Your Papers Please

Travel involves plenty of paperwork, and here I am not talking about official documents, like a passport. I’m talking about all the other papers you accumulate and distribute along the way.

I’ve been thinking about this week, because I just ordered myself some business cards. I went almost a year without them as I went through my divorce, which changed all the pertinent details that you’d put on a card. Until I didn’t have them, I’d never really noticed how often I’m asked for a business card while I’m traveling.

Whether it’s in the United States or abroad, and whether I’ve already been emailed and telephoned and Twitter followed, and although certainly it would be far more efficient to just trade contact info via smartphone, people still seem to really want those 3 1/2 by 2 inch piece of paper.

My hunch is that this social convention won’t change: it gives everyone something to do while negotiating the tricky business of making a smooth departure from a first meeting; there’s still no better technology if you’ve totally forgotten someone’s name.

Dyea Alaska

I’m glad about this, because I truly love paper. Although I have come to rely on Evernote to an extent that is nearly frightening, I still have a collection of Moleskine notebooks, and always have one my purse for certain exigencies of notekeeping.

But still over this past year I have to confess that I considered that I might never order my own business cards again. Setting my paperphilia aside, part of my “life transition,” let’s call it,  has involved scaling back my possessions — I’m a single gal now, I need to travel light. And while paper is wonderful, it is also cumbersome.

When I left my marital home, I took with me the contents of four large filing cabinet — files of information I’d accumulated on the destinations I’ve visited as a travel writer. But once I got settled, instead of replacing the filing cabinets, I acquired a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner and an external hard drive, which enabled me to reduce four large, two drawer filing cabinets worth of paper to four file boxes.

The truth is, most of my files were not scanned — instead, they went into many, many large black trash bags.

Lava on Hawaii's Big Island


I realized that most of the information I’d accumulated was outdated almost as soon as I put in the files. I also realized that over the years, I’ve spent far more time organizing those files than I ever spent using the information that was in them.

Now, there were a few things in those folders that I definitely knew I would keep — as a writer they hold a certain charge of creative inspiration. In this category, I include select maps — I have a great tiny one of Paris; ticket stubs, like from the Museo Frida Kahlo;  and I really like the National Park Service brochures. You know, the ones with the wide black border, with the name of the park set in reverse white Helvetica print? The design is called Unigrid. I have one for every park I’ve visited. And I do have some other meaningful ephemera, like, for instance, my all time favorite booklet Parking Lots of Butte: A Guide to Selected Historic Parking Lots in Butte, Second Edition. That’s the sort of thing that’s in the file four boxes. But for everything else, there is Google.


Market in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico


Still, despite my huge divestment in paper, I decided that I still needed business cards. And so I went the way of Moo, full-sized option. For the back of my card, I selected photographs I’d taken while traveling. I thought I would handle this task in a few minutes, but it turned into a day-long process of sifting through my photographs looking for the ones that I thought were cool and in some ways expressive of something about me. So, I have to agree with the executive producer of Portlandia who was quoted thusly in a BusinessWeek article about business cards:”It is not a simple information exchange, it is a profound expression of identity.”

The photos here are a few of the ones I’ve selected for this serious task. I’m not sure what they say about my identity, but I’m sure I’ll develop some theories once my cards arrive.

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