It’s been awhile since I’ve felt like writing much about my travels, but then again, I haven’t had an epic trip in quite some time. Flash back to January 2014, when I decided to throw out a bucketlist travel destination and see which of my friends would bite. I mean, I asked in an elevator, so they really couldn’t say no and add to the awkwardness of riding in silence in a small, cramped elevator, right?:D
Luckily, I have a handful of friends who want to see the world with as much fervor as I do (and are willing to entrust me with 100% of the planning), so it was set: Three friends, Machu Picchu, and as much of the rest of Peru as we could cram into two weeks in August (prime tourist season / dry season in Machu Picchu).
Of course, 6 months of procrastination on-and-off planning, a job relocation, and bad timing later, three became two. Though, it was probably a blessing in disguise, because I’m not sure how I’d have handled a version of Three’s Company with two guys and probably one too many testosterone-fueled “That’s what she said” jokes…for 24 hours a day for 15 days. I can hang with the fellas as much as anybody, but honestly, sometimes I just want to be able to point out a cute guy, a puppy, or some nice shoes…
Luckily, my travel buddy a) has traveled with me before and b) has known me for half my life so has built an immunity to my quirks (yes, I admittedly have many).
My friends often ask me what I think are the most important things to do before traveling abroad, and for me, it’s always been pretty simple:
1) Do some research on where you’re going.
It gives you a big picture idea of points of interest, cultural norms, and things to be careful of (i.e. ways you can get ripped off/how to avoid it), local mind-blowing food that could make Anthony Bourdain jealous.
2) Plan a bit, but have an open mind to change.
I’m a planner by nature, and am best friends with Google Docs and fawn over nice formatting, but though you can plan your basic itinerary from afar, once your boots hit the ground in another country, you have to be willing to adapt. Lower your expectations of everything going as planned and think of it as one Jack in the Box surprise after another, and you’ll sweat less and enjoy your trip that much more.
3) Ask your friends for travel tips.
People have been hopping all around the globe since as long as I can remember. Chances are, you have a friend (Facebook friend or real) who’s been where you’re going, and can give you the name of an amazing mom and pop hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Rio, or tell you where you can find a noodle stand in Taipei with the best damn beef noodle soup on earth.
My main reason for traveling to Peru was to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which requires a hell of a lot more advance planning than I’ve ever done for any trip. The Peruvian government limits the number of permits to a finite number each year for entering and hiking the Inca Trail in an effort to preserve it, and allows tourists on the Inca Trail only with a certified guide. Knowing this, it’s wise to book your trek with a company about 4 months in advance, especially if traveling to Peru in the peak touristy months (May – August).
AS FOR PACKING… After years of overpacking, lugging 50+ lbs on my back, of clothes I never wore and toiletries I never used, I’ve finally managed to pack smarter. I once had to lug 55 lbs up 30 stairs, over an overpass, and down 30 stairs in Seoul. In the middle of winter. On ice. Lesson learned. For reference, I’m 5’3″ and 105 lbs. How I carried half my body weight up icy stairs and managed to live to tell about it still boggles my mind.
After one too many trips that involved the “but I’ll definitely wear this, even though it’s not that practical” way of thinking, I’ve finally given in to the fact that, no, I won’t wear that. For a trip as active and on the go as Peru was going to be, I wanted to gear up with stuff that was going to keep my feet happy. You know what they say: “Happy wife, happy life.” Well, “Happy Feet, Hell of an awesome trip” (it really doesn’t have to rhyme to be true). The best investments I’ve ever made for traveling are my Deuter pack and my Vasque hiking boots.
My shortlist of what to pack for a Machu Picchu-based trip to Peru (along with the obvious, like, say, underwear):
1) A good backpack + Rain cover
This is crucial if you’re planning on staying at hostels, taking local transport (i.e. buses), or taxis (cars tend to be much smaller/can hold far less than the average taxi in the U.S.). It’s a pain to have to carry a rolling suitcase up and down stairs and over worn roads.
To ensure a good, comfortable fit, head to REI, EMS, or another sporting goods store, and they usually have some weight bags they can add to the pack so you can walk around carrying it for a few minutes to test its comfort. For me and my petite frame/short torso, after trying on 20 packs, Gregory packs and Deuter packs seem to fit best, and Ospreys, while great in design and on other body types, the worst for me. A rain cover can also be handy for the potential drizzle.
2) Camelbak bladder or Platypus bladder
This is a lifesaver for long hikes (Machu Picchu, Wayna Picchu, Colca Canyon, etc.). This can easily be added to just about any backpack. Most backpacks nowadays have a small hole for you to run the mouthpiece of a Camelbak/Platypus through.
3) Rain jacket + Fleece
I planned my trip for the dry season, but it did rain a few times, and the weather in the mountains is generally unpredictable. The last thing you want is to be caught in the rain for a 9 hour hike.
5) Combination lock
An essential for hostel stays.
6) Pack towel
Dries quickly, packs light.
7) Soap leaves
Don’t expect handwash in 50% of the bathrooms in Peru (or most countries, for that matter).
8) Head lamp
I was once yelled at by a cranky, snarky Canadian girl for turning on the light in our shared hostel room at 8:30pm while she was sleeping in her bunk. If you need to look for something and the light’s not on in your hostel room, head lamp’s your best bet if want to avoid a Lonely Planet guidebook being hurled at you.
Hats, scarves, gloves, and layers that help with the transition from 85 degrees during the day to 40 degrees at night are key.
All in all, when everything was packed, I felt utterly done with the prep part and ready to hike til my thighs burned and chase around some alpacas (only to be chased by alpacas…that’s a story for a later time:D).
Done with all the P’s; onto the Q’s: the quest for adventure.