have one carry-on, will travel (or, how to pack light)

For someone who finds it difficult to part with things (and I’ve the overstuffed closets and refrigerator to prove it), I have learned to pare down when traveling. I laugh when I see people taking weekend trips with rolling suitcases that could fit an average-size eight-year-old inside. With a little planning, anyone can leave the steamer trunk at home and make do with a carry-on.luggage

Having four kids and always having to take road trips because of the cost of flying, on trips I just couldn’t bring an extra suitcase for just my shoes or fourteen changes of clothes for three days on the road. It would be impossible to pack the entire family and all that luggage into a minivan. So I’ve learned to pare down.

Suggestions for traveling light:

  • When flying, bring only enough for just one carry-on and one personal item. Checking luggage may seem convenient–you don’t have to lift the forty-pound bag into the overhead compartment, for one–but locating the baggage area in the airport and then waiting for the bags to unload onto the carousel after a flight is time consuming when you’re likely exhausted. Skip the luggage merry-go-round and carry your own bag. (A bonus: You’ll never have to file a claim for lost luggage.)
  • Pack clothes and shoes that are comfortable and versatile. Pick colors and patterns that match and you’ll get more use out of them and spend less time staring into an open suitcase. A single lightweight, waterproof jacket with a hood will be great for most any weather in the summer. Flats, not heels, can be worn both day and night, and T-shirts and blouses can go with shorts and jeans or a nice skirt. One pair of athletic shoes for heavy walks or hikes should be enough along with those flats and maybe a pair of light sandals in the summer. Stick to neutral bottoms, but pack enough underwear to last the entire trip unless you have access to a laundry.
  • Download books or videos onto a tablet or phone and eliminate lugging stacks of books. Books and magazines are staples for me when traveling. There have been times that our one-week summer vacation was the only time in the year when I could get a good book read. I would bring four or five magazines and at least two books. I still like the feel of an actual book and will pack at least one, but I also download books onto my Nook or Kindle and read them that way. Most libraries circulate ebooks (and electronic audiobooks) in addition to hardcovers and paperbacks, so you don’t even have to purchase from Barnes & Noble or Amazon if money’s an issue or if you’re not sure you’ll like the book after purchasing.luggage 2
  •  Take pictures with your cell phone. I bought a digital SLR camera a few years back after having wanted one my entire life, so I will pack that camera on special trips. Weekends away or places I’ve been before, however, I make due with the camera on my cell phone, which makes sharing and downloading the pictures easier during and after the trip, too.
  • Look up maps ahead of time and have them sent to your phone. Even before I have every stop planned out, I know generally the places and towns I want to see. Before a trip, I’ll go on Google Maps and plug in cities. There I can see the distance, the roads to travel, and the time it takes to make the journey. The itinerary can be sent to my phone or email address for when I’m on the road.
  • Bring flat shampoos, conditioners, and lotions or silicone containers. Instead of using bottles, I save up the flat individual cellophane packs of shampoo and conditioner samples that sometimes come attached to full-size bottles. I also pack baby wipes or Wet Ones instead of liquid hand sanitizer. There are new silicone pouches, which are flexible and guaranteed not to leak, that a lot of people swear by. These items take up much less space than those in individual, rigid bottles and are lightweight too.
  • Keep like items together.  Don’t be that guy, the one who unzips his luggage and everything goes flying every which way. Keep all your underwear, T-shirts, and pants together in individual compartments (like mesh bags for socks) and they’ll stay neater and save time when unpacking. I’ve read rave reviews for the new packing cubes that look like small versions of luggage. They are used to keep similar items in one section of the suitcase. Plastic bags with zip closures can also work and cost less. They’re great for keeping small kids’ complete outfits together, too.
  • Leave a little space for souvenirs, including new clothing. It’s nice to pack light and then purchase items on your destination to serve as souvenirs and to wear on the trip. You’ll be happier having a little more room for these items than having to check an extra bag at the airport before heading home.
  • Rent sports equipment, like snorkels and fins and tennis rackets, or buy cheap versions you don’t mind checking (or chucking).

It’s tempting to bring extra clothes for every occasion conceivable on a trip, but most of us can get along with less. After all, our adventures–and not the straps from our overstuffed bags–should leave an imprint on us.

you can go home again . . . using google maps

It’s been thirty-eight years since I moved from my childhood home and I haven’t been back since. Well, I haven’t physically been back, but by the virtue of this amazing item called a PC that’s connected to something called the Internet on which I can view Google maps, I can go home again.

Last Saturday night, I Googled my childhood home’s address and was surprised to see that the Google car had been in my old neighborhood recently. A couple years ago, when I last checked on the place, all I got was an aerial view, so I had to really use my imagination to make out what I was seeing because it wasn’t the tightest of shots. I could see the roof and some of the trees, but it wasn’t a close enough view to give me quite the perspective I was looking for. But now Google’s street view has brought me straight to my front door.

A wave of nostalgia washed over me when I laid eyes on that little Cape Cod in a neighborhood of Capes, all small one-and-a-half-story houses on adequately sized yards, with no sidewalks (just the way I remember it). Some of the foliage was different. Gone was my favorite plant in the front yard, a big hydrangea filled with gigantic, to my little self, snowbally flowers in the late spring and summer. Also gone was the maple tree I can recall being on the opposite side of the driveway. And the paint colors were different too. My house used to be white with dark-green retractable awnings. Now it’s a light gray with a dark-blue trim. I usually don’t like blue on houses, but this looks rather nice.

The neighborhood, for the most part, looks the same, give or take a missing tree or two and the big “boat” American cars that were common back then, having since been replaced by Subarus and Hondas. But another thing is missing too: the children. Any time of day throughout the year when kids weren’t in school they’d be out in the streets, playing ice hockey or baseball or even tennis, with the net drawn onto the tarvia with chalk. They’d be gliding on bikes or skateboards or roller skates. They’d be hanging out on the front lawns playing Barbies on blankets or running around dodging each other in a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek. Even the adults would venture out to work on cars or chat with the neighbors. But on my old street 2015, not a soul was in sight, child or adult.

But it’s like that where I live now too. Everyone stays inside. No one knows their neighbors. We have beautiful weather here, not upstate New York weather, but kids are indoors watching TV (because cartoons and other shows are on all day long at the click of a few buttons) or they’re playing video games, (and I don’t mean Pong by Atari) or they’re on these wacky space-agey devices called computers and smartphones, taking pictures of themselves and posting them to their virtual friends and a whole bunch of strangers. Who’da thunk kids’ lives would have changed so much back when I was a short little girl with dark-brown hair and just a hope and a prayer for the future?

My old home looks good, thanks to the new owners and the entire neighborhood, actually. I thought the house, which is 65 years old, would look timeworn and depressing, but it doesn’t. Seeing my house makes me nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” and the person I was then. It also makes me miss the people who were a central part of my life, my parents, whom I no longer have. I miss mini me too, that child who loved Charlie Brown and drawing and reading and all the innocent things kids were into back then.

I used my mouse and traced around the block, following a path I used to take when riding my bike, feeling the breeze in my hair, and the freedom being on two wheels brought back then on those humid summer evenings or bright, sunny mornings. It was fun retracing the steps down to the bus stop, over to my friend’s house, back to another world.

I may not have visited my little old home in person, but, thanks to Google, I was there in spirit. And that’s virtually the same thing.