August 11, 2014

Ten things I'm so glad I brought with me

When one moves abroad, what are the most useful things? I’ve often arrived at a far-away destination with a suitcase full of clothes I don’t want to wear, large toiletries I could buy for half the price at the local market, and basically nothing useful. I kept past mistakes in mind as I packed for my two-month exploration of Western Turkey. Here is a list of things that I am really glad to have with me this summer.

  1. iPad Mini: among the fleet of Apple products that accompany me here in Turkey, the iPad has come in the most handy. I use my iPad as an e-reader, as a eco-friendly substitute for printing out maps or directions, as a communication tool (Skype, Viber, FaceTime), as an on-the-go camera, and as a stereo for listening to podcasts, music or NPR. The Mini was a bit of an impulse buy on my part, but the smaller size means that this device fits into another invaluable item, the travel purse.
  2. Travel purse: This bag was designed with the female traveler in mind. It is big enough for a book (iPad for me), a wallet, sunglasses, phrasebook, and passport, but not so big that one is tempted to bring too much on an adventure. The bag itself is modest, a textured brown fabric that doesn’t draw extra attention from would-be pickpockets. The bag is lined with a fun lime green nylon that is not only easy to clean, but also adds extra sturdiness. I bought the bag in 2009 for a trip to Cambodia. I didn’t really use it much there, but it’s getting a daily workout here in Turkey.
  3. Slip-shorts: Guys, no need to read this. Ladies, I’m sure you can relate to wearing a skirt on a hot day and feeling your sweaty thighs rubbing together, leading to annoying chafing. I saw an ad for these Spanx-type shorts made by Jockey, and picked up a pair at Target before packing for Turkey. Jockey bills them as something like: the smoothness of a slip, the coverage of shorts. They are awesome. They don’t make strange bulges on my legs like super-tight Spanx, they just glide over everything and prevent skin-to-skin contact. Amazing. I might be asking my mom to send more. I wouldn’t mind them under tight dress pants either.
  4. Delicates laundry bag: For washing bras and other delicates, these inexpensive mesh bags are invaluable. I could probably get it here, but that requires a lot of language I don’t have yet. Small and easy to pack, there’s no reason not to bring one.
  5. Small notebook with hard cover: For our wedding, one of Alan’s family friends gifted us each a small hard cover notebook. It’s about the size of an index card and only half and inch thick, so it’s easy to tuck into the travel purse for daily excursions. I write so many things in there: directions, phrases, new vocabulary, phone numbers, and so on. It’s also a great idea to carry something to write with in a new country as sometimes writing it out helps bridge the language barrier.
  6. “Chip” credit card: This trend hasn’t quite caught on in the US, but in Europe and Turkey, credit card machines read a special chip, then either ask for a pin or signature. Alan’s dad recommended that we get one, and it had been a huge help in keeping track of what we are spending, not having to waste money on ATM fees, and not having to carry a lot of cash on us. We have the Marriott Rewards Visa. It has an annual fee, but you also earn a free night at a Marriott every year, so it kind of balances out. It’s also a cool metal card that feels important and sophisticated—two things that appeal to me.
  7. Refillable water bottle: living in a hippie town taught me to bring my own water everywhere. I carry a neon green Nalgene bottle at all times. It even appeared in my wedding photos because I sipped water to help me stop blubbering during my vows. In Turkey, I try to always fill it up with water from water coolers when I have a chance because the tap water isn’t drinkable and buying water in small disposable bottles contributes to a global problem around single-use plastic.
  8. Modest, sporty swimsuit: I could have bought a swimsuit in Turkey, but I would have two seemingly polar alternatives. One, the typical teeny-tiny Western bikini that shows just how far one’s body is from a Victoria’s Secret model; but perhaps worse, this type of suit never stays in its original location during any water activity. My other choice here in Turkey, on the completely opposite end, is what I think of as a Muslim swimsuit. It’s a mono-chromatic, long-sleeved loose fitting tunic and pant set with either a separate matching swim cap, or with the head covering sewn directly onto the tunic. I like the SPF factor of the second option, but it seems tough to stay afloat in that many layers of fabric. The point is, I brought a Nike tankini that provides reasonable coverage of my body, even while splashing around in the waves.
  9. Water shoes: Dorky as they look, water shoes are a godsend for squeamish gals like me who hate feeling anything pokey or slimy underfoot while in the water. I'm glad I made room in my suitcase for these simple rubbery shoes because they help me be more adventurous in the ocean, which means I have more fun. 
  10. My husband: There are many travellers, especially women, who claim that traveling solo is the best way because you are liberated to do what you want, when you want. I acknowledge that this is a valid point, however, in my experience as a solo traveler in Cambodia, I’m pretty timid as a lone lady out in the world. The demands of exploring a new country with a foreign language are really intense when taken on by oneself. For me, I definitely prefer traveling with a partner, especially my husband, because we have two brains to figure out all the little things that happen. We make better decisions about where to go, what to bring, and what to do. We try foods and activities that I probably wouldn’t try on my own (like swimming into the “Abyss” today). Most important, we have someone to look out for us, keep us company; and someone to share the experience with. In favor of not ending on that completely sappy note: Also, traveling with a partner means you someone to hold your purse, do the dishes, and hit the snooze button.