As I recently noted, it’s been awhile since I was forced to pack light. Last year we drove the van to Mexico, and I was able to tote my vintage Samsonite suitcases, overflowing with all manner of impractical items, including multiple pairs of heels, and, yes, two stuffed tigers and a pith helmet.
This trip, I’m spending five weeks on the coast of Jalisco and Nayarit, including (hopefully) a few weeks camping, and I’m limited to whatever I can stuff into one piece of luggage and a carry-on. I’ll surely be gnashing my teeth when I’m crouched in the sand like a philistine, attempting to cook a six course meal on a one burner stove. But at least it’ll give me the chance to hone a skill long gone rusty: the fine art of packing light.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these travelers (cough, Carl) who only packs zipper-festooned lightweight microfiber REI garments that can, say, double as a vest and a coffee strainer. My questionable but distinct fashion sense prohibits such practicalities. Plus, I can’t afford that shit. Instead, I choose garments that are versatile in the normal sense of the word. In other words, heavy on the black tank tops.
When I first started flying down to Mexico as an adult (as opposed to my childhood traveling by van with my parents) I packed in a frugal manner. I knew I’d be spending most of my time camping at the beach, so I thought like the college student that I was: multiple bikinis, cargo shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, and “bug clothes”: lightweight pants and long-sleeve shirts for surviving the sunset hour in a palapa (hut) just a hair too close to a giant mangrove swamp, otherwise known as mosquito heaven.
But I quickly realized the error of my ways. Here’s the thing: Mexico is a dressy country. Even in the campo, where people aren’t exactly rolling in cash, everyone has spiffy duds for fiesta. And, this being Mexico, there’s a always a fiesta. I found myself on the sidelines of many a quinceañera, wedding, rodeo, etc.: the gringa in the stretched out tank top and “practical” cotton skirt, my scraggy toes hanging off the end of a pair of dirty flip-flops. Watching the local girls whirl across the dance floor in their finest (in this case campesina style: brand new bedazzled jeans, shiny cowboy boots, and ruffled blouses) I didn’t just feel frumpy. I felt downright rude.
These days, I always pack at least one good pair of heels and one nice outfit. If I’m really packing light, I’ll just pick a blouse or shirt, something really dressy, that I can pair with a more casual “every day” skirt. A nice piece of jewelry helps too. And a good lightweight jacket. OK, also maybe a dressy evening bag…See how quickly this can get out of hand? (Settle down, Churpa, you’re going to be living in a hut with a sand floor and no running water, remember?)
Speaking of which, we must, of course, consider the kitchen. When traveling by van (which is the only civilized way to travel) Rich and I haul a kitchen trunk that weighs as much as a baby grand. It’s the cast iron. I can’t live without my pans. This year, I’ll have to content myself with one large cast iron pan. One mid-sized knife, one dish towel, one small cutting board, one fork, one spoon, one metal plate, one mug, a coffee cone, a decanter, and of course, my fantastic heating coil, aka humankind’s most ingenious invention.
In the interest of having a functional kitchen, I’ll probably end up packing everything in a cooler instead of a suitcase. And while the idea of a cooler as luggage may send some fashionistas screaming, I think I can make it work. It’ll give my polished evening ensemble and enviable touch of boho chic.