My Favorite Way to Travel

You can travel like the Crawleys from Downton Abbey** with piles of leather trunks, suitcases, hat boxes, and your maid to hold your jewelry box.  You can travel first class, with no expense spared.  You can let yourself be pampered and waited upon, and that may, perhaps, add immeasurably to your experience.

Or you can travel light, with a backpack or a carryon, prepared to experience your destination as authentically as possible.  As you walk the streets, or ride on public transport, you can interact with real people not as someone they should be ready to serve, but as someone they can simply be friendly with.

You can be weighed down, or you can enjoy the agility of minimalism.

steam train

The minimal completeness of packing for travel

I love that self-contained feeling.  You have to consider carefully which clothes you'll need, which toiletries and accessories.  You might bring a book or a journal; you'll surely bring your phone.  You have only what you've chosen to take with you.  It's the ultimate in decluttering.

There's something very freeing about having only a fraction of your possessions with you.  You have mindfully curated a collection of the things you love the most and which you think you will need.

I recently saw this quote from the book Intimate Chanel, written by Isabelle Fiemeyer with Coco Chanel's great-niece, Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie.

Coco Chanel had a wandering spirit but lacked the curiosity to travel the world, preferring the world of armchair travel, of journeys of the imagination and daydreams, and prompting her to declare: "I make all my best trips on this couch."

This is me!  I'm not a fan of overseas travel, as I find long plane trips extremely uncomfortable.  I have sciatica and Restless Leg Syndrome, and the confinement can be unbearable after more than a couple of hours.

I much prefer staying close to home, perhaps adding "staycation" perks like tickets to a Broadway theater production that has traveled to Sacramento (40 miles/64 km from my town), or a visit to art museums in San Francisco (125 miles/201 km away).  Indeed, since I'm fortunate to live so close to the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, a travel destination for people from all over the world, why would I need to go further?

A secret to happiness

When I was in college I spent two summers traveling all over the western part of the US and Canada, singing with a choral group.  I took the ferry from Seattle to Victoria BC, saw snow falling on hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone Park on July 4, toured the amazing Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico, and hiked the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall in Yosemite, as well as singing concerts in nearly 150 venues.  I lived for ten weeks at a time out of a single suitcase and a garment bag.

After my junior year of college, I spent the summer in a small town in Leicestershire, England.  I was able to travel all over the Midlands, and spent time in London as well.  I adored the ancient villages, churches, and castles, the rolling green countryside, the poets' and writers' homes, the accents that varied from county to county, the weird and wonderful place names.  I learned to make a proper pot of tea.  And I attended the Queen Mother's 80th birthday parade, an unforgettable highlight of the trip.

So I've enjoyed some very special travel adventures, and I don't feel at all deprived.

I know there are those who live to travel, but I am not one of them.  And yet, I almost feel ashamed of admitting that, because keeping travel plans small and making the most of what is right around you probably seems boring to most people.

Yet I think it's one of the secrets to happiness.

I can simply imagine a trip to England, make tea in my Blue Willow teapot, find gorgeous photographs online, read travel memoirs such as Susan Branch's A Fine Romance (with such beautiful art) or Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling, and binge-watch The Crown or Foyle's War.*  

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

But if I want to travel... a night at The Pelican Inn near Muir Woods in Marin County will give me a little flavor of England only 135 miles/217 km away!

And for that I only need to pack a change of clothes, a light jacket, sleeping attire, underthings, minimal toiletries, a novel set in England (such as Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers), a notebook and pen, and my purse and phone (although there's no reception at the Inn).

Even if I went for a week I wouldn't need much more:  additional underthings and two more outfits.  One outfit could be a simple tank-style dress instead of the trousers and top I usually wear, just in case I needed to be a bit more dressy.  To augment the dressiness (if necessary) I could add a lacy cardigan and some sparkly earrings.

An extra opportunity

Use the practice of packing light to help you declutter your closet.  When you live for a week with a small suitcase of clothes, you're reminded of how little you really need.  You also have a clear sense of which clothes fit well, flatter your body and your coloring, and are comfortable and easy-care, since that's probably what you traveled with.

So it's a great idea to remove items you don't love or wear regularly right after returning from a trip.

Do you have travel plans for this summer?  Or favorite ways to take "journeys of the imagination?"  What are your indispensable travel items?

** I freely admit that traveling by antique steam train, as the Crawleys do, would be incredibly romantic!

Updated January 2023


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