Friday, June 10, 2011

Packing List Extravaganza

This is probably way more than you ever wanted to know about what to bring to the Middle East. But maybe you're like me, and got really annoyed about not knowing what to pack. Obviously I haven't gotten there yet, so I might end up posting later about everything I packed wrong, but we'll see.

I have a strange fixation on having as little luggage as possible, and for this trip, it meant that I felt the need to put everything into one small suitcase and a backpack sized bag. And by small suitcase, I mean one that I think could be carried on and not checked if I wanted to.

But that doesn't necessarily mean I travel particularly light, it just means I know how to fold clothes to make as many fit as possible. I just finished packing, and at last count, I had around eight t-shirts, one dress shirt, four button down shirts, four tank tops, six long sleeved shirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of khakis, two pairs of special travel pants, and one floor length skirt. (If you're thinking that I can't wear short sleeves and tanks tops in the Middle East, you're right. They're just useful for layering). And on top of that all my other stuff somehow fit in there two, after about thirty different arrangements in the suitcase. The secret is rolling up your clothes in tiny little balls like in the military, not folding them. Seriously.

The stuff that actually took up the most room was the gifts for my host family. Most of it fit pretty well, an I didn't have a problem with most of the gifts, except for the baseball hats. They kind of bothered my perfectionism of having everything fit flat and neat in the suitcase. They're not box-shaped, and they're not flat, but they're not rolls, so they can't get stuck in with my shirts. They're this awkward shape, and the brims wouldn't stay flat, and they frustrated me! They just ended up on top.

Okay, as far as toiletries go, that's honestly not something I want to discuss. Bring whatever you need, and remember that you can always buy more there if you run out. There's no need to bring the extra-large bottle of shampoo. Toothpaste is the one thing I bring a lot of. I get kind of freaked out by strange toothpastes. And then there's always the thing about three ounces (100 mL) of liquid/gel or less in a carry on bag. At least that's what it is right now, maybe it changes. So make sure that most of your stuff is in your checked bag, because you don't want to have to throw out whatever liquid you felt you couldn't be separated from for a few hours.

Now that I'm on the topic of checked versus carry-on. Usually my family and I try to carry on everything. I actually don't remember the last time we checked anything. But, on this trip, I will be checking baggage, mostly for the reason that not all of my liquids are three ounces or less in my bag. So then comes the challenge of what to put in your carry on bag and what to put in your checked bag. The general rule of thumb, which they also reminded us of for this exchange program, is to put anything you need in your carry-on, and other stuff in the checked bag. That means passport, identification card, tickets, visas, that stuff needs to be in your carry on. (Also, if you're travelling internationally, extra photocopies of your passport are sometimes useful should something happen to the actual thing. And extra passport photos if you need a visa).

Also, bring whatever you need to live for a few days in your carry-on. Two shirts, a pair of pants, a hairbrush, and so on. And extra glasses, if you wear them. Buying new glasses on vacation  is not cool. Packing this is your carry-on is where the military rolling comes in handy, so they stay in neat little rolls in the bottom of your bag, instead of coming unfolded and taking up half your backpack.

You mean you don't know how to military roll clothes? Gasp! Click here,and be enlightened.

And then there is some stuff that I'm bringing just because I have a host family there. I already talked about packing the gifts for the host family, but as far as having gifts for host families, make sure you do. Stuff from your area seems to be the best bet, from what I've been able to read ahead of time. The fact that I live near Chicago makes that an easy choice, at least for me.

Also, bring a photo album of "home." I haven't been yet, but people I've talked to who have done similar trips before have said that it helps if the family doesn't speak English, to start conversations, and so they can see your family, and so that you have something to look at if you get homesick. I've never really gotten homesick before, but we'll see.

And electric adapters. Bring one. I have one that can be used for almost any outlet, which is nice. My mother has a set of a bunch of them, and you just have to figure out what to use. Just have something, because you don't want to get stuck without it.

Oh, and if you're a woman, bring a couple large scarves that could be used as headscarves. I've heard varying reports on how conservative different regions are, but everyone seems to agree that long sleeves and pants are necessary, and having a headscarf in your bag is smart. That way, if you feel like you're getting too much attention, or for any reason, you can simply put it on, and you'll be good. I'm not sure how it is in Jordan, I've read different stories, depending on the area and people they were with. I'm guessing that for me, it's going to matter most on my host families preferences.

I'm not sure how useful this is going to be, but I also stuck a little memo book in my  bag. I figure there might be situations where it could help to write a destination for a cab, or to write down a new word so I don't forget. Or something. I feel strange not having a paper and pen on me at all times.

Well, that's pretty much it. I packed other stuff too, but this is long enough. 73 hours until I leave!!!

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