Liz Fleming

The problem was…there was no mirror.

Surrounded by three smiling Mexican ladies in the Merida central square, I was trying on a beautifully embroidered blouse and skirt – over my shorts and T-shirt.

“Senora,” they cooed in unison. “You look beautiful – just like us.”

My saleslady friends did look gorgeous - the crisp white cotton contrasting with the large, bright flowers covering the hems, necklines and puffed sleeves of their outfits.

“So pretty for parties,” said one. “And the top…wear it with your jeans.”

I was already imagining my new, tropically-elegant self knocking everyone dead back home when my practical friend Martha appeared. She took one look, smiling graciously at the sales team, and whispered seven little words of wisdom in my ear.

“You look like you’re wearing the tablecloth.”

Saved from a massive attack of buyer’s remorse!

Sadly, Martha isn’t always in our back pockets when we travel…and so we come home, proudly bearing ‘what was I thinking?!’ treasures.

I often ask my traveling friends to share their best/worst stories and thought I’d share a few of the best:

• Uber-elegant Debbie, a Manhattan socialite, bought a pair of green suede lederhosen, matching embroidered blouse and knee socks in Germany, thinking she’d be the hit of all the NYC holiday parties. She certainly was…particularly when one of her fellow guests said innocently, “Oh damn! I didn’t realize this was a costume party!”

• Bill was so convinced that his living room would look great with a lobster-trap coffee table that he arranged to have one shipped from the wharf in P.E.I. Several hundred dollars later, after being fitted with a glass table top, the trap did lend an air of the sea to his space – perhaps because it stank of dead fish...always…strongly...no matter what he did to it.

• Shoe-fetishist Carol fell in love with the curved toes of the silken slippers sold in the Marrakesh souks and brought home a pair for each of her ultra-cool teenage daughters. When she proudly handed them out, there was a momentary attempt at politeness, then all three – Carol included – burst into gales of laughter. The Aladdin look just wasn’t cutting it in Toronto.

 

That’s the magic of travel at work…when we find ourselves transported not simply to another place, but into another culture and indeed, another mindset, where things that will never work at home are overwhelmingly attractive. We want to hang on to that feeling, to bring it home with us, so we buy whatever we think will capture the moment. When we unpack our treasures at home we realize that what was great in one context may be much less so in another. (Just ask me about the llama wool sweater that never lost its permanent whiff of…no surprise…llama.)

 One day – fortunately – we realize that capturing travel’s magic has nothing to do with souvenirs – it’s all about experiences and the memories they create. What stays with us after a great adventure is the lingering sound of music in the night, the heady scent of a tropical blossom, the spicy flavor of an exotic dish, and the dazzling smiles of the children playing on the beach. These memories are the real treasures, the bits to hang onto, the keepsakes about which we’ll never say ‘what was I thinking?!’

Happy travels,

Liz Fleming, Editor-in-Chief
Cruise & Travel Lifestyles

 

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