SINGAPORE - When packing for trips, I live by a quote from French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery: He who would travel happily must travel light.
It is freeing to travel with just a backpack or carry-on luggage. It cuts waiting at the baggage carousel. It helps you navigate cobbled streets and narrow footpaths with ease. A half-empty suitcase also means you have more room for shopping.
But paring down can be difficult. How do you pick just one handbag or just one pair of shoes?
One solution is to look for multi-purpose gear, such as bag organisers that double as stylish sling bags or scarves that transform into a vest or cardigan.
The Sunday Times puts 10 new, much-hyped packing essentials to the test.
1. THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL SHOE
Lighten your load with quick-drying, all-terrain, city-stylish sneakers from Barcelona-based start-up Tropicfeel, billed as the only pair of shoes you need on a leisure trip.
The first line of Monsoon sneakers launched on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in April last year while a second, newer line called Canyon launched in April 2019.
What we liked: The shoes, which are designed with highly permeable mesh, live up to their quick-drying claims. After getting caught in the rain, my shoes dried out about 90 per cent in an hour. There was also no discernible smell as a coating of smart material Agion has antimicrobial properties to keep odour, bacteria and mildew at bay.
Weighing less than 500g a pair, the shoes feel lightweight yet sturdy. They come with an elastic heel, making them easy to slip on and off, and can be worn with or without socks. And they are sustainable - each pair is made from at least three recycled plastic bottles.
What we didn't: Elastic laces, designed with knot-stoppers so they never come loose or need to be re-tied, are a handy touch. But even at their loosest, the laces exerted an uncomfortable pressure on the tops of my feet after half a day of wearing. You will also need thick socks if you are wearing these in winter, as the breathable mesh will not keep your feet warm.
Where to buy: Tropicfeel Monsoon sneakers, €89 (S$130) from www.tropicfeel.com
2 AND 3. TRENDY BAGS IN BAGS
It can be difficult to pick just one bag to match all outfits on your trip.
Local label Tocco Toscano's solution is tote bags containing bag organisers that also work as smaller, stand-alone bags - good for a casual brunch or night out. The Aimee travel bundle comprises a lightweight nylon pouch in a nylon tote, while the more formal work bundle contains a leather tote and insert.
What we liked: The travel bundle keeps valuables secure, with a secret, zippered pocket at the base of the insert that is roomy enough for your passport and a small wallet. A built-in pen slot comes in handy when I am trying to fill up an arrival card in a darkened plane. And gold hardware and leather trim make the insert feel stylish enough for a night out.
Meanwhile, the work bundle suits business trips and keeps things even more organised with a slot for lipstick, name cards, a water bottle and sunglasses.
Bags are highly customisable. You can pair a nylon tote with a leather insert or vice versa, choosing from colours such as dusty pink, forest green, burgundy and camel.
What we didn't: Without a zippered main compartment on the work tote and insert, I would be wary of using it while taking public transport abroad.
Where to buy: Aimee work and travel bundles range from $262 to $362, depending on the tote and insert. Go to www.toccotoscano.com
4. MULTI-PURPOSE BAG
Convert the Quiver from a shoe bag into a sling bag or backpack by clipping on one or two shoulder straps. Local company Bow for Bold, which launched the Quiver on Kickstarter, also carries a larger version called the Quiver X that includes a laptop slot.
What we liked: The Quiver looks small, but you can fit a lot in it, including a DSLR camera, umbrella and neck pillow for the plane. A side pocket expands to hold a water bottle and wide, comfortable straps come with a built-in slot for easy access to my ez-link card.
Waterproof compartments keep wet clothes out of the way - great for beach holidays or water sports. And the rectangular, unisex design means couples can share a bag.
What we didn't: The waterproof, touchscreen sensitive compartment is meant for smartphone addicts who want to use their phone in the shower, but touch ID and facial recognition do not work through the translucent material.
Where to buy: Quiver gym bag, $97. The bag comes with one strap and an additional strap, to convert it into a backpack, costs $24. Go to interstellargoods.sg
5. POCKET-SIZED SUNGLASSES
Eyewear company Roav carries foldable sunglasses that store in a rubber case just 1cm thick and are half the size of an iPhone.
What we liked: The range of stylish designs and colours, including round, cat-eye, aviator and rectangular shapes.
Instead of screws, patented micro hinges fold down the sides of the frame, keeping things sleek and lightweight at under 20g. The glasses slip neatly into a wristlet or pocket - great when I am going from day to night and not carrying a bag.
Adjustable nose pads assure a comfortable fit for most noses; polarised lenses offer UVA and UVB protection.
What we didn't: It takes some time to get used to wearing shades so light - they sit less firmly on my face and I found myself readjusting them more often than regular shades.
Where to buy: Roav foldable sunglasses, $249, from roaveyewear.sg
6. MULTI-WAY SCARF
Snap buttons transform the Vinyasa scarf from neck warmer to vest to cardigan - great for temple-hopping or trudging through the snow. Canada-based athleisure company Lululemon regularly releases new colours and weaves such as jacquard and herringbone.
What we liked: The scarf, made from Lululemon's trademarked rulu fabric, is cosy, soft, warm yet breathable. It is large enough to huddle under during long plane rides and feels far more luxurious than scratchy airline blankets. It also dries fast, making it easy to hand wash in hotel rooms.
What we didn't: Online tutorial videos make wearing the scarf look like a breeze, but it takes some adjustments, plus trial and error, to get the fabric to drape nicely in the various ways.
Where to buy: Vinyasa scarf, $78, from Lululemon
7. PALM-SIZED TRAVEL VACUUM
Compression storage bags can halve the size of bulky winter wear, but using a vacuum cleaner or hand pump to deflate the bag is impractical when you are on vacation.
The Pacum, a palm-sized travel vacuum that can run on a power bank, offers a more portable alternative.
What we liked: When paired with the Pacum compression bag, the travel vacuum compressed my thickest winter coat into a flat, neat pancake in under two minutes.
Two compression speeds are available. The power-saving eco mode is fast enough, but the turbo mode kicks things up another notch when you have a flight to catch. The vacuum comes with an adaptor so you can pair it with other compression bags, such as those from bargain store Daiso.
What we didn't: The Pacum is also touted as an inflator, but that function works much slower. You will be better off using a larger pump for your unicorn pool float.
Where to buy: Pacum travel vacuum, $89, from pacum.sg
8. TIC TRAVEL BOTTLE
The TIC travel bottle does double duty by organising and dispensing your toiletries.
Two varieties are available - the shower bottle holds soap, shampoo and conditioner while the skincare bottle compartmentalises make-up remover, serums and moisturiser. An additional compartment at the base holds pots of day, night and eye cream.
What we liked: Available in black and white, the bottles are sleek and sturdy. They are carry-on-approved and live up to their leak-proof claims despite being shaken about in my backpack.
What we didn't: You are meant to press the dispenser once to unlock a spring-loaded tip, then press it again to release the liquid, which takes practice. Press too hard the first time and you end up spraying shower gel across the bathroom floor, like I did.
Where to buy: TIC shower and skincare travel bottle, $49 each or $80 for both, from interstellargoods.sg
9 AND 10. NO MORE CHECKED BAGS
Going for a weekend trip? Take the Nomatic travel pack, which expands from 20 to 30 litres. It is slim enough for a day pack, yet roomy enough for extra clothes. For longer trips, the 40-litre Nomatic travel bag is carry-on-approved and can be used as a duffel or backpack.
What we liked: Both bags are well-designed, with travel-friendly features. For instance, radio-frequency identification-safe compartments for your wallet and passport guard against data theft. Fleece-lined pockets offer easy access to your phone or sunglasses and thick, well-padded top handles are comfortable to carry. Both bags open clamshell-style for easy packing.
We also like the secret compartment on the 30-litre bag, which sits flush against your back and is virtually impossible to access when the bag is carried.
What we didn't: Almost all pockets, such as those meant for shoes and a water bottle in the 40-litre bag, occupy the same central storage space. This means if you have packed the main compartment full of clothes, trying to fit anything into the other compartments will be a tight squeeze. And while we like the weatherproof exterior of the bags, dust shows up easily on the black tarpaulin material.
Where to buy: Nomatic 20-30L travel pack, $389, and Nomatic 40L travel bag, $399, from interstellargoods.sg
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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