Keep Calm and Remain Stationary…

I don’t need my iPhone display to tell me that September is upon us. You can feel it, see it and even smell it in the air.

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If July and August were all about shell collecting for me, then September brings the conker harvest. Memories of going to school with a carrier bag full of conkers and chucking the contents across the playground with an accompanied, “SCRAMBLE!!” (Wouldn’t happen today – the bags are 5p…)

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Of all the seasons, Autumn is my favourite as it reminds me of walking to synagogue with my dad to celebrate the start of the Jewish New Year. On our journey, we would look at the change in scenery, spot figs on a neighbour’s tree and I would collect conkers, storing them in his prayer bag to add to my collection at home. (Conkers, not prayer bags…)

You can just ‘smell’ autumn in the air – if I was cryogenically frozen a la Woody Allen’s ‘Sleeper’, I could easily sniff out Autumn.

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A futuristic conker

It may also be because there is another distinct smell in the air – that of parental relief that the kids are going back to school, quickly followed by the whiff of panic that a lengthy list of items needs to be bought from the uniform shop and stationers.

With a queue to rival that of ‘Thunder Railroad’, including ticketing and barriers, unfortunately the uniform shop ain’t no Disneyland. And there’s definitely no option to buy fast passes. (I would if I could.) Everyone is treated equally and there is no favouritism.

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There is a method of course…

Step 1 – Make a fucking list

Seriously – it’s uniform shopping 101. You have a line of bored, angry, frustrated, irritable people, many of them who would choose the returns queue at Zara over this shit. Make a list and make your time in the shop as quick and painless as possible.

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During a quiet period

 

Step 2 – Muster up lots of patience

As Axl Rose once sang, this patience needs to be doled out in bucketloads.954d455cd24bfa8eeac06c668042940d.jpgPatience with your kids, for other hapless parents and also for the poor staff dealing with your precious darlings who are arguing over the length of their skirt, itchiness of their jumper and the ridiculously oversized track suit.

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“It’s fine. You’ll grow into it.”

However, my patience wears thin when you consider that the usual staff count will have been bolstered with ‘holiday staff’. Under normal circumstances, I’m fully willing to give people a chance, but not the uniform shop. I have no shame in offering up the risky-looking temp staff member to the person behind me in the queue. I would much rather wait another few minutes for an experienced member of staff.

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The above rule also applies when it comes to buying school shoes. My youngest is ‘full of personality’ when it comes to shoe shopping and only one staff member will be able to fit her with minimal fuss. (She knows who she is.)

Armed with a supply of coppers to keep them occupied at the swirly-whirly helter-skelter charity box, I patiently wait until I get ‘my person’. Job done in just a few minutes.

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‘The Money Spinner’. (Trademark name fact fans)

 

Step 3 – Choose your branding wisely

Whether you go for sew-in, stick-in, stamp-in or reckless Sharpie daubing, the choice is yours when it comes to labelling it all. I have one friend who goes supersized on her sew-in labels, meaning her kids’ items can be identified from Mars.

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Personally, I opt for a mixture of all the possibilities listed above, but just know that I have it on good authority from a teacher friend of mine, that they’re more likely to hand back the easily identifiable stuff, than a biro scribble that has faded in the wash.

There is just so much to do, and we haven’t even covered my favourite part of it all – the stationery.

Much like new toiletries for holiday, there is nothing like filling a new pencil-case with smelly pencils, ridiculous rubbers and highlighter pens that never seem to be used for highlighting anything, just drawing emojis.

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I take it as a time to replenish my own home-stock – new sticky tape, glue, pens, post- its…all of which have depleted over the holiday with the amount of arts, craft and the slime factory which was shut down months ago, but I believe is still operating via an underground cell.

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The joy of throwing out the pencils that no matter how many times you try to sharpen them, the lead gets stuck in the sharpener. Or the pen that has no lid and has inked up the entire inside of the pencil-case. Colouring pencils that are down to the nub.

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And if you were ever in doubt of the correct spelling of the word ‘stationery’…

Stationery – it has an ‘e‘.. as in ‘envelope’. Which is a form of stationery.

(And yes, the use of ‘a’ in the word ‘stationary’ in the blog title is deliberate.)

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And proud of it

Good luck to everyone starting new schools. (Particularly those with correctly labelled stuff.) xxx

Final Call…

I’m a big fan of getting to an airport on time early. There. I said it. I detest rushing. I will happily get up in the middle of the night (okay, so maybe it’s only 05:30), birds tweeting, to catch that first flight out of Luton. I’m not saying I would choose to rise that same time every single day, but there’s something exhilarating about watching the sky change colour, as you journey excitedly towards an airport.

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Highway to the danger zone… (okay, Malaga)

I’ve usually amassed about 4 hours sleep the night before because I have packed, unpacked and repacked to remove and replace various pieces of redundant clothing, additional medicines, another bottle of suncream, etc. I have also checked and double checked my alarm is set. Again, no rushing for me. I want my shower, I want my breakfast. Otherwise I’m not fun Mummy.

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Shower-fresh before a flight. Always

Travelling outfit is laid out ready for the whole family, because I physically don’t have it in me at 5am to concern myself with what everyone is wearing. And it would definitely become my concern.

Whatever I choose to wear, it will usually include a wrap-around scarf thing to mummify myself from plane seats (see earlier blog) and trainers with socks. I can’t deal with sandals in an airport –  too many trolley wheels and stampeding feet. I ‘sandalled’ once and at security we were told to remove shoes. Me. Barefoot. Airport floor. (*insert dry heave here*) Hence, always socks.

The packing side of things is a whole other blog (useful, if you’re after packing tips), but for years I avoided buying luggage scales. My bathroom scales were sufficiently accurate, if a little painful to read…

  1. Step on scales to set the display to ‘0.0.’
  2. Swiftly dump case on scales and pray that it doesn’t topple over
  3. Case topples over before registering a proper reading
  4. Repeat steps 1 & 2 until successful (usually 5 or 6 attempts)

As long as I was within a pound or two (weight, not money), I knew I was okay and could feign disbelief to husband at check-in, that official reading was a good 6 or 7 kilos more than my reading at home. “Ah, it must be because of our tiled floor surface.”

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However, those days of blagging extra kilos are long gone. (Even though, for the record,  the kids and my stuff weighs nothing and giant husband’s clothes are far heavier per item. Just saying.)

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Money saving travel outfit option 

One-click Amazon Prime a couple of years ago and I became the proud owner of a proper set of luggage scales which give an accurate digital reading.

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360kg? Sounds about right…

In fairness, and I have got better, (honest Guv) the majority of the weight-bulk in my case is toiletries. I can’t help it – I’m allergic to so much stuff that it’s not worth the risk of local purchases. I tan badly enough as it is. I don’t need an eczema flare-up on top of it.

Plus, holidays are a great excuse to go nuts buying new toiletries and bump up your Boots points. New toothbrushes, new toothpaste, new shower gel, new ‘shooshie’ – we love a shooshie in our house.

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Shooshies. Why? What do you call them?

I know someone who ‘sparks joy’ (that Marie Kondo method) at finishing something, such as a box of cereal or some face cream. For me, I’m all about new and not just around holiday time.

Butter – the peel-off of that paper bit on top – heavenly! And that first butter curl? The best. Just stay away with your toast crumbs please.

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Nutella – I’ll give the gold foil a satisfying stab, but then every single piece of foil needs peeling off. Every last bit.

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Unacceptable

Greek yoghurt – that protective paper film thing confused the hell out of me the first time I bought the product.

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How do you pronounce it?

Milk – Once the lid is off, I am wary of people who don’t fully remove the peel off part. I’m live with people who do similar to tins of sweetcorn and tuna. It pains me.

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The horror of it…

Face/eye cream – a BIG favourite, especially if it comes with a protective lid thingy that makes direct contact with the product. I can eek out at least a week’s worth of usage from lid excess, before even touching the product inside the pot.

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New toothpaste – those first few pumps to get the toothpaste out? That’s what dreams are made of. We are a pump dispenser family, although to save our marriage, I no longer share a dispenser with him. (FYI, He does still have his lid. It was discarded at first use, although it’s sits in the bathroom cupboard. ‘Just in case’.)

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His (on the left) is no longer my problem…

Must go to bed. I’m getting up in 4 hours and am still swapping things in and out of the case.

Happy summer. xxx

P.S. It’s pronounced ‘Fa-yeh’!

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No, really. It is.

Holiday Romance

We were only away for ten days but the washing pile to rival Mount Everest tells a very different story. I know it makes more work for me but I respond well to instructions so if it says ‘wash separately’, I’m abiding by the label’s rules.

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I can’t take credit for this mountain

Swimwear is hand-washed, kids’ toy bunnies/penguins are boil-washed and everyone has a thorough shower and hair wash to rid us of ‘plane smell’.

I managed three films plus half a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘ outbound. Husband watched seven hours of the ‘where our plane is’ channel, mixed with an hour of ‘chatting’ (having therapy) to a pilot who happened to be a passenger. (To be fair on husband, even the crew were told to take their seats because the turbulence was so bad.)

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Are we there yet?

Flying and turbulence doesn’t phase me – maybe that’s why I don’t have a problem with rollercoasters, but I have lots of friends who fear plane journeys. Many of their trips have been booked and then cancelled last-minute because they can’t face the reality of having to board a plane.

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I admit I do have one ritual before boarding the plane – I like to pat it. (The plane. what else did you think I meant?) After boarding at the furthest gate* from the terminal possible, I walk the jetway and casually touch the plane’s exterior as I step aboard. I don’t know why, but I like knowing the ‘bit’ I touched will make contact with the clouds. (I know rayyyt?)

*Briefly back to the gate bit. I just need some reassurance that no-one’s gate is ever within a 2 minute walk from wherever they’re been sitting. And there are always stairs. Or escalators that don’t work. 

This year, my family holidayed in America and aside from the ‘Ice Breakers’, clothing and essential US-drugstore purchases, we came back with something else this year. New numbers in our phones.

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We made friends.

Unheard of. Absurd. Unthinkable.

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What he said

Unless the outbound journey is purposefully taken with another family, we tend to be fairly unsociable on holiday. But this year was different.

Maybe it was because the first part of our trip was to Disney. That part required regimented schedules, timings and finite planning. Not the kind of thing easily done with others. It was all about us – the team. We were in the parks most days by 7am and in bed with delirium by 9pm.

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“Hello, Room Service?”

After four days of (exhausting) fun we were ready to relax in Miami. Maybe it was jet lag? Maybe our guards were down from all the rides and 3D craziness? Before you could say ‘have a nice day’ we were breakfasting, lunching and even ‘dinnering’ with this other family.

It was all moving so fast, so of course there were moments of doubt. Like waiting in reception to go for dinner one night and no sign on of them at the agreed departure time. Perhaps they were bored of us? Maybe their Uber had left for the restaurant already? Were they ‘late types’? We were confused and bewildered.

“You call.”

“No. You call.”

Like the pivotal end scene from a John Hughes movie, they appeared from the lobby. (Cue 80s soundtrack, like Starship or something equally as powerful and uplifting.)

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“He showed.” (Yay Andrew McCarthy for turning up for the date)

Our friends had an early riser in their ranks in the form of a five-year-old, so we were on slightly different morning schedules. We usually passed them just as they were leaving breakfast, but were delighted to hear “got you four sunbeds”. Well, if Carlsberg made holiday friends, I tell you…

The space allowed us to politely nod and chat to other guests getting their morning fill of the great American breakfast. (Mostly Jews getting their fill of bacon. Talking of which…)

My friend’s in-laws were in the same hotel as us and I bumped into the dad by the hot food one sunny morning. I politely chatted whilst he munched crispy sticks of applewood bacon ‘on-the-go’.

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The heroin of bacon

“Wow,” I thought, “he really must love bacon that he can’t even wait until he sits down to eat it.”

I headed out to the terrace and saw the wife, who ushered me over with a big smile. I said how I’d just been chatting to her husband over his plate of treif. The smile disappeared. She was livid and had no idea he was ‘on the bacon’. Whoops…

Me and my new mates even took our new friendship outside of the hotel, heading off on adventures like lifelong buddies.

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On tour

 

So delightfully in tune we were, that a nod and a wink was all that was required to understand that easily pilfered items like bagels, cookies and mini breakfast cereal packets were to be lifted for ‘daytime sustenance’.

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Frosted Flakes were super popular

Oh the fun we had. We created ‘in’ jokes and hashtags and social media’d the crap out of the holiday.

But after all’s said and done and the cases have been put back in the loft, is it ever really the same once you’re back on home ground?

Of course not.

For a start they’re called ‘Frosties’ and we don’t eat bacon at home.

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They’re grrrrrreat!

Happy New Year. x x x

 

 

 

Hotel, Motel, Whatcha Gonna Do Today?

All of a sudden it’s nearing the close of 2016 and I’m in full-on packing mode, casually ignoring the husband’s jeers of ‘#early panic’ and sticking with ‘#organised’.

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Not my actual case. I would NEVER put it on my bed

In any case, I spy him opening his airline app to see if he can check in online yet.

“Kids! Come here!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Look! These are our seats on the plane. It’s called an ‘A380’.”

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Kids just want to know who gets the window seat

This ‘checking’ thing is coupled with regular monitoring of ‘Flight Radar 24‘, a plane tracking app. He and his mate (the only two known subscribers) have spent many an evening verifying a particular plane coming in to land.

But enough about the flight, I’m all about the hotel. No cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no bed-making. Did I mention no cooking?

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For me, it’s the hotel smell upon arrival. I love that foyer ‘whiff’ you get – fresh flowers, furniture polish and the aroma of 24-hour efficiency that wafts around the place.

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Reej. Bev. Wilt. It really is. (Never been, but love to)

We choose our accommodation carefully based on the three R’s:

  • RESEARCH
  • RECOMMENDATION
  • REALLY BIG BEDS
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RIP Andrew Sachs

I married a man whose nickname could be Hightower (‘Police Academy’) and whilst he isn’t black (couldn’t be further skin-toned from it), he is very tall. Therefore, at home I sleep in the lap of super-king luxury, so if the hotel hasn’t got super-king or queen or whatever the local equivalent is, I’m not taking this shit lying down.

Call me a snob, but I’m a very light sleeper and I’m hoping for more than forty winks on holiday.

After years of experience, I have learned not to unpack once shown to our room. It’s all very ‘end of the Sound of Music’ where kids and I must remain silent and almost out of sight, leaving husband to shake his head in mock-disappointment at the original room they offer us.

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Stay quiet children…

I used to get embarrassed, but now I let him get on with it if it means a free upgrade from the original room opposite the lift. He blags well:

Disney World – fourth time on The Haunted Mansion:

“Mate, help us out, we came here this morning for our fast-pass slot but the ride was closed for maintenance. We’re flying back this evening and it’s the only ride we’ve not yet done.” (All aboard for the fifth time.)

Driving aimlessly round Manchester Square, London

Very late for dinner with friends and nowhere to park. Drops me off at restaurant. Arrives at restaurant 3 minutes later.

“Where on earth did you manage to park?”

“Don’t worry about it, Doll.”

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There was actually a film crew. He put this on the windscreen

Once finally in the room, I check ‘hanger quality’. I’m not a fan of hole-in-the-rod ones (as if I’d steal them?) or fiddly clamp ones.

I’m almost tempted to try my mother-in-law’s time-saving method of packing everything on a hanger. (I said ‘almost’.)

So, whilst I am doing all the unpacking, husband goes into James Bond mode.

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No. Not that.

I mean the safe.

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Birthday, house alarm or anniversary for the code?

This is his priority and he takes it seriously. I’ve barely walked into the room when I am ordered to shed all valuables and put them in the safe with the passports.

Once I’ve unpacked the clothes it’s onto the bathroom; an almost lengthier unpacking process with my lotion and potion-loving family. After I’ve established that the hair-dryer is a complete waste of time and inspected my face in the giant back-lit magnifying mirror, I stow away the handy sewing kits and shower caps as ‘going home presents’. (No interest in the body lotion – far too allergic.)

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Will just go curly then…

I don’t even need to glance at the bed to know that we will need more pillows. Always more pillows. ‘Hello housekeeping?’

Next, I like to find most useful/accessible plug point and claim it as my own. There’s usually only one unless we unplug the useless lamp in the corner too.

So, what about the rest of the family whilst I’m doing all of this hard work?

Well, the kids are trying on the free slippers and maintenance are on the way up to sort out the tv for my husband. We may make it out of the room by lunchtime…

Happy holidays and thank you for all of your blog support this year. It means loads. x x x


Here’s a fun festive recipe to round things off for the year:

Rice Krispmas Puds

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Noms

Ingredients:

100g Rice Krispies

5 or 6 full-size Mars bars

3oz unsalted butter

Red, green and white ready-to-roll icing

Method:

Chop the Mars bars up and melt with the butter in a microwave for 3-4 mins on medium.

Stir melted Mars into bowl of Rice Krispies and mix.

Roll into golf-sized balls. Add a Malteaser in the middle of a few of them (yassssssss!) – finders wins prizes! (Ensure you actually have prizes.)

Top with a white circle of icing (snow), red balls (berries) and green sprigs (holly).

Pack It In

My kids’ school have a theme song that is sung every year on ‘Speech Day’, (final day of Summer term). This song reduces me to sniffly tears and is nothing to do with my chronic hay fever. Seriously, Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ has got nothing on the Leavers’ Song:

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Cue one of my school-mum’s audibly enquiring, “Are you crying?!” Yes. Yes, I am. And I know I’m not alone. The sniffly tears are for two reasons:

1) The top year are leaving (which last year included my gorgeous niece)

2) It means the endless holidays are upon us. After three visits to Megajump plus Pizza Express for lunch AND dinner, what to do with the little darlings? (Anyone got a voucher code?)

Luckily for me, I married well. And by that I mean my in-laws have a holiday home in Spain, meaning a healthy chunk of the holidays have guaranteed sun, with poolside days and beach-restaurant nights. But before all that, the prep has to begin. Out come the checklists and all the holiday ‘stuff’. Zippies, lockies, baggies, shmaggies – ie. all the containers and compartmentalisers that make your holiday your holiday.

Par example…

 

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This bad boy is ‘the red bag’. Unassuming Clarins make up bag I hear you comment? It may look like any other red make up bag, but it is of great importance. It holds every single key to the family flat in Spain, each on twee keyrings collected over the years.

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As far as I’m concerned, I just need two keys – front door and pool area. However, there are around eight other keys of varying shapes and sizes and I’m not entirely sure of their function. (If my father-in-law asks, I know exactly what each key is for.) If this red bag ever got lost, there would be a missing persons announcement on Sky News and we would sit shiva.

 

Man Bag

Never referred to as a bag. Or handbag. Or cross body bag. Always ‘man bag’. It comes out purely for holidays and husband has no shame in using it. I just wish he would remember where he puts it down, as time is often lost searching for it. “Doll, have you seen my manbag?”

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Add to this my ‘holiday purse‘. I don’t need my advantage cards, vouchers, dry cleaning tickets, etc. This is all I need and there’s usually a spare Euro for the airport trolley inside. Yes, I’m that organised.

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Sun cream bag

From some long forgotten fabulous trip in First Class, I’ve seen many of these Anya Hindmarch freebie bags poolside around the world.

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“Where are the suncreams?” they ask. “In the Anya bag, of course.” Its predecessor was an orange-striped Giorgio Beverley Hills cosmetic bag, a freebie from the days when people only wore the likes of Samsara, Loulou and Anaïs Anaïs.

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I’ve got a perfume headache from just looking at them

 

Beach bag

Every year I try to replace my distressed gold Accessorize beach bag. I say ‘distressed’ but in reality, the gold has worn away through years of use. It has pockets, a zip, carry handles AND a shoulder strap. It comes with me every year and doubles up as my travel bag full of my crap, kids crap and of late, about ten Beanie Boos.

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Some of my extended family

I bought a Stella Rittwagen straw basket bag a couple of years ago and I absolutely love it, fitting in with all the tall, willowy Spanish girls who congregate at our beach.

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However, they only need a towel and possibly a spare thong bikini.  I have numerous towels, goggles, sun hats, creams and so you can hardly see the bag for the overflow.

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To the beach!!

 

Snack bag

This little gingham bag comes down to the pool each day. Pistachios, bread sticks, wafer biscuits – it could hold any number of ziplocked goodies. If it’s not in the gingham bag (which once held nappies and wipes – don’t worry I washed it), then my kids aren’t interested.

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Nail bag

Glamour magazine freebie from years ago and still going strong. I don’t want a free mascara or a new lipstick. I want useful zippy little bags in varying sizes!

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For many friends there is no packing process, but simply a ‘chuck it all in and worry about it at excess baggage’ ideology, but I am a planner. I get the suitcases out around a week before, but mentally they have been out for over two weeks. (Ok three. Leave me be.)

Here is my top five must-do’s when it comes to packing:

  1. Make a list. There’s no point debating this with me. You need a list otherwise you forget stuff and if I’m travelling with you, I’m not wasting precious time traipsing around the town centre trying to find a compatible charger for your tablet images
  2. Packing cubes. Zipped mesh compartments of varying sizes and colours. IMG_5338I love my Eagles Creek ones. Super useful for keeping clothing neatly folded, like silks or linens. Smaller one for adaptors and chargers. Also great if you are doing a few stops on your holiday, so that you can separate the stuff you need for just those couple of nights
  3. If travelling as a family, mix up your packing between the allocated luggage. Nothing worth than losing a case (mine) and having to wear what you travelled in for the next 48 hours until it’s found
  4. Shoes on top. I was a firm believer in shoes at the bottom, but after seeing someone else’s method, I am a changed woman. A layer of polythene (like from the dry cleaners) laid on top of clothing and then shoes placed on top. Go on, try it
  5. Fabric softener sheets:54484011_0_640x640.jpgNothing worse than ‘suitcase-y’ smelling clothes. A few sheets interleaved between the clothes and it’s like home. I then line the hotel drawers and cupboards with them. Mock me with pleasure, I’ll be the one that smells nice and fresh.

 

Hasta luego… xxx