Though I have moved and travelled enough in my life to qualify as a professional, I can’t stand packing – or un-packing for that matter. With my nomadic life, it is safe to say that you can look in my closet, any time of year, and find one unpacked bag and one stack of things I am planning to take on my next trip. I had to unpack from both a Thanksgiving trip and an LA weekend in order to start packing for Haiti. Though experienced, I am no expert! Yet, I thought I would share a few tips that you might find useful if you are packing for a medical mission trip. In no particular order:
1. Patagonia. I love this company! Not only do they let me bring my dog into their Denver and Cardiff stores, but they make great, durable stuff that is guaranteed for life! The quality is so great that I have had a certain pink Patagonia pull-over since I was 16. (stop laughing! it is that old!) Yep, it might cost a bit more, but if you buy one of their travel bags and the airline ruins it, you can get it repaired or replaced, free of charge – forever! I find buying this companies goods a pretty sound investment. I also recommend the book “Let my People Surf” by Yvon Chouinard. It describes Patagonia's philosophies on environmental responsibility and the value of an active, balanced, quality of life.
2. Find a place (your bed, or dining table) and lay everything out that you plan to bring with you – then remove stuff. Everyone always brings too much – try to be frugal with your packing.
3. Put all medications (ie. chloroquin, cipro, zithromax, imodium, pepto-bismol) in your carry-on.
4. Bring enough pairs of scrubs to cover everyday of your mission. Do not count on laundry services and you can always leave them in country if you don’t want to bring them back. Also bring reusable OR hats so you don’t have to use the expensive, environmentally toxic, disposable ones.
5. An old pair of clogs for the OR. Closed toe shoes only and again, something you can leave behind at the end of your trip.
6. Protein or granola bars – quick, easy energy when you miss meals. I like target brand peanut-butter/chocolate protein bars and nature valley granola bars. Instant coffee, emergen-C and powdered Gatorade are also critical. I recommend bringing a water bottle too. And a reusable spork in case there are no utensils.
7. Don’t forget an electricity converter and all of the chargers for whatever electronics you bring. I take my laptop for keeping track of patients, watching videos, getting on-line if we have access.
8. Stethoscope, protective eyeware, sterile gloves in your size, trauma shears . . . bring task specific supplies!
9. Flip flops for nasty showers
10. Toilet Paper you will be glad you threw this in your bag!
11. Facial Wipes I am a fan of Target cucumber exfoliating wipes . . . sometimes you don’t have the time or the energy and these just help!
12. Hand Sanitizer Do I need to explain?
13. Head Light! If you are working in an OR, lighting can be questionable. Camping headlamps are easy to use and provide great light in the OR. They can also be used as a flashlight in your living quarters.
14. Swiss Army Knife in your checked luggage. If you ever back-packed through Europe, you know how useful this little guy can be for wine and cheese. Don’t forget it when you go on a service trip!
15. Most trips have a recommended packing list – bug spray, mosquito netting, sleeping bag, towel … this stuff is trip/location specific but pay attention to this list! And don’t forget this stuff.
16. I always try to bring one “nice” outfit – I have a few easy travel dresses that don’t wrinkle and look OK if you need to be a bit more presentable. Headbands are a nice accessory for girls with long hair – they can distract from the lack of blow-drying and amount of time in a pony tail your hair has suffered on a mission trip.
17. I also bring some fun, inexpensive jewelry – plastic rings, funky earrings, bead necklaces, good luck bracelet – just because.
18. Photocopy of your passport in case of an emergency.
19. I have had many friends recommend that if you are traveling in a conflict zone, you carry US cash, in an envelope, in case of an emergency. Don’t be afraid to give this up!!!! Amount recommendations range from $20 to $100. I carry two envelopes one with $60 and one with $100 . . . cheap insurance policy as far as I am concerned.
20. Always carry a bathing suit in your carry-on. No lie, I do this. You can use it as an extra pair of underwear AND if your luggage is lost, it can be a difficult and expensive thing to buy in country.
21. Journal and pen. Try to write something every night – even if it is just jibberish, incomplete sentences, flighty thoughts. You will be happy you did this when you get home!
22. Don’t forget pictures of the ones you love – I keep mine on my iPod, Blackberry, and computer – and they have helped me get through more than a few tough days.
Below, is my complete packing list for Haiti in case anyone wants specifics. I am sure I brought too much and forgot something important but that is just part of the challenge. I know that as long as I have my Chloroquin, a toothbrush, some emergency cash, my passport, and a Patagonia bikini – I will be alright.
Packing list for Haiti
Scrubs (enough for everyday of the trip!)
OR hats x2
Head Light (with extra batteries)
Clear protective eye wear
Mag Light (with extra batteries)
Swiss Army Knife
Sterile gloves (size 7)
OR Shoes (closed toe!!)
Sleeping sheet (king sheet sewn into sleeping bag type conformation)
Toilet paper x 2 rolls
Facial wipes (target makes a great cucumber, exfoliating wipe)
Rubber bands for hair
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Regular toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, girl products, etc . . . )
Protein bars (I like target chocolate peanut butter variety)
Nature valley granola bars
Vega (sports drink powder)
Instant coffee (Via by starbucks is good; I am also bringing some sugar laden YeYe from Mongolia for nostalgia)
Chocolate (treats are good to have to get you through the long days! Hershey kisses are easy and delightful J)
Rain coat (Patagonia)
A warm layer (for the airport and just in case)
Closed toe shoes
Flip-flops (for shower,etc)
work out shorts
travel dress (in case I need to look a bit more dressed up)
neoprene knee wrap (just for my comfort)
enough underwear for the whole trip
to give to patients:
carry on bag contents:
copy of passport
copy of medical license
laptop (though once it has evolved, the iPad will be the way to go!)
chargers for all of that stuff
meds (chloroquin, ambien, Z-pack, Cipro, Imodium, Advil, hyluronic acid (for my knee) multivitamins)
toothbrush and toothpaste
bathing suit (seriously, I always have one in my carry-on . . . you never know!)
pictures of the ones I love (these are on my laptop and cell phone . . . this helps!!!!)
inexpensive jewelry (I have a few plastic rings and a good luck bracelet I always travel with)
Chocolate . . . .