Galvanized by the Venice Biennale, I have just returned from a 23-day trip to Italy. This every-other-year international art exhibition goes from May to November and always recharges my creative juices.
Plus, I love being in Italy. The people, the food, the art, the Renaissance buildings, all speak to a deeper part of me.
After my last Italian sojourn four years ago, I knew I needed to travel differently than I had in my younger years. So, what have I learned to make a trip easier in my 70s even though I’m fit and in good health?
Probably my biggest issue now is the inability to carry as much weight as I used to. That means, I have to invest in the lightest possible suitcase with four spinner wheels that I can afford.
I need to be able to lift it up and over some of the 403 bridges that connect the islands of Venice as well as onto overhead luggage racks on trains. If I can do that, then I can travel just about anywhere I want to go.
Packing took me weeks this time, trying to figure out which lightweight clothes to take and to still feel stylish. Italians respond more openly to well-dressed people, so I wasn’t willing to compromise. I tried on outfits for days, mixing and matching, trying to come up with the ideal wardrobe.
I ended up with two pairs of pants, one of which I wore on planes and trains, two skirts, and various tops that I could mix and match with the bottoms. This all weighed almost nothing.
But even as careful as I was, there were two tops I could have left at home. So, my advice is, be ruthless in your packing and take out anything you are doubtful about.
For my next voyage I will pack even lighter and buy a few things along the way. Not only will I fill in my wardrobe, but I’ll have mementos from the trip.
Next came the shoes. I know from previous experiences that I need a couple of pairs of shoes, so if one pair hurts my feet, I can change them out for the other. I do so much walking that even with the most comfortable shoes, my feet need variety. Keep in mind that all shoes need to be broken in before you leave.
I’m a skin product junkie, but cosmetics take up room and add weight. Before I left, I found a 7-centimeter tall cylinder of small plastic containers that screwed together. Into these, I put day-cream SPF 30, hair goop, and body butter for dry skin.
I also bought a set of plastic travel containers for hairspray, face cleanser, and other items. This came in a plastic zip bag that was the perfect size for getting liquids through airport security. I had enough in the product department to last the whole 23 days at a fraction of the weight.
As an artist, photography is another creative outlet for me. I like my camera, but I found it’s just too heavy to carry day-in and day-out. While most people are satisfied with their phone for picture taking, my goal is to find a camera that weighs very little but still does everything I want it to do.
One new thing I learned on this trip is to book a room in close proximity to the places you want to visit. My travel companion and I rented an Airbnb apartment in a residential area to be away from the masses of tourists who pour into the city every day.
This would have been the perfect accommodation 10 years ago, but we found that the extra 20-minute walk to start and end the day used up precious reserves we would have preferred to use in other ways.
I have always had a lot of energy, but I can see it declining as the years advance. This is not something I easily accept!
My friend and I exchanged copies of our health insurance, passports, ATM and credit card numbers, along with the number to call if a card is lost. Tell your card company where you’ll be traveling and the dates to avoid embarrassing card declines.
I find the best way to exchange currencies is to use my ATM card rather than exchanging cash. However, it’s a good idea to have some cash with you in case you lose your card or decide to buy something from a street vendor.
ATMs were available everywhere we traveled, but we did learn the hard way to carefully read any notices about exchange rates. The machines in the Milan airport didn’t charge a fee but had such a bad exchange rate that I ended up losing about $35 on a $300 withdrawal.
My travel companion, on the other hand, changed cash at an exchange window in Venice without reading the fine print about the 20% commission. She lost $40 on a $200 exchange.
By far the best ATMs are the ones that are physically part of a bank.
On a rainy day, my friend and I were cold when we walked into a canal-side café. In Italian, I asked the waiter, “Do you have a table for two wet dogs?” He laughed and treated us so well that he made our day.
I often find that, wherever I travel, having a few words in the local language brings a smile to people’s faces. With the Google Translate App at your fingertips, you can have those words too.
How often do you travel? Have you recently vacationed in a foreign country? What lessons did you learn on your trip? Please share in the comments below.