I’d packed the wrong bag. Well, I don’t even know if I could call it a bag â€“ it was really a suitcase. I was standing at a bus stop in Samana, Dominican Republic, watching as my boyfriend wrestled with my very large olive green suitcase. It was about 85 degrees and people were lining up to get on the rickety old bus while he struggled to load our bags underneath the vehicle. He had brought a duffel bag – something small and condensable. Something that made sense. I had brought my largest suitcase for our 5 day trip, making sure to pack my winter rain jacket in case of storms (note the above mentioned 85 degrees), high heels in case of a special occasion, three pairs of sweatpants, jewelry to match any and all outfits and a plethora of other things. I swear, next time I will learn from my mistakes.
And there were many on this trip. Although I have traveled to third world countries before, I always seem to forget the very things that make a trip a whole lot easier. Like packing a reasonable amount of stuff in a reasonable suitcase that one can reasonably carry.
Besides remembering to not bring the kitchen sink, it is always a good idea to have plenty of cash on you, in the currency of the country you are visiting. I was reminded of this when I arrived in Las Galeras, a gorgeous little town on the Caribbean Sea. Unlike in the States, nowhere really accepts credit cards, and Las Galeras didn’t even have an ATM. We were told we would have to travel 35 minutes to Samana to retrieve cash from the ATM. This story is long and disastrous, but the end result was that all the ATMs in Samana were broken, and my boyfriend and I ended up restricted to our hotel, where we could at least charge items to our room (and therefore eat for the remainder of the trip). The boat ride we were supposed to take to Playa Rincon, supposedly the most beautiful beach in the DR? Something that never happened because we were out of cash. At least I got to gaze longingly at the pictures in our hotel’s lobby.
I would also recommend bringing a first-aid kit and a small supply of medicine when traveling to a third-world country, because sometimes getting hold of these things can be difficult (especially if you are in a remote area or it is late at night). Outside the United States, there are very few places open 24-hours, and many are closed on Sundays, which can be unfortunate if you come down with the stomach flu, develop some sort of rash or badly cut yourself. I also suggest carrying a barf bag with you when you travel, a trick I learned from my boyfriend in the DR after he drank one too many rum and cokes on a Saturday night. You just never know when or where you might be sick.
Which brings me to the conclusion that it is always useful to brush up on the official language of the country you will be visiting. Because my boyfriend is fluent in Spanish, I merely flipped through one of my old high school Spanish books before departing on our trip to the Dominican Republic. However, when he spent an entire day in bed with a hangover, I regretted the fact that I couldn’t remember the verb to wait when hailing a taxi or the word ticket when attempting to purchase bus tickets back to Santo Domingo where our flight departed. It also wasn’t much fun acting like a deaf mute, and locals seemed to appreciate any attempt at a conversation in their language.
My travels outside the United States have been enriching and exciting experiences, especially those off the beaten-track. However, I would definitely heed my own advice on my next trip, paying attention to details that can make traveling a heck of a lot more convenient. Oh, and I will also make sure that my boyfriend approves of any and all luggage I bring with us.