- Leave your cell phone at home. Yes, it has a pedometer, an alarm clock, a compass, a flashlight, a notepad, a camera, Google maps, the weather report, several books and all your music. But, if you take it you will lose it. And even more importantly, even if you don’t lose it, you run the risk….the very real risk that somehow you might accidently take it off airplane mode and it will immediately reach out there into cyberspace and bill you a million dollars for all the data it downloads in a foreign country just because the phone got kinda lonesome and wanted to talk to somebody.
- Take a small laptop for the internet but don’t expect to be able to use it in every hotel. Even if they have Wi-Fi you might find yourself standing in the doorway in your pajamas trying to get just enough bars to email your daughter your flight information.
- Take a small camera. Download it to your laptop at the end of every day. That way, if you get your pocket picked you only lose that day’s pictures. If you do get your pocket picked, tell your husband he gets an extra beer at lunch. Tell him it’s an old travel tradition. By the second beer he’s not as grumpy.
- You really only need two pairs of slacks. Wear one and pack one. Nobody looks at your pants; most of the time they only see your shirts. You can wash them in the sink at night if you want. You’re never going to see these people again, anyway. And, yes, you can wear blue jeans in Europe now. Just don’t try to wash them in the hotel sink because they take forever to dry. Take two pairs of extremely comfortable shoes. Wear one pair, pack one.
- Take a Tide pen for spaghetti sauce on your shirts. I don’t know how it works but it does.
- Pack the smallest suitcase you have. You will be carrying it on cobblestone streets and you can’t roll a suitcase over cobblestone. Take two backpacks, a small one for day trips and a bigger one for the plane and overnight trips. Listen to me, now. Are you paying attention? Check the small suitcase. Yes, I know that if you're checking it you can take a bigger suitcase but YOU are the one who is going to have to lug it around once you hit the ground. Here's what you do: Check the suitcase. Put the large backpack on your back and the small one over it while you’re walking around. On the plane, the small one goes under the seat and the big one in the overhead. With these three you will have room for everything you’ll need and a lot of flexibility.
- If you are fussy about your pillow, take it with you. Leave it at the last hotel and it will free up room to pack souvenirs.
- If you don’t take your own pillow and find they have given you one that is simply too poofy and it hurts your neck to sleep on it, try this trick: Take your nail file and carefully rip open the seam on the pillow. Remove enough poofy stuff to make the pillow the size you want it. Sew the seam up with dental floss and the sewing needle you were smart enough to pack. Put the extra poofy stuff in the trash. No one will ever know.
- Take a good neck pillow for the plane. But test it first to make sure it fits you. They are not all alike and a bad neck pillow just gets in the way. You might make yourself one out of extra poofy stuff you’ve collected.
- Take a bag of light snacks for the plane. Maybe some almonds, both raw and salted, maybe some M&M. A variety of sweet and salt.
- It is permissible to have one Homesick Restaurant after you’ve been gone several days. In London our homesick restaurant is the Texas Embassy. Just the smell of cilantro can bring tears to my eyes after a week of fish and chips. There’s a Hard Rock Café in almost all the other big cities in Europe. Don’t apologize or feel like you’ve missed the boat on the whole travel thing. Take it as a rest stop, allow it to rejuvenate you and refuel you for the rest of the journey.
- Learn the “Roman stare.” Our guide, who had lived in Rome for 8 years, told us that while it might not look like it, weaving around pedestrians like so many traffic cones on a test drive for tires, the Romans are actually better drivers than they appear. The trick is communication between the pedestrian and driver.
- Don’t take a Leatherman, that fancy multipurpose tool. Period. No, don't take it. Yes, it can be unfolded into pliers. Yes, it has more than one knife and you can get a baguette, a pound of butter and maybe some cheese then have a little picnic right there in your hotel room. Don’t take it. They will find it in your carry-on at security. Even when you say with great pride that you are not THAT stupid. Because stupidity is only one factor at play. The very devil will cause that tool to hop out of your checked luggage and into your carry-on.
It’s the biggest “duh?” in travel and we still managed to screw it up. I looked over at Beaven while we went through security just in time to see the TSA agent pull it out of Beaven’s carry-on bag and open the Leatherman to reveal the longest, sharpest, scariest looking knife on the planet. The blade was so sharp it fairly glistened in the light. I could only stare at Beaven in disbelief. And he looked back all helpless with his face saying, “What? I didn’t put it there, who did?”
You can imagine how long the tool lasted. I’m only amazed they didn’t strip him down to his underwear right there on the spot. He’s not too upset because he says the price of the tool has gone down and he can get a new one cheaper than what the old one cost. He is all excited about what a great bargain this will be.
- Don’t order special food on the plane. I heard a long time ago (probably the first clue) that if you order a special meal like Kosher for the flight that you’ll get better food. So one evening before we left I played around with the website and ordered myself vegetarian meals both going and coming home. How bad can you go wrong with a bunch of vegetables? Well, plenty wrong, it turns out. When they brought it to me I unwrapped something they had labeled “Curried Garbanzo Beans” and it smelled pretty much like it sounds. And that wasn’t the worst of it. They killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, by making the vegetarian plate also gluten-free. So my “bread” wasn’t really bread but some kind of hardtack roll they had left over from Columbus’ voyage. And I got fake butter, too. I think they’re on a mission to teach us to stop requesting special meals. They certainly made their point with me.
And that’s still not the worst of it. As I was bemoaning my meal Beaven leaned over his freshly buttered yeast roll and said “You know you paid 38 bucks for that meal, don’t you?” As is his habit, he had seen the charge on our credit card the day after I ordered this meal but in an extremely unusual move for him, declined to mention it to me. If I had known the cost I would have cancelled the order in a heartbeat. No meal is worth $38. Not even Curried Garbanzo Beans.
Next week I think I want to talk about politics. Wait! Relax. Hang in here with me. Calm down. Breathe through your nose. You need a paper sack? OK?
I’m not talking about current US politics—you know, the election. I’m not that stupid. I want to talk about politics a century ago. In other countries. Is that safe enough? I had some insights into world history. The French have a saying for it: “The more things change the more they stay the same.” I don’t know how to say it in actual French. Just come back next week. OK?