10 Things a Bookish, Modern Woman Should Never Travel Without

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I’ve been in South America for well over a year now and I continue to be amazed by the sheer variety of life and the experiences that come with it. It seems I fall in and out of love with people and places constantly and without warning. In some ways, I’m so ready to go home and yet I also strive to hold on to each day as tightly as possible, to remind myself that I am actually, truly living a dream. I’ve learned a lot, about myself most of all, but also about travel itself, and I’ve come up with a few things that I think should be on most women’s list of things to bring when traveling — things I haven’t seen on many other lists. So here you go! If you have comments or would add something, let me know!

 

1. An IUD (Intrauterine Device): Yeah, I said it. It’s no secret that a lot of shenanigans happen while traveling — in hostels, on exotic beaches, in showers — and guess what? It’s better to be prepared, and I think the IUD is about as prepared as you can get. There’s a lot of misplaced fear about this form of birth control because of some shoddy models in the 70s, but since then the IUD has come to be scientifically accepted as one of the safest and the most effective option. The Pill is great, but sometimes traveling is hectic, and it’s easy to forget to take one. Just consider this: if you were to accidentally get pregnant while in the middle of a months long trip through South America, Asia, or Africa especially, it may be nigh on impossible to get the kind of care you might need (the day-after pill, abortions, etc.). For more details, check out this world map of abortion laws.

Where you’re traveling can also determine whether condoms are affordable or even available, and that’s not a risk you need to be taking. Travel is all about calculated risk, not haphazard, drunken ones! That said, you should also bring as many condoms with you as you can, since IUDs only protect against pregnancy, not STIs or STDs. Another bonus of IUDs (specifically the Mirena) is that it makes your period lighter. In all the time I’ve been abroad, I’ve only gone through half a box of tampons!

Check with your health provider to see about your options. Many insurance plans provide IUDs for free and, depending which one you choose, they last from 5 to 10 years! That’s a decade of minimal unplanned pregnancy worries…

 

2. A Laptop: If you’re a working girl, laptops come in mighty handy. You can teach English classes online, write travel articles for various websites, or do a myriad of other small jobs which can help fund and thereby extend your travels. Also, Netflix sometimes provides a most-needed hiatus from travel frenzy.

 

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Me actually doing work poolside in Peru.

3. A Kindle or Similar Tablet: I have the Kindle Fire and let me tell ya, I don’t know what I would have done without it. Pre-travel I was one of those book nerds who ranted about how Kindles would never replace real books because, like, book smells! But while traveling, real books literally weigh you down. I generally have around 10 different books downloaded on my Kindle at any given time, which in real life would add a lot of extra weight to my backpack. No bueno. But besides reading, Kindles can do soooo much more. I’ve used mine to edit manuscripts, input grades for my ESL students, and write blog posts (PDF reader and a word processor, say what!), as a music player for long bus rides, and as an alarm clock, among other things. This is also a great option if you don’t want to bring your laptop, either because you don’t want the extra weight or in case it gets lost or stolen. Kindles are much cheaper to replace.

 

4. A Library Card: Huh? Yes. You heard me right. Here’s what you do: Download the Overdrive App and verify that your local library is a participant. Then, if you haven’t already, go open an account at your library. But wait… I’m going to be traveling. Why would I need a library account at home? Here’s why: Overdrive allows you to check digital copies of books out from your home library regardless of where in the world you are. Mic drop. Instead of spending valuable dollars on buying books from Amazon or at the rare English bookstore (although do go in these too while traveling — it’s fun), you can do this for absolutely nothing. Depending on the library, you can generally check up to 30 books out at a time, for up to 3 weeks, and then renew as often as necessary. This. Changed. My. Little. Bookish. Life.

 

5. A Filtering Water Bottle: Backpacking is all about saving money wherever possible in order to be able to do the epic treks or go scuba diving with hammerheads in the Galápagos. Even the small stuff, like buying water, adds up. Reusable water bottles that come with filters are a great way to avoid this. When hard-pressed, you can get water from virtually anywhere (though again, calculated risks are the name of the game) and the filter will make the water drinkable. They tend to run at around $50, but it’s a worthwhile investment. For a list of some of the most popular brands, click here.

 

6. Probiotic Pills and Emergency Diarrhea Medication: I have a stomach of steel, luckily, and so I’ve never gotten truly sick from anything I’ve eaten (and I eat everything), but just in case, I never travel anywhere without these two things. Probiotics are simple supplements that help your digestion and I take these for a few days whenever my stomach is unhappy. In cases where you’re having to run to the bathroom every few minutes though (as happened to a friend in Colombia once, unfortunately in a hostel where everyone could hear everything), it’s smart to have some more hard-core drugs on hand. If they don’t cure you, they’ll at least slow things down till you can get to a doctor.

 

7. An Expired Passport or ID Card: I’m going to pat myself on the back here, but this is seriously genius. A lot of people will bring copies of passports around with them when going out to a club, but I’ve also seen them get rejected. I have an expired Driver’s License that I take out with me and it’s worked every time. If you lose it, it’s not a big deal, but it’s official enough that it probably won’t ever get questioned. (Disclaimer: my experience is limited to South and Central America. Not sure how well this would work elsewhere. It would rarely work in the States for example.)

 

8. Double of Everything You Can’t Live Without (Within Reason): Bringing a nice camera with you on your travels? A laptop? A Kindle? It’s smart to double-up on things like batteries, chargers, etc. Why? Because there’s a good chance they’ll get lost, blown out by power surges, or stolen, and buying them in a foreign country is often a lot more expensive than buying them back home. Just make sure you keep them in separate places, in case of theft or loss. Otherwise you might find yourself carrying around a fancy gadget that doesn’t work. It sucks, let me just tell you.

 

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9. A Second Backpack: Sometimes you see people walking around with a huge backpack behind them and a smaller one on their chest like some kind of hunchbacked marsupial. They didn’t overpack; they’re just smart. I always bring a small, closeable bag with me whenever I travel and this is where I keep anything valuable (passport, money, gadgets, etc.). When you take long bus rides, your bags go under the bus and out of sight and sometimes things disappear mysteriously. It’s better to keep this small bag with you at all times. On your lap is the best place for it. I’ve seen many a bag stolen from overhead racks and even pilfered from between a person’s legs. It’s a great place to store valuables, but that also means they’re all in one place, so beware. It also serves the double-purpose of being a day bag when you don’t need to carry all your belongings with you.

 

10. A Piece of Jewelry, Article of Clothing, or Talisman that Makes You Feel Bad Ass: This, in my opinion, is a lot more important (and less silly) than it sounds. You’re going to find yourself in uncomfortable situations while traveling. Maybe you got on the wrong bus, or are in a place where men stare at you in a less than friendly way, or you’re nervous about flying. In any case, even a small boost of confidence helps, and I’ve found that wearing something, visible or not, that gives you that feeling is invaluable.

In my case, whenever I’m moving from one place to another I always wear a quartz stone necklace that my mom bought me in Salento, Colombia. I don’t strictly believe in this kind of stuff, but quartz is supposed to protect you. I always wear two bracelets: an engraved one from my best friend and one my dad gave me that says “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” These help remind me that there are people out there who love me at those moments when I feel particularly lonely or sad. And whenever I’m feeling especially pissed off about the seemingly omnipresent male gaze or just want to seem a little tougher than I actually am, I have a shirt that says “Fuck Your Macho Bullshit” and it makes me feel better. They’re small things, but believe me, they’re something. Even little comforts go a long way when you’re traveling by yourself.

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Bonus Tip: An Understanding that You Are Fierce, Powerful, and Moreover Extremely Privileged to Be Doing What You’re Doing: It’s easy to fall into a pattern of complaining. Yeah, the WiFi sucks sometimes, there are really big bugs in the jungle, and the bus drivers don’t always let you use the toilet, but you are part of the 1% of the entire global population that gets to travel for fun. The people you meet in those small South American towns? They wish they could be you, traveling without a care in the world. Be aware of that. Be grateful. And always, always remember that just the fact that you’re leaving comfort and security behind to venture into the unknown makes you one bad ass lady.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco… And London: Finding Home

Hello friends and fellow viajeros! I’m working as hard as I can to get pan-continental again, but in the meantime I have asked a few people who share my passion for travel to write about their own experiences, so there will be some guest posts intermixed with my own. I thought some fresh voices and perspectives would be just the thing. This week’s entry is a topic near and dear to my heart, written by a friend even nearer and dearer. Enjoy!


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Having lived in one place until I was an adult meant that, as a teenager, I had yet to experience home as an abstract term. It was a literal thing, nestled in the hills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Though I traveled quite a bit as a child, I never found that indescribable feeling I now know as harmony — that feeling of being connected to a city without knowing how or why. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco when I was eighteen that I experienced the sheer joy of falling in love with a place. Sometimes I tell myself that perhaps it was because I was on my own for the first time, or because I’d found the quintessential group of friends. But I know deep down that the “City by the Bay” captured my heart in more ways than just perfect timing and quality people — it was my home, and I still very much consider it that. But soon after moving to San Francisco, I inexplicably found myself at home again… in London.

Let me add that I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to a wide variety of cities: Lima, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Prague, Tel Aviv, Paris, Krakow, Copenhagen, and Venice, to name a few. All of these places were wonderful in their own way. However, upon arrival to each of these cities, I did not feel that same heart-stopping, adrenaline-inducing, starry-eyed wonder that I felt my first day in San Francisco or London. It was almost painful, this feeling of connectivity to a certain place, almost — dare I say — déjà vu (side note: I do believe in reincarnation, so I suppose it’s entirely possible that I have been to these places in a past life). When someone describes déjà vu to me, I immediately think of my first days in those two cities. Is it possible, then, to find home in a place you’ve never physically been before? The soul is capable of many things — reincarnation being one of them — so maybe that’s what this feeling, this kinship towards a geographical location, is. What is it about a place that envelops you so wholly — grounds you so completely — in its gritty, unfamiliar arms?

When I studied abroad, I’d chosen London as a destination without ever having traveled there. Whenever people asked why, I always replied that I’d been strangely drawn to London. It had been a sudden love affair. I wasn’t expecting to love everything about it, but I had. And not only that: I felt as though I was home. Which, having never been there before, was hard to explain to myself, let alone other people. London drew me in and never let go. Even now, thinking of the foggy parks, the cobblestoned streets, the smoke billowing from chimneys in the winter, the wild geese, the smell of diesel — it brings forth a very emotional nostalgia for a place that I called home for four months, a place I still consider one of my homes. I belonged, truly belonged, in London. I haven’t felt that same sense of belonging since I left.

Flying into London last summer after having been away for two years brought tears to my eyes. Joyful, exuberant tears. The man next to me on the plane noticed. He asked me if I was returning home. My answer? Something like that. London, a place I’ve been four whole times, was my city. Can you explain that? I can’t. Driving up the 101 Freeway into San Francisco, glimpsing the well-known cityscape, navigating the streets so familiar that I could drive them with my eyes closed: emotional, heart-warming, my home. I am home. That’s what I tell myself upon arrival to both of these cities. I am home, I am home, I am home.

Why doesn’t Los Angeles feel like home any more? It physically is; it’s where I grew up, where my parents still live in the house I grew up in. It’s important to note that I love it here. The Los Angeles I live in now is entirely different than the city I grew up in. Maybe it’s just that. I am evolved now, and I have given my heart to other cities, and there is no room left for my hometown. I have so much love for these other cities that there is nothing left to give Los Angeles other than the half-hearted nod that I give to everyone who asks if I like living here. Yes, I do like living here. Sometimes I think I might love it here. Los Angeles is like a familiar friend: comforting, routine, and complacent. Given my history, I should have room within me to accept it as my home, a label I’ve given to two other cities. And maybe one day I will think of it as such. But for now, I can keep dreaming of returning home — to my heart— in San Francisco and London. I left a piece of myself in each of those cities. I won’t feel whole until I go back.


Amanda Richardson lives in Los Angeles, California, with her fiancé and two cats. She is the author of one published romance novel, The Foretelling, with another in the process of being so. She enjoys binge-watching Friends, reading, and playing Scrabble while drinking wine. She travels every chance she gets and spends her idle hours surfing for cheap international flights that she can max out her credit cards on. She and la Güera met when they were thrown together by chance as roommates in the freshman dorms in San Francisco. The rest is history. 

The Wayfaring Güerita Contemplates Risks and Romance

IMG_2649Romance and love: two of the most fraught and picked-over words in the history of language. Most of us spend our lives looking for these things, hoping only that once we find them our search will end, that we will have truly found love and not some cheap copy with an expiration date. But when I’m constantly consumed with thoughts of where to go next, is there room in there for love? Is it even something to be desired? When you have decided to be rootless, how will you ever stay still long enough to intertwine yourself with another? Physically restless is one thing, complicated enough in itself, but when you’re emotionally and mentally restless… is there any hope at all?

Traveling, I inevitably meet new people every day, few (percentage-wise) in whom I see something which interests me in a more-than-platonic way. Within this small group of people are the rare individuals in whom I see something which goes beyond the physical. Often these people are travelers like myself, attuned to some silent call powerful enough to make us leave comfort and stable jobs and loved ones behind in the search for something even we ourselves can not succinctly identify. Any shared attraction between us is like the indelible but fleeting joining of two forces of nature, like hurricanes sharing an epicenter for an instant before darting off towards their eventual reintegration into the atmosphere from whence they came. The moment takes the form of a word, a look, a brushing together of bodies, and yet this moment– in a different life or with a different set of decisions– could easily be the beginning of something.

Traveling aside, it has been a pattern in my life to meet people or discover feelings for old people (old as in familiar, not aged) when I am on the cusp of departure. It’s like the universe, time and time again, as I’m running full-speed towards some destination, throws someone unexpected into my path, someone that disallows me from setting off without just the tiniest tinge of regret: “Have fun!” the universe seems to say. “But don’t forget that there are always things you could have had back at home, too!”

For me it is always a choice: freedom or love. I can’t seem to reconcile them. I am always wary of comfort zones. I believe that to grow and develop as people we must sometimes willfully leave our comfort zones behind. People tend to choose what they’re familiar with, and having never been in love myself, there is more fear in choosing love than in finding myself on dark streets in countries with unintelligible languages or in adventure-derived accidents far from the protection and care of those who love me. This brings up a potentially troubling question: is it possible that unfettered freedom is my comfort zone??

Possibilities constantly swirl around us like dust motes in a sunbeam– what would happen if I said yes to someone else for once instead of always saying yes only to myself? Or is it a problem that I am unable to think of love without envisioning burying parts of myself that would not mesh with a life lived in one place with one person?

I have talked myself down from many a leap of faith when it came to my heart and I know that I am afraid– of missing out, of settling, of complacency. I know that what was once a coping mechanism has become a self-imposed barrier, but that knowledge in itself does not provide a clue to said barrier’s demolition. All I know is that the roads of the world lead into and back out of my very bones. Would I ever want to cut those ties to allow for an actual person to establish holds on my heart?

I have fought off potential muggers with my bare hands, cut off my hair on a whim, traveled to countries where no one I’ve ever known has ever been, but can I be open to this most basic of human needs? I am afraid of relatively little: of fainting, of chronic pain, of helplessness. But I am afraid of nothing more than perceived chains, of cages, regardless how beautiful and comfortable. Can I overcome fear, and welcome love? Can I tap into this courage that so many seem to be amazed at and finally take one of the only risks I’ve ever avoided, a danger not to my body, but to my heart?

La Güera Encounters an Old Frienemy

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The other night, I was sitting on my mom’s couch, flipping between Space Jam and Pirates of the Caribbean and trying to quash a surprisingly insistent desire to be in the company of someone else. It wouldn’t have mattered really who it was, although the closer it was appropriate for me to press my body to theirs the better, but I was overwhelmed with this need for there to be another other with me. I cajoled and wooed a few people but to no avail and so I sat there and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. After so long on my own, why did I feel as though solitude was suddenly a liquid weight that was making me sluggish and, in a way, scared? After a while it dawned on me: I was feeling alone because for the first time in five months I was alone; really, truly alone.

On my trip I had been a single person huddled in the window seat of buses, an individual trying to devour new cities and their personalities through something akin to osmosis, one girl among many in dormitories that peppered the entire northern seaboard of the South American continent, but in truth I was absolutely never alone. And in that moment, with my mom gone to her boyfriend’s and my friends and the man from whom I want what I can not have unavailable, I was alone. Suddenly I was missing the presence of a front desk staff or that of familiar strangers lounging on couches or in hammocks in my periphery. I hadn’t realized that I had been in a constant state of being in the presence of others, but the sudden absence of it completely upset my equilibrium and made me want to hug myself tightly enough to leave marks on my own skin. I had come home to an old nemesis, a cousin to the kind I had felt while traveling: loneliness.

Solitude has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Anyone to whom reading is a beloved pastime is familiar and friendly with it. But the comfortable solitude that necessarily accompanies reading aside, I have often sought solitude as a way to allow myself to feel things without the filter of other people’s perceptions, to bask in the universality of finding oneself alone in one’s own body, less than a mere speck in the grand scheme of the universe. I could not be without it, but solitude’s more insidious and subtle twin, loneliness, has always been more problematic for me.

While traveling alone, you often feel unprotected and vulnerable as a result of your singleness, more so I think if you happen to be a woman. Solitude and loneliness are the price you pay for the unforgettable experiences and seemingly insuperable vexations, the travel delays and accidental epiphanies. But somehow, for me at least, the loneliness I encountered on the road was manageable, vanquished by taking a walk in my new surroundings or curling up in a hammock and losing myself in a book. I think the fact that I was virtually constantly on the move, changing locations almost as often as underwear, was a salve for whatever pesky loneliness wormed its way into my heart. There wasn’t a lack of arms into which I could have fallen either (that age-old cure), whether they belonged to men who were looking for a temporary fix, competitive in their need, or to those whose goals were more long-term, which manifested in a possessive, often jealous desire. And I did fall once or twice, but I always kicked the sheets off the next day with a revivifying understanding that what I was looking for was not a cure for loneliness, but something much deeper. I neither wanted nor needed to find someone to “permanently” assuage my loneliness as it could only serve to complicate.

But every so often I would feel pangs of misplaced yearning, a sense of loss for something that I had never had any claim to. For instance there was a boy in Peru, to whom I refer as my Prince Charming, who took me in hand and kept me there when I had to get stitches in my leg. Before the “incident” we had learned bits and pieces about each other, including the fact that we were going in opposite directions. That’s something you become accustomed to when meeting people along the way, in hostels and on tours: there is a sweet temporariness to any relationship, an innate understanding of both the beginning and the end (though some things surprise you). You know before you’ve spoken a word that your roads will lead you different places, and this meeting is only one tiny topographical point on the map. But somehow, this boy I hardly knew held me together and instead of crying I spent the night laughing. Later on, wearing his shirt and breathing in the smell of him, I felt a sweet nostalgia for an imagined future. But it was only a passing thing, as opposed to a more clinging kind of regret.

While traveling it is easy for me to remember and find comfort in the fact that I am, at this point in my life, too wild and erratic and impulsive for someone to hold me still long enough to pin their hopes on me. It is at home, however, where that confidence falters a bit, the devil-may-care attitude fails to carry me through, and I begin to regret in a small but powerful way that I am not a person to whom longer-term relationships come easily, simply because of that pesky fact that you kind of need to be physically near a person for it to work.

Now I’ve been home for two weeks and in that time I have watched, to my chagrin, the shape of my itinerant loneliness change into something more sedentary, and therefore heavier. There is something about being back in familiar surroundings, where most things seem to have changed very little that tends to make my singlehood rankle, where suddenly something in my subconscious rears its ugly head and seems to say “Single? Still?” It is obvious to me now that my priorities are travel and experience and wonder as opposed to romance and the kind of comfort one feels waking up in the half-light of morning to the sound of someone else’s breathing and the warmth of someone else’s skin. Unfortunately, the fact that I have mentally decided this has little to no effect on my heart and body’s desire for the latter. This is evidence to me that there is truth in that hackneyed and often annoying refrain: “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” In the end (and also in the beginning), it all comes down to choices and at least I can take comfort in the fact that I have made mine.

This loneliness, this feeling of need, is a price I am willing to pay for the marvels I have seen and for the limitless experiences that await only my courage.

La Güera Está Chuchaqui, Waxes Philosophical

IMG_2671One month from today I will be home again. What does that mean? I’ll be back in the world of things I love and miss like banh mi and espresso and toilet paper you can flush. But it also means I’ll be back in the world of making a living, having a schedule, responsibility. My landscape will go from one of infinite variation to a static, albeit beautiful (oh, California), familiar one. Once again, most of the people I love will be no more than a phone call and a quick drive away. But who will I be? Can you go home again? I don’t know the answer. But my mind is all over the place, so I thought I’d share some of the things that have taken up my thoughts for the last four months. Some are things I’ve learned. Some are things I already knew but have been reinforced by my travels. Some are just thoughts.

  • I think I may have given myself a terminal illness. I used to think I had wanderlust. Now I know I do as it has infiltrated my body and I can feel it in the tips of my toes and the angles of my elbows. Now I know what I’m capable of, what of the detritus in my life is luxury and what is necessity. I know that I don’t need anything more than what I can carry on my back. Now I may never be able to stay in one place again. I am sick, sick, sick with the  desire to explore, to experience and I don’t think this illness is curable, or if it is, if I would take the cure.
  • Traveling alone is lonely. In spite of all the people you meet, there are many moments when you find yourself wishing for people who have known you for longer than a few days or weeks. I sometimes feel the need for a deeper connection, for shared history. But I have learned that it is possible to be both incredibly happy and incredibly lonely at the same time. This to me is evidence that they are not connected, as we as a society tend to believe. Loneliness breeds with or without happiness. I am often in a state of absolute joy in spite of my loneliness.
  • Why do people always want to possess you? To put you in a box with a neat, handwritten label that says “mine”? Why can’t we love or like or want each other without trying to tattoo ourselves on each other’s skin? I want to exist simultaneously with someone, sometimes intertwined but more often separate, changing each other but also allowing each other to maintain our autonomy. I want to be completely myself and be with someone else. I don’t want to mute parts of myself in order to better mesh with someone else. I want to be me. With you.
  • Sontagian list:

Things I like: long-haired men, the ocean, beaches at night, street food, maracuya shakes, long bus rides, salsa dancing, scuba diving, beer, sleeping outside, warm nights, going braless, authenticity, uncontrolled tear-inducing laughter, dialects, braids, bartending, graffiti, sexuality, naps, nudity, being barefoot.

Things I don’t like: mind games, assumptions, double standards, creaking doors, desk jobs, sunscreen, blisters, beauty ideals, shaving, malaria pill dreams, men who leer, drama, unnecessarily loud noise, haggling, instant coffee, the “gringo” price, cold showers, reciprocity fees, chuchaqui, objectification.

  • Things I believe in:
    -That not all questions require answers. Sometimes the question is enough.
    -That reading allows you to live thousands of lives concurrently with your own.
    -That there is no limit to love. Love does not run out, but it can change, and it is our reticence to allow it to do so which causes it to rankle and become embittering instead of empowering.
    -That there is no fundamental difference between any human on the planet.
    -That spending time alone allows you to learn more about yourself than anything else, and what you learn isn’t always flattering.
    -That sharing happiness with others only multiplies happiness.
    -That allowing yourself to love and be loved is the bravest and most frightening thing anyone can do.
  • My vision of myself almost matches who I am.
  • Freedom comes at the expense of security.
  • Freedom is not always coming when you’re called.

Thirty days to go. This has been one of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences of my life. I am irrevocably and profoundly altered because of it. A lot can happen in thirty days, but what a wonderful feeling to know that at the end of it are people who long to see me as much as I long for them.

P. S. Chuchaqui is the Ecuadorean word for hangover.