pack list update

My friend asked me the other day, “Do you think you packed the right amount of things? Not too much or not too little? Now that you’ve been there for almost 2 months, what’s the one thing you miss the most so far?” So here are my thoughts on the pack list that I posted before we left.

The absolute number one thing that I miss so far is probably my fleece. My beautiful, warm fleece that I decided to leave behind in a haze of bad judgment brought on by 80F degree weather in Southern California. If I had it, I would probably still be cold, but I’ve fantasized so much about it now that it’s taken on mythical proportions. With that fleece, I could probably find cheaper bus tickets, sleep better in loud hostels, and obtain world peace.

My fleece and I in happier times... in fact, the happiest of times! Oh, and some other people that are pretty cool that I've known half my life... they're almost as nice as my fleece.

My fleece and I in happier times… in fact, the happiest of times! Oh, and some other people that are pretty cool that I’ve known half my life… they’re almost as nice as my fleece.

Here is a list of things that I’ve bought so far on the trip:

  • trucker hat ($10, so I can be as cool as Craig)
  • sweatshirt ($30, and already has holes in the armpit that I need to mend, argh! I gave away the light-weight sweater to make room.)
  • scarf ($8, the one I brought was too weenie)
  • USB thumb drive ($9, not sure why we didn’t bring one…)
  • pair of plain, black leggings ($10, that have shrunk and are now like highwater leggings, but still comfortable and classic)

I also plan on buying, when the time (and price) is right:

  • proper beanie without a giant hole in it (hopefully really cheap in Peru)
  • towel (hostels have all had towels so far in Argentina and Chile, but we’ve heard that things will get dicey in the North, so we might have to invest in some)

Now, meet the Swedes, Erik and Lisa.

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I know, right? Those are some huge bags!! And don’t forget they’re Scandinavian, so they’re pretty tall.

Here’s another shot of Lisa and her bag for some more perspective.

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That. Is. A. Gigantic. Bag.

We actually weighed our bags before we parted ways, and Lisa’s won, coming in at 19.5kg (42.9lbs)! Craig’s was just behind at 19kg, but he had a couple kilos of clothes in the wash, so Craig would probably have edged Lisa out if he had his clothes in there. Erik’s was about 17kg. Here’s a picture of Craig and I at the very start of our trip to give you guys some perspective on pack size:

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Large backpacks, but at least not taller than us!

My bag is so weenie in comparison to everybody else’s. It weighed in at only 14.5kg (31.9lbs, but I was missing most of my clothes as well). Take note that we have a grey duffel that we’ve been using to carry our hiking boots in. Lisa could fit her hiking boots in her backpack, which was an 80L pack. Mine is only 55L, which was bought on purpose to limit the things I could bring, but also means it would take a feat of ingenuity that I do not possess to get my boots in there.

Now here’s the really crazy part: Erik and Lisa are carrying NO camping gear. No tent, no sleeping bag or pad, no stove, no water purifier. They’ve also been traveling for 7 months, and have been through Cuba, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile. They have also done some trekking (and renting gear), but it wasn’t a focus of their trip as it has been for ours.

So what are they carrying in those monsters? I got to snoop as they were packing up, and here are some things that they’ve been carrying that we haven’t:

  • running shoes (Lisa’s)
  • full-size towels
  • hammocks
  • a travel, double-sized mosquito net
  • giant pair of headphones in a hard case
  • a portable scale (this is how we weighed our bags–Erik said it was only the 2nd time he’d used it)
  • a lei of artificial flowers that Lisa had been carrying around since Carnival in Rio

All of this doesn’t take up too much space, so as you’ve probably guessed, the majority of their extra weight was taken up by clothes. Warm clothing with more variety. But now that I’ve bought my new sweatshirt and leggings, I don’t see the need for any more clothes (I’m still resigning myself to such a limited wardrobe, sigh). It would be really nice to be able to fit my boots into my backpack and not have to carry them in the duffel. So now comes the very difficult decision of whether or not to keep carrying stuff for trekking (i.e. tent, sleeping pads, etc.).

It’s a difficult decision because we love to trek. We’ve been doing it back in the States for years. We’ve had some great treks so far on our trip. But do we need to continue? Would it be worth the extra space to just rent a tent whenever we want to trek, instead of toting ours around everywhere? We’re still not sure, and so we need to research trekking in other countries and how appealing it is to us at this point in our trip. I’m sure Craig wouldn’t mind offloading the tent, since he’s carrying most of it. For me, any extra space freed up by the absence of a sleeping pad would be welcome. Especially if we’re going to need to make room for towels…

The only thing I concretely wish I hadn’t taken was the purse that I’m wearing in the picture above. It’s a great purse, and quite roomy, but since I have my Flash 18 backpack, it’s redundant. Hopefully I can find somebody to take it back to Seattle for me (ahemMackenzieahem)…

So that’s the packing update for now! Perhaps I’ll do some more posts about how I pack my bag, my two cents on the ol’ folding vs. rolling debate, and any other packing tips I can think of, but honestly, every traveler probably just has to find their own system by trial and error. But if you’re ever in doubt of anything, just remember one thing: Bring that fleece!

Why south America?

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I fell in love with south America in 2008.  I studied in Buenos Aires for 4 months, sandwiched between a month in Patagonia and two more traveling up the west coast of the continent.  I think that almost from the moment I came home it’s been my goal to go back… mostly, I feel like I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg of what the continent has to offer.  I mean, I never even went to Brazil!

To me, the really unique thing about south America is that (almost) all of the countries speak the same language.  Imagine if the United States was the same as it is today, except that each region of the country was a sovereign nation, with different currency, a slightly different history, and so much regional slang.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  Speaking Spanish gets you so far in south America.  And each new currency, regional history, and slang (che boludo) is an exciting new puzzle.  The people are hospitable and friendly, even when I tell them plainly “soy estadounidense.”

Lastly, the natural landscape is just crazy.  The Andes are big (102 peaks over 6,000 meters)!  And there is no shortage of open spaces; the Gran Chaco bleeds into the Pampa, creating a vast region of flatland.  And then the Amazon… I don’t even know what to say about it, because I’ve never been.

So why south America?  Because it’s big and interesting; it’s diverse but also similar.  Because I’ve been there and I already know all of these things.

How do you want look to back at this trip when you’re older? What will you tell people?

I would like to look back on this trip and feel glad and proud that I had done it. But I think this is inevitable, barring any disasters. And even if some parts of the trip are regrettable, I have little doubt that the entire thing will be worth it (of course, this could all be up to the discretion of Columbian drug lords and my appeal to them as a possible drug mule).

It’s difficult to really conceive of the trip enough to have something reasonable to say about it at this time. We’re less than three weeks away from landing in Santiago, and beyond picturing how tired and dirty I’ll feel, my imagination just stops working. Even when I’m lying in bed at night, rigid with anticipation and nerves, I’m not really sure what’s going on in my head. It’s just a generalized aura of apprehension that will, at times, seize me in its grip, but it won’t really clarify anything. So I’m not sure how I want to look back on this trip (besides feeling glad and proud), when I can’t really say how I look on this trip now. Hopefully in a good light. That’s the best answer I can come up with.

One of the most gratifying things when talking to people about this trip, especially older people (barring my mother, of course), is how approving they are. Even before I knew when this trip was going to happen, I would ask patients for a piece of general advice on life, and the majority of them would say, “Travel.” And when I tell them now that I’m taking this trip, every one of them says, “Good for you.” Like I’ve just told them I signed up for calligraphy courses, or something like that. It just seems so simple to them, and I suppose in hindsight, it must be.

If you think about globetrotting even 20 years ago, it was a truly mad endeavor. Loved ones would have to anxiously await a letter that could take weeks to arrive, before they could be assured of a safe passage. How terrifying! And yet, people managed it. No wonder that generation looks at me and says, “Why wouldn’t you? With your blogging and your email and your twitter.”

So maybe, in the future, taking a year off from work and roaming around the globe really won’t be a big deal at all. It’s getting easier and easier to keep in contact with people abroad; the world is getting smaller in many ways. A blog post could be read instantly, tens of thousands of miles away. A reader could be immediately reassured that I was alive and well. In many ways, traveling has gotten much less difficult and scary.

I see myself in those same shoes, years down the road, pointing my finger and saying solemnly, “Go west, young man.” (Meaning, of course, to travel… I’m actually not too keen on manifest destiny or the desecration of native populations.) Because, in fact, millions of others are uprooting themselves, too. Teenagers on their gap year, ex-pats finding homes in faraway places, idealistic ones doing Peace Corps, or even just a young woman, wanting to try something different and going abroad for a year as an au pair. All of these travelers, wandering the world in search of knowledge, peace, enlightenment, or experience. What’s another two people joining their ranks?

I expect that’s what I’ll tell people: We’re nothing special. You could do it as well… And I really hope you will.

Pre-trip Question #4

How do you want look back at this trip when you’re older?  What will you tell people?

I think this trip is a grand adventure and I hope I can look back fondly.  Each trip I have taken offers something to discover about a new place and simultaneously provides an opportunity for self exploration.  I hope I will look back at this trip in the same way.  It is the biggest and most ambitious one yet, and I think it represents my idea of what is most important to me.  I’m leaving a job that I like quite a bit – no doubt a decision which will confuse a lot of people.  I’m putting career and money on the line for something that I think is more important.  I hope that when I look back at this trip from an older age, I will have no regrets and congratulate my younger self on the decisions that were made.

While I’m sure there will be a lot of specific stories from this trip, which I will most likely tell to my friends and family until they’re bored… mostly I will encourage other people to see the world at every opportunity presented to them!  I believe traveling forces you to look at the world, and at yourself, critically.  This is certainly something that has universal benefit.

How will you manage conflict on the trip? Conflict in your relationship, and conflict with the trip (i.e. wanting to call it quits)?

Don’t kid yourselves, folks! Even people who are as young, gregarious, and good-looking as us DO have conflict!

Don’t kid yourselves, folks! Even people who are as young, gregarious, and good-looking as us DO experience conflict!

Craig and I have definitely had our issues. We’ve obviously worked through a lot of them, but as my relationship self-help books say (I’m serious–they can be eye-openers!), you can never resolve ALL of your issues. But if you can’t, then I think talking about them helps, and we’ve always been good at communicating with each other; hopefully that doesn’t change. I’ve also found that we’re usually in sync with each other when it comes to our levels of tolerance, so if one of us gets sick of something, I’m hoping the other one is getting close to feeling that way, too. And if all else fails, there’s always that ol’ trusty adage–Absence makes the heart grow fonder! There can be so many ways to take a break from each other: listen to a podcast, do separate activities, make new friends. I suppose I’m not too worried about it.

What I find interesting from Craig’s post, is that I sense some doubt from him as to my commitment to this journey. It’s understandable that he’d think I will want to call it quits early, as this has been his dream, and I’m just “along for the ride”, in some respects. But at the same time, I’m also quitting my job and putting my life in the States on hold for this. I’m using up lots of my savings (a much larger percentage than Craig is, actually, as I haven’t been working as steadily for as long) and I’m carving out this year to do it. I’ll have to give up my friends, hobbies, leisure activities (no Netflix overseas??), and favorite foods (you know, the greasy, American kinds). So I would say I’m pretty committed, but I can see why Craig would think my commitment is tenuous.

I suppose what he doesn’t understand, is how blessed I feel to have him be the driving force in this venture. If it wasn’t for Craig, I may never have gotten the courage to travel long-term, and for that, I am truly thankful. I’ve had a lot of friends tell me I’m lucky that my partner is so determined to do this trip, and I always agree. It’s difficult to do something that’s uncomfortable, and traveling for a long time is definitely an uncomfortable thing for me at this stage. I’ve also never been one of those people who’ve dreamt of visiting such-and-such place since they were little children. In effect, I don’t have the yearning that so many world travelers do, and I never have. I’ve often thought in passing, “Oh, that would be cool,” and that’s about as far as it has gone.

But one thing I have been passionate about, is growing as a person. It sounds silly and cliched, but you don’t get ahead in life by sitting on your ass and not trying new things for fear of the unfamiliar. If I was like that, I’d still be in Riverside (a.k.a. the “Armpit of California”), miserable in my crappy copy-editing job and emotionally abusive relationship, and never having any of the fun and cool experiences that I do now, not to mention just being happy. Life has taught me that big and scary changes (like leaving all my friends and family and moving to Seattle) are worth it in the end. I may not be miserable in my job or unhappy in my relationship right now, but that doesn’t mean a change is a bad idea.

And if I’m making this change with the person I love? All the better.

So, Craig (or is it Esteban?), unless I lose my hand in an unfortunate zip-lining accident or something of that nature, I promise that I will not make you come home early!

Pre-trip Question #2

How will you manage conflict on the trip?  Conflict in your relationship, and conflict with the trip (i.e. wanting to call it quits)?

I think relationship conflict is inevitable.  There will be hard times on this trip.  We will be out of our element pretty regularly, and most likely tired from exhausting travel, etc.  I think we will need to be patient, and kind to each other.  We will need to keep communication open.  And we will need to seek out opportunities to be social with other people.  In my experience, spending time with other travelers can be a great way to unwind the tensions between co-travelers, regardless of their relationship.  

The trip is pretty open-ended.  We’ve talked a lot about going for a year, but if we’re having a really good time, and we aren’t broke, then we could stay longer.  I keep talking about ending up in central america, on a Nicaraguan beach for the last month.  That could be super relaxing and cheap!  But it’s a good question to consider – that someone may want to quit before the other is ready to.  I hope that there will be a very natural end to the trip, where we will both get simultaneously homesick and travel weary enough that we decide to head home… I guess it will be a wait-and-see situation for me.  I don’t want to plan out scenarios where one of us wants to go home, and the other one does not.  I’m hopeful that we would make a decision together so that we can avoid any feelings of resentment.

-Esteban

What do you think you’ll miss the most? What are you excited to leave behind?

I will miss FOOD the most. Flaming Hot Funyuns, Pringles, ranch dressing, Caesar salads, buffalo wings, Kraft singles, Hot Pockets, etc. But… it’s probably a good thing I’ll be separated from all of that for awhile.

I will also miss having all of my things… my knitting, my books, my DVDs, my clothes! How will I survive without it all? I also have this complex where I feel the need for back-ups… If I’m a month away from running out of shampoo, I need to go and buy some more, because I hate the thought of running out of things. So this will be a problem.

I’ll miss my friends… I have regular lunches and dinners with some friends, and I will miss having that contact. But hopefully, I’ll be able to Facetime or Skype, as well as email and message while I’m down there.

I also think, at times, I’ll really miss a good, hot shower that I can take barefoot without the fear athlete’s foot.

I’m super excited to leave behind all of the poop and pee and blood involved with nursing. The 12 hour shifts can be such a grind. My skin is always breaking out in rashes from the hand sanitizers and soap. And sometimes, work just sucks. So it’ll be nice not to have to worry about that for awhile!

Other than work, there’s not a whole lot I’m excited to leave behind. I really like my life, Seattle, my friends and coworkers… and usually I like work when my patient hasn’t pooed all over the floor. So it’ll be interesting to see how I deal without my creature comforts.