In late May, when I left New Jersey for 3 ½  months in Europe, I packed everything into two bags: one black, medium-sized, cylindrical bag on wheels, plus one red daypack.  The cylindrical bag can be expanded to the size of a large gym bag or folded down very small, with the use of extra zippers.  The total weight of all my gear was about 20 pounds.

My friends and my niece – who suggested I use plastic baggies to separate items in the bags — praised me for packing light and nodded appreciatively when I bragged that, after two weeks, once I’d given away a bunch of gifts in Macedonia, I’d be down to just a very small version of the black cylinder.

Two months later, I hadn’t reduced the size of the black bag at all. In fact it was more tightly packed than when I’d left, despite all I’d offloaded, because people had given me gifts, and I’d bought a few essentials as well.  As I was leaving Macedonia, here is what I was carrying:

Clothes

Tops: 1 long-sleeved cotton teeshirt, 1 zip hoodie, 2 short-sleeved cotton teeshirts (I’d only brought one, but I was given one from the Macedonian Pearl seminar, which practically gave me VIP status anywhere in Macedonia), 1 button-down cotton dress shirt (a gift from Leeanne after I admired it); 1 button-down quick-drying camping shirt.

Bottoms: 2 pairs of quick-drying camping pants, one full-length and one Capri-length; one pair lightweight hiking pants.

Dresswear: Black, below-knee-length TravelSmart dress (formerly my mother’s).

Smalls (in Baggies) : One short-sleeved wool undervest or “Spencer,” 2 sturdy, uncomfortable bras and 2 useless, comfortable ones; 7 pairs undies; 2 ½ pairs of white socks (the missing sock was lost from the best pair, a bamboo-fabric from Timberland, which I’d left in a private home in Macedonia where I washed my socks in the family sink; I kept hoping I’d find the lost sock, and so did not throw away the one odd one) plus one nonwhite pair (those, formerly white, had been accidentally grayed by my friend Chris in Macedonia, when we had access to a washing machine).

Shoes: 1 pair stained and exhausted Sketchers Shape-Ups, 1 pair black Crocs sandals.

Jewelry: 1 watch; 2 nearly identical bone pendants with suns on them, from Thailand (I thought I’d give one away but haven’t found the right person yet.)

Miscellaneous: 1 mold-stained bathing suit.

Toiletries

In black bag given to me by Nicole 12 years ago: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap in two forms (liquid and solid), toothbrush and paste, dental floss,  1 small pair nail scissors and 1 nail clipper; several hotel-room bottles of moisturizer; eye drops, Aspirin, Rx, tape for wrapping my knee. In plastic baggie: assorted tampons, eye drops, earplugs, eye mask.

 

Everything else

Music and art supplies: pages of music and lyrics for Roma and Macedonian folk songs and some American gospel and shape-note songs;  a bag of paints, brushes, and art erasers given to me by Walt, along with sheets of 100-weight painting paper and a few cardboard frames.

Reading and writing materials: One paperback, Reading Lolita in Terhan, which after 2 months I had read only 8 pages of; at least 15 pens, including one from Turtle Bay Resort, Hawaii; one from Scottsdale, AZ,  CVB, and one from the DisneyWorld Hilton (I am unable to leave pens behind and am never without at least a dozen of them);  1 small “steno”  notebook.

Electronics: 1 Acer Aspire netbook, 2 memory sticks; one Swiss-Army brand laptop “skin” to  protect the netbook from falling (but not, it turned out, from loss);  1 digital Linux camera in a pink case; extra memory card, cable to connect camera to computer; 1 large, heavy universal adaptor plug

Ceramics: 1 Macedonian angel figure (a gift from Vaska, my friend and the receptionist at Hotel Manister, chosen by her little girl); 2 mugs with spoons given to me by Gabi (the friend in the MAUS story).

Miscellany: Water bottle (with water); organic gourmet Vitamin-C lollipops, Vitamin C tablets, lysine, glucosamine; 2 small handwoven dishcloths, given to me by a nun at the monastery where I stayed; the smallest Swiss army pocketknife made; 1 WW 2-era brass Yugoslavian Army field oil & polish dispenser ; 1 recycled parachute-silk bag (maroon, very strong).

Rugs: 1 large, heavy handwoven wool runner, black and red, a gift from the nuns at Berovo, which took up 1/5th of my bag and weighed as much as all my clothes put together (I was warned  not to ship anything I cared about by Macedonian post, so I had to carry it.)

That was all I was left with after I’d given away a lot of gifts from the USA, passed on several warm, bulky items of clothing to the nuns, and mailed a few things to England. Other than the rug and the ceramics – which were precious gifts – what could I have done without? Admittedly the lollipops were nonessential, but I’d been giving them out to kids in Macedonia and had only a few left. They are gourmet lollipops, and lightweight, so I didn’t chuck them out. As for the Yugoslavian oil dispenser, you never know when you’re going to need one of those to clean a rifle.

But it was too much. I hated having to carry those two bags every time I moved. I have dragged it resentfully through two continents and 7 countries, and in that time I’ve thought carefully about how to lighten the burden. Now, near the end of my journey, I’ve figured out how to travel really lightly, so from now, on all future journeys,  I  will be able to use only one small daypack. Here is the secret, which I offer for any of my friends or readers to use or share with any of our fellow and sister travellers. In future, I won’t bring any clothes.