The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Tag: packing light

South America Packing List: Winter 2016 Version

About this time last year, I was hopping planes from Peru to Chicago to India in order to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Kalit. Kelli and I made the voyage together from Chicago to India…but this year? We’re going from Cleveland to South America, to celebrate my own wedding.

This Saturday, we’ll head to the C-L-E for our summery Argentina & Chile excursion. We’ve got plenty of things on the docket: Mendoza wine tour, all of Jorge’s extended family (including the far-flung relatives I’ve never met), our wedding reception RURAL STYLE, bus rides through the Andes, and the lovely VALPARAISO, with all the graffiti, sea shore, and hill climbing we can stand.

Much like last year, I’m facing the problem of what the hell do I do about the different temperatures in all these places I’m going? Because right now, in Jorge’s homeland, it’s like 100 degrees. And in Ohio, right now, it’s 18 degrees.

One thing is for certain this time–I can at least leave my winter jacket behind in Ohio. It’ll go like this: my dad will pull up to Departures…he’ll slow to a crawl, keeping an eye out for the police officers who want to shoo everyone along before they’ve had time to even cough…I will shed my soon-to-be-unnecessary jacket, feigning I’m-about-to-unload-officer motions…I’ll glance heavily at the snowfall around me…and I will barrel roll out of the car with my backpack already strapped on, gathering momentum until I feel the whoosh of hot air as I glide through the sliding doors of the Check-In area.

VICTORY. No winter jacket…no hypothermia…no ridiculous, laden bags.

For my four week trip out of the USA this year, I am packing light. Or, as light as I can muster given that I need out-of-the-ordinary things like jewelry for my wedding dress and various flats in case I change my mind last minute.

Jorge warned me the other day to be prepared for the heat. I mean, it’s a valid warning, though my immediate reaction was “Pfff, OK. Like I need to prepare for that.”

But I do. I mean, if you get somewhere that’s 100 degrees and you don’t have a single pair of shorts or a single sleeveless shirt…that’s a special kind of hell already. Your limbs gotta breathe.

That said, I’m prepared for the damn heat. I have like, three summer dresses, two pairs of shorts, all of the tank tops I’ve ever laid eyes on, and two bathing suits. I’m prepared for the heat.

But I’m also prepared for other things. Let’s take a look at this snapshot of my packing progress today.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I've only packed five things. I swear there's a backpack with other stuff in it.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I’ve only packed five things. I swear there’s a backpack with other stuff in it.

What are we looking at here?

Sunglasses: check.

Passport: duh. Check.

Bindis: check. You never know when you’ll need a bindi to color-coordinate with your outfit at your Argentinian wedding.

Rattle: check. This is a magical rattle and was part of a larger rattle from my best friend Heather, so this is either self-explanatory or more confusing.

Mermaid leggings: check. I may very well not put these leggings on, especially since they are skin-tight and made of a fabric that seems like it would induce epic sweating. But, let’s be real…if I get to South America and there’s even one moment where I WISH I had these leggings and I DON’T? I’ll have failed as the resident Astronaut Mermaid. After all, it’s wise to plan for a little bit of space in your luggage…and whether that space ends up fitting mermaid leggings or bootlegged bottles of Malbec wine on your way back into the country, or BOTH…hey. That’s your call.

Those are the essentials….so far, at least. Luckily, my wedding dress is already in Argentina, waiting for me, probably sweating on my behalf in the San Luis heat. That’s one item you wouldn’t want to forget for your wedding in South America, but thankfully I sent it ahead with my personal husband courier.

Oh, and don’t forget to check back for more updates on our wedding, Southern Hemisphere Edition…there’s more Wedding Woes and Wonders ahead! Signing off, for now…

The Difference A Few Pounds Makes

I’m approaching That Time again: the seasonal shift or moon cycle or Chinese New Year when my partner and I pack up all of our belongings into a couple backpacks and say ADIOS.

Moving out

A shot from our move from Lima to Cusco, November 2014. The third backpack had household goods, like cheap pots and cutting boards, things we had purchased in Lima and carried with us to Cusco — not your typical backpack contents!

We leave Peru on May 1st, where we’ll head to Argentina to spend a month visiting Jorge’s family (the yearly visit where we lounge in the rolling, rural climes and soak in every manner of melodic Argentine Spanish, cookouts, and way better bread options). The first two weeks of June we’ll be in Chile, visiting friends and that house we founded together, yet another very important stop on our Farewell, South America! Tour of 2015. I’ll be working on the road, as always, struggling to fit in my hours and convince my editors/bosses I’m serious about what I’m doing. And then…it’s the USA, baby!

I’ll be honest: there’s a lot of cool things about my lifestyle. As slow travelers, we get to experience new places in a way that isn’t jam-packed with sightseeing, tourist prices, and frenetic bus schedules that would make even the most hardy traveler weep with sorrow and exhaustion.

But for all the cool things, there are some downsides as well.

I’ll save all the downsides for a different post. But one of the most irritating, and tiring, downsides, is that of carrying your life’s possessions on your back. We both have home bases in the sense that we have a childhood home to return to. But other than that? Everything we need, in any moment, in any part of the world, is WITH us.

This reality of slow travel is made harder for me by the fact that A.) I like to travel with a literal library of books (I’M A READER AND WRITER, WHAT) and B.) I am what could be called a struggling minimalist.

Some people might look at Jorge and I and say, “Oh please, I couldn’t fit my possessions into two bags if you paid me in gold doubloons and ancient Incan pottery.”

And yes, true. I’ve been in that boat. While I couldn’t fit all the possessions that remain in Ohio in two backpacks, you COULD pay me in doubloons or pottery to accomplish it.

Prior to moving abroad in 2012, I had a month-long garage sale to shave off unnecessary shit that had been accumulating in a spare room in my childhood home for years, like an unwieldy and completely useless appendage that nobody ever looked at or needed.

What’s worse is that every year when I go home to visit, I spend at least a week paring down those remaining objects MORE.

I have inherited PACKRAT genes, and I am aware of it. That’s what counseling is for, right? Why do we SAVE so much STUFF? (That answer might be for another post, as well!)

At any rate, the packrat effect has subsided in recent history. My travel endeavors are a direct result of my attempts at non-attachment to physical items.

I realized, in my mid-20’s, that I had a lot of REALLY strong emotional attachments to a lot of really PHYSICAL objects. And that these emotional attachments were not something that had sprung up, unbidden, in my adult years, but rather it was a slow simmer of a companion, something that had grown and evolved alongside me since my formative years.

Scraps of paper, gifts, old clothes, you name it. I was afraid of getting rid of these things because I felt that, somehow, in ridding myself of the object that I would rid myself of the memory. Of the pleasant feelings. Of the better times.

That’s completely untrue, I came to find out, once I started a little task called ‘throwing things in the garbage’. Not only did I not lose my memories, or my childhood, or my school years, or any manner of personality aspects, I felt considerably BETTER.

Lighter. Freer. Able to breathe a little easier, in fact. I hadn’t realized the sheer weight of the memories I surrounded myself with, the chokehold these scraps of the past could wield.

Trying to detach and otherwise disassociate from my emotional connection to things doesn’t mean it’s a perfected art or that I’m any sort of guru. But rather, it’s a journey. Attempts, often laden with failures.

But I keep trying.

And I keep losing more and more weight.

(In my backpack, that is. I’m not physically whittling away to nothing, don’t worry.)

Our slow travel lifestyle helps me take stock of my possessions, anywhere from once a year to every couple of months. And though it can be a drag, literally, to divorce myself from my City Of The Moment, to sell off my belongings, to skim the chaff of my worldly possessions…it’s also a helpful, centering practice.

To take a hard look at what I have in my personal space and then, by default, my MENTAL space…that’s pretty important to keeping a clear head and light innards. And by innards, I mean guts and also the heart space.

Things come and go. Cars, furniture, houses, neighborhoods, clothing, books…they’re all neutral objects that can leave our lives as quickly and easily as they appear. Some are necessary, for at least a period of time. And that’s okay. The problem is not in having things, but rather, the sometimes sickly relationship we maintain with them.

The things are not me any more than I am my things. But I spent many years placing a lot of emotional stock in my possessions.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m still a little reluctant for my dad to get rid of the couch in his house, even though he’s been ready for a full five years to haul it to the dump. Why? Because I grew up with that couch, and it’s insanely comfortable, and MEMORIES! But alas, Astromaid…it is just an object.)

So, as we face yet another tide change, another country hop, another cultural shift, I look around my mini-apartment and my backpack and imagine the improbable yet inevitable ways in which these two halves will form a cohesive equation.

It starts with questions.

Do I really need to keep these 5 books I read already but didn’t really like? No. It’s okay to give them away (even though I sort of have a strict “Keep Every Book You Ever Touch” policy….I’M WORKING ON IT).

Do I really need the various Cusco advertisements and street offers that somehow remind me of living here, and I intended to paste into my journal but still haven’t, even though I am surrounded by ample amounts of evidence that I have lived here? NO. Please god, let’s just throw these away right now.

Do I need the clothes I picked up somewhere along the way but am hesitant to get rid of just in case I might need a pair of hot pink shorts? No. Give them away.

Do I really need the six pairs of leggings? …Well…I’ll get back to you on this one.

Some long-term travelers do it way skimpier than I do. And that’s okay. They might be happy with their laptop, a phone charger, two pairs of pants, three pairs of underwear and a water bottle (AND THAT’S IT). While I will forever envy their ultra-tiny backpack and the way they never have to check a bag ever again or trudge 2 miles in the highlands of Bolivia in the freezing cold with a backpack the weight of a dead man…I also know that I am striking the best balance I can.

At the end of the day, I can fit all my things into a backpack, and still have my worldly comforts, like a small library of emerging American fiction writers at my fingertips.

Otherwise it just wouldn’t be my life, no matter where in the world, no matter how many things on my back. The important part is in remembering that I can also survive without whatever is in my backpack.

The Non-Negotiable Necessities of Travel

It’s that time of the year again – PACKING TIME. At the end of January, I’ll be hopping to Chicago for a few days before my friend Kelli and I head to India for a real life, legit Hindu wedding. (GET READY FOR UPDATES, PEOPLE!)

Preparations for this trip are a little different than normal.

First of all, I don’t have to cart along every single possession I own. I can leave the bulk of my belongings behind in Cusco, with my lovely partner who will watch over them while silently cursing me for leaving him to jet off to the Taj Mahal.

Secondly, almost as if to add insult to injury, I’m hijacking my partner’s brand new backpack. Why? Because it’s nicer than mine. And it’s smaller. And it looks better. And because we are slowly dissolving the boundaries of what is HIS and what is MINE. (No, seriously. I noticed today that I was wearing his zip-up jacket, and he was wearing MY new sweater. Couple, much??)

As I set to work moving things into their new home today, I stumbled upon a few objects that MUST be in my backpack at all times. These are non-negotiable backpack dwellers, the veritable mayor of Possessions Village. In fact, if I’m caught without these things, I might as well NOT TRAVEL.

Every traveler has these items. And for me, they’re as follows:

Copies of my passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, and itinerary. Now, before you get worried about someone conveniently stumbling upon these items and stealing my identity, hang on. None of these are notarized, so they wouldn’t serve as legal documents if someone were to actually try to PASS as me. Furthermore, these copies are on hand in the event that my PURSE gets stolen in transit. So that way, if I suddenly find myself in a bus station or airport with a freshly missing purse/wallet, I can at least utilize these documents to PROVE that I am who I am as I attempt to sort out the mess, board the flight, or otherwise try to convince a mean-looking official that things are fine and I’m not a criminal.

A shrimp from Nashville, TN. I picked this beaded shrimp up at the Nashville Museum of Art back in 2006 or thereabouts. It lived on my keychain then for approximately five years. The shrimp was then relegated to living on my bookcase in Ohio, but some sort of sorcery occurred between 2011 and 2013, because then I found it during a trip to visit my mother in Tennessee in the summer of 2013. She found it, mailed it to me, and now it comes with me everywhere. Not only has it been a fixture in my everyday belongings (key chain) since 2006, now it holds even more importance, since my boyfriend’s nickname is Camaron (Shrimp). I’ve been carrying Camaron with me for years, without knowing a real life Shrimp was waiting for me! (Did I manifest that without knowing?)

Beaded shrimp doesn’t look much like my boyfriend shrimp, but the meaning is there. 

A rosary from Mexico City, Mexico. In 2008, during a trip through Mexico City, I went to visit the Basilica of Guadalupe, one of the most important religious sites in the city. After visiting the grounds, I passed through the market nearby which was bursting with all sorts of religious relics and Catholic-themed souvenirs. I picked up a small, knotted rosary, which pays homage to my own Catholic roots, and the fact that we can all use a religious symbol on hand, especially when situations get tough. 

Knotty rosary from Mexico City

Emergency items: flashlight, sewing kit, first aid kit, and a hand mirror. If these things aren’t in my backpack, I’ll feel weird on the inside. I haven’t used most of these objects, but we all know the minute they AREN’T in my backpack is the second they’ll come in handy. I recommend always having these basic items on hand. Unexpected backpack rips can be trip-stoppers: this happened to me on my way to the airport in October 2014 – horrible long-term tear that came loose at the last second and made my backpack vulnerable to theft and even more damage with luggage handlers. I fixed that baby in 15 minutes flat. Maybe that’s also why I’m taking my boyfriend’s backpack this time; flashlights for unexpected power outages, or rummaging through luggage on dark buses/hostels; and hand mirrors for looking at yourself for the first time in two days after that horrendous journey on bus from southern Chile to northern Argentina.

Each trip has its own special packing list, but these items come with me no matter where I go, no matter the trip.

 What things do you guys take with you? Any special amulets or good luck charms? Any bizarre packing must-haves? 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Border Runs

There comes a time during every ex-pat’s trip when the “maximum date” allowed on the visa approaches scarily close to the actual date staring back at you on the calendar. If you’ve already approached the Foreigner’s Department and paid $100 for a 90-day extension, have no plans to leave, in fact have already signed a contract for an apartment in an uber-cool part of an even uber-er-cool city, what do you do?

Border Run.

Listen, it sounds shady and illegal and maybe it is in a 100% upstanding-law-abiding-citizen-of-the-world sort of way. But I’m not the only one who relies heavily on this legal loophole. The governments know that extranjeros (foreigners) frequently leave a country for a matter of days or weeks only to return to wherever it was they were staying just to get that extra 90 days. It can be done indefinitely, I suppose, until Immigration starts asking questions. Luckily, it can take years for that to happen. I don’t plan to raise any eyebrows down here, so once it gets suspicious I’ll apply for a different type of visa. Eventually.

This isn’t my first foray with the Border Run. My first experience was Guatemala-Belize when I had my internship with Cafe Yax-ha back in 2008. My friend Annie and I spent a glorious weekend among Mayan Ruins basking in the sun and the strange English of Belize, eating shrimp tacos and sleeping in hammocks outdoors. The Border Run is oftentimes a forced vacation. The level of enjoyment is determined by your attitude and your bank account. Luckily for me, the former is usually pretty good and the second one, well, I’ll make do.

Step One: Buy a ticket to the nearest foreign destination. In this case, it’s Mendoza, Argentina, right in the middle of wine country.  It’s only a 6 or 7 (or 8…or 9?) hour bus ride. The only option they had was the overnight bus. Onward to wine country!

Step Two: Pack very little. Unless your Border Run is a multi-week adventure, this is a chance to experience lightweight travel. Which, for me, is a rarity akin to arriving anywhere at the time I said I’d be there, or spotting Bigfoot. I came to Mendoza with a backpack – a regular school backpack, mind you – and my purse. Here are some of the things I left behind: my towel, my yoga mat (EGADS!), all shoes except the ones on my feet, all pants except the ones on my legs, and the variety of clothing that normally accompanies me and fills up the backpack and ipso facto weighs me down. INCREDIBLE. Editor’s Note: I did bring underwear.

Step Three: Go through Customs and Immigrations without any eyebrows being raised or questions asked. If you take the night bus, this will occur precisely at 4am, right during the deepest part of your profoundly-uncomfortable semi-cama bus ride. The night air will feel like Ohio on one of the coldest nights you can remember and you will wait in line for an hour. You will repeatedly thank the heavens that you brought your winter parka and eventually consume the walnuts you had reserved for food for the next day. However, you will successfully smuggle in the apple you really wanted to eat for breakfast because nobody on the Argentinian side actually checked anyone’s luggage, leading you to formulate an extensive list of all the things you could have smuggled in but didn’t.

Step Four: Witness the sunrise on your winding Andean bus trip that all the other passengers the next day said was nauseating and terrifying but surprisingly was the best sleep of your life…despite the profoundly-uncomfortable semi-cama seat.

(Note: Andes Mountains not pictured here.)

Step Five: Arrive to said destination at 8am, buy your return ticket for either the next day or the day after, and wander the city. Locate pink-water-spurting fountain. Drink a coffee and do some work long-distance.

At 8:30am, this was a treat. The city was still waking up and I was able to have a quiet, solo walk around the center.

Step Six: Meander aimlessly, revel in the hot sun and the new sights and the distinct European feel of the streets despite the fact that Argentina is so close to Chile. Eavesdrop on grisly old Argentinian men discussing business. Locate a yoga studio. Converse with hostelmates once you make it over there.

Step Seven: Remember why you reserved the hostel (money! It’s so cheap! How could you NOT?) and remind yourself of this strongly when you find your bed.

Mine is the middle bed of the three-tiered bunk system.

Step Eight: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as necessary until the departure date. Make sure the wine tour falls in there somewhere as well.

I think this is a fairly comprehensive border run guide. I will update as necessary if I discover any missing crucial bits to the Border Run Guide. For now, though, I hope this can aid some of you as you seek to cross borders, renew visas, and otherwise enjoy life on the fringe.

Pre-departure Farewell

The time has arrived! Leslie, her sister Amanda and I will depart Ohio tomorrow morning around 6am, with a brief layover in Chicago then Miami before our actual flight to Santiago departs around 7pm.

I have everything I could possibly need, and then a little bit more. Leslie helped me pare down some things I was undecided on (i.e. a hammock and spice jars…hey, those are almost-necessities), but I’m still bringing the most crap of us all. I think some of it has to do with my jewelry inventory and supplies, and the heavy-duty Manduka yoga mat. And the cowboy boots. And the variety of tank tops and leggings. To my own credit, I have a definite USE for everything I’m bringing. There is no unneccessary item. For example, that pair of red sandals I bought and never wore? Not coming with me.  And when you think about it, the Shanonce afro wig takes up almost no space. For how large it can expand, it condenses surprisingly well.

(Yes, the wig is a necessity. That’s one of my creative pursuits, guys.)

I’ve triple and quadruple-checked that I have my passport. I have my finances arranged. I’ve said goodbye to everyone, tearfully. We have a place to live. I know Spanish. I’ve got these two girls with me. And we have resources, creativity, and travel know-how bursting from our pores.

I think we’re ready.

I’ll post again soon, from the bottom half of the world! Hasta luego, amigos!

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