Last week, as I staged an assault on my closet -- in a much-delayed attempt at spring cleaning -- I resolved on the spot to stop hoarding useless items. This inventory includes: a frayed garment bag that looks like it went through a food processor; two fancy, now-faded caftans (Morocco and Egypt) -- never worn and now a halfway house for wayward moths, and a travel umbrella that opens only in countries whose names end in "a."
As we begin to fly, drive and cruise into 1998, allow me to share some additional travel resolutions with the hope that I might inspire you to make (and keep) a few of your own.
I will put a halt to hoarding. Goodbye to teensy airline slippers (whom were these designed for -- parrots?), broken currency converters, inflatable hangers (long past their age of inflatability), countless mashed bars of miniature hotel soaps, cruise ship menus (as if I'm going to replicate Escoffier's famed feasts in my microwave) and old baggage claim tags -- reminders that I once deplaned in Rome while my suitcase landed in Nome.
I will always exercise on cruises. To combat the predictable caloric onslaught, I hereby resolve to jog, swim and attend daily shipboard aerobics classes. I have come to realize, too late, I fear, that a race for the midnight buffet does not constitute a cardiovascular workout.
I will travel only in shoes that are friendly to my feet. The stiff cowboy boots I once wore for sightseeing in Mexico prompted me to divide my time between Mayan ruins and a podiatrist. And the uncomfortable new tennis shoes, foolishly purchased on the eve of my departure for Italy, ensured that -- like Dante -- I, too, would pray to be buried in Ravenna.
I will not take a flight that makes more than one stop. A long time ago, I took a flight that made more stops than a mail carrier does. This type of staccato journey has a tendency to produce a series of kindergarten-type snacks featuring stale pretzels, cookies-to-caulk-canoes-with and last season's fruit.
I will always travel with insect repellent. Last summer, I took a trip that was noteworthy in that my skin hosted a national convention of mosquitoes. Though I was not wearing fragrant cologne or brightly colored clothing, something about my face summoned insects to a family reunion. Apparently the bugs had such a great time that they are now talking of meeting once a month and getting blazers.
I will pack only what I can carry myself. Before each trip, I empty the contents of an entire walk-in closet into a bag designed to hold two suits. My gargantuan suitcase is in perfect shape; I, however, have a herniated disk and a shoulder that does more tricks than Houdini. I notice that I am particularly prone to overpack for cruises, as if I will be penalized for wearing the same outfit twice: "Look, Rita, he's wearing those white slacks again -- we should set him adrift off St. Kitts."
I will remain on a tour bus only if the guide is good. First, I think it's helpful if the guide speaks English. Second, I would prefer that he/she is not delusional about the charm of "knock-knock" jokes, or endless verses of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" boisterously boomed at 8 a.m. Third, I'd like the words "breathtaking," "magnificent" and "fabulous" to be used sparingly and never when describing the boutique owned by the guide's girlfriend's mother.
I will learn to overcome jet lag. Count on me to sit for 10 (or more) upright, uptight hours staring beady-eyed at my fourth consecutive viewing of a movie I hated the first time I saw it. I resolve, hereafter in flight, to drink lots of water, to eat moderately, to avoid caffeine and to exercise while in my seat.
Once, on a lengthy flight to the South Pacific, I attempted to loosen up taut neck and shoulder muscles by alternately reaching my hands over my head and stretching. My seatmate observed me and was incredulous. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Oh, picking apples," I laughed. "Really?" came the reply. "How do you know when they're ripe?"
I will never again buy anything on a whim. In my closet, there hangs a vivid turquoise shirt embroidered with white curlicues framing silver mirrors. I bought it on a Caribbean cruise. I will get to wear it only if, by some stroke of luck, I am selected to be a float in the Rose Parade. And though I love my flokati rug (purchased in Greece), it has been shedding continuously for 18 years.
I will regard with suspicion any place described as "paradise." I've encountered too many ersatz "paradises" that come with: $12 hamburgers, vendors who studied marketing with Attila the Hun, hotel rooms evoking jail cells and local cuisines distinguished by shovels of spice and earthquake-resistant rice.
"Paradise" touts tend to swoon when they speak of: crescent-coved white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, sleepy harbors with picturesque rainbow-hued boats, spectacular sunsets whose shimmering orange rays fan the sky, and luxurious accommodations that whisper of your every wish.
Thank you, but I'll be looking for a "paradise" that features air conditioning and telephones that work, a firm mattress and a chef whose food does not evidence his incipient nervous breakdown -- or cause mine.
Happy travels, and happy new year.