Since leaving the UK in 2011, I have made dozens of trips to teach out of state, and around the world. While I seem to need the whole of my trunk (boot) to transfer sticks, veils, books and costumes to the class I teach ten minutes away, I have perfected packing a week of belly dance adventures into my carry-on hand luggage. Here are some tips to help you travel light !
1, Double check your bag size and weight limit. Every airline has a slightly different policy and the fees for packing a bag that is just an inch too big, can wreck your budget. Some airlines will allow you a small bag plus a “personal” item, which may be a small handbag or as big as a lap top bag. Others will only allow you one piece of “carry on”. Read the small print and check if your handbag/purse counts as a second bag. If so, consider downsizing your handbag/purse to something that can slip into a side pocket of a bag that is the maximum size for your one carry on. Other airlines will allow you a personal bag and a small suitcase, or backpack as your hand luggage. Make sure you put everything that is essential to your trip into this one bag – checked in suitcases do go missing, and its hard to perform without your costume or teach without your music. Finally, check you can carry your own bags easily. Even if you prefer a bag on wheels, there will always be staircases and taxis to test your weight lifting skills.
2, Invest in a lightweight costume. Coins, fringe and gems look amazing, but the weight soon adds up. Invest in a good quality costume that adds almost nothing to your weight limit. Modern Assuit is always a good choice, or a bra and belt in a fashion fabric. Rather than tassels and beads, find fabrics that will catch the light, or give movement under stage lights like sequins and lace. I always pack a second costume, of a tiny, lightweight, saiidi dress. I can’t remember how many times I have been asked for a second number in a show and been thankful for my back up costume. Once you have checked the weight of your costume, do the same with your shoes, jewelry and props.
3, Make a skirt sausage. Skirts, pants, trousers, veils and wigs can take up lots of room in a suitcase. Pick out fabrics that don’t need the attention of an iron, or that look best a little creased and store them in the cut off leg of an old pair of tights. Simply cut open each end of the leg and thread it onto your arm. Hold the waist band of your skirt and pull the tights down your arm and over the skirt. You now have all that fabric under control and perfectly flexible to fit in your suitcase.
4, Purchase some wooden zills. Good quality, metal zills are heavy! They also show up on x-ray machines, and increase your chances of having your bags searched. Wooden zills have a beautiful tone, are unusual and much more lightweight. I also prefer to use them while teaching, as they are kinder to the ears and help students pick my zill playing out from the crowd of metal zills in a workshop.
5, Pack only “two fors”. Because you are travelling light, work out how to mix and match your costume pieces and workshop clothing to maximize your looks. Rather than packing black yoga pants, put in a pair in a bright color or fun pattern that match your bra and belt. They work as a backup plan to your costume, but add a t-shirt and they also work for attending or teaching a workshop. Use your cover up on the beach or as a dressing gown. Find a statement piece of jewelry that will work on stage, but also dress up a day dress for attending the evening gala show. Everything you pack should be essential and ready to work overtime!
6, Color code your cables. When travelling with an Ipod, laptop, phone and speakers it is easy to get confused about which cable works with which hardware and in each different country. Investigate how your hardware, chargers and cables will work in every place you are visiting and come prepared. Buy a backup set of each cable in a bright color or funky pattern. If possible, co-ordinate your cables to match your lap top cover or phone screen. Purchase a set of address labels and stick them to all your cables and hardware. They may never come back to you if they get lost, but at least you can be quick to reclaim them at belly dance events.
7, Pack into packing cubes. If you really want to pack light, there is no better tip than to pack each day’s clothes into a small packing cube, pillowcase or even a sandwich bag. It takes some pre-planning, but saves taking unwanted clothes around the world. Write each day on the outside of the bags and consider what activities you will be doing on those days: travelling, teaching, performing, resting or enjoying the area. Lay out each day’s clothes and try them on. Make sure it is an outfit that fits your plans. Take a moment to check the obvious: Does your bra show through your t-shirt? Is there a button that needs fixing? Pack everything for that day, including underwear and sleep clothes, into that day’s bag. Once you have packed for each day, limit your “extra” packing to some underwear and one lightweight jumper/sweater.
8, Preprint everything. In these days of instant internet access, it’s easy to assume that you will be able to google directions, download tickets, or check an email for your workshop schedule. If you are travelling outside the reach of your internet provider, it is best to assume nothing! Most hotels and hostesses will be happy to receive an email ahead of time with all your plans attached. Some will even print out your handouts, directions and flyers for you. If weight is limited, you can consider posting your paperwork on to your destination a few weeks before you intend to travel. However, always travel with the first few days itinerary printed and in your hand luggage.
9, Find a lightweight, yet powerful speaker. As I said before, never assume that your hardware or cables will be compatible with those of your venue. Dance is nothing without music, so prepare all your musical needs onto CD, Ipod, or phone and forward it to your hostess. As a last resort, always travel with your own speaker and charge it up before you leave home. These days you can purchase speakers that fit into hand luggage but still fill a room with music. It’s also nice to have your own speakers for last minute practice or simply as entertainment when spending a long week in a dull hotel, between belly dance events.
10, Buy when you arrive. Most bulky toiletries are budget friendly and available everywhere in the world. Plan a short shopping trip when you first arrive to buy snacks, tissues, make up wipes, a disposable razor, toothpaste, shampoo and other hygiene products. Unless you are travelling to the wilds, minimize your toiletry and medical packing. Consider what you really need and what you may only purchase if needed. For example, do you always get a poorly tummy on when travelling, or can you assume that you could buy an over the counter remedy if needed? The atmosphere in your destination may mess with your hair, or dry your skin, but it is likely that the local shops have products to help. However, do not assume that your favorite brand will be available. If you have sensitive skin, or products you love, purchase sample sized bottles before you board the plane. Otherwise, enjoy trying out new products !
11, Plan for purchases. No matter how cautious of weight you try to be, you will still want to purchase a memento of your travels, or a new costume at the belly dance event. Before you travel, and before you return, look at the items in your suitcase and make a mental note of their real value to you. If you have read your book, are you simply returning it home to donate to a charity shop? Why head home with socks with holes, or shoes with a broken strap, or a lipstick with two more uses. There is nothing wrong with emptying out a few items into the trash while you are travelling, to make room for the new. I pack tired shoes, old t-shirts for underwear and tired PJs with the intention of leaving them behind and returning home with a treasure or two from my travels in their place.
12, Plan time for non-belly dance adventures. Belly dance events are amazing, but if you are travelling to teach or perform, add in a few days for site-seeing and to enjoy your visit. While it is not always possible, try to plan time to rest, relax and enjoy the opportunities to see the world that belly dance has made available for us.
Belly dance has opened the door for me to see more of both Europe and America and dance with people from around the world. Having my packing planning in place means I can travel light, quickly and efficiently, with out the weight of too much “stuff” holding me down. I love getting invited to travel to teach and I hope dance with you soon!
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer, originally from the UK but now living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her two books “Teaching Belly Dance” and “Becoming a Belly Dancer” are available on Amazon. Sara travels back to the UK each year to teach workshops and visit family, and visits Hong Kong regularly. Find out more about Sara, her workshops and travel plans on her web site: www.LetsBellyDanceUSA.com
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
She has taught more than 4,000 belly dance classes, both in the UK and US. She now teaches in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore in the SF bay area, as well as workshops world wide, and online via the Belly Dance Business Academy. Her classes are known for their humor, detailed breakdowns and cultural context. Students who have studied with Sara have gone on to teach and perform in all styles of belly dance and many have made their living through performance or teaching.
Sara’s first book “Teaching Belly Dance” was published in 2014. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, is a stagecraft handbook for belly dancers of all styles and levels. Both are available on Amazon.
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
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