Shopping travel special: Don't forget your toothbrush...

But you can leave the folding cup and Bra Bank behind. Claire Gervat lists the traveller's essentials
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Arranging a holiday must affect the part of the brain that controls common sense. Why else would normally sane people suddenly find themselves wanting to buy mini electric fans, folding cups and plastic beach bags that turn into pillows?

But among the gadgets that won't be even half as useful as you think (a mini fan in 40 degrees celsius, for instance) there are items that really could make your trip a lot more comfortable. The trick is to take as few as possible, so that your luggage isn't too much for you to manage by yourself (unless you have pounds 10,200 spare for a Louis Vuitton wardrobe trunk, in which case you'll probably have someone else to carry it).

If what you take is important, even more so is what you take it in. The most adaptable piece of luggage I have found is the convertible rucksac, which looks more like a soft suitcase, with straps that can be hidden away for plane journeys and hotel reception desks. They are light and easy to carry, and because of their flat design slide easily under the seat in trains and buses in most countries. Choose one with a detachable day-sac; Field & Trek has one for pounds 99.95, and SafariQuip one for pounds 84.99 (plus p&p), and sports and camping shops should also stock them.

If you prefer to take a "proper" suitcase, look for one that doesn't weigh too much and has wheels and a strong handle. Some now have their own built-in trolley, with the suitcase resting on the shorter side; Antler's range, found in most department stores, starts at around pounds 75.

Some bags will have their own locks, but I prefer to use combination locks if possible, since tiny locks have tiny keys that are too easy to lose. They can be bought at most travel shops, department stores and at the airport. It's also an idea to go to your nearest hardware store and buy a medium-sized padlock (around pounds 3), in cheap hotels you can use them to make the door more secure, and on trains to lock bags to the luggage rack.

Security is rightly many travellers' greatest concern. Losing your passport or money can completely ruin a trip, so it's important to keep them safe, preferably somewhere on your body rather than in your bag. One travelling friend of mine keeps her valuables in a length of doubled-over Tubigrip on her thigh, but most people use some sort of money belt.

There is an apparently endless choice, from pouches you hang round your neck (the strap is a bit of a giveaway) or clip to your bra (Go Products' Bra Bank, around pounds 4; too small and embarrassing to open in public), to shoulder holsters (sweaty, and a hopeless shape for women) and bags you clip on to a belt (fine if you wear one). I prefer to wear a simple, flat money belt under my clothes, to contain the important things (in plastic holders), and a bum bag over the top to disguise it and to hold day-to- day money. Go Products Cash Carrier (pounds 6.93) or Money Minder (pounds 4.75) are comfortable next to the skin, and they also have a good range of waist bags that are not too enormous from around pounds 4.75. If you want something larger, Field & Trek has a selection of Lowe Alpine bags from pounds 12.95.

Once the basics are sorted out, you can begin to consider the other things you cannot live without for two weeks or two months, though try not to take anything you couldn't bear to lose, such as jewellery.

Towels take up a huge amount of space. If you are going on a sunbathing holiday, it is worth taking a beach towel (try the chain stores); otherwise it's better to take a lightweight travel towel, which you can find at specialist travel and camping shops. There are two types. The first is made of Pertex, a finely woven nylon; I prefer the second type, which is soft viscose and more comfortable to the touch. Buy the largest size (50cm by 100cm, around pounds 11), and take a couple of sarongs, too, which as well as being emergency towels in hot countries can also be top sheets, skirts, bags, shawls and curtains, among other things. You can often buy good sarongs cheaply at your destination, although my favourite is one I bought at Tie Rack years ago.

If you are going somewhere hot, there are likely to be mosquitoes, and protecting yourself against being bitten is a matter of health as well as comfort. Modern mosquito nets are light, compact and easy to hang, and even if you will be staying in good hotels with air-conditioning, or their own nets at least, it is worth slotting a net into your bag in case you want to go off the beaten track a little. I have one from YHA Adventure Shops impregnated with permethrin, which weighs about 300g, and other travel shops will have similar ones for about pounds 28.

You will also need a good mosquito repellent. There are various ranges that all use DEET (diethyl tolumide) in varying proportions. The strength you choose will depend on your destination, but also on your skin. Ranges to look for include Boots Repel PLUS, Autan, Jungle Formula, Lifesystems and Repel. SafariQuip sells coils to burn at night to repel insects (10 for pounds l.99 plus p&p).

Travel accessories don't have to be expensive or elaborate. One of the most useful things I ever took away with me was an enamelled mug that cost pounds l in a high-street bargain basement place. In India, it meant that at bus stations I could fill it up with steaming hot tea and drink it slowly as the bus continued on its way; it's also a good tooth mug, snack holder and water cup. In Europe, I take an immersion heater and plug adapter as well for making hot drinks in my room.

Something else I never travel without is my penknife, which splits in two with a fork on one piece and a spoon on the other. It doesn't have a manufacturer's name on it, and I haven't seen one in any shop recently, but if you find some buy two, because they are useful for picnics at home as well.

As for the rest, there's always room for a travel alarm, a first-aid kit, a small torch and some long-life batteries, a couple of nightlights, a sewing kit, a few carrier bags and some laundry soap. I have my eye on a retractable washing line (too many bad experiences with stupid bits of string) and a waterproof neck pouch for the beach. But I think I shall be able to resist the lure of the Bra Bank.

Field & Trek mail order hotline: 01277 233122; Go Travel Products, 0181- 906 8505 for stockists; SafariQuip 01433 620320 (mail order); YHA Adventure Shops, 01784 458625 for branches and technical guide.

Excess baggage: a user's guide

Last week's behind-the scenes documentary on Elton John, Tantrums and Tiaras proved that despite a valet, and an obscene amount of clothes, shoes and sunglasses he still wasn't happy on his holiday. Airlines do try their best, pampering First and Upper class passengers to ensure that they arrive at their destination de-stressed, and in a holiday mood. British Airways offers first class travellers a luxury travel kit containing a range of Espa toiletries: cleansing and moisturising milk, 24-hour eye complex, lip balm, a facial water spray, a foot spray, and moisturising balm. None of this will ensure against superstar tantrums, but for mere mortals denied the pleasures of travelling first class, feeling like a million dollars can make for happier forays abroad. So it's good to know that you too can enjoy the pleasure of Espa products as they are available from all good department stores - at great cost, of course, but then it's still cheaper than a BA first class ticket. However, you won't get to sit in a fantastic "seat that becomes a mini-cabin", which BA has now installed in First Class. But glamour travel is not just about facial maintainance, it's the flashy acoutrements we can furnish ourselves with that turn the average traveller into a super-traveller. Joan Collins and Barbra Streisand are supers. They never travel anywhere without at least 10 pieces of matching luxury luggage. For the rest of us, such extravagance is reserved for our dreams. But if it's a dream you're after, Louis Vuitton, the uncontested master of travelling extravagance, is the place to start. The range includes some fabulously useless pieces of luggage and accessories to fuel your fantasies. How about a "Sac Chien", a specially made case with top handles and a roll up entranceway for your beloved pooch, complete with washable lining in case of doggy accidents; it costs pounds 635. Or a fake panther Vuitton cosmetic case: customised by French designer Azzedine Alaia, it contains Guerlain beauty accessories, and costs a cool pounds 820, the same as an economy flight to Cape Town (the super-travellers' newest holiday hot-spot). Accessories include Lady Primrose talcum powder (available from Harrods) which comes in a silver sugar shaker. Lady Primrose also do bath-oil in a crystal decanter. Such cunning packaging means that these products are not about indulgence alone, they have a practical afterlife becoming perfect accessories for that holiday home. Other classic items by Louis Vuitton are the Stokowski Desk-trunk (pounds 17,900). Named after the Polish conductor who commissioned it, this handy little number is a bookcase and desk in a trunk. And last but not least, that pounds 10,200 wardrobe trunk.

Melanie Rickey

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