Sunday, September 27, 2015

Organised or OCD? Travelling tips

I don’t think I’m paranoid. I simply like to be ready for any eventuality. Hence I carry duct tape in the boot of my car. Not for this reason:

But possibly for this one:

(Although only in a get-you-home-after-an-accident capacity, and not as a permanent solution.)

It can also be incredibly useful in case of medical emergency – either for wound sealing or as a splint – although, again, just until you make it to the local hospital:

So, it’s no great surprise that I like to be as prepared when I travel. By the time my next blog post is due in a fortnight, I’ll be in the midst of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. There are quite a few of the MiE crowd going, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to catching up with everyone.

This year I have the privilege to be one of the International Guests of Honor along with Scottish author/publisher/agent and all round Man of Mystery, Allan Guthrie. Our own Jeff Siger will be chairing our Spotlight Interview on Friday afternoon. Expect lots of talk about recent developments, and mention of Al’s Maine Coon cats.

Not one of Al's cats. Maine Coon/Ragdoll cross kitten in full-size bucket!

If you want to see the full schedule for Bouchercon, including all the fascinating panels where Murder Is Everywhere members are taking part, see here.

I’m also very excited because those lovely people at Felony & Mayhem Press are bringing out spanking new editions of the early Charlie Fox books, with some very snazzy new covers, as you can see here:

There will be lots of other things going on, including a trip to a local gun range, which I’ve put as a Lot in the Live Charity Auction on Friday evening, this year to benefit two local charities, the Triangle Literacy Council and the Read and Feed program. There are plenty of other goodies up for grabs, including a basket of signed books from Murder Is Everywhere members. Felony & Mayhem have asked me for some goodies for their raffle, as well, including a personal self-defence lesson. (Always supposing my back doesn’t have a relapse between now and then!)

You see, this time around it’s particularly important for me to travel light, as a few weeks ago I damaged a disc in my back. Possibly one of the most painful things I’ve ever done and Not to be Advised, if you can avoid it.

So, I shall be taking a wheelie bag instead of my usual large backpack, even though the wheelie bag weighs more empty, and every item I put into it is going to have to earn its keep.

For this reason I make out a Packing List, where I’ve worked out in advance what I’m going to wear each day, and leave a few days between if I want to wear the same thing twice, so I’ve time for it to dry after being washed. Usually, hotel towel rails are kept at the temperature of molten lava, so washing out shirts and underwear won’t be a problem while I’m at the convention.

After that I’m up to New York to do a couple of events – one with the ever-gracious Lee Child at Book Culture on Columbus, and a Master Class at the Center For Fiction on E. 47th St. Looking forward to them both!

Me and Lee during our last gig together at Partners & Crime in NYC
(The only time I'm taller than him is when he's sitting down.)
But, this does mean I’m going to have to take things in order to dress like a grown-up, as well as suitable for tramping round NYC, and a visit to the gun-range. By very careful planning, I can usually get everything I need into a relatively small bag.

Then there are the extras. The bits that I always take with me, that are invaluable items for travellers, and that don’t take up much room.

The first of these has to be my custom ear defenders. I had these moulded to fit my ears last year, and wish I’d had them done yonks ago. They work brilliantly to cut out extraneous noise – wailing babies in the row behind you on aeroplanes, for example – but mean you can still hold a conversation if you need to. Not only will I use these for my flights, but also in case of noisy hotel rooms and, of course, at the gun range. One of the best things I’ve ever bought.

Likewise, I always take Visine eye drops with me. Or, to be more accurate, I buy a new travel-sized bottle out there and bring it back, as Visine doesn’t seem to be available in the UK. My eyes tend to go like two fried tomatoes in air conditioning, so being able to return them to some semblance of normality is always welcome.

I always travel with a flashlight, too. One of those high-power LED ones, on a lanyard so I can just sling it round my neck. Incredibly useful if there’s a power-out in the hotel or, I remember on one occasion, none of the lights worked in the ladies’ restroom. There’s only so much you want to do by touch …

Another of my travel musts are breath mints, or just strong mints of any sort. Drinking coffee and talking a lot seems to have a fairly nasty effect on anybody’s breath, and I’d hate to think I’m breathing noxious fumes over the poor person I’m talking to.

That’s it for now, but does anyone else have any suggestions for things they never travel without?

This week’s Word of the Week is actually several made-up words suggested by Lonely Planet:

Afterglobe n. The warm fuzzy feeling one gets after a long immensely satisfying trip.

Comeuppants n. When an obnoxious person loses their luggage and has no change of clothes.

Fearenheit n. Panic felt by Americans when attempting to comprehend temperatures in other countries.

Tuk-Tuk-Tuck n. The maneouvre required to wedge a large tourist into a small motorised tricycle.


  1. I'd like to say I always pack dried mopani worms as a snack in case of a shortage of airline food, but I've only done it once...

    Looking forward to seeing you soon!

    1. I've eaten worse, Michael. In fact, thinking about it, it was probably on a plane ...

      Looking forward to seeing you again too.

  2. You're such an inspiration to your fans, Zoë, I just hope this post doesn't inspire them to bring tomatoes to our 4PM get together on Friday with Allan.

    As for my most essential travel item, yes duct tape ranks up there, but I find dental floss invaluable for a multitude of uses.

    1. Brilliant suggestions, Jeff! (Except the bringing of tomatoes to our panel, that is.)

      Right, I'm off to floss my computer keyboard ...

  3. Another important thing you didn't mention: nothing. That is, leave an empty space for the books and such that you KNOW you're going to end up hauling home from Bouchercon. I hope that you (and everyone else) have a great time!

    1. Thanks, EvKa, and I usually find that I end up bringing a couple of books or other gifts with me, so the space they leave behind is perfect to fill up with other books!

    2. I have a lightweight but very strong bag that I usually take on my travels, which means luggage weight is not usually a problem, but I think I might be closer to my limit this time, as wheelie-bags tend to be a lot heavier. Worth it not to knacker my back again, though!

  4. I always plan to plan, to think out each event and what I will wear to it. The very few times I have ever done that my choices were based on wrong assumption, like how dressy the banquet was going to be or that I would not spill cranberry juice on my white shirt. The rest of the time when traveling I have brought between 35 and 50% more clothing than I actually wore, which is what I expect will be the case in Raleigh.

    I warn all our international travelers--do NOT assume that an outside temperature of 74 degrees F will mean that the meeting rooms in the hotel will be a similar temperature. They will be 62 degrees. Bring sweaters and jackets. Or you will be taking ThermaFlu on your flight home.

    1. LOL, I know exactly what you mean, Annamaria. Hot countries with air conditioning cranked up always having me shivering indoors. It was weird to be in Arizona in July for the first ThrillerFest, where it was about 120deg outside, needing to wear a jacket in restaurants otherwise I came up in goosebumps!

      And so far (touch wood) my clothing plans seem to work out, more or less, and I allow washing and drying time anyway, so if I have a cranberry juice disaster I can cope.

      Besides, the trick is never to be over-dressed or under-dressed for any occasion, but to make everyone else feel they are :)

      Once, back when I was still a photojournalist, I was sent on a Shell Oils press junket at very short notice. I turned up in jeans and a bike jacket to find there was a black tie dinner on the first night. I borrowed a bow tie from one of the waiters, and turned up in my jeans and my bike jacket.