David Farley‘s writing appears in the travel sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and The South Florida Sun Sentinel, as well as the magazines Conde Nast Traveler, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Playboy, GQ, New York magazine, and Time Out New York, among other publications. In 2009, Gotham Books/Penguin will publish a new book about his “bizarre, intriguing, and often humorous search for one of Christianity’s most curious relics: the foreskin of Jesus.”
I’m a bit afraid to ask, but what’s in your pack, David?
“On average I’m on the road about a week or a week and a half every month, and because I’m always on assignment, I try to pack as lightly as possible. I bring one carry on-sized backpack that I bought in Chinatown for $20 about four years ago. It has a few broken zippers, but it’s been with me on every trip since. When the person at the airline check-in counter sees that I’m going to be in Europe for ten days and then asks how many bags I’m checking, it’s always fun to see the look on their face when I say none. I’m in Rome at the moment and for this trip I allowed myself to bring an extra bag, but that was only because I’d be relatively stationary and here for three months.
“So what do I usually stuff in my bread-box-sized backpack? I bring my Dell Inspiron laptop and my BlackBerry, which I use as a modem to get internet access on my laptop. A digital camera. My iPod, which I always insist on bringing, but have never used while on the road (the sounds of a foreign place are always much more intriguing to my ears).
“I also bring a notebook, a couple pens, a guidebook (NOT Lonely Planet), a whole packet of stuff I’ve printed off the internet (usually as many travel pieces I can find about the place), a couple copies of The New Yorker I haven’t read yet, and a travelogue or history book or novel that’s set in the place I’m going.
“For clothes, I’ve always felt like it’s hard to take anyone seriously when they’re wearing khaki shorts and Tiva sandals. For that reason, I don’t dress like a tourist when I’m traveling. Instead, I bring the same clothes I wear at home in New York City: a couple nice button-up shirts, a v-necked sweater, two pairs of pants (one pair of jeans and another non-jeans pair), a few pairs of boxer shorts, and a couple pairs of socks. I bring only one pair of shoes, almost always Camper because they look nice enough to not raise eyebrows in an upscale restaurant, but are comfortable enough for me to walk several miles in one day. On top of that, I make sure all the various parts of my travel wardrobe will match, so that I can wear whatever is clean (or dry) at any time.
“The flip side of only taking about three changes of clothes (including the clothes I’ll be wearing on the flight) is that I’m obligated to wash my clothes in the hotel sink just about every night, which isn’t easy when you’re moving from place to place almost every day, as I sometimes have to do. I’ve lived abroad several times without a washing machine, so I’m pretty used to hand washing, anyway.
“I’d much rather hand-wash my clothes than lug around a big bag. It’s also nice to get off the plane and just go,without having to wait around for my bag, which is inevitably the last one that comes around on the carousel. Sometimes when I see the way people over-pack-lugging around bags that a pachyderm could fit into-I almost laugh out loud in shock. One time, while waiting in the check-in line, I noticed the couple next to me each had two massive bags and two large carry-ons. I jokingly suggested that they must be moving out of the country with so much baggage, but they said they were just going to London for four days. In a way, it’s emblematic of how inefficient and solipsistic we are as a society; we stuff our bags with so many just-in-case items, forgetting that the outside world also uses shampoo, tampons, and soap, and that there are shops in the outside world that sell those things just in case you need them. In fact, being forced to go into a shop to buy something you need (but didn’t bring), may in some way heighten your travel experience. We like to wax on about how travel changes us, it opens our minds and expands our world view. But I’m not so sure this is always true. Those people in line next to me with the huge bags are probably going to over-pack on their next trip too. Travel changes you only because you’re susceptible to change and when I look around the airport seeing see people lugging bags big enough to stuff a small family or when I constantly see Italian tourists eating at Italian restaurants in New York, or when I see Americans eating at McDonald’s while traveling abroad, I realize that travel is only a catalyst for change if you really want it to be.”
Want to show Gadling readers how you pack for the road? Send me an email (justinglow at gmail dot com) with a full description and pictures and we’ll feature it on the site!