Toth will tell you how to travel comfortably in England

June 11, 1995
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

"I won't do this forever," said Susan Allen Toth. She was referring to her very successful habit of writing books about England.

Toth's first book about England was "My Love Affair With England," which was followed by the release this spring of "England As You Like It" (Ballantine, 1995, $20).

"Now I'm thinking about doing a third book on England, but I won't do this forever," said Toth when she was on tour earlier this spring in San Francisco.

Toth manages to combine several genres in her books, which are as much personal memoir as travelogue. The reader gets to know the author and her second husband, James, as well as the English countryside and the characters who inhabit it.

"A lot of people love England," said Toth in a telephone interview, "whether it's fashionable to or not. And it's very gratifying to talk to readers who love England."

Toth thinks her third book will probably be a collection of her best newspaper and magazine essays on British oddities like quirky English books and animal sanctuaries, for instance.

"Readers who share our feelings and can't travel as often as we use my books as a way of getting there," Toth said. "They are armchair travelers."

A thorough reading of "England As You Like It: An Independent Traveler's Companion" is in order before your next trip abroad. You might unlearn a very bad habit.

Toth confides that she used to be a light traveler and gave it up as a bad job.

For years she followed the advice of packing gurus who said things like: "Wear your slip to bed at night and you won't need pajamas. Toss your raincoat over your slip if you have to walk through a hall to a bathroom."

In time, personal experience taught Toth to travel with comfort in mind.

"One cold, rainy evening in England when I clambered out of a tub in a large unheated bathroom and shivered as I quickly toweled off with a thin, worn square ("Never waste space on towels!") I reached for my all-purpose raincoat. It was still damp from the downpour whose effects I had hoped to dispel with a hot bath. Slipping my arms into its clammy sleeves and pulling on my soaked shoes ("You can certainly get along without bedroom slippers!") I vowed as I fled to my room that I would begin compromising my virtue for a modicum of comfort."

Comfort with vengeance. Now Toth takes, among other things, a large coffee mug (no waiting for a slow refill on the plane), slippers, a robe, and HER OWN PILLOW.

She strongly recommends that contrary to what the experts say travelers not waste time and what can be exorbitant prices looking for you name it books, eyeglass pins, computer disks, tape, film abroad if you can possibly take it with you.

I can imagine she speaks from experience a vital map ripped and no tape to be found, hours to kill and no book to read, dark glasses abandoned for loss of a tiny replacement pin.

Toth now travels with anything and everything she thinks she may need. Why not? She doesn't actually have to carry the suitcases. That's what bellhops, skycaps, rental carts and husbands are for, no?

Further, heavy packing fits into a style of traveling that Toth has come to enjoy the most. She and James fly to England, rent a car, drive to their destination and basically stay there, in one place, the entire time. Day trips extend no farther than the distance a thumbprint covers on a map.

This is markedly different from her first trip to England at age 20 when she hitchhiked and backpacked around the country.

"People today look for an excuse not to travel so hectically," Toth remarked. So, take it from a seasoned traveler. Relax and enjoy yourself. There's nothing wrong with being comfortable. And bring your pillow.

Toth says her next book after the essay collection probably will not be about England.

"I have pending a series of personal essays on children's books. I haven't started that yet," she said.

I have followed Toth from her Midwestern girlhood memoirs to her travel books. I even read and loved the 1991 book, now sadly out of print, she co-wrote with her architect husband, James Stageberg ("A House of One's Own: An Architect's Guide to Designing The House of Your Dreams").

I don't think I'll have any difficulty following her to children's books, too.

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