I decided to walk the walk that I’m asking from my students and pack light. So, this year as I lead the study abroad course I’m only packing my backpack and I’m bringing a packable day backpack to use while we are touring. Usually, I don’t pack as light as I encourage my students to do because I’m away from home longer than them. They are in South Africa for right at two weeks and I usually am in SA for about a month. However, this time I decided to dive headfirst into the backpack traveler world.
Honestly, when I got my first backpack, claiming to be a backpack traveler was purely aspirational! I bought the Tortuga pack but still “needed” to bring along my backpack I use for school. I had the Tortuga backpack for two years and it served me well traveling to conferences and home to see the family. Then in the summer of 2018 I passed that pack onto one of my former students who was traveling to Kenya for a month-long medical internship.
I moved onto the Eagle Creek Gear Hauler [click here] and fell in love with this rugged all-purpose pack. I first used it when I traveled to Botswana in July 2018 and you can check out this post on everything that I stuffed into this pack in a post from right before the trip [click here]. I the reason I fell hard for this pack was mainly because of how much I could stuff into it and still easily carry both by hand and on my back. Additionally, I felt confident using this pack as I traveled around Southern and Central Africa because of the high quality construction and the water/dirt resistant bottom.
I know one of the reason that I have resisted only using a backpack for “secruity” purposes. I don’t mean safety and security, but rather having extra clothes “just in case” kinf of security. I can always hear my grandmother’s voice in my head telling me to pack a little extra “just in case something happens”, but something always happens and that’s why we wash our clothes! It’ll be interesting to see how this trip goes and if I am one of those newly converted people who will then sing the praises of backpack travel.
Cheap tickets can be quite the adventure. I’m taking the long way down to South Africa this time, but the point is that I’m headed back. This trip is an amuse bouche for my longer stay.
This year has felt a little like a dream, but one where I’m conscious writing the lines and designing the plot. I’ve become a bit cautious writing my ideas in my journals because it feels a bit like witchcraft. Me writing down my ideas and dreams, the ink flowing off the page into my life.
Ten years out from one of the most consequential years of my life, it’s hard not to take notice. So many times this year I have been taken aback at how my life has changed over the past ten years.
Ten years ago I was desperate for meaning as each month seemed to break another piece of me off. Life was changing me…
“I am proud of the woman I am today, because I went through one hell of a time becoming her.”
I’m not going to recount all of the details of that year because I can’t fully. The year left marks, impressions, but its cloudy and I cannot see it clearly anymore. Nor, do I want to. I came through, so I didn’t have to be there anymore.
I about to head to the airport…My bags are packed. Items on my “To do” lists are crossed off. The playlists created. Time to take a deep breath and see what the second half of 2018 will do.
That’s the pace leading up to a departure date. So many things to do and many of them cannot be done in advance. As my travel date approaches the list grows and the pace quickens. Until the day of departure, when everything slows, clarifies, and simplifies. Today, the big push is packing.
But I’m not just packing. I’m also re-sorting my closet and culling my clothes for another donation run. Then I’ll sort through the clothes that are left and decide what to store and which ones to take back to South Africa in August.
Once the sorting, culling, and packing, is complete I feel a sense of calm. I know that feeling is coming. However, this time the trip that is coming on Monday will be the eye of the storm because when I come back the big move is happening. I’ll have to finish packing up my apartment and put everything into storage until a future, unknown date when I have an address again.
Its funny because I feel so hectic before I leave, but once I’m headed to the airport everything calms down for me and I’m in my happy space. For a lot of people travel is the hectic piece. In the airport they are scattered and a bit harried. Travel can be confusing and disorienting, but I think that’s some of what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the fun of discovering new places. My favorites are bookstores, coffee shops, and the perfect vantage point to watch sunsets and sunrises. I don’t buy into the “life is a journey” cliche because the point of a journey is a destination. Is death really the destination of my life? I prefer the cliche that life is music (mostly jazz). We have ideas and pursue those ideas, but so much improve happens along the way. Songs do end. However, the music is the point. The beauty of the piece lies in it being played.
Okay…back to actually packing!
If the devil is in the details, then I have many little devils to attend to in the next fourteen days.
- Put my mail on hold
- Suspend my cell phone while I’m gone
- Add all the notes to my various accounts
- Prep my presentation
- Take both animals to the vet
- Make sure the old man has his meds for while I’m gone
- Schedule bills to be paid
- Finish collecting data for my dissertation
- and the list goes on…
This list is exacerbated by the list that I’ll need to complete before I leave again in August. Last night was the first time that these little devils danced around in my head and didn’t let me sleep. I sincerely hope that this does not continue for the next two weeks.
In Just over two weeks I’m headed back to South Africa and Botswana. I’m going to be in Johannesburg for just over a week and I’m spending six days in Gaborone, Botswana for a conference. I’m excited to go, but wanted to go as a single-bag traveler this time, just a backpack and my a purse. Traveling light will make transitioning between four different accommodations in 2.5 weeks much easier.
A couple of years ago, when I traveled to this same conference and then took time to explore Namibia and visit friends in Johannesburg, I went through several backpacks before I settled on a backpack from Tortuga. I really liked that pack and was able to carry enough in it to look professional at my conference and comfortable through the Namib desert. However, there were several drawbacks of that bag. First, it was a little too tall. If I was six feet tall the bag would have been perfectly proportioned, but as it was it was awkward for me to carry. Second, it didn’t have any weather proofing on it. So, I needed to scout out a new bag. I went back to Tortuga and went all in on a bundle they had, which I promptly returned.
Next, I went down the YouTube rabbit hole of professional bag reviewers. (Who knew that was a thing). Then I went to a meeting where someone had a new Eagle Creek bag. And I thought, I should check out the products on their web site. So, I watched videos, looked up reviews on Amazon, and watched videos on how they designed their various bags. After much research and obsessing, I decided on the Gear Hauler. As soon as I unboxed the bag, I was excited to use it. Thankfully, I had a week-long trip just a couple of days away to give the bag a test run.
Here is an inventory of all that I was able to pack in my bag:
- Five pairs of workout leggings
- Five workout tops
- Two pairs of somewhat bulky shoes
- Five dresses
- Collapsible water bottle
- Socks, underwear, and hose for five days
- Sports bra
- Daily wear bra
- Toiletries: conditioner, hair oil, deodorant, etc.
The bag was not overly heavy and I could have fit more! I cannot wait to use this bag for international travel. It will easily fit my laptop, adapters, and small notebooks. I’m planning on doing single-bag travel when I lead my next study abroad program too and this bag is perfect.
Today the Mason Study Abroad office hosts an orientation for all of the Winter and Spring Break programs. They’ll go over general safety and insurance, culture shock and mental health while abroad, and behavioral expectations while abroad. After the general orientation I’ll meet with my students, as a group. This will be the last time I see them as a group until January 3rd when we pick them up from the O. R. Tambo airport.
This morning I’m still trying to figure out the balance between what I should tell them and what I should let them discover on their own on the trip. I’m wondering what other people who’ve studied abroad which they’d known before their trip?
My first trip to South Africa was a two-week trip, over spring break, with the university. I traveled with a large group and the professor in charge of the trip drilled into our heads “things will go wrong.” Or another way to put it? Expect the unexpected. And yes, we got an unexpected stay in Chicago, bags were delayed, and people’s credit cards didn’t work.
In the past 24 hours I’ve learned this lesson again. “Things will go wrong!” But its ok.
Yesterday morning, I picked up a couple of last minute items as Target, but when I tried to use my debit card it was declined. Puzzling. I called my bank when I got home and my account was frozen because of mysterious charges from the night before. I was up at 1a.m. (my time) reserving transportation and accommodation for my time in Namibia. The charges looked odd to the bank and hence my account was frozen. The issue was resolved with no problems, as things always are with my awesome credit union. The incident had an upside-the credit union now has my South African mobile number on file in case anything unusual happens while I’m on that side.
The second, little hiccup, came when KLM sent me an email that might flight was cancelled. I immediately called Delta, the US partner to KLM, so I could get rescheduled. Even though the email said, “our representatives are working to get you re-booked” I didn’t want to wait. My flight was still showing up in Delta’s system and so, the customer service representative had to investigate that first. Once she confirmed that, yes, indeed the flight was cancelled, she could work on re-booking me. She was able to get me on a flight out of National to Atlanta and then a direct flight from ATL to JNB. Easy peasy.
I’m sure there will be more bumps in the road over the next month, but its part of the adventure.
Two more sleeps before I leave for South Africa. Or let’s be honest, probably only one more sleep because I might be too excited Sunday night for any actual sleep!
Great news! My Student VISA have been processed! I can finally get excited, really excited about my semester abroad!
Now, the whirlwind begins. I only have 11 days left before I leave for six months and I’m amazed how much I still need to do prior to leaving.