Okay, so I am averaging only one post per job. That is not very prodigious. However, having arrived in Liege, Belgium, into my umpteenth sight-unseen apartment, I realized that I want to help others who may be traveling in Europe for work or auditions, with a list of helpful things to pack in your suitcase. I've been gone so much in the last couple of years, that some people my boyfriend has met several times in New York were teasing him that I am a figment of his imagination, since they've never met me. I'm hoping that all this time on the road will profit anybody else who follows the same path and ends up spending a lot of time abroad. Here is a list of things that I think are helpful to pack for an American living in Europe for any period of time.
1. Pack enough underwear and socks for a couple of weeks at least. I usually pack 3 weeks worth. Sometimes I have a washing machine in my apartment, but about half the time I don't. Which means figuring out a foreign laundromat (see my video of my attempts at laundromatting in Innsbruck). It's not a big deal, but I like to put it off as long as possible, and underpants are small and you can fit a lot in your suitcase.
2. A suction-cup showerhead holder. I actually forgot mine this trip and I'm annoyed at myself. Often, when there is a bathtub, there will be a showerhead, but it won't be attached to anything - you are just supposed to hold it over your head when you shower. This annoys the crap out of me and I still haven't figured out a way to do it without soaking the entire bathroom in errant water-spray. So, I bought on Amazon.com for under 10 bucks this shower head holder that suctions to the tile of the shower wall wherever you want it, and allows you to stand under the water and use both hands to wash your hair. Revolutionary!
3. Coffee paraphenalia: If you drink coffee in the morning, maybe you'll want to go out to a cafe each morning (in Italy it's pretty easy and cheap) or maybe the apartment you're staying in will have some type of coffee maker, but don't count on it. I like to drink cappucino in the morning, so I have a tiny portable stovetop espresso maker and this amazing milk frother that I bought in Berlin, that heats the milk on the stovetop and then uses a pump to make it foamy. I use it even at home instead of the steam wand on my espresso machine. Or, if you prefer American coffee, you can bring a little french press. You won't find American style drip coffee in most European countries, although weirdly, my apartment here in Liege has a Mr. Coffee. But you really never know what will be provided for you, and it's better to be prepared. I know people who travel with a little bit of coffee and some powdered milk so that first morning they can wake up without having to trek to the store first thing when they arrive.
4. Cooking paraphenalia: If you're like me, and you like to cook for yourself, you have to realize that while most rental kitchens have some stuff, there is always a shortage of certain things. If I'm feeling zealous, I'll prepare myself a little cooking package to put in my suitcase with a small wooden cutting board ( I have NEVER found a cutting board in a single European apartment - I don't know why - I've been using the top of a margarine container this time in Liege), a good knife (not in your carry-on, please!!), a corkscrew with a bottle opener (another thing often missing and so frustrating when you're staring at a bottle of wine after a long day), and any tools that you use a lot in the kitchen that aren't too big. Just don't forget to pack them and take them home at the end of the trip.
5. A hobby: This sounds like kind of a weird one, but let me explain. Usually, you will only be rehearsing 6 hours a day, sometimes less. Sometimes everyone in the cast will socialize constantly and you will have a blast every night. However, more often than not, people go home and do their own thing, and you have hours to fill, without your friends to hang out with, without a tv in your language, and in a city you don't know. Some people certainly like exploring and being tourists, but often this is tiring, and not as fun all by yourself. I have my computer stocked with movies and tv series to watch and unwind at night after rehearsal, I bring my fancy SLR camera and go out in the hood and take interesting photos, and this time I actually brought a little portable sewing machine, and when I find a fabric store or a used clothing store, I plan to go to town. This differs for different people, but most singers I know go a little crazy and get terribly lonely when they don't have something to occupy themselves, which can be more of a challenge when you're not at home with all your stuff. Thus my statement; bring a hobby.
6. Vitamins and Medicines: If you're a singer, then you're also practically a medical doctor. You know exactly what's wrong with you from the first second your throat feels a tickle, and you know what works to treat it. But the medicines in different countries vary vastly, and if you know when you have a cold, sudafed with mucinex works, bring it! I also use emergen-C vitamin powder in my grapefruit juice every morning, and have an array of prescription drugs that I know cure me when I can't sing. Oh - and melatonin is not over the counter in Germany, and I use that natural supplement to help with jet lag for the first few nights. Once I forgot it on a trip to Germany and had to take something else, which didn't work at all. Now I never forget it, and I take it at night for three nights, and I'm fine. I hate Ambien - it gives me insane nightmares and makes me groggy, but some people swear by it.
7. Ear plugs, eye mask; like mine is now, your apartment might be on a busy boulevard where drunk people are yelling at all hours of the night. You need your beauty rest to be able to sing - don't forget your earplugs, and your eye mask in case there aren't good curtains.
8. An extra unlocked mobile phone; If you are in a place for more than a few weeks, it often makes sense to buy a sim card (usually only 5 euro) with a local number and some minutes (purchased in 5 euro increments ) so that the theater can send you messages about rehearsals, and you can call or text other cast members without incruing heavy fees from your American carrier. It's a different system in Europe, and you can have a number in every country for pretty cheap. Of course, keeping track of those tiny sim cards after you leave the country is a challenge, and my Berlin friends are always a litle annoyed that every time I come back to Berlin I have to buy a new one and they have to reprogram their phone with my new number. Sometimes I'll find an old one and see that I have 12 new messages because people were still trying to call the old one. But I'm disorganized like that. I'm sure you all will be much more careful!
9. Excercize: I like to bring a travel yoga mat and some yoga videos on my computer, plus my running shoes. Gyms aren't exactly prevelant in Europe - they exist, but you have to look - so I like to do my own thing in my room. When I'm not too busy eating chocolate croissants, that is.
Of course, there are a million other things that people like to bring when they travel, and none of this is exactly revelatory, but I do kind of wish I would have had a list like this the first couple of times I went abroad to work, just to remind me of some things to throw in my suitcase to make the whole experience more like home.