Friday, April 27, 2012

Apparently I'm supposed to have and know these things by now...

I read an article the other day on Huff Post Women entitled Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know which was a re-post of a 1997 Glamour Magazine story.

The year I turned 30 was a pivotal turning point in my life. It may sound cliche but it really was. My life view shifted in a major way that year. So I thought it would be interesting, as an exercise, to use the list to reflect on the year I turned 30 and see what new personal insights I've garnered in the last few years since then.

15 things that I should have HAD by age 30

"One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come."
I'm not sure why I would want to go back to any of my old boyfriends because every single one of those relationships reminds me of how far I've come.

"A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family."
At 30, none of the furniture in my apartment was previously owned by anyone in my family. Ironically, since then I've either sold these items or given them to friends and family to store or use because of my desire to simplify my life.

"Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour."
Well, considering I've taken myself out of the proverbial rat race and already in partnership with the man of my dreams who loves me no matter what I look like, I would say that, yes, I've always got the perfect thing to wear.

"A purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying."
At 30, I would have said that I absolutely owned a purse, a suitcase and an umbrella that I would be proud to be seen in public with. Since then, I've really tried to let go of letting "things" define who I am. And it's been a process to do this. A process that continues. But I think I can say that I've stripped myself of a lot of that insecurity. All that said, I still have a purse, a suitcase and an umbrella that I'm not ashamed of being seen carrying.

"A youth you’re content to move beyond."
How can I move beyond my youth when I'm still in it? You're only as young as you feel, right?

"A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age."
Check. No comment.

"The realization that you are actually going to have an old age -- and some money set aside to help fund it."
Working on it.

"An email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account -- all of which nobody has access to but you."
Check, check and check. Gold star for this one.

"A résumé that is not even the slightest bit padded."
I have it somewhere. I haven't used it in a while. 

"One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry."
Yes. I feel very grateful for them.

"A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra."
My screwdrivers are in storage. I never owned a cordless drill. But I always pack my black lace bra.

"Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it."
Do plane tickets count?

"The belief that you deserve it."

"A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don’t get better after 30."
I was very reckless with my skin and body through my teens and 20s. Luckily my young body was incredibly resilient. I have definitely become more conscientious about the care of my skin, my physical body, and health and wellness in general. In my 30s, I am more loving and respectful of my body. I find myself really tuning into my body and listening to it. Like when it's tired, it's time to rest it. If it's hungry, it's time to feed it. If it's not really hungry, don't put food in it for no reason. I make sure I move my body regularly. And my body is thanking me for all the care I give it. I feel healthy and strong. If I had to choose between my 20-year-old body and my 30-year-old body, I'd take my older body any day. 

"A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better."
At 30, I gave up my career because what once was satisfying was no longer so. At 30, I entered into what continues to be a very loving and satisfying relationship. 30 was when I began to realize that it was up to me to make life better. 

15 things I should have KNOWN by age 30

"How to fall in love without losing yourself."
I'm always losing myself somewhere. But I always find myself again. More of myself. Anyone who thinks that by a certain age they've got themselves all figured out is delusional. 

"How you feel about having kids."
Check. I know how I feel about having them.

"How to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship."
Check, check, and check!

"When to try harder and when to walk away."
I think I'm still working on this one. Aren't we all?

"How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn’t like to happen next."
I think so but I'll have to ask my partner.

"The names of the secretary of state, your great-grandmothers, and the best tailor in town."
I'm not American but I still know who the U.S. secretary of state is. My country does not have one (anymore). Shamefully, I don't even know the names of all my grandparents. I should ask my parents. Best tailor in town? That's a hard one to keep track of when you move towns as often as I do.

"How to live alone, even if you don’t like to."
Check. I like it sometimes.

"Where to go -- be it your best friend’s kitchen table or a yoga mat -- when your soul needs soothing."
I've always known where to go.

"That you can’t change the length of your legs, the width of your hips, or the nature of your parents."

"That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it’s over."
Thank god.

"What you would and wouldn’t do for money or love."
For sure.

"That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long."
I really only started flossing in my 30s.

"Who you can trust, who you can’t, and why you shouldn’t take it personally."
Working on it.

"Not to apologize for something that isn’t your fault."
Yes but more importantly to always apologize when it is.

"Why they say life begins at 30."
Moving into a new decade, for me, feels like moving into a new home. A new way of being. A new way of being Me. It took me a full day to settle into turning 30. I panicked the day of and then woke up the next day realizing that I am exactly the same person as I was a couple of days before when my age was the number 29. As months went on, and I was 30 for a little longer, I discovered that I was actually really comfortable with myself. With my body. With the person I'd become. It felt good. But I also knew that self-discovery did not end at 30. I knew that there would be constant learning and growing and becoming. At 30, I realized I didn't have all the answers and I was grateful that I could let that part of my ego go.

Does life begin at 30? If the story of my life fit into the pages of a book, a new chapter began the year I turned 30. Cliche, maybe. But true. I think the chapter's called "When I Discovered I Wasn't Who I Thought I Was". In order to get to this point in the book, one would need to read the chapters prior to this one in order to understand the whole story. So it's not the beginning. And it's definitely not the end. The journey continues....

Monday, April 16, 2012


My love for coconuts started at a young age. At the age of two, my parents took me on a trip to the Philippines to visit family. For one month, we stayed at my mother's parents house in Manila and everyday for that one month I had a ritual. I would go outside at a certain hour every single day and sit on the step of my grandparents house waiting for the "buko" man to arrive ("buko" is the tagalog word for coconut). And everyday at the exact same time, he would come, pushing his heavy cart full of coconuts down the street and selling them to those who passed by and to those whom he passed. And he always knew to stop in front of me; he would know that I was waiting for him. He would take a young coconut filled with coconut water, hack the top off the coconut with his giant machete, stick a straw in the little hole he had carved and hand it to me. My mother tells me this story with great fondness although I was so young, I have barely a memory of it. But I believe that my affinity for fresh coconut was tied to this early experience with the filipino buko man. 

Fast forward some 25 years later and what was only a vague inkblot of a memory (if you could even call it a memory) flashes before me as I taste my first fresh coconut in decades on the streets of south India. Not only do I discover that it is the perfect way to rehydrate after a very early morning yoga practice, it is also much cheaper than buying a bottle of water or one of those sugary sport drinks. Packed with naturally-occurring electrolytes - those little guys that help with rehydration - the water from the coconut is a godsend in hot and tropical climates like in India or the Philippines. 

My day is just not complete without a coconut (Mysore, Karnataka, India)
Coconuts are a way of life for many Indians, particularly in the south where the tropical climate is more conducive to the cultivation of coconuts. The coconut and the "coconut man" (and sometimes woman) are as ubiquitous as the cows that roam freely on the streets. Like the stand-and-sip espresso culture of Italy, it is common to see people ride up on their scooters, drink their coconut water quickly while at the coconut stand and then zoom off to their destination. 

In India, I also discovered the benefits of using coconut oil externally, replacing my drug store moisturizer with a much cheaper bottle of coconut oil which I could also use to cook with. In fact, it is common in Indian culture to use coconut oil in the hair in place of conditioner. Bear in mind that there are processing differences between the hair oil and the cooking oil. I embarrassingly learned this through a local friend who came to visit my place when I was staying in Mysore, Karnataka in the south of India. He saw my blue bottle of coconut oil sitting on the kitchen shelf. He asked me if I used that oil for cooking. When I said yes, he was more than a little surprised and told me that Indians don't normally use that type of oil for cooking. Just for hair. What I learned that day was that not all coconut oils are created equal. For cooking, you want to look for an unrefined cold-pressed virgin oil, similar to when looking for a good olive oil, while a processed oil is fine for external use. I guess that explained why, at the local supermarket in Mysore, some of the coconut oil was in the hair care section and some was in the food section.

After having been spoiled with cheap and abundant access to coconuts in tropical locales like Bali and south India, I arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii. I knew that fresh coconuts were available but I also discovered that they are slightly pricier than in Asia (not a big surprise but admittedly a little disappointing). On the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, for example, $2 is about the price of a coconut. Sometimes your neighbourhood coconut vendor will charge you extra to machete it open for you. Unless you are skilled in the art of machete, I advise you to pay the extra money or else risk the loss of appendages. In other parts of Hawaii, like Honolulu in Oahu, coconuts can cost as much as $10. I was told that coconuts are more of a cottage industry in the Hawaiian Islands, which came as a surprise to me considering there are so many coconut trees. They just don't spend time cultivating and farming them. It still worth the cost though, considering we often spend upwards of $4 on specialty coffees and other beverages and I would consider the coconut something very special.

Boy, this coconut sure if refreshing (photo courtesy of Nationaal Archief)


If you are feeling a little daring, are physical fit, and happen to have access to a machete, then you might feel compelled to climb a coconut palm and get a coconut all on your own - renegade style. Many coconut trees grow wild and you'll often see people in India and even Hawaii climbing coconut palms to get their hands on the goods themselves. There is definitely an art to coconut harvesting. The tree climbing is the first part, then there's the hacking off of the coconut, and finally coming down. For me personally, it's the getting down that would be my biggest challenge. The coconut palm can grow up to 30 m (98 ft). That's a mighty long way down!

Beware of falling coconuts!

For those who yearn to find themselves sitting under a shady coconut tree on an idyllic tropical beach, beware!  What may seem innocent and serene could prove fatal. Many die each year from falling coconuts. As the coconuts mature they can become loose from the tree. Imagine you're sitting under a 30 m tall coconut palm. The coconuts sit high up near the top of the tree right under the palm leaves. Now imagine the impact of one of these heavy coconuts disengaging from the tree and falling to the ground - or worse, someone's head. It's very common to see signs cautioning passersby and leisure-seekers of falling coconuts. My rule of thumb when choosing a shady spot on a beach, whether I'm in Bali, Indonesia or far north Queensland in Australia, is to first look up. Coconut trees can provide great shade but at what cost. Just make sure that the tree is empty of fruit first.

Coconut palm on the Big Island of Hawaii

The coconut does not fall far from the tree, but it does fall far to the ground
Still, despite the dangers (which, of course, easily avoided), the coconut ranks as one of my top favourite foods of all time - for both flavour and versatility. A little bit of coconut oil, milk, or cream can play a minor role in a dish, enhancing the flavours in curries and stews. The meat adds dimension and texture to smoothies and baked goods. It can also play a starring role in coconut-flavoured anything. And the meat and water are great all on their own. For generations, all over Asia, South America, and the Pacific Islands, the coconut has been venerated as both food and medicine because of its nutritional and healing value. What's not to love?

One coconut for every day of the week

For those who have never had the pleasure of drinking the fresh water straight from a newly macheted coconut, here are a few tips:

  • When asking for your coconut, be sure to tell the coconut vendor what type of coconut you want. A young coconut yields water but no hard coconut meat although you might get a little jelly. An older coconut will give you a sweeter water and lots of delicious white coconut meat. Sometimes the water from the older coconut can be a little fermented and bubbly like champagne but it should still be ok to drink. In fact, some people like it this way.
  • After you've finished drinking the water, ask the coconut vendor to hack it in half for you if there is any meat inside. The vendor will probably also  cut off a little piece of the husk to use as a scoop. Coconut water and meat can be very filling. In fact, if I have a coconut with a lot of meat, I'll ask the coconut vendor to cut it in half for me so that I can take both halves home with me and have the meat later.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010


    My most recent yoga mat was in a state of disrepair when I finally parted with it 3 weeks ago in Bali. By that time, it had been ravaged by humidity and leaf-cutter ants in the Amazon, journeyed to Buenos Aires, Toronto, Melbourne and, finally, Bali, where whatever was left of it was even further shredded apart during a 1 month long yoga course. So it was time to say good bye to a long-time travel companion. It was time to purchase a new mat!

    It's been a while since I've purchased a new yoga mat. I stockpiled them years ago for some reason and have always had a supply on-hand. But I'm overseas at the moment and don't have access to my inventory so I'm faced with some decisions. I'm hoping that by taking you through the process with me, I can help shed some light on the topic for when you go out and buy your mat.

    There are a lot of yoga mats out there. But how do you know which is the right yoga mat for you? Well, there are some things you should consider before making that purchase:
    • How thick should my yoga mat be?
    • Sticky mat or yoga rug? Or both?
    • What about eco-friendliness?
    And, of course, cost is always a factor.

    All of these questions boil down to personal preference. No one can tell you which yoga mat is right for you. But I hope I can help narrow down the options.

    Sticky Mat vs. Yoga Rug

    Most people who practice yoga practice on a sticky mat either made of plastic, PVC, rubber (synthetic or natural), jute, or cork. The non-slip surface of the sticky mat is great for downward dog and standing poses. Grip is essential in these poses.

    The yoga rug, which is often used by Astanga yoga practitioners, is another good option. Why? Because it absorbs sweat (great also for Bikram yoga) and it offers a smoother surface when you want to practice things like Astanga-style vinyasa (ie. jump through and jump back). Additionally, you can use it as a blanket in savasana and it is easier to wash than a sticky mat.

    I often will use both - the sticky mat first during my warm up, sun salutations and standing postures. Then I lay the rug on top of my mat to continue the rest of my practice from seated postures right through to savasana.


    Sticky yoga mats come in a variety of thickness. They can be anywhere from .5 mm to 1/4 inch (approx. 6 mm). Many are of the opinion that the thicker the mat the better because of the cushioning that a thick mat provides. However, I prefer the thinner mats. The extra padding makes me feel unstable in positions like downward dog or balances. I like feeling the floor. Also, as a traveler, I need a mat that can easily go where I go. In the supine positions, a thick mat is great but you can always had towels or blankets on top of your mat for added padding.


    When deciding whether to purchase an eco-friendly mat, consider that you will not only be helping the environment, you will also be helping yourself. Inhaling the chemicals released from a synthetic plastic or rubber mat is toxic to your health, so why do it? Yes, these mats are likely to be slightly cheaper than those made with the environment in mind. But at what other costs?

    If you decide to go completely natural with something like a jute or cork mat, keep in mind that these mats are made from porous plant material, which absorbs sweat which will eventually break down the fibres of the mat. But it's all-natural and biodegradable, so it's not a bad option.

    Your other option is a natural rubber mat. These are made from renewable material and are not processed in the same chemically-hazardous way that the synthetic kind are. If you do opt for this type of mat, then make sure it is latex- and phthalate-free to avoid having to breathe in these harmful chemicals.

    I would suggest staying clear of mats made from plastic, PVC and synthetic rubber altogether. Why? They are not biodegradable and they are made from chemicals that are released into the air which we breathe.

    So which yoga mat or rug should you buy? You'll have to go out to your local yoga studio, sporting goods or big box store. Or hop online.

    Here's the one I want:
    Manduka Eko Superlite Travel Yoga Mat

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    An Afternoon in St. Kilda

    I spent an afternoon with a friend meandering around St. Kilda the other day and thought I'd share.

    (PS: I'm currently in Melbourne, Australia at the moment. Ok, technically I'm way out of Melbourne in a little country town called Pearcedale near the Mornington Peninsula. But that's a whole other story)

    St. Kilda is a trendy boho suburb of Melbourne 6 kms south of the CBD (Central Business District). It's home to Melbourne's famous St. Kilda Beach, the iconic Luna Park (an old turn-of-the-century amusement park with a big scary moon face entrance), and the city's cake capital Acland St.

    You can get there by taking the 16 or 96 tram outside of Flinders St. Station. It takes around 25 minutes from the station and, apparently, you're supposed to validate your Metro card when you get on the tram. Really? I didn't see anyone else doing that. Oops.

    It was a beautiful day (though a little on the cool side ...It is July in Melbourne after all) so we decided to start our afternoon with lunch at Soul Mama, a "global vegetarian cafe" located at the St. Kilda Seabaths building. The restaurant offers beautiful outdoor and indoor views of Port Phillip Bay and St. Kilda Beach, with its open and airy inside dining room and an outdoor balcony patio. We opted for the outdoor patio to take advantage of whatever sun we could get.

    First things first, we ordered our drinks - a glass of the Soul Mama house red for me and the Soul Mama house white for my friend ($7.50 each). I also needed a warm beverage as I'm nursing a cold at the moment, so I ordered the Ayurvedic Vata tea of licorice, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. There were some amazing juices on the menu as well (ie. Extreme C - apple, strawberry, guava, rosehip, and acerola berry) but I thought that maybe I should save room for solid food.

    For lunch, you have 2 options: choose from the bar menu or the buffet. A legend accompanies the buffet and bar menu detailing whether an item is gluten-free, sugar-free, onion- and garlic-free, or vegan. While the bar menu did look appetizing, we opted for the buffet. For $15.50 you get to choose 3 items (hot or cold) from the buffet plus you get a generous serving of rice with your order. Everything looked appetizing but, in the end, I ordered the tofu with tom ka sauce, sauteed veggies, and the pasta salad. My friend ordered the soy "chicken" masala, sauteed veggies, and satay noodles. Everything was delicious! Even the fake chicken was actually very tasty. And I'm usually very skeptical of faux meat products as they often have a funny flavour.

    The dessert case looked amazing but we opted to go somewhere else for dessert. We decided to take a stroll down Acland Street. I mean, what better place to look for dessert and coffee? This street is renowned for its countless cafes and cake shops.

    We walked to the end of Acland Street to a place called Big Mouth, at the corner of Acland and Barkly St. It's an old Art Deco-style building with high ceilings and its original chandeliers in tact. The main floor is the Wine Bar and Cafe. Upstairs is the Lounge Bar and Dining Room. I've been here before. The last time I was here - we came for brunch - I recall the service being painstakingly slow. But today we are the only customers for the moment.

    We ordered a flat white for me, a tea for for my friend, and an english toffee bread pudding to share. Very rarely do I get a bad flat white in Oz and this one was no exception. In fact, it was exceptionally good. Possibly a 9 out of 10. Maybe it was the locally-roasted Genovese coffee. Drizzled with warm toffee sauce and garnished with a sweet date, the bread pudding - which came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - didn't last very long. I even considered ordering another. All that AND the service was so much better than last time. I might just have to give Big Mouth a second chance at brunch. And maybe even try the upstairs room for dinner some time.
    We had whiled away a beautiful sunny afternoon, eating, drinking and chatting. Sadly, it was time for me to make my way home. But not before my friend dragged me into one of his favourite shops on Acland Street, Urban Attitude. This fun little shop has 2 locations - one on Acland St., and another newer location on Chapel St. in South Yarra. Its eclectic mix of quirky housewares, personal accessories, and novelty gifts make it easy to lose track of time. My friend was looking for a gift for someone else and walked out with a set of measuring cups in the shape of traditional Russian matryoshkas ...for himself. You can even purchase things through their online store!

    ***Prices quoted are in AUD

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    An Introduction to Yoga for My Parents - Staff Pose

    During this short visit back home, I'm teaching my parents some yoga that they can do on their own when I leave. They both have some physical ailments, my father suffers from sciatica and my mother has a very mild case of rheumatoid arthritis in her ankles and knees, so they asked for my advice on some yoga postures that could help alleviate discomfort.

    My first lesson with them was showing them how to sit.
    The yoga asana, or pose, that is the foundation for all sitting forward bends is called Staff Pose, or Dandasana in Sanskrit. Done properly, one can yield so many benefits from this seemingly simple pose like improving posture. It's great for rheumatism of the knees and ankles, which my mom has, because it strengthens and tones the leg muscles, and lengthens the ligaments of the legs. It's great for my dad's sciatica because it helps to relieve strain in the back by toning the spine, chest, and abdominal muscles.

    Truth be told, it's not the most natural way of sitting and therefore, can be very uncomfortable at first. It feels a little strange the first time you do it. I know my father has some difficulty.

    If you are starting and don't have the strength of spine to remain erect, then you can do this posture with your back against the wall.

    How do you do it?
    1. Sit on the floor with outstretched legs. Legs should be touching and toes should be pointing towards the ceiling.
    2. Move the flesh of the buttocks out to the side so that you're sitting directly on your butt bones. This will help with stability and balance.
    3. Place your palms on the floor beside your hips with your fingers pointing forward. Depending on the length of your arms, adjust your hands so that your arms are straight - ie. You might have to move your palms either a little more forward or a little more backward accordingly. - I have short arms so I really have to lengthen my arms to reach the floor.
    4. Lift your waist and ribcage.
    5. Lift your chest to open your heart.
    6. Roll your shoulders back and down to release the tension.
    7. Lengthen your neck and spine by imagining a cord attached to the top of your head and pulling you towards the ceiling.
    8. At the same time, press the bottom of your thighs to the floor and activate your quadriceps (this should already be happening because your toes are slightly flexed pointing upward. Don't forget!)
    9. Relax your face.
    10. And breathe!
    11. Hold for 30 seconds... and relax.
    Your spine should be straight. Your legs should also be straight and exactly perpendicular to your torso. An old yoga teacher of mine would tell us to imagine we were Barbie dolls. Remember Barbie? She could only hinge from her hips. Otherwise her spine was completely straight and her legs (separate from her torso) were also completely straight. That's the idea.

    That's a lot to remember, right? Hence the reason why I'm teaching one pose at a time to my parents.

    One of my yoga teachers in India says, "If it's easy for you, you're not doing it right." He's right. For every "simple" posture, there are a myriad of things to focus on, while breathing and staying relaxed.

    For my parents, it's a step by step process whereby I'll teach them a new pose everyday until I leave, which will give them a sequence to practice on their own. Staff Pose will likely be a pose in any yoga sequence that you do. But you can also do it on it's own. My mom says that she does something similar in the office when her legs are getting sore. She sits in her chair and lifts her legs into Staff Pose. She already intuitively does this pose. It just goes to show that yoga is everywhere and we all have the ability and intuition to practice. Doing it with mindfulness, awareness, and intention is the key.

    Lessons in Life

    Maya Angelou said that "making a living is not the same as making a life". I think Winston Churchill before her said something similar. I'm sure these words have been reiterated in some form or another over hundreds of years by insightful people who recognized a truth about human nature and the world we live in. Wise words. And food for thought. They are words that I've been pondering over for the last three years since quitting my full time job to pursue ...Life.

    We have what seem like tough choices to make as we continue to be bombarded by the restrictions that society straps us down with. And by society, I essentially am referring to anyone and anything around us that communicates a message to us. That's pretty much everyone and everything.

    My entire life was filled with ideas about what I "should" be doing. Nothing out of the ordinary. It's the same message we all get. Get a good degree. Get a good job. Get a good husband/wife. Buy a good house. Have some good kids. Make some good money. Have a good retirement. I was always on the fence about what to do.

    As a young girl, I wanted to be a Buddhist but decided to sneak into dance clubs instead. And eventually, I got the degree. I got the job. I never quite got to the other parts. But I was still of the age where it wasn't deemed necessary ...yet. I was definitely getting close or at the point of my life where I was feeling the pressure of finding a suitable mate, buying a suitable house, and having suitable kids. I was uneasy about the whole thing. It seemed like a pretty long commitment, all these "things". And I wanted to see the world and continue to learn, without these constraints.

    I took matters into my own hands. I took a drastic leap of faith. I left my job, packed up my apartment, and went to India. Three years and one Australian boyfriend later (we're still together), I've had the privilege of living in four very different countries - India, Australia, Peru and Argentina - where I've had the pleasure of seeing some of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. But more importantly, I've had the honour of learning some of the most important lessons I've ever learned. Namely, how be happy, how to forgive, how to trust, and how to love (myself and others). Basically, I learned how to live.

    ....Now I just need to learn how to make a living through Living. I'll let you know how it goes.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Packing for the journey

    In preparation for my first backpacking trip through Europe (10 years ago!), I had absolutely no idea what to bring. I had never been abroad on my own longer than a couple of weeks. I actually brought an upright on wheels and had to lug that thing up and down the numerous (and often steep) stairways and inclines of Europe. Not the wisest decision. But I definitely learned my lesson. I didn't actually invest in a proper backpack until about 4 years later when I took a holiday traveling through Egypt with my roommate.

    My friends at home are often amazed that I'm able to pack up my life in a bag (sometimes 2). They say that "courage is the power to let go of the familiar". The more you purge, as scary as it can be, the freer you are. You realize how much you don't actually need and you don't even miss it when it's gone.

    However, that being said, this is still a continuing challenge for me. My partner is MUCH better at minimalizing (is that a word?) and purging than I am.

    My packing process always involves making a list. I am a HUGE proponent of lists. Perhaps a little manically so. I thought I might share my current packing list for a couple of reasons:
    a) it'll be useful for me - I can refer to it again
    b) it might be useful for someone else

    So here's the laundry list for this upcoming South American sojourn (the rugged Peruvian Amazon followed by the sophisticated city of Buenos Aires in Argentina). I think the list is pretty adaptable for other tropical warm-weather locales. Always bear in mind the cultural context of where you will be and be respectful of that (ie. in a conservative country like India, I would bring more conservative clothing). PS - Being a woman, what I feel I need to bring to be comfortable is more extensive than what my boyfriend would pack (his bag is half the size of mine).

    What I do is start packing a week before I have to leave. I do what I call a "vomit" and just throw everything that I think might be useful into a pile on the floor. Once it's all on the floor, I weed through the mess, paring down until I have just the bare essentials. I then do a "test pack" and if it doesn't fit into my pack, I do another purge and continue to do so until it all fits. It's a bit of a process but I always feel good about what I've packed in the end. Oh yeah, always leave room for extra stuff that you'll end up gathering along the way.

    • 1 dressy outfit (just in case)
    • accessories (belt, jewelery, bandanna, hat ...for the sun, wrap ...for the cool & the sun, small purse/bag/pouch)
    • bag protector (for when it rains)
    • bath stuff (creams, foot scrub, liners, tampons, diva cup, nail clippers, nippers, file, razor, scissors, soap/body wash, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, tweezers, wipes) ...make sure it's all biodegradable!!
    • bathing suit
    • bed sheet (you never know when this might come in handy)
    • binoculars (not necessary but would be great to have in a natural environment)
    • bottoms (jeans, leggings, shorts, skirt)
    • bras (a variety of styles - ie. strapless bra - no more than 3)
    • chargers and cables
    • citronella (a great natural alternative to chemical repellents)
    • converter/adapter
    • sundress
    • first aid stuff (bandages, disinfectant cream)
    • flashlight/torch (a head torch is your best bet)
    • footwear (always a tough one for women ...sandals, walking/hiking shoes)
    • hair stuff (anti-frizz, comb, elastics, clips, hairband, shampoo, conditioner)
    • insoles
    • light jacket
    • locks and carabiners
    • make up (baby powder, brushes, bronzer, pencils, eyelash curler, sharpener, shadow, lip gloss, lip moisturizer, perfume ...just in case)
    • mesh laundry bag (great for the delicates if you're not handwashing)
    • plastic bags (for all sorts of reasons)
    • camp shower
    • rainboots (or as my boyfriend would call them - GUMboots) ...It's rainy season!
    • raincoat (gumcoat?)
    • sarong
    • socks
    • tops (long sleeve, tank)
    • towel and facecloth
    • travel pack (PASSPORT and copies, visa, any other paperwork, itinerary, hand mirror, lip moisturizer, hand cream, book, journal, pen, camera, ipod, earphones, netbook, sunglasses, tissue, bank card, credit card, insurance info, flight itinerary, ginger tablets for motion sickness)
    • underwear (enough for the week)
    • yoga stuff (clothing, mat) ...because that's my practice
    You may have noticed that there are some key items missing from my list, namely a mosquito net and a variety of pills and other medication (ie. malaria pills, immodium) for travel. The mozzie net is actually very useful, however in my case, not necessary as the place I'm going supplies nets. As for the medication, it's a personal decision whether to bring these items or not.
    Do your research and use your judgment. I always see a travel doctor before I leave for an exotic adventure ...but I don't always take their advice. Experience and education will guide you in your decision.

    ...Now I've got to try to stuff everything into my pack! Wish me luck...