Travel Light

by Angeliska on September 3, 2012

As someone that has traveled extensively from a fairly young age, I find it a bit absurd that I have long struggled with the art of proper packing. I learned the hard way, pretty early on, that whatever I took with me on a trip was what I’d have to lug around myself, and that I have a terrible tendency to also find (and acquire) all sorts of treasures on my travels. You’d think that trekking around Asia (Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Bali) as a teenager, and touring Europe every summer for a few years with my octogenarian grandfather would have taught me these lessons. Alas, no. Instead, there were frantic searches for baggage carts whilst wrestling with my Grampa’s portable wheelchair and trying to not look like such obvious pickpocket bait in crowded Italian train-stations. There was the time I took a three piece set of blue and white vintage Samsonite luggage to Amsterdam, only to realize that there was no way for me to carry it all myself up the stairs at Centraal Station amidst swarms of keen-eyed junkies, nor did that surplus of baggage carry anything at all practical or warm for a freezing spring in the Netherlands. I think I had packed mostly velvet dresses, elaborate corsetry, art supplies and books. I had just graduated from high school, so I suppose I get a pass for being ridiculous. I always overpack (often grotesquely), and generally wear very little of what I actually bring. I never end up having much time to make art, write long letters, or read the stack of books I insist on filling my bags with. Someone once told me, “The less you bring, the happier you’ll be – and after all, if you forget something, it just gives you an excuse to go shopping!” These words are truth. I’ve tried to make a rule of not taking anything that needs mending, is uncomfortable, or anything I haven’t worn in a long time. I have a block about packing correctly for the temperatures of wherever I’m going, though – just assuming that if it’s blazing hot in Austin or New Orleans, it couldn’t possibly be otherwise anywhere else. My brain doesn’t understand cold weather very well, and I’ve only recently managed to figure out proper layering. Summer means hot weather, period – at least in my mind, it does. Imagine my shock at finessing myself shivering while I hunted for sweaters and scarves in Denmark in July!

As I’ve always aspired to live the life of a jet-setting world traveler, mastering pro-packing is a skill I’ve been trying to improve at for years – and though I definitely have made enormous progress with my technique, I feel that during this recent month long cross-country adventure, I really managed to get closer to nailing it. One of the obvious first steps is finding good luggage. I never bothered to do this, ever, really – because although I have good taste, I’ve always generally been rather poor. Any good luggage out there that I’d actually want is usually vastly out of my price range, so I usually settle for some Chinatown dreck, or other people’s hand-me-downs. My main issue with spending money on anything that I intend to have and use for a long time is that I want some assurance of the quality, the work that went into it, and the spirit behind it. That’s why before I left on my journey, I decided to buy a full set of my friend Christopher Franks’ beautiful handmade bags.

There’s something very powerful and amazing about using something everyday that was made by someone you know and care about. I met Chris right after I moved back to Austin from New Orleans, post-Katrina. I was pretty broken and raw, and feeling like a stranger in my own hometown. I happened fortuitously upon the inception of what would become one of Austin’s longest running and most beloved monthly dance parties, The Second Sunday Sock-Hop, back when it used to be held at the Longbranch Inn. They’d shake baby powder on the floor, and people really would kick off their shoes and slip and slide around to the old soul records. I met Chris mid-boogie, finding myself suddenly shaking a tail-feather with this skinny elfin guy with a giant beard and even bigger smile. Normally, I’m not big on dancing with people, especially fellows to whom I am not yet acquainted – but I had so much fun getting’ down with this man that looked like a human dandelion! When the song died down, he introduced himself, and was super friendly and had awesome energy. From that night on, I would always run into Chris on the dance-floor, or selling his leather and cactus jewelry on the street, and whenever I did – he’d always put a smile on my face. He truly is one of those magic people who light up a room when they walk in, silly as that may sound. He is very genuine, and genuinely happy. I sort of regard him as a touchstone – someone I could count on being a source of positive, unabashed good vibes whenever I found myself adrift in an unfamiliar sea of disaffected, too-cool-for-school hipsters at a party or show. It’s hard to explain, but I always feel a sense of relief, kind of an instant relaxing in my chest around Mr. Franks – which I think calls back to a time when I felt super awkward and dislocated after quitting smoking (hello, return of adolescent social anxiety!) and finding Austin very transformed by money and youth culture.

My travel bag essentials: backpack, hip-pouch & purse all handmade by Austin's own Chris Franks of X-ray Love. www.xraylove.com
My travel bag essentials: backpack, hip-pouch & purse all handmade by Austin’s own Chris Franks of X-ray Love.

I discovered that Chris was making bags when I was immediately drawn to an extremely alluring rucksack calling down to me from a high shelf at Charm School Vintage. I think I carried that sucker around for half an hour, hugging it to my chest and trying to figure out how I could budget in making it mine. A few months later, I saw one of the hip pouches from the same line, (being modeled on the maker’s own narrow frame) and knew I could wait no longer! I had to have all three bags to take on my adventures: the backpack for my laptop and books, the purse for everyday use, and the hip-pouch for shows, parties and Dollywood! It just wasn’t even a question after I really thought about it – these are practical items that I knew I’d get a ton of use out of, made by the hands of someone I respect and adore, and made damn well. All X-ray Love bags come with a lifetime warranty, which I think is fantastic, because I tend to be pretty rough on my stuff! I was excited to put these babies to the test during a month of cross- country travel and see how we got along… To sum it up: I couldn’t be happier. The print seems to go with anything, and I feel happy carrying them no matter how fancy or slummy the occasion. This has always been an issue for me when buying purses: I just want a solid, well-made attractive bag that suits me no matter where I end up. The ink-stained canvas army bags I used to carry were slightly embarrassing in a nice restaurant, and some expensive leather designer purse covered in dangling tassels and what-not just felt idiotic when hanging out at an abandoned train-yard or dive bar. I’m not paying hundreds (or ugh, thousands!) or dollars for something that could end up getting set down in a puddle of beer, or that flashes a neon “ROB ME” sign like a beacon in the night. I tend to have exploding pens, weird pockets of leftovers folded in tin-foil (yes, I’m that lady), and handfuls of flowers, seeds, leaves and who knows what else stuffed into my purse at any given time. It’s gotta be utilitarian enough to handle my nonsense, but attractive enough to look right with whatever nonsense I’m wearing. I have to admit – I was slightly apprehensive about the smaller size of the purse. It’s not tiny by any means, but given that I tend to haul around a bottomless abyss that would put Mary Poppins to shame, I wondered if I could really cram everything I might need into such a comparatively petite package. I’d always played around with the idea of forcing myself to carry a smaller bag, and thus limiting the amount of random stuff I tote it around all day. The reality is: if I can’t fit it into this purse, I probably don’t really need it. Wallet, keys, a compact, a pen, a little journal, my phone, and only an essential selection of cosmetics. This is the least stuff I’ve ever carried with me on a daily basis, and I have to admit it’s very liberating. I used to joke that if I didn’t carry a giant purse as an anchor, that I’d probably just float off into the stratosphere. But I’m finding myself more grounded than that lately, and I don’t need a bunch of useless weight to keep my feet planted firmly on the earth.

Beautiful details of my beloved X-ray Love bags. www.xraylove.com

Mr. Franks is all about the beautiful details, and about not only developing an independent and hands-on approach to every aspect of creation and production, but also generously sharing information about his techniques and process, including his method for making waxed canvas – How To Wax Canvas. His story about that process is pretty fantastic:

“I had about two yards of brown waxed canvas that I found at the Blue Hanger in Austin.  It’s glorious fabric.  If you’ve never felt it, write me and I’ll send you a swatch.  This is the fabric that a cowboy’s duster is made out of, the fabric which sailors slicked themselves in against raging gales, and the evolution of a fabric found to excellently sail-worthy for keeping sails dry, yet holding wind better than the dry, yet untreated, fabric of sails alone.  And I’ll tell you this:  it’s damn hard to come-by!  Only one main company makes it in the U.S.A., and maybe 3 internationally.  The American company Fairfield Textile has been making it since 1838, but keeps their recipe and method a closely-guarded family secret.  Well “heck to that,” I say!  

When I got close to running out of my small quantity of waxed canvas (enough to make about 41/2 backpacks) I knew it was time to figure out a way to make it, or a way to get it.  Well, if you know me, you know I’m more of a “way to make it” kinda person.  To be fair, I researched the ways to “get it,” and found the offerings to be expensive and secretive in the ways of MSDS’ and ingredients and recipe, and didn’t like any of that.  I knew from research that waxed canvas was simple enough to be created by the addition of oil (as it was in the early days), and only as complicated as the addition of waxes to improve the mixture.  What’s the trick, then?  If it’s so simple, then why is it so expensive and rare?  I’ll tell you why:  application and impregnation.”

X-Ray Love also offers a Lifetime Warranty on all bags, which I think is really wonderful – and a true testament to the honestly and open spirit Chris puts into his products. Oh, and – snakes really like them, too.

Black print with gold crosses, gold buckle. X-ray Love.

The amazing gold cross fabric is designed by Terrie Mangat, and comes in black, vibrant red, aqua, and a beautiful cobalt. They are all so gorgeous, it was really hard to choose, but of course black makes the most sense for me… Terrie lives in lives in El Prado, New Mexico near Taos, and Chris stumbled upon her beautiful fabrics in a local shop there. Here’s his story about finding the source of this special material:

“I had just arrived in Taos, New Mexico, just got my first wholesale account in Salida, Colorado, and had just made a trip to deliver those first 5 wholesale backpacks to the store in Colorado.  When I returned to Taos, everything was moving and changing:  Me, the friends I was living with, the mountains and the energy.  It was all intensifying, literally steeping and steepening with elevation.  My friends moved to a beautiful but aging adobe in the Mountains in San Cristobal, and I found a tipi at the base of the mountains in Arroyo Seco.  It was in this Tipi that I started producing my line of backpacks as most people know them.  

I wanted to find the “it” fabric that would accent my line in just the right way:  something cosmic, yet earthy, spiritual, yet abstract and astral.  I began to search as I set up shop in my tipi.  Exploring different fabric shops in Taos and Santa Fe was really fun, as there are plenty of interesting textiles one doesn’t see in many shops outside of New Mexico.  There were many great southwest prints of course, ikats, and woven fabrics.  I visited most of them at least twice, and kept returning to the crosses and zig zag prints by Terrie Mangat.  They are actually part of the same collection!  These two styles of prints had the kind of balance and personality I was looking for, and I chose several different color motifs of these prints to make my first line of bags.  I made up 5 backpacks and 5 hip pouches out of some different color motifs of these prints, took them to the Renegade Market at the Gorge Bridge outside of Taos, and had a great response on the first day out!”

Travel essentials. One month on the road. My attempts at streamlining.

Travel essentials. One month on the road. My attempts at streamlining:

The gold glittery Austin National Bank Bag holds half of my toiletries.
The kitty crescent moon pouch holds headphones, five cobalt blue dice (for dix-mille!), spare change, and nail clippers.
The blackcurrant pastille tin holds jewelry and hairpins.
A packet of Carta D’Armenia from Santa Maria Novella is for burning in musty hotel rooms and stanky cars.
I brought my trusty travel Canon S90 along, but have been neglecting it terribly in favor of my phone camera, and the addictive interaction provided by instagram. For shame, eh?

My travel essentials: TOILET TREES! The word toiletries always cracks me up. This is the stuff I use every day when I'm on the road.

The word toiletries always cracks me up. TOILET TREES!
I also love travel sized unguents – irresistibly itty bitty bottles and tubes!
This is the stuff I use every day when I’m on the road:
Marvis Jasmin Mint toothpaste – best toothpaste ever. It’s made for fairy princesses.
Coconut Sunstick
Weleda Skinfood
Almond Dr. Bronner’s
Coconut Deodorant powder and Aromaco deodorant (in the tea-tin) from LUSH
this is been the winning combo for me, armpit-wise. Best smelling, and very effective!
L’Artisan L’Eau D’Ambre
The shiny beetle-green travel clutch bag is from ASOS, and I’m extremely fond of it.

My freakin' travel essentials: these bags are way huger in reality.

So, this is me traveling light – please note: these bags are way huger in reality.
One is a London Fog rollie given to me by Mlle. Verhext on my last trip to San Francisco (the handle broke right after she got it, so they sent her a new one! I fixed her old one with cinnamon dental floss – good as new!) This, and the American Apparel carry-all hold all my clothes. It’s kind of awkward, but mostly works until I can figure out something better. The carry-all slings on top of the rollie, and is precarious, but I can manage. Backpack and purse slung over my shoulders, and I’m on my way, sans baggage cart.

One more travel essential: this hieroglyphic print tote that folds into a little pocket pouch. I use this thing constantly, & am always asked where I got it - at the Met gift shop! I think you can get 'em online there too. Indispensable. If you're a bag l
One more travel essential: this hieroglyphic print tote that folds into a little pocket pouch. I use this thing constantly, & am always asked where I got it – at the Met gift shop! I think you can get ‘em online there too. Totally ndispensable (if you’re a bag lady like me).

Good as new!
I got my boots shined at the Denver Airport a while back by a very nice gentleman.
I never had my shoes professionally shined, and given how much I wear them, and how travel-worn they get, it’s good to give them some love from time to time. Plus, it was a really pleasant way to kill some time during a layover. I always travel in these cowboy boots – they easily slip on and off, and they’re among the most comfortable shoes I own. I just can’t stomach wearing insane heels to travel in. I know that some like to travel in the utmost style, and I respect them for it, though I also find it kind of baffling. I generally am wrapped in several layers of soft black or grey jersey, because planes are always freezing, and leggings so I can fold myself into a coach-sized pretzel in my seat without being too vulgar. A friend of mine commented that my travel essentials are like “if Cayce Pollard had a bag of glitter…” I kind of wish that were true – though Cayce would shudder at any of this stuff being labled, and no doubt would intolerant of sparkle of any kind.

Finally digging into Distrust That Particular Flavor by @greatdismal - the perfect companion for a nine hour train trip through the Catskills on a rainy Monday.

On that note, my final travel essential: the perfect book. I finally got to dig into Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson, and it’s been the perfect companion on long train rides and dreary flights. What do you always travel with? Got any good travel/packing tips for me? I’m still figuring this out, and would love to get even better at it. Lay your road-wisdom on me, wanderers.

7 comments

packing right now!!!! thank you for posting this, a pleasant occurrence of synchronicity. <3

by jennifer anne godsey on September 3, 2012 at 7:11 am. #

What is going on? Once again, I open up to read your blog, and immediately Michael Kiwanuka “I’m Getting Ready” plays. Now this song is fated to always remind me of you. Ok…back to reading your blog.

by christine on September 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm. #

Ok, finished reading, huge smile on my face.

I’ve no good packing advice, other than pack lots and lots of dresses (one piece, roll them up to prevent lotsa wrinklin’) and pack wraps. As in shoulder wraps…not the food.

I still struggle w/ the best travel *shoes*!!! I feel the most fabulous in heels, but heels suck for travel. I suspect motorcycle boots might fit the bill. Looks like you have that issue covered w/ your cowboy boots.

by christine on September 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm. #

I take many 5 day business trips. I use a TravelPro roller board for 2 suits, 5 shirts, and required undies and socks. The additional roller/briefcase/backpack carries the “office” (laptop, cables, etc.). I never check unless traveling internationally or with someone else who is checking. Might not exactly be “light”, but it’s convenient. Bedroom in the suitcase, office in the briefcase.

by Michael Disabato on September 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm. #

Ha! Sounds like me, but I think I’m much more of a wreck. We share the obsession with everything in the bag having to be absolutely beautiful, but I think I take it much too far. I’ve arrived in unknown places with piles of velvet scraps and rotting 1800s blouses only to find that I’d actually be hiking 15 miles everyday, or some other ridiculous shit. I’ve dragged gold trimmed (unwheeled) antique matching suitcases through the streets of Russia for hours, lost and freezing. I just travelled across the entire country to live and my boyfriend and I packed the 89 volvo sedan full of all our prized posessions. I spent 2 months fantasizing about the moment I’d unpack all my gorgeous ( and useful, hopefully!) belongings. No such luck. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pack ANYTHING of use, but I cried unpacking it! Faded daguerreotypes and flea ridden taxidermy, empty beautiful glass bottles and pressed flowers, a group of three tiny tiny crushed baby mice my boyfriend found under a pallet at work, a bunch of teeth and scraps of confetti. No soap, no floss, no forks, knives, paper, anything! A couple of beautiful parcels packed by a person on acid!

by TyM on September 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm. #

I loved your post. Especially as I’m about to embark on my first trip (honeymoon) to New Orleans and I always agonize over the packing. I don’t even have a decent suitcase! But from yearly jaunts to NYC, I have found that those roll-out space bag thingys save a LOT of space in the suitcase and also are good for containing the dirty underthings when you’re ready to go home.

p.s. do you have any cool secret spots in NOLA that we should check out? Bourbon street is not our scene.

by Margaret on September 9, 2012 at 7:24 am. #

Well, my dear, I must admit that I am very, very impressed by your essentials only packing light on this trip. However, I must tell you that while I am a constant world traveller, I never ever manage to go light. For example, I am currently on a three + week trip from Norway to Paris to Madrid and while I really pared it down to the bare minimum, I thank my lucky stars that I have that Delta Silver Elite card to allow my 30 kilo suitcase on every damn flight!!! Think about the difference in temperature! Snow, to temperate, to boiling hot! I have used every single item I packed on this trip. Irish Fisherman’s sweater to bikini! Of course I must account for all the goodies I picked up in Paris and the books I bought in Spain for Mark’s upcoming project. Oh, and did I mention my horse riding gear!!?? Today I was bemoaning the fact that I decided to leave my watercolors at home in order to lighten the load!!! Why did I do that?? I had to improvise a surprise drawing with the pens and pencils in my carry-on. Thank god for the new sketchbook I picked up at Sennelier! So, you see, I just can’t advocate packing light. Yes, the coming and going part is pure misery, but I just think of all the cherished momentos of past trips that clutter my dusty abode, and those moments of pure hell seem a small price to pay for the treasures I smuggle, haul and whimper across borders and boundaries and timezones.

by dana sherwood on September 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm. #

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