We recently returned from two weeks spent touring Portugal. The Rick Steves’ tour we were on involved white wine; a cork farm; cathedrals and medieval monasteries; ancient Roman cities; red wine; beautiful landscapes; Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, and Rococo architecture; walled towns; art museums; aqueducts; and port wine. (By day eleven most of us were vowing to take a long break from wine.)
We were fortunate to have a well-informed guide, who was passionate about her country and its history, and very funny. We were in a companionable group of fellow travelers, ate ginormous meals, met and dined with members of two dynasties of wine and/or cork and olive oil producers, one in an area the typical traveler might miss, and another limited to Rick Steves’ groups.
Despite having most everything taken care of for us, from lodging to meals to city transportation, I found something to complain about. I had to refold my clothes and repack my suitcase daily, and after doing this, still couldn’t find what I needed. On day five I found the hairbrush I thought I’d left back home, and on day eleven I found the makeup I thought I’d lost on day four. Also, one compartment in my suitcase still contained brochures from a trip to Hawaii, which weren’t helpful when it came to locating the day’s agenda for this vacation.
Then a blog called Jane’s Journals arrived in my inbox. The title was “What would you pack?” The question referred to what Syrian refugees were bringing with them to Europe. The blogger linked to a website called Quartz, which shared photos from the International Rescue Committee of the contents of a few of the refugees’ backpacks.
For a mother: “A hat and a pair of socks for the baby; an assortment of medication, a bottle of sterile water, and a jar of baby food; a small supply of napkins for diaper changes; assortment of pain relievers, sunscreen and sunburn ointment, toothpaste; personal documents; wallet; cell phone charger; yellow headband.”
And from a six-year-old boy: “One pair of pants, one shirt; a syringe; marshmallows and sweet cream; soap, toothbrush and toothpaste; bandages.”
None of the backpackers sampled seemed concerned about a hairbrush or makeup. And none carried an itinerary. For them there were no schedules, no menus set in advance, and no means of transportation except their feet. Maybe for future trips I should pack fewer things, organize my suitcase better, and stop complaining.