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Snakeskin on a plane

Sarah Standing embraces hands-free travelling

4 October 2006

3:49 PM

4 October 2006

3:49 PM

Flying back to Heathrow from JFK on 12 August, just two days after the Draconian new hand luggage restrictions were put into place, was strangely liberating.

For the last 30 years I’ve religiously adhered to a self-imposed, hedonistic, back-breaking, wrist-snapping mantra when travelling. ‘Bring it on!’ is my motto. Bring it all. Forget less being more; less is usually never quite enough. As a consequence, I’ve spent my entire adult life staggering on and off aeroplanes laden down with superfluous knick-knacks crammed into my cabin baggage ‘just in case’.

I’m afraid I take no hostages when it comes to hand luggage. Quite apart from non-negotiable necessities I feel can’t live without when gliding 30,000 feet above land — an inflatable neck pillow, clean knickers, a cosy pashmina, flight socks, bottles of aspirin and Valium, lip gloss, heavy-duty moisturiser, toothbrush and mini tube of toothpaste, wallet, credit-card holder, hairbrush and make-up bag — I also take at least two books, a bumper-sized Sudoku compendium, a notebook, pens, my camera, mobile phone, laptop and a mangy old bear I’ve not been parted from since the day I was born.

If this wasn’t enough, between checking in and boarding I also always seem to accum-ulate more junk. A lot more junk. Magazines, books (in particular those pointlessly giant, overhyped, heavy paperbacks that only ever seem to be on sale at airports and always seem to be written by Douglas Kennedy or Nick Hornby), duty-free Chanel make-up, big bars of Cadbury chocolate, breath mints, Nicorette gum, cigarettes that I’m not allowed to smoke until I reach my destination, adaptor plugs to replace the ten I already own but have somehow left behind, and something totally arbitrary like an illfitting cheap bikini bought on impulse at Accessorize.

Invariably, by the time I actually reach my seat, I am dishevelled, overwrought, sweaty, simpering in pain and have one shoulder hoicked four inches higher than the other. No one would ever mistake me for a jet-setter.

As I am seldom travelling anything smarter than wing or easyJet class, I inevitably have to deal with the ignominy of shoving my worldly goods beneath my seat; my back being far too delicate to contemplate placing them in the overhead locker. And this, sadly, is where they remain for the duration of the flight. Just occasionally — if I’m feeling extremely energetic and manage to remember moves I once learnt in yoga — I may wrestle off my seat belt and furtively wriggle my arm into the mile-high lucky dip of rubbish that by now I’ve kicked all over the floor.

But on 12 August my entire modus operandi was thrown into freefall. I trundled off to the airport with just a sweater draped around my shoulders, a double dose of Valium shoved into my jeans pocket, and my passport, credit card, cash and front-door key all neatly stowed in a flimsy Ziploc freezer bag.

Despite being rumbled at security and forced to relinquish my mini-sized tub of Crème de la Mer to a lady who was patently planning on opening her own branch of Superdrug as soon as she finished her shift, I actually rather enjoyed travelling with nothing except my emotional baggage, and I’ve decided it’s probably the way forward.

Modern-day travel suddenly seems a lot simpler and less exhausting (not to mention faster) if one isn’t weighed down with hand luggage. Unless you’re with young children — in which case you unquestionably could benefit from a willing Sherpa, and ideally one that doesn’t mind tasting cold baby milk to ensure you’re not smuggling liquid explosives — you don’t actually need much on long-distance flights any more apart from an upgrade. We’re all programmed to think we need everything with us in case of an emergency, although logically any emergency that occurs thousands of miles high is unlikely to benefit from your having had the foresight to bring a family-sized pot of Nivea on board.

A sturdy mid-sized handbag is the answer. This autumn there is an abundance of practical ‘working women’ leather bags that are roomy without being excessive, and come with zippered pockets and built-in slots for mobile phones. Most are elegant enough to go straight from an arrival hall to a restaurant or meeting, and large enough for an Apple laptop, travel documents, wallet, paperback, flight socks and what the UK Department for Transport quaintly describes as ‘solid cosmetics’. According to designer Anya Hindmarch, her Carker bag has sold out several times over since the luggage restrictions were put in place. ‘I think because it’s the right size and has all the right compartments. It works.’

With a nation obsessed by weight, perhaps now is the time to downgrade.

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