The Clumsy Spendthrift: How Not to Travel


The first time I traveled overseas I was meeting a group of political professionals. I was nervous. One was a Washington state senator, another worked for Emily’s List and another worked in the White House. I carefully planned out my luggage, buying all new stuff of course. I found this cool purple bag that went over the shoulder. I stenciled a cool design on my black suitcase so it would stand out. I was determined to be stylish and graceful.

By the time I got to Atlanta, I ditched that stupid purple bag that was cutting a groove into my shoulder, bought a simple backpack and sat on the floor of the airport, rearranging my clothes, shoes, computer and other nonsense. I was always the one in the group fumbling with my camera bag or taking longer to put my shoes back on. My brothers and sisters used to call me “grace.” They were being sarcastic.

So, I learned to stick with the simple stuff. No, you don’t need to bring a sketch book and five novels. No, you really don’t need to bring 5 pairs of shoes or extensive jewelry options. One shade of eyeshadow is fine. But I still overdo it.

I told myself I would stick to a tight budget. I wasn’t going to buy a new pair of jeans. But the size 8’s are a little tight and the 10’s are way too loose and that pair from New York and Company was as comfortable as Goldilock’s chair. And what was I supposed to do, not buy the cool skirt that was the perfect length? It was buy one, get one half off! Come on. Sure, I said I wouldn’t get ANOTHER pair of converses, but none of the ones I have match the breezy, brown travel pants I bought. Plus they’re all wearing out. It’s an investment. I’ll wear them forever.

And yes, I have tons of t-shirts but they’re all low-cut v-necks. What if I need to appear more “modest?” I should probably get some round neck ones as well. The one thing I didn’t buy was a scarf. I have 10 million scarves, one of which was an overpriced tourist grab from a museum in D.C. So, I successfully avoided the temptation of the accessory department at Target, sticking to my grey, Native American print head cover.

I’ve changed a lot in the last few years. But some things don’t change and my thrifty trip with its cheap flights and Air BnB rates inevitably escalated beyond my intentions. I hope I take some great photos because I might have to eat them or trade them for rent when I get back.

So a day of flying tomorrow. I will try to play it cool. Just a seasoned, casual traveler here, nothing to gawk at. I’ve got my bag of liquids and electronics ready for inspection. Everything carry on. Converses broken in. Books to read.

But I know what will happen. Something will fall out of a bag. I’ll take too long unlacing my shoes. My iphone earbuds will get tangled on my purse strap. I’ll hog all the grey plastic bins and get looks of annoyance from business men with their one, organized bag and slip on shoes. I’ll fumble my way from Lafayette to Houston to Munich to Tel-Aviv and arrive disheveled and ready for wine.

They don’t call me “grace” for nothing.

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