In 1994 I was hired to be a group leader for tour groups in Italy. One of my first assignments was in Padua, a town in the northeastern corner of Italy, not far from Venice. I made my way there by train with more luggage than Johnny Weir took to the Sochi Olympics. I brought an outfit for every eventual situation save possibly being invited to a State Dinner by the Prime Minister of Italy. I was dripping with sweat as I hauled my bags onto the train, down the corridor and into the overhead compartments.
As we pulled into the station in Padua, a young man about my age passed by and noticed that I was struggling with my bags. He offered to help me by carrying one of these monstrosities to the taxi stand for me. Having been warned about the shifty characters who ride the trains and prey on young women, I repeatedly declined his offer, fearing that he would sprint off with my worldly possessions. Not that anyone could sprint hauling the equivalent of a body bag with a decent sized person inside. The man got a kick out of my refusal and walked alongside me when I got off the train, a small smirk on his face but still willing to help if at anytime I decided that he was not in fact a thief. I made it to my taxi and eventually to the hotel, arms sore and back aching. And you can imagine my surprise when this suspicious fellow showed up at the same pizzeria that evening (do thieves go to pizzerias?). He gave me a wink and a smile and asked if I had made it to the hotel without incident. I sheepishly nodded and vowed from that day on to carry less luggage in order to save my self further and equally embarrassing episodes.
PACKING 101 - The Holy Grail of an Enjoyable Trip
There is an old adage that says “Pack your suitcase, then take out ½ of what you put in.” That’s all fine and good,but you need to know WHAT to keep in that bag. Here is a list of my essentials as well as what you should definitely leave at home.
At least two pairs of very comfortable shoes. There should never have been a time that these shoes hurt your feet, even a little bit. Walking and standing for hours on cobblestones streets is more trying than you might imagine. And even with your most comfortable shoes, you need an option to switch them out - your feet need a break from the same shoe. And for God’s sake, don’t wear new shoes!
Pack one going out to dinner outfit - I am not of the school that says “I am never going to see these people again so I don’t care what I look like”. Italians are far too fashionable for me to be comfortable with that. However, the usual protocol is to spend the day out touring (be it the Grand Canyon, Florence or Walt Disney World), come back to the hotel and change for dinner. You spend about 3 hours of virtually grime free time in said dinner clothes so really, you can make it last for a better part of the vacation. Change it up with a great scarf, a cardigan or other sweater.
Stick with the basics - it’s best to stick with solid colors that are easier to mix and match than patterned items that only go with one other thing.
Avoid White - T-shirts that are worn undeneath something might be fine but in general, white is a difficult color for traveling - spaghetti sauce, grimy benches, chocolate gelato - all bad combinations for one of your limited shirts or pairs of pants.
Consider the destination - make sure you do your research about the activities you will be enjoying or the customs of the country you are visiting. If you need shoulders and legs covered at any time, leave the tank tops and Daisy Dukes at home (maybe leave them home anyway). If you are taking an active vacation, you will certainly choose different shoes than on a sightseeing tour.
LEAVE AT HOME
Hairdryers -- usually the hotel, condo or house you are staying in will be equipped with hair dryer. If not, in my opinion, you are seriously roughing it so who cares about your hair anyway!
High Heels - unless you are an Italian women, highly skilled in the navigation through the treachery that is the cobblestones of Europe, leave the heels at home. You will wear them for a total of 10 minutes at which time your heel will get stuck in a space between stones and you will be launched headfirst (and with only a single shoe) into the people walking in front of you. If you must bring a fabulous pair of shoes with a modest heel.
An Outfit for Everyday - there is nothing that bothers me more than returning home after a trip with four or five items that I never wear. I used to pack for the eventual "what if" but I have gotten much more savvy. With practice, you will whittle your selection down to fabulous, stylish clothes that travel well, transform for different occasions and keep your suitcase small and manageable. Here is a guideline.
THE BIG DEBATE - GYM CLOTHES
Sneakers and workout gear take up a lot of room so you might think I would recommend skipping it altogether. Usually there is a great deal of walking involved in a vacation (especially one in Europe) so the activity level is up from your normal day anyway. But I pack my gym clothes every time I go away. Sometimes, especially on shorter trips, jet lag and a packed schedule allow me only one early morning run. But even that is worth it. Why? Because sometimes, this is my view. And then it is about so much more than the exercise.
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