David Randall: Man About World

Packing for the holiday? Take a few tips from me

My father had many skills - amateur conjuring and the intimidation of ill-mannered waiters, to name but two - but his greatest ability was without doubt the packing of cases and car for our annual family holiday. Merely to observe him

My father had many skills - amateur conjuring and the intimidation of ill-mannered waiters, to name but two - but his greatest ability was without doubt the packing of cases and car for our annual family holiday. Merely to observe him

bent over the opened boot of his two-tone Wolseley 16/60, calmly stashing the holiday requisites of himself, his wife and two sons, was to watch a master at work. Since it would be selfish to keep the secrets of this arcane craft to myself, I pass them on here for the benefit of all humankind. Or Independent on Sunday readers, which hereabouts amounts to the same thing.

Here, as I grasped them, are Randall's Laws of Packing for Family Holidays:

General

1 It is the first rule of family packing that each person is responsible for carrying their own bags. This has a liberating effect on the more retentive holidaymakers.

2 Beware the list-maker. If one of the adults in your party has made one (and, worse, keeps it by them in the days before departure, constantly saying "Ah!" and writing down another few items), then find it and destroy it.

3 When choosing what items to take, remember the golden rule: be impractical. You are going on holiday, not a business trip. Playthings take precedence over all clothes, and especially over those which require to be borne everywhere on hangers and fussed over constantly.

4 Pack no garments that you cannot buy cheaply at your destination and dispose of as you use. This applies especially to T-shirts and sports socks. The former because back home you would not sensibly be seen dead in the garments you choose when in holiday mood, the latter because the return journey on a hot day is always healthier if men's used socks are not on board.

5 (For UK holidaymakers.) Ban all sweaters, umbrellas and sou'westers. They are bulky, awkward to pack, never on hand when you need them, and an unnerving sign of pessimism among your party.

6 Leave packing the mobile medicine chest to the family hypochondriac. On no account attempt to interfere and reduce the amount of drugs, pills, potions, ointments, medicaments, patent remedies and herbal cures. Otherwise, when number two son is simultaneously stricken with a wasp sting, sunstroke and trench foot in the middle of Dartmoor and the requisite balms are not to hand, it will be your fault that the air ambulance has to be called.

7 (For the budget-conscious.) Pack (or buy) an offensive or ridiculous T-shirt. When your partner suggests a meal at that expensive hotel, wear it - thus ensuring you are not allowed across the threshold.

8 The most essential item of your kit is a new toy. It could be a metal detector, kite, set of binoculars, model glider, or fossil-hunting equipment. There is nothing like a holiday for trying out a new outdoor hobby, especially one that is appropriate to the area. If holidaying on a Cornish headland, for instance, why not try a spot of wrecking? All you need is a powerful hurricane lamp, and a little patience.

9 (For pyromaniacs.) Thermos flasks for al fresco hot drinks betray a lack of spontaneity. Opt instead for a Kelly Kettle (a sort of portable industrial boiler) which enables the children to have fun gathering sticks, and you to have a fresh cup of tea in the middle of nowhere. All that and not the slightest risk of burning down an ancient woodland.

Cars

1 A boot is easier to pack with lots of small bags, rather than the king-sized suitcases that so impressed you in that department store's winter sale. Especially if they have wheels. And fold-out handles. Or radio antennae. One of these monsters will prevent any other case occupying anything but the largest of boots. Brook no dissent. (Besides, in the words of Beverly Nichols: "A family holiday without dispute is like a Victoria sponge without the jam.")

2 When packing the car, the packer should insist that all packees assemble their baggage, tennis rackets, buckets and spades etc by the car in good time. The packer then surveys the load, makes a mental assessment, returns half the items to the hallway, and starts packing in this order: flat items (fold-up picnic chairs and table, beach mats etc) first; then cases or holdalls; then spades, shrimping nets, tennis rackets etc, followed by your partner's bits and pieces stuffed in any space left.

3 On no account put reference books in cases. The proper place to stash them is under the front seats. Except field guides, which should, of course, be stored in the door pocket. So handy for identifying road kills.

4 Removing the spare wheel to create extra room is a ploy you may later regret.

5. The term "glove box" should not be taken literally. This receptacle is designed for things that can, with a little persuasion, be crammed into the confined space and the little door forced shut. Do not, however, attempt to store self-inflating lilos here. The heat of a warm summer's day and a temperamental lock can so easily make them imitate the action of an air-bag.

6 Any product that advertises itself as a "car tidy" will have the opposite effect on the interior of your vehicle.

7 Luggage racks are for luggage. They are not an appropriate place to banish misbehaving children. Try tying them to the tow-bar instead.

Plane

1 Luggage is functional, not to impress the folks at the airport, whom you never see again anyway. Choose a bright-coloured bag or case that stands out on the carousel, rather than being the 246th person on your flight with a black one.

2 Cheap holdalls are stolen or rifled less often than luxury cases.

3 Remove anything that airport security might consider a weapon. This includes, if recent reports are anything to go by: cardboard "guns" given away free with Beano; and teddybears with menacing expressions. On no account attempt to crack jokes about explosives with metal detector staff.

Cruise

1 Don't forget seaworthy lilo, plus adequate supply of distress rockets (a dozen should do for anything but a capsize mid-Pacific). Above all, don't worry. Worse things happen at sea.

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