Friday, March 15, 2013

Struggling to adapt

It's not always easy to adapt to new surroundings, however beautiful
Why, after all these years, do I still find packing for holidays so difficult? What to take, what to leave behind, how many undies, posh frock or casuals for nights out, heels? The list goes on.

When we’re off on our UK jaunts, I generally tend to err on the side of caution; in other words, I pack the lot. In suitcases, plastic crates, carrier bags and rucksacks, it all goes in.

But this time we were flying to Madeira, which meant a strict weight limit and, that most inconvenient of regulations, no liquids in containers of over 100ml in the cabin (ruling out shampoo, shaving gel, sun cream, etc).

When we booked back in October, Harri and I had decided we could easily survive with just one suitcase, that 20kg of luggage between us would be ample for an eleven day holiday, which would involve running one half marathon, hiking most days, dining out… Now said suitcase was lying open on the bed, my half was looking decidedly small. I began to panic.

Take it slowly, I told myself. Slowly and methodically, then you won’t leave anything vital behind.

When it comes to packing for overseas holidays, I try to split items into three categories:
  • completely frivolous or far too heavy
  • might be useful but can survive without 
  • must not forget under any circumstances.
Inevitably, there are some things, my heated rollers for instance, which potentially fall into two categories. Ordinarily, I can’t live without them, but as they weigh roughly the same as a small child and I was supposed to be ‘packing light’ (possibly the worst two words in the vocabulary), taking them was a non-starter. 

Anyway, I’ve promised Harri that I’ll   try out backpacking this year – yes, proper, ‘two pairs of smalls and a sleeping bag’ backpacking – so this holiday seemed like a good opportunity to practice straight hair.

I could do this, I told myself. I could set off on holiday with half a suitcase of clothing plus hand luggage. I started flinging things back into the drawer with gusto.

Relaxing with a glass of Coral and our new adapter
It was only 24 hours later, when we were unpacking in the Sao Paulo and Alegria Hotelthat the full extent of what I’d left behind hit me. Where was our Portuguese phrase book? The cheap Ikea sun cream?  My eye shadow? 

But far worse, from a practical point of view, was the missing electrical adapter. If there’s one thing that falls into the ‘can’t live without when abroad’ category, this is it. We needed it to charge our mobile phones, dry my hair (we were self-catering for five days) and charge our camera batteries (more on that later). I actually remember getting it out and putting it on the bed but for whatever reason it hadn't made the final 20kg.

This was serious – as serious as the time I left my daughters’ new coats behind on a camping trip to north Wales (I had no choice but to buy more), though perhaps not of quite the same magnitude as one of Harri’s childhood experiences. His father, Garrod, forgot to pack the tent poles on a family holiday to Cornwall. Realising his mistake, he packed the family – wife and three boys – back into the car and drove home to Cwmbran to get them. I think I’d have settled for buying a new tent, but then petrol wasn’t so extortionate back in the 1980s.

Well, we weren’t about to re-board a plane to the UK so we'd just have to buy another. Harri reasoned that the large supermarket just down the street was bound to sell them. We searched the aisles hopefully and came out empty-handed.

The cliff top walk from Camara de Lobos 
Harri came up with Plan B. We were doing a walk for Walking World the following day (Saturday) from Camara de Lobos back to Funchal along the newly opened promenade. The walk would take us past Funchal’s main hotel region, where, he reasoned, there were bound to be lots of shops selling the ‘can’t live without’ items at inflated prices.

We trawled round all three floors of Forum Madeira, Funchal’s answer to Cribb’s Causeway (though thankfully on a much smaller scale). It was all fashion, sportswear and cafes. No electrical shops and no adapters.

Finally, in despair, I persuaded Harri to do the one thing that men resist at all costs. You know, the thing that involves (ssshhh!) asking someone. Suddenly our luck changed.

The man sitting behind his computer in the small mobile phone/wifi shop was English. Not only that, he had a spare adapter at home. Best of all, his apartment was just metres away.

Man at C&A is still alive and kicking at Forum Madeira
I’m not religious but very occasionally you get the feeling there’s an omnipotent force watching over you and this was one such time (another was finding a 1917 edition of Raymond, Or Life and Death in a box of tatty old books I was sorting through at Raven House Trust).

Our new friend was indeed true to his word and wouldn't accept anything for the adapter.

So our holiday was saved by the kindness of a stranger. I’m thinking of flying with British Airways from now on though – for a higher fare price, each passenger gets a generous 23kg luggage allowance.

And that battery charger that we did remember to pack... someone (mentioning no names) managed to leave it behind in Madeira. Which only goes to prove that packing properly is essential at both ends. 

Sometimes it's easier just to sleep your way through problems

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