Thursday, March 01, 2007

Trip countdown begins

So I have about six days until I take off for my fellowship to Europe and I'm getting VERY excited. It seemed so far off during the application process last fall. Now I'm getting down to the wire and need to finalize my packing plan, my usual to-do lists for the household, the trip, and work, and generally make sure I'm not leaving any loose ends when I take off.

Advice from previous fellows has been invaluable. My most recent queries were about luggage and gifts. The notes from the fellowship organization recommended a "medium to large" luggage. Hmm. Is that a 21" carry-on or a 29" checked bag? This handy size chart is good to get a feel for bag size, but I don't know what's appropriate for this trip. I wasn't sure if I'd need to be able to carry my luggage for long periods (I know cobblestones in European cities and wheels don't mix), or would we mainly be leaving our bags in hotels and occasionaly carrying them from the hotel to a nearby bus or train for travel between locations?

And gifts. We'll be having this wonderful adventure and learning experience thanks to no doubt untold hours of planning by the coordinators in each city, along with the people they've matched us with for interviews in our subject areas of interest, plus the officials who will host us for lunch and dinner meetings/briefings and even some homestays. So gifts will definitely be in order.

The fellowship organization and previous fellows recommended gifts that are unique to our home state or job. Someone mentioned the Made in Washington store and I'm planning on checking it out this weekend. But when I passed by one recently, my cursory glance saw lots of jams, goofy t-shirts and Space Needle keychains and such. I wasn't exactly thrilled with the selection and what it might convey. "Hi, thank you for welcoming me and these other complete strangers to your city/office/home and feeding me your delicious food. Here's something to remember me by that you'll never use but will feel guilty throwing away."

I worried I was over-thinking this. (who me?!) ;-) But one of the fellows replied that she had wondered the same things. Her approach? A 29" bag that she checked throughout the trip. The size worked because she ended up needing every little bit of the space for clothes, gifts, and things they gave her which she brought back. And she still ended up having to buy a duffle bag to carry back the loads of papers and gifts collected. Some people shipped them back or even left them there. The one large, rolling bag was also useful for when they sometimes had to race through an airport to make a late connection. I'll be hitting 6 cities during the three weeks (Washington D.C., Paris, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Belgrade, Brussels), so there will be several flights and connections to make.

Since it's a three week trip, they recommend fellows pack 2 suits, 2 pairs of shoes, an extra pair of pants, and several shirts to rotate. Women and men alike. This seems do-able and a fellow told me she wore pretty much every item of clothing numerous times, and even with the huge bag, she ended up washing clothes in the hotel because of high dry cleaning costs. so she found that woolite and a clothes drying line proved invaluable. Another fellow recommended Febreze since smoking in restaurants is still very popular in Europe.

All these tips have been invaluable to me. I have always been one of those 'just in case' packers. I'll take this in case we go to a formal event. And this in case I need a different jacket to go with those pants. And the kitchen sink in case they don't have plumbing. You get the picture. Ultimately, most of the 'just in case' items get used once or not at all, making them not worth the hassle. So I'm trying to pack smart and light. As one person on a travel site said, "You can buy anything you REALLY need in most industrialized countries, and often even the same brand. And if you can't find it, ask yourself how millions of Europeans manage to live without it." Duly noted.

I plan to pre-pack this weekend and see what needs to be purged. Light and nimble is my motto for this trip. As opposed to my 2005 Paris trip motto, which apparently was "heavy and unwieldy," which I learned when I lost my footing and grip on my bag on the stairs of the Metro, nearly taking out my husband and a fellow commuter behind me with a suitcase tumbling end-over-end down the steep flight of stairs. What's French for, "Uh, sorry about the bruise ma'am." ? Note to self...

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