travelling

Holiday Packing Tips

The 5 Week Wanderer’s Packing Tips

Asking me to pack for a holiday is like instructing me to put an elephant into a locket. At any one time at home my clothes are distributed between my walk in wardrobe, my spare room (on the drying maiden), the washing pile and the washing machine.

When you put them all together (which is rare, because I’m never that on top of the laundry) I could probably fill 10-15 large suitcases despite the fact that I flogged a load on eBay and sent 6 black bin bags to the charity shop this year alone.

Having been on two three-week holidays in the last 2 years, I’ve had to learn to pack properly! This post contains my top tips for travel packing – based on my experiences and obsession with shoes, bags and shopping!

 

DO Underpack

It’s simple really. You’re probably going to go shopping when you’re on holiday. If it’s a city break, there’s a good chance there will be daily shopping involved! Take New York. What right-minded fashion-loving individual would travel to new York with a full suitcase?

If you have one beach bag, a clutch bag, a backpack and a medium-sized-tote-bag already in your case then it’s suddenly much harder to justify buying that Marc Jacobs black number.

Another bonus to under-packing is the obvious benefit of being able to bring back more goodies. Just don’t fall foul of the baggage weight limit like I did when we came back from Barcelona last week, or you’ll have to find a way to get the 10kg additional baggage onto the plane without it going on the scales. Queue wearing all the jewellery you own and layering so many items of clothing that you can barely get through security.

Packing in Airport

This is what happens when your Husband doesn’t leave room for his many in-holiday purchases. Your have to wear everything on the way home, abandon barely-used toiletries  and repack the case in the airport. Do I look impressed?!

DO Take Hold Luggage

I do understand why people take hand luggage only, but when you’re going away for a week and have to cram everything you own into a tiny suitcase for the sake of saving yourself a pocket-money-change amount, I question whether it’s really the best use of your energy. Dump the bags, pick up a cocktail and wait for your flight without heaving your belongings around the airport like a pack-horse.

Besides, if you think you’re getting one over on the airlines by foregoing your hairdryer, wearing your biggest heels to the airport and taking cabin baggage only for a week’s holiday, you’re wrong. As much as I like value for money (comes with territory when you work in finance), unless I’m only going away for a couple of nights my bag is getting checked into the hold!

DON’T Use Packing Lists Written by Backpackers

Unless you’re also going backpacking, travel packing lists are often not only irrelevant but tediously boring. “3 long sleeved tops and 3 vest tops for mix-and-match layering” will never be going in my suitcase, let alone on my body – It’s not 1992 and I’m not in a girl-band.

Yes, I pack sensible clothes (including sports clothes for trekking about in) but I draw the line at dressing like someone who’s been hitch-hiking for the last 35 years without making it to a shopping mall. Anyway, who goes away for 3 weeks and only expects to wear flip-flops and hiking boots?! That’s asking for blisters.

Do use a packing list written by someone like you who is going on a similar holiday. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure you’ll be either bringing back most of the case unworn or throwing it out to make space for your new purchases!

New balance trainers

No, you can’t pack all of those.

DO Pack Your Ludicrously High Heels

Holiday life isn’t the same as day-to-day life. If you can’t wear your most impractical stilettos in Vegas, where can you?

Pack for excitement and fun even if it means you can’t walk more than 100m without needing to sit down. Hell, treat yourself to a taxi – you are on holiday after all!

DON’T Sweat the Small Stuff

Unless you’re going to Siberia or the jungle you can probably buy most of what you need when you arrive at your destination, so there’s no need to have a hissy fit when you inevitably forget to pack a toothbrush.

The people of Hong Kong also need toothbrushes, so the corner shop will stock them and it’s not like shampoo is a rare commodity in a hotel.

DO Wet Your Swimsuit

How awkward is it when that bargain white and gold bikini that shows your tan so well also shows off your ass-crack and nipples as soon as it comes into contact with the sea?

I wouldn’t know, because I always check my swimsuits for see-through-ness – especially the cheap ones!

Bikini Swimsuit

Don’t give people an eyeful at the pool. Test that swimsuit!

DO Pack a Darker Foundation

If you must wear foundation (personally I tend not to, especially on holiday) then make sure you account for the change in skin tone when you expose yourself to sunlight.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I’ve seen girls queuing up to get on the return flight looking like they bathed in gravy then dipped their face in flour. Not a good look, and easily avoided!

DO Carry on Valuables

Take your camera, best jewellery and posh handbags in your carry-on luggage. You don’t want to misshape your Mulberry in the hold or have your beloved Chanel* travelling around the world without you.

I know plenty of people who have had luggage delayed or lost, and although most of them eventually got them back they were often dirty, smelly, wet or torn.

If there’s something you can’t bear to lose but have to take with you on your trip, keep in close to you at all times!

If you must put bags in the hold (i.e. if you buy a few on holiday and need to get them home) then stuff them with clothes and put them back in the dust bag so they don’t lose their shape!

* If only… A girl can dream!

DO Pack Several Pairs of Sunglasses

Being mixed race, I tend to tan very easily, which means that when I return I typically have tanning stripes. As you can imagine, its also very easy for my to end up with terrible un-tanned areas around my eyes which looks ridiculous once you return to the less-than-sunny UK.

The effect of this is much worse if you’re a fan of big outrageous sunglasses like I am! Limit the damage by packing several different pairs and rotating throughout the holiday – the more different the shape the better!

sunglasses

DON’T Be Ignorant!

Always be mindful of differing fashion conventions and pack so you can observe cultural rules. High waisted denim Levi cut offs that show your underbum crease and a lace ‘bralette’ are probably not OK for a trip to the UAE.

DO Buy Quality Luggage

I don’t mean pretty luggages, or designer luggage or even the lightest ever luggage. Buy luggage which will last many miles of travelling, is flexible and expandable, water resistant and easy to live out of for weeks on end!

My luggage of choice is Eastpak – My Husband and I both have a backpack and a suitcase/holdall that my Dad bought us as wedding gifts before our honeymoon. Crap luggage is false economy, especially if you’re replacing them every few years! These bad boys have a 30 year guarantee, so it’s a worthwhile investment!

Eastpak baggage

Overall, Just don’t stress!

You’ll probably forget something, but it probably won’t even matter once you’ve arrived at your designation and begun to get into ‘holiday mode’.

Happy holidays!

If you wish, feel free to contact me @ the5weekwanderer@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram or twitter!

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4 Nights in New York City – Late September

Everyone should visit New York City at some point in their lives. Whether you’re a fan of big cities or not, the experience is one not to be missed. I have an ‘adventure book’ which is like a bucket list – only with a less morbid title! Having a shopping spree in NYC was on my list, so when we were planning our US road trip, we decided to stop off in the city  en route to Vegas.

There’s so much to do in New York that it can be difficult to prioritise when you only have a few days – we focussed our attention on the stuff we knew we couldn’t do somewhere else (except the shopping of course)!

Here’s what we did in our 4 nights in the Big Apple, and the approximate time we allowed for each activity!

Staten Island Ferry (25 mins each way)

Definitely take the ferry. There’s no excuse, because it is FREE! The ride over to Staten Island boasts great views of the Statue of Liberty and of Lower Manhatten and the return journey can be done in less than an hour. A cracking deal if you ask me!

Ground Zero (30 mins without the museum)

There’s something about ground zero which makes you feel both irreconcilably sad and grateful at the same time. Visit to pay your respects and to take a quiet moment of contemplation.

Shopping & Sample Sales

Shopping is good anywhere but what sets New York apart is the sample sales and Century 21 department stores. Century 21 is a discount department store, so expect to find heavily discounted mid – high range designer clothes and bags. Think Michael Kors through to Kate Spade right through to Hermes!

Check out the dates and locations of sample sales online before you go so you can get some REAL bargains. I picked up two designer dresses and one designer bag for the equivalent of £125 from the Rent the Runway sample sale. One dress alone was worth £800 new, so it was quite the bargain!

Yankees Game (1 evening – 3-4 hours)

We were lucky enough to be in town when the Yankees played the Red Sox – a classic clash!

We only bought the tickets 2 hours prior to the game and we able to leave it so late because they were printable e-tickets that we collected from the Times Square StubHub office. We had been periodically checking prices throughout the day and saw that they were falling drastically the closer we got to the game. We ended up getting reasonable seats for $12 each – much cheaper than the $50 each the hotel wanted for tickets to the same game, in the bleachers (worst seats in the stadium)! I would thoroughly recommend checking StubHub for any ticket requirements you might have when you’re in New York.

Getting to the stadium is a doddle on the subway  and the atmosphere was great – just follow the crowds when you get to the right stop (161 street) and you can’t miss the stadium!

New York Yankees Game

Grand Central Station (20 mins-ish)

It’s a pretty nice building, and quite iconic, so if you’re in the city it makes sense to go and see it with your own eyes! Pop in, have a wander around and take some pictures!

Times Square (1 hour – ish)

This place is strange! I’d head there at night so you get the buzz from the hustle, bustle and bright lights but be prepared for a lot of people traffic! The restaurants in the area can be expensive (and I was told a little bit tacky) so we didn’t eat there, but you could if you wanted to as there is plenty of choice.

There’s loads of people about, shops and street performers. The giant babies were pretty creepy and I question the necessity of some not-so-blessed women being topless for no apparent reason, but other than that it’s a good experience!

New York times square

The bright lights of Times Square at night

 

Brooklyn Bridge (30 min walk)

Another iconic structure in the city, the Brooklyn bridge is a great photo opportunity, and if you have time to walk over there are apparently a lot of really good breakfast places at the other side. We opted to walk part-way over before turning to back because the weather was turning bad, we were hungry and we were tired!

We still managed to snap a few photos before taking the subway back to the hotel!

Brooklyn bridge

 

Top of The Rock & Empire State Building (2 hours)

If you only get time to go to the top of one of these epic skyscrapers, make sure it’s the Top of the Rock. It offers exceptional views of the city and of the Empire State building (which of course, you don’t get if you’re on top of it). Book before you go and print off the e-ticket for less queuing on the day.

empire state building

View downtown from the Top of the Rock

 

Breakfast @ Sarabeth’s (1-2 hours)

Sitting opposite the bottom of Central Park is Sarabeths’. Whilst not cheap, it’s worth spending a little more for the experience. Head there for an impeccable breakfast before wandering around the park.

Expect the fluffiest pancakes, the most perfect eggs benedict and excellent service in classic and elegant surroundings. Just lush!

Pancakes sarabeths

Amazing pancakes courtesy of Sarabeths, near central park

 

Central park (2 hours)

A visit to New York wouldn’t be complete without a wander around Central park! We saved the experience for the last day, by which time we were ready to escape the busy city and get some peace and quiet.

Expect to see lots of joggers, birds, squirrels and bikes. You might also see some filming! We observed the filming of the TV commercial for TV series ‘Two Broke Girls’, which involved people running around the park dressed as giant cupcakes!

Squirrel central park

Getting Around

From JFK, getting the train into the city is easy-peasy and in the daytime it’s probably quicker than a taxi. The locals are exceptionally friendly and helpful, so if you get lost on the way to your hotel then just ask someone! If your phone provider allows it, it’s worth signing up to overseas data so you can use Google maps when you’re out and about.

Walking is clearly the way a lot of the locals get around in New York. There were a lot of professionally dressed people wearing trainers or flip flops who would presumably then switch to heels or shoes when they arrived at the office.

We walked a lot whilst we were there – partly so we didn’t miss any views, and partly so we could use it as an excuse to eat more food. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to walk 1 or 2 blocks though, waiting for pedestrian crossings is very time consuming! We enjoyed walking and took different routes each day so we covered most of the city bit-by-bit, stopping off to look in shops and for drinks!

If you don’t fancy the walk or simply want to get there faster – take the subway. Tickets are reasonably priced and the subway lines run underneath the streets above, so navigating is much easier than the London tube! Expect to see ‘subway performers’ who might randomly burst into song or dance before asking politely for a donation. The ones we saw were brilliant, and quite frankly I’d rather they did that than beg or steal, so we happily put a couple of dollars in the hat!

new york subway train

 

Food (all the time…)

There’s a few must-try foods in NYC. Pizza is on the list. Buy it by the slice and try and few different toppings! Cheesecake is another – as in the NY baked variety! Also, if you’re a van of ‘Cake Boss’ get yourself down to Carlo’s Bakery to sample a Cannoli. They are as good as they claim!

pizza new york

This was apparently the best kosher pizza in NYC

 

Where did we stay?

We stayed at the Hudson, near Columbus Circle and not far off the bottom left corner of Central Park – a cracking location for exploring the city on foot or using the subway!

What did we skip?!

Broadway

We considered going to watch a show on Broadway, but there wasn’t really anything we were overly fussed about seeing. As planned, we went to the ‘Tkts’ stand under the steps in Times Square to check out the ast minute bargains, but nothing caught our eye!

Statue of Liberty

Having been on the Staten Island ferry on a clear day and had a pretty decent view of the Statue of Liberty, we didn’t feel the need to go and visit simply to climb up the inside.

Empire State Building

On the same basis, we didn’t bother going to the top of the Empire State building. We’d already experienced a cracking view of the New York skyline via Top of The Rock, so felt like it would be duplicating an experience!

Ground Zero Museum 

I simply would have found the experience too sad, so avoided it.

Would I go back?!

I would definitely go back to New York – perhaps at Christmas or for New Year, so see the city in a different season!

The 5 Week Wanderer

What Not to Miss: San Francisco

If you only have a few days in the city by the bay, make sure you spend them in the best possible way. Boom. Poetry.

Here’s a some of the un-missable San Francisco experiences (and an indication of the time we allowed for them when we did them)…

Tree Hugging Anyone? (1-2 hours)

If you’re coming in from Yosemite then it’s a good shout to take a small diversion to Muir Woods on the way to the city. There is free parking, friendly deer and it is home to some pretty big-ass trees. Stop at the visitor’s centre for a small dose of local history and then take the small boardwalk path around the forest and try-but-fail to wrap your hands around a massive tree trunk, like every other tourist before you.

muir woods tree

Bloomin’ Massive Tree – Muir Woods

Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge (2 minutes)

What better way to arrive in the city than by driving over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge?

Given that it is one of the city’s most iconic structures, it felt only right to arrive in the city by driving over it, despite the fact that you have to pay for the 2 minute privilege. The view was well worth the toll charge which is around $7 and is payable online or through your car hire company later who will automatically re-charge you when they get the bill (yes, unfortunately they had my credit card details).

Golden Gate Bridge

Oh Heyyyy, Golden Gate bridge!

Shopping. A must-do in any city. (2-4 hours)

We arrived mid afternoon and set out to explore Union Square almost straight away. Whilst the shops in Union Square are good it is worth noting that they are mostly chains, so if you’ve come from New York and/or Vegas (as we did) then you’ve probably seen most of the stock already! That didn’t stop me looking again, much to the joy of my Husband…

Head to Marshalls for significant discounts on brands. I got myself a rather snazzy Michael Kors Leather Jacket for less than $230 and a pair of Michael Kors shoes for around $50. I had to trust that I would lose my ‘America weight’ when I got home and that the jacket would then fasten at the front.

It’s a good idea to end the shopping spree in Macy’s so you can work your way up to the Cheesecake Factory. It lived up to it’s reputation for having a huge menu, as well as a huge array of cheesecakes…and a huge queue for a table! We waited approx 30 mins at around 7pm, which isn’t too tedious when you’re clutching a mojito and taking in the views over the square at night.

shopping san francisco

The Haul, including the one-size-too-small leather jacket.

The Exploratorium (2-4 hours)

Ever wished museums were actually fun? Consider your wish granted. It’s as if The Exploratorium was the brain child of Willy Wonka and Inspector Gadget. Think mind-boggling, touchy-feely interactive exhibits which assault your senses and have you wishing you’d taken science more seriously at school. If geeking-out could ever be cool, this place is a close as it comes.

There are many reasons why a visit to the Exploratorium is a must if you have a couple of hours free – especially if you can get yourself there on a Thursday night for the after dark session, when entry is permitted for adults only and alcoholic drinks are available for purchase!

If you’re lucky, you might find yourself there on a night when one of their ‘Pairings’ events are on. Pairings is an innovative way of bringing science and food together, with guest speakers and free tasters of food and drink! It’s included in the entry price and is well worth checking out! The theme on our pairings night was apples, so we tasted a delicious apple based salad and a variety of Ciders (or ‘Hard Cider’ as it’s referred to stateside).

Alcatraz Island Tour (2-4 hours)

Normally the idea of getting up early, boarding a boat in the cold morning mist and wandering around derelict buildings on an island designed to deter people wouldn’t be my cup-of-tea. Alcatraz is the exception. All of the guide books suggest a visit here and I wouldn’t disagree. The tour is guided with a headset so you can roam freely without having to stop to read things all of the time. That’s great, but in busy spots there was a bit of a wait to see the exhibit (like a specific prison cell) so we did have to pause the tape on occasions.

Unfortunately for me, cups of tea and sweets inside the prison grounds are not permitted. Be prepared to scoff or bin your snack stash when you get off the ferry! Book at least 6 weeks in advance to avoid tickets being sold out.

Pedal Power! (1-8 hours)

I don’t have a bike in the UK because I don’t have anywhere to store it, but that didn’t stop me or my Husband hopping on and touring the bay on two wheels. Once we remembered how ride, we cycled over the bridge and back again. Another option is to cycle over, head to Sausalito and get the ferry back to the city. We chose to cycle back and used the bikes to explore some of that end of the city (we got lost).

Hiring bikes was easy on the pier front despite it being a busy weekend. It was good value and cycle routes are clearly marked and easy to follow.

cycling san francisco

After cycling for a few minutes, I figured I’d earned those nachos.

China Town (20 mins +)

We walked through China town a few times during the morning markets. There were lots of shops offering ‘touristy’ type souvenirs, so we bought a Golden Gate Bridge fridge magnet for around $3 (it might be a bit sad, but we always buy a fridge magnet from the places we visit).

The atmosphere was a little bit chaotic and exhausting with the heat and the hills, so we didn’t stop there for long despite having heard that there were some fantastic buffet restaurants in the area! Despite not sticking around, it’s definitely worth nipping to this part of town for a splash of alternative culture.

Fleet Week (1 week event)

We happened to be in town for San Francisco’s 2015 Fleet Week. This was actually unplanned, but a massive stroke of luck. There was a carnivalesque atmosphere the whole time we were in the city and there were air shows on Saturday and Sunday, including a star appearance from the Blue Angels which we were able to watch from the bridge!

There were live bands on Pier 39 and the whole Fisherman’s Wharf area was filled with military vehicles and personnel. The bay was packed with military vessels and spirits were high! If you’re heading out there in October – it’s well worth checking whether you could align your stay with fleet week!

The Embarcadero & Markets (1-2 hours)

If you’re a fan of food and craft markets, check out what’s going on down at the Embarcadero Centre. It’s the kind of place where you struggle to decide where to grab breakfast from because all of the food stalls and cafés pull you in with aromas of sausages, bacon, artisan breads and cheeses.  Grab a little snack from a few places to-go and wander down the waterfront enjoying the view.

Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf (1-2 hours)

This is the main ‘touristy’ area of the city and where you’ll find a host of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. We ate there twice for lunch.

The first time we went to the Eagle Cafe where we ate AMAZING seafood. When asked what type of oysters we wanted we asked for a surprise because we didn’t know what any of the options were, and given it was only the second time either of us had tried oysters – we quite frankly didn’t care.

The second time, we ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp, where we failed the Forrest Gump quiz in a tremendously bad fashion. Stunning views, seaside smells and good food make it worth a visit.

Oysters at Eagle Cafe, Pier 39, San Francisco

The ‘Surprise Me’ Oysters courtesy of the oyster bar at the Eagle Cafe

 

Palace of Fine Arts (30 mins+)

For it’s sheer beauty, this place is worth more than a passing glance. Tag it on to your cycle trip over the bridge as it’s not far off-route, but be aware that you’ll have to dismount your bike when you arrive as cycling is not permitted. You’ll want to make sure your camera is charged for this one!

Palace of fine arts san francisco

Apparently one of the most romantic places in the world. Wit-woo. 

What about the trams?

We didn’t need to get the tram anywhere, and I think you see more of the trams when you’re outside the carriage so unless you’re desperate to go on one, don’t worry about missing out on the tram experience. You’ll have plenty of photo ops when a crammed carriage passes you in the street!

How could you leave out the famous Lombard Street?

We went. We saw. We were somewhat underwhelmed.

It took us 30 minutes walking up and down hills in the heat to arrive at Lombard Street and although it’s very pretty and very wiggly, I wouldn’t go again unless I happened to be passing. In a taxi.

Considering a late night?

Don’t bother. Unlike Las Vegas and New York, San Francisco is a city which does sleep, and it turns out it goes to bed pretty early. We tried to get dinner reservations at 10pm and the hotel concierge sort of politely chuckled. He came through though, by sending us for one of the best (and best value) meals of the holiday – a curry at Punjab Kabab House, who were more than happy to feed us after a long day exploring the city. Definitely one to check out!!

A quick nod to the less fortunate.

It doesn’t take a detective to realise that homelessness is a real problem in the city. We were surprised by the amount of people ‘begging’ on the streets everywhere we went in the USA but it certainly seemed more prevalent in San Francisco. If you don’t feel comfortable giving people loose change (well, you don’t know what they’re doing with it to be fair) then perhaps a little compassion could be extended in some other way.

Each time we left a restaurant without finishing the meal (pretty much every night), we asked for the leftovers to be packaged as a take-away and then gave them to the next homeless person we came across. Not once was the gesture rejected, and there’s something extremely humbling about hearing a homeless man declare “Oh Yeaahhhhh – fig rolls!!” as you continue the walk back to your 4* hotel.

Are you planning a visit to the city on the bay?

Head over to my travel planning page for hints and tips on how to maximise the benefit of your annual leave!

The 5 Week Wanderer