Friday, November 28, 2014

How to Pack Light--2 Weeks in Italy with One Carry-on and One Small Backpack

Tops: aqua rain-resistant jacket, in ivory color: a turtleneck, half-sleeve shirt, and long-sleeve jewel neck, sage long-sleeve knit, beige short sleeve knit, lightweight v-neck sweater, cable cardigan, rust short-sleeve knit (forgot to include in photo).  Bottoms: grey knit skirt, black jeans, grey slacks,  silky black pants. Also: scarves and black shoes.
     Packing light requires creativity, planning, and courage. Why courage, you may ask? For me, it requires courage because I like to be prepared for all possibilities. I need to radically pare down that "What if I need this?" pile in order to travel easily and lightly. The photo above shows the pieces that made the cut for two weeks in Italy in October. These clothes (plus, socks, underwear, nightshirt, etc.) easily fit into a small, wheeled carry-on case (20" x 13 1/2" x 9"). I also packed a sturdy tote bag that folds flat in case we bring home souvenirs and gifts beyond what will tuck into our luggage. If we carry an extra tote, of course, we need to check one larger bag. The small photo shows the comfy knits I wore for the flight plus the fleece jacket I carried.

Worn on the plane
     Instead of trying to pack enough different outfits for every day of the trip, I plan a flexible group of clothes, knowing that I will need to wash a few things along the way to wear again. When we will be in the same room at least two days, I may wash (using a few drops of shampoo) a shirt, a bit of underwear, and some socks--maybe even one of the lightweight pairs of pants--and hang them to dry. To me, this is simpler than dragging around a heavy bag with twice as many clothes; most of it just dirty laundry after the first few days. For longer trips, we pack the same number of clothes and either find a laundry that will wash, dry, and fold a load for a reasonable price per kilo, or we use a do-it-yourself launderette.

My luggage--lightweight and compact
(see the yardstick behind the wheeled case
for an idea of its size)
     My small backpack carries my toiletries, curling iron, medicine, Kindle tablet, logic puzzle book, small camera, chargers, and other small personal items. Since I usually carry the small backpack for sight-seeing with water bottle, camera, map, guidebook pages, emergency rain slicker (the cheap dollar store kind), etc., I do not use a purse when traveling internationally. A small case in the bottom of the backpack holds one credit card and enough local cash for incidentals that day. For crowded tourist areas more prone to petty crime, I use a slim money belt that rides around my waist under my clothes for cash and credit card. The money belt also safely holds passport, train tickets, and other papers when we are in transit--say running through a train station.

     Most of us know the basics of assembling a travel wardrobe: mix and match pieces, layers if the weather will be variable, a simple neutral color scheme with a few touches of your favorite, most flattering color. Add a few accessories (for me, scarves and earrings) to vary the look of these few pieces. In addition, each piece MUST serve more than one need. For our October travel in Venice and Tuscany, Italy, we did not expect to need dressy clothes. If needed, I would have packed one washable dressier top to wear with the silky black slacks.

      Our luggage is from the Rick Steves (of public TV) store on-line. What they sell is very lightweight, sturdy and durable, and fits international carry-on standards. My wheeled case converts to a backpack when that is handier. My husband used a slightly larger (but still carry-on) Rick Steves backpack with no wheels or stiff frame. It holds an amazing amount and can be stuffed into an overhead bin with ease.

Question of the Day: What is your favorite tip for creatively traveling light?   

Saturday, November 1, 2014

October Travel in Tuscany--Gorgeous

     We recently returned from a long-anticipated (and long saved for!) vacation in Italy. Tuscany was the focus of our time there, with a few days in Venice before we joined an excellent AHI tour of Tuscan highlights. Over the years as we have dreamed of visiting Tuscany, I have considered various tours as well as the possibility of braving crazy Italian driving conditions and doing it on our own. This particular tour won me over immediately because one beautiful hotel was our home base--no packing up and moving several times to see various places.
     From our comfy nest at the Palazzo San Lorenzo hotel in the charming Tuscan hill town of Colle di Val d'Elsa, our delightful guide took us to a different destination or two each day. The excursions were varied and fascinating, from a sheep's cheese factory and tasting, to Siena and Florence, to an elegant winery, to tiny hill towns--each with its own distinctive history and charm--and to much more.

     The first four photos today show scenes in our home base in Colle, including the "new gate" (built in the 1200s--the center of town and its old gate further uphill are at least two centuries older) where we met the bus each morning.

     The other three photos were taken on a day trip to a couple of other hill towns. These images are from San Gimignano, a well-visited hill town with more medieval towers still standing than in most Tuscan towns. These towers were built by wealthy families, apparently to display their wealth and power. It was their form of competitive mansion showmanship. They may also have served defensive purposes at times. San Gimignano at one time had as many as 80 towers--14 still stand today.

     Even at midday, you can see mist partially covering
the tallest tower in the first San Gimignano photo. There was heavy mist in the valley that entire day, with sun breaking through on the hills. Atmospheric and lovely to see.

     According to legend, the Saint "San Gimignano" saved the hilltop fortress from barbarian invasions several times by miraculously calling in heavy fog to obscure the town and to confuse the enemies. The saint is credited with bringing Christianity to this area, which had been a Roman outpost, sometime in the 300s AD. The existing old city center and original walls date to the 1000s and 1100s. As at our other destinations, we enjoyed an informative tour of the town led by a local expert, then strolled on our own for some relaxed exploration before rejoining the group.
Question of the day: Have you traveled with a tour group? How do you feel about tour groups as opposed to travel on your own?