What were the best (most useful) things we brought

Sheena and I spent a lot of time thinking about what to bring on this trip. Maybe we should have spent a little less, since some of the last minute, least thought-out purchases ended up being the most useful. Here are a few that almost everyday we’re glad we brought along.

  • Camelbak All-Clear UV Water Filter – Thanks Mom and Dad! Best Christmas gift ever! This thing is amazing. It costs about $100, but we think we would have spent about three-times that in bottled water throughout Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador (parts of Colombia too) without it. We’ve never been sick from drinking the filtered water from the tap, and it’s super easy to use. The advantage over other systems (like Steripen) is that you screw the UV-cap directly onto the bottle and agitate. No spillage – no hassles.
  • Tokina 12-24mm, F/4 Wide Angle Lens – I bought this one week before we left, when a photographer friend stared at me, mouth open, after I told him what equipment I was going to bring. For our first month in Patagonia alone, the purchase was worth it. The Tokina works flawlessly with my Canon SLR body, and I saved about $100. Highly recommended!

Wide angle shot of the reservoir surrounding Guatape, Colombia

  • AYL Portable Speaker – It’s small and easy to use. The charge lasts a long time, then easily charges back up with USB. The sound quality is great and always surprising how loud it can get considering it’s size. We use this for music and watching movies on the laptop.
  • Charles Schwab Investment Checking Debit Card – Sheena did all the research, while I got on this one at the last possible minute (seriously, I shipped this overnight to California days before we left). This is the one card that we found which has no Currency Conversion Fees, and refunds all ATM fees. We’ve saved more than $400 by using this card. Many banks down here only let you take out $100 at a time, and will charge you up to 5%. Then your own bank might charge you the same! We are so happy we have had this card with us. It’s a bit of a hassle to set up, so do it more than a week before you leave..
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Thoughts on Coming Home

In some ways, I can hardly believe we’re boarding a flight in a week to go back to the States; in other ways, I really just CANNOT wait! There are so many things I’m looking forward to (mostly food-related), that it feels difficult to wait even these last several days. But I also know that there are many things that I’ll miss about South America, despite how much I’ve complained during this trip.

It’s been very interesting to realize just how routine “going without” can become. No one I know would voluntarily wear the same pair of socks four days in a row, but since we have so few pairs and doing laundry is not a common occurrence due to inconvenience and cost, we have done so. It’s not pleasant, nor does it smell good, but it’s something that had to be done, and so we’ve learned to deal with it.

Having never done a trip longer than three weeks before this year-long adventure, there have been a lot of learning points for me. I’ve learned not to expect too much–what I would call buffalo wings, will probably come out of the kitchen as nothing like buffalo wings, so I’ve slowly become inured to the disappointment. I’ve learned how to pack my backpack so that it holds a lot more than it did when I first started out. I’ve learned what I can handle, or, more importantly, what I can’t handle, without going off the deep end. Travel has, of course, changed me, but I hope I haven’t become one of those tiresome people who talk about travel as if it’s the best thing in life, even better than water, probably (ugh, spare me!).

No, I can think of better ways to describe travel without putting it on some kind of pedestal high above every other possible ambition in life.

It’s a sacrifice, but so are careers, relationships, houses, children… anything worth having, really. You don’t view a horrible time as some kind of life lesson or beautiful experience that reminds you of the universe, you just forget about it and move on. And you will have horrible times, don’t doubt that. You will, in fact, hate travel sometimes, but be assured that these times are quite few, even if you’re a cynical, withered, old viper like myself. It can open your eyes, but don’t be surprised if you meet some exceedingly ignorant travelers along the way. Be open to experiences, but please don’t think you have to eat fried ants just because they’re there and “you have to do it”. There are limits. And lastly, it’s not for everybody, but don’t be afraid of it, because you’ll never regret it.

So here, willy-nilly, are several lists of things that have been floating through my head these past few weeks as the end has loomed up.

Things that I’ll miss about S. America vs. N. America:

  • The ability to buy just one tablet of any drug at the pharmacy (or, indeed, one stick of celery at the supermarket, etc.)
  • Central markets. I know we have Pike Place Market in Seattle, and other Farmer’s Markets (the closest equivalent to the mercado central down here), but it’s really just not the same!
  • Set lunches/dinners
  • Stray dogs, animals everywhere. The sheer number of llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, dogs, cats, pigs, cows, sheep, horses, and birds that we’ve seen is astonishing. There’s nothing quite like peeping over a fence and seeing a litter of piglets bouncing around and off each other in maddening cuteness. I will miss having a pet dog for the day, or having a hostel cat curl up in your lap for an hour or two.
  • Fruit/produce stands on the corners of streets. It’s like having your own little Farmer’s Market just down the road, for exceedingly cheap prices!
  • Ease and economy of travel. Since Craig and I have been trying to plan our travel up the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle, it has only come to us even more forcefully how incredibly difficult and costly it is to travel through the States. Imagine a bus that left every 30 minutes from LA to San Francisco, that cost only $6, and was fairly comfortable. You can’t!
  • Speaking Spanish all the time. Just when I was starting to get pretty good…
  • Meeting new people all the time.

Things I won’t miss about S. America or just traveling in general:

  • Having to bargain for every. little. thing! If you imagine bargaining as fun, just try doing it every day for everything (bus transportation included!). It gets dull.
  • Feeling ripped off – the flip side of not bargaining and why we feel the need to do it.
  • Not having my own bathroom (and having to wear flip flops when I shower).
  • Needing to acquaint myself with my surroundings every few days.
  • Researching and booking hostels–a never-ending task.
  • Only having six shirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of leggings, one pair of shorts, two dresses, one hoody, and two pairs of underwear. If I never see these clothes again it will be too soon.
  • Meeting new people all the time. This, also, can get pretty tiring!
  • Being away from family and friends.
  • Trying to sleep through the sounds of donkeys braying, roosters crowing, dogs barking, car alarms going off, thumping bass music from the club next door, etc.
  • Having to constantly avoid stepping on dog poo on the sidewalks.

Things I wish I’d brought and have subsequently had to buy (or not, as indicated by *):

  • Boxer shorts
  • Black leggings (I have bought no less than 4 pairs on this trip, having had to get rid of other pairs for various reasons)
  • Waterproof camera case, but I think Craig and I should get a proper waterproof camera someday
  • Extra pair street socks (so 4 total)
  • Hoody (Patagonia was SO cold!)
  • Trucker hat or cute sun hat
  • Insulated water bottle*
  • Usb drive w/ movies & music
  • Binoculars*
  • Sarong that can be cute scarf too (never entirely successful with this)
  • Bobby pins (just a few)
  • Shower cap
  • Cute flip flops (since my ballerina Crocs didn’t work out)

Things I’ve lost:

  • 1 pair street socks
  • Headlamp
  • Tent poles (UGH.)
  • Beanie
  • Headphones (but retrieved later by Mayra from Mi Pequeña Ayuda, for which I am forever grateful)
  • 1 sock liner – Is there anything sadder than a lone sock without its partner? Yes, probably, many things…

Things Craig has lost (he wins):

  • Two trucker hats
  • Earplugs

Things I can live without but would rather not have to:

  • Hair conditioner
  • Face wash
  • My clothes (a quarter of what I’ve carried around is hiking clothes, which I don’t even wear much)
  • Washing said clothes after a single use (this would have gotten veeeerry expensive… and tiresome)
  • Having more than two pairs of underwear (I need to stop harping on this, don’t I?)
  • Knitting stuff (and I could only live without it for about four months)
  • A good kitchen
  • A private room – Nothing like being jolted awake by the person in the bunk below you thrashing around… although we’ve thankfully escaped that constant menace of backpackers having sex in the dorms! The term “Get a room!” really has special meaning here…
  • Hooks. Possibly the easiest thing to add to any hostel room, but sadly lacking in most. Luckily, there are usually chairs, curtain rods, paintings that you can put on the floor, etc…
  • A bathroom that doesn’t have the holy trifecta: toilet seat, toilet paper, or soap. Inevitably, there’s always something missing.

Things I can’t live without (especially while traveling):

  • P-style!! I can never say enough good things about this.
  • Shower flip flops (I have this thing about my feet…), and no, they don’t JUST have to be for the shower
  • Knitting stuff, at least not after four months… and probably only in colder climates, if I think about it more…
  • Small travel towel. A big towel is not needed at all; I can only think of one instance where a hostel did not have towels available at all (and because they weren’t dry yet), and only two or three hostels that actually charged for towels
  • Kindle, which Craig can attest to since he’s always trying to steal mine
  • About ten million stuff sacks. You can never, NEVER have enough stuff sacks
  • Baby wipes (they saved my butt–literally!–when I had that blowout during the Uyuni jeep tour)

I’d better just stop this last list before I get carried away. There are, in fact, many many things I can’t do without, but since they include such mundane items as nail clippers, I’ll spare you the gory details. Needless to say, it’s dead boring.

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!

the pack list is out!

Allright guys… the long-awaited, super informational, totally awesome post about what I’ve packed is finally here. Craig took some of his own pictures of his stuff and maybe he’ll post something about it… maybe not. But here is MINE. Because it took me forever to decide what to bring. Ooof.

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First comes the toiletries… One of the hardest parts of this whole packing endeavor was trying to figure out what to do with my eyes. I’m extremely near-sighted, (I blame those long hours after bedtime, surreptitiously reading by the night-light. That, and my hatred of carrots.) so it’s kind of an issue trying to figure out what to do with contacts. If only I’d been far-sighted (is that a pun?) enough to have thought of doing lasix surgery last year…

Beyond the usual stuff of soap, shampoo, etc., some of the more interesting things I’ve brought are:

1. Mia cup (Craig hates it when I talk about this… but it’s amazing).
2. This weird, crystal deodorant… it’s not an anti-perspirant, but it might work to control odor. Maybe. This remains to be determined.
3. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Apparently it’s the holy grail of traveling soap.
4. A universal plug for washing our own clothes (Craig has the clothesline).
5. Resistance band to work my weak ankle.

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This is my camping stuff. I carry half of the tent (the parts that don’t take up as much room–the poles, stakes, and footprint). Other than that, it’s pretty standard stuff… we’ve got our headnets still from the PCT hike we did last summer, and I bought a little magic shammy towel. We also bought some pillholder things, but put spices in them. And of course, can’t go backpacking without my trusty spade. Doing your business outdoors is unpleasant enough without having to spend ages digging an 8-inch-deep hole with your boot.

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The clothes! I brought:

-2 dresses
-2 long-sleeved backpacking shirts (that also have permethrin and SPF in them)
-1 light-weight sweater
-1 cardigan
-3 tops
-2 sleeping tank tops
-1 pair scrub pants
-1 pair shorts
-1 set long underwear
-1 pair jeggings
-1 pair rain pants
-1 pair hiking pants
-1 synthetic insulated jacket
-1 rain jacket

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Underwear and accessories:

-gaiters
-3 pair hiking socks
-4 pair sock liners
-3 pair street socks
-1 pair mittens
-1 scarf
-3 pair quick-dry underwear
-1 swim suit
-2 handkerchiefs
-3 sports bras
-1 baseball cap
-1 backpacking hat/headband

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The decision on shoes was made easy with these cute, but functional as shower slippers, Crocs. Hiking boots are obvious, since we’ll be doing trekking, but sneakers are also nice for just getting around town.

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Some miscellaneous stuff in my purse… The flash-18 I packed in my check-in. And my fan… very important in hot climates.

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Electronics:

-kindle
-camera
-ipod touch
-mini speaker

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More backpacking stuff, of which the only thing you should really care about is the P-STYLE!!! (Also something Craig hates hearing me talk about.) This thing is seriously amazing. Maybe if you’ve grown up camping and are accustomed to “popping a squat” (as Hannah says), then this will not appeal to you. But to ME, it seriously makes me so happy. I can pee standing up! I don’t have to find a super secret place to do it! And I can do it without taking my pack off, even! It’s great. I love it. End endorsement.

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Here’s my sleeping bag…

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And here it is compressed in a bag! This is why we decided to buy new down bags, actually… the space was definitely worth the price. Hopefully the bags are warm…

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And here is everything that was going into my pack, all in their little stuff sacks (aside from that red bag at the bottom of the photo). Craig thinks I went overboard with the stuff sacks, but I think you can never have too many stuff sacks. Unless every item is in its own little stuff sack, maybe… hmm…. I have to ponder this now. Oh, and we brought some Irish Mist for those cold Patagonian nights. That stuff is delicious.

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And here it ALL is… everything we’re bringing (except for the camera that I used to take this picture… and the clothes we were wearing). This is it! Our lives for the next year. Whew!

for relaxing times… go to Riverside

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With my best gals at the happiest place on earth.

It’s been really nice hanging out with my family in Southern California. I know I’m always making fun of Riverside and calling it the “Armpit of California”, but there are redeeming qualities. Not the least of which is that it’s really warm… 80 degrees in January?! No wonder they’re in the middle of a drought.

The other nice thing is that it’s just been a relief to take a break before we begin our real travels. We left Seattle on Saturday, but I had worked the Monday night before, so we were trying to pack and store everything in about 2.5 days, before we went to stay with Craig’s parents for a couple of nights. Those 2.5 days were intense! You never think you have as much stuff as you actually have. And we were getting rid of so much of it! So thank you to all of you who are holding onto some of our belongings… it really helps us out! Now if we can just remember where everything is when we get back…

When we finally got on the plane to come down to California, our bags were STUFFED! And I was so confident that we weren’t bringing much… so we’re trying to reconsider what we need to bring and what we don’t. I would like to have a little bit of leeway in my pack… I don’t want it to be totally stuffed to the gills all the time. We’re trying to consolidate. Getting rid of more clothes…

But don’t worry, all you anxious readers. Craig and I will definitely be taking pictures of all the things we’re bringing and we’ll give you a comprehensive list. I’d like to document it for posterity anyway, so we can see what we needed or didn’t need as time goes on. I’m hoping I don’t have to throw stuff away… and people are always saying it’s better to bring less than more, but my argument is, wouldn’t it be better to throw things away than to buy new things?? Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to just soak up the sun, visit old friends, go on Space Mountain twice (among other, wonderfully nostalgic things), and hang out with my friends, family, and my especially cute niece.

Oh right, and do my taxes. Uggghhhhh….

hello from sunny southern california

boot maintenance

Sheena does some boot maintenance

It was 72 degrees today!  What a welcome change.  We’re having a nice time relaxing down here, having lost some of our pre-trip stress once we left Seattle.  Our material goods are safely stowed away (or at Goodwill!  seriously, at least 4 car loads!) and we’re down to just a few bags.  Maybe a few more bags than we wanted though… the paring down will continue this week, as we try to answer hard questions like, do we need a camping pillow?  Can we go a year wearing only three t-shirts?  Is a towel necessary?

things I’ve made for the trip

So it’s my last shift of work starting at 7:00pm tonight. MY LAST ONE (at least for awhile)!! Huzzah!!

Since I couldn’t sleep from the excitement of it all, I decided to get up and take pictures of all the things I’ve made for this trip (and for previous backpacking trips as well). I’m not sure why I decide to make things as opposed to buying a bunch of stuff… I’ve always loved to knit, of course, but I think the other crafty side of me exists because 1) everything is exactly to my specifications, or as near to it as my skill allows… which sometimes isn’t much, 2) secretly, I wish I was the next Asian Martha Stewart (hopefully there’s not already one existing), and 3) Pinterest makes you think you can make a bunch of stuff yourself, with varying degrees of success…

Behold!

This hat has a hole in it. Don’t worry, it’s on purpose so I can put my hair up. The pattern is called “Spirograph“.

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I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this pouch… maybe to put my passport and other tickety things in? I used this tutorial from noodlehead. But I changed the size to match the length of my zipper, and I also think I should have topstitched the fabric to the zipper before the sewing around the perimeter step… the zipper catches on the fabric sometimes.

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This wallet is small and flexible so that I can put it in my bra and hopefully it’s super inconspicuous. Although now I’m telling you about it and you know where my money is. Don’t pickpocket me, please (or would it be called pick-bra-ing?). Here’s the tutorial, from Soubelles.

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I made a couple of headbands (tutorial here).

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Some more zippered pouches, but out of ripstop nylon. For toiletries and stuff like that. I don’t think I used any specific tutorial, just kind of cobbled it together from things I’d seen and probably this book.

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You can’t go backpacking without about 10 million stuff sacks. I used this video tutorial from SLOABN.

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And then I slaved over these little lens cap/filter cozies for Craig. Yes, that is really a turtle on  a skateboard. Amazing!! I’m not sure why I haven’t made more things out of that material. Here’s the tutorial, from Polka Dot Chair.

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I made these mittens a long time ago, but I kind of made them up as I went, so there’s no pattern to follow (if you even wanted to). I think they’ll be versatile since they’re convertible (including the thumbs!), not too bulky, and warm. I just have to remember not to machine wash my wool things.

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I made this silverware cozy this past summer for backpacking. I’m afraid I’m too lazy to search for the tutorial that I found… I can’t even remember what I searched for. It definitely wasn’t “silverware cozy”, that’s for sure.

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I’m allergic to mosquitos (large, painful welts that also ITCH), and I read somewhere that catnip oil was a great, natural mosquito repellent, so I bought some from Tenzing Momo, and also some peppermint, eucalyptus, and citronella oil from The Vajra. I then concocted this lotion bar (thank you, Pinterest… although maybe you’ll see this on PinterestFail later) from this tutorial on Wellness Mama. As you can see, I stuffed it into an old deodorant bar casing for easy application.

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Likewise, I made these solid perfumes with the same essential oils… they’re lighter and maybe just as effective as the lotion bar? Anyway, another Pinterest find, and here are the links to the two tutorials I used, one from Etsy, and one from Design Sponge. I really hope these homemade bug repellents work… I kind of hate DEET, and nothing else I’ve tried has really been super effective.

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Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. I don’t even know where I got the time to do it all… I made some of these things weeks to months ago. It’s a good thing I’ve been thinking about all this for awhile… otherwise I’d be going crazy right now trying to get it all done. As it is, I feel like I’ve done all I can do… and we’ll just hope it all won’t just go to waste and end up on PinterestFail!