As soon as I get to Houston I start scanning the departure gate for people who look like press. Being that this is my first press trip, I don’t necessary know what “press people” look like, but I figure the blonde guy with the backpack and funky looking sneakers is not one of them.
At least if he is, I’ve definitely over packed.
In my defense, I packed about two hours before my flight. Ordinarily, I never do this, but there was so much to take care of before I left Philadelphia that I just tossed everything I could possibly need into my second-to-largest suitcase. I ended up with five pairs of shoes and two bathing suits but nary a raincoat. I also brought my three-way electrical outlet adapter because it was faster to pack it than to look up whether or not El Salvador has the same type of outlets as we have in the US.
(I’ve since learned that they do.)
By the time we reach El Salvador, there are about a dozen of us clustered around the reps from the tourism board and I’m starting to feel a bit sheepish about the size of my suitcase. As it turns out, the blonde I’d spotted in Houston is in fact headed to San Salvador for the Travel Market; he’s not press but he’s a buyer, meaning he works for a tour company and as his particular tour company is based in Montana, he’s especially outdoorsy and is traveling with only two pairs of shoes.
I meet another buyer at the baggage claim. He’s the only other person on the entire trip with a suitcase as big as mine, and since he is A) Canadian and B) a part time yoga instructor, I don’t feel quite so bad. Plus there’s the older gentlemen with two bags.
“Look,” I tell the blonde. “He has way more stuff than me.”
He shakes his head and informs me that the man’s backpack contains a plane.
“A plane?” I ask. “In a bag? No way.”
“It’s for hang gliding.”
Apparently I missed the memo.
Several mojitos-from-the-hotel-bar later, I decide that my suitcase is not going to cut it. We’re all spending the first four days crisscrossing the country: hiking volcanoes, touring colonial towns, zip lining, driving 4x4s, etc. I don’t want to look like a newbie, so I decide to leave my two bathing suits, my stilettos and my colossus of a suitcase at the hotel in San Salvador, where we’ll be spending our final three nights after the tours.
After packing a little as possible into my carry on (a small backpack leftover from my college days), I march down to breakfast the next morning and inform the blonde that I’ve done it: one bag for four days. Plus my pocketbook (two actually, the large one that holds my laptop and the small one that holds my passport, notebook and cell phone). Plus an eco-friendly reusable shopping bag that folds up into itself for souvenirs. Plus my trusty fire-engine red ScotteVest, which has about a gazillion pockets and can hold approximately seven tons of gadgets and important documents. But still, I’m traveling light(er), see?
Of course we find ourselves at a beach a few hours later and I don’t have either of my bathing suits. And when we end up in the mountains the next night, I’m wearing my white linen pants and thinking to myself, “those jeans that I left in San Salvador would be nice right about now.”
But it’s not too bad. None of the other press tour folks wanted to swim anyway (turns out our lot is a bit less intrepid than the buyers, and our tour groups have been broken down accordingly) and the white linen pants make me feel sufficiently El Salvadorian (not that I’ve seen anyone else wearing white linen pants but I’m sure they do, somewhere).
Before crawling into bed at the “rustic lodge” where we’re staying for the third night of our tour, I dig through my backpack and find, to my great delight, that I did in fact bring my yoga pants for this leg of the trip. This is a minor miracle because the “rustic lodge” is anything but rustic and my personal section of the communal patio surrounding the courtyard includes a hammock, a full set of outdoor furniture and a rather perfect space for some early morning yoga (you know: a tropical rain forest just a few feet away, hydrangea blossoms the size of large balloons surrounding a gorgeous pool, cool Spanish tiles on the floor, and a “nature soundtrack” minus the usual CD used in yoga classes).
And so, here is the first thing I’ve learned about going on a press trip:
Pack light. But if you’re not going to pack light, just own it. You’re not a tour guide from Montana. You’re a writer from Philadelphia and its okay to act like one because you’re going to have a bus driver and a pair of armed guards accompanying you everywhere, not to mention all of the hoteliers who are tripping over themselves to be nice to you.
To put it plainly, you don’t have to worry about being able to carry your own suitcase because people are going to do it for you.
A girl could get used to this.