The Junior Grand Tour
A practical guide to hitting the road for aspiring, minimalist itinerants...
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.”
― Song of the Open Road, by Walt Whitman
“A shoe that is too large is apt to trip one, and when too small, to pinch the feet. So it is with those whose fortune does not suit them.”
“The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother. I shall always delight to meet an ass after my own heart when I have finished my travels.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
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Joel Bowman, with two feet firmly on the ground in Tivoli, Italy...
A little respite from the high-flown world of art and culture this week, dear reader. Instead, we turn to matters of mere, earthly practicality.
As long time readers know, your faithful correspondent is flâneuring the Old World at present, having left his sometimes home of Buenos Aires to the charming chaos of life down at the fin del mundo.
Our peripatetic party numbers three – yours truly, plus Dear Wife and Daughter (8), in roughly reverse order of command. The journey will last four or five months. Maybe more. Hopefully not less.
Our self-styled “Junior Grand Tour” will carry us from Hadrian’s Villa here in Tivoli, Italy... to Hadrian’s Gate in Antalya, Turkey... from The Eternal City of Rome to the Ancient Agora of Athens... from Jerash to Jerusalem, Rhodes to Karpathos, from the site of Wounded Ox (Butrint) to that of the Slain Minotaur (Crete)... and plenty of ports, planes, ferries, trains and automobiles between. (Do check out our Substack Notes section for pics and videos from along the way...)
On learning of such a meandering itinerary, readers are often moved to ask us, “How do you plan for a trip of such length? How do you even… pack?”
And so, to those inquiring minds, well-wishes and nay-sayers alike, we offer some cheerful travel hints for the aspiring minimalist itinerant. Please feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comments section, below, and to share with wanderlusting friends and family alike. Now, let’s get packing...
What to Pack? A Minimalist’s Guide to Hitting the Open Road (Updated and Revised)
By Joel Bowman
First, the suitcase itself: International carry-on only. No checked luggage. No exceptions. Baggage carousels are for amateurs and people who enjoy seeing their luggage lost, stolen, delayed and/or sent to exotic locales that do not appear on their ticket. Avoid them at all costs.
Note that domestic carry-on size (22" x 14" x 9") does not necessarily apply for overseas carriers. Be sure to check your carrier’s specs before departure… NOT at the gate, where punitive, on-the-spot baggage fees have been known to reduce bearded men to tears and to induce ordinarily modest, demure women to un- and re-pack their undergarments in plain sight of suitably awestruck strangers. (Here’s a helpful list.)
Also important: don’t go for something flashy here. Conspicuous wealth is not only gaudy and vulgar, it draws attention…not all of it wanted. Something durable and bereft of fancy logos works best. We use TravelPro. Tumi and Rimowa are also acceptable, if a little recognizable. Leave the Louis Vuitton trunks and Birkin totes at home.
Next, the contents…in no particular order of importance:
3 Oxford button down shirts: Go for simple, classic white (2 – you will stain one of them), blue (1) and, if you honestly must, plaid (1). Remember, nothing fancy here. If you really need a shirt to do your talking for you, does it really matter what you have to say? Also, be sure to choose iron-free, wrinkle-free and machine washable.
2 short sleeve polo shirts: Again, eschew recognizable brand names. Aside from drawing unwanted attention, who wants to be a walking billboard for someone else’s fashion line? Not you.
1 short sleeve button down: To be worn on weekends or summer garden/pool parties only. Prints permissible.
2 Undershirts: White v-neck only. Be sure to get the right size, i.e., one that fits comfortably under your button downs. (That’s why they are called undershirts – not to be seen by members of the general public.) These will double as nightwear.
2 pair of adult men’s slacks: Choose your color to go with your Oxfords. Neutral tones work best – brown, beige, blue…green if you really must (and then olive only.) You will alternate these slacks as necessary.
1 pair of business casual trousers: These will function as your primary lower body evening wear. Go for a comfortable fit. You’ll be eating dinner in them a lot. Pro-tip: Choose a dark color that will mask red wine, whether spilled from your own glass or another’s.
1 pair of corduroy pants: Corduroy pants are jeans for adults. Choose thick or thin ribs depending on weather. These are your casual, “Zoom call” option.
Underpants – including (1 pair) pajama pants: If we have to instruct you here, perhaps you’re not ready for a Big Boy trip.
A few important notes about pants:
If you are over 30-years of age and are NOT planning on working in a field/farm of some sort during your travels, jeans are NOT permissible. In fact, use this packing task as an opportunity to purge your closet of ALL non-garden-work-related denim.
Unless you are a professional photographer or your travel plans involve the words “safari,” “river rapids” or “great outdoors,” cargo pants are a definite no-no. Nothing says “I have a lot of easily-accessible valuables on my person” better than a quiver of loose, extraneous pockets. Keep it slim, ol’ boy!
Finally, under no circumstances are adult male knees to be shown in public. Ergo, the term “adult shorts” is an oxymoron. Male knees are unsightly and offensive to the senses. There are no exceptions to this cold, hard fact of life. If you have not done so already, now is a good time to deal with this reality. Tell your friends.
The only instance in which the adult male’s knees are to be momentarily unsheathed is when said male is within direct sight of a body of water that might conceivably be used for bathing/sailing/rafting, etc. Even then, clad in trunks, he must be seen to be moving either to or from said body of water, not merely “lounging” by the poolside bar, indecorous limbs splayed. After the aqueous act is complete, our man is advised to promptly don age-appropriate pantware – slacks, chinos or trousers, as the occasion calls for.
1 V-neck sweater. Opt for something light and made from natural fibers – cashmere, cotton and silk blends generally serve best. Do not go for weird and exotic animal hair blends. You might not have allergies; others do. (Angora goat mohair is most definitely out.)
1 sports blazer: Choose this carefully and in accordance with the seasons. Tweed is okay for wintery climes. Stick to natural fibers for warmer weather. Also, feel free to spend up a little here. Your jacket should be comfortable, if not tailored. Two (2) or three (3) buttons here works fine. Never, under any circumstances, including when subject to enhanced interrogation tactics, fix the bottom one. (The rule, from top, for a three-button blazer is unambiguous: “sometimes, always, never.”)
Shoes: 1 pair of simple, brown brogues. You’re looking for a balance between comfort and understated style here. Go for something with padded insoles. You’ll be wearing these things everyday, so make sure you “break them in” a week or two before departure. Nothing with pointy toes or colorful threading. Pro tip: Keep your shoes well-shined. A bit of wear and tear is to be expected, but there is no excuse for sloppiness.
Should our man find himself lured into the Birkenstock Brigade or the Crocs Crusade, revocation of one’s Gentleman of Leisure status stands in penalty.
Socks: 5 pairs. These should have sufficient elastic to hide your hideous ankles. Like the hairy hinge mentioned above, nobody wants to see them. (That includes your lying partner.) Again, resist the temptation for ridiculous prints and patterns. You’re a man, not the court jester. Argyle is permissible, but limit it to one or two pairs. Otherwise, plain and neutral will do. Keep the colors lighter than your pants. And keep them pulled up.
2 ties – Here’s your window for a little sartorial expression. Regimental stripes are a classic option, whether after American (stripes running right shoulder to left hip) or European (right hip to left shoulder) fashion. In either case, a half Windsor knot is acceptable for most occasions. Full Windsor if you find yourself at a wedding or, Zeus forbid, a funeral.
1 hat – This is especially handy if you are no longer enjoy the “follicular density” of your youth. A classic Panama style should do fine. (Note: Under no circumstances are “sports caps” acceptable, especially if you are unsportly.)
1 pair sunglasses – Most frames these days come with some branding, that’s unavoidable. Choose a relatively obscure one that people won’t be able to “price” on sight. Unless you are a professional stuntman, eschew the “wraparound” style. Also avoid reflective tints in brash, bold colors. The ‘80’s are gone. And thank goodness for that.
Belt – Brown. Leather. No rhinestone cowboy buckles, diamanté studs or associated “bling.”
Nota Bene: Readers will note that we dared not presume to advise a lady on what and how to pack. We will only note, with no shortage of pride and admiration, that wife and daughter both adhere to the strict, carry-on only rule, proving it can be done. Kudos.
Finally, unless you are really venturing off track, there will be shops along the way. Should one of the above items fail you for some reason, you can always pick up a replacement – just be sure to make room in your bags by either binning the spoiled item or, if it’s not too far gone, giving it to someone in need.
May, 2023 ~ Tivoli, Italy
Never wear a tie with your short sleeve button down
I have traveled the world over for months at a time and survived on shorts, sandals, and tee shirts. Pack one suitable dress shirt and pants and wear them on the plane where the often try to freeze you to death. I only travel to countries where the “climate suits my clothes”