Dispatches from South America: How to Pack, Prep and Unplug Before the Trip

Central and South America, Dispatches from the Road, Packing & Wardrobe, Solo Travel, Travel Philosophy — By on June 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

Lost Girl Leah Moushey recently took off on a seven-month trip to South America, taking her to a different hemisphere, WAY out of her travel comfort zone. She’s setting up shop for a month in Cuenca, Ecuador where she’ll dive head first into a Spanish language immersion program and discover the ins and outs of Ecuadorian culture while living with a family. Then Leah is heading through Argentina, Uruguay, and the Southern Cone of Chile on a traveling seminar focusing on human rights violations and dictatorships in Modern South American Politics. After that whirlwind, she’s setting up roots in Santiago, Chile where she’s living with a family for five months. Jealous yet? We sure are!

Leah is writing for Lost Girls while she’s on the road—she has big plans to check out other South American hotspots, and maybe even sneak off to Brazil! She doesn’t know what to expect, but one thing is certain: this trip is going to challenge every aspect of what she thinks is “normal”…she got a taste, even before her departure, of what that means. Stay tuned for Leah’s adventures!

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By Leah Moushey

My first challenge was when my trip coordinator told me I shouldn’t take my Blackberry, and I was thinking: What are you talking about!? If I go, it goes. My eyes darted to meet my mother’s, There is no way I am going to survive seven months in South America without my Crackberry, ehem, I mean Blackberry. .

Let’s face it. In today’s fast-paced society, the need to fill your suitcase and your brain to the brim with MORE, MORE, MORE, is quite normal and almost expected. If you’re not out binge shopping (or in my case, eating) you are trying to balance five texting conversations, while I-chatting, while trying to find a clever post for your friend’s friend’s second cousin’s Facebook Wall. Trust me, I’ve been there. Now, as I prep for this trip, I’m forced to realize that I NEED to embrace the fact that simplicity is bliss… especially when I’ll be bopping around an unfamiliar continent for seven months.

It is less than two weeks before my study abroad trip to Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, and even though it has been a struggle at times, I have worked hard to simplify every aspect of my existence. This meant finding uncomplicated, but effective ways on how to stay connected during my trip, what to pack, how to dress, and even how to think. By permitting the principle of simplicity to navigate my preparations, I have allowed myself for a more seamless travel experience and have gained a much-needed sense of liberation (before I even boarded the plane!).

First thing’s first… DITCH THE CRACKBERRY

Although I was totally opposed to alternatives to my Blackberry, after doing a bit of research about phone services in Cuenca, Ecuador and Santiago, Chile I realized there were much safer and cheaper ways to stay connected during my trip. It turns out that Skype.com not only offers great free services (you can video chat internationally), but also offers services that allow you to make calls directly to cell phones internationally at very affordable rates (It’s around $15.00 a month in Chile). A pre-paid cell phone is my best bet for in-country calls, they are inexpensive (usually around $20.00), and they do not require long-term contracts, which is perfect for my seven-month stay.  I can simply re-up every time I need more minutes. Finally, the weight of worrying if my $400 Smart Phone would be lost or stolen has evaporated, giving my nerves and my carpal tunneled fingers a much-needed sojourn.

Packing: QUALITY, not Quantity

Clothes

As I’m a self-proclaimed “Bargain Queen”. It’s tough for me to pass up a good sale, especially when I like to have my entire wardrobe of wedge heels and multi-colored skirts at the ready. But, I’m only allowed to take two suitcases and a carry-on bag.  Yikes! To simplify packing I’ve learned that EVERYTHING I pack should 1) Serve a specific purpose, and should 2) Be Durable (washing well, withstanding many wears, etc.).

The easiest way I found to do this is to stick with brands that I know well, or that have been recommended to me (like my North Face Raincoat and my North Face Fleece) for the cool, damp climates. There’s no shame in buying repeats of the same clothing if you know they work for you. For example, American Apparel makes the Interlock Mini Skirt that is fairly inexpensive (only about $25 per skirt), washes well, and is EXTREMELY versatile. Mix and match it with any type of top and a pair of colored tights and you are ready for a night out in your favorite destination. There is no reason to pack every cocktail dress you own when a few solid, cotton skirts can give you the same sexy look, without the headache.

Shoes

When selecting what shoes to pack, I remained loyal to the sensibility and durability rules. Try to find footwear that serves more than one purpose to maximize your suitcase space. For my trip to South America, I had to pack for  several extreme climates—everything from the rainy hills of Ecuador to the Snowy Andes Mountains. I chose a pair of Hunter Rain Boots to do the job. They are 100% waterproof and have removable fleece liners which allow them to double as Snow Boots.  For moderate climates, I have my trusty Keen Sandals and my tennis shoes (they have hot pink accents for a little more pizzazz!).

I know how hard it can be to pass up the Electric Yellow Stilettos when you find them on clearance, but the feeling of simplicity will make you hotter than the Spice Girls in the ‘90s.

Emotional Prep: Physical & Mental Calm before the storm

It’s easy to get caught up with the materialistic aspects of travel, but I’ve learned being mentally and physically ready to go is just as important. After surviving another semester on Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell, I felt that I needed to kick my butt into shape before my trip. While we all have our preferable modes of exercise, I would highly suggest power hot yoga for you pre-departure Lost Girls. It’s good exercise but also gives you uninterrupted think-time to set trip goals. In prep for high altitude hikes (Cuenca is 12,500 feet above sea level), I’ve been running four miles a day too.

Although my last days spent with my Crackberry have been bittersweet, I have come to terms with the fact that while it’s great to be up to date with the happenings of the world, sometimes you just need to hit the power off button and see where life takes you. Only then is a simpler, liberated state of being achieved.

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    9 Comments

  • Terry Fulmer says:

    Hi Leah,

    Good luck on your trip. Sounds like fun and I know that you’ll do great. I’ll be following your blog.

    Terry (Moushey) Fulmer

  • Gina sama says:

    Hey, Leah ~\
    It was good to see you over Memorial day. We’ll be keeping up with your travels through your blog. Be safe and ENJOY!

  • Aunt Laura says:

    This is great! we can keep up with your adventures south of the border! !Que la pase bien!

  • Heidi says:

    Leah These are great i luv them and will read everyone of them…have a fun time and take lots of pics

  • Theresa says:

    Cuenca is one of my favorite cities in Ecuador – I’m jealous. Love your ideas on simplification – what to pack and what to leave behind. Will be following your blog to see how that’s working for you. I travel a lot myself and your destinations are some of my favorites.

  • Rachel says:

    Have fun! Can’t wait to hear about it when you come home.

  • Aunt Leslie says:

    Leah- we are patiently waiting for your next blog- surley YOU have found something exciting to write about in South America!

  • Joleen says:

    Hi Leah,

    So glad to come across this and to read your blog posts! I’m planning a similar trip (6 months in South America) for the end of next year and can use all the tips I could get! :)

  • Julia says:

    Hi Leah,
    I have a question about the traveling seminar focusing on human rights violations and dictatorships in Modern South American Politics. How did you hear about it? What is through a post secondary institution?

    I am a Criminology major and love to travel so that sounds like something I would LOVE to do.
    Let me know if you can help me find something like it!

    Thank you
    Julia