Betsy Bitner: Have yoga pants and carry-on luggage, will travel

Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t take it with you” obviously never saw me trying to pack a suitcase.

My rule of thumb is to have one outfit for each day I’m away, plus a few extra outfits in case I’m in the direct path of a ketchup factory explosion or called to officiate a competition. wrestling in the mud. Add some 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 slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.”

It doesn’t matter that when I’m home, I’ll be wearing the same yoga pants every day for a week. When I’m on vacation, I want options. And that’s what I had planned to do when I started packing for a vacation at the end of the summer – traveling solo for a few days in London before going on a little walking tour in Portugal. It was easy to imagine myself as a character in one of those Agatha Christie novels set in a foreign place. The list of suspects always included an eccentric middle-aged American woman who, apart from her stacks of steamer trunks, traveled alone. Although the character never turned out to be the assassin, she was able, like me, to deliver a look that could kill.

But then I started hearing horror stories about trips abroad this summer. The world was ready to travel again, but record numbers of travelers combined with severe staff shortages at airlines and airports meant record numbers of lost luggage. I feared that if my oversized suitcase ended up getting lost, I would have to spend the week wearing the same clothes I had worn on the plane: yoga pants and a t-shirt. I might as well not bother to leave the house.

Some research led me to a Facebook group for female travelers that focused on what they pack and how they pack it. The consensus within the group was that the best way to travel is to use hand luggage only. As someone who has always checked in a suitcase, the thought of packing everything I would need for 11 days into two small bags had me bursting with hives. Unfortunately, due to the lack of space, there would probably be no more space for the anti-itch cream.

Still, the thought of having to handle lost luggage myself in another country seemed worse. I was traveling on a European airline, so I had to make sure the bags I used were within their size limits; they are more restrictive than the carry-on sizes allowed for US carriers. I selected a suitcase which, although not a steamer trunk, was something I imagined an American socialite traveling alone along the Nile would use and ordered it. When it arrived I was disappointed. I’ve had bigger lunch boxes.

Obviously the jumper cables should be gone, 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 found the answer was a capsule wardrobe: a few mix-and-match pieces that you combine again and again in different ways until you have so many fed up with your clothes that you started looking 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 creases very easily. Unlike, say, yoga pants, which can sit in a pile on a closet floor for days and still look good (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.
Turns out this way of packing gave me more options than I expected. If I didn’t want to look wrinkled on any given day, I could always opt for the wrinkled one. Or even disheveled. The other members of my tour group had checked out their larger suitcases without incident, giving them new outfits every day. For my part, I claimed that “failed origami project” was the look I was going for. Hercule Poirot would only have to look at me and realize that an iron couldn’t be the murder weapon.

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

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

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