How to go abroad

I’m attempting to bring some sort of discipline to my blogging. The problem is, I always, always, want to present something, if not perfect, then at least pretty dang close. But the truth is, if I never write, not only do I never write, I never get better at writing because I am not practicing. Thinking of these attempts as practice makes me more likely to actually post, so here goes.

After 2 semesters of hiatus, where I stayed not only in the same country, but in the same state within that country, I headed off for my first trip to South America. I got back from Ecuador about 2 weeks ago, which was a great experience. But I’d like to talk a little bit about what came just before we left. The trip was 5 students and one other faculty member and among our group were several people who had never traveled abroad before. This comes with its own brand of hilarity – one student brought a fancy skirt, and another brought a blowdryer and flat iron. Now, I honestly don’t remember how I packed when I went to Mexico, or Guatemala and Honduras, and when I went to Spain I was going to live, so the packing was different. I’m sure I packed some ridiculous stuff myself.

So I tried to approach packing for Ecuador as methodically as possible.

  • Step 1: I went out and bought 13 pairs of socks and 13 pairs of underwear. Boring, I know, but I really, really didn’t want to have to do laundry while abroad. I knew I wasn’t going to have either the time or the inclination.
  • Step 2: I assessed my toiletries and what I like to call my “portable pharmacy”. This is something you should do way more often than I do, because most of the medications I found were expired. Into the trashcan with them, and off to Target to pick up more Pepto Bismol, hydrocortizone cream, and toothpaste. I also bought Ziploc bags because I learned once that pressure changes do not just dissipate and you can end up with an entire bottle of body spray all over your clothes before you even get to your first hotel.
  • Step 3: I started thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong. This sounds slightly doomsday, but I like to think of something my aunt once said, which I have quoted in this blog before: “If you forget anything, this is America, you can just buy another one.” Overseas, it is not America, so you’d better bring it all. I bought: a cheap poncho, extra toilet paper, heavy duty bug spray, and granola bars.
  • Step 4: I packed! Amazingly, it all fit into my frame backpack the first time. I also filled up a tote bag that I got from a coworker on the Guatemala/Honduras trip. She is a librarian so the bag says “Libraries! Champions of Democracy!” but more importantly, it zips closed.

We got one free checked bag to go internationally, with a weight limit of 50 pounds. Our heaviest bag belonged to the student who packed all the gifts for the school we volunteered at – she clocked in right at 50 pounds. The lightest bag belonged to – me! 24.5 pounds, thank you very much. I did bring some things I didn’t use (like my flip flops and a pair of shorts), but overall I think I’m getting a handle on this travel thing.

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