Manners & Misdemeanors
Why Filipinos Can’t Seem to Pack Light And Other Musings on Travel
As a people, we must have the heaviest luggage checked in or hand-carried either on our way to our destination or coming home from it.
IMAGE Morguefile
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Heavy luggage on the way to a destination presumes that any attire brought on a trip is projected to be worn no more than twice, including underwear. There is the supposition too that one is not to spend for such luxuries as laundry while on the move. The traveler is fated to carry heavy luggage when counting the number of days of his stay and allocating the appropriate garments to match this, given the assumption of wear-and-pack and (falsely, it always turns out) no shopping.

The proponent of traveling light prides himself on needing only a small check-in luggage even for a trip lasting a month. He is able to do this by making a paradigm shift in what he brings.

Traveling light

Underwear, he believes, is seldom seen except by someone intimate who will not hold it against him. Thus he can pack old threadbare pairs and toss them out after each use. Better yet, he can purchase disposable ones. Work out the math and realize how much space this frees up.

This Spartan approach applies to outerwear as well. Denims are much preferred for the light traveler. With the current faded, torn up, and even dirt-stained look achieving chic status, denims can be worn every day until they stand on their own without legs to keep them up.

The biggest mental block to hurdle in light travel is over-preparedness.

As for sleeping, even at a friend’s house (more of this later), isn’t the blanket sufficient? This house has laundry, after all. As one goes down the list, it is easy to see how light one can go with this type of thinking.

There is also some cultural baggage that needs to be discarded. This means rejecting gifts other people want one to pack and to give to other people in a different time zone. Why should total (or even partial) strangers dictate what goes inside one’s luggage? Should one become the donkey for delivering other people’s gifts? Should FedEx be deprived of its core business? The person who can’t say “no” to this kind of emotional blackmail deserves to have his retina detached from carrying relief goods to distant municipalities.

What about bringing meals to eat at the destination like preserved fruits and pork rinds? Aside from the space they take up, there is the not too remote possibility of seepage, causing clothes (including the precious underwear) to smell like breakfast.

The biggest mental block to hurdle in light travel is over-preparedness. This just-in-case mentality taxes the imagination, and with it luggage space. What if there is an invitation to visit a casino in Monaco requiring a tuxedo? What if your host suddenly asks you to go skiing in Aspen? What if the weather suddenly turns chilly? The possibilities, which in statistical terms have a much likelihood as getting praised behind your back by someone you despise, results in unused garments one takes back home in their original plastic wraps.

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One must discard the Boy Scout’s motto of being always prepared. On the contrary, it is good to be unprepared for eventualities that are not on the schedule. This is, after all, the thrill of the unexpected that travel offers. And if you do get asked to jet to Monaco for a turn at the baccarat table in a tux which is not in your luggage? What the heck, just buy one! You will need it anyway for some anniversary party of your favorite social climbers.

Business or pleasure?

Does business travel promote lighter luggage? This special category of frequent traveler can be spotted lugging over his shoulder garment bags that contain one suit (with two pants). He is in too much of a hurry to wait for checked-in bags to come out of the carousel, so with his hand luggage only and of course the trusty laptop, he is able to whisk through customs and get to his meeting on time.

It is important for the business traveler then to communicate that he is a reluctant corporate soldier being sent off to battle.

Business travelers are not supposed to have too much baggage anyway as they are just attending meetings. Official trips (those paid for by the company) work on the specific assumption that they are absolutely essential for the company’s survival.

The proponent would rather not travel himself but can’t think of anyone else to do the job. He himself is tired of plane food and considers it a distasteful task somebody, unfortunately, he has to do. Who needs the jet lag and the hassle of looking for a bag in the carousel? But, hey, somebody has to do it.

So busy is the schedule confronting the business traveler that he will hardly have time to sleep, let alone enjoy himself. Who has the time for a city tour in Prague after the conference? He will just be shuttling back and forth from the hotel to numerous meetings. This is no picnic. (Let this cup pass from me.)

It is important for the business traveler then to communicate that he is a reluctant corporate soldier being sent off to battle. No mention must be made of relatives to be visited, fine restaurants, nice museums, and bookstores, or anything that will give the impression that the trip may actually be desirable.

Hence, the light luggage is further proof of reluctance to undertake a business trip. Having bulky impedimenta arouses suspicions—is this trip really going to help the company?

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A “friendly” place to stay

A travel itinerary, even for those on supposedly business trips, often involves some temporary visits with those near and dear. Staying with friends or relatives entails a special traveling challenge—being dragged in as a reluctant guest. Instead of taking you to the mall as desired, your host can haul you instead to a party with his own circle of friends—“can I take along my cousin and his wife who are visiting from Manila and staying with me?” What is the surprised host expected to do? (“Sure, I’ll just grill another pair of steaks for your freeloaders.”)

After brief introductions, the migrants churn around the conversational whirl like a pair of old socks in a washing machine hanging on to each other for comfort in the process of being discolored and shrunk.

There is an accepted etiquette for the unexpected guest being thrown into unfamiliar social ponds. Pick the edges of the long table or the farthest corner of the entertainment area. This allows a frictionless ability to stay out of everyone’s way. Regular friends have their own inside jokes and common gossip objects. Being on the fringes allows you to be comfortably ignored, in the process appreciating the training of waiters who disregard frantic hand signals. Choosing social Siberia as your comfort zone allows the host and his original invited guests not to work too hard to include you in their conversation. They are not obliged to explain punchlines of obscure jokes which send everyone else rolling in the aisles or provide additional details on absent characters who invite whispered comments on their latest misadventures.

To altogether avoid this social version of the Stations of the Cross, it is best to inform the unauthorized inviter off the bat that “sorry we can’t join that party as another friend from Phoenix (Steve Nash) is driving over and picking us up for dinner on the same night.”

Being already occupied with the other unexpected guest you came in with removes the obligation for the host to try to “entertain you.” (“Are you okay over there behind the potted palms? You still have your corncob?”) The social chore of showing even a modicum of interest implicit in engaging you in conversation requires the same hard work as lifting weights for those meeting you for the first time. Even with clues from your cousin about the work you do (he observes people and jots down their unflattering traits—you will surely be in his next piece), it is a grind to keep several sentences going in a pretense of common interest. You don’t even understand the rules of baseball or American football.

Polishing your conversational skills

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What do you talk about with these strangers in a strange land? Safe topics should be those that cause no trouble even when overheard, like renovation plans for the kitchen back home, common friends in Manila, flight schedules and the latest NBA rankings.

Only when it is time to eat are the regulars obliged to acknowledge your presence. (“Hey, you’re still here.”) Still, this is a comfortable time to be harmlessly engaged as food provides its own stock of small talk—“isn’t this salsa dip amazing? Are those small spiders floating in this glob or are they watermelon seeds?”

Getting away on your getaway

To altogether avoid this social version of the Stations of the Cross, it is best to inform the unauthorized inviter off the bat that “sorry we can’t join that party as another friend from Phoenix (Steve Nash) is driving over and picking us up for dinner on the same night.” This lie, however, requires you to be dropped off along the way, preferably at a mall with a movie complex, the one you wanted to go to in the first place.

This getaway is preferable to being the object of nervous neglect in somebody else’s party. While a gatecrasher chooses to attend a party he has not been invited to and expects to have fun in with the photo ops, the dragged-in guest really wants to be somewhere else, even if he has to pay for a cheap dinner oozing with cholesterol.

It’s always best to travel at your own pace and pay for different hotel rooms to call your own for two weeks. You can still meet up with the obligatory relatives and friends for lunch or dinner at a restaurant, and you won’t have to see them nightly in their pajamas or boxer shorts.

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A.R. Samson
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