The Non-Negotiable Necessities of Travel

It’s that time of the year again – PACKING TIME. At the end of January, I’ll be hopping to Chicago for a few days before my friend Kelli and I head to India for a real life, legit Hindu wedding. (GET READY FOR UPDATES, PEOPLE!)

Preparations for this trip are a little different than normal.

First of all, I don’t have to cart along every single possession I own. I can leave the bulk of my belongings behind in Cusco, with my lovely partner who will watch over them while silently cursing me for leaving him to jet off to the Taj Mahal.

Secondly, almost as if to add insult to injury, I’m hijacking my partner’s brand new backpack. Why? Because it’s nicer than mine. And it’s smaller. And it looks better. And because we are slowly dissolving the boundaries of what is HIS and what is MINE. (No, seriously. I noticed today that I was wearing his zip-up jacket, and he was wearing MY new sweater. Couple, much??)

As I set to work moving things into their new home today, I stumbled upon a few objects that MUST be in my backpack at all times. These are non-negotiable backpack dwellers, the veritable mayor of Possessions Village. In fact, if I’m caught without these things, I might as well NOT TRAVEL.

Every traveler has these items. And for me, they’re as follows:

Copies of my passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, and itinerary. Now, before you get worried about someone conveniently stumbling upon these items and stealing my identity, hang on. None of these are notarized, so they wouldn’t serve as legal documents if someone were to actually try to PASS as me. Furthermore, these copies are on hand in the event that my PURSE gets stolen in transit. So that way, if I suddenly find myself in a bus station or airport with a freshly missing purse/wallet, I can at least utilize these documents to PROVE that I am who I am as I attempt to sort out the mess, board the flight, or otherwise try to convince a mean-looking official that things are fine and I’m not a criminal.

A shrimp from Nashville, TN. I picked this beaded shrimp up at the Nashville Museum of Art back in 2006 or thereabouts. It lived on my keychain then for approximately five years. The shrimp was then relegated to living on my bookcase in Ohio, but some sort of sorcery occurred between 2011 and 2013, because then I found it during a trip to visit my mother in Tennessee in the summer of 2013. She found it, mailed it to me, and now it comes with me everywhere. Not only has it been a fixture in my everyday belongings (key chain) since 2006, now it holds even more importance, since my boyfriend’s nickname is Camaron (Shrimp). I’ve been carrying Camaron with me for years, without knowing a real life Shrimp was waiting for me! (Did I manifest that without knowing?)

Beaded shrimp doesn’t look much like my boyfriend shrimp, but the meaning is there. 

A rosary from Mexico City, Mexico. In 2008, during a trip through Mexico City, I went to visit the Basilica of Guadalupe, one of the most important religious sites in the city. After visiting the grounds, I passed through the market nearby which was bursting with all sorts of religious relics and Catholic-themed souvenirs. I picked up a small, knotted rosary, which pays homage to my own Catholic roots, and the fact that we can all use a religious symbol on hand, especially when situations get tough. 

Knotty rosary from Mexico City

Emergency items: flashlight, sewing kit, first aid kit, and a hand mirror. If these things aren’t in my backpack, I’ll feel weird on the inside. I haven’t used most of these objects, but we all know the minute they AREN’T in my backpack is the second they’ll come in handy. I recommend always having these basic items on hand. Unexpected backpack rips can be trip-stoppers: this happened to me on my way to the airport in October 2014 – horrible long-term tear that came loose at the last second and made my backpack vulnerable to theft and even more damage with luggage handlers. I fixed that baby in 15 minutes flat. Maybe that’s also why I’m taking my boyfriend’s backpack this time; flashlights for unexpected power outages, or rummaging through luggage on dark buses/hostels; and hand mirrors for looking at yourself for the first time in two days after that horrendous journey on bus from southern Chile to northern Argentina.

Each trip has its own special packing list, but these items come with me no matter where I go, no matter the trip.

 What things do you guys take with you? Any special amulets or good luck charms? Any bizarre packing must-haves? 

A Month In America

Readers, Followers, Lovers and Others,

I apologize for the lengthy delay. I’m not usually SO bad about updating!

But, it must be known, that Jorge and I had one freaking jam-packed month in America!

I’m not just talking busy, I’m talking, DOING ALL THE THINGS.

We went to a 4-day festival in Michigan, he met almost all of the family, we explored Sandusky and northern Ohio, we flew to Nashville and spent a weekend there, we visited parks, we walked dogs, we watched (almost) every match of the World Cup, he met and spent time with 95% of my best friends, we held multiple cookouts for both friends and family, we went to Cedar Point, we had 4th of July celebrations, we went to the beach, we got in the lake, we went to Kelley’s Island, we went to Put in Bay, we had dinner at friends’ houses, we went to a local music festival, we saw a lighthouse, we parasailed, we ate so much food I don’t wanna talk about it, and, most of all…we enjoyed a freaking awesome summer in northern Ohio!

On top of all of this, I was still working (though reduced hours). The only thing I had to put on hold was WRITING. Sigh.

Here’s some photographic proof of stuff!

Lovers on the 4th of July

Jorge checks out Lake Erie and Cedar Point Beach

On a little walk with Storm, my dad’s new pup, through Osborne Park

Jorge showing his prowess in asados

After a great visit in Nashville with my mom and stepdad!

On a daytrip to Put-in-Bay with friends!
Helping good friends install laminate flooring for their dance studio!
A self-portrait of the occasional cameraman

A Sad Farewell to Valparaiso (or, The Last Border Run)

On April 1st, 2013, I wrote a post called “Introducing Valparaiso” where I talked about my first impressions of Valpo and why I was so excited to be living there.

On May 2nd, 2014, my partner Jorge and I will officially leave this city, and the entire country of Chile, for a very, very long time.

Leaving Valparaiso is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s Valparaiso. There’s actually no better city in Chile for someone like me, and while I’ve lived here I’ve finished two novels, published two short non-fiction stories, maintained and/or started three blogs, and written a heck of a lot in my personal journal.

How’s that for an inspiring place to live? No wonder so many artists flock here!

Furthermore, I met my love Jorge here. Under the unblinking gaze of the cerros, our relationship sputtered to life and flourished.

March 2013
March 2014

Now, over a year after meeting each other in the dim lighting of a Mexican restaurant called Taco Tony’s, Jorge and I are leaving it all behind to begin anew.

We’re leaving Tony’s magical tacos behind, as well as the salty air, the humid winters, the perpetual roil of dogs barking in the distance, the grit of urine and trash in street corners, the breathtaking street art, the winding hills too vertical to be safe for cars, surely; the colorful dots of homes that sprawl on hillsides for eons, the Pacific Ocean, the fresh fish gutted and displayed at market, the green trolley’s, the lumbering buses to Vina del Mar, the constant asados, and perhaps most importantly….our home and our friends.

One of many lunches at Pasaje Chileno

The king of the house — and the grill!


Jorge and I not only began our relationship here, we began our home here. We found this vagabond house empty and quiet in August and 2013, and since then we have filled it with laughter, music, gatherings, art and more. We’ve had countless asados here, as well as art nights, wine clubs, dinner parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, farewell parties, welcome parties, housewarming parties and more. We’ve outfitted it to be our recycled, built-from-scratch haven: with found pieces from the street, upcycled washing machines turned asado grill and light fixture, a complete urban garden bearing vegetables and heavenly basil.

This bad boy bore 7 tomatoes! Best part is, I never
even planted tomato — came from compost, baby!

Here long enough to grow a spice cabinet, too!

Maybe you’re asking, Okay, so why the hell are you leaving?

That’s the other side of this extremely heavy and attractive coin. In moving on from Valpo, we are paving the way to new Valpos.

Not that we strive to recreate our exact experience, or only move to cities that resemble Valpo (if that were the case, our next and only stop would be San Francisco!). But rather, we plan to continue drifting together and settling for a time in new places. Cities where we feel a connection, can start a little home, make some friends and family, and then move on to see more of the world.

Luckily, both of us have work that can be easily taken with us. As a hair stylist, Jorge is in demand wherever we go. I can’t count how many people throw themselves at him once they find out he can cut or color their hair.

And me, well, the writing and non-profit gig pack up quite nicely into whatever backpack I’m using at the moment.

We are both extremely sad to leave Valparaiso, but extremely excited for the unknown adventures that await us!

During the month of May, we will be traveling through Argentina to see Jorge’s family. In June, we’ll hit Bolivia, and make our way up through Peru to catch a flight from Lima to the USA in mid-June. And once we take a month in the States, meeting my side of the family, then it’s back to Peru to continue to passive vagabonding…

And the first city on deck is Cusco.

Goodbye, Chile! We love you, Valparaiso!

Salud to so many amazing friendships, memories, good times, 
and learning experiences in this beautiful city. 
You will forever be in our hearts.

Pre-departure Farewell

The time has arrived! Leslie, her sister Amanda and I will depart Ohio tomorrow morning around 6am, with a brief layover in Chicago then Miami before our actual flight to Santiago departs around 7pm.

I have everything I could possibly need, and then a little bit more. Leslie helped me pare down some things I was undecided on (i.e. a hammock and spice jars…hey, those are almost-necessities), but I’m still bringing the most crap of us all. I think some of it has to do with my jewelry inventory and supplies, and the heavy-duty Manduka yoga mat. And the cowboy boots. And the variety of tank tops and leggings. To my own credit, I have a definite USE for everything I’m bringing. There is no unneccessary item. For example, that pair of red sandals I bought and never wore? Not coming with me.  And when you think about it, the Shanonce afro wig takes up almost no space. For how large it can expand, it condenses surprisingly well.

(Yes, the wig is a necessity. That’s one of my creative pursuits, guys.)

I’ve triple and quadruple-checked that I have my passport. I have my finances arranged. I’ve said goodbye to everyone, tearfully. We have a place to live. I know Spanish. I’ve got these two girls with me. And we have resources, creativity, and travel know-how bursting from our pores.

I think we’re ready.

I’ll post again soon, from the bottom half of the world! Hasta luego, amigos!

How to Condense a Life

I have this problem with packing. When I take a trip, I over pack…to the extreme. Legend has it that I once took the Tulsa phone book on a trip to London, just so I could peruse the “Hanson” entries (I was a very dedicated fan). In more recent times, a two or three day trip can result in a backpack almost as heavy as the one I carted around Europe for three months. I don’t know why this happens – I just like to be prepared. With clothing options. And accessories. And shoes for all weather scenarios. And my hemp supplies, in case I have time in my action-packed weekend away to make a bracelet. And this pair of red sandals I’ve never worn but might just find the outfit finally that they go with. And ….the list goes on.

I’ve been traveling recently – lots of visits to Chicago and Nashville – and each trip results in the Confrontation With the Backpack: stuffed full of things that I think I need, a moment’s reflection on the upcoming trip, indecision regarding the fifth pair of pants I packed, then eventual back strain as I hoist the thing up and out of the house. And each time, 80% of it goes unused.

This pattern of over-packing and under-using has forced me to assess the general concept of Belongings. I have been a fringe hoarder my entire life, and therefore I have a lot of *stuff*.

Actually, I used to have way too much stuff. Now I just have a decent amount of stuff. I have been slowly, steadily, painstakingly ridding myself of my possessions. It started with cleaning out my closet, several times. Each time, several more tons of junk would exit my bedroom wrapped in garbage bags, destined for Goodwill or the dump. Then I began to assess things in the spare room closet – all sorts of mementos, childhood objects, school records, stuffed animals galore.

Again, a large majority went to Goodwill or the dump.

This process has crept slowly throughout the entire house. And with each new item or object that I part ways with, I feel lighter. Relieved.

Incredibly, my life continues without the ironing board from college, or the Black & Decker griddle that I haven’t used in three years but just didn’t want to get rid of in case of a pancake emergency, or the variety of stuffed animals that I distantly remember from childhood. It turns out I don’t really need to have all of the homework I completed from my sophomore year of high school in order to fondly recall my school days. Nor did I need to hang on to the miniature Pat Catan’s store I’d created in my bedroom featuring a wide array of unused and almost-empty oil paints, “just in case I got back to painting”. (I never did.)

At times, my hoarding tendencies weren’t so much an unwillingness to part with objects but just simple overlooking – these things had existed for so long in my breathing space that I forgot they were even there. They had become a part of the backdrop – physically, and emotionally. Because a lot of the things vying for space in my house were connected with the past. Childhood, my teenage years, college experiences, and beyond. Even the unusable oil paints were a sort of placeholder for my past, because they represented a phase of my life when I was incredibly inspired to express myself through painting.

All of these things were occupying an incredible amount of space and ENERGY. It became exhausting to even spend time in my bedroom because there was just so many parts of my life on full display. I couldn’t look around without absent-mindedly recalling some aspect of my own life, which is a fun journey, but quite time-consuming to enact every single day. So I tore stuff down, and painted, and hung artwork that had been laying unused for years, and most importantly, I purged.

In fact, I am still purging. And as the Departure Date grows nearer, I am finding that not only can I get rid of more of my possessions, I also do not need the majority of what I think I need. While 80% of my backpack gets unused during a vacation or weekend trip, 80% of my general belongings and earthly possessions are similarly unused.

Plain English, folks : We don’t need much to live.

A travel blogger once commented that he rid himself of Stuff until all of his earthly possessions could fit into one cardboard box (minus his guitar, which he left with his mom). I’m not going to claim that this type of Reductionism is the only way to go, but the forward motion that this startling idea produced was enough to get my to begin whittling down my stuff, which was essentially an act of paring down my life.

Is it any coincidence that things in my life are much easier now? Less crap is less crap.

A couple areas I refuse to budge on:
-I will not get rid of my library. I have gone through my bookshelves a thousand times, struggling to find just one more book to donate or sell, and I won’t. Books are extremely important to me and it may be something I have to confront down the road, but for now, we’ll let the beast sleep.
-My piano. This is going to continue living with my dad.
-Photos. Like, real, actual, 35mm photos. This is one of the best ways to remember a life, as opposed to crusty tubes of decades-old oil paint. Photo albums are good things to keep tucked away for fond reminiscing, and the whole “tucked away” aspect ensures that those memories won’t physically exhaust you daily.

I’m not done with the process yet. There is still more to let go, to purge, to release into the wild yonder of second-hand thrift stores. And I need to seriously assess what I will need for my upcoming trip to Chile, because I know the frenzy of the outfit what-ifs will take over as it always does.

At the very least, the more that I take with me in the beginning is more stuff that I can drop off along the way, whether as donations, emergency sales, barter uses…or maybe somewhere out there in the world, I will meet a girl that will need the pair of red sandals I’ve never worn and I will triumphantly stand up, hand her the shoes, and say, “Here, I brought these just for you.”

(Now go read that article that made me start shedding my physical possessions: Minimalism)