Packing for BritRail?
October 5, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

How-To Pack Light for a Nine-Day BritRail Trip?

Back in March, I asked about BritRail -- thanks again for the answers. Next month, we're going! Starting on November 2, we'll be taking London, Cambridge, Canterbury and Salisbury by rail. So now I'm wondering what we ought to pack ...

What tricks do many of you use for packing light without forgetting the essentials? We'd like to get by with as little luggage as possible. And if any natives can offer solid advice about what kind of weather to expect, that would be welcome.
posted by grabbingsand to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Pack thousands of your puny american dollars.

currently $1.77=1ukp
yet when buying things in england


Aaagh! (I earn dollars, I pay some english bills).
posted by lalochezia at 1:43 PM on October 5, 2005

Not specific to your kind of trip, but onebag should be helpful. Start with the one-page What to Take Checklist (.pdf).
posted by driveler at 1:56 PM on October 5, 2005

I've done a number of long-ish trips with just a carry-on, and these are some of the things I do:

-Pack for four days, and hand wash stuff. (Pack things that dry quickly!)

-Bring one spare pair of shoes, in case the ones you are wearing get wet, and just to swap out, but don't bring too many pairs of shoes. (Adds weight.) When I go to Europe I usually take a pair of comfortable walking shoes and a pair of nicer black loafers that will carry me through places that clunky lace-ups wouldn't fit in. The loafers are also good for the flight over, since you seemingly have to take them off eleventy times to go through airport security.

-Britain in November is DAMP and COLD. Silk long underwear is your best friend. Truly. They also make excellent pj's. The thermometer may say it's 46 degrees F, but the damp goes right through you, and it feels colder.

-In keeping with the weather theme, a hat and gloves will do a great deal towards keeping you comfortable without adding a lot of bulk to your luggage.

posted by ambrosia at 1:56 PM on October 5, 2005

I'd second Ambrosia. It will probably be colder than the weathermen predict. It is also likely to rain at some point during your time here. So a good fleece jacket, combined with a lightweight foldaway waterproof cagoul or similar, will probably stand you in good stead and allow you to pack relatively lightly.

Taking audiobooks on an MP3 player or walkman is a good way of whiling away the train journeys without having to lug books round with you. If you are staying in hotels or B&Bs then towels will probably be provided, so you may be able to get away without bringing them.

The stations in Cambridge and Canterbury are a bit of a walk from the centre of their respective towns. If you're getting taxis then luggage won't be a problem, but if you're walking then taking a backpack rather than a wheelie bag will probably work better.

Have a great time - and when you are in Cambridge try to check out the Scott Polar Research Institute, which has limited opening hours and doesn't get many visitors, but is a real gem nonetheless.
posted by greycap at 2:02 PM on October 5, 2005

Weather: Wet. Cold. Grey. Here are what I'd consider essentials...

- Take fleeces, a good stout waterproof jacket with zip in/out hood (an umbrella will be useless), and boots you're comfortable walking in. Quick dry trousers are good. Plan to dress in layers.

- A Nalgene (or similar) water bottle... most public places in the UK, unlike the US, don't have water fountains. Also, kettles are standard issue in B&Bs and hotels but coffee machines aren't. If you can't bear instant coffee pack one of those little filter holders you put over a mug and pour boiling water through.

- Baggage on the trains? Something just larger than plane carry-on size will be easy to manoeuvre and store in baggage areas at the ends of the carriages. Larger items won't be as easy, especially on crowded trains. There is room for a shoulder-bag-sized item over your head. Virgin trains, in my experience, have the least baggage space (but do have at-seat outlets for charging your laptop). Midland Mainline have loads of space (no outlets, but free coffee and tea). GNER usually have clean toilets and the less said about WAGN, the better. Try not to travel with your luggage during rush hours... boring tip, but greatly appreciated by the locals.

- A cool bag for lunches. You don't want to eat what they serve on trains and in stations and would probably have to sell a kidney to afford it to boot. Except if there's an M&S Simply Food at the station (like at Cambridge).

- Before moving here a friend gave me one piece of sterling advice: if you remember nothing else, take extra socks.

If you find yourselves in Yorkshire, feel free to drop me a line.
posted by methylsalicylate at 2:28 PM on October 5, 2005

I've taken large-ish bags on British trains without issue. Almost all trains have large luggage racks at the end of the carriage, but be prepared to drag it down the narrow aisle to your seat if those are full. Look for luggage space between back-to-back seats. Avoid trains leaving London from 4-7pm, as you probably won't get a seat.

Britain is nothing like as cold as this thread makes out, but be prepared for it to rain at any moment, even if it looks clear when you set out.

(And why on earth are you going to Canterbury, of all places?)
posted by cillit bang at 2:48 PM on October 5, 2005, as mentioned above, is one of the most useful sites on the internet. It should have all the information you need. It was a great help for a recent two-week, one-bag trip to Hawaii.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:51 PM on October 5, 2005

Response by poster: Excellent so far ...

Going to Canterbury for much the same reason that we're going to Salisbury: Early Cathedrals. But hopefully, we'll find other things worth seeing as well.
posted by grabbingsand at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2005

...and don't forget a washcloth! At least in Ireland, none of the B & B's had them. Of course, now we have some Irish washcloths, but I could've bought another half pint!
I've found that a wind-proof fleece jacket (I use one by Lands End), combined with a very light, waterproof shell (used only when needed) does the trick nicely - when coupled with a scarf, gloves, and earwarmers (if my ears are warm, my head really doesn't get cold until it's below about 15F, ymmv). I also wore a wool vest over my turtlenecks for the entire trip - just pack a dark-ish color and remember that only your traveling companion knows you've worn the (vest, jacket, pants, etc) for x days in a row.
posted by dbmcd at 3:19 PM on October 5, 2005

-Things that take up a lot of space and weight are shampoo and such. For nine days, you don't need a giant bottle, so either buy small bottles or buy one of those little travel bottles and transfer it.
-If you are bringing note books or address books or even travel books just for an address or phone number, copy them all to one tiny little note book before you leave, and take only that. Paper weighs a ton. On that note (no pun intended) Is there an online alternative to any guides you want to bring? You're going to travel in the internetified world, so you'll be able to look up things online, and don't really need a Rough Guide/Lonely Planet. They're awesome, but they take up so much space/weight. Study guides before you leave, and write down what you want to see.
-I always accumulate a lot of travel weight on souvenirs like magazines or flyers for places I've been, and then end up throwing them away at home. Purge your pack daily while still traveling!
posted by easternblot at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2005

Sound advice all round. And – like I said back in March – if you're visiting Glasgow, give me and fellow MeFite bonaldi a shout, so we can buy you a beer ...
posted by Len at 4:50 PM on October 5, 2005

A great way to prepare yourself before you leave is to spread all the stuff you think you need out on the floor in front of you, next to a pillowcase. Your goal is to fit what you need for your trip inside the pillowcase. It can be done.

Once you have your pillowcase-worth of traveling materials, pack it into your modestly sized travel bag. Now you have room for all your gear, a book or two, and some souvenirs to remember it by.

Worked really well for high-adventure trips in Boy Scouts.
posted by baphomet at 6:50 AM on October 6, 2005

I'm another fan, so much so that I bought the Air Boss bag they recommend (which is the best piece of luggage I've every owned, btw).

Their instructions for bundle wrapping may seem a little strange at first, but work at least as well as any other method for preventing packing wrinkles. The only problem with their method is that it works best if you unpack and repack completely every time. Getting something from the middle of the bundle is a pain, if you only need one thing.

baphomet's tip is also key---you'll only need half of what you think you will.

Also, the trick with lots of guidebooks or souveniers: rather than carry them around with you, mail them back home every few days. Much easier on the shoulders.
posted by bonehead at 8:49 AM on October 6, 2005

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