Travelling-lite (with or without books)

A little while ago, I wrote a post on how to set up and run an author exhibition stand. Readers seemed to find it useful and it’s still much retweeted and reposted. But how do you do this when you haven’t got the luxury of a thousand-litre boot people-carrier but a single suitcase, weight limit 20kg?

I live in France, but write in English and attend many events in the UK as speaker or participant. Last year I was back and forth like a yo-yo! I’ve had to develop a strategy on this.

The secret is selection, teeth-grinding, laser-sharp selection.

I have a venerable Antler suitcase which I call ’The Beast’ because dragging it up Tube station steps and along uneven London pavements searching for my hotel has given me a jaundiced view of it. But it’s sturdy. It needs to be. Yes, that is the world’s most embarrassing-looking strap round it, but can you easily pick yours out of the zillion black cases on the carousel at Stansted? (I hastily undo the strap and stuff it in the outside pocket before going through to the arrivals hall.)

So what goes in this case?

1. Books
Whatever the event, I take a few, especially the first in series, INCEPTIO, which weighs in at 450gms, and the latest in this case, RETALIO (425gms). If somebody asks and you don’t have a book for them, what a missed opportunity!

If I’m speaking, one of the perks is to have my books in the event bookshop/on the speakers’ sales table, so I take a reasonable number. As I write a series, I take at least one of each (6 so far). That’s 2.5 kgs. Add in three more INCEPTIOs and another seven of RETALIO (just out!) and we have a chunky 7.6kgs. Now, it’s a fine line between not missing out on sales and lugging the books along miles of airport corridors. You probably won’t sell that many, but you never know.

2. Clothes
A light raincoat is a must. Sorry, but it rains a lot in the UK. I can roll my microfibre one up and stuff in the outer pocket of my suitcase once I get through passport control and onto public transport.

Wear your heaviest shoes to travel in; the lighter ones go in the case. But do you really, really need a second pair if you’re away for only a few days?

Take layers and as light as possible. Most writing events can be covered by ‘smart casual’. If it’s a jacket event, try to travel in it unless it’s a lightweight one. Keep it simple and take same colour clothes in different weights and styles: t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, short-sleeved shirt. I usually take black trousers, black velvet shirt, white polycotton shirt and black and white pattern shirt, a jacket/cashmere cardigan and a couple of scarves. If there’s a gala dinner, you can often get away with a summer frock and use the jacket as cover up for later.

Underwear and scarves can be packed round your precious books to shield them from the worst vicissitudes of baggage handling. (No offence to baggage handlers. Standards differ and YMMV.)

3. Promo material
You cannot do without this. Even if it’s just a few postcards. Keep them pristine in a self-closing plastic bag, the kind used for freezer storage, before tucking them in your bag. It’s surprising how quickly surfaces get scuffed and corners turned when jostled around in company of your keys, pens and lipstick.

I slip a small pack of postcards into the front pocket of my laptop bag which doubles as my cabin bag. It still surprises me how positively people react when you say you’re an author travelling to an event; they always love a card.

Postcards, bookmarks, pens, badges can add up – I’m taking 50 Roma Nova pens to my next event, 435 gms – so think about taking enough for a good display but not so much it piles on the kilograms.

I used to take an aluminium based pull-up banner. A 60 cm wide one can be wedged diagonally across my case. It gives a lot of PR space for very little effort. However, in the tightened security of the past year or two, I used to get pulled over more than half the time for a baggage check. A long manufactured metal object with no obvious purpose… Now, after the tragic event in Manchester I think it would be tactless, if not foolish, to attempt to take it.


But you can at least take a placecard for the table.

4. Usual travel stuff
Toiletries (mini travel sizes if possible), a couple of plasters, aspirin (or equivalent). If the hotel has a hair dryer, use that rather than take your own. I would throw in some flip-flops or travel slippers as you can never be sure when the carpet was last cleaned. The rest is up to you…

Two organisational tips
I’ve used little bags rather pretentiously called ‘packing cubes’ for a while now and find they not only keep small stuff together, but make packing and unpacking very easy.

As you’ve seen above, I have some perfect ones just under book size.

Do weigh your case before you leave the house; this avoids embarrassment and at worst a tear-streaked face and throwing books around the airport. This inexpensive travel scale is very easy to use, plus can be tucked into the case for use before your return flight.

Bonus tip: Be flexible. Accumulate a variety of sizes of cases – don’t be  tempted to fill a bigger case because that’s just what you’ve got. And it needn’t be hugely expense. The second case from the left was 35 euros from the local supermarket.

Well, this is what I’ve been doing. Have you any tips to add? I’d really like to know!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

2 comments to Travelling-lite (with or without books)

  • So useful. I’m returning to my home in Spain soon and will, hopefully, need to travel to England for shows and talks. Thanks.

    • Alison Morton

      It’s a real item by item choice. I find that bulk is not the problem but weight. When returning home, I have been known to stuff extra books I’ve brought into my duty free carrier bag!

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