Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Confessions of a chronic overpacker June 10, 2008

Through no fault of his own, my father has inspired a little bout of dread. Recounting some issues he encountered during his recent trip to Italy, he reminded me about how difficult and un-fun it can be to be

  1. A monolingual
  2. American
  3. lost in a foreign country
  4. all by yourself

Admittedly, in its own way, I suppose that’s the point of the whole thing: To be far removed from my creature comforts and my familiar creatures and utilize the challenges and alienation to find some clarity and direction. However, I had a vision of myself wandering down a Venetian alley with 35 pounds of clothes and books strapped to my back while the sun dipped in the sky, with no clue where in the hell I was, and a growing sense of panic. But I digress…

I have been busying myself and perhaps avoiding some of this worry by starting to make some concrete plans with respect to wardrobe. Who cares about agendas, maps, Eurail passes, international drivers licenses, vaccinations, train schedules, budgets, or other minutiae when I need to find a way to make a limited wardrobe (weighing no more than twelve pounds!) versatile and fashionable for thirteen weeks? Coming from a woman that packs ten changes of clothes and four pairs of shoes for a five day trip and who prides herself on possessing no small amount of fashion flair, this will be no mean feat.

A few key strategic moves have been established:

  • Only clothing that can be washed in the same load without turning everything pink, blue, or “I washed a bunch of different colored stuff together and it didn’t go well” gray.
  • A wardrobe focused on shades of brown and complementary colors
  • Layers, layers, layers!
  • Absolutely nothing white, cream, or ecru
  • Plan to ruin it, wear it out, or get so sick of it I can never bring myself to wear it again

Meanwhile, I ordered up a backpack online. It was not the largest pack on the market for women (the Gregory Maven, with a relatively diminutive 3000 cu. in. capacity), and I keep going back and forth on that decision. My reasoning was if I had a smaller bag it would be harder for me to overload it and give myself a hernia. However, the part of me that likes to bring three kinds of perfume, Tiger Balm (just in case), aloe vera gel (ditto), a hair straightener, a curling iron, an ion-charged hair dryer, shoe polish, exercise tubing (for workouts in your room!), and every hair concoction on the market intended for perfecting, polishing, straightening, and shining, wonders if I can pull it off.

That brings to mind another question: Do people run for exercise in Europe? (And on the same topic, why does the WordPress spell checker have a problem with the word “run”? Did someone nix that verb while I wasn’t looking? Isn’t it bizarre how the English language morphs? I mean the basic rules, not slang and colloquisms and such. I swear on my life, if you used the word “fishes” when I was in elementary school, that was marked wrong. Fish was pluralized fish, like moose and deer and sheep – and now ‘fishes’ is an accepted pluralization! The mind boggles…) Anyway, while envisioning the contents of my making-its-way-to-me-via-UPS plum (!) backpack, I started to think about my plan to run as often as a can – at least twice a week – while on my journey. It wasn’t long thereafter that I began to recall all the times I found myself a wee bit off course while on long runs in strange places.

There was the one winter run in a Minneapolis suburb where – about ten miles into it and having crossed over a freeway three times and exhibiting the early signs of frostbite – I was starting to wonder if this is how I might die. I had to get myself out of that one by convincing a couple guys driving a Schwann’s truck to take me to my friend’s house.

Then there was the famous Central Park run where I’d agreed to meet my friend by the zoo at noon, with an emergency backup plan to return to the hotel downtown if I wasn’t back by 12:30 p.m. Lucky for me, she’s the laidback sort, because it was around 11:55a.m. when I realized I’d somehow accidentally looped the reservoir and was back in Harlem. Anyway, all this getting lost can only serve to make me that much more alert, right? Or maybe I’ll just run the same block over and over and over? Or drop little breadcrumbs to mark the path home? That strategy certainly panned out well for Hansel and Gretel…

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