Heading out of the country with your favorite whitewater toys for an international adventure can be daunting, stressful, and downright exhausting. As we embark on our second trip to Chile this winter, I’m using a layover to reflect on some tips and tricks that have made our travels with lots of gear and a bit of uncertainty wildly fun and gratifying.
- Prioritize your stuff. Since you’re kayaking, pack that gear first. Chances are, you’ll be spending more time in your boating layers and gear than anything else so plan accordingly and make it make its way into your luggage first thing. I tend to lay out one of each kind of layer (ie: fleece, neoprene, rashguard, etc) so that I am prepared for anything. Once I have everything in front of me, I pare off what I can if I realize I am being excessive with my gear. Don’t skimp on dry wear! Boaters know better than anyone that primo boating weather can change on a dime, and you don’t want to be miserable on the water because you left your drytop at home.After kayaking gear, I stick with simple layers that are multi-functional while remember a few essentials for more temperate climates: fleece, a good sweater, a rain jacket, and a heavy shell.
- Pack smart. In the off chance your bags take an alternate line to your destination, you don’t want to be without your toothbrush and some clean clothes. Even the dirtiest of dirtbags can appreciate how far brushing your teeth and changing your shirt can go for improving your mood on some more grueling travel itineraries. Stash some creature comforts in your carryon like a warm/dry layer, toiletries, and a few things to help the time go by: books, computers… a deck of cards can make a long layover pretty entertaining.Be smart when packing your gear, too; having at least some sort of system when chucking paddling equipment and clothes into your pack makes life a lot easier when you go looking for something specific. I also like to pack soft around hard- read: dropping a heavy pack on the ground can issue a devastating blow to your helmet if it’s not protected in your bag… you don’t want to find that out the hard way- and make use of space inside shoes and water bottles for smaller items. Pack tight and consider that stuff sacks or folding/rolling your clothes and layers may take up more room and create more weight than just packing items loosely.
- … and dress smart. I probably do not need to remind you, the kayaker, that synthetics tend to trap smell and keep it… forever. I made the mistake on last year’s trip to Chile wearing all synthetic layers and wound up lucky I was with friends who loved me anyway, despite my sad and smelly state. I know we usually abhor cotton but in this case, it’s light and fresh… unless you’re just trying to stay warm and dry, then forget about getting stinky and do what you gotta.
- Know thy mother. Tongue, that is, and keep a pocket dictionary handy at all times in your carry on or personal item so you can use it when you inevitably will need it most. Throughout my travels, I have discovered that more often than not, people will enjoy and appreciate your attempts at the native tongue rather than blurting out English right away. Dictionaries are great for the bare bones butchering of another language when you really just need “agua” or “baño.” Having one easily accessible helps those whom with you are trying to communicate, too, as he/she can use it to reverse translate for you. Don’t leave home without a few key phrases, even if you don’t yet have a handle on the finer points of grammar and pronunciation.
- Create time when possible. As I write this, I sit in the Houston International Airport with three more hours left in an eight hour layover. Kinda crappy, right? It could be, but instead, longer layovers can keep you from rushing, stressing, and overall hating the entire travel experience. Bring a good book, your laptop so you can work, or a good pair of shoes to get some exercise and people watching in while exploring the airport. If you’re super creative, you can even use your layover to capture your experience… like this guy. For me, the benefits of a longer layover far outweigh the stress of running from concourse to concourse, sweating it through security, and nail biting over whether or not you might miss your connection… especially when you’re traveling with lots of gear.
- Eat well. Remember this one? Travel can wreak havoc on your body, so protect it! Road trips and long stints in the airport are no excuse to dump garbage in your system, as tempting as the heavenly smells of the Cinnabon across from your gate may be. Opt for minimally processed, low sodium foods that are easily digestible. Taking the extra step to go for the fruit salad or veggie wrap instead of a burger and fries will set you up with more energy and nourishment to dive into your adventure head first rather than spend a day or two recovering from crappy eating and minimal sleep.
- Prepare for the caffeine hangover… if that’s your thing, and it’s mine. Last year’s entry into Santiago after a 12 hour drive, two flights, dehydration, and little sleep was made even more hellacious by my caffeine addiction and subsequent withdrawals when I did not get enough coffee. This year: single serving instant coffee packets are safely tucked away inside my carry on, just in case. On that note, keep an empty water bottle with you and hydrate frequently. Trust me when I tell you, I hate the airplane bathroom just as much as the next person, but jetlag does not go well with a side of supreme dehydration. You’ll be glad you did.
- Take the long way. I know this sounds like I am a glutton for punishment but hear me out! You will be doing plenty of sitting along the way, and stretching your legs by opting for the walk instead of the moving walkway, or the stairs instead of the elevator will get your blood flowing and help you manage the effects of prolonged travel. If you have a buddy with you, take turns going for a walk around your concourse rather than sacking out for restless and fitful snoozing. You’ll be happy to know that low intensity exercise- even if it’s to the nearest Seattle based coffee chain- can help you fight fatigue in the long term; check out these fitness tips for long stays in the airport. Meditation, anyone?
- You can buy it there… I promise. On my first international trip, everyone I talked with warned me against over packing because of the likelihood that I would find whatever I was looking for when I arrived or realize that I didn’t need it after all. I didn’t listen, and endured my first solo travel with more pounds of luggage than I care to admit, hot and miserable while lost, confused, and jet lagged in the airport… and then at the train station, and then at the bus station. Heavy toiletries, standard over-the-counter medication, even clothes can (usually) be easily bought abroad if you find you really, really need it. Do a little research beforehand and discover what you can buy over the counter and where you might find a sweater or a pair of shorts if you find yourself wanting.
- It gets easier. And more enjoyable, I’d wager. This time around, I saved most of packing for the day before as I know what to expect when I arrive, what all I need, and how well it will fit in my luggage. I find myself much more in the moment, enjoying the actual experience of travel and transit instead of rushing through it, fretting over bags and customs language barriers. Just like paddling, traveling gets easier and more fun with frequency, comfort, and orientation (there I go again…). My favorite kayaking- and life- mantra holds up to the multi-day travel itinerary: eddy to eddy… or in this case, flight gate to flight gate.
- Be nice. D
o I need to keep saying this? From extra baggage fees to seat upgrades to a ride to your gate when you’re running short on time, a smile and a genuine greeting goes a long, long way. When you’re traveling with kayak gear, whether you’ve got your “surf skis” (kayak) or “snow skis” (paddle) or just a bag full of your smelly layers, brain bucket, & PFD, smooth transitions matter. Hope for the best but expect the worst, and do it with grace. People all over the world will continue to surprise you with generosity and willingness to help if you spare them your emergency. For whatever reason, I’ve skirted oversized, overweight, and extra baggage costs a few times now, and I do not doubt that being pleasant had something to do with it. No matter how stressed you are, slap on a smile and take a moment to consider the thousands of people that folks working in the travel industry deal with daily. Even if you don’t get anything out of it, I promise you will at least feel better than the alternative.