As I look back on my trip and wonder how in the world it's already behind me, I want to share a few lessons that I learned the hard way. For anyone who's thinking of backpacking through Central America, here are three things I wish I would've packed for my trip:
1. A protective DSLR pouch. I normally keep my Nikon camera, two lenses, and photography accessories in my TheIt camera bag. While I love this bag and think it's beautiful, I think we can all agree it's not feasible for backpacking. For three months through Central America, I decided to travel with my photography gear in a waterproof bag. In order to save space and use items I was already planning to pack, I wrapped my camera and extra lens in a scarf and sarong for some added protection. This was a very Macguyver'd option that I would not recommend. I didn't even realize that padded DSLR pouches existed until I saw another traveller whip hers out and thought, “Wow that's a whole lot smarter than what I managed to pull together.”
2. The highest concentration of deet insect repellent available. I will acknowledge upfront that there are lots of purported disadvantages to using the chemical deet. As someone who's known to have la sangre dulce (sweet blood in Spanish), my husband and I joke that I'm his bug repellent, because as long as we're together I'm the one who's getting bit. When I was covered in 30+ bites and getting ravaged every day, the very last thing on my mind were the potential long term negative side effects of having deet seep into my bloodstream. All-natural oils and family friendly bug spray didn't make the cut. They didn't even come close to making the cut. Give me the poison! Kill all the mosquitoes and sand fleas! Those bugs were out of control.
3. More US dolla bills. I don't necessarily mean saving more money before going travelling, rather, I mean having more cash stashed away in my bag. I'm not sure what happened on the road but as I travelled deeper into Central America I had more and more difficulty withdrawing money at ATMs. By the time I reached Costa Rica I was sweating because I was getting turned away from bank machines without being able to pull out any money from my Canadian account. I remember one day in particular when I got denied from five different banks. Here I was, by myself, with a machine telling me to contact my financial institution as the problem was on their end, and my bank saying there was no problem, why couldn't I pull out any cash? I came down to less than $40 too many times.
I always have a secret stash of money on me when I travel. Have you seen this Chapstick trick? I also roll a bill or two into an empty pill bottle then tuck it into my hygiene bag like it's regular medication. In the past I've kept $50 in reserve, but after my most recent experience I'd increase that amount to $150 per person in hidden funds in the currency that takes you furthest – USD. It may seem like a lot of money to just carry around but if it's spread out amongst your things and not physically on your person I think it's worth the risk. It certainly beats arriving in a new country after dark without any cash and trying to find an ATM. Not that I've done that or anything.
So there you have it, the three items I wish I would've packed for Central America. What are some items you learned the hard way never to travel without?