|My purse and me in Prague, 2004.|
This year marks the tenth year in a row that I’ve lived abroad, and nothing shows the changes along those ten years better than a look back at what I have chosen to tote along with me.
Let’s spin back, all the way to 2003 when I moved to the Czech Republic to teach English as a foreign language. Fresh out of the U.S. car culture, I was used to being mere seconds away from a huge metal apparatus that comfortably fit not only anything that didn’t go in my pockets or minute handbag, but boxes and suitcases of gear if need be. I had purses, don’t get me wrong, but they weren’t as functional as I found I would need if I was going to rely on public transport in a European city.
Those first years in Prague, you’d find in my bag: a travel pass, key to the city’s trams, subway and buses; a stack of home-made Czech language flashcards, bound together by sparkly hair elastics; aspirin, because I’d usually been out at a bar the night before; a Czech dictionary, sometimes even two; the paperback novel du jour; a journal; black and blue pens to lend to students and a green pen for journaling and marking students’ papers; scissors, for cutting up photocopiable activities for English classes; and a photocopy of my passport—just in case. After a year or two, I added a laptop to this portable office. So, as you can imagine, my bag those days was more often a backpack than a cute purse.
|My purse and me in Hainan, China.|
“Hey!” I said, too flustered to shout in Mandarin.
He grinned, spun on his back foot, and trotted to the far side of the intersection just as the light changed.
After this, I began an obsession that I maintain to the present day—finding a pickpocket-proof purse. At first, though, I decided minimal was better. For my job in China, I no longer had to carry school supplies around with me, and I quickly decided leaving my laptop at home was a good idea. Instead, I found a moderate bag with a cross-the body strap and filled it with: a Chinese dictionary; a second-hand digital camera; multiple packets of tissue paper because bathrooms in China are usually unstocked; hand sanitizer for the same reason; eye drops to combat the air pollution; a map of the city; business cards of local landmark institutions, so if I got lost and couldn’t communicate I’d be able to show one to a taxi driver; all the random VIP cards that shops and restaurants seemed to think I needed; and photocopies of my registration papers and passport—just in case.
|Res-Q-Me, key chain size.|
I moved to a more rural area in 2008, where bus travel was quick and frightening. I added a dynamo flashlight; a Res-Q-Me tool that can break vehicle windows and sever seatbelts in case of a crash; and a better, shock-proof, camera to my purse. By now, I was using a succession of utilitarian-but-ugly purses, thinking that maybe pickpockets would pass me by in pursuit of a flashier bag.
|The small PacSafe bag.|
|The big PacSafe bag.|
Now, ten years on, technology has taken over my bag. Depending on where I’m going, I carry a smartphone (combining camera, mirror, flashlight, dictionary, maps, business cards and flashcards), a Kindle, a journal, tissues, pens of varying colors for multiple purposes (blue and black are needed for immigration forms but I hate to write or plan anything creative unless its in color), my Res-Q-me tool, eye drops, lip balm, and photocopies of my paperwork—just in case.
What’s in your bag when you travel?