LAHAINA, MAUI, Hawaii - The souvenirs are purchased. Half the clothing in the luggage was never worn, including the high-heeled sandals with gold straps. Thank goodness I haven't changed. I would hate to correct weaknesses that have been enjoyable for many years, and being an observant traveler, I believe I have a lot of company.
We will never pack less, and we will never stop buying souvenirs for the folks back home.
The good side of the weaknesses is that we never feel any regret. It's our thing that we have to live with, and other people who criticize may as well save their breath. Over-packing is definitely part of my travel plans, just like the transportation and lodging reservations.
As for the travel gifts for people back home, I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a way of sharing the trip - whether they would like one more T-shirt from a place they have never been or have no desire to go doesn't matter. The thought satisfies us more than it may the friend or the relative on the other end.
Yesterday I spoke to a friend and asked her what she would like from Hawaii. She didn't say “don't bother” or “just have a good time,” but instead she said “anything that you pick out I always love. It doesn't matter.” That, of course, is not the usual reply, but it was enough to send me plowing through a high stack of Maui T-shirts to find her size.
The gifts are our way of saying “wish you were here,” whether we mean it or not. I admit that there are times while traveling alone, as I do most of the time, that I am downright lonely and talk to myself and make sure the cell phone is by my side in case anyone calls. It seldom rings.
Lonely periods are the time to look for the best deal on postcards and stock up. Never travel without your address book, even if it's to have the bank address if you run out of money.
Soon the lonely feelings go away and I am off and running to another adventure, or to as much adventure as the old body can handle. I have been napping more between adventures lately and hate it.
I have sympathy for women who are cowardly about traveling alone. But it surely beats waiting for an invitation that may never come. When you are alone you can come and go as you wish. You don't have to go to a museum or to an aquarium if you don't want to, but you can sign up for a helicopter tour because you don't have a traveling partner who is afraid to. You can wash your underwear and hang it over any chair. The downside is that there is no one to share the lodging and car rental costs with.
I must have inherited my no-fear travel bug from my mother and two aunts. They took lengthy road trips back in the 1930s and took me along to learn about other regions of the country. It's a joy to remember the four of us heading for Florida in a 1935 Ford coupe and me sharing the rumbleseat with Aunt Bertha. It was hot, windy, and fun. Unlike convertibles, rumbleseats did not have a top. It was open air all the way, rain or shine.
Today I will go to the wrap-and-ship store one more time to send home a suitcase filled with clothes and gifts. I did it again. This time I have some regret because many of the clothes are things I have outgrown, and what a surprise that was 5,000 miles from home. The rest is stuff I am just tired of sorting through and never wearing. Funny how we always think we will dress up, but in the casual world we live in, there is rarely an opportunity. It is interesting that the clothing and shoes that I thought I wouldn't need while packing - but shoved them in anyway - are the same things going home.
It's far less challenging to shop for gifts on a trip than it is to find Christmas and birthday gifts at home in the same stores with the same merchandise. As an example, choices in the Hawaiian islands lean heavily to handmade crafts. I question that many people back home would appreciate a hand-painted coconut with palm trees, but many of the other crafts in stores and at open markets reflect the islands and feature the talents of artisans who work in home studios. Handmade lotions, candles, and soaps in the floral and fruit fragrances of the islands, from pikake to papaya, are common. Visitors reach for macadamia nuts and island coffees. Now every island produces its own coffee. Jewelry, too, makes use of indigenous products, from coconut bark, mango and koa wood, to shells and pearls and coral culled from sea creatures.
Jill Painter exemplifies the ingenuity of mainlanders who come to Maui on vacation and find a way to make a living so they can stay here. Jill was in the retail clothing business in California until she visited Maui in 1977 and wanted to stay. She grew up in a family of painters. Using that as inspiration to take classes at Maui art schools, she combined that with her retail clothing knowledge to form a business. Jill dyes and hand-paints tropical designs on men's shirts. She has extended retail sales from craft shows to cruise ships that anchor in Maui harbors. She boards the ship with her wares and sells the beautiful shirts to women who tell her they just didn't pack the right clothes.