Have yoga pants and carry-ons, will travel


Whoever coined the phrase ”you can’t take it with you” has obviously never seen me try to pack a suitcase.

My rule of thumb is to have one outfit for every day I will be away, plus a few extra outfits in case I happen to be in the direct path of a ketchup factory explosion or I’m called upon to referee a mud wrestling competition. Throw in a couple of outfits for evening wear, several pairs of shoes, toiletries and an umbrella, and I feel reasonably prepared. If there’s room for a set of jumper cables, I’ll add that too. It’s a little-known fact (which I just made up) that I’m the inspiration for the old American Express tag line: “Don’t leave home without it.”

Never mind that, when I am home, I will wear the same pair of yoga pants every day for a week. When I’m on vacation I want options. And that’s what I planned to do when I started to pack for a vacation at the end of summer – traveling solo for a few days in London before joining a small walking tour in Portugal. It was easy to imagine myself as a character in one of those Agatha Christie novels set in a foreign location. The list of suspects always included an eccentric American woman of, ahem, a certain age who, aside from her piles of steamer trunks, was traveling alone. Although the character never turned out to be the murderer, she was able, like me, to deliver a look that could kill.

But then I began to hear horror stories about traveling abroad this summer. The world was ready to travel again, but record numbers of travelers combined with severe staffing shortages at airlines and airports meant record numbers of lost luggage. I worried that if my oversized suitcase ended up getting lost, I would have to spend the week wearing the same clothes I wore on the plane: yoga pants and a T-shirt. I might as well not bother leaving home.

Some research led me to a Facebook group for women travelers that focused on what they packed and how they packed it. The consensus among the group was that the best way to travel is to only use carry-on bags. As someone who has always checked a suitcase, the thought of packing everything I would need for 11 days into two small bags made me break out in hives. Unfortunately, now thanks to space limitations, there probably wouldn’t be room for anti-itch cream.

Still, the idea of having to deal with lost luggage on my own in another country seemed worse. I was flying on a European airline, so I needed to make sure the bags I used fit their size limitations; they are more restrictive than the allowable carry-on sizes for U.S. carriers. I chose a suitcase that, while not a steamer trunk, was something I imagined an American socialite traveling solo along the Nile would use and I ordered it. When it arrived I was disappointed. I’ve had bigger lunch boxes.

Clearly the jumper cables would have to go, but how was I going to cram all the clothes I needed for my trip into such a small bag? I turned to the travel group again and discovered the answer is a capsule wardrobe: a few mix-and-match pieces that you combine over and over in different ways until you become so sick of your clothes you begin searching for a cyanide capsule. Savvy travelers also advised, because it was so hot in Europe, to pack lightweight fabrics like linen.

I have always avoided linen because it wrinkles so easily. Unlike, say, yoga pants, which can lay in a heap on the floor of a closet for days and still look OK (I may or may not know this from personal experience). But I had a tiny bag to fill and a plane to catch, so I decided to give it a try.
It turns out, this way of packing gave me more options than I’d expected. If I didn’t want to look wrinkled on a given day, I could always opt for rumpled. Or even disheveled. The others in my tour group had checked their larger suitcases without incident, giving them fresh outfits each day. I, on the other hand, pretended that “failed origami project” was the look I was going for. Hercule Poirot would only have to take one look at me and know that an iron could not be the murder weapon.

Perhaps there was a lesson in all of this: that it would have been better to go as myself, rather than imagining I was a character in an Agatha Christie mystery. People die in those books. When it was time for my return flight, I put on my travel outfit. The minute I pulled on the yoga pants I felt like I was already home.

Betsy Bitner is a Capital Region writer. bbitner1@nycap.rr.com.


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