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Purse Is the Traveler's Best Friend

September 08, 1985|BETTY LUKAS | Lukas is a Times copy editor.

This is stand-on-your-own-two-feet advice for women traveling abroad.

It comes from personal experience and is guaranteed to get you through lonely moments, hunger pangs, disorientation and embarrassment.

It will save you time and trouble. It probably won't save you any money, though, because you'll want to be extra nice to yourself for being so efficient.

It starts with the most important item of personal luggage: the ideal purse and what to put in it.

Sizing Up the Purse

The ideal purse is no deeper than 8 1/2 inches and no longer than 16. It has a soft bottom that expands to 5 inches when crammed full but is less than an inch when empty. It has a top zipper, making the inside easily accessible when opened, and two sturdy straps long enough to carry over your arm or over your shoulder.

My ideal purse is periwinkle blue (so I can always identify it), and made of a rippled (so it doesn't show scratches) but soft-grained leather.

Taking Inventory

Now, what do you put in this perfect container?

Here's a list of essentials:

--Facial tissue for use as toilet paper, towel, napkin, duster, gift wrap or cookie cover.

You never know what bathroom will be without paper, what restaurant will not provide napkins, what seat you are about to sit on will need wiping off, what little souvenir will need protection in your pocket, what little leftover meal morsel will need a wrapper. And of course it's always convenient for blowing your nose.

You can buy these paper treasures in eight-packs.

--At least $100 in the local currency, some of it in coin, plus a couple of travelers checks and a credit card in case you really want to splurge.

If it makes you feel better, carry about $10 in U.S. currency.

--Some reading material in English, preferably a slender collection of short stories. Make sure you're familiar with the author. I took a "recommended" paperback by a Pulitzer Prize-winner whose work I didn't know and left it in a cabin of a Norwegian ship, unread. So much for recommendations.

While intriguing to look at, all those newspapers in foreign languages can't help you pass the time while you're waiting for a bus, trolley or a person.

And it's a little galling to spend almost $2 for a Newsweek. The International Herald Tribune and USA Today are available at large newsstands and in train stations, but you're not always at those places when you want something to read.

--A travel diary. A small spiral notebook will do. Make entries whenever you get a spare minute. Keep track of when you leave one place and when you arrive at another to give you some sense of time when you reconstruct your visit later.

You think you'll never forget those magic moments, but you will. Time has a way of losing its meaning, which is one of the reasons we take vacations. Once back in reality, though, it's interesting to know that the ferry ride across the sound from Helsingborg, Sweden, to Helsingor, Denmark, took about 40 minutes and your ferry carried the name of Prince Henrik.

--A ballpoint pen and a pencil. If the pen fails, there's always the reliable pencil. (I love felt pens but they can be messy.)

--A map showing where you are. Your hotel, for example, and how far it is from that big department store you've read so much about, and the landmarks along the way just in case you have to walk back. Even if you don't have to walk back, it's very reassuring to feel familiar in a new setting.

--If you smoke, take enough of your brand of cigarettes to get you through the day. A pack of cigarettes in Norway, for example, is $2.

Alcohol is very expensive. I'm not recommending that you carry a flask in your purse, but I do recommend that you keep one in your suitcase, though--for a nightcap.

Even if you don't smoke, carry a book of matches.

I was advised to take a small flashlight. I followed the advice, and the first time I had occasion to use it, the battery was dead. So pack extra batteries.

--The precious passport. Carry it in a colorful envelope so it stands out in your purse, or make a little fabric pouch for it as I did. Make the inside of your purse interesting, because you'll be spending a lot of time looking into it.

--A marvelous little currency converter called Unicon II that not only contains a simple converter scale but other pertinent bits of information such as time differences, clothing sizes, duty-free imports, world currencies, distances, weights and temperatures.

I never thought I'd need any of this information. Then I got to the fabric department and found that meter--not yard--is the measure.

This efficient device is only 2 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches when folded and was well worth the nearly $4 it cost. (Unicon Enterprises, 3602 W. Glen Branch, Peoria, Ill. 61614.)

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