Sep 29, 2014

A Girl’s Long-Term RTW Packing List (UPDATED)

AND SO IT BEGINS: one girl, one backpack, one round-the-world trip. Tonight a transpacific flight will carry me to Fiji, and the beginning of this grand adventure.

People I talk to tend to be amazed I can fit everything I need into a single backpack. How is that possible? To answer that, here's a slimmed down update of my long term travel packing list.

OLIVER, my 37 L backpack

#1 Priority

- passport, carried in money belt
- driver’s license
- international driver’s license
- spare visa photos
- wallet: cash, credit card, debit card
- postcard purse: foreign currencies, USD cash, coin purses
- compass


- packable tote
- packable daypack
- purse
- dry sack, 4L
- compression sack, 10L


- sunhat
- pashmina
- bandana
- beanie
- swimsuit
- watch [not pictured]

Cold Weather
- jacket
- rain shell jacket
- cardigan
- LS shirt
- leggings

Pants & Shirts
- jeans
- yoga pants
- hiking pants
- short-sleeve shirts (3)
- blouse
- tank top

- sports bra
- bra (2)
- underwear (4)
- socks (4)
- Keeper [not pictured]

- sports sandals
- walking shoes
- flats


- Macbook Air, sleeve, cord
- iPhone, plug
- iPod nano, earbuds, cord
(Can you guess my favorite color?)

- external hard drive, plug
- dual-SIM phone, plug
- plug adapter, mini plug adapter
- Kindle, sleeve, cord
- digital camera, SD card, cord [not pictured]

First Aid Kit

- prescriptions: ciprofloxacin (for diarrhea/infections), azithromycin (for bronchitis)
- sunburn balm
- band-aids, bug bite q-tips
- antibacterial ointment
- charcoal tablets
- electrolyte tablets (for dehydration)

One Quart-Sized Bag of Liquids

- Dr Bronner’s soap
- insect spray (citronella oil)
- contacts solution
- moisturizer, in silicon tube
- sunscreen


- 1 year contacts supply
- contacts holder
- eye drops
- sunglasses
- eyeglasses [not pictured]

Health & Hygiene

- deodorant
- handkercheif (2)
- comb
- toothbrush, paste, floss
- Q-tips
- tweezers
- nail clipper
- Kleenex
- lip balm
- razor, spare blade
- spare ziploc bags
- antibacterial hand wipes
- toilet paper roll [not pictured]
- LUSH shampoo & tin [not pictured]

In Transit / Tools

- snacks: tea bags, nuts, dried fruit
- flight bag: ear plugs, eye mask, whistle, sleeping pills
- headlamp + batteries
- mini flashlight
- sewing kit
- clothesline
- combination lock
- cable lock [not pictured]

Paper Goods

- photo album
- magic spells notebook
- cahier notebooks
- pens

One More Thing…

- microfiber towel
- eyeglasses case
- umbrella
- packable waterbottle

That’s it, ladies and gentleman - enough to fit in my bag and live off for a year, in addition to whatever I pick up as I need it along the way. It's been four years in the making, and my round-the-world trip is finally here — let’s go!!!!!!!!

~ ~ ~

Sep 26, 2014

MEMENTOS: Final Days in the USA

I'm writing to you from the palm trees of Florida. A week ago, I was in Michigan. Two weeks ago, New York. A week from now, I'll be in Fiji, beginning my world tour. I can hardly believe it! The days have been filled with adventures great and small, all leading up to the moment when I finally step on the plane that will open up the world to me. Here's a glimpse of those recent Stateside adventures:

Walking along the coast of Lake Huron at sunset. The sky looks like a Native American sand painting, 

Harvesting honey from my uncle's beesLaurén and I cut the caps on the honeycombs, spun the honey out of them, and filtered out the wax, all in a honey hut kept at 100ºF to keep the honey oozing smoothly.

Enjoying a sugar sprinkles ice cream, the first one since I was a kid, and my first RenFair "turkey" leg (they're actually emu - turkey doesn't have the thick cartilage usually found in this RenFair staple).

My first visit to the Renaissance Festival in Holly, Michigan. It was a world of its own! A group of us watched an owl and hawk fly around us in a show, admired the costumes of both entertainers and visitors, listened to a "holy" bagpipe rock band, and unintentionally ended up looking after the infamous pickle man's cart. I'm glad I could finally visit this famous wonderland.

~ ~ ~

Sep 22, 2014

FOOD FARE: Because Vacation Calories Don't Count

(at least, that's what we tell ourselves.)

The many landscapes of upper Michigan.

Did you know tourists who visit Mackinac Island to buy their famous Mackinac Island Fudge are called "fudgies?" The fact that there is a name for people who travel just to get their hands on the rich, melt-in-your-mouth indulgment is a testament to their popularity. I personally think it's the most delicious sweet in the world. How can a piece of chocolate be hard enough you need to cut it with a plastic knife, but so soft it seems to coat your mouth like peanut butter?

How could you make it better? Add it to ice cream. Here in Michigan you can buy Mackinac Island Fudge Ice Cream at the grocery store, but the taste is fresh at the source. I couldn't guarantee these treats would make it home, so I picked up a bag of saltwater taffy to bring back for family and friends.

Mackinac Island Fudge, Mackinac Island Fudge Ice Cream, and saltwater taffy.

While having dinner in Suttons Bay, Laurén and I spotted a local red wine on the menu. I ordered it, and it's like I was blown backwards out of my chair! It was so incredibly good. I'm not a wine expert, but I've had enough red wine to tell if a bottle was picked it up at the drugstore for $10. This "Red House Red" was smooth with no bitter aftertaste. And since the winery was local, why not check it out? The next day we traveled just seven minutes up the road to Black Star Farms.

Black Star Farms & Winery

The road leading into Black Star Farms had rows and rows of grape vines going up the side of a hill. Around the curve, there were horses, goats, ducks, and pigs in roomy pens across from a colonial style inn. In a large red wine tasting building, we ordered their "five wines for five dollars" and got our pick of an expansive list. I spotted "Red House Red" with a sticker price of $10. I was shocked. If that wine is so cheap, imagine how good the expensive ones are, I thought.

We were lucky to have a hostess who was very generous with us, and let us try four additional wines for free, at her insistence. My favorites were cherry wine, a dessert wine infused with maple syrup, and a merlot with hints of blackberry. We walked out with a half-full box of bottles.

Just across the street Black Star Farms have their own restaurant with fresh flowers on every outdoor patio table. We split a thin-crust potato pizza that would have gone great with more wine, but we still had driving to do!

As a final hurrah for our road trip (before the calories started to count again), Laurén surprised me and took us to the Traverse City Pie Co. I had Old Mission Cherry pie, and she had the ABC (apple-blueberry-cherry). One word: heavenly. Then again, you could describe the entire trip that way. :)

Black Star Farms Wine Tasting, Potato Pizza, and Old Mission Cherry Pie.

~ ~ ~

Sep 11, 2014

MEMENTOS: Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. It's one of the few places in Michigan you can't point to with your hand as a map. The name "Mackinac" (pronouced mak-in-aw) is a shortening of the Menominee Native American word for "big turtle," which they likened to the island's shape. Instead of turtles though, the island is known for cycling, fudge, and gorgeous views of the lake.

$25 round-trip ticket takes you to and from the island
 from Mackinaw City (lower peninsula) or St. Ignace (upper peninsula).

Mackinac Island's Main Street

Sailboats out on a windy day.

Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas.

Lake Huron, in every shade of blue.

Cycling the perimeter of the island. It took about an hour and a half,
amounting to $10.50 for the bike rental.

Stacking rocks are found all along the shore of Mackinac Island. Meditative? Tourist tradition?

Arch Rock, a natural limestone formation.

A cannon at Fort Mackinac.

The view from Fort Mackinac - not bad, right?

That blue is not a photo filter, it really is that beautiful.

Mackinac Bridge - the boat took us under it on the way back to St. Ignace, around sunset.
When you're cruising in the water underneath its huge steel supports, you realize how magnificent it is.

~ ~ ~

Sep 8, 2014

People Ask How I'm Adjusting

Before I left Japan, I bought a candle at Nanao's traditional candle shop; a special one, black with three painted sunflowers. It was a little larger than the skinny yellow prayer candles I'd picked up a box of for meditation.

I told myself, I will give myself time to grieve. When I miss Japan and my friends, my incredible students and the quirks of everyday life, I'll light it.

When I checked out, the shop owner warned that it would be too big for my candle holder. I assured her it would be all right. When we hold grief, it always seems too much for us to bear, and yet we do.

When I feel sad or lonely, I burn the candle and let the sadness burn with it. Instead of pushing it away, I sit with it. If I have to cry, then I cry. If I have to hurt, then I hurt, and next time it hurts less. And when I'm done, I blow out the candle, and it's a little shorter. When the candle has completely burned away, I'll have let go.

One month since saying goodbye to Japan, that candle is now a stub. The three vividly painted sunflowers have long blown away in smoke. When I light it, which is less frequently now, the flame burns much higher than the candle itself.

In no time, the last of the wax will be spent, and like all hand-crafted candles from that special little shop in Nanao, it will leave no trace of it having ever been there; wax, paint, and wick all turned to wafting smoke.

And when that happens, the holder is free again, and you can place a new candle in its stead. I think the next one will be for joy.

~ ~ ~