Saturday, September 25, 2010

Traveling Light

This guy biking along Commonwealth Avenue struck a chord with me; I feel like this every time I pack for a trip.

We're are taking a ridiculously short (three busy days) trip to France in November and I swear I am going to be a light packer this time. Really. Even if I have to go to a couple of fancy dinners (it's a technology conference, but I will be sight-seeing, of course, not napping through it via jet lag). Even if the weather will be chilly and changeable, requiring layers and a coat. Even if I've tried and failed to be a light packer on every other trip.  I really tried when we went to Italy a few years ago — so how did I end up with more than 20 T-shirts for a 12-day trip? (And how did they all fit into my carry-on with five pairs of sandals and boots, two dresses, jeans, skirts, and a raincoat?)

My 22" wheeled suitcase was literally a drag during our last couple of trips. It was so awkward to lug onto the train to Paris last winter that I stumbled and went flying face-first into someone else's suitcase. The scar between my eyes is practically invisible, but the memory lingers on. How I loathe that suitcase, even though it holds everything so well.

Cramming things into a single carry-on doesn't make you a light traveler in my book. Not if you can barely lift the thing.

Since that trip, I've discovered how effective rolling — rather than folding — clothing is. I was able to pack all my clothes for a 9-day trip to Maine in a mid-sized duffel bag with this method, and very few things were wrinkled. This is truly a smarter, more compact way to pack. I know other tricks, too: I always make a list before I pack; I keep these on one document so I can see what I packed for the last trip and work from that.

My problem is that I need to pack extra shoes — boots in winter — because I walk so much that even my tried-and-true favorites make my feet sore. I often head back to my hotel to switch shoes at mid-day so I can keep going without limping. For three days, I should be able to get by with just two pairs. Three would be safer, though.... See? There I go.

Along with a new suitcase I need an iron-clad will to pack minimally. (I'd never pack an iron, for example. And my hairstyling and makeup needs are limited to a comb, sunblock, and lipstick.)

I'm going to donate that old suitcase to Goodwill, and start haunting Marshall's for one of those super-light, 4-wheel carry-ons by Heys. They've started making some that are 21.5", just a wee bit bigger than their previous ones, which I'd previously rejected as just too small for a week-long trip (with boots). The newer ones just meet the airline limits, and should work for me. I could also fit everything into my duffel, but rolling suitcases are so much easier in big airports, and along city streets. They're good even when you're hauling them along Venice's bridges, which often have steps. In a perfect world, one carry-on suitcase will work for both of us on this trip to France. (But can you roll a men's suit? I think not....)

Souvenirs and shopping abroad are a separate issue. Since we're going to Avignon, chances are excellent that I'll be hauling some good-sized ceramics home, just as I did from Tuscany. But first things first. I'll just pack a folding Longchamp tote, and worry about how to stuff that in Avignon.

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