Updated: Aug 9
By Mara Soloway, I Start Wondering Columnist
I still savor the wonderful opportunity I had to spend six weeks traveling in Europe. In recent years I’ve traveled abroad more than I’ve traveled in my whole life, and that voyaging of course involved packing. Over time I’ve learned to winnow down the load and now I have the chops to offer some tips on what to bring for the long vacation.
My advice doesn’t involve whether you should roll your clothes or use compressible packing containers. You can browse through any of the 49 million results that Google gives you for “How to Pack a Suitcase.” Lifehacker compares five methods, Condé Nast has advice from a suitcase designer, GQ has 10 rules to make it perfect, and videos are available.
Don’t let all of that information boggle your mind. Here’s my simple advice: pack lightly and with meaning. First, bring an open mind – otherwise, why go through the effort and expense to spend time among other cultures? “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” according to world traveler Mark Twain.
Leave lots of room in your suitcase for the purchases that catch your eye — clothes, books, gifts, souvenirs. This means packing fewer clothes – plan to wear the same garments throughout the trip. This is good training to be a minimalist! Be creative in finding ways to wash them.
Bring an Open Mind
Otherwise, why go through the effort and expense to spend time among other cultures? “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” according to world traveler Mark Twain.
I brought jewelry given to me by my mom and mother-in-law
Leave Lots of Room in Your Suitcase
for the purchases that catch your eye — clothes, books, gifts, souvenirs. This means packing fewer clothes – plan to wear the same garments throughout the trip. This is good training to be a minimalist! Be creative in finding ways to wash them.
While packing for those six weeks in Europe, I discovered a new approach that added so much significance to my journey that it is now part of my “must-pack” routine for any future adventures:
Bring One or More Small Items That Have Meaning to You
As I was deciding what few pieces of jewelry to bring, I narrowed it down to a few with sentimental meanings that brought the givers to mind throughout my adventure. What might these items be for you?
Learning from a Different Generation
I brought jewelry given to me by my mom, Joanne Audrey Timms Soloway (1929-2010), and my mother-in-law, Dorothy Jane Rodwell Arvidson (1920-2017). I’m not really a jewelry-crazed person – I have a few nice things and wear even fewer of those. But wearing those pieces on the trip reminded me of how much I miss both of them on a personal level. And I miss having a close relationship with a woman who is a) from an older generation and b) loves me and knows me so well. I miss the wisdom, the stories of a life set in a different time and place, and their perspective from being on the upper end of their life span.
The jewelry was given to me with love. When I put on earrings or a necklace from either one, it’s as if our relationship can continue. Of course, our relationships were not always perfect. That mother-daughter thing: it’s complicated. That mother-in-law-daughter-in-law thing: it can be even more complicated.
My Travel Companions
Dorothy earned her Ph.D. in biologist in the 1940s. She was an educator and traveled the world as a birder with the Massachusetts Audubon Society. She left me probably 25 different pairs of bird earrings. I also have beaded necklaces she bought in Africa and throughout the Americas, an enameled choker from Scandinavia, and other things that remind me of her as an adventurer. Her gold plover earrings were with me as I walked through Amsterdam and its Rijks Museum and the Anne Frank House. I wore the enameled owl earrings in Berlin, which is alive with history and forward momentum, just like Dorothy was.
My mom was a maker. It’s wonderful to see the sweaters she knitted and clothes she sewed for her grandkids being worn now by her great-grandchildren. Some of my mom’s jewelry came from the jewelry store her parents owned in Gowanda, New York, so they have the added advantage of reminding me of my Grandma and Grandpa Timms, too. My mom didn’t travel outside of the U.S. except to Canada (as far as I know), so I feel like I’m taking her on adventures she didn’t get to have.
And we’re doing it together, at least somewhat. The matching delicate art nouveau necklace and ring that my mom wore as a young woman saw a lot of Paris, and coordinated with the art nouveau Metro stations and the general ambiance of the city. She would have loved stopping for chocolate croissants and espresso after spending several hours at an art museum.
Traveling has many benefits. The next time you venture out into the world, bring an open mind to expand your horizons and an open heart full of memories of those who gave your life meaning. Bon Voyage!