It’s roughly 147,000 degrees here in Texas and it’s been that way for the past month, so if you’re looking for deep thoughts, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. My brain is poached. The best I can do is coherent, and sometimes not even that.
Mostly I’m thinking about how much I need a vacation.
My friend K is in the throes of packing for her vacation in Los Angeles, the hometown she left couple of decades ago and returns to infrequently. She’s looking forward to the trip, but she’s all stressed about packing, and I can relate.
When I’m not writing about psychology, I write about travel, and yet I still get in a dither about packing. I am not a casual packer. I start packing days before a trip, and the process includes a lot of putting things into the suitcase and taking them out again, lists and more lists, and at least one run to Target. At least.
I recently stumbled on an article in the Annals of Tourism Research that explains packing stress thus: We’re not just traveling. We’re performing as tourists.
“Packing For Touristic Performances” is based on the “performative approach” to tourism.
Tourism is performed on stages such as airports, hotel lobbies, tour buses, attractions and national parks. Here the performance of the tourist is contextualised and managed by the design of the stage, scripts supplied, and directions given by tourism management and employees.
Hm. Kinda takes the romance out of travel, doesn’t it? And even more so when the authors describe various types of touristic performances.
In disciplined ritual, tourists are directed where to walk, what to gaze at and what to photograph. The touristic performances are repetitive, restricted in movement and in time. In improvised performances, actors choose where they go, what they gaze at and how they act. These are reflexive endeavours. In unbounded performances the stage lacks familiar scenery and props. The actor’s repertoire of rehearsed performances is inappropriate to the setting and may expose him or her to ridicule, astonishment or affront from locals who are familiar with the appropriate scripts to follow.
“Disciplined ritual” is considered by many travelers the lowliest of the performance troupe; their costume includes big white running shoes and a fanny pack. The “improvised performance” is for people who insist they’re travelers not tourists; the wardrobe department might costume them in Teva sandals, toe rings, a backpack, and a slight funk.
And the “unbounded performance” is something any of us can fall victim to if we haven’t studied our lines, the kind of thing that happens when an uninitiated traveler stays at a Japanese ryokan, for example. (I recommend Mary Roach’s hilarious essay “Monster in a Ryokan.”)
Finding that packing is a frequent topic in travel articles, blogs, and books, the authors based their theories on those, identifying three primary objectives of packing: performance (making sure we have functional clothes and props); maintaining self-identity in a new setting (feeling like ourselves); and protecting against risk (water filters, sunscreen or whatever else you need to stay safe and healthy).
And we’re trying to do all that in as little luggage possible.
Is it any wonder we get stressed?
It all sounds so silly but truthfully, I do imagine the role I want to play on each trip, and each trip has a different script. Will I be an urban tough cookie in London? An outdoorsy granola girl in Montana? Dorothy Lamour on a Mexican beach? I don’t want to be conspicuously miscast for my role, or to feel like I’m wearing a costume.
As well as considering the climate and activities (which might require props, such as hiking boots for the mountains or a laptop for a working trip), I imagine myself at my destination. Will I look like the person I want to be? I never pretend to be someone else, but I do want to feel confident in unfamiliar surroundings.
Thus the packing and unpacking, thinking and rethinking.
The authors say:
Tourists prefer a costume change for each major scene, because audiences may frown on the actor who wears the same costume repeatedly.
Be that as it may, I find that no matter how many costumes I’ve packed, once I’m on the tourist stage, certain garments turn out to be most appropriate for the show and I wear them over and over. So far, I haven’t been booed off the stage.
When my stylish friend K consulted friends in L.A. for climate advice (when it’s this hot in Texas, it’s almost impossible to imagine what 60 degrees feels like), “One of them somehow misunderstood the question and sent me a long lecture about how to dress correctly for L.A./Hollywood,” K complained. “Like you’d send to your cousin in South Dakota who’s never been to the big city before.”
Definitely not the role she wanted to play. Wardrobe!
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Last reviewed: 8 Sep 2011