Next time, I’m only taking what fits in a SMALL rolling suitcase and my pink backpack. And that’s just the material stuff.
Kay Bolden made it out of the starting gate before me with this topic. She moved to another country with one roller bag and a backpack. She has often left things behind on purpose.
Another writer also tops my solo trip to Italy with an upcoming, year long trek with her cat. I can’t follow that act. I did move to Austin, TX seven years ago with two dogs and two cats in my car in various stages of containment, calm and escape mode. Still.
As I packed for ten days in Italy, I thought I was judicious. One suitcase, medium sized, with seven outfits and three extra pair of shoes for ten days. Plus a hot pink backpack for toiletries and make-up, and a small sakroots, across body purse. Sakroots purses have lots of pockets, but are small enough for me to actually remember what goes in what pocket. Less digging in purse, more time to sightsee.
The only real hurdle, I thought originally, was that the travel C-Pap machine didn’t arrive in time (yeah, yeah, I ordered it late). So, adding to the haul was a carrying case the size of a large purse, but way heavier. Plus, what fun to be flirting in the TSA line, when one agent yells to another, “It’s a CPAP.” Strike one on the chance of travel romance.
I checked my new, red Nautical bag at the curb in Austin all the way to Italy, via Atlanta and Amsterdam. I failed to put my name on it, as I bought it to stand out. Plus, I forgot. Are you starting to see why some people, who shall remain nameless, had doubts about my ability to travel overseas all by my little self?
Because it was checked, and the CPAP was inside, I was relatively unburdened. I started feeling a connection to my son who had backpacked through Italy and Germany last year. Granted, his backpack contained everything he needed, while mine contained make-up, hair products, and medication. Damned close to everything I needed, as I soon discovered.
I arrived in Italy, while my suitcase continued wandering the planet. I knew to pack an extra set of at least underwear in carry-on bags. But I hadn’t. No worries. I had on a simple black dress and tights. Easily washable.
Plus, as I soon discovered, the reports of Europe’s unprecedented heatwave were not exaggerated. I was spared dragging the damned suitcase behind me as I walked, pouring sweat, to the studio apartment I had rented. To which, the only directions I had received were to “Go past the Maria de Novella church, cross the old bridge, turn left, and left again on Via de Barbadori.” There was no mention that there are four bridges across the Arno in Florence. And they all look old. Because they are.
Nor which direction “past the church.” The landlady eventually came to meet me where I had wandered quite close to the abode. It took me two days to realize that street names changed, seemingly arbitrarily, as I walked them. You would think Lewis Carroll laid them out, and I was Alice, minus the white rabbit.
My suitcase was delivered the following night. For those keeping score, I had now been wearing the same outfit and underwear for two and a half days. And I had slept in them on the plane. Yes, I did wash them by hand and hang them outside, where the dew kept them from drying. I wore the damp dress and underwear, to hell with the tights, as I walked the city. Dampness gave way to almost dry, and then I sweated them damp again. It was 107 in Texas, and I was sweaty in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Damp clothes did not concern me.
It was that which made me realize I didn’t need those seven packed outfits and three extra pair of shoes. My simple black dress and tights, and my comfortable, colorful pair of sandals had gotten me through. As I waited for my luggage, I bought two Italian made tops to wear with the tights. When I left by train for Montorosso five days later, I had worn those tops with tights and jeans. and hadn’t unpacked another thing except underwear. Even then, I had one bra too many.
Montorosso is part of Cinque de Terre, the Italian Riviera. The ocean there is the Mediterranean, constant, clear, persistent and sparkling. I wore my same little black dress through the tunnel to the Old Town part of the quaint fishing village. After wandering twisting, ascending cobble stone streets, I bought the most comfortable clothes I’ve ever owned. Not the linen Italy is known for, but an Italian made, cotton rayon blend, strappy, one piece, part dress, part jumpsuit. I bought three in different colors. And wore only those the rest of my trip. I have one of them on now, as I write.
I look very European in my Italian outfits, or so I’ve been told. When I left Montorosse three days later, I wore one of them. In that hotel by the sea, I tried really hard to Marie Kondo that damned suitcase. There were five outfits and two pair of shoes I had not worn. I had one more night in Florence, and was tired of carrying the damned suitcase up and down long flights of stairs, having it twist and turn on me halfway up or down, and at one point taking flight going down from the train station steps. There are very few elevators in the Italy I saw. Probably the buildings are too old to in stall them, and they don’t have ADA laws.
The problem was that the seven outfits I packed were all my favorites back home. If I left them, I would regret it later. On the other hand, I shop at a resale store, and accept my sister’s hand-me-downs, so it wasn’t necessarily that anything was irreplaceable, except my matronly curves can only fit into a couple of jeans, and they were the heaviest garments. Plus, with knees made unreliable due to too much martial arts, and inherited osteoarthritis, the four sets of shoes I had packed were the only ones I was both safe in and looked cute wearing. Even dragging that damned suitcase.
I finally left behind a white sleeveless top and a black shawl. I had more of those at home. The maid came running after me with them, and I told her to keep them or give them away. My suitcase wasn’t really any lighter, but my soul felt lighter.
Because what I really left behind in Italy was my attachment to things. Leaving those two items meant I could have left more and felt no pain. I also left behind any qualms about traveling alone, even with luggage I had to wrestle up and down interminable stairs. Except, next time there won’t be anywhere close to as much stuff.
My son had said he didn’t want to travel out of the country with me because he would have to help me too much, (so he thought I would just travel with someone else). My sister, after having to slow her roll to let me keep up in New Orleans last March, told me I would have to be in better shape before she would travel to Europe with me. She’s a fast walker everywhere. Never mind that the knee issue I had then has resolved, and the back issue has gotten better with physical therapy. In Italy, just as in New Orleans, I didn’t let pain stop me. I played in the Mediterranean and walked at least five miles every day, including two travel days lugging that damned suitcase. Free flowing Chianti did help.
I’ve always been independent, so while everybody I met in Italy was surprised and impressed that I was traveling alone, it just seemed normal to me. Yes, I got lost, but I do that sometimes in Austin. Yes, my burdens got too heavy at times, but they do metaphorically anywhere. Yes, I was sometimes lonely, but that happens at home, too. Yes, I had pain, but not enough to keep me from living, breathing, walking, singing, dancing and in general having an amazing time in amazing places. I can’t wait to see what I leave behind on my next trip.