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So it’s Packing Day … more truthfully for 2 days because i’m battling the mother of all year’s head colds (sinuses, drippy, froggy voice, low grade feverish, you name it unfortunately – shout out to my Stepfather who probably had this exact crud for like 3 weeks – cross my fingers it doesn’t last THAT long).

Back to the topic at hand – How to pack for an extended experience in the unknown?.

This is an area that I actually have done my own research.

In my 3rd year of medical school I lived in an outbuilding on an awesome older couple’s property in Marianna, FL.  When I moved in, they handed me a little package of info of the area with diagrams and lists.  While this could sound or seem ‘OCD’ to the casual observer it actually made lots of sense to the spatially minded busy person and saved me a lot of time and energy.  Organizing information into a usable format is essential to learning, managing daily life & a unique challenge for me. This couple particularly inspired me to approach organization of my daily life in a way that made most sense to me and my way of doing things rather than trying to arrange names & phone numbers in lists by conforming to someone else’s process.  For instance, they had made a neighborhood phone list based on the houses’ proximities & took their cumulative common needs in the grocery store and organized it by row so they just needed to add numbers and scratch it off as they walked down the aisle.  These tools reflected their needs and the way they approached them.

About this same time I noticed that trips required me to pack similar things all the time and that despite different locations I largely was requiring similar things based on various parameters such as # of days/nights, cold weather (home to Alaska), warm weather (Florida, etc), military/professional/interview quick trips, international trips, etc.  So I’ve developed a xcel document with various lists and many of them are based around a central algorithm with additions based on expected activities or weather.  I save these lists and add to them with “what I wish I’d had and what I didn’t need at all” adjustments.

Packing for medical missions in international locations can seem completely overwhelming – I’ll admit at first I felt so facing a new continent this time. However, it comes back to the basics.

#1.  Where are you going?

I know that I’m going to be around the areas of Mombasa, Kenya and Arusha, Tanzania.

#2.  Expected & Possible weather?

Mombasa stays pretty warm (80’s – 90’s) and evenings into the 70’s as I can see.  Rain is a possibility as well.  While this may seem methodical and wasteful – it’s important to know average climates and we can rule one thing out here –  No Snow or extreme lows!

Arusha gets cooler in the evenings. I’m told it’s possible to drop down to 60’s/high 50’s in some spots.  So warm layers for evening use (so more like light jacket/sweater and warm sleep-able clothing provisions.

If I were climbing Kilimanjaro (which I wanted to but didn’t work out this time) I’d need real COLD-weather gear and active-wear.

#3. Expected & possible activities?

Going to work for me will require scrubs, slightly more formal appearing outfits & white diagnostics coat –  since I’ll be at hopsitals (I usually am part of mobile clinics which means more casual generally & never a white coat – this will actually be the first time I’ve ever brought one on a mission before)

Again no Kili, so no climbing style/heavy gear needed.

Beach areas in Mombasa means a baithing suit.

What kind of accomodations (do you really want to be barefoot in that shower? … Athlete’s Foot or worse?) or walking/running/dressy shoes are needed and expected?

#4.  One thing also to be very aware of is local customs/religions/status-quo for female attire.  Don’t be dragged into the supposition that only the middle east requires women to cover their heads.  If you go to christian areas in Europe or Quebec even there are some areas that women are expected to cover their heads.  You’re individuality or identity as an American does not mean you are exempt from these customs.  Plus, you are there to visit, observe and drink in another part of the world and other peoples’ culture – do you really want to make a splash or cause the locals to be gauking at you more than you at them? – kind of ruins the experience doesn’t it?.  So Check during your research – this applies to men as well in some areas.

For the above reason I always carried a sash of fabric in one way or another. This piece of fabric often works to my advantage in other ways anyways, especially to protect me from the sun (my picture is right next to “Pale-Skin” or “Casper” in the dictionary) or the heat or for hair management back when it was long. I’ve tried many ways in the past – bandanas tied around my throat (you can soak it in water to keep your neck cool which tricks your body into thinking it’s a comfortable temperature), large shawl tied about my waste or more often about my shoulders for cooler climates or modesty, etc.  This time I’m going to be using a long thinner sash of fabric that will be worn as a belt unless needed.  I have used these pieces for medical uses as well in the past: hold an ice pack, sling, immobilize a leg in a splint (wilderness class), mask in a van with LOTS of dust, tourniquet wrap above snake bite (again class-related), scrub-cap, etc.


That’s plenty to think about for now except maybe to mention to bring yourself a supply of comfort food provisions if you are going internationally because comfort is important to your enjoying your travelling despite the ‘roughing-it’ attitude (and you’ll be thankful far before your 40th meal of rice and beans in a row – lol)

Well we’ll see how it goes.