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A question recently came up on our Twitter feed: ‘how often do you unpack your luggage and use the hotel’s wardrobe facilities’? Our answer was ‘never – we’re not in the same place long enough for it to be worthwhile.’ Our trips tend to involve travelling hundreds of kilometres through the country that we are visiting, using various means of transport, over the course of several days. This means that we like to travel light, especially if we are using public transport and lugging our bags as we go. We’re always on the lookout for light travel products that can minimise our luggage.
Hence, we were delighted when Unbound Merino got in touch with us to tell us about their travel wear. They are a Canadian company, set up by friends who shared a love of adventure, and who wanted to develop the sort of products that travellers want to use.
Merino wool comes from a distinct breed of sheep that originated from Spain in the middle-ages. It is renowned for its super-fine qualities which provides a softness to the yarn. It was so desired for its quality that an export ban was introduced in Spain and it would be many centuries before the breed was finally allowed to be exported. In the 18th century merino sheep were introduced to Australia and their wool became a product that could finally be used all over the world.
Unbound Merino kindly sent us some samples of their wares so that we could try them out.
We were sent a t-shirt, a hoodie and two pairs of socks. First impressions were excellent. The items of clothing look great – minimalist and functional, nothing ostentatious and no logos – just what you need for travel. These are perfect not only for wearing on the road but they are also suitable as a smart-casual outfit for a restaurant meal at the end of the day.
One of the benefits of their clothing line that Unbound Merino had cited was that this material is ideal for travel because you can wear the items for several days without needing to wash them. We decided to try them over a length of time and on different excursions. We love walking/hiking so we thought we would test the garments on a number of walks in the English countryside on several consecutive days to see – and smell – how they performed.
The sizes fitted perfectly for all items. They are surprisingly lightweight but sturdy, smooth and comfy.
Socks – during lockdown managed to trash a pair of socks almost every day as we went on our daily government approved walks, so we were keen to find socks that were suitable for hiking. And when you’re out walking you need to wear socks that are both comfortable and aren’t going to stink the house out when you remove your muddy shoes. Unbound Merino’s socks are thick and comfortable. We wore these for five days running and walked around 30km overall, sometimes in wellies, sometimes in walking shoes/trainers. Sometimes the going was a bit soggy and the trainers got wet. At the end of each day, we had a sniff test. By the end of day five there was a mild smell immediately after removing the socks, but the following morning they were absolutely free of any stench. This is remarkable and reflects the material’s anti-bacterial qualities.
T-shirt – One of the concerns about wearing a woollen t-shirt was that the fabric might itch. No worries there, the fabric is beautifully smooth. Merino is known for its wicking characteristic – it’s a very breathable fabric. Colin used the t-shirt three days running; on one day he hiked around 16km and then went straight to the pub.
Hoodie – the hoodie feels very lightweight and the fabric is thin but… this garment is snug and keeps you warm. In fact, once we had built up a pace on the hike, the hoodie was so warm, I had to take it off. Like the t-shirt, the fabric is very soft and feels pleasant against the skin. It’s a comfortable fit. Like many travellers we tend to use a layering approach – wear multiple thin layers which can easily be added or discarded according to how warm/cold you are feeling – it’s a practical approach to keeping warm or cooling off. The t-shirt and hoodie in combination work well together.
When we were travelling through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, we didn’t have the opportunity to shower very often as we were staying gers (the Mongolian name for yurts) with nomadic families and no running water was available. In fact, we had just three showers in eleven days. Having the ability to wear clothes several days running
When we get home from our travels we are usually exhausted. In all honesty, we chuck all our dirty clothes straight into the washing machine, press the button and then, an hour and a bit later, clean clothes emerge. We were a little concerned that by wearing wool we would need to hand wash the clothes. When you’re just back from a trip and have 1001 things to deal with, handwashing is not an appealing prospect. Fortunately, these clothes can be put in the washing machine. You just have to remember to run the machine on a lower temperature. We washed ours in the machine on a 30C wash for 35 minutes. Then it’s simply a case of hanging the clothes out to dry naturally, either on a line if it’s a sunny day (they dry within hours) or on an airer inside the house. The t-shirt and hoodie were dry within around 24 hours in a cold house, the thicker socks took 48 hours – the cotton t-shirts that went in with that load are still drying. Merino wool products should not be tumble-dried.
Another benefit is that because these are natural products there is no chance of nasty micro-plastics ending up in the water system and, because they need to be washed less frequently, you are using less water.
The price of the garments is not cheap because merino is a natural product and top quality. But if you can significantly reduce the volume of luggage on your journey and can be assured that the garments will last a long time, the clothing can be considered to be an investment. We were surprised at how comfortable the garments were and how many times we could wear – and re-wear – them over the course of several days. These are absolutely ideal for travelling and highly recommended.
If you are interested in Unbound Merino’s clothing line you can follow the link below to view their products. They currently have a Black Friday sale:
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As well as inscribing amazing sites of historic, natural and cultural interest UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) also recognises ‘intangible cultural heritage‘ which the organisation describes as ‘the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage.’ And this can, of course, include food.
Ukraine is vying to declare borscht, the delicious, hearty soup which has beetroot as one of its primary ingredients, as a heritage designation for this country. This may cause some consternation with Ukraine’s neighbours, many of which, including notably Russia and Poland, where the soup is very popular indeed, who might want to claim borscht as their own.
There are many, many recipes for Borscht which include a number of variations on the ingredients, but Ukraine’s argument for UNESCO heritage status is that the preparation of this soup also involves many other cultural elements.
You can read about the bravura bid for borscht’s definitive distinction here.
From May 2020 the Tokkaido shinkansen (bullet trains) have introduced new rules regarding oversized luggage. You can find the details and FAQ here.
Actually, this is a good idea. The shinkansen is the most marvellous way to travel – it’s fast, efficient and great value if you have a Japan Rail Pass.
It’s also extremely comfortable, with plenty of legroom and reclining seats if those are your sort of thing (and they’re not too intrusive for the person sitting behind you).
However, on our most recent trip to Japan just a few months ago we noticed that a significant number of visitors had excessively large and bulky hard cases which were difficult to manoeuvre onto the train and took up a lot of space, making things cramped for other passengers. We always try to travel light – we pack just enough clothes and basic toiletries for the trip into soft luggage bags. The trundler style that have multiple handles or can convert into rucksacks just in case you encounter a lot of stairs are particularly useful.
We find that these are by far the easiest to journey through the country, especially as so much of the travel is on public transport. And if there is anything you have forgotten to bring to Japan you will almost certainly be able to find it and buy it when you arrive. Uniqlo and Muji are brands which are well known worldwide, can be found in most Japanese cities, and they will most likely have sizes suitable for western people.
SHINKANSEN LUGGAGE SOLUTION
If you really can’t travel light there is a solution: the amazing takkyuubin. It’s a luggage forwarding service that will get your bags from one end of the country to the other overnight. It’s reasonably priced and highly efficient. Although there are many companies, the most well known is Yamato Transport Co , characterised by its kuroneko – black cat – logo whereby a black cat is carrying a black kitten. If you’ve ever seen Studio Ghibli’s delightful anime Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on the book by Eiko Kadono, the Japanese title is Majo no Takkyuubin – Witch’s Delivery Service – and Kiki’s black cat Jiji is highly reminiscent of the Yamato cat.
We have used this service many times and it has always been exceptionally good. Every business hotel or ryokan we have stayed at has been entirely helpful in arranging the transportation (Say, “Takkyuubin dekimasu ka?”) and the helpful staff will fill out the forms for the luggage destination in Japanese for you. (You can say, “Nihongo o kakemasen” – I can’t write Japanese). They will often telephone the destination hotel to check that it’s okay for them to receive your luggage and they will hold luggage for a few days if needed. You need to do a little preparation – it’s advisable to send bags the evening before you travel at the latest.
ARRIVING AT YOUR DESTINATION IN STYLE
Then you can swan up to the railway station the following morning carrying just a day pack. You can buy a delicious bento (box lunch) at the station for a tasty treat as you travel, possibly indulge in a cold beer or cup of sake too, and enjoy the shinkansen experience without struggling with heavy luggage or inconveniencing other people. When you arrive at your hotel your bags will be waiting for you and the rest of the day is yours to enjoy. Such a pleasurable way to travel.