As you can imagine, returning home to Seville after five months on the road we’ve been bombarded with questions, including “Are you nuts?” and “Are you two going to stay put for a while?” (The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”) But the two that always come up first are these:
After five months of gorging ourselves on the best comfort food Europe has to offer, the answer is — drumroll, please — we didn’t gain an ounce. Rich actually lost two pounds. As for me, I can’t provide hard numbers, because after a lifetime of slavishly tracking each tiny gain and loss, some years ago I decided to stop weighing myself altogether. My metric is whether I can button my skinniest jeans, and the answer to that is a definite yes.
Why didn’t all that good eating add to our avoirdupois? For one thing, we only ate heartily when we were on the trail of local comfort food; in between, we had salads, fish, and other light fare. We did twenty to thirty minutes of yoga most days. But mainly, we walked a lot. Rich calculates it was somewhere around 735 miles — the equivalent of strolling from New York to Nashville, or (for my European readers) doing the entire Camino de Santiago pilgrimage one and a half times.
How did our shoes hold up? Sadly, only one of the two pairs I brought survived the trip. Somewhere in northern Greece, I started noticing feelings of mild dizziness; by the time I got to Albania, these spells were getting more frequent, annoying, and disquieting. Finally I realized the culprit was my comfy old sneakers. The soles were worn so slick they didn’t maintain proper traction on city sidewalks, and I was slipping and sliding a tiny bit with every step. Apparently this upset the equilibrium of my inner ear just enough to create a recurring sensation of dizziness. No, I don’t have a medical professional’s diagnosis to corroborate this. But I can tell you that as soon as I bought a new pair of sneakers the problem cleared up. That’s proof enough for me.
My old sneakers weren’t the only things we jettisoned along the way. Rich had a new t-shirt that rubbed irritatingly against his neck, and as the hottest summer in Europe’s history wore on, I parted with two long-sleeved t-shirts to make room for one sundress and then another. As minimalist packers, we follow the rule that buying anything means removing an item of equal bulk and weight from the suitcase. We never throw clothes away; instead, we leave them somewhere they’ll be found — usually sitting on top of a dustbin or bagged and hanging on the back of a restroom door in a train station or dive bar. I like to think these once-beloved possessions are now leading exciting lives with their new humans.
My most dramatic discard involved a wardrobe malfunction in Kosovo. As regular readers will recall, Rich and I took a luggage-free side trip to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. I threw a nightgown and a few necessities into my purse, dressed in comfortable trousers and a fast-drying gauze blouse, and off we went on the overnight journey. We had a fabulous time, sampling mouthwatering Albanian tavë kosi, baked lamb in yogurt sauce, and watching people in tiny storefronts plying such old-school trades as sewing suits, resoling shoes, and repairing vacuum cleaners. That night I hand-washed my blouse and undergarments, and when I dressed the next morning, the bright light streaming in the hotel window made the gauze blouse look nearly translucent. When I remarked on this, Rich said, with true husbandly sympathy, “Nonsense. It’s fine.”
Half an hour later, as we strolled the city sidewalks in search coffee, he turned to me and said, “Karen, it’s not fine. In fact, I can see right through your blouse. And so can everyone else.” Yikes! Apparently the repeated washings had proved too much for the delicate gauze, which was disintegrating before my eyes and the eyes of interested passersby.
I dashed into the nearest store, where I began a nightmare shopping effort. Having seen hundreds, possibly thousands of attractive shirts in shop windows all through Greece and North Macedonia, those now confronting me were, without exception, hideously unacceptable. I’d have settled for an “I (heart) Kosovo” t-shirt had I found one, but I drew the line at a bare-midriff tank top sporting the “Hello, Kitty” logo. After visiting three or four equally discouraging shops, I finally purchased the ugliest turquoise t-shirt ever manufactured. But as Rich pointed out, at least I no longer risked creating an international incident by getting myself arrested for indecent exposure. As soon as we got back to North Macedonia and I was reunited with my other clothes, the gauze blouse and turquoise t-shirt were given their freedom.
Among the other casualties of the trip were my bedroom slippers, which gradually stretched to the point that during the final weeks I was having difficulty keeping them on my feet. Note to self: Comfortably worn footwear might serve well for a few weeks, even a month or two on the road, but it simply can’t stand up to the demands of long-term use. Newer footwear, broken in to the point of comfort but still in its prime, is what I’ll shoot for in the future.
Which brings me to the question about when we’re going to burn our trip clothes.
The answer is: we’re not.
In the past, we had “trip clothes” and “regular clothes,” but these days nearly everything we own is travel wear. With the exception of the stretched slippers, now earmarked for a charity shop, all the robust garments we carried home in our suitcases have resumed their rightful place in our everyday collection.
Just last night, I went out to dinner in the sundress I bought one sweltering afternoon in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bright flowers on the sturdy fabric will always remind me of that city’s extraordinary beauty and the resilience that sustained its people through desperately tough times. No, I won’t be burning that dress. Nor will I destroy any of the other clothes that served me faithfully during our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. They are reminders of grand adventures and have earned a place in my wardrobe. Unless of course, any of them become embarrassingly translucent, and then they’re history.
Do you have wardrobe malfunction stories, tips for reliable travel shoes or clothing, or other packing suggestions to share? Please pass them along in the comments below.
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Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour
161 Days on the Road
Distance traveled: 5,234 miles / 8,423 kilometers
Countries visited: 10
Great meals: countless
Weight gained: none
Our current location: Home in Seville, Spain
Thanks for joining us on the journey.
I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
My weekly updates contain tips for keeping our mental equilibrium and living more authentically during these turbulent times.