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Presents for My Daddy

4 Sep

Up late but just finished!

As you know, my Dad is the greatest.  I am going to miss him so much!  And, even though he totally supports the Big Trip, I’m know he’s going to miss me like crazy, too.  Sooooo I wrapped up some little gifts and arranged them on this table for him.

I have two for him to open today and then one for every week until we see each other again (Christmas in Kathmandu, baby) and one for when he’s feeling particularly sad.  They are all little things, some even used (oops), costing little to no money, but hopefully they will make him think of me and bring a smile to his face!

My Packing List

3 Sep

How do you pack for a one-year round-the-world voyage?


As they say: “Lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

It’s not that easy.  The packing process took me 3 days, 30 tries, and 300 tears.  Here we go…

My backpack:

~55L backpack (with detachable daypack), rain cover, and packing cubes.

And here’s all my stuff:

Now, what is all of that stuff?


  • 2 long skirts
  • 2 capri pants
  • 1 pair of running shorts
  • 8 t-shirts
  • 2 bras, 2 sports bras, 10 underwear
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair of lightweight thermal underwear


Sneakers, sandals, shower flip-flops, and hiking shoes. 4 pairs of socks.


A real struggle to pack only this much.


Laptop, iPod, iPhone (my Dad made me), dumb phone, and cheap camera.

My Walking Pharmacy:

Some pretty heavy duty meds in here (just in case, ya know!), though I sold most of the Percocets to my Dad.  I hope I make it through customs.


Money and Documents:

Money, passport, documents, and copies. Other money split between money belt and red pouch. The small black wallet is a decoy with only a few bucks, a Rite Aid card, and a picture of my nephew.

Carry-On Stuff for My Daypack:

Guidebook, other book, picture dictionary, journal, glasses and sunglasses, watch, bandana, hand sanitizer, and pocketknife.

Other Stuff:

  • Water bottle, SteriPEN, and iodine (as backup water purification)
  • Headlamp
  • Baseball cap
  • Silk travel sheet and pillowcase
  • Quick-dry travel towel and washcloth
  • Adapter
  • Universal sink plug (to do laundry)
  • Doorstop (to conceivably warn me of intruders to my hostel room)
  • Jewelry roll with some minimal jewelry
  • Travel clothesline and laundry soap sheets
  • Dry bags (to keep important stuff dry) and waterproof sack (for laundry)
  • Sunscreen and high-DEET insect repellent lotion

Here’s all my stuff in the packing cubes:

And, ta-da, here’s the finished product:

The gray thing is the rain cover for my pack.

Couch Surfing Takes Some Serious Balls

28 Aug

This is Mohammad. I will be sleeping on his couch next Wednesday in Doha, Qatar.

I depart on the Big Trip next Tuesday (holy crapper!).  I will spend Tuesday night on a plane to London.  On Wednesday, I fly to Doha, Qatar, where I have a 16-hour overnight layover before flying to Kathmandu on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, I will be “couch surfing” on some dude named Mohammad’s couch.  I have never met Mohammad.  But he’s going to pick me up at the airport, take me around Doha, let me sleep on his couch, and then take me back to the airport in the morning.  Am I crazy?

CouchSurfing is a website that helps people build “meaningful connections across cultures.”  Here’s how it works.  Members create profiles on, where they post information and pictures of themselves (and, if they wish, their couch).  Members then message each other and offer up their couches to fellow members who are traveling.  The whole thing is free – no monetary exchange takes place between anyone.

I registered and posted my itinerary through Doha.  And I got dozens of invites.  They were all from men, and some of their offers of hospitality were a little over the top.  Seriously.  For instance, here’s what Mubi had to say about the benefits of staying on his couch:

“These are some benefits of staying in our home.

1. You can have 5 star comfort in our home with 100% privacy and cleanliness.
2. I dont drink but Bevi Drinks hence u can have good drinks in our home.
3. Bevi and me will take you out for the places you wanna visit.
4. If you wanna cook you can cook too as you are staying here for just few hours so we will arrange the food you prefer.
5. You can have a peaceful sleep as we dont have kids or anything which disturbs sleep.
6. I will drop you back in the airport no matter what time it or night.. ((:

I hope you will accept our invitation. If yes lets us know about your interests and hobbies so that we can plan and organize your few hours and make it more memorable one.”

I did get a number of super sketchy invites, which creeped me out.  Notably:

  • A dude from a “polygamy home with deep love”
  • “hi Lucie, how are you doing!i joined this site yesterday i found you here and you are such a nice looking pretty damsel.i decided to just say hi and wish to know you better!I lives in Qatar, i’m a Nigerian.i work as safety instructor(European AWJ)thanks one’s more baby.”
  • An electrical engineer who grew up in “Sexy :D” and is part of the group “Naked Sleepers.”
  • The guy who wrote to me in Arabic: دعوة من مضيف في مدينة
  • “ı am closer to the airport One kiss is enough safely leave you again in airport:)) ı am from turkey sorry my englısh not perfect take care”

Hmmmmm.  Ahhhhhhhh!  I freaked out when reading those.

This is Mohammad’s couch.

But I think staying with Mohammad is safe.  According to his profile:

  • He is 28 and has been a member of CS for almost 4 years.
  • He is a translator from Cairo, Egypt.
  • He has never traveled outside the Middle East but has a lot of experiences from the Arab Spring to share.
  • He is a “very hungry bookworm” who likes, among others, Tolkein and John Stewart Mill.

All this is sooper-frickin’-dooper, but what really matters is that he is a verified member (meaning his identity has been checked and his location verified), and he has 122 references on his profile, 60 of them from past surfers, and 0 of which claim to have been axe-murdered by him.  122 references is legit, right?!  I mean, he’s gotta be safer than bungling through Doha on my own to some sketchy hotel…

Am I nuts?  Say a special prayer for me next Wednesday night!  One thing is for sure: I am going to be majorly crapping myself when I’m standing at the curb of the Doha airport waiting for him to pick me up.

My Battle for the Vote

16 Aug

Earlier this week, I applied for an absentee ballot, noting that I would like to receive my ballot via e-mail (now possible for overseas voters!) because I will be backpacking around the world for a year.

The Elections Board e-mails me today:

Ms. Van Damme,

Our office must reject your application for an absentee ballot because, unfortunately, you must provide a mailing address in order to qualify for a ballot.  Even though you have requested it be e-mailed, there must be an address listed on the form, where you can receive mail or other important information. But it cannot be within the country.

I e-mail back:

Hello Ms. Wilmons,

The situation is that, for the entirety of the next year, I will be traveling overseas, through a number of countries, and thus I won’t have a permanent mailing address.  Please advise as to what I should do.  I would really like to be able to vote.

I get back:

I am sorry, but you are going to have to provide some type of physical address in order to vote.  If you come up with an address, please let me know.

Sincerely, Yetta

Pause.  Holy moly, I am about to be disenfranchised!  Co-worker Bert comes up with a good idea: I e-mail the lady I’ll be living with in Nepal (while I’m working for the NGO) to ask what her address is.  She writes back:

Addresses aren’t really a thing here.  Our address to the best of my knowledge is:
Above Hygiene Bakery
Pabitra Workshop, Kathmandu

Hmmph.  I write Yetta back:

Hi Yetta,

I have come up with an address.  It is in Nepal, where I will be in a few weeks:

Above Hygiene Bakery
Pabitra Workshop, Kathmandu

Thank you so much for your help!  Lucie

No word back yet.  Please cross your fingers for the Lucie suffrage movement.

Staying Healthy While Abroad, Part II

9 Aug

Great chapter.

The book review continues!  More about “How to Shit Around the World” by the “Shit Doctor.”

Let’s start with some good news.  The book says that infectious and communicable diseases only kill 4% of those travelers that die abroad (accidents are the most likely way to go).  Comforting (maybe?).

Next, the snippet in the book that really stops you in your tracks:

Who takes their three-month-old infant trekking in the Himalayas?  And what the heck does it matter that it was “along a forested ridge that crossed a road halfway”?  Any guess what happens next?!! I will tell you. Someone steals their diapers, and Harriet gets bronchitis.

While we’re on the subject of Nepal (where I will be in less than a month, ahhh!):

So many questions!  What do smart female trekkers in Nepal do? And what exactly does she mean by “unwanted nocturnal encounters”?

Onto some more gems I’ve mined from the pages.  The most common ailment of the traveler is, of course, none other than traveler’s diarrhea, which seems easy enough to handle:

Simple enough.

But then she implies that a book may be necessary as well:

What does reading have to do with shitting?

In any event, when you are dealing with the shits around the world, you will have no toilet paper.  Which you should feel good about:

And, for the record, I’m willing to bet that I am way above average when it comes to toilet paper usage.

On a slightly more serious note, though, here’s my basic strategy on trying to stay healthy on the Big Trip:

  • Smart preparation (vaccines, meds, insurance, awareness).
  • Keep in mind the trusty travelers’ maxim: “Peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it.”
  • Eat freshly cooked, piping hot food.  This will mean a lot of eating local (pad thai in Thailand, folks, not lasagna) and, likely, not being afraid of the street vendor, however questionable his setup.
  • Never touch a salad.  Someone probably shit all over it in the field, and no one has bothered to wash it.  And even if they did wash it, it was probably with shit water.
  • The fact that water is bottled means jack.  When in doubt, sterilize.  Yay for my Steripen!
  • Be more hygienic than I am at home = in particular, lots of hand washing.

I’ll let you know how it works out!  Comment below if you’ve got a suggestion for me.

Staying Healthy While Abroad, Part I

8 Aug

It’s book review time!

A travel blog suggested I read the above book pre-RTW in order to learn how to stay healthy abroad.  I obliged.  Hmm.  We may have another crackhead on our hands.

The author calls herself the Shit Doctor, and she quickly overwhelmed me.  Holy shit (if she can say it, so can I), I thought.  Basically, I figure, if I follow all of her rules (don’t eat meat! dairy! veggies! fruit!), I will starve to death.  Right after I die of thirst.

I’ll save you from reading the book yourself by providing the highlights:

Seaweed is the only safe thing to eat.  Can’t wait to try the pink kind.

Okay.  Obviously there is no explanation needed.

Who calls a fish an individual? Pick your fish like you pick your women, folks: clear eyes and a firm, intact body that smells all right! Otherwise, you will be paralyzed and dead in 12 hours.

Oh yes, and remember yesterday’s post about the threat of stray, rabid dogs?  The Shit Doctor has a solution:

I’m calling bullshit on this one. You will just get yourself bit in the face.

The Shit Doctor also reminds you to take a flashlight when you go to the bathroom at night.  Otherwise, you risk the same fate as pregnant, blind Nepalese women:

What. the. shit.

Helpful idea on how to do your laundry:

No comment.

I do note that this book may indeed be helpful if you are an idiot:

So this book gets at least one thing right.

This highlight reel ain’t over yet!  I’ve still got a few more things to say about the book.  Expect Part II shortly.

Another Thing to Be Afraid of

7 Aug

I have long noticed that many Indian and other immigrants are terrified of dogs, even my Dad’s fluffy little poodle mix that looks like a cotton ball.  Holy sh*t, this is why.  Image courtesy of NYT.

Pick up paper today.  See New York Times article entitled Where Streets Are Thronged With Strays Baring Fangs.”  wtf.

Apparently, India has TENS OF MILLIONS of stray dogs, many rabid, that bite MILLIONS of people every year.  And 20,000 people die of rabies each year (which, by the way, might be one of the worst possible ways to go).  Here are the opening lines of the article:

Victims of the surprise attacks limp into one of this city’s biggest public hospitals. Among the hundreds on a recent day were children cornered in their homes, students ambushed on their way to class and old men ambling back from work.  All told the same frightening story: stray dogs had bitten them.

Another excerpt:

Packs of strays lurk in public parks, guard alleyways and street corners and howl nightly in neighborhoods and villages. Joggers carry bamboo rods to beat them away, and bicyclists fill their pockets with stones to throw at chasers. Walking a pet dog here can be akin to swimming with sharks.

Frickin’ great.  Now I need to add a bamboo stick to my packing list.

“I am for the right of people to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by packs of dogs,” Dr. Rosario Menezes, a pediatrician from Goa, said.  AHHHHHHH, I am for that right, too.  The article says that Hindus oppose the killing of many kinds of animals, including dogs, and this stray rabid dog problem has been getting worse since a 2001 law officially forbade the killing of dogs.

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