses a lot on money-saving tips, from how to get cheap flights and cruise tickets, how to choose the best insurance and credit cards, to how to build a successful travel blog of your own. While now days he has a base in NYC (though according to his blog he only spends a few weeks there at a time before jetting off again), he travelled constantly as a digital nomad from 2006 until New Year 2013. Six and a half years of travel!? I think he’s definitely earned his crown.
  5. BlaBlaCar. Again, for when I want to see the world pass me by – or I just want to nip to the next nearest city or a quaint nearby village with no public transport links. If people have planned a car journey, they can sell spare seats for a small fee. Tip: even if you think you’re travelling light, always message the driver to check that there is space for your luggage. Don’t just presume that they will have room for your matching LV luggage set – or your teeny tiny rugged canvas rucksack, if you’re me.

Honourable Mentions:

Finding the bare essentials:

Airbnb.
Hostelworld/Hostelbookers.
Warm Showers. <—-so useful when you’ve just stepped off a stuffy train/bus/boat after a day-long journey with no air-con, having spent the entire trip stuffed into a sweaty overweight stranger’s fat folds. Yes, such an event has happened to me. Yes, therapy is ongoing.

Money makes the world go round…

Global Work and Travel. A great site for finding work abroad; paid, voluntary, internships, etc.
‘7 digital nomads explain how they live, work and travel’ <—- very inspiring post, and links to several great blogs.
WWOOF. While it’s really useful that every country has it’s own WWOOF website, I find it a little annoying that each of those websites requires a seperate membership, and even more so that each membership ranges everywhere from £0 to £50. If you’re planning to ‘wwoof’ and travel across many borders, this can get quite pricey. Still, a great source for finding fruit picking/farm work if you’re looking to experience something different than museums and beaches.
Verbling. Teach English online.
’50 Travel Magazines that want to Publish your Writing’

Inspirational bloggers:

Adventurous Kate.
JacksGap.
The Odyssey Expedition.
The Runaway Guide.

A to B:

Hitchhikers.org 

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Wanderer

And so it begins…

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Porto. Second city of Portugal after Lisbon, with a population of 238,000, and famous of course for port wine. I’ve been here before; last September, for just a short 4 day trip to end last summer’s adventures. It was a lazy holiday to end the chaos, and I was too poor to do anything much at all, having spent all of my money in Italy and France and the various other countries that I had wandered into last summer. But this time, Porto is the first stop…

I do still love Porto, but that fuzzy haze of last summer has faded; last summer I could compare the row after row of derelict shabby chic buildings to beautiful, crumbling Venice, but now they seem very much apart to me. Maybe the fuzz will be back by morning, and it will turn out that it was just the less than perfect Ryanair flight that has clouded my opinion for now… we’ll see.

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Of course, I feel like I shouldn’t bother to complain about Ryanair; you get what you pay for and for a £50 flight (and 100000000 Ryanair flights under my belt already), I really couldn’t have expected much. It was all very same-same; they don’t even consider opening the gate for boarding until the plane was due for take off, then we are all prodded and poked like bad tempered cattle up the narrow staircase with our as-heavy-as-we-dare case, and into any available seat, while we are then stripped of our luggage and watch cautiously as it is launched from one end of the cabin to the other and following a brief game of catch between crew members during which I swear they earn points as to how many heads they can clobber with each case, it is finally placed in a luggage rack miles away. None of that bothered me in the slightest, I’m more than used to Ryanair’s typical passenger treatment by now, I’ve learnt how to just breeze by, which I think is quite impressive when I’m wearing as many layers as I can get away with without looking like the Michelin Man’s self-combusting wife.

Still, I honestly think I was the cheeriest person on that flight; everyone let the 15 minute delay get to them far too much, or maybe they were just naturally a bad-tempered bunch. Even my meagre lunch of overpriced sweaty cardboard chips and soggy salt which fell in clumps onto my food couldn’t put a damper on my mood. They tasted as if they had been re-heated at least twice. In fact, I’d swear that they had been, as they tasted exactly like a bowl of chips that I ate last year shortly before we caught the freezer out on it’s infamous game of sneak-a-defrost. Sneak-a-defrost was an irritatingly secret game played by the household freezer during which it would switch off just long enough for everything to thaw, and then magically repair itself, leaving us oblivious. They tasted exactly like sneak-a-defrost chips. Still, I’m off on my big adventure, so I can forgive a short delay and a dozen re-heated chips.

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As soon as I stepped from the metro at Sao Bento, I just so happened to bump into an old acquaintance (of sorts), Scary Mary, a local homeless woman who despite a pretty serious limp and her feeble remains of a pair of sandals can chase after you at about 100mph, jingling coins at you and shouting in Portuguese about lord knows what… my bets are she’s either shouting at me about her unfortunate living conditions as one of Porto’s homeless or a detailed fantasy about the various ways she’d like to kill me; batter me to death with the sandal remains. I bet it’s one or the other. If she wasn’t so terrifying, I’d buy her a McDonalds and a coffee, but I just don’t dare to linger when I see her charging towards me, filthy, wild-hair flailing all over the place, even wilder-eyes burning through me, limping away in her shit-stained trousers and those damn sandals scraping across the cobbles. She’s truly terrifying.

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Don’t get me wrong, Porto isn’t all homeless people and crumbling buildings (though sadly 70% of the buildings here are derelict, so I’m told). It’s a beautiful city which is a strange mix of being loud and lively and full of dancing and music and people congregating in squares and at the river to laugh and talk, and equally you can walk down eerily quiet, deserted streets moments later, which is perfect for someone like me; I like my me-time, and I like my space, which of course can be impossible to find when travelling. I find it pretty admirable how happy people are here, despite buildings around them quite literally falling down around them. It’s just one of those infectiously cheery places.

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Tomorrow I will probably head to the beach, and make the most of this lovely 30-35C heat! Are you jealous my lovely friends back home in England? I hope so.

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