Pants And Other Packing Dilemmas

Last year I spent 6 months working as a paediatric registrar in a national childrens hospital in one of the world’s poorest countries.  I learnt many lessons during my time out there and even after I got back, but the first lesson started before I left – what to pack? Here are my lighted hearted tips for anyone thinking of heading to far away lands where clean running water and 24 hour electricity are but a pipe dream…

1) How many pairs of pants are enough pairs of pants when heading to a part of the world with limited retail options? This was the first packing dilemma. I initially packed approximately 50 pairs of undies, yes five-zero pairs (I didn’t even need to buy them, I already seemed to have acquired quite a stock!).  No real reason for that number, it was a ‘just in case’ kind of logic.  A poll from friends varied from 14 pairs to as many as you can take.  It was only when I realised that my pants were hogging essential space in my suitcase for things like a pulse oximeter, WHO handbook etc, that I decided 50 was perhaps too many.  I settled on 21 pairs (2 weeks worth plus an extra week just in case). Turns out even this was probably excessive but during my 6 months I was comfortable in the knowledge that I would not be caught short on the pant situation.                                                                                 

2) Speaking of pants and being caught short…..what about, ahem, certain ladies products?  What if you couldn’t buy them out there (very real possibility), or if you could not get the type you prefer?  Sorry if this is making you uncomfortable boys, but it’s a situation no girl wants to find herself in.  As they took up less space than my pants, I went for an ‘as many as you can’ approach and probably took around 2 years worth of supply with me!  Turns out, this was the approach most of the female volunteers I met out there used too, even though there were, as it turns out, plenty of shops that sold them.  Better safe than sorry I say.

These pants do not represent the personal pant preference of the author

3) Footwear…I am a huge flip flop & sandals fan (aka Jandals or thongs for our antipodean readers). I buy at least 2 pairs every summer and we don’t even have a proper summer in the UK! Even friends roll their eyes when I purchase more…. So, why oh why, did I only pack 1 pair of flip flops for a 6 month trip to a country that would either be hot or humid or both?! And did they have to be the bright orange ones? (although they are my fave!). My words of advice here are – take at least a couple of flip flops for general casual use and a pair of decent sandals too, plus any other types of shoes you may need.  One pair of flip flops was clearly not enough.


4) Take something with you that you enjoy to pass the time, help you escape, and chill out or relax.  Books are an obvious and necessary choice here, but I’m talking about something a bit less passive.  I initially planned on taking my barely used Ukulele – but given that I can’t actually play it, was probably best if it stayed at home looking pretty on a shelf.  I then thought about a knitting kit, maybe a perfect time to learn, but a trial session using a friends equipment told me that I’m definitely no knitter.  I had also planned to take some drawing/illustrating equipment with me.  I’m no Picasso or Quentin Blake but I do love doodling and cartooning.  However, in my frenzy of ‘pants’ packing, I vetoed this plan and regretted it almost as soon as I got there.  I had access to pen and paper but I never really did much creative stuff until the end and wished I had done more.  So, pick a simple skill, hobby or interest take it with you and make yourself use it/do it. There will be times when you will need to focus on something else.


5) Always back up…Lastly, for cultural and ethical reasons I did not take as many photos as I would have liked. Looking back I wish I had taken more, maybe if I had taken my camera phone out with me more, I would have.  Despite this, I did manage to take a reasonable amount of photos of my time there, purely for personal memories sake.  Take more photos isn’t my message here, my words of advice are: “if you only have a precious few photos that remind you of such an important time in your life, don’t be an idiot and upgrade your computer software before you’ve backed up the photos onto an external drive!” Oh, how I really, really regret this one.  No excuses.  Just careless…

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