the road, the road

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By Patricia Perkins

Packing for a trip abroad poses some special problems for many Americans. Aside from the usual difficulty of imagining squeezing our lives into so small a space, we have some attitudes that make it even more difficult.

Packing list for two-and-a-half months on the road in Europe-- biking in Holland, baptism ceremony in France, bouncing through Poland and the Baltic countries.

  1. LL Bean shoulder bag
    • a pair of cotton pants
    • 2 t-shirts
    • 1 dress
    • a pr of sandals
    • 2 prs of socks
    • 2 changes of underwear
    • long underwear, upper and lower
    • Irish wool hat (lost in Holland and replaced with cotton)
    • 4 bandanas
    • 1 plastic orange rain poncho
    • jewelry to wear and give away
    • long French Wool/cotton scarf
    • tank top
    • folding dop kit
    • (forgot: towel)
    • (forgot: nail clippers)
    • (forgot: needle and thread)
    • (forgot: hand cream, sun block)

  2. in folding dop kit
    • shampoo and conditioner
    • baby powder
    • toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash
    • body wash instead of soap
    • mosquito repellant
    • mentholatum and carmex (lip balm and sore goo)
    • antibiotic ointment, cotton pads
    • my medications

  3. Bookbag-sized backpack
    • pens, pencils
    • change purse
    • flashlight
    • books:
      • Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Tom Robbins, for reading aloud
      • Blue Boy by Jean Giono, to read and give to my daughter in France
      • Europe on a Shoestring, Lonely Planet's guide
    • my journal
    • a small notebook for day notes and finances
    • photo album
    • zeroxed piano music
    • calendar
    • calculator
    • sun glasses, clip-ons
    • cassette tape of my yoga workout
    • Envelope with
      • Photos of various sizes to give away
      • eyeglass prescription
      • copy of Servas letter of introduction and recommendations to travelers
      • new credit card with documentation
      • notarized photocopy of my passport

  4. In neck pouch
    • traveler's checks, cash, credit card
    • driver's license
    • phone card
    • student card

  5. I'm wearing, for the trip over by airplane
    • tennis shoes, comfortable, for walking
    • socks
    • cotton pants, actually boy's pyjama bottoms, expandable waist, easy fit for sitting in squashed airplane seats
    • t-shirt
    • green fleece pullover jacket, warm and fuzzy for the airport's air-conditioning
    • a special necklace Deborah Hedgecock of Beaded Moon made especially for me
Bonus: A few words of advice to travelers of any sex and any nationality who are about to leave home with too much stuff:
  1. We imagine we need a different outfit for every day of the week.

    European and other Westerners do not look at you funny if you show up in the same outfit two or even three days in a row.

    This works in your favor when you pack for a trip. If you have one or two really good looking things, that's all you need. My daughter Natasha (just back from seven months of backpacking in Europe on the hostel circuit) found that she really didn't even need more than one and a very casual take-the-plane outfit. Once you arrive at the destination, people are going to be wearing different things. We wouldn't want to be advertising our Americanness all over Europe. We can buy sometime to look cool right where we are.

  2. We imagine we need all these changes of clothes because we don't want to have to wash clothes often.

    Another fallacy. Very quickly your concept of what, exactly, constitutes clean clothes is going to undergo a massive reconstruction. Even, believe it or not, clean underwear. I never met an American on the road staying in backpacking hostels who didn't affirm the truth of this. So why not just pack less stuff now? You will find washing machines. You will maybe even find laundry services that aren't that expensive. And you will come to the realization that one of the great ways to meet the locals is at the laundromat.

  3. We don't have any idea what a burden it is to carry too much luggage.

    The whole secret to traveling with pleasure is not having baggage that is a pain in the butt to carry. You have to run for buses. You have to walk from the bus station to the hostel for the night. You will not be affording taxicabs and porters (if there is such an animal left these days.) You will need to get in and out of cars, buses, trucks. If your stuff is light, this activity will be easy and you will get on with the job of meeting cool people, discovering beauty all around you, learning about these new and different folks. If your stuff is heavy or bulky, you will quickly come to dislike getting from point A to point B. (A little rolling suitcase is FINE in an airport, but in metros and bus stations where there are stairs and curbs, you will wrestle with the durn thing and come to hate it.) You will perhaps blame traveling as a sport. You may just find yourself reluctant to leave someplace you have landed, even though someplace further on promises to be better, more beautiful, cheaper. Heavy bags are the cause of more negative experiences on the road that all the rape, theft, anti-American attitudes and bad, germ-ridden food combined.

  4. Do bring a Dog and Pony Show, a kind of show-and-tell kit that helps you interact with the locals. Here's what I brought to share:

    • Most important:Photos of our house, car, life in the states
    • Photos of ourselves to give away as thanks to friends we meet
    • Digital camera (JF is carrying this and all the accessories) to take photos to share on people's televisions
    • Yoga tape, in case someone wants to do yoga with me
    • Piano music, in case someone has a piano I can practice on

  5. You do not need more than this:

    • Raingear (a small umbrella would be better than raincoat and pants, unless you are going to be hiking or working in the rain. In which case, it is better to buy local.)
    • Something to keep you warm if there is a chance of cold
    • Some sort of pants-shirt combo, everyday wear
    • Something to dress up in
    • One outfit for hot weather, incl bathing suit
    • No more than two pairs of shoes--one to wear, one to pack.

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Copyright 2002 © Patricia Perkins
806 Blain Street
High Point, NC 27262