This guest post was written by professional writer, Dena Harris, who also travels. Or traveler who also writes. Both are true.
Let’s start with luggage. Chronic overpacker doesn’t begin to cover it. Ever see the movie Titanic with the huge trunks tied up with rope being hauled up the gangplanks? My luggage and I would fit right in. I make no distinction in packing for a weekend trip or 14-day cruise. Who knows when a ballgown or mosquito netting may come in handy? "Be prepared," that’s my motto.
I’m fascinated by travel advice such as taking limited clothing and finding a laundry mat halfway through a trip in which to do a quick load. Do people actually do this? Because let me tell you, Princess is not doing laundry while on vacation. She is also not going to buy travel underwear that can be washed in a hotel sink and hung out to dry on a shower curtain rod overnight. Vacation is a time to escape reality. Having my husband walk into the bathroom and see the wicking granny-panties I wore all day air-drying is keeping it a little too real. And me walking into the bathroom and seeing his tight-whities drying just crosses a line. Can you say, romance killer?
But what really keeps me from being a good traveler is plain and simple fear. Fear of getting lost, fear of being robbed, fear of unintentionally offending, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of not being able to speak the language… you name it, I fear it.
Fortunately, fear has not kept me from traveling. I’ve been to Greece, Egypt, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Amsterdam, Brussels, and a few other destinations. I’ve enjoyed every moment of these trips, seen some extraordinary sights and walked away with great memories. But I’m the first to admit I haven’t really experienced these countries in the way that I consider a “real” traveler might.
In my mind, a “real” traveler makes every effort to submerge herself in the culture. She seeks out cafes popular with locals, wanders neighborhoods to soak up the feel of the area and is eager to talk to people. In contrast, I tend to stick to English-speaking (read: tourist) hotels and restaurants. I’m shy about interacting with locals. I get nervous wandering around a neighborhood or town without a guide. I’m much more in my comfort zone if I pay an admission fee somewhere and am handed a little set of headphones that tell me exactly what I’m looking at and why it’s important.
I will say this for myself, I’m a decent sidekick. It’s not that I’m unwilling to have adventures; I’m just not going to be the one to initiate them. But if I’m traveling with someone who is fearless or—better yet—someone who speaks the language or knows the area, I’m right there with them having fun.
Interestingly, I’m a fearful traveler both at home and abroad. Whether it’s a side street of Cairo or a main drag in NYC, I’m convinced in both instances that at any moment I’m about to be robbed at gunpoint.
I would feel I’ve arrived as a traveler if, someday, I were able to take a quick week’s journey somewhere in Europe with no itinerary and no “must-see” tourist sites to be crossed off a list. I’d just set out with a friend (or friends) and see where the day took us. And I would pack everything I needed for the week in one small, easily portable backpack.
The no-itinerary thing could happen. I’m not so sure about the luggage. Paring down is not my thing. You can have my hairdryer and flat-iron only when you pry both out of my cold, dead hands.
Dena Harris's most recent book, Who Moved My Mouse? was published in October by Ten Speed Press.