It’s official. I love packing for trips. I don’t know what it is, but every time there is a journey on my horizon (even if it is only one state over), I channel my travel excitement by thoughtfully curating the contents of my suitcase. I try to incorporate the locale as inspiration for everything I bring from clothes, ipod mixes and reading lists, although I almost always find that my expectations about a place never align with what I actually experience there. That’s okay though, it’s part of the fun! My great uncle, who was a brilliant ornithologist, always said that when your preconceived notions are being turned upside down, you should pay attention, because that’s when you’ll learn something. I look forward to the steep learning curve that begins upon my arrival at a destination, but in the build up to that point, I have to satisfy myself with the fun of packing my suitcase.
When I have the travel bug, I also curl up with a favorite book, The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton. My Sea Semester shipmate and friend, Adriana, who is the kind of fearless traveller that I aspire to be, recommended it to me several years ago and I have read it at least 5 times since (am currently on the last chapter). Botton majestically articulates so many things that I have felt when traveling, but have never been able to put my finger on. Moreover, he uses mini chapters about some of history’s most famous travelers and their experiences to help his readers better understand the curious phenomenon that is the human impulse to be ‘somewhere other than here.’ I have an embarrassing habit of crying when I reach my destination. I always assumed that it was due to a dangerous combination of fatigue, hunger, jet lag, a stimulus overload, the anti-clamatic achievement of what I have been anticipating for so long, and my generally emotional disposition, but after reading this book, I not only felt better about my penchant for emotional outbursts, I appreciated what they ultimately signify: a tremendous and humbling sense of awe at suddenly, after confinement in the sterile belly of a jet, being there, not here. This is a beautiful read even when you don’t have a flight booked.
Here are my thoughts on respectful dressing as a traveler:
In choosing what to wear when I travel, I try to be both sensitive to the “when in Rome” adage and reflective of the best aspects of my own style and culture. I don’t think that a considerate traveler needs to think like chameleon in terms of dress, because speaking from the perspective of a local in a tourist town, I can pretty much spot the tourists no matter what, and to be honest, I enjoy the influx of diverse style (no, disney world t-shirts, fanny packs and baggy shorts don’t count as style) that hits the town each summer. That said, doing the proper research in advance of a trip can alert you to major fashion taboos and prevent you from coming across as disrespectful. For example, for my trip to Greece, where I attended a greek orthodox wedding, I read up on appropriate attire in churches (which for women means covered shoulders and heads), at beaches (if you want naked, go to the south of france! the Greeks keep things covered), and in cities. Furthermore, traveling can be a great opportunity to open you up to new styles, and it can be a chance for you to wear things you’d never wear at home. I.E. Newport vs. New York: in Newport, I stick to casual (i’m talking jorts and plaid flannels, people) because only tourists think you have to be dressed up to go out here, whereas when i visit New York, it’s fun to get fancy. Generally speaking, however, if you avoid looking like a scrub when visiting someone else’s community, you can’t really go wrong.
Adendum: If you are traveling as a camper, disregard all of this. Except maybe pack one jersey dress in a dark color (won’t show dirt or wrinkle) for when you venture into civilization, which is what I did when I went camping in Puerto Rico. And for any boys reading this, maybe save one wrinkle-resistant collared shirt in a ziplock bag? I don’t know. You tell me.
Okay, now after all this pontificating about culture and respect and international travel, you might be curious to know where I will be journeying, and you might laugh to know the answer, but YOU WILL NOT RAIN ON MY PARADE: I’m going to Claremont NH! My cousin is getting married there in a few weeks…more on my suitcase contents later. Excuse me, I have to go pack.