Traveling Light

Traveling light, both physically and metaphorically is something I’ve had due time to consider over the last ten days. I’ve discovered that what looks like a light load when assembled in piles on one’s bed appears a lot heavier when measured against miles of airport concourses, train terminals, city cobblestones and metro stairwells.  The two suitcases I purchased for this trip have been worth the investment for the wheels alone; they turn on a dime and are easy to manipulate.  The expandable feature, however, has been a mixed blessing; it’s allowed me to squeeze extra items in, but makes the suitcases fall forward unexpectedly at inconvenient moments. So far I have been successful at maintaining YouTube anonymity throughout my journey.  One may wish to be known worldwide, but I prefer that my ten minutes of illusory fame (if and when they arrive) might not involve a humorous video starring me, my luggage, and an escalator.

As I was preparing my piles before actually packing my suitcases, I spoke with a kindred spirit, a dear friend of mine who often packs more, rather than less.  She would have made the ideal contestant on “Let’s Make a Deal” the game show where, among other things, women were routinely rewarded for bringing a variety of unusual items to the studio in their purses.  An umbrella, a hatchet, a roll of duct tape?  No problem.  Shoelaces, a tube of super glue, your kids’ immunizations records?  Right here.  Nose hair  clippers, corkscrew, map of Rhode Island?  Never leave home without them.  My friend is one of those people who’s ready for anything.  Whether at work or away on vacation, if you need something, she’s got it.  We talked about the pros and cons of packing this way and she recalled: “one of the first major trips I packed for was a journey to West Africa, where nothing would be available, and I seem to have been packing that way ever since, regardless of where I’m going.”  I never travelled to West Africa, but I was raised on the Girl Scout motto: “Be Prepared.”  But does that motto translate to packing every item you might possibly need, or does it mean being ready improvise or search out whatever you might need if the occasion arises?  Part of the habit of over-preparedness stems, at least for me, from the notion that if I need something I’ve forgotten to pack, I’m going to have to ask for it in Italian or French, which feels like a daunting task.

Before packing each item, I weighed the pro of having it if I really needed it vs. the con of hauling it around without ever needing to use it.   So I opted to include the first aid kit (which I blessedly haven’t needed) but left home without a sewing kit (which I could have used).  Turns out, in Italy, there are pharmacies readily available, but I have no idea what kind of store sells needle and thread.  I did buy good walking shoes, (thankfully) and brought along moleskin for blisters.  But the foot pain I’ve had has little to do with feet rubbing on shoes, and everything to do with centuries-old, deformed cobblestones jutting up every which way, and grinding daily into the soles of my feet, good shoes and socks notwithstanding.  I brought a water-proof layer (thankfully) but left the umbrella at home—good call, as in Italy, umbrella salesmen pop up at the first hint of rain, and accost anyone not already carrying an umbrella.  I packed a pillow and light blanket as well (pillow helpful, blanket superfluous) for the transatlantic flight.

I started off so proud of my light packing efforts.  One medium suitcase, one carry-on piece, and a large handbag; not too bad for a three-week trip abroad, I thought, especially considering that one third of my large bag was full of gifts and goodies for my college student children.  Unimaginably, I had limited myself to two pairs of shoes, but the change of season provided a bit of a packing challenge, for which I carried several layers of outerwear.   Not knowing how available laundry facilities might be also compelled me to bring more clothing than might have been necessary otherwise.  Although my stay in Rome was at a lovely efficiency that came equipped with a washing machine (right where the oven should have been—I’ll write later about attempting to cook Thanksgiving dinner), my one try at washing my clothes in Rome netted a lovely set of soggy and well-rinsed garments that the soap never touched.  In the cool Rome weather, this clothing took over two days to dry in the bathroom, so that even after receiving clarification from the landlord as to which receptacle of the washing machine the soap belonged in (section II rather than section I) I didn’t dare wash again for fear that I’d be transporting a suitcase full of clothes that, while clean, were still quite damp.  So I awoke today to find that the only item of clean clothing I had left to wear was my Choo Choo Bob’s t-shirt.  Some part of me thought I might clean up my act and be fashionable in Europe.  The universe, apparently, is having the last laugh.

Yesterday’s travel challenge: the Rome to Rennes leg of my journey: a 13-hour sojourn that involved a six-block walk, a local train, a two-hour flight, a shuttle bus, the Paris metro, a three-hour wait in the Paris train station, a two-hour train ride, another metro and a local bus.  Home for the week is a sweet flat in Rennes on–you guessed it–the fourth floor.

I am reminded of images of the remains of travelers on the Oregon trail.  The further west they travelled, the more of their belongings were left strewn on the prairie; what once appeared to be an item of estimable value eventually became a burden and was jettisoned to improve one’s chances of survival.  Not a useful comparison, perhaps, for my brief European tour, but one that gives me pause, nonetheless.  I have several unplanned days next week at the end of my journey, and I find myself weighing the pros and cons of my options based, to at least some degree, on the hassle of hauling all my stuff around with me.

So my physical baggage (the French is plural “bagages”) is getting in the way of my free spirit.  Hmmm.  Some more food for thought.  And what about the other kind of baggage?  Those attitudes and expectations that keep us from traveling light?  That, my friends, will have to be the topic of another post–all the baggage hauling from yesterday has prepared me for that famous international afternoon activity–the nap.




2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann Behmler
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 23:35:31

    As an armchair traveler, I am glad you are taking the time to write.



  2. CindyAnn
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 04:06:32

    HA! I loved this one of course and am seriously pondering your question: Does being prepared mean hauling everything you own with you at all times (my paraphrase 🙂 or being ready to improvise or search out what you need – as in: ask for what you need! This has sent me on my own metaphysical journey… could be a while before I get back! I love the French “bagages” very apropos! I’m posting this on my cupboard as inspiration in my preparations for Guatemala! Love, love, love this blog and I’m soo glad you’re having this opportunity! Un gran besito! Cindy

    p.s. CindyAnn is my Spanish class name – there are so many of us, as you well know. Isn’t the world blessed!



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