Do you hear anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles singing your name? Well hold on there George Bailey, before you go throwing stuff slapdash into your suitcase. Matters of Taste is here to help you pack, even if you didn’t know you needed the assistance. You’re welcome!
Packing is a delicate and demanding task. It is also a Matter of Taste since, in large part, it is über-dressing: planning not just a day, but a weekend’s, week’s, maybe even a month’s clothes, all at once. And just like dressing on a daily basis, one should remember that the dressing is not done only for one’s own self, but for the rest of the world that has to look at you. And when you travel, that audience increases exponentially.
Many travel writers will advise future travelers to put comfort first, and there is some logic in ensuring that travels, which may be more physically demanding than most traveler’s daily lives, are conducted with some comfort and ease. But don’t take this too far, and do not think that comfort is only achieved by a wardrobe of puffy white gym shoes, khaki pants and a poly-blend pullover. Non, nein, nyet.
Remember that you dress not only for yourself, but the thousands of tourists for whom you become part of the landscape, which you can enhance through your choice of color, pattern and style. It is also possible for you to make a real mess of things with the wrong garments. While we are concerned about the general impression you make on a scene, keep in mind too that your image will go home in people’s photographs. Plan accordingly. I promise to not wear my t-shirt adorned with a political slogan with which you don’t agree, if you promise to not wear loud horizontal stripes on the day I need to photograph a building with strong vertical lines.
And when you are packing, keep it light, keep it concise. People with the “uniform” mentality are ahead of those of us who like a lot of variety day to day, but for people like us, remember that travel provides you with plenty of experiential variety to make it easier to get through a month on two pairs of shoes. Take your loveliest things, for even slight discomforts can be overcome by superior aesthetics. Begin packing by selecting a color story. Determine a neutral and build around it. Remember that ‘neutral’ is a relative term, and does not require that a single scrap of beige, tan or cream land in your Samsonite. Plum, scarlet, cobalt (and, yes, of course, black if you must) (but not orange, no never) can be your neutral. Interview, no: interrogate your clothes. How much are they willing to work for this trip? Every garment going into the bag must serve at least two purposes. A jacket that doubles with a skirt or jeans? In. The shoes that are there only for one pair of trousers? I regret to inform, we are going in another direction. Thank you for your application.
Whatever, and however you pack, keep in mind that in all things travel-related, what you bring back is more important than what you take with you. (And we’re not just talking shoes here.) In addition to the clothes, the most needful electronics (but please try not to remain plugged in at all times; you will miss something) and the toiletries, consider basic supplies to record your experience. Sure, photos are nice but they only do so much to record the visual qualities of the place, and nothing else. Slowing down to draw or sketch, even if you do not think you are an artist, demands that you really look at what’s in front of you. You will remember more if you draw, and also if you journal regularly. Your own images and words will do the most to imprint the sounds, smells and sights of other places. And for down times, do read. But not without consideration. We always travel with literature that speaks of the place: Jude the Washington Irving in Granada, Émile Zola or Victor Hugo in Paris, John Ruskin in Venice. The right book may be as important as the right pair of walking shoes, so choose carefully.
Take what you need, take what will enhance your experience and not detract from the rest of ours. As in all things, go in grace.