Tips & Tricks for UK Travel

Hello, Newcastle travelers!

Listing is one of my preferred ways to prepare for a long journey. Based on some of the UK and EU travel I’ve done, and much viewing of the “Bob Ross of travel” (i.e., Rick Steves, a US-EU travel writer), I’ve compiled a series of lists to help us all prepare for our trip to North East England. Since most of us will only be there for a week, I’ve structured this list around the principle of packing light. The tips, tricks, and recommended packing list that you’ll find here are designed to maximize freedom of movement and simplify the packing process.

Feel free to comment with questions, or ask them when we meet. 

General Advice for Packing Light

Bring one suitcase and one lightweight backpack. If you can, opt for a smaller wheeled suitcase that can be easily picked up and carried over cobbles. The sound of large suitcases rumbling over cobblestones tends to announce, “The Americans are coming!” For the backpack, try to bring one that has at least two separate zippered pockets. Not only will these pockets help you stay organized, they will also come in handy should something be soaked, and you need to isolate it. 

Bring 1-2 pairs of practical shoes. In the UK, it’s really important to have solid, water resistant shoes that have a good, comfortable sole, especially when you’re out exploring the city and surrounding countryside. You may have to sacrifice a bit of style (or cash) for a well-fitting pair of waterproof boots, but your feet will thank you. A second pair of shoes will take up a lot of space in the suitcase, and you probably won’t need them. But if you can’t live without them, make sure they’re small and lightweight. When packing, you can use them as a storage space for socks, etc.

Pack a limited wardrobe with clothes that layer well. Bring clothing that you can layer and easily peel off, as well as launder. Don’t worry about repeating outfits. Nobody’s going to notice except for your travel partners — and they have the same problem.

Plan to do laundry. You have two options. You can wash it in your sink, or you can go to the local laundry. If using the dorm sink, be tidy, wring out wet clothes well, snap them a few times, and hang them over the tub.

Slim down toiletries. Bring the basics: soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, razor, deodorant, etc. Don’t bring ALL the things you think you’ll need. Running out of (or forgetting to bring) something means adventure time. Now you’ve got an opportunity to go into an English grocery store, shop around, and try out something new and different. Make it a cultural experience!

Pack for the best scenario, not the worst. This is an American thing: we like to be prepared. We bring an extra coat or pair of sunglasses, just in case. Resist that urge. If you have to have another, you can buy it at your destination.

Purchase US-UK electronic adaptors. A computer, tablet, or phone will often give you access to cost-saving information and help you travel smarter. All you need to charge them is a couple of cheap adapters. Although you can get universal adapters that work Europe-wide (or even worldwide), these tend to be bulky and expensive. Unless you’re planning additional European or global travel, opt for a low-cost set that you can use to charge your phone and laptop (and / or tablet).

Rip up your guidebooks. Good travel guidebooks are worth buying and carrying, but a lot of people travel with an entire library. To lighten your load, rip up your guidebooks and bring only the information you need. Get out a box cutter, slice out the pages you need, staple them back together, and put a big tape binding on them to create little booklets for just the places you’re going. You can use the cut outs in a journal if you keep one (see: Packing List).

Pack a guilty pleasure. Noise-reduction headphones can be a lifesaver when you’re on a noisy plane; small bags of snacks are worth having when you get hangry; a soft travel pillow can make a long layover feel shorter. It’s worth sacrificing a little space to bring something that makes you happy.

Packing Checklist

Recommended Clothing

  1. Shirts. 5-7 long and/or short-sleeved shirts will probably be enough for the week we’ll be there—remember, we encourage you to do a little laundry!—but you could bring more or less depending how much space you’d like to save and how much laundry you feel comfortable doing. You can layer short-sleeves over long-sleeves. If you’re afraid of wrinkles, opt for a wrinkle-free, camouflaging, or blended fabric that shows minimal wrinkles. Synthetic-blend fabrics (e.g., microfiber) usually dry overnight.
  2. Pants or Skirts (i.e. things that go on the bottom half of your body). 3-5 pairs will probably be enough for the week we’ll be there, but as with shirts, you could bring more or less depending how much space you’d like to save and how much laundry you feel comfortable doing. Zippable or tight pockets are safest. You might also bring leggings or long johns to layer under your pants or skirts for a particularly cold or blustery day. Such layers will also save you having to launder the pair(s) of pants that you wear over top of them.
  3. Shoes. Bring one pair of comfortable, lightweight, and waterproof boots with good traction to be worn while traveling and exploring. Sturdy, low-profile, and water-resistant tennis shoes with a good tread are fine, too. Whichever shoes you bring, make sure they are well broken in before you leave home!
  4. Sweater or lightweight fleece. Warm and dark is best — for layering OR dressing up!
  5. Jacket. Bring a light and water-resistant or waterproof rain jacket.
  6. Scarf and beanie / traveling cap. Bring anything lightweight that can keep you warm, break the monotony of a small wardrobe, and make you look snazzy.
  7. Sleepwear / loungewear. Include some comfy, lightweight loungewear among your shirts and pants. Lightweight athletic gear can also be used as pajamas and / or loungewear.

Recommended Documents, Money, and Travel Info

  1. Money Belt, Fanny Pack, or Crossbody Bag. Bring a small, portable pouch to keep your most important travel items handy, and wear it on your person at all times while crossing the Atlantic or UK. This could be a fanny pack, a money belt, or a crossbody bag. A money belt is a flat, hidden, zippered pouch worn around your waist and tucked under your clothes. A fanny pack, as many of you may already know, is back in style, and is essentially a larger and more visible money belt. Same for the crossbody bag. Fun fact: You can claim the fanny pack or crossbody bag is part of your outfit, so either can essentially function as a second personal item on the plane. If you’re feeling bold, stylish, and like you might need a little more space, then bring that crossbody bag or bring (back!) the fanny pack. Whichever bag you choose to bring, be sure to wear it towards the front of your body where you can see it; it can be a magnet for pickpockets.
  2. Money. The UK uses the pound (GBP). Bring a debit card, a credit card, and a small emergency stash of US cash—and Euros if you’ll be in the EU (France, Amsterdam, etc.) for a long layover or extended period of time—to be guarded in your money belt, fanny pack, or crossbody bag. Check your bank for international ATM fees and exchange rates for USD to GBP. If your bank has high international ATM fees and a good exchange rate domestically, it will be wise to exchange USD for GBP before leaving and make small withdrawals on location only if necessary.
  3. Documents. Keep your passport, plane, train, metro documents, and any other useful travel documentation (e.g., tickets for hard-to-book travel destinations) locked in your luggage or on your person. Photocopies and a couple of passport-type photos can help you get replacements more quickly if the originals are lost or stolen. Do not store the originals and the photocopies in the same location. Josh will retain copies of your passport, travel itineraries, emergency contacts, and list of medical conditions in the event of an emergency, but you should retain the originals in your luggage.
  4. Maps and phones. You can  use Google Maps to create your own list of places you want to go and download Offline Maps to your phone to get directions to these places without using WiFi or data. Be sure to research your provider’s international rates, activate international service before you leave, and cancel when you get home. For smartphones, download apps, podcasts, and / or music before you leave home to save yourself time, data, and potentially money on the road. Use WiFi for text, call, and video wherever possible.
  5. Journal. You might bring an empty notebook to fill with daily writings, print brochures, tickets, and drawings from your trip. In addition to functioning as a place to draft your blog entries, a journal can be one of the most creative, low-cost, and treasured souvenirs. If you want to bring one, opt for a hardbound-type that is designed to last, rather than a floppy spiral notebook. Moleskine makes a great notebook for these purposes.
  6. Lightweight backpack. A lightweight backpack is perfect for the day-to-day carrying of your sweater, jacket, and / or groceries while your large bag stays at the dorm.

Toiletries and Personal Items to Consider Bringing (or not bringing)

  1. Toiletry kit. Because sinks in many UK lodgings come with minimal countertop space, opt for a kit that can hang on a hook or a towel bar. If you don’t want to splurge on such a thing, you can also use a quart-sized, sealable plastic bag for everything. Before packing your kit, ask yourself what toiletries you can live without for a short time. For your flight overseas, put all 3oz squeeze bottles in your sealable plastic bag and stash it in your small pack. This kit can come in handy for freshening up during long layovers when you start to feel like you’d give anything for a shower.
  2. Medicine and vitamins. Fill all your prescriptions before the trip. If you do check your suitcase on the flight, be sure to include prescription medications in your toiletry kit. Don’t let the time difference trick you into forgetting a dose. Keep medicine in original containers, if possible, with legible prescription information. In the event that you forget to fill a prescription before leaving home or run out of a prescription while abroad, see a UK pharmacist, who can also fill prescriptions.
  3. First-aid. In addition to prescribed medications, pack a single small container with over-the-counter medications such as allergy, digestive, and pain medication. If you think you are experiencing a medical emergency, contact Josh and Dr. Caison immediately. If you are experiencing a relatively common ailment, such as a sore throat, cold or flu-like symptoms, insomnia, or a UTI, you can visit a pharmacy. UK pharmacists can diagnose and prescribe remedies for non-emergency conditions, such as those listed above. If you’re going to the pharmacist with the goal of seeking treatment like this, keep Josh and Dr. Caison in the loop, especially if the pharmacist recommends going to the hospital.
  4. Refillable water bottle. Bring a refillable water bottle to save money and the earth, stay hydrated, and stow in your backpack.
  5. Glasses/contacts/sunglasses. Contact-lens solutions are widely available in Europe. Carry your lens prescription, as well as extra glasses, in a solid protective case. Pack sunglasses, especially if they’re prescription.
  6. Sealable bags. You can bring a variety of sizes and materials. In addition to holding your carry-on liquids, silicone or plastic are ideal for packing snack food, containing wetness, and bagging potential leaks before they happen. Larger sizes can be used to pack (and compress) clothing or do laundry.
  7. Laundry detergent. A tiny plastic squeeze bottle of concentrated, multipurpose, biodegradable liquid soap is handy for laundry. Josh will have a communal bottle to share with everyone, but you’re also welcome to bring your own. It could come in handy if you’re staying longer!
  8. Small towel/washcloth. Some people bring a thin hand towel for the occasional need. Washcloths are rare in Europe, so you might want to pack a quick-drying, microfiber one.
  9. Sewing kit. Clothes age rapidly while traveling. Josh and Dr. Caison will have a sewing kit for you to use in case you bust a button, tear a sleeve, or rip a pant leg!
  10. Small packet of tissues or reusable handkerchief. Stick one of these in your day pack. The tissues are useful in case you wind up at a bathroom with no toilet paper. The handkerchief can be useful for many things (cleaning freak spills, tying back hair, and / or dabbing perspiration).
  11. Earplugs. If night noises bother you, bring a set of expandable foam plugs. They’re handy for snoozing on trains and flights, too.
  12. Hairdryer. If you can’t risk a bad-hair day, buy a cheap, compact hairdryer in Europe or bring a travel-friendly one from home.

Electronics to Consider Bringing

Note that many of these things are high-ticket items. Guard them carefully or consider insuring them.

  1. Smartphone/mobile phone. Bring your smartphone for taking pictures, accessing resources such as email and GroupMe, and using GPS. If you just want to make calls or send texts, a simple US mobile phone with WiFi calling would also do. As mentioned above, please research your provider’s international rates, activate international service before you leave, and cancel when you get home. For smartphones, download apps, podcasts, and / or music before you leave home to save yourself time, data, and potentially money on the road. Use WiFi for text, call, and video wherever possible.
  2. Laptop or tablet. Bring a laptop or tablet to get work done in the evenings from the dormitory or from other locations around the city where you find WiFi.
  3. Headphones/earbuds. Bring for listening to music, tuning in to audio tours, or drowning out the sound of unhappy children on the plane. Take a tradition AV cord in case your headphones’ bluetooth and battery functionality fails or to plug into audio tours or films on the airplane.
  4. Chargers and batteries. Bring each device’s charger, or look into getting a charger capable of charging multiple devices at once. Please follow all TSA guidelines about how to pack batteries for different types of devices.
  5. Plug adapter(s). Bring plug adapters that accommodate your electronic devices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *