Travel Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist, but I pretend to be one when I travel.

In preparation for our ten day European trip, I thought about our prior two trips to Ireland. We had taken large rolling duffels and then I wore a satchel as a day bag. My shoulders were sore and the bag was inconvenient. The second trip in particular was rough because we were caught in the middle of an epic snowstorm. When buses were stuck, we ended up hauling our duffels through snow drifts for what felt like miles to get to our destination. Well, we knew we wouldn’t hit snow this time, but I was not going to be an over packed American. I made rules that I was unsure that we could follow, and they are as follows:

10 Day strict packing list:

  • Carry-on suitcase each; only 1/3 full
  • Rucksack each; nearly empty
  • Money pouch (neck/waist-type)
  • Five pairs each; socks, underwear, tee shirts
  • One pair sneakers; worn there, not packed (I cheated with a pair of sandals too)
  • Two pairs of jeans each, wear one there
  • Two pair each either shorts or capris
  • One quart size bag of liquid toiletries each, each with a 3oz bottle of detergent
  • Small bag of shared necessities; nail clippers, tweezers, band aids, razor, bobby pins, etc.
  • Glasses/belts and other random requirements
  • Ipad, two cameras, eReader (Nook), chargers and spare memory cards
  • One 4-socket power converter.  Charged all electronics in one swoop each night.
  • A long cord aka clothesline

Score one for us. It was the easiest travel trip ever. Since we nearly missed our plane to Brussels, one of the key begging points in allowing us to board was that we had no luggage to check. We were able to fit both our bags in the same train luggage locker at each city we went to, saving time and money when we were unable to check into our room too. Halfway through the trip, we washed our clothes in our sink, hung them up on the cord we cleverly tied across one side of our bedroom and off we went the next morning, fresh, clean and with far less luggage then the over packed tourists who could barely lift the bags up and onto the train.

Laundry in Berlin

The worst would be seeing the retired couples with the elderly men hauling multiple enormous pieces of luggage behind his wife on crowded public transportation.  I gave my husband the go-ahead then and there to berate me if I ever got that bad.  I may not wash our clothes in the sink forever, but maybe one day if we’re fancy we’ll just pay to get them laundered instead.  Who am I kidding?  We’ll never be fancy.

Back to the packing list; for those who may question the possible excessive electronic choices, let me explain.

Ipad, a wonderful gift from our parents saved my shoulders in a big way rather than toting the heavy laptop as we did in years past. But, since there is not Wi-Fi everywhere and we found many Europeans do not offer it for free, the Nook was a great backup to access tour books, maps and translators that were pre-downloaded, thus eliminating the need for the internet and heavy travel books during the travel. In cities like Brussels, where we were limited on time, we used the Nook to do our own walking tour per Rick Steves, saving both time and money. When you have the opportunity though, I do suggest taking a real tour, Rick is wise, but he doesn’t know every nuance.

And there you have it. We came home with smiles, souvenirs that fit in our existing bags (including a real cuckoo clock) and never had to check a bag or pop a painkiller. This my friends, comes in handy when you’re sharing a six person sleeping compartment on a train.

Many stories to follow.


I’m Hungarian & Not for Wienerschnitzel

I recently discovered that Hungary is more than just a country east of Germany; it is part of my heritage.  I mean this in the least offensive way possible, but the country was always a joke to me.  Not because of the country itself, just its name.  Ever since I discovered the country of Hungary in my elementary school history lessons, one of my favorite things to tell my parents was, “I’m Hungarian” when I wanted food.  Ok, so I still say it.

Though I have strong ties to my primarily Irish roots, I was also raised with undertones of German ancestry.  My Great-Grandma emigrated from a Germany port in her mother’s womb.  With her, she brought what we thought to be traditional German customs and recipes.  Guess what?  They weren’t German.  After spending years trying to track down her family in German records, I recently joined forces with a distant cousin who had documents to prove that my stomach is not just Hungarian; the rest of me is too.  At least the part that I thought was German is.

Because the borders were altered by a bloody game of tug of war, I find the genealogy hunt increasing in intrigue and possibilities.  Their region, which may have once been German territory, had also been Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia and now Slovakia.  Never did I imagine that the strong stock came from Eastern European hardships as opposed to Hamburg bratwursts.  I realize these clichés are not realistic and likely inappropriate, but they simply provide an altering mental image of what I had imagined as a little girl and what is now more realistic.

I’ll never be able to ask those ancestors what life was actually like.  I’ll never get to ask if they yearned for their homeland and its customs.  Instead, I know that they came to America for safety amongst the turmoil in pre-World War I Europe.  They learned English and adapted to American ways, but privately maintained the nuances of their heritage.  They were bakers, potters and laborers.  We still are, even if laboring is the only one that pays the bills these days.  I never guessed that my little joke that got a giggle out of my Mom, had truth in it.

I Belong to Nowhere

I visited an old friend last weekend and she was asking what my husband and I were up to, and if we had any future plans.  I told her that depending on what happens with my career, we wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Europe or some authentically historic American town, but we’ll see what happens.  She said how she could never do that, just pick up and leave, but it’s something that we have grown accustom to and maybe it’s slightly hereditary.

I’m an avid ancestry enthusiast.  Every key member to my family tree, at least going back a few generations, had the same defining quality; the ability to be fearless and never look back.  This to me is a quality because I admire their courage and ambition, to pick up from their place of birth and independently find a new home in a new state, country, continent, etc.  And they did it alone.  They all did.

This is a blessing and a curse because combined; these adventurous ancestors gave me life.  Had they not, I don’t want to say “ran away”, but rather “looked for better opportunities”, I wouldn’t exist.  It’s a curse because, as a researcher, it’s very difficult to track them.  I run into possible distant connections and it appears my ancestor was always the black sheep who left and never wrote home.  There never seems to be hostility or a tragic story that I’m aware of based on family stories, they were just ok being independent.

That being said, I began frequently re-establishing myself early and being the “new kid” by changing schools throughout my youth.  Not by my choice, but my parents, due to transportation, tuition, educational factors and eventually a move just before high school.  I settled in well for the most part at each place and sought my own adventure to California after graduation.  I never truly felt like I fit in anywhere. Though I did find myself back in New Jersey a few years ago, close to family and old friends, I really don’t feel that I have a home.  The town I grew up in until I was 13 would probably be the closest thing to a “home” feeling but most of the people who lived there are gone or have passed away.  If you remember, I was friendly with the elderly people.  Sure I had friends that were my age, but they’ve since grown and moved too.

Today we live in a town close by, which feels like a neighborhood that people grew up in, finished school, started to grow their own family and then moved back in.  There is a sense of community, but not for me.  I am friendly with people here, but my roots weren’t here.  I think it is why I find the idea of moving anywhere that feels comfortable, so appealing, because I don’t need to stay anywhere out of obligation.  No one else in my family has.

My husband and I are the same way.  Having grown up in Iowa, and then joined the military, it caused his zip code to change more than a few times.  We come from heritages that we didn’t technically belong to.  My family has strong Irish and German tradition, but I don’t necessarily belong there.  My family for generations lived in Philadelphia and I was even born there, but then became the first to be raised in the suburbs of New Jersey.  Although it’s only minutes away, I didn’t grow up in a row home with a corner candy store or play baseball on the asphalt, so I can’t claim that as home either.  I grew up in a house where people had their own space and minded their business.  They were people looking to remove themselves from city culture; maybe culture altogether.  I don’t want to come off as ungrateful, I’ve had a fortune life with loving parents, but the circumstances have just left me feeling a little lost as an adult.

We aren’t tied to anywhere and maybe we’re not quite sure where home is yet.  I suppose we’ll have to find it together and make it that way ourselves.  We can be the “new kids” together.