There’s a certain “look” that you want to achieve when you’re a woman traveling solo. If you want to arrive safe and sound and unharassed at your multiple destinations, it’s best not to look too attractive or too wealthy or too “touristy”. At the same time, you also don’t want to look so down-market that people think you’re a homeless bag lady and treat you accordingly.

Enter Exhibit A. That would be me. Before leaving on my train trip, I’d decided to ditch my Heys luggage in favour of a mismatched collection of duffel bags and knapsacks and what I affectionately called my ‘feed bag’ (a honkin’ big soft-sided cooler bag). The bright idea for doing this was that the duffel bags, knapsacks and cooler could fold down to nothing and be stuffed, along with their contents, into hostel lockers. My Heys couldn’t do that. Plus, the two collapsible rollies that I’d purchased to carry my bags could likewise fold down to nearly nothing and would enable me to get easily on and off buses and cart my stuff around to do some grocery shopping while waiting for check-in time at hostels and hotels. I was downright proud of my “system” when I did my practice packing prior to leaving on my trip. I figured I had it all figured out.

What I hadn’t figured on, though, was the impression I made with all my mismatched bags piled on top of each other and dragged around on rollie carts. Where I saw “practical” and “smart”, others saw something completely different.

Case in point: While I was waiting for the bus to take me to the light rail that would take me to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for my flight back to Winnipeg, a woman walked by, paused, and then carefully sat down next to me. She looked me up and down, glanced at my bags, and said quietly: “Did your abusive husband kick you out, too?”

“No”, I said, “I’m on my way to the airport. This is my luggage.”

She fixed me with a look that said “Sure lady, whatever…. But I’ll go along with your story so as not to offend you” and responded with an overly bright “I see! Well – have a nice trip!”, and off she ambled, shaking her head.

NOW I understood why people were treating me so strangely, even rudely at times. In my quest to blend in with the locals and not attract the wrong kind of attention, I’d crossed the line from “invisible” to “avoid at all costs”. I hadn’t devised a smart transport system that would allow me to easily get on and off buses, store all my belongings in lockers, and cart my stuff around whenever I needed to – I’d created a jet-setting bag lady. But, according to the helpful young man I met on a Winnipeg bus who listened politely to my “everyone thinks I’m a bag lady!” lament while at the same time devising a clever way to fit my umbrella into one of my rollies so I wouldn’t have to carry it around on my wrist: “You might look like a bag lady, honey, but at least you’re a stylish bag lady.”

That made me feel so much better.

I’m dusting off my Heys as soon as I get home.