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The more I travel the lighter I like to pack, and I have developed a somewhat pathological hatred for unnecessary hand luggage. There is something quite liberating about striding onto a plane feeling contained and in control, with nothing more weighing you down than a stylish handbag in one hand and your boarding pass in the other.
Luckily my days of travelling with small children are over, so I no longer need to worry about packing appropriate snacks to break the tedium of a long-haul flight or that soft toy that prevents all hell breaking loose at bedtime! But nevertheless, travelling light requires a certain amount of planning and discipline, as streamlining my wardrobe (or anything else in my life for that matter) is not something that comes naturally to me!
Four Seasons in One Day - What to pack to survive London's weather
"When in doubt, I always go for a good pair of jeans, a little shiny silk for warmer days and evenings out and a bit of cashmere to fling over my shoulders"
I suspect that those stylish travel writers who talk about their “capsule wardrobes” are referring primarily to very focussed city breaks – packing for a weekend in London is a LOT easier and a good deal more capsule-appropriate than an extended “let’s see where the road takes us” kind of holiday in England!
Bearing in mind that – in the words of Crowded House – you can quite literally have Four Seasons in One Day, packing for a little touristy time-out in England comes with its own challenges. But when in doubt, I always go for a good pair of jeans, a little shiny silk scarf for warmer days and evenings out and a bit of cashmere to fling over my shoulders and ward off the cold, while doing the capsule thing in black and similar shades. I have learned that something black with a good swipe of red lipstick can get you by in almost any situation whether it’s for that selfie at the top of the London Eye, or a relaxed meal in a country pub! Simply put, a few essential items with a shiny shoe or accessory to dress up for dinner usually does the trick. And let’s face it, less is definitely more when you are travelling – surely I am not the only person, who irrespective of what they pack, always has two or three items that never see the light of day out of the suitcase. What felt appropriate when you were packing, on arrival in a new country, just doesn’t work!
I do find it interesting that I have very different wardrobes for different cities and countries. When in Morocco life is casual and colourful, in rural Wales, our UK base, it’s a practical array of jeans and boots and muted jumpers. And when I feel the need to head off to London to take in some culture, keep abreast of life in the fast lane and connect with friends and colleagues in that same lane, a whole different approach is required. So, the key is how and what to pack to make sure you are covered for all these eventualities.
Clothes - Layers are the new black
"No matter what the season – spring, summer, fall or winter – you WILL need a coat."
I think my best tip for packing for England can be summed up in one simple word – layer! Be prepared with options to layer up and build on or pare down – on a good day you can strip down to a t-shirt, and if the temperature plummets you can layer up with a jumper, a jacket and a scarf, and throw in a couple of pairs of tights for good measure! Also bear in mind, that no matter what the season – spring, summer, fall or winter – you WILL need a coat. The only difference being the weight and warmth of said coat in accordance with the time of year. In my humble – and possibly controversial – opinion, it never gets that hot in England that you can’t wear mid-season clothes, but it is often too cool for outright summer!
Shoes - Walk comfortably around the city
"Take time to look up at the skyline and admire the architecture that your route takes you past."
Shoes are always the killer when it comes to space in the suitcase I find, so I tend to wear my chunkiest boots on the flight and relegate the lighter weight items to the suitcase. Travel shoes invariably need to include some sensible shoes - which of course you don’t want to look too sensible! Spending time in London, or any English city, especially as a visitor, will involve a certain amount of walking. I prefer doing as much as possible above ground in London rather than underground - take time to look up at the skyline and admire the architecture that your route takes you past. Often the distances are ridiculously small when you actually have a look beyond the tube, and it gives you a much better sense of the city and where you are. While walking you are also far more likely to discover the perfect coffee shop, or that interesting little bookshop that you don’t get to see sitting on a train underground! I use the app Citymapper which gives you walking, bus and train options in any city.
Scarves - The essential travel item
"Scarves are great for dressing up your basic black in the evenings without taking up much space!"
But I transgress . . . back to the question of the day and what to pack when visiting England! I always have a few scarves, both practical and pretty, thrown into the mix (although I suspect this is because I spend a lot of time in the Weavers’ Souk in Tangier and inevitably walk out of there with a few to add to my collection), but for me they are an essential travel item. Perfect for the plane when you seem to have a blast of arctic wind directed unnecessarily at your seat, perfect for arrival from a warm country to undoubtedly cooler London to throw around your shoulders, and great for dressing up your basic black in the evenings without taking up much space!
The Countryside - Wellies is the way
"Find yourself a good pair of wellies – walking into a countryside restaurant or pub wearing some practical wellies and water proof coat is completely acceptable"
The English countryside tends to be a little more relaxed and informal than London with The Great Outdoors punctuated by frequent visits to pubs and other gastro eateries being the order of the day. Again – the best way to be prepared and well packed is to do it with layers! If you are unfortunate enough to hit a week of rain then I would suggest you head to the High Street in any village and find yourself a good pair of wellies – walking into a countryside restaurant or pub wearing some practical wellies and water proof coat is completely acceptable – even more so it would seem, if you have a soggy dog in tow . . .but soggy dogs are definitely not on the capsule-wardrobe list! If you are more of a visual person click across to Travel Fashion Girl on Pinterest for a board for every season, place and occasion you can think of. I do love a bit of Pinterest with my morning coffee, and if it can be put down to travel research and planning all the better! And while you are online, it’s also a good idea to get a BBC Weather Forecast for the period you plan to be in England – while not cast in stone and prone to variation it will at least prepare you for the basics, like snow versus sun!
Backpack - The traveller's best friend
"You know where your credit card, passport, wallet etc. are at any time and can avoid those awful moments of panic"
A more recent addition to my essential travel list is a Backpack. A friend of mine who travels to London regularly for work has been obsessing about the right backpack. This was something I didn’t really understand until my last trip there and I realised that the understated backpack - aside from the obvious practicalities while commuting - is in fact an essential item if you want to be taken seriously in London! And not just any old backpack, it should fit comfortably over a coat, be streamlined and non-lumpy, fit various communication essentials, have easy access to train cards and other travel paraphernalia, and of course have a spot for that essential red lipstick mentioned earlier! Strategic pouches and pockets in your bag or backpack are, I find, essential to panic free travelling wherever you are – you know where your credit card, passport, wallet etc. are at any time and can avoid those awful moments of panic while scrabbling through detritus trying to find whatever is hiding under the last month worth of till slips! Trust me . . . I know that feeling!
So, with trainers on and backpack slung over your shoulder, you are finally looking like a seasoned Londoner on a mission!
Books & music for the downtime
Aside from the more obvious jeans, tights and trainers, a good book or two is always on my essential what-to-pack list. Thank goodness for my trusty Kindle which allows me to travel with several books without sending the scales skyrocketing at check-in! If you are one of those people that enjoy complete immersion on holiday try reading Balthazar Jones and The Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart, Brick Lane by Monica Ali, or Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I have recently bought Absolute Beginners by Colin McInnes, written and set in Notting Hill in the late 1950’s – maybe I should save that for my next trip to London!
If music is more your medium then have a look at this PLAYLIST put together for travelling in England on Spotify that covers everything from The Kinks to The Rolling Stones, to Elton John! Download it to play in that quintessentially British mini convertible you are planning to hire, while stopping at the village green for crisps and a pint and I suspect you might learn more about being English than a trip to any museum!
And finally, back to that suitcase and my last essential item when packing for your English holiday . . . no trip to England would be complete without the perfect little fold-down, pop-up umbrella. It will rain at some point, so unless you want to arrive at that bijoux restaurant or art exhibition looking decidedly damp, pack that umbrella!
NEXT JOURNAL: THE BEST AIRBNBs IN LONDON
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