Teaching Abroad Part 4: How to Pack for a Year

So you got the job, you have the plane ticket, and you are trying to figure out what the hell you need to bring. Because you will be living in the country you are teaching in for an extended period of time, it is important to pack smartly. Your family can send you supplies of course, but this can be costly and sometimes inconvenient. It is best to anticipate what you might need for your entire stay abroad.

Depending on where you are traveling to, you might not have access to certain items that you take for granted at home. Believe it or not, deodorant is not sold worldwide. I ran out of deodorant while I was backpacking in Korea and had to have a friend from home bring me some when he met me in China. Even if the country you are traveling to does have deodorant, it might not be a brand you like to wear, so bring a good supply.

The same goes for tampons. Many women still use pads around the world, which can make finding a tampon difficult sometimes. When you do find tampons, they will most likely be OB brand. If you like OB and you can find it in the country you will be living in, then you are set. But if you don’t like that brand, then I suggest going to Costco and stocking up on tampons before you leave.

Medication is another important item to consider when you are packing. Certain medications can be found abroad for less and over the counter, but you might not want to chance it if it is something you depend on. If you take a specific birth control, acne medication, or some other pill you can’t live without, buy a bunch of it at home before leaving the country.

It’s a good idea to look at your daily routine and decide what you can live without. Are you completely set on using a specific face wash, shampoo, or mascara? You will be able to find most of the things you use daily in some form abroad, but it might not be the brand you are loyal to. For example, I am addicted to Burt’s Bees lip balm and would be completely distraught if I ran out, so I bring more than enough lip balm to last me a year. Look at every product you use and if you don’t mind using a different brand, then don’t bring it. If you couldn’t imagine life without that brand, then you will need to bring enough to last you the extent of your time abroad.

There are also some more obvious things you should take that I absolutely must mention. Books! Sometimes it can be difficult to find books in English abroad. When you do find them, they might not be the kind of book you want to read. You will be able to trade with other travelers, but you might not always be able to find someone willing to trade with you when you want to. A camera and your laptop are also a must when you are leaving for a long time.

Before you depart, make a trip to your dentist and your doctor. Tell them you are leaving the country and want to make sure everything is fine before you leave. Make sure you have all of the necessary shots to travel and maybe request some sleeping pills for the plane ride. Ask your doctor for a prescription of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro for short). This medication is like gold for all travelers. If you get unstoppable diarrhea, this is going to be your new best friend. Nobody wants to have to teach all day or get on a long bus ride with the runs.

Before I leave, I take a large Ziploc bag and make myself a medical kit. Key medicines in this kit are Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, Cipro, Neosporin, Nyquil, Midol, and your choice of pain relief medication. I also include a thermometer, Deet, band-aids and duct tape. At some point during my time abroad I have used all of these items and have always been grateful that I had them on hand.

Lastly, while you are deciding what clothes to take, make sure you have a good understanding of what the other teachers at school will be wearing. It is pointless to bring pencil skirts and collared shirts if everyone else is wearing jeans and t-shirts. You should consider the fact that you will probably be shopping and buying clothes abroad, so you don’t need to pack too much. And finally, as I’m sure your mom is going to remind you, bring plenty of good underwear!

This post was originally written for www.diwyy.com.

Dee Dee’s Top Ten Travel Essentials

I pride myself on being a good packer. I don’t want to boast, but I think I am pretty darn good at traveling light and packing right. I’m not sure if any of you actually care about what or how I pack, but here are my top-ten travel essentials (minus the obvious things like deodorant, etc.).

  1. Ziploc Bags. I am nothing without my ziploc bags. If you look in my backpack and even my massive duffel bag that I left in Thailand, you will find everything organized into ziploc bags. They ensure that your belongings stay dry, and keep everything organized and easy to find. I keep one bag reserved for dirty clothes so they stay contained, making sure that the rest of my bag doesn’t smell like a piece of used hockey padding.
  2. A dry bag. Those outdoorsy folks know what I’m talking about, but for those of you that don’t, a dry bag is what you would typically use rafting to make sure everything stays dry…it’s pretty self explanatory. They come in all different sizes, but since we’ve already decided that clothes go in ziploc bags, I’d say get a smallish one for your camera, iPod, and wallet. You never know when a little rain or a monsoon is going to catch up with you and it’s always nice to have a reliable dry bag with you.
  3. Quick-dry underwear. This follows the whole wet theme I’ve got going on here. If you get caught in the rain or pushed in a lake, you don’t want to be stuck with wet undies all day, so wear quick-dry ones. I only brought four pairs of underwear with me, three of which are quick-dry, because I can wash them at night and they’ll be dry the next morning. Not only does less underwear save space in your bag, but I like to think of it as a travel badge of honor.
  4. Baby wipes. These are always in my bag. You never know what yucky thing you’ll touch or have spilled on you (today it was yak curd for me). Plus, if you don’t have time to take a shower or don’t want to take a freezing cold shower, then a baby wipe bath is your best bet.
  5. Hand sanitizer. This doesn’t even need an explanation.
  6. Duct tape. What can’t you do with duct tape?! If your shoe is giving you blisters, put some duct tape on your foot and boom! you’re better. Tear your pants? Duct tape them back together! Backpack break? Duct tape it! Screaming baby in the seat behind you? Duct tape it! Just kidding, but you all know the thought has crossed your mind.
  7. Swiss army knife. I was given one of these for my 16th birthday and I think I’ve used it at least once a day since then. You never know when you’ll need to cut, peel, file, or tweeze something. Just remember not to take it through airport security with you.
  8. Headlamp. They may look dorky, but that coal-miner look will leave you feeling like the belle of the ball when you rescue someone who is trying to unlock their hotel door in the dark or when the power goes out at dinner. This is definitely an essential if you are traveling to Nepal. India controls the power in Kathmandu, making electricity reliably unreliable. Don’t bother coming to Nepal if you aren’t bringing a headlamp or at least a flashlight.
  9. Burt’s Bees Wax Lip Balm. I’m addicted. You can leave this out of your bag, but it is more than essential for me. I brought five sticks to Thailand with me just in case I lost one or two or three of them.
  10. A ziploc bag containing:
  • Pepto: Take one before or after suspicious meals.
  • Immodium: If the Pepto doesn’t work, then this is your next step. One day you’ll thank your lucky stars for having this with you. I had three emergency bathroom runs at the end of one of the days on my last trek, popped two of these bad boys and was set for more trekking.
  • Ciprofloxacin: This is the serious stuff when it comes to stomach problems abroad. If Pepto and Immodium don’t work, then you might have a bacterial infection and you probably need this.
  • Alieve: Will cure joint pain, headaches, hangovers, etc. The panacea.
  • Bandaids: I always seem to be in need of one and you’ll be someone-in-needs’ new best friend when you give them one.

My last travel tip is this: They will have some variation of everything you need where you are going. So pack half as much as you were originally planning. Happy Travels!