The sound of children’s laughter. So wholesome, so joyful, so humiliating. I was half asleep and stood with my hands raised above my head having just performed some kind of clean and jerk with my suitcase. The jerk part was 100% accurate. Sat in front of my crotch a woman I had never met before looked at me with eyes that said “you will never fit that in there.” Not the first time this had happened, usually I wake up shortly after. I’d have taken that option there and then because this was turning in to some kind of nightmare. Her students, adorning some of the other seats in the carriage and milling around in the corridor outside watched, laughed and said things in Polish that were clearly about me. The bag came down. I had another rep in me, even if it was driven by sheer humiliation. Politeness, rather than cruel children, went out of the window, I became cabin crew and readjusted the already stowed luggage of others so that my bag would fit. The suitcase which could have just as well been an albatross around my neck was finally nestled in the luggage rack. As I sat back down I realised my breakfast was in that bag.
As humans it fascinates me how we take our frustrations out on inanimate objects. My brother’s Playstation controllers can testify to that. By the time I boarded the train from Warsaw to Berlin, I had made a nemesis in the shape of my own suitcase. Along with my politeness it almost went out of that train window. But if The Jolly Boy’s Outing has taught me one thing in life, it is to never throw a suitcase out of a window. Or punch your wife’s boss, or fit an Albanian car radio in to a coach. Only Fools and Horses truly is the show that keeps on giving. Needless to say, I doubt a train carriage full of Polish school children would have got that reference. Perhaps they could have told me the Polish word for plonker though.
Let’s face it. The suitcase was not to blame here. The size and contents were the issue. But they were only the issue because of the plonker who packed so much stuff he needed to take such a big suitcase. Why are you looking at me like that? Oh right, because that wally was me. And here folks we reach Interrail tip number two: Don’t take too much stuff.
Sounds simple. But it isn’t. I entered packing for the trip in the mindset of taking the bare minimum. Then you start to question yourself. Will they have towels? Maybe not. A towel goes in to the bag. Will they have a hair dryer? Maybe not. In goes the hair dryer. Kitchen sink? Don’t be silly, get it in the bag. As a British citizen going on holiday two things are hardwired in to me. I am not taking a coat and I absolutely am taking swimwear. What do you mean it could be cold and rainy in Europe in early May? Every pair of pants I owned went in to the suitcase. More T-shirts than ASOS posses followed. “One more T-shirt won’t take up too much room,” is a pitfall I beg you not to fall in to. Layering is good. But not within the suitcase.
You wouldn’t guess it looking at the pictures of me from the trip but I like to have a little bit of sartorial elegance about me. It’s hard to look good wearing a tuxedo if you’ve just had to wrestle your suitcase on to a train. Less is more. In fashion and in packing. Here’s a breakdown of the lessons I learned and how I’d avoid them in future:
Don’t take all of your pants: Turn them inside out. This one goes for all clothes but underwear, T-shirts and socks in particular. Do some research, find a place that will do your laundry and factor it in to the process. Just remember a set of clothes for the day the rest are in the wash.
Ask the question: If you’re unsure whether your accommodation supplies towels, a hair dryer or whatever other bulky item you may need, ask. Phone them, fire off an e-mail, send a pigeon. It’s less effort than carrying excess baggage around with you. Physically and emotionally.
Be an onion: Layers. I took too much knitwear in an attempt to look chic and stay warm. I didn’t end up wearing half of it. Layer up to keep warm.
Keep it simple: We all want to look peng af. You can achieve that in a simple outfit. This one ties in to being an onion. Pack smart. Pick items that are versatile. “If I take the faded yellow T-shirt I need to take the light blue ripped jeans. But then I need to take appropriate footwear.” All you are doing is adding more weight. As Grandmaster Flash said about white lines, “don’t do it.”
Have you got your coat?: A question my mum still asks me to this day. So much so that I own little in the way of rain resistant or warm coats. No I don’t have a complex. I wish I’d taken a decent coat Interrailing though. If you haven’t packed your entire worldly possessions you’ll find room in the case for a decent coat.
I wish I’d followed these steps when packing. I naively believed that just having my seats booked would ensure I had space for my luggage. Wrong. It’s a free for all. The law of the jungle rules. It makes life so much easier if you have a smaller case that can fit into more locations. The only downside is that you won’t get the same muscle pump. #Gainz.