Travel Advice from the Doctor’s Office

Travel Advice from the Doctor's Office- glove with OTC meds

Making an appointment with a medical clinic before going on an extended overseas trip is a very important way to prepare for travel. I checked this off my to-do list yesterday by going in with the explanation that I wanted to do what I could to make sure I was in good health and avoid any illnesses for the next several months. Here is some advice I gleaned while I was there:

  • Get emergency medications NOW. Europe is a good place for Americans to travel to. The water’s drinkable in most places, the food is generally safe, and and pharmacies are abundant and well-stocked. However, my nurse practitioner did mention that it’s difficult when you’re sick overseas to find a pharmacy, describe your symptoms, and make sure you understand how to take the medication- all while you aren’t familiar with the language! Many clinics keep samples of at least some prescriptions stocked. I was fortunate enough that my clinic could give me full-sized samples of ciprofloxacin and azithromycin! Both of these antibiotics can really help with several serious but common illnesses for travelers in most parts of the world. Clinics typically don’t have over-the-counter medication to give out, but they can recommend specific types of meds you can pick up at a grocery store or pharmacy.

Travel Advice from the Doctor's Office: prescriptions

  • Clean ears are flying-friendly. Do your eardrums feel immense pressure whenever you take off or land in an airplane? When I was a kid, earaches and infections were so common that I would have to get my ears checked before every family vacation, and my mom’s carry-on included an arsenal of chewing gum to help ease the pain. My ear problems are hardly noticeable anymore, except when flying or going underwater. The physical part of my appointment included checking my ears. I was told that getting my ear cleaned out could really help me be less affected by cabin pressure when flying. The nurse was able to complete a cleaning quickly and on-the-spot using special irrigation (or as I like to say, EARrigation) tools.
  • The CDC has a TON of health info for travelers. I just went to a small clinic, not a full-fledged medical center. They were limited on the kinds of immunizations they could provide, but told me to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to find out if I should make an appointment for any specific shots, as well as other recommendations for things like food, transportation, and the outdoors. Note that this website is designed for US-native travelers, but may have some useful tips for other travelers. If you are from another country, check to see if your nation has a similar resource.

Travel Advice from the Doctor's Office: stethoscope

  • Have a mini-physical done. Get your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, ears, and throat checked. If you are feeling any symptoms, have those checked out too. You may not have anything serious, but even if you have even something a little bit wrong with your health, it’s best to have it taken care of in your hometown at your convenience (and with your normal insurance).
  • Remember that doctors are travelers, too! Okay, they may not have the same travel style or travel budget as you, but they may still have some general travel tips, encouragement, or inspiration for you. My nurse said she also thinks traveling alone is the best way to go (although we both face some criticism due to this belief). And the nurse practitioner told me she is going to walk El Camino… right around the same time I’m in Spain! I don’t plan to spend much time in that area, but somehow it’s still nice to know that I’ll know someone nearby!
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Tea: A Drink With Jam and Bread… and Everything Else!

I only drink soda on rare special occasions, and I can’t stand the taste of coffee. And even though I live in and I’m going to land that is famous for its vineyards, I’ve never tried wine. Most of the time I drink water. It’s a healthy habit that has allowed me to save up money for travel, but I do enjoy drinking other beverages too, especially if they also have health benefits. I don’t typically drink tea because even the decaf kind has enough caffeine to affect me. But I absolutely LOVE the naturally caffeine-free goodness of herbal tea. There are a few brands of herbals that I’m partial to, including Celestial Seasonings, whose factory I toured last September. But on this upcoming trip, I’m dedicating all my tea drinking to Traditional Medicinals!

Traditional Medicinals shipment box

Traditional Medicinals is a brand that I know I can truly stand behind due to several of its ethical practices. Many of their products are organic, GMO-free, fair trade, and/or kosher. They practice environmental policies such as using recycled cardboard for their boxes, utilizing renewable energy in manufacturing, and providing compostable bags. But best of all, each flavor of herbal tea is made not only to be delicious, but to promote a particular health aspect as well!

box of Traditional Medicinals herbal tea

Bringing medication along with you is important on any trip you take, since you’ll be exposed to a new environment, new altitude, new foods, and new water treatment. Medication is especially important when going overseas since things can be dramatically different and you may not be able to get the same sort of medical care internationally. I already have ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, and vitamins packed up to go, but I also figured I would need to get some more medications for things like stomach upset, nervousness, and immunity. Now don’t get me wrong, I will take medications when I need to, but I don’t really have any idea of what exactly goes into a pill. So if there is a natural substitute that does something similar, I’d much rather take that! With Traditional Medicinals, I was able to shrink down my medicine bag, and bring yummy tea instead!

Ginger Aid Traditional Medicinals

The herbal tea I wanted most was Ginger Aid. Ginger Aid obviously tastes like ginger, which has qualities that can help ease digestive pains. I need to focus on promoting good digestion even at home since I seem to be more sensitive than most. When going to new countries, eating and drinking new things, and having new experiences, I am more likely to get stomach upset or nausea. So it’s great that I’m bringing two boxes worth of Ginger Aid. It has been of benefit for me in the past, so it’s now an invaluable part of my health and travel arsenals!

Traditional Medicinals herbal tea- ginger aid, echinacea plus, chamomile with lavender

Another helpful tea for travel is Echinacea Plus. Echinacea is a type of flower with qualities that promote immune system health. Whenever I feel a cold or other common illness coming on, I grab the Echinacea Plus right away. I used to get several colds a year. This past winter, I didn’t get a single one! (And with the few I had the year before, I immediately went to the Gypsy Cold Care!) Echinacea can’t prevent the common cold (nothing really can), but supporting your immune system means that your body could be stronger in fighting off illnesses. I’m taking sixteen tea bags of this along with me to help my body with whatever it may come up against.

Chamomile with Lavender Traditional Medicinal herbal tea

The last kind of herbal tea I’m packing is one that I had never tried before, so I decided to make a cup of it to enjoy as I sat down and wrote this post. It’s called Chamomile with Lavender. Both of these floral ingredients are known for their calming qualities. They’re also good for digestion and aromatherapy. As I tore open the tea bag, I could tell right away that this smelled really good, and I couldn’t wait to sip it! But Traditional Medicinals prints the proper instructions of how to make the perfect cup of tea on each box. That includes covering the cup to let it steep for ten minutes before squeezing the tea bags out and enjoying the drink. Wow, that was delicious, and I already feel a bit calmer!

one quart bag of herbal tea

Herbal tea, particularly Traditional Medicinals, has so many benefits, but I have noticed one problem. The cardboard boxes that the tea bags come in may be environmentally-friendly, but they aren’t packing friendly! To remedy this, I transferred the tea bags into a not-so-eco-conscious plastic baggie to prevent liquid damage and keep everything compact and organized in my suitcase. When packed like this, they don’t take up much space at all.

herbal tea in a mug

Tea is one of the easiest things to make while on the road. If you get tea in packets like these, you don’t need any special equipment. You can choose to bring your own travel mug, or you can probably borrow a mug from any type of lodging you stay at. Most lodging includes a coffee maker, microwave, or teapot to make hot water with. I’ve even filled my mug up with free hot water at places like convenience stores and bus stations. Tea goes great at any meal and just about any food, and that echos throughout the world! In Canada, I remember sipping tea around a breakfast table with Europeans and Asians. In Peru, tea was commonly served with dinner and dessert with the idea that the hot water and herbal qualities could aid digestion. With it being so easy to make tea just about anywhere in the world, the only difficulty will be choosing just one of the many flavors!

Overall, I think herbal tea is a near-necessary item to take on extended trips. I’m so glad that I have Traditional Medicinals to sustain me through my travels!

I am happy to include Traditional Medicinals as the newest sponsor of my European excursion! Traditional Medicinals provided the mentioned tea for the purpose of reviewing. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was made. 

Tales of a Tall Traveler

I’m six foot one. And I’m a traveler. These two things don’t typically work hand-in-hand.

Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture!
Towering over the children and staff at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Peru so much that not even my entire face fits into the picture! (And I was only sixteen here!)

Wouldn’t it be great if tall people could travel without running into any height-related problems. Wouldn’t it be great if travel-related companies could expand their reach by better catering to the tall population? If so, take note! Here are six things I can’t stand as a tall traveler, as well as ways I try to deal and simple ways the travel industry could help.

HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.
HI-Chicago dorms featured the best of both worlds: partial walls around the beds for more privacy, but tall bunks, high ceilings, and an extra foot of room between the bed and wall to accommodate tall people.

I Can’t Fit in Twin Bunks! Actually, the only beds that are truly long enough for me are XL twins and California kings. Since I have never owned either of these types of mattresses, I have gotten used to curling up in order to sleep. But there are definitely times when I toss and turn and just want to stretch out in bed. There are two things that REALLY help in this case. One, having plenty of space above me. It seems like when I’m on a bottom bunk, the top bunk is only two feet above my head. If I’m put in a top bunk, the ceiling is only two feet above my head. I really appreciate dorm rooms that take things like sitting up in bed into account by ensuring that the ceiling is high enough and using beds with ample headroom. The other thing that really helps is not having any sort of blockade at the end of the bed. If I need to stretch out my legs, I’m okay with my feet hanging off the edge. What I’m NOT okay with is if there is a wall on both sides of the bed. I slept in an RV for a month where the length of my bedroom was exactly one inch shorter than I was. Even though I still had a twin bed when moving into my next place, the freedom to hang my ankles over the end of the bed made all the difference. If hostels offered XL twin mattresses, I would be willing to pay a little extra for that luxury.

Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.
Having to share your bus seat with your carry-on items can make a cramped ride feel even more squished.

I Can’t Fit in Coach Seats! I’m not sure how I’ve made it through every flight I’ve ever been on. I guess that’s why I only fly when it’s the only reasonable option. I got a tip from another tall person before to request an aisle seat so that you can stretch out your legs in the center aisle of the plane. I do this whenever I’m going somewhere without a view (otherwise being cramped in a window seat might be worth it), but there is the drawback of people walking down the aisle who step on your feet and flight attendants ramming into your legs with the beverage cart. When boarding buses, I hope and pray that it will be empty enough that I can get two seats to myself, and therefore sit kind of sideways. I’ve never had a plane ticket where I was able to choose the economy plus seats with extra leg room (or even an emergency exit row), but if buses offered the option of paying extra for more leg room, I would definitely take that into account. Trains of course are a problem as well, but on one leg of an Amtrak ride, the woman sitting next to me got us switched from seats in the middle of the car to seats in the front of the car. Not having a seat in front of me did provide a little extra leg room, and there was even a bar sticking out of the ground so we could still put our feet up. However, the train probably bothers me the least since you can always go to the observation or dining cars.

Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet's leg room,  the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!
Gorge View Hostel made an excellent use of space in a small bathroom. The shower had a tub basin and a curtain instead of a door for ample movement, there was nothing in the way of the toilet’s leg room, the towel rack is placed in reach but not in the way, and as for the sink- just look at that wonderful mirror!

I Can’t Wash My Hair! I can only think of one time in my travels that I thought the shower heads were at the perfect height so I would have no problem washing my hair. Oddly enough, that was in Peru, when I was at least a foot taller than most of the locals. Most of the time, the stream from the shower head doesn’t even get on my face. In the tub showers, I can usually back up and then bow my head so my hair will get wet. But this seems to be more of a luxury, as many showers in hostels and camps are boxed stalls where there’s hardly enough room to turn around, let alone squat low enough to get water on my head. This isn’t as big of an issue in my own home if my shower head is too low since I install one of those shower heads on a hose. That usually adds enough height, and if for some reason it doesn’t, I can take the shower head off the wall and adjust it to where it needs to be. I’m guessing accommodations wouldn’t want me to do even basic plumbing on their bathrooms though, but if lodging owners added these shower heads themselves, it would be a small one-time expense to pay for years of happiness from their tall customers. When designing or renovating accommodations, staff should also keep in mind that no one, regardless of height, wants to feel crammed in a bathroom. Allowing more room to move in the shower, by the sink (make sure the mirrors are set high enough!), and around the toilet (so legs don’t run into the wall or toilet paper holder) is a subtle yet effective way to make guests’ stays much more comfortable.

Me with my now-retired carry-on. I'm slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it's not because my backpack's heavy.
Me with my now-retired carry-on. I’m slightly hunched-down in this picture, and it’s not because my backpack’s heavy.

I Can’t Reach All Rolling Suitcase Handles! For years, I used the same little black carry-on rolling suitcase. I usually didn’t have to walk it more than around an airport, so I barely noticed that the extent of the handle was just a bit too short for my arm’s reach. When I started doing more backpack-style trips, this became more noticeable. Last year when I arrived in Niagara Falls, I had to walk just a little over a mile to get from the bus’ drop-off point to my hostel. About halfway there, my back felt so out of whack that I decided it was easier to carry it by hand for the rest of the way. I decided there was no way I was walking it across the border to Canada (I crammed everything I would need for those days in my backpack and begged the hostel owner to store my suitcase until I came back to America). I also decided I should probably buy a new carry-on before going on any more backpacker trips. Last fall, as I was researching suitcases online, I noticed that almost none of them had the specifications for how long the handle extended. I even asked that question on a few of the Amazon purchasing pages. None of the manufacturing companies even bothered to answer that question, and the community answers just said things that were of no help. Seriously, I got a response to the degree of “It’s pretty long. I’m 5’7″ and don’t have to hunch over or anything.” Without exact measurements, it was impossible to tell if someone six inches taller would still consider it “pretty long”. Having important stats like this could really help online luggage sales.

That's three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn't put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)
That’s three pieces of clothing- count them!- just to avoid baring it all. (And I still couldn’t put my arms above my head without having a top malfunction.)

I Can’t Fit Into Traveler Clothing! This might be more of a “I can’t fit into ANY clothing” complaint, but at least with my day-to-day street clothing, there are enough stores and brands so I can shop around until I find the right fit. With fewer companies specializing in women’s travel clothes, I haven’t found any article that fits and flatters me just right. Many outdoor stores only carry up to women’s size 10 (US) in shoes and sandals, leaving me with the option to either risk ordering online or instead going with the clunky men’s shoes. I’ve had to go to plenty of water-based events where one-piece swimsuits were required. Since I have never found a one-piece that would fit me, this means I bulk up my bag with at least three different pieces of swimwear so that I would be modest enough. (My tummy shows even with tankinis.) Pants are too short, long enough shirts are too baggy… you get the picture. It can take hours of determined shopping to find even one piece that will sort-of work. I know there are high-fashion clothing lines designed for tall women, and all styles of clothing for tall men. I wish someone in the clothing industry would figure out that tall women like to travel, too.

The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people's heads)! The bad news: you'll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!
The good news is Voodoo Doughnuts has some pretty cool chandeliers to look at that are far enough out of reach to avoid damaging them (and people’s heads)! The bad news: you’ll have to look at them and the other tall-people-friendly decorations for a long time since the line is always long!

I Can’t Avoid Hitting My Head on Things Suspended from the Ceiling! Yes, the dining room looks beautifully decorated with a glass chandelier. But it’s bad room feng shui to place it high enough to be out of my line of vision, but not so high that I won’t run into it with my forehead. And the antique doorway that hasn’t changed in 200 years? You must realize that the average person was much, much shorter back then. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to those tiny prop planes. Decorators and designers need to keep in mind that they are probably not the tallest people that will be in that area. For things that can’t be moved or removed, a warning, both in the planning guide and in person, would be appropriate. Someone yelling “Be careful! Watch out!” right before the incident (or worse yet, right after) is not responsible. I’m actually surprised I have never heard about a lawsuit over something like this. For now, I guess the best solution is to make sure I get plenty of calcium so that my cranium is strong enough to protect my brain from all these impacts.

The travel industry has found ways to better serve overweight people, short people, and handicapped people. Isn’t it about time that travel becomes inclusive to tall people, too?

My New “Old-School” Cell Phone: The Search for Affordable International Communication

I got my first cell phone as a fourteen-year-old. Back then, cell phones had not quite hit the equivalent of a vital body part as it is today, but most people I knew had one. That old Nokia could do just about anything a cell phone could do: display a tiny color screen, make calls, receive text messages, play games, loudly announce awesome ringtones, keep charged for days on end, and be virtually indestructible.

Ten years and countless cell phones later, times have changed. My current Android is nothing like my very first phone, and it’s pretty outdated by today’s standards, but with its WiFi and data capabilities, it is more advanced than the technology used to power the moon landing. However, I recently got a new phone. And it has more in common with my Nokia than my Android.

Why?

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When American Phones Go Abroad

I don’t entirely understand the technology of what goes on inside cellular devices. All I know is that technology that is used in cell phones within the US is different from the cell phone technology in other countries. Basically, my phone won’t work in Europe.

Many people pay to have their phones unlocked, but not all cell phones have the capabilities to be unlocked. Either way, obtaining an unlocked phone can be an expensive endeavor.

Considering the Alternatives

Unless your goal is to completely cut off everyone you’ve ever known or want to know while traveling, it’s important to consider the communication options of your destination. Even the iconic British phone booths don’t contain telephones anymore, so definitely don’t expect pay phones to be available, especially if you want to make an international call.

I first considered downloading an app on my current phone so that I could use WiFi to make and receive phone calls. This would be a good idea, but there are a few downsides. For one, these apps do not come free. Even if you find one that doesn’t have a downloading cost, they do charge by the minute. That wouldn’t be so bad, if it was not for the second downside: you need to be on the internet! WiFi seems like it’s everywhere, except those places where you need it most. I looked into getting a mobile WiFi hotspot, but whether I rented or purchased one, it would be expensive. Plus, if anything went wrong or it didn’t work, I don’t think any warranty would cover shipping to Europe.

Yes, the best option seemed to be getting an unlocked cell phone. Most unlocked phones I found cost dozens to hundreds of dollars more than their locked counterparts. Couldn’t there just be some cheap phone out there that happened to also be unlocked? Through my online research, I found out that in order for an unlocked cell phone to work in Europe, I would need a SIM card specified for Europe. Most of the travel experts said to pick up one of these at the destination airport. While that made sense, I was concerned about it. What if I couldn’t find one at the airport? What if the unlocked phone I bought ended up not being compatible with them? What if I wanted to comfort my family by calling them as soon as I landed? Isn’t everything at the airport overpriced anyway?

Finding a Plan… and My Old-School Cell Phone

I thought that I must be able to find a European SIM card in some online store. Surely someone on eBay or Amazon wanted to make a few extra bucks from it. Instead, I found something much, much better.

I found Telestial!

Telestial is the perfect online shop for people who want to plan ahead with their overseas communication. They sell all kinds of unlocked cell phones, from top-of-the-line smart phones to ones that resemble my very first phone. If you already have an unlocked cell phone but just need that tiny, but necessary chip, they sell all kinds of SIM cards to cover just about any destination. All of the SIM cards are prepaid, which means no surprise bills to ruin your trip.

phone 001

So Why Did I Pick This One?

When I first began looking through the cell phones that Telestial offers, I knew that I wanted something basic. I ended up with the JT Travel Buddy. Right now, I can hear the cellie-obsessed around the world gasp. It’s almost as if I just announced I am willingly amputating my perfectly good arm in exchange for a immobile plastic prosthetic. If you can’t live without a phone that’s smarter than you, then no worries. Telestial has over a dozen options for smart phones- and even tablets! But here are my reasons for choosing this phone:

  • It’s Smaller! Taking up less space means I’ll have more room in my bag for other essentials (or souvenirs). This is especially important for those doing extended trips carry-on only.
  • It’s Harder to Damage! People still joke about how the Nokia phones akin to the one I had ten years ago were virtually indestructible. If I hadn’t donated mine, I’m sure it would still be running! These sorts of screens are more durable than touch screens. Plus, if a touch screen gets damaged, it could mean the whole phone stops working. I once had a touch screen phone where the screen sensors started to go crazy. That meant I couldn’t send outgoing calls or messages, and it was really hard to receive them! It will take some getting used to returning to button numbers, but they seem to be more reliable.
  • It Holds Its Charge! Let’s face it: part of your bedtime routine includes plugging your phone into your charger, right? When staying in hostels or other budget accommodation, nightly charging isn’t always practical. Without data and programs constantly sucking up energy, this phone will keep working, even after being unplugged for days. I guess that makes this a more environmentally-friendly option too, right?
  • It’s Theft-Resistant! Okay, so there isn’t any sort of special guard on this phone, but think about it: what would YOU rather steal: this, or an iPhone?
  • It’s Temporary! This will be my phone for three months, not my whole life. When I return, it will go into storage until the next time I take an international trip. All I’ll have to do is get a new SIM card. And if for whatever reason I lose it on my trip, it won’t be a big deal.
  • I Can Still Get WiFi and Apps! Not having internet access or the ability to get into my travel apps did cross my mind when I was considering phones. But the good news is, I can still access WiFi… as long as I bring my Android, that is! A WiFi-enabled device can still surf the web overseas. This new device is specifically for phone calls and text messages.

And like all the products from Telestial, if in the rare chance you experience any problems, their customer service can help you, even while you’re abroad!

This is my story so far in the search for affordable international communication. It began to help provide some peace of mind for those concerned about my trip, but honestly, I also think that having a working phone with me will give me a greater sense of confidence as I conquer the world. I can’t wait to tell you about my experiences with the JT Travel Buddy and European SIM card once I begin to use them, and I’d love to hear your stories of how you stayed in contact while traveling as well!

This post was made possible by Telestial, which provided me with the mentioned unlocked phone and SIM card for review purposes. I was planning to purchase these items from them before this negotiation, and my stated opinions have not been swayed. 

When You Can’t Travel… Bring the Travel to You!

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I haven’t done any traveling this week. But sometimes even staying at home can lead to an unforgettable travel adventure!

I went to Cieneguilla, Peru in 2007 and 2009. It doesn’t feel like it’s been nearly six years since my last visit! While there, one of the many people I met was Ruby. I have kept up with this fellow adventurer through Facebook as she has gone through different ministry programs. Not too long ago, I saw she was fulfilling her dream of taking her first trip to the United States… including Southern Oregon!

Ruby’s schedule while here was tight, but fortunately we managed to squeeze a couple hours in this afternoon when we were both available. I decided to take her to the local tourism town of Jacksonville. I played tour guide as I showed her the famous homes of the Nunans, the Britts, and the Beekmans, as well as a few other sites related to the Gold Rush. We then finished up our time with a lunch at Bella Union, including sharing a mud pie for dessert!

Instead of seeing the local culture that I’ve seen countless times, it was unique to see things through Ruby’s eyes. Even the small things were special, like having cars stop for us so we could cross the street instead of waiting for all the speeding cars to go away. We also discussed how Peru has changed since I saw it six years ago. I recalled the things I found shockingly different during my time in Peru, and she shared a few of the American practices that she hadn’t expected. We both were missing the Peruvian food!

Pretty soon I had to drop Ruby off with some friends so that they could spend some time with her.  I joked that Ruby has near celebrity status since she’s so busy with everyone wanting to see her! But I’m am super thankful that she spared a couple of hours to spend adventuring with me!

Featured Interview on Something In Her Ramblings!

women-who-travel-solo-Jessica-Lippe-solo-trip-to-Niagara-Falls

If you head over to Something In Her Ramblings, you might see a familiar face in today’s guest interview. Each week, that blog features a different female traveler in the “Women Who Travel Solo” series. I was asked about last summer’s trip to Niagara Falls, and about solo travel for women in general. I even provided some tips there that I haven’t mentioned on this site yet!

The Packing Experiment

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During after-Christmas sales last December, I got a bargain on the kind of luggage I wanted to take to Europe. It was a wheeled suitcase that not only featured a long enough handle so that my 6’1″ body didn’t have to slump over to roll it around, but it also contained hidden backpack straps for when I realize that a roller suitcase is not ideal for cobblestone streets! The front part (not shown in picture above) zipped off so it could be used as a daypack. It had nearly everything I could wish for in a a suitcase. It’s even the maximum carry-on size!

I’ve used this backpack a few times since buying it, kind of like a test drive in preparation for the big trip. I’ve taken it to Wilderness Trails. I used it over the course of my tri-state California road trip. I also used it this past weekend for the outdoor retreat. This time, I wanted to study my packing, and see if I can use this experience to learn to pack better.

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Packing Clothes

Since this retreat was for two nights, I would only need two changes of clothes, right? However, there were a few variables. I would probably want shorts or capris for this trip, but I had no idea where I was actually going. Would there be a breeze? Would we be in a shaded area? Would cold weather hit? Not knowing these kinds of variables, I decided to pack a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved under armor shirt. I also decided to pack three shirts since I figured I had a good chance of getting one dirty or sweaty. I also needed to pack swimwear. Since I don’t wear standard swimsuits, this meant that an extra swim tunic, bikini top, swim shorties, and sarong had to be packed. Still, in total, all these clothes took up about one-fourth of the main compartment. (Socks, hats, and undergarments took up little room in the front pocket.) Of course I had completely forgotten about sleepwear until the last minute, so I did shove in pajama pants and a three-quarter sleeved shirt right before leaving.

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Packing Everything Else!

Most of my luggage weight consisted of non-clothing. Since this was a camping type of experience, I would need to bring a pillow and sleeping bag. These two items on their own were larger than my suitcase, but for most trips (like Europe), these things are not necessary. The other items, as you can see in this picture, include sandals, towel, Camelbak, wallet, phone, glasses, sunglasses Bible, notebook, car keys, head lamp, flashlight, pedometer, mug, and bag of toiletries. I put the Camelbak and the small items that are normally found in my purse into the daypack compartment to ensure I had easy access to them. Everything else fit into the remaining space of the main compartment.

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Things I Didn’t Use

Clothing was the main thing I over-packed. I ended up wearing my capris on both Saturday and Sunday (since there were only a few hours on Sunday that I wasn’t in my swimwear), which meant that both the shorts and jeans were unused. I did end up using the long-sleeved shirt as an extra shirt, but I still had one extra shirt even after that. I don’t drink coffee, and although there was some tempting-sounding hot chocolate, I ended up only drinking water during the entire trip. That meant my mug stayed clean and inside my bag. I only used my head lamp for light, so my flashlight was unnecessary. Other than that, there were several toiletries I did not use. I didn’t use soap (hey, we didn’t have a shower!), nail clippers, hair tie, bug wipe (I had bug spray instead), cotton swabs, or the icy-hot patch.

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Things I Learned

Most of the things I brought that I didn’t end up using were brought because I was unsure of what to expect. Now I know that it’s very important to do my research for every city I plan to go to in Europe. I will definitely be taking more clothes there than I did on this trip, but I’ll know that I can wear things multiple times, especially legwear. One piece of clothing it seemed like everyone but I wore was athletic leggings or fitted yoga pants. Seeing how versatile they were for sleeping, exercising, getting wet, staying warm, and simply hanging out, I went out and bought a pair yesterday!

A few items I brought on this trip will not go to Europe in order to save space. The biggest thing I will not bring is a beach towel. Most hostels provide towels, and I’ll have a small towel for the ones that don’t, so this will free up about a quarter of the main compartment. I will also not bring my Bible. Now, as a Christian going on a trip for three months, that sounds weird, but hear me out. I love my full-size waterproof Bible for trips like these, but it’s just too heavy and space-consuming for Europe. Instead, I will bring the miniature New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that the Gideons give out for free. If I want to read a passage of scripture not included in that Bible, I can always access it on my phone. Speaking of my phone, I will use that as my flashlight in Europe instead of bringing a redundant item.

There were some “emergency-only” items in my toiletry bag that I actually ended up using. Fortunately I didn’t need these things for myself, but as the EMT/former Girl Scout of the group, others ended up benefiting. I offered a sample pack of bacitracin and a band-aid for a tick wound, and afterwards when everyone was doing a tick check, several ladies used my nit comb for closer examination. Hand sanitizer was also very useful throughout the trip- it was the only way to wash hands! One thing I didn’t bring, but someone else gave to me, was a Benedryl pill. This helped will all the allergens collected from the outdoors and also helped me fall asleep that night. Benedryl (well, the store brand of Diphenhydramine, at least) was already on my packing list for Europe, so I made sure to buy that yesterday, along with a couple other useful medications. Needless to say, I will bring first aid supplies along with me!

These are just a few results from my packing experiment this weekend. I know that an outdoor retreat and urban backpacking Europe are two completely different beasts, so I guess I still have plenty to learn before cramming three months of my life into a carry-on and setting off!

What is your all-time best packing tip? 

An Outdoor Retreat

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended a young adult Bible study for the first time. Since I was a newbie, and summer and European possibilities weren’t too far away, I didn’t expect much to come of it. But little did I know that the group was planning an outdoor retreat! I didn’t know anybody, but since I was invited I decided to go for it. So on Friday afternoon, I brought my over-packed backpack, sleeping bag, and pillow to a big white van where I met up with a few of the others. We hopped in and headed south to Klamath National Forest in Northern California.

Now, if you read this website as inspiration for your own travels, I must warn you that I can only sort of help you in this post. This retreat was done mostly on private property. However, if you can find a natural setting, you can still imitate a multitude of things that happened in the past couple of days.

Go Off-Grid

Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!
Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!

I do believe that the internet is a wonderful thing. But I think all of us can admit that, deep down inside, there is something missing from it. When we rely on instant connectivity, we tend to forget about connecting with the people and environment around us. Since everyone that went was in the same boat, we enjoyed some rare, uninterrupted face-to-face connection.

Have a Campfire

Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!
Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!

Mix a little bit of danger, a little bit of fellowship, and a little bit of visual stimulation, and you would get what’s known as a campfire. Now, campfire’s aren’t all fun. This weekend I ended up with a hole in my favorite pair of pajama pants due to a spark landing on them! But even after that incident, the fire ring was still the best place to circle up and participate in conversation.

Enjoy Solitude

My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.
My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.

For a couple hours on Saturday morning, each trip participant had the opportunity to go into a different part of the property for some time alone. Since there was no agenda during this time, we could read the Bible, nap, pray, snack, journal, sing, or just be still and become more aware of our surroundings. I did a bit of all that, except for sleeping. (The army of ants crawling up my shoes encouraged me to stay awake and alert!) My spot was next to the creek with cascading miniature waterfalls. While this activity was very simplistic, it actually turned out to be a unique and enjoyable activity. After all, how often do you get the opportunity be alone and away from anything man-made?

Enjoy Company

Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.
Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.

Whether it was taking the long drive to and from our destination, sharing a meal, setting things up, coexisting during downtime, or trying to figure out how to remove the head of a tick from someone’s skin without any tools, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. (Except when we were enjoying solitude as mentioned in the point above!) Funny, interesting, and embarrassing stories were shared. It may have been because it was a limited number of people with limitations on things we could do (being off-grid after all), but we got to know each other faster than people I’ve seen on a regular basis over a long period of time.

Take a Hike

Hiking through the woods
Hiking through the woods

Hikes are always fun. We took a hike that would have been fairly short, except the trail wasn’t always a trail. Sometimes vegetation made it hard to find the path. Sometimes we had to climb over or in-between rocks. For a few instances we balanced on a log as we crossed the creek. There were several points where we relied on the literal helping hand of others. A couple people got scrapes or bee stings. Twice I fell! But the unique situations made it all the more adventurous.

Find a Waterfall

There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.
There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.

You must know that I love waterfalls. There weren’t any waterfalls that we found notable enough to be named, but we found several tucked away deep into the woods. We were quite possibly among the few people who were able to witness this unknown waterfalls, which in and of itself was something pretty special.

Raft a River

One of our rafts on the Klamath River.
One of our rafts on the Klamath River.

This weekend marked my first time rafting in California. Actually, it was my first official time rafting anything other than the Rogue River. While I didn’t attain my goal of rafting over class five rapids, we did hit a few fun class threes. Plus, there was plenty of calmer water where we just got to talk, splash around, and find birds and turtles. Our group took two rafts out on the Klamath River on Sunday, and it was a beautiful day for doing so. Definitely a highlight!

Don’t Keep Time

Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.
Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.

A few years ago, I read a book where one chapter issued a challenge to spend some time without keeping time. It was a nice idea, but since I always need to be somewhere or do something at a certain time every day, I could never do this for a sufficient period. But as we pulled into our camp for the weekend, I decided to turn off my phone and not turn it back on until we were headed home. I didn’t bring a watch or any other way to tell time. In fact, the only electronic I used was my camera, and the time stamp on that isn’t even accurate! Other than overhearing a few people tell each other what time it was, I had no idea what time it was at any point in time. It didn’t matter if it was 10 am or 2 pm, lunch time was when I was hungry. Bed time was when it was dark and I was tired. I don’t know if I went to bed at 9:30 or midnight. You probably won’t understand how it feels until you try this yourself, but it is a very freeing experience.

I also used this weekend as a study on how I pack, in preparation for packing for three months of Europe in a carry-on. Coming up, you’ll see what I learned from this experiment.

Since today is Memorial Day in the United States, I’m sure plenty of you have also enjoyed some sort of outdoor experience this weekend. Share what you did in the comments!

My Review of Hostelling International Sacramento

Remember last month when my mom and I road tripped through California? On our first night of the journey we stayed at a hostel in Sacramento.

Selfie at HI-Sacramento

I am happy to announce that Hostelz.com has published my article about HI-Sacramento. Click here to read my insider information! A unique feature about this website is that it takes information from all over the web. That means you’ll be able to read more reviews from travelers, and you’ll also compare prices from different websites, making sure that you get the best deal. I have been a staff writer for Hostelz for a few years now, and I am especially looking forward to writing for them as I encounter even more hostels in Europe!

Question for Travelers: What websites do you like to use to book hostels and other lodging?

Question for Accommodation Owners: What makes your lodging stand out? Would you like me to come to YOUR place of business?

Note: Hostelz.com does not pay for advertising on this site. However, if you use the links above to book your next hostel stay, I will receive a portion of the reservation fee at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Checklist for Planning a Crazy Hectic European Adventure

After entertaining ideas in my head for the past year or so, I finally confirmed that I will be trekking through the Mediterranean. This was decided on exactly two months before my departure date. So what can I do in those waiting months? Ha, there’s plenty to do! Here’s a checklist if you want to know what’s been on my mind lately, or if you’re interested in taking on a similar endeavor!

  • Buy plane tickets. I have found fairly cheap tickets with budget airlines, but in the end, I just booked with Expedia. There were a few reasons for this: for one, I could make sure to earn loyalty points, both with Expedia and with the name-brand airlines they booked for me. For another, I could fly right out of the nearby little airport instead of going to Portland, San Francisco, or another major airport. It would also ensure that there would be no ridiculous hidden fees and that all the basics were covered. I know the exact size my luggage can be, whether or not I’m getting in-flight meals or entertainment, and other things that provide more peace of mind. I decided to book shortly after news broke out about an ordeal involving a passenger suing United Airlines. I thought it might be a good time to snag a cheap ticket. The funny thing was, even though United is usually the cheapest airline for me, that’s not the airline that ended up being the cheapest this time. I guess the other airlines wanted to draw in the loyalties that United was losing!
  • Purchase traveler’s insurance. This was something extra offered as I was checking out with Expedia. I had debated for so long if I would get this, and at the last second I decided to go for it. It was less than $100, but it could end up saving me thousands if certain situations arose. A number of things have the potential to occur during a trip (just like every other day of life), so it’s good to know that I have a fallback for many of these possibilities.
  • Map out destinations. This is especially important if you’re flying multi-destination or open-jaw. You have to be in certain places at certain times, and have to take travel time in between everything. Figure out how many days to spend in each location. Also determine if everything you want to visit is centrally located, or if you’ll need extra transportation or possibly two different accommodations at the same destination.
If you're going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
If you’re going to use a GPS, make sure it is loaded with maps of your destination.
  • Budget and brainstorm ways to save. Nobody likes the word “budget”, but think of it more as a challenge than a chore. How much can you do with a set amount of money? How much do you want to do? Also keep in mind that budgets can change over time. As I’ve gotten a more realistic idea about Europe, my budget has adjusted to reflect that. And even though my budget is still relatively low compared to most tourists, I am still looking for ways to save. (Do you have any tips specific to saving for Europe? I’d love to read them in the comments!)
  • Make at least a couple of accommodation reservations. My task today was booking the hostel I’ll be staying at for the first several days. It’s a good idea to book ahead of time, since prime accommodations can fill up quickly, especially during busy seasons. I don’t believe in booking all the accommodations for an extended trip though. If your plans change and you want to spend more or less time at a certain destination, it’s nice not to be tied down with having to pay for a bed you don’t want to sleep in. If you are making plans to visit people or enroll in a program, make sure to take care of this ahead of time, though. I was accepted into the Diverbo program a few days ago, which means that I have a free place to stay for seven days (in exchange for speaking English with those enrolled in the program). However, I did have to apply for that ahead of time to make sure I got a place, and I probably should have applied even sooner!
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
Hostels are great! Stay in them as much as you can.
  • Get overseas communication. This was something that I had to promise I would do in order to gain my parents’ support for this journey. WiFi works overseas, but cell phone plans don’t. I did hours of research trying to see if I could get MiFi or an unlocked phone with an international plan, but nothing was cheap, and everything involved waiting until I got overseas for purchasing. However, I finally discovered a company that offers prepaid international SIM cards and inexpensive unlocked phones. I’ll tell you all about them once my phone arrives in the mail!
  • Attend any needed or desired doctor appointments. Your medical insurance probably isn’t valid overseas. And no one wants to have to cancel or shorten a trip due to unexpected health problems, so a pre-trip physical is always a good idea. I’ll usually tell my doctor when I am about to travel, and they often make some good health recommendations that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Sometimes, they even give me sample-sized products of medicines I may need! Visit the dentist or any other specialty doctors before you go, too. Oh, and if you ever experience any sort of back pain, going to a chiropractor before leaving will change the outlook of the trip. Chiropractors can’t make being stuffed in an economy airplane seat for twenty hours feel comfortable, but they can help make it more bearable.

    Having been a practicing EMT (and I'm still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others' health while traveling. But it's never wrong to get a second opinion.
    Having been a practicing EMT (and I’m still licensed) gives me the confidence to take care of my and others’ health while traveling. But it’s never wrong to get a second opinion.
  • Arrange things with work. Will you quit? Request a leave of absence? Try to figure out a way to work from the road? Oh, so many options. With three jobs, this one will be an ordeal for me. I still need to modify my writing job so that it will be most effective for travels, and also take care of my other jobs that are not so location-independent.
  • Figure out on-ground transportation. If flying from one airport to another was the only transportation necessary during a trip, travel would be much less stressful. But the thing about airports is they tend to be miles away from the stuff you actually want to visit. Does the destination airport offer shuttle service? How much will that be? If you’re going to multiple destinations, you also have to factor in traveling between cities. Bus, train, or regional jet? Does your preferred method of travel service all the destinations you plan on visiting? Will travel time take up too much of your trip? This is probably my biggest headache right now, but I know it will be so worth it once it’s planned out. Yet another on-ground transportation factor is going about day-to-day. I prefer to walk anywhere possible, but that involves making sure that roads are pedestrian-friendly, allowing extra time to get from place to place, and planning to staying no more than a couple of miles away from the sites I want to see.

    Hoofing it during last year's international trip to Niagara Falls
    Hoofing it during last year’s international trip to Niagara Falls
  • Gather gear. Knowing I needed a good maximum-sized carry-on backpack for this trip, I found one way back in December. It’s possible that will be my biggest piece of gear, but there are plenty of things that I will need for this trip that I don’t normally have at home. Just yesterday, I bought an international adapter/converter plug (so I don’t fry my electronics), a combination lock (so I can secure my belongings in hostel lockers), and mini caribiners (so I can make sure the zippers on my backpack stay closed). And while I’m almost done with shopping, there are still a few more pieces of gear on my list to get!
  • Ensure passport and any needed visas are prepared. When I was sixteen, there was a big ordeal with getting my passport. I was going to Peru the same year that the law was made requiring passports for Canada and Mexico. With the increase in people applying for passports, somehow mine got lost in a government storage room for months on end, so I had to go to Seattle to get a replacement. Case in point: get your passport as early as possible. Keep in mind that passports technically expire six months before the printed date, so check the information and apply for one if necessary. This will be my first trip where I will need to get a visa. I can actually go through Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and pretty much anywhere else without one, but for just a few days in Istanbul, the Turkish government is going to make me apply for one. This sort of thing can typically be done online ahead of time.
  • Pack. All that stuff you bought for the trip? Now it has to go in the backpack you bought for the trip. I am sticking with carry-on only for a number of reasons: I won’t have to pay airline luggage fees, there’s less chance that I’ll lose anything, I won’t get a back injury from carrying too much luggage, and when I arrive in a city I can explore on foot instead of paying for a cab to get to the hostel. In order to accomplish this, I can’t take my whole closet with me, and I have to siphon liquid toiletries into TSA-friendly 3.1 ounce containers.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
Having multiple bags, like I did while moving across America, means that you may have to try to balance all your belongings on the curb of a busy Chicago street while waiting for a cab to take you one mile to the bus station.
  • Make it to the airport on time! This one is probably the simplest, but also the most important. Find someone to drop you off or otherwise make arrangements, and plan plenty of time to get through the security line and find the right gate. Yes, there is plenty more do to once you land. But for the next few hours, kick back and enjoy the beginning of a new adventure!