Packing for the Way Home

By Emily Benson


One challenging aspect of traveling light is resisting the urge to buy souvenirs to bring home to friends and family, or even a few keepsakes for yourself.

Say you’re at Neuschwanstein Castle and you find the perfect 3D jigsaw replica you just have to bring back to your grandfather who’s seen every jigsaw, but not this one!

Or maybe you decide you want to start a collection of drinking-themed souvenirs, something to attest to all the places you’ve been and different beverages you’ve indulged in — limoncello shot glasses from the Amalfi Coast, or beer steins from the Romantic Road in Germany.

You basically have two options:
1. Throw out all your clothing and fill your carry-on suitcase with trinkets
2. Don’t shop.

But refraining from indulging in a small purchase once in a while can be difficult, and dull.
Sometimes, more than I really need anything in particular, I feel the need to shop. Travel is intoxicating, and it’s only by traveling frugally that we can afford to do so much. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. But sometimes after being on the road and sleeping on trains you just need to feel that familiar old thrill.

One rule of thumb I apply when traveling is basically this: if you can eat it you can buy it.


Sometimes, just purchasing a little package of chocolates in a touristy gift shop can satisfy consumerist urges. You can have it for dessert or delude yourself into thinking you’ll tote it around an entire continent until you return home to give it to one of your sorely missed friends. Even if you can’t take it home, you can always eat your said souvenir before you get on the plane if you need to get rid of it.

I actually learned this lesson the hard way after we left Cinque Terre for Milan to catch an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. The Ligurian Coast is famous for their pesto, which you find on every menu, nearly to the exclusion of other sauces, or, what I liked best, slathered lavishly on top of fresh focaccia sold in numerous stands along the beach. In spite of my husband’s warnings about not filling up my suitcase, I’d been secretly stashing away small jars of pesto, planning to give one to each of my family members when I returned home.


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Sure enough, when we were checking in at the Malpensa Airport, the pesto had pushed my suitcase over the stingy weight limit. My options were basically throw it out, give it to the homeless, or eat it. Since there were no homeless people in the airport I decided to eat it. Sitting down in the middle of the floor, in a flagrant display of culinary disobedience, I devoured five jars of pesto which I helped go down with a few pieces of leftover stale focaccia. I felt like one of those drug mules trying to hide the sacks of cocaine in their stomachs before boarding the plane, only my stomach was full of pesto. Ha! I thought smugly, the airline might be able to limit the weight of my luggage but they couldn’t charge me for weighing an extra two pounds!

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