How Much To Take With You on Your Trip
by Kristen E. Bower, Ph.D.
knee deep in a Roman river that had been a sidewalk
just five minutes earlier, I made an observation.
I realized that umbrellas made in Southern California
are actually just a fashion statement. I should
have known, considering that every raindrop in
San Diego - on average - is directly linked to
six car accidents, three major city street closures,
and seventeen broken hips. I had brought an umbrella
to Italy positive that it was an absolute, no
question, MUST-have item. I now watched awestruck
and soaked like a drowned rat, while my totally
useless rice-paper yarmulke did the Fish Flip.
After a couple of minutes of that nonsense, I
waded to the nearest public trash can and tossed
the umbrella in. This turned out to be a great
decision, as I spent the rest of my trip happily
dry in my parka, with both hands free to boot.
When it wasn't raining, the parka could be smashed
into roughly the size of a fist and stuffed into
any free space in any bag. I have since made a
note to self for future vacations.
Umbrella fiasco aside, I broke a terrible habit
on my trip to Italy. For once, I packed light.
Instead of the usual entire matched luggage set
that has always formerly accompanied my boyfriend
Scott and me on our various adventures, this time
we confined our necessities to one day-pack each
and a third small bag between us. I am now retroactively
kicking myself for the last thirty-one years of
The benefits began at the San Diego airport. We
arrived several hours early because our friend
who drove us there had to get to work. So we decided
to check in and read a novel or two (and maybe
write one) while waiting in the security line
and then at the gate. A few clicks on the keyboard
at check-in and we were bumped to an earlier flight
into Chicago, thrilled that we could relax about
missing our connection.
Once in Chicago, still with time to spare, the
airline practically begged us to take an earlier
flight that was less full. We put on our poker
faces and negotiated a bit, and were given the
exact seats we requested. Thus, not checking luggage
put us into Europe a full two hours early. Breezing
past the poor suckers camped out in front of the
fourth dimensional Narnia of baggage claim, we
couldn't help but snicker a little bit to ourselves.
The difference between packing for a two week
European vacation and packing for an extended
research mission on Neptune is simple: the number
of garments that are actually essential. I recommend
the following procedure. Take out everything you
think you need and lay it on your bed.
put away 75% of it, replacing the entire rejected
collection with one trial-sized packet of Tide.
If you feel yourself losing your nerve in this
process, remember these key points. A trial-sized
packet of Tide weighs much less than a week's
worth of clothing. A suitcase larger than a carry-on
might not even fit in the average European hotel
room. Nobody on your travels will know if you've
worn the same shirt for three days in a row. Nobody
will know if you've washed your socks in the bidet
over a beer in fifteen minutes. Furthermore, nobody
If you're still having trouble, try to remind
yourself that the advantages are priceless.
For example, on one breakneck day in Italy, we
traveled from Rome to Pisa, through Poggibonsi
to San Gimignano, back to Poggibonsi, and finally
ended up in Florence. We would never have even
attempted this with heavy baggage, knowing we
would be lugging it with us all day long. We would
have missed out on a wonderful day, and I may
have never seen San Gimignano or Pisa in my lifetime
(admittedly, missing Poggibonsi would have been
no great loss). After having to wake up a nun
to let us out of the convent at 5am (sorry, Sister),
we headed out to catch the 6:30 train out of Rome
that we had prepaid tickets for.
As it turns out, Roman subways sleep later than
inter-regional trains. Consequently, we were surprised
with a pre-sunrise mad dash across the city center,
bags in tow, to catch our train. Fortunately,
the load was light and manageable, enabling us
to do this without a donkey. More importantly,
we crossed the city without having to bump wheeled
suitcases over Old World cobblestone - perhaps
rattling out behind a Morse Code message, such
as "Good God! Why did we bring all this stuff?"
Unbeknownst to us, the 6:30 train from Rome to
Pisa was actually a train from Rome to Florence,
followed by a second, totally different train
to Pisa. This was another stroke of luck in disguise.
Because we were to end up in Florence that night,
we threw down a few Euro to check our third bag
at the train station. Had we been toting our usual
wad, this could have necessitated a financial
consultant. Speaking of checking bags for a price,
it is now a security requirement at almost every
tourist attraction worldwide (in case you haven't
noticed). This is why when packing for a trip,
I force myself to utter an enthusiastic "cha-ching!"
for every bag I pull out of the closet.
I try to live and let live, but at times, the
luggage mongers really interfere with the rest
of us. On a train out of Naples, we had nestled
into what we thought were our seats and were situating
our pillows when I was approached by a middle
posti sono nostri," she said.
My Italian is just good enough to understand that
we were in seats belonging to her party. I handed
her my ticket and asked her in broken Italian
where our seats were, and she pointed to a cryptic
spot on my ticket encoding seats a few rows back.
Scott and I thanked the woman and hopped up, grabbed
our three tiny bags and headed to our seats, where
we repeated the settling in process. Meanwhile,
the woman motioned out the side door, and her
party - of eight - filed aboard with an entourage
of baggage handlers. Were it not for the designer
bags, they might have been a lost Sherpa expedition,
horribly detoured from their trek through the
For a full fifteen minutes, they fussed and argued
over who was sitting where, all the while trying
to squeeze thirty-five full-sized suitcases into
the tight overhead bins. Exasperated, one of the
men finally yelled at one of the women (in English,
which I appreciated,) "The train isn't leaving
because of YOU!"
Granted, there is the issue of souvenirs and gifts.
Inevitably, I always come home from a trip twice
as laden down as when I left. Unfortunately, the
exodus of a cheap umbrella and a trial-sized packet
of Tide only clears so much space in a tightly
filled day pack. Coincidentally, someone on my
gift list always receives a lovely bag embroidered
with the name of wherever I've been, and everyone
else receives something small enough to fit inside
it. The funny thing is, they usually seem to think
I've purchased these items out of purely altruistic
consideration for them. As the cat is now out
of the bag, so to speak, I hope nobody in my family
reads this and catches on.
Now that we are enlightened (pun definitely intended),
Scott and I are - of course - acutely aware of
everyone else's "weight problem" when
it comes to luggage. Leaving Italy, we stood on
a waterbus in Venice with our bags thrown casually
over our shoulders, while a herd of college girls
struggled to hoist their 200 pound life-pods off
the deck and onto the boat. I had begun entertaining
visions of the Titanic to pass the time, when
Scott leaned over and whispered to me, "Do
you think they're moving here?"
"Maybe," I laughed. "Or maybe they
just have a layover on the way to Neptune."