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.
10/8/2019 03:46:18 pm
Because we met some of your garments, I was happy to read how they had handled your travels as well! Happy Memories are now hanging in your closet!
10/8/2019 05:02:54 pm
So true, Jackie! When I wear these faithful garments now, it feels as if I'm still having a grand adventure. Which I am!
10/8/2019 05:43:40 pm
I heard you don’t pack underwear in order to save space. Can you confirm please.
10/8/2019 05:54:19 pm
Sorry to disappoint, John, but we did not go commando on this mission. I don't know how these rumors get started...
10/8/2019 06:14:35 pm
I love this Karen. It's like you have given your clothes a life and personality. Maybe we should all look at our clothes this way when deciding what to keep or toss.
10/8/2019 06:40:39 pm
So glad you like the post, Andrea. Yes, when you spend months with a handful of garments, they each take on personality and significance. It was actually difficult to part with my gauze shirt, even though I knew it no longer served me. That hideous turquoise t-shirt, however, was a joy to jettison.
Francis X. McCann
10/8/2019 06:57:38 pm
Karen and Rich
10/9/2019 06:55:28 am
So glad you've enjoyed the posts, Frank and Tami. As you can tell from the stories, we got a huge kick out of the whole enterprise and have earmarked many places to return to for more leisurely exploration. No need to be envious — if it sounds like fun, you can always give it a try yourselves!
10/8/2019 07:19:33 pm
We are 2 grey nomads from Australia and we were inspired by your packing list and book Adventures of a Railway Nomad. We are currently travelling for 3 months in Europe, much of it by train, with a cabin bag and small shoulder bag each. Plenty of clothes and I can fairly easily heave it up into the trains and up and down railway stairs. We have just sent home sandals, flip flops, sundress and shorts as we will be now be in cooler climes and times. Thanks for making this long trip so manageable.
10/9/2019 06:59:46 am
Christine, it sounds like you two are having a grand railway adventure. If I played any small part in launching you on your way I am thrilled and honored. You're wise to clear out the warm weather clothes; a lighter suitcase is always easier to manage, and now there's a bit of extra space in case you need to acquire anything such as an extra sweater or heavier socks. Have fun, good luck, and let me know how it all goes!
10/8/2019 08:58:08 pm
15 years ago I bought a pair of Mephistos to walk to work in. They became my travel shoes and I’m still in the same 2 pairs I bought in 2004. Both have been reworked (resoled, new laces, etc) but I have never worn another pair.
10/9/2019 07:03:39 am
I've heard amazing Mephistos stories, Duane, but yours takes the cake. Wow, 15 years! I've tried them on (not yours specifically, obviously) and never found them comfortable enough, but I am going to give them another try. It would be fabulous never to worry about them disintegrating on me at awkward moments, like my sneakers!
DENISE SANANTONIO ZEMAN
10/8/2019 09:43:02 pm
Karen, thanks for sharing this remarkable and inspiring Mediterranean comfort food tour! I vicariously savored every morsel. You and Rich are truly my travel gurus, and I've learned so much from your blog. Our modes of travel range from back-road cross country trips via car, train, or motorcycle to full-on cruise tours, and your tips on traveling light are relevant to all. We even managed to make it to Victoria, BC for our son's wedding with one carry-on each (although it meant Doug wore his grey comfort shoes with a grey suit...but our rationale was "Who looks at the groom's father's shoes anyway...and they matched!") Keep on traveling and sharing! I always smile when I see a post from you in my inbox!
10/9/2019 07:08:24 am
You and Doug are amazing, Denise. Whenever I write about traveling light, I always put in a caveat about formal occasions such as weddings requiring more stuff and more luggage. You've upped the bar! Now I'll report that it's possible to deck yourself out from a carryon. Of course Doug is perfectly correct — nobody looks at the groom's father's shoes. No doubt the bridal couple was far too distracted to notice much of anything that day. Brilliant!
10/8/2019 09:46:55 pm
Enlightening and funny, as always, Karen. And nice to know your travel habits have kept you & Rich (if not your gauze blouse & sneakers) in such good shape. As for your disposal methods with clothes, that’s right on. I’ve been reading lately about “fashion pollution,” the tremendous energy & ecological costs of the greed for new clothes. It’s made me swear, not only to recycle old clothes but wear all my current ones till they’re threadbare & cut down on the “must have” drive for new stuff. Anyway, luckily I like old, well-worn stuff & love clothes I acquired on trips, too.
10/9/2019 07:22:53 am
I'm with you all the way, Tobey. When I read the fashion industry had gone to 52 fashion cycles a year in an effort to sell us new clothes weekly, I was aghast. Fashion is the third highest polluting industry in the world. It's time to stop the madness! I was so inspired by Duane (see above) who has worn the same Mephistos for 15 years. Let's all work to make old clothes and well-worn shoes fashionable!
10/8/2019 10:06:06 pm
Fabulous blogpost Karen, I have really enjoyed reading of your travels around Europe this time. One question, for frugal packers, which I am too, why do you take slippers? It has never occurred to me they were a necessity. Just jandals.
10/9/2019 07:32:05 am
If you can manage with sandals, Susan, that's obviously the more efficient packing solution. My feet tend to get sore from all the walking, and I've found they recover more quickly and completely surrounded by soft fabric at the end of the day. The slippers I took on this trip are lightweight and fold flat, and to me, they're worth the suitcase space.
10/8/2019 11:33:23 pm
I had to laugh at your see-through blouse! For me, between my bras and tiara I need one suitcase. I'm so in awe of you two!
10/9/2019 07:39:28 am
Packing light isn't for everybody, Nancy! Lots of my friends tell me they can't go away for the weekend without three large suitcases, and they don't want me to give them any grief about it. And I don't! They're more comfortable having lots of changes of clothing on hand and different shoes for every outfit. I'm happier with more manageable luggage. Luckily, packing is something everybody gets to decide for themselves.
10/11/2019 02:27:35 pm
Hello Karen - what a fine post. Shoes are the hardest thing for me to find since I have arthritis in my left foot. My new go to shoes (and will be forever) are Allbirds. Super comfortable and, best of all, washable. They just recently started free shipping in Europe. Buy the wool runners one size up - you will love the colors! Meanwhile, I agree wholeheartedly with exchanging one thing for another in your luggage. Love the tip of leaving clothes where they can be found! We tend to look for donation bins or (gulp) throw them away. Now we have a new perspective. After six years of full-time travel, I still don't have your savvy about packing so I refer our readers to your site. We have decided to continue to travel through 2020 so maybe we can connect somewhere! Happy travels. Debbie Campbell, Senior Nomad.
10/15/2019 05:08:53 pm
Debbie, those Allbirds look great; and you're right, I love the colors. I know you two prefer more creature comforts than minimalist packing affords, like jigsaw puzzles and pillows. Rich brought that up a few times on this trip when we had uncomfortable pillows! Thanks for referring people to the blog when they have packing questions. I do the same when people ask me about Airbnb — I tell them what I can and then send them your way. You two are the stars! And congratulations to you both for hitting the six year anniversary of life on the road!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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