It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
My friend Gunta travels with a hair straightener and heels. She bops from city to city, Queenstown to Bali to Tokyo, and can jump off a flight, check into a hostel and hit the clubs, lickety split. Courtney is a badass rock climber and currently lives out of her van. She travels with mascara. Meike carries nail polish and a tiny bottle of remover in her backpack. And my friend Fran tried to argue with airport security when they took her tweezers, “You just don’t take a girl’s tweezers!” It’s true. You don’t.
There is a whole spectrum of packing and traveling that ranges from your ultra light backpacker, not concerned with showers or shaving (known more commonly as a dirty hippie) and a super posh vacationer, loaded down with bags of shoes and accessories. Some of how you travel and what you carry is based on the length of travel and what you plan to do. Obviously, you can’t cram a business suit into a backpack, but you might be surprised what some folks pull off. Most of what you pack has to do with being comfortable. Pack too much and you’re uncomfortable trying to carry stuff. Pack too little or don’t pack what you actually need and you may find yourself feeling a different kind of uncomfortable. (The kind of uncomfortable you’d feel when you’re trying to go out to dinner in running shoes.)
When I left New York, I left behind bras and bangles. I chucked my Diorshow mascara, hair spray and beloved bronzer. My saggy crotch long underwear doubled as leggings, I embraced my missing tooth and experimented with not shaving for extended periods of time. I learned just how feral I can go. But somewhere in there, I forgot how good it feels to feel good about yourself. I forgot that some little things (like razors and dangly earrings and the occasional haircut) can make a big difference. That Lululemon leggings make me feel like Lara Croft, like I can conquer the world, even when I wind up wearing my hiking boots in a city.
We have been away from home for a year and are packing our bags again. We are packing for a week in a hip city, summer in the jungle and winter in the mountains. All in one bag. The key is in having versatile layers, things that are functional and lightweight. Each item has to make you feel comfortable, fit well, and be able to be work with anything else in the bag. What this means is that your long sleeve shirt should be something that you can layer when hiking and also wear to the bar because when you only have one and it is cold outside, you’re going to wear it. May as well like it.
Some of the things that WILL be in my bag:
- One of very kind of shirt (tank, 2 tees, longsleeve)
- Lululemon leggings. Judge away, they’re stupid expensive, I love them, the end.
- Patterned tights and a black mini skirt (to be ditched after Melbourne and Bali)
- Shoes (hiking boots, running shoes, Vans)
- Socks and underwear, including a thong
- A real bra. Just one. Uniboob is fine 80% of the time, but sometimes you need two. Like when you go out to dinner.
- A scarf that doubles for style and warmth
- A pair of dangly earrings
- Fleece and rain jacket
- Electronics (Kindle, Computer, Phone)
- Toiletries (Toothbrush and paste, Khiels SPF face lotion, Mach 3 razor, emergency medical kit, small stash of daily contacts, sparkle nail polish)
- Ziploc bag of of important things (passport, vaccination records, visas, back up Credit Card, etc)
Some things that WILL NOT be in my bag:
- Books. Heavy. I came to NZ with 3, but am fully wedded to my Kindle.
- A purse. Pockets do just fine.
- Shampoo. I’ve been using baking soda instead of shampoo since November. Easy to pack, doesn’t spill, works the same and you can get it anywhere.
- Nice sunglasses. I’d rather have cheap ones that I can lose or break.
- Camping gear. Didn’t use it at all this year. Having talked with others, we won’t need it in SE Asia or India, either.
I feel pretty confident about living out of a backpack, but I am also quite aware that I’ve only ever lived in a 1st world, non-Muslim country. My Czech friend Iva told me a story that started with, “I used to say ‘ay fuck’ to the Muslim way, but after week in Turkey, I say okay, it’s easier just to cover the body.” So on that note, I’m looking forward to seeing how this incarnation of my lady traveler evolves as we set off to explore totally different cultures.
Saying things out loud makes them seems more real. And what could be louder than broadcasting something to the world via the internet? It’s probably obvious to those of you that have been paying attention, but for the slackers (and myself) I need to declare my latest and greatest revelation: I want to be a farmer.
No, not the conventional “rows of corn as far as the eye can see” farmer of yesterday, but the “self-sufficient 10 acre plot with a diversity of animals and plants” farmer of tomorrow. Or the day before yesterday, depending on your point-of-view.
When we left New York I was leaning in this direction, but I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet. So we didn’t plan to travel with any kind of specific purpose. We knew we wanted to try farm life through WWOOFing, but we weren’t sure that it would work, so we built in some flexibility to do other things – things like lay on the beach in Thailand for a month, sipping local hooch and sweating it out immediately.
But we were right, we want to be farmers. And now I don’t want to do other things. I want to do things that continue my education and development as a farmer. So maybe we’ll still go to the beach in Thailand, but we’ll keep it to a week then hop on a bus to a peanut farm.
In some ways, the best plan was not planning at all. This allowed us the space to explore and get more focused as we went. It can be difficult to set out into the unknown, but if we’d followed a prescribed pathway we never would have found the right direction for us.
Travel with purpose, but don’t let it determine everything. Maybe you want to learn to cook in Europe or build houses in Mumbai. Or you might just want to test drive life outside of your comfort zone. Vague purposes are the best of all, by nature they allow the kind of flexibility necessary to focus on something clearer later on. Take a step back, and then two steps forward.
I’ve lived out of my (and by my, I mean my sister’s) H frame backpack twice and learned valuable lessons about packing with each trip. In 2010 it was for a one month trip to Hawaii. During my Hawaii trip, I learned that make up is unnecessary. To most people, this seems obvious. But, to a citified gal, this may seem unnerving. Turns out I got citified, but didn’t realize it until I was sitting on a farm on the Big Island, embarrassed by the fact that bronzer and mascara were in my toiletry bag. Yes, I brought bronzer to Hawaii. I am now stretching the last of my mascara through the last of our summer weddings and parties and can’t wait to dump it in the garbage before we ship out. In 2011, Zach and I took a week long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. While schelping the contents of my backpack up and down the mountains, I learned that you don’t need to carry 4 shirts when you can get away with just taking 2 and washing them as needed. I’m catching on.
A. Hiking Boots
B. Flip Flops
C. Bunch of underwear
D. Bandana, bathing suit
E. Sports bras
F. 2 Tshirts, 1 tank top
G. 1 long sleeve, 1 sweatshirt, 1 denim button down that I can’t live without
J. A dress
K. Mesh shorts, Jean shorts, Jeans
N. Sleeping bag
O. Fleece and Rain Shell
P. Kindle, Journal
Q. Spork, Leatherman, headlamp
R. Pack towel, camp stove
*Not pictured: first aid kit, toiletries, slackline, computer, guide book, camera, chargers
The good news is that it all fit in my backpack. Okay, well I didn’t feel like taking the tent out, but Zach and I are going to split it up and I’m pretty sure it will fit. We will also be bringing day packs for shorter jaunts, to be worn front ways like a marsupial baby while we travel to and from the airport.
The bad news is that we have a ton of stuff to put in storage and to ditch. Ebay and Goodwill, prepare thy selves! Friends, come drink the contents of our liquor cabinet!