One Woman's 'Traveling Light'

I've left old toothbrushes - their bristles splayed like the legs of a newborn giraffe - in Kansas City, Prague, and in a castle in Barbados. On my honeymoon in Boston two winters ago, I abandoned, in our room at the Ritz, a pair of mid-calf vinyl boots that were capricious about keeping my feet dry. I've bequeathed well-worn Nikes to a trash can in Mabel Dodge Luhan's house in Taos, and have discarded old socks in Cologne, Laguna Beach, Evanston, a bed-and-breakfast in the Poconos, and an overpriced hotel in Manhattan where I saw a mouse scoot across the floor just as Willard Scott was predicting storms for New England.

It's not that things just fall apart while I'm away from home - not at all. And it's not that I'm scatterbrained or a careless packer who's always rushing to check out before I'm charged for another day.

Au contraire, I'm a bordering-on-compulsive packer who examines the drawers, closets, and bathroom and sifts through the unmade bed at least three times before bidding a hotel room goodbye.

No, these are planned desertions, carefully timed and anticipated. When I go away, I purposefully leave the bathing suit with the stretched-out, nearly-sheer derriere, the tube of toothpaste with approximately the right number of squooshes left, the umbrella with broken ribs, and whatever sections of the Sunday newspaper I haven't gotten to from the previous five weeks, knowing I'll use these items on the trip, and leave them before I return home.

It's the same satisfaction that comes with using up a tenacious jar of ketchup that's had several addresses, or throwing out a calendar on Dec. 31 - a sense of cleansing, of creating space, of starting afresh.

And if I'm ever bored, I imagine the reactions of the various hotel housekeepers who've discovered my dispossessed possessions when they tidy up the room.

I entertain myself by postulating what they say to their co-workers and to their families when they go home at night, something that always begins, "You wouldn't believe...."

For instance, because those honeymoon boots were in relatively good shape, I left a note attached to them that read, "These boots will keep you warm, but not dry. Help yourself. Size 9, narrow."

Also, I told the hotel cashier that I'd left behind the boots on purpose, and they shouldn't put them in the lost-and-found or track me down at home.

Anyhow, I figured it was a fair exchange, because we'd taken away with us the sewing kit and several days of shampoo and French-milled soap.

Let me say that all this is not about packing light. It's about packing in anticipation of being able to shed - if not your entire skin, then at least the dry or calloused patches.

You leave behind, in cities and countries that may never see you again, the debris of your existence - the three dimensional counterpart of graffiti such as "Kilroy was here" or "John was as cute as Paul" on the wall in front of the Abbey Road recording studio in London.

My husband laughs at how long it takes me to pack, but he doesn't realize that I'm planning with more than the weather and matching colors in mind. I'm organizing my suitcase around flotsam and jetsam.

This quirk is also not about parting with stuff to clear adequate suitcase space for souvenirs (although I do collect snow globes from around the world, but even snow globes don't take up much space).

It's about going forward, lighter, having left my mark - sometimes as insignificant as an empty shampoo bottle - on faraway places.

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