Thursday, March 21, 2013

Warmth and Light

By Patricia Winton

When I pull my suitcase from the top shelf, two items are sure to find their way into the bag: a shawl and a mini-LED flashlight. Whether I’m off for an overnight stay or a month of travels, they both serve me well.

I own several shawls, so I can choose one that blends with the clothes I’m packing. My usual travel wardrobe includes neutral colors plus one predominant color. I select a shawl that works with it. I usually carry one made from pashmina wool. They fold into small rectangles, so they require little room in luggage or handbag.

For spring and autumn outings, I tie a shawl to my purse. As the daylight fades and the air cools, a shawl around my shoulders is just the ticket for extending my time outdoors. In summer, a shawl protects me from the frigid temperatures in American air conditioning, and if I go out on the town, a shawl can jazz up my daytime clothes if I want a little extra sparkle.

I’ve used my shawl as a blanket on an airplane, as a pillow just about anywhere I’ve wanted to nap, as a tablecloth over a tree stump to hold a picnic, and even as protection from an unexpected spring shower.

If my wardrobe includes a bathing suit, I’ll choose a large square shawl. The big shawl can serve all the same purposes of the pashmina, but in a pinch, it can be a beach cover-up. And I once used it as a wrap-around skirt.

That mini-LED flashlight is so handy that I have one tucked in my purse, in a kitchen drawer, and on my bedside table. It’s a tiny thing, but it has a powerful light that lasts for 100,000 hours according to the manufacturer. When I stay overnight with a friend in the country—where it’s very dark at night—I put the flashlight under my pillow. It helps me find my way to the bathroom without bumping into furniture or stepping on the cat.

A couple of years ago, I traveled with a group of writers to bus tour culinary sites in the eastern part of Italy. On the trip home, the reading lights didn’t work. I was the only person able to rig up my laptop with my little flashlight dangling from the tray table clip. I was able to work on the three-hour ride home while the others dozed or talked.

The flashlight also serves me well when I’m walking on uneven pavement in the dark. More than once, I’ve saved myself from a tumble because I could see protruding sampietrini (Roman paving stones) with my little light. I find it comforting to have a light source when I’m in an unfamiliar dark place, and this little light takes no real space and weighs just a couple of ounces (50 grams). And besides, it comes in lots of bright colors that are more fun than basic black. Mine is purple as shown in the photo.

What about you? What’s the first thing you pack?


  1. I love your travel packing suggestions. Those little flashlights are so handy. I gave them out to my choir at Christmas this year. Should have bought one more for myself! I have several shawls. Folks with shawls always look cool. I have several wraps that I travel with.

    Enjoyed it! Maggie

  2. Maggie, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I used to have travel packing down to an art. Now my transatlantic flights are more complicated because I want to take things across the ocean for friends and family. I may decide to stop being a courier, especially now that security regulations make carrying liquids (like wine and olive oil) so difficult!

  3. I have a complete packing list on my computer. When I'm planning a journey, I make a copy of the list, then edit it according to my needs for the current trip. It includes things to do before leaving (e.g. water plants, charge phone, print out boarding pass), and reminders of extra things I want to take with me (like a Lariano loaf for my mother). When I'm ready to pack, I print the list out, and tick items off as I put them in my suitcase.
    But I must admit it doesn't include either shawls or flashlights - although I do usually put in a couple of scarves.

  4. The numerous different uses you've found for shawls reminds me of the importance of carrying a towel in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". Although I should imagine that after you've used it as a pillow or a tablecloth, it wouldn't look at its best draped round your shoulders!

  5. Did you know that the Japanese use a large square piece of cloth, called Furoshiki, as a wrapping material? There are different ways of folding it depending on what you want to wrap, so it can be used not only to wrap boxes, but also bottles or water melons. You can find some examples here:
    A new use for your shawls?

    1. Very interesting, Anna. I may have to try to learn how to do that.