18 July 2018

My best new travel kit

I've written about my packing, top gadgets and travel tips before, including a list of really useful travel stuff for Italy, and a sample packing list.

This year I've made a few new purchases which I've found very successful for travel so I'll share them here.

Please note that Amazon links are to Amazon.co.uk and are affiliate links - that means Amazon will pay a tiny percentage commission to Italy Heaven, helping to support the website.

Portable charger

I got fed up with my phone dying two-thirds of the way through a day of sight-seeing. When travelling I'm out for long days and use my phone for photos, videos, to share images on social media, keep up to date with emails, check maps and sometimes consult guidebooks and webpages. My battery can't cope, and I'm left having to ration my usage, which can have a big impact on travel. So although I hate carrying additional weight, a few months ago I bought a portable charger. There are others available and I took a guess on the choice, but I'm very pleased with the purchase so far. On a long day of travel I carry it with me, fully-charged and ready to re-charge my phone when necessary. On my latest island trip I'd carry it whenever I was out for more than a few hours, and then leave it in my hotel room to charge it from a wall socket during the evening when out at dinner, using my phone charging cable/adaptor. Then put it back in its little bag, and charge my phone overnight, so I'm ready to go in the morning with full battery life on my phone, and then at least one full charge (generally more) available on the charger. It provides reassurance that I can use my phone as much as I want, and on a recent 17-hour delayed journey it was invaluable - I arrived back in the UK with enough phone battery to check my onward journey and train times (I ran for a train and avoided a two-hour overnight wait, which I might not have known to do if my phone was dead). Small, portable and easy to use, and a real game-changer.
> Anker Astro power bank

Suitcase: 4 wheels, medium size

Caveat: I have only taken this case on four flights so far so can't vouch for its long-term durability.

It's quite stressful changing suitcases when you travel a lot; you get used to the packing space, volume, maneuverability and handle action of  familiar luggage. But my old 'larger' case had wheel issues, so I took on the search for a new version. I stuck to fabric rather than a hard case, as there is some debate about whether hard cases are actually more durable or secure, and I like having an external pocket, and the option of squeezing extra stuff in with an expansion zip. This John Lewis case was the most suitable I found without breaking my budget. I very impressed by how light it is, and the smooth four-wheel action is a big help when rolling it over a smooth surface without having to take any weight myself. On rough surfaces or on narrow pavements I've switched over to two wheels; the case isn't designed for this but I've had no problems so far. Other four-wheel cases I tried were designed so they simply couldn't be pulled on two wheels; I had no idea of this until I tried them out in the store. In Italy, where surfaces are often rough or cobbled, the ability to switch the method of pulling is really essential.

I have had to rescue the suitcase after an accidental skate down the aisle of a train - that's the problem with a heavier case and the four-wheel style - but in every other way this has been a great upgrade from my previous two-wheeler. The volume and shape is good, there are a couple of internal and one external pocket, there's an expansion zip, which doesn't offer a great deal of extra space but could make all the difference after a spending spree, and the size is good for a longer stay, while still being highly portable. My typical load for travel of 5+ days is 13-15kg of hold luggage (I find more than that is unnecessary and too heavy for me to manage) and this case holds that amount easily, with some space to spare. It's great so far, though time will tell how tough it is. The fabric feels thin, but seems to be strong enough. It picks up dirt easily and transfers in onto clothing, which is a mild annoyance but not ususual. I do have reservations about the colour choice - the dark blue is almost indistinguishable from black, and I'd have preferred a bigger range of distinctive colours for baggage reclaim - a grey option or a bluer blue would have been better.  It comes with a 10-year guarantee.

> John Lewis X'Air III 66cm suitcase

USB sonic toothbrush

I had to buy a toothbrush at an airport, and was tempted by this stylish sonic toothbrush into spending more than I needed to. The head is quite small, and the action feels softer than a standard electric toothbrush, but it actually turns out to be quite effective. It looks cool, which is unnecessary but nice, and is very useful for travel as it is compact, has a protective case for the brush, and charges via a USB socket. It now lives in my travel washkit so I won't forget a toothbrush again. I don't need to pack a charging cable or worry about charging it before travel; if the power runs down I can use any standard USB charger to charge it rapidly. I've only had to do that once or twice though; a full charge seems to last more than ten days (and still counting). I don't think it's for everyone (read the reviews), but I'm very pleased with it. Another step towards the perfect optimised travel kit.

SONIC Chic DELUXE Rechargeable Travel Toothbrush

Packing cubes

I wrote about these last year, and I've been increasingly pleased with them over subsequent trips. A range of sizes is very convenient for arranging everything in my case in an optimal  space-saving fashion, and keeping things apart makes packing, unpacking and onward travel convenient. When clothes don't need to be hung up, I often keep them organised in their packing cube even during my stay, transferring it to a drawer or surface as required. Cables, underwear, tops and bottoms (for example) can all be kept apart. I find one or two of the cubes useful in my hand-luggage rucksack too, to keep colder weather layers in for when they're required during night or UK travel.

> Amazon packing cubes

Soap and soap case

I've switched from using shower gel to using soap and this has had some unintended benefits for travel.  One is that it cuts down on liquids to carry. Most hotels supply soap, but since some budget B&Bs/apartments only have dispensers, I tend to carry a small piece of soap with me, cut off a larger bar, and stored in this compact soap case. Another benefit of using soap instead of shower gel is its impact on sweat levels (I read this tip online, and it's true). My travel clothing stays fresh much longer in hot weather; I can now hope for more wears from each garment, even in the hot Italian climate. 

My favourite soaps, incidentally, are from Nesti Dante (available from Amazon and TK Maxx), who produce some good Italian scented soaps including lovely destination-inspired fragrances e.g. Capri. Soaps also make good, functional souvenirs to bring home from Italy: look out for olive soap and home-made soaps created from local ingredients.

> Travel soap case
> Nesti Dante soaps

Flip-flop sandals

I love my Havaianas flip-flops, which have been a summer travel staple for a long time - I reckon they must be about a decade old and still comfortable. This summer I bought a  'sandal' version and I've been delighted with their usefulness. I'm on a permanent quest to hone and optimise the perfect minimal packing for travel and I've found these a great addition. They're not as swift to slip on as flip-flops, and they're not quite as smart as 'proper' sandals. But they cover most of the functions of both of those shoe-types, and I could have done without my old sandals altogether on my recent trip to the Aeolian islands, where the style is relaxed. These are secure enough to walk in for long distances and on more uneven terrain than regular flip-flops. They've been completely comfortable from the start. They look quite acceptable and come in a range of colours so you can co-ordinate with your holiday wardrobe. And the best thing is that you can simply walk from hotel room to road to footpath to stony beach and into the sea without thinking twice or pausing to change your footwear. For a seaside destination this versatility is absolutely great.

I walked around the hotel, across hot sand, clambered over a pebbly beach, and hiked along a footpath to ruins in these. When they got a bit of volcanic sand stuck to them, I rinsed them off. They cover more functions than any other footwear I've had, and I'll be taking them on every seaside trip from now on. Havaianas make at least three different 'sandal' styles and do versions for women and children, though apparently not for men.

I ordered two styles from Amazon; when I tried them on one sandal had a slightly uncomfortable toe post, so I returned that pair for a refund - I'd recommend checking for free returns and allowing time to try on and exchange before your holiday.

> Havaianas sandals

> My sample packing list from last year
> Really useful travel stuff