Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Essential Packing List

I love reading other people's essential packing lists, so I thought I'd tell you about mine. It is a little different, because I tend to focus on things that are essential to me.
  1. Medicine chest. This is what I call the small zippered pouch that is our travel dispensary. Because, do you really want to be staggering around Rome looking for the only 24  hour pharmacy when you've got the runs? No, you really don't. It's surprising how small all of this stuff packs. The pouch is only a little larger than a pencil case and I bought from MEC a couple years ago for less than $5. Here's what it usually has in it;
  • bandaids - various sizes and types including silver, water proof and elastoplast;
  • blister bandaids - Chris has funny shaped feet and tends to get blisters when we do lots of walking;
  • liquid bandaid - comes in a little bottle and it's great for strange cuts and snags;
  • ibuprofen - the adult vitamin;
  • acetaminophen - to alternate with ibu;
  • Imodium for the runs;
  • Peptobismol chewable tablets - my preferred treatment for what ails in the stomach and intestines - do remember you've taken it and that your black tongue isn't a sign of the plague;
  •  butterfly strips a.k.a. steri-strips for those larger wounds; 
  • crazy glue - same as above - hospitals use it now instead of stitches if the wound is not very long;
  • alcohol swabs;
  • foot fungus cream;
  • benedryl for allergic reactions;
  • gravol;
  • polysporin cream;
  • throat lozenges;
  • lip balm;
  • vitamins like Airborne or just zinc. 
2.Diva Cup - it's a tampon alternative that is rinseable and re-usable and takes up next to no space.

3. 4-5 bras of different types in my size - fun, sports and suitable for wearing under white. It is next to impossible to find bras in my size, and lets just say I don't leave home without them.

4.Cash. Cash is king. There is nothing else like it. When you need a doctor to come to your  hotel, he only takes cash. I always try and have currency of the country I  am travelling to secreted in various places on my body and in my luggage. I am not a fan of the around your neck or waist pouch because I don't need to look fat and dumpy when I travel. Cash is pretty compressible, use your imagination;

5. A long paper back novel. Nothing alleviates boredom and travel anxiety like an old fashioned book. Plus, they can't tell you to turn it off while your flight lingers on the tarmac as they diagnose the latest problem with the airplane.

6. Credit and debit cards. While cash is king, it runs out quickly and the best way to replenish is to try out the local ATMs.

7. Small digital camera with spare battery and charger. You may need a converter depending on your travel destination.

8. Hardcopy of your itinerary and any booking confirmations. This I usually keep in a plastic sleeve along with copies of my passport. Sometimes the confirmation number alone is not enough, hard evidence is demanded.

9. Oracle of your choice. Mine is Lonely Planet. I feel naked travelling without some sort of guidebook. Lonely Planet seems to be just the ticket for me because it includes the peaks and nadirs of each locale and common opening times and costs. I've tried other guides, but their are either too heavy (Insight guides are all lovely colour photos and illustrations and weigh at least 6lbs) or oddly organized (Rough Guide). Pick your own poison.

10. Wet wipes - handy for everything from spilled milk to bum wiping.

11. Metal water bottle - because hydration is key to enjoying your trip and plastic water bottles are a scourge on this earth.

Those are the essentials. The rest is gravy. Yes, clothing, shoes, hats, mitts, over coats etc. are all important, but they are all dependant on your destination, time of year and travel style. The list for an all inclusive resort holiday in Cancun has different additions from the list for the self supported bicycle holiday in Italy. The stuff on the list above goes every time.

What is on your essential packing list?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Colombia - In Conclusion

I'm glad I went, happy I've seen it, but I'm not in love with it. It's true, I didn't fall in love. Some times I do, like the first time I saw Rome. Bogota was gritty, urban and edgy. Of course the Caribbean coast was beautiful and gorgeous and I did love the wonderful eco lodge we stayed at, but that love pretty much stopped at the landward gates of the property where the dust, dirt and poverty of the local town began. Cartegena was lovely and it's history part of the puzzle of the growth of the new world.

I was astounded by the expense of things in Colombia. Granted we were not staying in hostels nor strictly eating street food, but even so. The local's lunch place we ate at in Cartegena was  similar in cost to a Canadian lunch - about $15 Canadian dollars each for the set lunch with bottled water. A t-shirt bought on the street was $13 Canadian dollars and a bottle of Colombia's Ron Medellin 8 year old rum was $30 Canadian dollars. If you plan to travel to Colombia expect to carry a lot of cash. No where accepts anything but. It is almost as if their national bank hasn't really kept up with the times because the largest denomination bill appears to be the 50,000 which is around $25 Canadian dollars.

Colombia's national air carrier Avianca is excellent. Both our flights were on time, boarding was smooth and the air craft had in flight entertaintment, telephones, power plugs and seats that recline much farther than Air Canada's!

People by and large were friendly and helpful. Speaking even a little bit of Spanish was very imporant because very few people had even a little bit of English. I'm really glad I worked with DeUna, a Colombian travel company. They were really helpful and everything they suggested worked out very well. Their guides were excellent as were their drivers. Because credit cards are not popular in Colombia you may be asked to make a direct cash deposit from your bank account to the travel company or hotel. DeUna did set it up so we could pay by credit card as long as we were willing to pay the 7% credit card commission. This payment issue is another really good reason to go through a travel company. It simply isn't reasonable to carry around the amount of cash required to pay for some of the lovely hotels, and they don't take credit cards. I'd had this experience before in Sicily, so I was more prepared than most, but it still came as a surprise.

All in all, I confirmed my love of the Carribean ocean and my desire to eat exceptional food. We already have flights booked for Rome in April 2012.