Call it human nature or call it nosiness: There’s something innately fascinating in seeing how other people pack. What do they bring? How do they maximize space? What precious items from home make them feel more comfortable when traveling abroad?
We asked a handful of travelers—all visiting Paris—what was in their suitcases. And what we learned was that the contents of each bag from China, Spain, Russia, and the U.S. were all quite different…yet all very much the same. And each told a different story about the traveler and their reasons for traveling.
Katie from Spokane, Washington, USA
A journey sometimes forces us to redefine how we think of things. Take comfort, for example. Is it possible to recreate the comfort of your own home somewhere else? Katie is a self-described homebody, seeking out the feeling of warmth that being at home offers. For her, carrying a piece of that with her wherever she goes is important, so she’s taken extra care to pack things that give that cozy warmth.
Her favorite jumper, the taste of good filter coffee: She surrounds herself with these familiar items to help her along in her adventure. While in Paris, Katie loves walking the streets and people watching since, in her hometown, everyone drives.
Svetlana from Moscow, Russia
Svetlana’s a seasoned traveler. She reminisces about sharing a bottle of wine with her host in Nice. She sees Chamonix, New York, and Paris as old friends. Though her home is in Moscow, leaving is a way to “escape pollution, traffic, and the feeling of being lost in the crowd.”
Even still, it can be hard to be away from the comforts of familiarity. Svetlana overcomes this by exploring the beauty of each city. She starts planning over a quiet breakfast, leafing through her favorite travel guide. As she says, half the fun of traveling is hunting down the hidden beauty of the place you’re staying. It can come when you least expect it; through a concealed doorway, by opening a window; taking your breath away…Something new and exciting around every corner.
Her suitcase is packed and waiting in the corner for her next adventure. The beauty of Paris will stay with her for a long time.
Oliver from Madrid, Spain
To Oliver, feeling at home while traveling is easy: “As soon as my toothbrush is in the bathroom, that’s it. I feel at home.”
Oliver is traveling on a whim with five friends. They planned the trip together two months before they left for Paris. Their days are hectic and packed with things to do but according to Oliver, “it doesn’t matter, we walk pretty quickly.” When asked how Paris compares to his fast-pace lifestyle, he says it is charming, but almost too quiet. He’s always ready for the next adventure, no matter where he is.
Julia from Sao Paulo, Brazil
Julia chose Paris…or did Paris choose Julia? Though Julia has never traveled far from home, she’s been dreaming and reading about the city for a long time. She brings her books on the city that she has already read, so that she can actually “experience Paris” in a way that a book could never allow.
Julia is Brazilian, and, at home, she’s used to loud conversations and grandiose gestures. By contrast, she finds herself surrounded by silence in Paris. “In the beginning,” she says. “I thought I was doing everything wrong, but then I understood.” She ended up loving everything about Paris: the food, the smells, the small gestures that unite people. “It’s a weird sensation, I sit in a café, and I can picture myself living here.”
All it took was a few days for the stranger in a strange land to feel right at home.
Lorenz from Munich, Germany
When you travel to an unknown destination, you become, by definition, a tourist. Lorenz decided to replace the word “tourist” with “adventurer.” He and his girlfriend seek adventure and authenticity on their travels. “You must beware of the ‘secret’ addresses they show in guidebooks,” he explains. “Because if an address is in a guide, it’s not secret anymore, is it?”
Lorenz comes from a small village close to Munich—one of the few places left where “they still speak a dialect.” His parents have always lived there, and Lorenz feels comfort in knowing that there are places that will never change. So for him, “home” is hard to define. But he prefers the city of Paris to his village because it’s more animated and because “you can wait in line at the bakery without knowing everybody.”
Mary from Vannes, France
Mary and her daughter live in Brittany, not far from Paris. For Mary, the other end of the street feels far from home. Mary and her daughter are extremely close; they even finish each others sentences. “She is the ideal daughter,” Mary tells us. “No,” her daughter interrupts. “She is the ideal mother.”
Mary speaks the same way she travels: efficiently. She has a flair for short and catchy phrases: “lève tôt, couche tôt!”, “hop!”, “c’est tip top!”
Mary tells us, “This place is seething with excitement, it’s crazy! It’s nothing like that at home.” To find peace in the city, Mary and her daughter like to stay in, put their slippers on, and enjoy a quiet drink. Rather than seeking spontaneity, they know exactly why they came and what they want.
Bryan from Chongqing, China
Both culturally and physically, Bryan lives miles apart from Paris. As a native of China, he doesn’t understand a word of French and instead tries to understand the city through his senses. For this, he relies heavily on his sight. Bryan observes people in the Metro, and he chooses meals from the photographs in restaurant menus.
But how can you truly get to know a city without speaking the language? As he sits on a bench admiring the Eiffel tower, Bryan decides his sight tells him quite a lot about Paris and more. “In Paris, people are so beautiful, they choose their outfits with great care, especially older people.”
He takes pictures of his surroundings to send to his friends in China; testimonies of his intense visual experience. Maybe for Bryan, a sense of sight is all you need to soak in the experience of a city.
Photo credit: Maia Flore