I think we can all collectively agree that very few people enjoy the packing or preparation process before a short-term holiday or long-haul trip. Despite the excitement, reasons and rewards, it can be one of the most gruelling jobs going. Kind of like changing the duvet cover.
Jesus, I break a sweat every time I think of changing the bed. Even though I know the fresh, crispy bed is always worth it.
When we first started prepping for a life of travel, I was excited. I love spring cleaning, researching and organising. I am Monica.
However I am also, without a doubt, one of those packers. Two nights away and I pack enough for two weeks, one overnight stay and I am convinced I need at least four pairs of socks, six pairs of underwear, a minimum of three outfits and the kitchen sink.
I am the “just in case” packer. But “just in case” doesn’t work when you turn turtle. As in your home and everything you own is now placed in one bag that constantly lives on your back. Priorities shift and realities set in. Sacrifices need to be made and the unthinkable needs to be considered.
I am progressing with my need to be overly prepared. What I thought was important is now a burden and what is of high priority wasn’t even in the forefront. Selling everything I owned and donating 90% of my wardrobe was a good start. I was confident in my decisions before leaving for Latin America, and yet I still got it all so wrong.
Nowadays, I would consider myself a packing pro, especially considering that every four days or so I have to re-pack my backpack. Yet I continue to have these little travel epiphanies, no matter how long or how far I have travelled, realising what I can and cannot live without.
Like an OCD-ers dream, my bag is a winning game of Tetris. Every item has its place, fitting so perfectly that when I pull the zip, the process is as smooth as a hairless leg. To accomplish this, my standards in hygiene have decreased in order to have less items, less headaches and less worries. My personal appearence taking a back seat just to prevent a backache. And my clothes (the same bloody outfit all the time!) worn until the hole, rip or unravelled thread is showing bits that could have me arrested. A topic that I have touched on before in this blog.
I think it is fair to say that we travel light. But a recent surprise trip home to Ireland, after 15 months of travelling Latin America, made me shed even more from my bag and reorder my life.
From items such as the runners I wore only twice, my GHD which was never plugged in once and clothes that are permanently stretched and stinking – all dumped or left behind. My backpack now a throwable 15kg. My whole entire life only weighing 15kilos.
So with 15 months of backpacking experience and less fucks given, I took the week-long opportunity back home to re-evaluate my beautiful game of Tetris and thought to share my discoveries and ways on how best to travel lighter, and better. Wishing my brain considered all the things I forgot while also proud of all the things I didn’t.
Now, as the title suggests this is one for all the ladies. Because let’s face it, women do NEED to take more into consideration, and I don’t mean shoes, clothes and makeup.
I’m talking about the little things that we take for granted when living say at home or the “Western” way.
So here I share some of my findings with the hope it helps you to make better decisions before zipping the bag and hitting the road. I have had way too many “ah bollix!” moments over the last year so let this list be a lesson. Lessons that I learned the hard way. So you don’t have to.
#1 Monthly Moments:
Our monthly cycle is one of the most natural moments in a woman’s life. So natural and so normal that I thought packing a box or two of tampons would suffice in our decision to book a one way flight to Latin America.
As a woman, it is an insult to live in a world where tampons and sanitary pads are considered ‘luxury items’ – taxed and treated as if we have a bloody choice! But I will admit that as someone who has had a monthly income to meet my monthly shedding; buying tampons at the cost of €2-€4 never bothered me to the extent where I burned my bra or hit the streets to protest (although I thank and respect those who do and are fighting for our right to free feminine hygiene products).
But take away my regular salary, and my regular cycle becomes one of the most expensive outgoings and biggest burdens. So much so, I would now happily blowtorch my bras and chain myself to government buildings for just one free tampon.
The first angered realisation came when I ran out of my supply and had to search markets across Central America for something I can so easily buy in my local garage.
Let’s just say I had a better chance of finding Nemo than I did finding the tightly compressed cotten bullets. The option to buy tampons wasn’t also easy, and sometimes non-existent. Meaning, at times, I had to turn to pads.
I assumed, like majority of things in that part of the world, something so simple and natural as tampons would be readily available and cheap. To say I was shocked is an understatement and I found it heartbreaking everytime my pre-period cramps sent me on the hunter gathering trail across pharmacies and malls which always resulted in handing over at least €5 for a box of only 10 tampons. Lads, 10 tampons is NOT enough stock.
And let me tell you, throwing away €10 a month is enough to cripple the budget. It is an outgoing that becomes unfair, unjustified and offensive. I mean.. excuse me but why the hell do I have to pay more because I am a woman?!
As I travelled further south crossing into countries such as Bolivia, where sanitary pads line the stalls and supermarkets while tampons are as valuable as gold, I had to find an alternative for my monthly moments and could no longer find it acceptable to pay such high costs all because I don’t like feeling like I am wearing a nappy.
I soon discovered the menstrual cup. A funnel-shaped silicone product that is hygienic, safer, environmentally-friendly and cost effective all because it is reusable and durable for up to 10 years.
Desperate to try anything to make my hormonal life easier, I opted in for the Organi Cup and I can honestly say I will never return to the life of toxic tampons. While this product may seem intimdating, and gross, it wasn’t until I started using it did I realise how unhygenic and unsafe tampons were. Despite having a bloody tight relationship over the last 15 years.
Extremely easy to insert, clean and remove; my Organi Cup is my new best friend and no doubt our bond will grow stronger by the cycle. I only need to “change it” every 12 hours which makes the long travel days more comfortable. The fact that I no longer worry about leaking means my periods are less of a dreaded distraction. And now knowing that I do not have to endure the heartbreaking tampon search or big spend to be a woman has made me less of a PMS mess.
The Organi Cup costs €24 and the Denmark-based company offers worldwide shipping. One of the only menstrual cup providers to offer such a brilliant and helpful service – for me anyway. The team were incredible at helping me receive my new love. Shipping it all the way to Chile (where it became lost in the post) and so they offered to send a new one to Brazil (which didn’t work either), finally sending yet another to my home in Dublin where I could pick it up during my visit home.
Now I welcome my ‘flowers and friends’ with open arms. A wonderful peace of mind and a winning feeling that I have beaten the unequal and shitty system, and all for the cost of three boxes of tampons.
And even now, as I type this in Thailand, I find my eyes wandering across the supermarket aisles to see it only stocked with every type of sanitary pad imaginable and now I sigh with nothing but relief at my decision to invest in a long term solution to my rude and intrusive painters and decorators.
Especially For You:
Like everything, I shared my new travel tip with our Ungraceful followers and could not believe the response (by the way, we are @UngracefulGuide across all social media channels – so feel free to follow!). Majority of our female following had heard about the menstrual cup before but found it hard to bite the bullet and give it a go, despite us all HATING both tampons and pads.
To all me girlos and huns, this really has changed my backpacking life. I really hope that it does the same for you and love to share experiences with our followers so please do let us know how you get on with it!”
And even if the menstrual cup isn’t up your alley (don’t be so dirty minded!) please do bear in mind, before boarding any plane, that you should still consider investing in a low-cost-life-made-easier method or alternative for your monthly moments. One that will not interfere with your adventures, unless you are happy with your pads of course.
On a final note, the ladies at Organi Cup emphasise that not all of us like change, and so if you are not satisfied with your menstrual cup, a full refund is available.
#2 Prevent Pregnancy:
I won’t go all Mammy on us but have you considered contraception?
Whether you’re free willy nilly or ball and chained, no one wants to return home with a fridge magnet, some duty free and a baby bump.
Although condoms are cheap, the cost adds up meaning it is an expensive long-term method of prevention. A pack of three costs €0.90-€1.50 in Southeast Asia and around €2-€3 in Latin America. Depending how much sex you have, you saucy minx you, this is a cost and burden one should consider avoiding. Also, don’t give me that “it’s up to the man” shite, be smart and protect yo’self guuurl.
Long before I even considered backpacking, I myself opted in for the IUD Mirena copper coil, a long term hormone-less method of preventing any unwanted pregnancy. Now, it does come with heavier periods and stomach punching cramps but the lack of hormones suited my mental health and my already suffering from a nasty hormonal imbalance.
Every woman is different and so no one person can advise on how your body will react to this. My only advice is to give this at least 6 months to settle in your system and do not leave it last minute as you will want the option to remove it should it not suit you.
The other coil alternative is the IUD Jaydess coil. While it does have hormones, it carries an extremely low dose and so if you’re OK with a small influx of hormones and prefer lighter cramp-less periods – this is for you.
Insertion of either is uncomfortable but not painful. The Mirena coil lasts five years while the jaydess will protect you for three, so this is an ideal long term method.
A small match stick sized rod that is inserted into your arm, I used the implant for five years and was really happy with it until I had to change it. Much to my surprise, the second contraceptive implant sent me insane. I suffered terribly with headaches, it bullied my depression and left me with cystic acne and a woeful hormonal imbalance. Strange how it suited me for so long then turned against me. Please be advised that this method is effective but the high dose of hormones may not suit you. Oh, your periods might also disappear as the hormones released from said implant prevent your body from releasing an egg.
Yeah, this option is not for everyone so please be sure to chat to your GP and be warned if you do suffer from mental health issues.
If you are taking the pill, my one piece of advice would be to research the name of your pill and find out what it is called in your destined location, or across the world.
Instead of paying a fortune and stocking up at home, spend some time, research, bring your prescription backpacking and buy it over the counter. We couldn’t believe how cheap and readily available the contraceptive pill is across the likes of Southeast Asia and Latin America.
No doctor and no appointment needed. Just pop into the pharmacy, with your desired pill written down, stock up and save a fortune.
There are many other options out there from the injection to patches and more. I have only included those that I have had a personal experience with and am more than happy to discuss my own journeys with the above.
Like I said, every woman is made so beautiful and unique that what may work for your friend, sister or mam may not work for you. Unfortunately, and I say this between gritted teeth, it is a case of “try and test”. Especially those who, like me, prefer to avoid adding any unnecessary hormones. We’re pretty powerful and biologically complicated as is!
One final note (and yes I will go there) just because you have an implant, coil or pill, don’t be an idiot in thinking you are safe.
You might be confident in knowing that you will travel baby free but that doesn’t guarantee you won’t be dragging along a dose of chlamydia, herpes or one of the many sexually transmitted diseases out there.
Gals, love yourself enough to protect yourself. Never, ever risk it.
#3 Hairy Situations
Evolution has gifted us with a lot of qualities; opposable thumbs, speech and a natural protector – bodily hair.
From our dyed tips to our curly toes (shout out to my toe hair), evolution’s ass has been kicked by trends, hygiene standards and beauty pressures which has resulted in a crazed obsession of removing nearly all of our body hair while modifying the head strands.
Whether you’re sharp enough to shave or prefer the quick fix of waxing, daily (or now in my case weekly) grooming rituals need to be considered.
Across both the American and Asian continents low cost beauty salons and cheap razors are plentiful, but again this comes at an expense that you may want to set aside a budget for. It won’t break the bank, or your heart, but it becomes another begrudging cost especially when you notice that in majority of locations (especially across Central America and north of South America) many women have embraced their natural leg warmers and underarm coats.
It certainly made me regret the day I started shaving especially when I observed the barely noticeable, thin, golden hairs spread across sun-kissed and dark skin compared to my thick black stubble dotted across my white bits.
And even though I do wish to be proud of my chimpanzee genes by letting go of the hair-free beauty regime, I always cave in by eventually turning to the razor. Okay, okay full disclosure – Luke’s razor.
My very own Jesus (Luke) has decided to Elsa his way through our backpacking days. He ‘let it grow’. Now sporting shoulder length hair and a full facial beard to match, his lack of razor buying has put me in a bit of a pickle, or should I say prickle?
Another investment I count my lucky hairs for is my electric razor. A gift (sent to me by a local PR company back in my radio days) the multi-functioning Veet electric trimmer has been a dear friend to me, on the days I am bothered to groom that is. A cheap pack of batteries, a convenient travel bag that came with it and that is all I need for the forseeable. Just remember to always remove the battery from the device when done, it will last longer.
While writing this blog, I had a quick look online and there are plenty of electric razor options in Boots and the likes. On Amazon, you can pick up the “all-in-on” Veet electric trimmer (that has little nozzles to keep your underarm, nose, lip and bikini hair nice and tamed) for around €40. Not a bad investment if you ask me!
Head of Hair:
As a proud fake red head, I’ve sported the red/orange/auburn/who-the-feck-knows multi-colour hairdo for the last 6 years or so. And had no plans to ever change it.
But in saying that I have had days, especially the days my roots reached my ears, where I felt like throwing in a dark brown hair dye. Just for ease!
Having dyed hair alone is a nightmare, and a costly nightmare at that. Thankfully, I found haven in the Schwarzkopf brand but unfortunately this brand is not stocked worldwide – I only found it in Colombia.
Again, it isn’t going to cost you your first born child to have your hair done in the thousands of salons across the many different continents but before you do, I would suggest checking and joining any ‘expat in *insert location here*’ Facebook groups to find reputable salons. Again, budget around €25-€30 per hairdresser trip.
Alternatively, if you are a DIY dyer, it would be worth stocking up on your preferred hair colour and simply buying peroxide at any hair stores or supermarkets abroad, which are extremely cheap. Every 6-8 weeks is when the hair screams to be topped up (I’m now somewhere between 10-16 weeks. No joke just look at our Instagram to see my roots ridden hair). So if you are travelling for a limited period of time, do the maths and order online or hit any wholesalers back home to stock up on a few bottles of your colour. Save space in your bag and leave the peroxide at home.
After more than 15 months on the road, I now have different brands, colours and tones in my hair which isn’t good for my long, rats’ tails, nor my self esteem. Yet I have come to the conclusion that never will I turn my back on my red hair. Luke calls me “his fiery redhead” and I like that.
So think about your natural fleece, save, invest and stock up. You will be relieved you did.
#4 Swiss Army Outfits
Clothes are cheap abroad. Knock-offs, boutiques, markets, whatever it is – they are cheap, cheap, cheap. It is easy to fall for either the ‘I need to bring everything I own’ or the ‘I won’t bring anything and will buy it all abroad’ – either way you won’t get this right. Sorry, loves.
However one thing I will urge you to stock up on while still at home are leggings. Lots and lots of leggings. So get your bare legs to Penneys, hun (that could be Primark to you non-Irish drifters).
Yes, leggings can be found in nearly every market across America and Asia but surprise, surprise the prices will never beat Penneys. I bought my fair share of leggings on the road after my Penneys ones suffered serious wear and tear, but none lasted as long as Primark’s finest blacks.
Leggings are the best safety outfit. Not only does every woman across Latin America and Southeast Asia rock their thick tights (so you will fit in) but whether you are hiking a volcano, floating around the city, getting down and dirty volunteering, travelling hours on busses or treating yourself to a fancy meal; leggings are the most acceptable, functional and easy ‘get out of jail free’ outfit going.
Don’t be the gal stuck in jeans in 30° weather or worse, dancing around busy cities in flowery short shorts – save your self a few looks, be comfortable, increase your safety level and dress appropriately. All by getting those legs in leggings (buy both ankle and 3/4 leggings).
Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t walk your way through a number of sandals and runners as you circle the globe. For that reason alone, save your money and buy cheap runners and comfortable flip-flops or sandals in any market or supermarket while backpacking.
Instead focus on finding your ideal hiking boots and just like your backpack, don’t hold back on costs. Hiking boots are durable. My 5-year-old Dr. Martens have been carrying me across 15 countries proving this theory. I merely buy insoles every now and again to keep them going. Even if you don’t plan to hike, you will walk (alot!). Oh and rainy season exists across the world, try and beat it if you can but the reality is you won’t so think of your toesies. DEAR GOD WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE TOESIES. Besides, wet socks and blisters suck big time.
Side note: Bring lots of socks both ankle or otherwise and maybe a pair or two of fluffy socks, for the homesick nights and the high altitude countries.
Wrap it Up:
Always cold when sitting in air conditioned office (during my 9-5 days) I once skipped to TK Maxx on my lunchbreak and bought a chequered woollen wrap for €15 to leave in the office, so I always had a blanket.
Little did I know back then just how much I would begin to rely on my now multifunctional travel wrap. I wasn’t going to bring it, but thank God I did as it not only acts as a pillow for camping, a blanket for the extremely cold overnight bus journeys (especially across Latin America where they blare the aircon), an extra layer for the rainy days but also as a nice fake alternative to a housecoat. You won’t even need to splash out on one, but do get a wooly one with some weight in it and strap it to the side of your backpack for convenience.
#5 Health n’ Safety:
I’ve left the ‘preachy’ one until last with hope that this is the one you will remember the most. Before you jet off you will hear every word of warning, every scare story and every murmur of concern – and not just from your mother.
People like to preach, and they will. But unless that individual has travelled to said continent or country don’t leave your home hanging off every word. Instead educate yourself, seek any advice from those who have ‘been there and done that’, join backpacker groups on Facebook and for the love of all things holy stay away from Trip Advisor. They love to moan and talk negatively over there. By all means, contact us. We will promise to help in anyway we can and will always remain honest.
Until you board that plane, the world is unknown. Your adventure unpredictable. All those forthcoming experiences unique. You do you. No one is like you and you’re about to learn about things in life that you never thought possible.
So switch on your selective hearing and be sure to prep the below.
Insurance is a peace of mind. It is extremely important and to have travel insurance means you took the first step in beating ‘Murphy’s Law’. At least that is what we tell ourselves.
Don’t be an idiot in thinking you are careful enough to avoid dangerous situations. What if you cracked a tooth, lost your passport, need to seek a doctor for a parasite, fell, are mugged – “if something can go wrong, it will” (Ah, Murphy!). So take out travel insurance, show your folks you are a responsible adult, and know that if anything happened having insurance is cheaper in the long run.
We went with Blue Insurance and booked it via the website Go4Less.ie. One year backpacking insurance for the two of us cost a total of €320. Cannot argue with that! We will honestly admit that we are extremely happy with our policy. If you want to know more about our policy pop us an email (insurance jargon is too complicated for us to explain here!).
Remember you can only take out travel insurance while still in your home country so do this before you leave. At the end of the year you can renew it while abroad once you do so within the specified time (usually two weeks before the expiry date), so set a reminder!
Oh! A little trick we discovered when renewing our insurance was that if you do not plan to visit Canada or USA select ‘Worldwide excl. Canada and USA’ for a much cheaper quote. Ours dropped €140 for choosing this option instead.
Take it from me and go and get a smear test. As a woman, we should be seeking regular smear tests especially since they are free for over 25s (why it isn’t free for all ages is beyond me!).
I was so lucky to have listened to my Dad by booking a smear before we left back in January 2017. A slight scare when my results returned while I was sitting in Mexico and cue the long and gruelling search for an appropriate Doctor to perform a LEEP procedure. Travelling with a medical scare hanging over you isn’t worth it and not to sound dramatic but I can’t help but wonder if I didn’t get tested and have my LEEP where would I be today?! So shut up, no more excuses and get your responsible self to the GP.
That also goes for STI check ups. These tests are crucial for your health and wellbeing. Whatever the cost, never put a price on your head when it comes to both physical and mental health. Get tested, depart clean, uninfected and STD free.
Anixety, depression, blood pressure, diabetes, allergies; whatever it is – stock up. It won’t be worth running out while on the road, that alone can induce anxiety.
Always speak to your GP beforehand but don’t be afraid to ask him advice on seeking your medication abroad. The likelihood is that your medication is available across the world, falling under different brand names and packaging. No doubt it is cheaper but depending on the seriousness of your condition it is always best to bring your own and ask for an emergency prescription to bring with you.
You could easily Google what your medication is called overseas but strengths may differ and you have to ask yourself whether your own health is worth saving a few pennies. Spoiler: It. Isn’t.
In saying that we have bought antibiotics abroad instead of seeking a doctor’s prescription. Luke suffers from ear infections but instead of paying €60 for a piece of paper from our local GP, we stocked up in Thailand and bought antibiotics over the counter for the price of a chocolate bar.
Let’s keep this short and sweet. Whether you believe in the theory of vaccines or not, the reality is that you need them. Some are even cumpuslory! For example, if you wish to travel to Brazil you will be required to provide proof you have had the yellow fever shot. We didn’t realise how strict this would be until we left Brazil and tried to re-enter Colombia. They wouldn’t allow us entry unless we flashed our International Certificate of Vaccinations (they only asked for this after we visited Brazil).
Get your vaccines a few weeks before you depart and don’t even question if you should “waste” your money. Yes it is pricey but it is most definitely worth it.
Love yourself enough to prep your body for a world full of diseases. Always speak to your GP or local medical bureau but for those wondering, we have had the following done:
• TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, Polio):
All three are in the one shot. It lasts for 20 years and costs €40.
• Hepatitis A and Typhoid:
Two in the one shot, Hep A only lasts one year while Typhoid lasts two. The ‘one in two’ vaccine costs €75. You will need to ‘top up’ the Hep A vaccine within one year but this top up will then last for a further 25 years (€50). A Typhoid booster is required every two years (€30).
• Yellow Fever:
The yellow fever vaccine is €40 and lasts a lifetime.
NOTE: We had our shots at TMB.ie and all prices are per their pricelist. Seek your GP for possibly cheaper rates. If you are a student, flash your student card for discount.
Of course there may be other important tips we have forgotten, or more we have yet to discover.
Isn’t that the beauty of travel? Always learning.
So we a̶s̶k beg our readers to help us add to this list by commenting your own suggestions and tips below.
In the meantime, we hope this can help with any vital and final packing and prepping choices. But know that you will still forget something, it happens to the best of us as we will never truly know what we need for ourselves to travel comfortably and safely, until we hit the pavement with the weight of our backpacks that is.
Either way we wish you a life of adventures whatever lays ahead, and whatever does happens at least you can bail knowing you won’t have to change a duvet cover anytime soon.
Feed An Ungraceful
Dear lovely reader….
A cheeky little note to mention that while our blog is our baby, we do this for the sheer passion, love and want to help others to travel the routes we do and in ways that we do it – the scabbiest way possible! We don’t make an income from the blogging, there is no sponsored content or #ad going on with us – instead we work to earn a very small but helpful income by providing low cost websites, teaching English online and, being scabby!
Between all the adventures, photos, laughs and disasters, is the note-taking, sourcing information, researching options, making mistakes and, well, more disasters!
So for whatever mental reason you feel like you would like to support what we do, you can! Simply #FeedAnUngraceful today by either donating the price of a cuppa tea or becoming a sponsor of our blog and adventures on our Patreon account.
Alternatively you can support us by sharing our blog, following us on social media or spreading the Ungraceful word in any way you see fit.
Thank you for visiting, for reading, for sharing, for supporting and for being a legend!