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An Intrepid Tourist Is Prepared for Anything

<i> Spencer is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. </i>

“Be prepared,” my mother harped, and would have been shaking her finger at me but her hands were busy stuffing my pockets with packets of Kleenex, a full bottle of Listerine and lists of “just-in-case” phone numbers, and handing me an umbrella for my Brownie overnight that was three months away.

So why, even after all these years, did I ever bother to believe those guidebooks that warned, “travel light”?

Before I left for Amsterdam, I endured the modern torture of a super-hold perm so I wouldn’t have to lug around my electric rollers. The very night KLM touched down, jet-lagged and grumpy, I was off to the Oesterbar, after only running my fingers through my new wash-and-wear mane.

As I sat upstairs in the narrow restaurant, I looked out at the all-night hubbub in the Leidseplein below. Just as I was in the middle of picking a Dover sole bone out of the back of my throat, the waiter delivered an unordered glass of Dutch gin. Before I could cough up the bone, the waiter bent to whisper that the drink was being sent over by a gentleman at another table. I swallowed the bone, fast.

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Soon the handsome Italian was gazing into my Visined eyes. Then, just like in a story out of Ladies Home Journal, my Italian was asking me to join him for dinner the next night at the Excelsior in the Hotel de l’Europe.

Of course, the next afternoon I washed my hair for my big date--but, puff! Like fried Chinese noodles. So there I sat at dinner, overlooking the Amstel canal, chiseling at my veal chop with Christofle silverware, and my hair looking as if it was permanently charged.

The Italian disappeared, but not my rollers. Every trip since, all 36 steam rollers get packed, along with my 2,000-watt blow-dryer, cans of mousse, extra-hold hair spray, perm conditioner and styling gels.

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In Belgium, to save calories for chocolate truffles, buckets of mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and parsley and mounds of French fries served with pots of mayonnaise, I decided to skip the continental breakfast of hard rolls, butter, jams and Belgian coffee, a bilious brew anyway. Instead, I would use my immerser to boil water for my packets of Sanka and my instant maple-flavored oatmeal.

Ill-Fated Brainstorm

To save time (I needed it after fiddling around trying to tell my adapters from my converters), I had the brainstorm of dunking the immerser right into the bowl and cooking the oatmeal while I showered down the hall.

My brainstorm was a disaster. Burned clumps of oatmeal stayed glued to my immerser. And then my portable smoke alarm went off.

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Everyone else evacuated. I hid under my bed, sitting on the blaring alarm and scraping my immerser with every straight pin and needle from my sewing kit. For the rest of my European adventure, my instant decaf tasted like singed oatmeal crisps.

So now, right next to my electric rollers, I stuff my hot plate (properly adapted and converted) and my matching set of Teflon pans. I order ice from room service, or take the trash can and get ice from the machine on the floor, and right in my bathtub I set up my very own well-stocked wet bar.

A Soggy Mistake

The summer I flew to New Orleans the desk clerk at the Genoble House drawled, “Would you like an umbrella, ma’am?” Who me? If I was traveling heavier, at least I would still walk light. I should have known better.

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Halfway to the free ferry that crosses the Mississippi, the clouds cracked. Well, how long could a summer shower last?

Well, long.

As I arrived at the ferry, my polyester blouse glommed onto me. The hot summer rain kept up as I sank into the mud making my way to Algiers Landing. Eating away at my pound of crayfish in my hot and wet synthetics, I knew exactly what it felt like to be microwaved inside a Baggie.

Polyester is supposed to be great for travel. “You can wash it out and let it drip dry right in your bathroom.” Nonsense! My navy won’t-see-the-dirt slacks cracked with Delta sludge. I scrubbed them (with shampoo, which I packed instead of detergent to travel light), but in muggy New Orleans my slacks never dried out completely, and mildew trailed me. I was the only one given lots of room in the jammed Preservation Hall.

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If Mom Could See Me

So now, Mom, you’d be proud. I pack my lightweight hooded vinyl raincoat (nearly completely folded into its own pouch--where is that pouch?), galoshes, umbrella and Listerine, even in summer, just like my Brownie overnight.

And I tote enough non-plastic clothes for a trousseau (no, I’m not eloping, Mom), as well as my collapsible travel steam iron, spray starch, my 40 packets of individual spot removers, tubes of Bio-suds for my washables, my folding laundry line and my clothespins.

When I go to San Francisco, instead of eating tiny cups of shrimp from Fisherman’s wharf I always trudge down to Chinatown to buy a whole crab from the Chinese fish market.

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Saving Calories

I think I’m saving calories too, until I stop off, “just to look,” at the Chinese pastry shops. Still, I’m watching my weight, because I always pack my compact Health-o-Meter scale. (I’m not saying where my weight goes while I’m watching it.)

Friends are astonished at my luggage.

“All this for a weekend?

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My carry-ons, rolled in on my baggage carrier (“Sorry I scraped your ankles, sir.”) fill the space under the seat in front of me--and beside me, in back of me, over me.

One flight attendant’s frozen smile thawed into a grouch when she saw my pocketbook taking up the whole row beside me.

“You’ll have to buy a child’s ticket if you don’t put that in the overhead bin, please.” I inflated my portable pillow, covered my eyes with my mask, plugged in my Walkman and tuned her out.

But, hey, listen I’m ready. The next time I meet a romantic Italian my curls will bounce, and I can crepe sole over cobblestones or galosh in the rain. I’m prepared.

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And I’ve got my Band-Aids, moleskin, folding scissors, antiseptic towelettes and gauze pads if walking off into the sunset kills my feet.

If I overeat, I’ve got Alka-Seltzer and the next morning I can check my weight, make breakfast instantly or even spread out a smorgasbord in the tub under my folding clothesline.

If a relationship happens, I may even share with him the keys to my hang-on-the-door burglar alarm.

Where Is He?

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Every day I can dress up in a fresh outfit after pressing and starching it. I can even iron his. So where is he?

Someone told me about a set of 10-pound hand weights (“to exercise anywhere”), a folding bicycle to ride around town, even a lightweight clothes dryer. . . .

The last time I took a cheapie to Chicago, my bags forgot to be boarded after the stopover in Denver. When my momentary massive hysteria subsided, and no Italian in a red convertible sports car zoomed up for my rescue, I had the strange feeling that I was running away from home. But, no fear, in my pockets I had my lists of just-in-case numbers, my Listerine and my Kleenex.

I was prepared to blow my nose, blot away my running mascara, gargle and begin phoning.

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Instead, though, I emptied my pockets into the outstretched hands of a bangled chanter.


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