Journalist, broadcaster and novelist Rachel Johnson spends much of her time travelling on assignment. Here she tells us about the trusty Globe-Trotter she has had since her early days as a reporter, and how she recently upgraded to some matching new luggage so as to turn heads at the Cheltenham Literature Festival at Sea on the Queen Mary 2
When did you buy your first Globe-Trotter?
I always knew the only thing I ever wanted to be was a journalist. I had this idea that I would be travelling, working at getting scoops and interviewing African leaders in tents in the desert. I also knew that the ultimate accessory for any intrepid journalist, as well as a notepad and pen, was a Globe-Trotter suitcase. So when l was lucky enough to get taken on by the Financial Times after leaving university, the first thing I bought with my graduate trainee salary pay check was a blue Globe-Trotter suitcase.
And where did you travel with it?
I’ve been everywhere with it – Africa, Bangkok, Burma, Sri Lanka, Peru… but to be perfectly honest, when I first got it, this was the suitcase that came more on skiing holidays than on far-flung expeditions. However, I did take it to the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands in 1990 when I had to go and write a country survey for the FT. The FT must have been a bit more flush with cash in those days as it flew me business class, and I always remember that on my way back from Nassau I was checking in and business and first class were in the same queue. Behind me was Bob Geldof, looking suitably dishevelled and rock-starry, and he had his arms full of raffia wicker baskets with bright-coloured embroidery. I was, by contrast, in my FT gear of chinos and shirt, and with my Globe-Trotter – looking extremely chic and cool, if I may say so. I must have been all of 24 years old and he said something like, ‘What’s a girl like you doing checking in to first class to London?’ So I told him. And then I said, ‘What’s a pop star doing with all those crazy wicker baskets?’ He said they were for his wife Paula. I am sure that what caught his eye was not the small blonde, but my beautiful blue Globe-Trotter case, and so we bonded over luggage. We have remained friends ever since.
Is it true that Globe-Trotter played a part in your marriage?
Yes, but not like it did for the Queen as her honeymoon luggage! I was travelling with my boyfriend (now husband) Ivo and we went to Egypt together and on several skiing holidays. He had two Globe-Trotters – a small briefcase and a larger suitcase, both of which he still uses. I really don’t think I could have married anybody who didn’t have Globe-Trotter luggage. The fact that he did was definitely a factor in attracting me. And his house – that was also a factor…
Do you still have your cases?
Absolutely. The one from my FT days is the perfect size, just enough room for a long weekend. The thing is, I used it so much that eventually the leather on the handle wore out. I took it back to the Globe-Trotter shop in Albemarle Street and they sent it to the factory to be repaired. For me that’s such a great selling point: I love brands that invest in the longevity of their products. Surely that is the way to go rather than the built-in obsolescence of cheaply made things that won’t last? The fact that I can have a suitcase I bought in my early twenties refurbished in my fifties is a source of great satisfaction and joy. And the fact that this case is something that I still love and want to keep using says a lot about Globe-Trotter’s timeless design.
Are you often complimented on your case?
I think it’s more a sort of secret handshake. When you see someone else with a Globe-Trotter you exchange a knowing look. You know that these are people with a hinterland; they like to travel, they are literate, they like the work of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn and Michael Lewis and PJ O’Rourke. It’s like being in a club.
What’s your packing style?
Terrible. I travel incredibly light and this has been one of the tensions in our marriage. I would travel everywhere with hand luggage if I didn’t need so many anti-aging beauty products that take me over the in-cabin allowance. I once went on holiday to Greece with just a bikini, kaftan and change of pants! My husband Ivo, on the other hand, travels like some Victorian explorer. He always takes four times as much as me. We were coming back from Goa last year and Ivo had packed a wooden case full of oil paints, a portable easel, portable chair and full watercolour set! I have a failsafe system for light travelling: I pack my suitcase for a trip and then I take out a third of it before we leave. It’s a practice that has never let me down.
What do you never leave the house without when travelling?
Ear plugs, my phone, dark glasses and reading glasses. I also find layers are invaluable. You could be going on a walking holiday in October somewhere hot, but it’s freezing at night. My Kindle, too. I prefer actual books, but a Kindle is a great back-up. I still carry a notebook, but more often than not I write notes to myself on my phone. I have actually written whole articles on my phone. I’m a quick writer and I like to write travel pieces on the plane on the way back home. I think the fresher, the better, when it comes to copy. As you leave you’re almost still breathing and smelling the air of the place you have been and you can translate something of that.
What was the last trip you went on with your Globe-Trotter?
It was an amazing Atlantic crossing. I was invited to take part in the Cheltenham Literature Festival at Sea 2019 as a speaker. We sailed from New York to Southampton for a week and people came to hear writers and journalists talk at special events. For the occasion, I decided that I finally needed some new Globe-Trotter luggage. Up to then I had always thought that Globe-Trotters only came in navy blue, but at the store I saw that the cases are available in a whole range of colours. I found two cases in a burnt orange. It is the most beautiful colour, and now at home I’ve made an installation with them – I keep them on display in my bedroom! I can’t tell you how many people admired them on the ship. I felt like a movie star. Everything about the crossing felt wonderfully elegant and I loved the old-fashionedness of it, the slow pace of it. I was also struck by the knowledge that when my mother and father moved to America in 1963 from Oxford, where they had both been studying, they went across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. I’ve got photographs of my father arriving in New York on the liner. So on the Queen Mary 2, the descendent of that ship, I had a real sense of completion, as I was making the trip in reverse.
And where are you off to next?
I have a busy schedule. I’m off to Megève on holiday, skiing, in a couple of weeks and then I’m travelling to Istanbul and Venice to do some filming for a documentary I’m making. My new orange Globe-Trotters will be accompanying me, though I must confess that I am developing Globe-Trotter carousel anxiety, which I am sure must be a common syndrome in admirers of the brand: I start to panic if I am late off the plane, worrying that someone will pinch my beautiful burnt-orange suitcases from the baggage carousel. Maybe I’ll get them microchipped?