Packing Up Stories

I love packing. Actually, I just like making lists and making things nice and organized. But that’s because I hate packing. It gives me anxiety, I don’t want to forget or be unprepared for anything. So I make a list, check it twice. Or maybe 3 or 4 times. But I love it.

Before I left for Brazil, I made a detailed list on Google Docs with everything I brought. I described my clothes in detail, like “Mid-Atlantic Jazz 2015 T-shirt”, instead of just counting it as 1 T-shirt.

Below is a reflection, packing advice, and return home packing list all-in-one, filled with stories that I would have forgotten had I not been able to remember exactly what I brought, why, and in what shape it’s in right now. So get ready for TMI of what I brought and bought in Brazil.


  • Pants
    • I brought 1 Khaki, 1 Pajama Pants, 2 Leggings, 2 Running Pants, and 3 Jeggings
    • 1 of the Jeggings I split on my first day of work, hopping over the railing on the trail (if that’s not a metaphor for the bridge year, I don’t know what is). I took the scrap fabric and sewed it into a ukulele gig bag. The other 2 I used for work and barely fit into them anymore, so I am leaving them here
    • 1 of the running pants are stained with penguin poop… I’m leaving that one but keeping the other
    • Also bringing home the khakis, pjs, and 2 leggings, plus new leggings and Guess jeans that my host mom gave me, and flowy pants I bought from the brechó on my street
  • Shorts
    • I brought 1 pair of running shorts, 2 spandex shorts, and 5 jean shorts
    • I never went running, but they were comfy and light for lazy days or as pjs. Advice: pack shorts that are light, fit well or are loose. Not tight ones because you will probably gain weight (like I did) and struggle to get them on. Also, tight ones get annoying and hot
    • While I am leaving my favorite (no longer) white jeans here, I am bringing back pink flowy shorts I bought near the beach
  • Shirts
    • 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 plain black, 1 white, and a nice red crop top
    • Again, white is no longer white, so leaving it here. I wish I brought more cute tops! I used the reds and blacks so often for going out! Advice: bring cute clothes if you wear cute clothes! Sure, the washer may destroy them over the year but hey! at least you looked cute during your Gap Year!
    • I bought a button-down shirt during Carnaval in Catuçaba, a Floripa crop top from a thrift shop, and a pineapple tube top
  • T-shirts
    • I brought 5 T-shirts.
    • I used my IB Class T-shirt as a work shirt. One day, trying to prove that água sanitário was just glorified cleaning water, and not bleach (like I tried to tell him), Trevor doused the side of my shirt with the stuff. Half of the shirt turned pink/purple because of it!! Who was right? Me! Who is one T-shirt down? Me!
    • DSC_0719.JPGSpeaking of work shirts, I had 2 nice, white, R3 Animal Volunteer work shirts. But by the end of the year, they were stained so badly by fruit, dirt, sand, poop, pee, blood, literally everything. I was disappointed I wouldn’t have a lembrança from R3, but on our last day, the staff gifted us each with a cute T
    • My black senior shirt is also bleached in multiple places, but from hair bleach. I dyed my and Trevor’s hair a couple of times this year, and used the shirt to prevent staining our skin and towels. Oops!
    • To replace my lost shirts, my mom gave me a T shirt, I bought a Hogwarts T-shirt (because our resident Harry Potter, Trevor, bought one a size too small, so I bought a bigger one so we could trade), and GCY gave the Brazil cohort bright green shirts
  • Tanks
    • I brought 5 tank tops (the 2 fancier ones got worn a lot!), and am bringing back 2 more
  • Underwear
    • Pack for about 2 weeks worth and you’re good. I brought 16 underwear.
    • I brought 8 bras, am returning with 6
  • Fancy Clothes
    • Advice: I must reiterate, bring cute clothes to Brazil!
    • I brought 3 dresses (casual, semi-casual, formal) and 2 skirts. I wore them so often: whenever GCY had fancy events or dinners, when I went to the club, when I went to my host aunt’s wedding anniversary party, when I didn’t want to wear pants
    • I bought a cute romper in Rio, another romper and a nice two piece by the beach in Floripa
  • Jackets/Layers
    • I am a big flannel wearer… I brought 5. I also brought my GCY Sweater and a lined rain jacket
    • Brazil wasn’t as cold in the winter as they made it out to seem. However, I was able to use my flannel to accent other outfits, my sweater kept me warm on windy days. and my rain jacket served me well when I needed it.
  • Shoes
    • I brought running shoes, hiking boots, casual sneakers, flats, and flip flops
    • My cheap flip flops broke within a month, but it’s okay because I replaced them with Brazilian Havaianas that I wore every day. They started off white…
    • I used my hiking boots maybe once. I thought I was going to live in the middle of a rain forest, but instead, I’m on the beach.
    • I bought a pair of slides/sandals/I don’t know what to call them. They’re rainbow and perfect.
  • Socks
    • I brought 7 pairs of ankle socks, 3 pairs of thick, long white socks, and hiking socks
    • I used the 3 white pairs for work. By the end of the year, working 4 days a week in rubber boots in a sandy environment, you know they weren’t the same color. I threw them all out
    • I’m bringing back all my other socks, but I barely used them since everyone wears Havaianas / Flip flops everywhere
  • Hats
    • I brought a cap, beanie, bandana, and buff. Never wore any. Didn’t know why I would in Brazil since I never wore them back home. Know yourself. 
  • Bathing Suit
    • I brought 2 bottoms and 3 B2 Tops, but ended up mostly wearing one combo (strapless top so no tan lines!).
    • I bought a scandalous Brazilian bikini because you’re not allowed to leave the country without one (just kidding, except not really)
  • Accessories
    • I brought a bunch of jewelry, I’m a sucker for big or wacky earrings and chokers. I’m bringing it all back and so much more! My host mother caught on to my addiction early on and bought me chokers whenever she went out to buy herself new jewelry. I also bought some earrings, a necklace with my name engraved on a grain of rice, and cool stone chokers/necklaces. I also have a collection of anklets (and a wacky tan line)
    • Don’t forget to pack hair ties! I used and lost so many

Personal Hygiene, Toiletry, First Aid

  • Basic Toiletries
    • Before I left, I got a huge free full sized pack of toiletries from my job at Dawson’s Market. The Andalou brand gave me shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, 2 lotions, face cream and scrub, and face wash. I used it all up! It was okay though, there are 4 different pharmacies and 2 supermarkets within a 10 minute walk of my house.
    • I also brought 3 toothbrushes, a huge tube of toothpaste, a comb, a razor and 10 changeable blades, and 2 Old Spice Fiji Deodorants (my favorite!!). I have one left of everything (just enough for ReEntry Training)
  • Towel
    • I brought a beach towel, 2 wash cloths, and a fast drying tini towel, which came in handy whenever we went to the beach after work.
  • Make Up
    • Bring what you wear. I just brought eyeliner and mascara. Just don’t forget chapstick with SPF, it helps!
    • I brought a manicure/tweezer set. Brazilians love doing their nails, and will redo them immediately once it starts cracking. While I don’t normally do my nails back home, doing them with my host mom and grandma helped us bond at the beginning of my year.
  • Period Products
    • I brought one pack of pads, and it lasted me the entire trip. Lots of the girls noticed that Brazil messed up their cycle in one way or another, like missed or more irregular periods
  • Sunscreen/bugspray !
    • I brought 3 spray bottles of 30% DEET Bug Spray and used it all up at work. The Brazil packing list says to pack 100% DEET. DON’T. It will melt everything you own and possibly irritate/burn your skin. 30% is the highest you need if you’re going to be working in the forest. You are not going to get Malaria or Zika in Brazil, but bug bites will itch/hurt depending on the mosquito
    • I brought one Coppertone 30 SPF Sunscreen. Bringing only a tiny bit back (I don’t apply as much as I should!! Oops!) I invested in facial sunscreen, though.
  • First Aid
    • I bought a first aid kit off of Amazon to bring. It was a bit much, but definitely a comfort to have! I also had a mini kit I kept in my backpack at all times, stocked with bandaids, anti-itch cream, anti-bacterial, and pepto bismol, all of which were used well at work. Hand sanitizer and head ache/vapor rub are also good to have.
    • I brought my knee and wrist braces and arnica gel for pain but thankfully didn’t have to use them.
    • Medicines
      • Personal Prescriptions: used!
      • Anti-Diarrheal. I didn’t use them at the beginning for Traveler’s sickness like I assumed I would need. Instead, they would come handy during independent travel… Be wary with street food…
      • Benadryl. It came with my first aid kit. I used it once or twice, good to have if you have allergies
      • Ibuprofen. Brought some, but I don’t like using pain meds, so mostly I had shared them with people who didn’t have them on hand
      • Malaria Prescription. Required for the program. Why? Who knows. There is no malaria in anywhere in Brazil where Fellows live or travel to. Trust me, we would all go to the Amazons if we could, but it’s Too Damn Expensive!
  • Laundry
    • My family friend, Dory, gave me a bunch of practical, but often forgotten, items for travel, like camping laundry detergent, a sink stopper, clothes line, and iodine. Much of it I used during independent travel, since my host family has a washing machine (but Brazilians don’t have dryers). I didn’t need the iodine because I always had access to clean water.


  • Important Documents/Cards
    • Passport w/ Yellow Fever proof. VERY IMPORTANT. Very well used.
    • Maryland Driver’s Permit/ID. Guys. This was so good for travel. Brazilians will accept it as a student ID card, so I got half price tickets at the tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo!
    • Health Insurance Card. Had it, didn’t need it in country. I got my 3 rabies shots and 2 doctors visits for free at the posto de saúde.
    • MasterCard MONEY Debit Card (Capital One). I was able to take out cash from the Banco do Brasil without any ATM charges! Chip cards also work in stores and restaurants, I just had to say that it was a credit card instead.
  • Backpacks
    • All of my luggage was in the form of backpacks (checked: backpacking pack, carry-on: Rick Steves backpack, personal: backpack). Having a carry-on backpack and personal was great for independent travel, but on our trip here from California (and I assume on our way back), I didn’t have enough arms to carry 3 backpacks.
    • I also brought 3 drawstring bags. These are great for storing things or for walking around the city without carrying too much.
    • I brought a money belt for my travels, but I never ended up using it. I always felt safe and secure in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I carried my backpack with me everywhere (except the beach)
    • I also brought a small over the shoulder purse that only fit my phone, ID, money, and keys. Highly recommend for going out at night
  • Water Bottles
    • So I bought a Mini Water Filtration system rig type thing, because it was on the packing list for Brazil, and I never used it. The host families in Brazil all have access to running water in their homes, or, like my family, buy huge water jugs each week
    • Water bottles are a must! I carried mine everywhere
  • Glasses
    • It was recommended that we bring a spare pair of glasses and a repair kit. I have never needed a spare before, so I thought I was fine with just my one pair. I did bring a pair of prescription sunglasses though.
    • My glasses have been broken for the past 3 months.
      • DSC_0087.JPGFirst, they were stolen by a Capuchin monkey— I stood too close to their cage as I fed them. One second I could see, and the next my vision was blurry as I watched a monkey climb 40 feet up into the air with my glasses. He banged it around, trying to open it like a coconut. My coworker bravely went in, spraying water around to get the monkey to drop them, and rescued my glasses. They came out with a couple scratches on the lenses, but it was okay.
      • Second, I stepped on them. A leg was bent, but a quick visit to the eye store and they were fixed.
      • Third, I was scared by a parrot. As I was trying to feed one, he squawked and came for my finger with his razor sharp beak. I jumped back, screamed, and my glasses flew off my face. The leg broke off.
      • Since then, I’ve carried around tape and a Swiss army knife wherever I go. I taped them up for a while, until the pin fell out when I was trying to retape. Then, I cut off a bit of paperclip to make a new pin and only used that. Until I lost it and lost my leg for 3 days. I tried to not wear my glasses, and when I did, I covered the part without the leg with my bangs. Thankfully, my host mom found the leg under the stairs, and now I have it taped and paperclip-pinned together.
      • This has been an incredible saga and lesson. I think I may switch to contacts…
  • Art Supplies
    • Journals. I brought one with lined paper, GCY gave us small one, GCY brazil gave us one. 1 used for GCY assignments, another for language class/Portuguese, one for journaling, and I have an extra tiny one I never opened. I also bought a mini 2018 agenda that I used to write in Portuguese what happened every day to remember/practice writing (helped for the end of year test!)
    • Pens/Pencils! Lost a bunch, but I always could find some at stores nearby.  Ended up buying a Brazil patterned pencil pouch and colored pencils to keep me busy drawing when my little host brother was doing homework.
    • Photos from home to decorate my room.
    • I brought Chakra Cards I made at home to help me continue my meditation practice in country. I also ended up buying a handmade leather notebook and chakra stones (Trevor upon seeing my purchase: “You bought ROCKS?!”) from a street vendor.
  • Electronics
    • I brought my laptop, cleaned and updated with Google Docs (for college applications and GCY assignments)  and Sony Vegas (for vlog editting, which I couldn’t do because my computer was too slow, and my wifi wasn’t able to upload big videos)
    • My cellphone ended up being more like an Ipod. I wasn’t able to switch my Brazilian sim card into my smartphone, so I always had to carry around 2 phones. One to access Facebook and WhatsApp when connected to WiFi, the other, a “brick phone” (think Nokia bricks) for texting and calling when needed.
    • I brought so many camera gadgets in addition to my Nikon D5300 DSLR. For example, WHY DID I BRING MY TRIPOD?? I never used it! I also brought a mic but I didn’t end up doing weekly vlogs like I hoped because I get embarrased talking to myself with a camera rolling and my laptop/WiFi couldn’t handle it.
    • Extension cord with multiple plugs. Yes! Helps! Especially then you only need 1 plug adapter for the extension (Brazil uses the European 2 prong or the N type 3 round prong) and then all your American chargers fit into it.
  • Music
    • I brought my flute to Brazil, with plans of continuing to practice and possibly learning bossa nova and jamming. I used it once at the beginning to help write a mini cohort song about chega mais and abacaxi, the 2 Portuguese phrases that brought us together. I have not practiced in months.
    • I am bringing back a hand crafted bamboo flute to give to my flute student back home.
    • I bought a ukulele while I was here, but it won’t fit in my luggage, so I gave it to Patil.
  • Host Family Gift/Souvenirs
    • For my host family, I bought 2 cork tiles with DC pictures, a Maryland crab/flag dish towel, Old Bay Seasoning, and a Story Cubes game.
    • The cork tiles got used immediately. Soon after I arrived, my brother had a project about a foreign country, and his was the United States! I helped him with his PowerPoint, built a statue of liberty out of paper, and decorated framed pictures and stands so the tiles could be added to the display.
    • I also played the story cubes a lot with my host brother at the beginning of the year, it was a great way for me to begin speaking Portuguese by creating simple and funny stories with him.
    • It was a lot easier buying things (mostly clothing) for my home family than my host family, obviously, because I already know who they are.
    • I would have brought more but $$ and also I want to make them things and bring them culture and music, not just material things.
  • Books
    • I brought A Farewell To Arms, Pride and Prejudice, a Jazz book, and a Portuguese/English Dictionary.
    • The cohort loves to trade books! Especially at the beginning, when you have a lot of time on your hands and not enough language skills to really interact with your family, reading is a good time spender. I traded a few and read some pretty amazing books.
    • I don’t know why I bought a dictionary… I used Google Translate and downloaded Dicio on my phone.
    • I am bringing back the entire (5 books) Percy Jackson and The Olympians series, in Portuguese! I found them at a used book store in Centro and devoured them. I didn’t think that the language classes were helping me, so I took learning into my own hands. It took me 3 weeks to read the first one, but by the 3rd book, I could finish 400 pages of Portuguese in 3 days. This was all in the first 3 months of Brazil, too. It helped me begin to understand Portuguese much quicker. My bag is going to be so heavy…
    • I am also bringing back 2 classic Brazilian short story collection books because I think it is important to read Brazilian literature to truly grasp the nuances of the language, not just English books translated to Portuguese. In my time here, I also read an entire high school Philosophy textbook, but it’s too big for me to bring back.
    • Except I am bringing back my Language Club Brazilian Portuguese Textbook.
  • Miscellaneous
    • Folder with SO many important (and not) documents (Visa, Brazilian residency card proof, GCY assignments, drawings and doodles, college essay drafts, loose leaf journal entries)
    • I bought a mini sewing kit here to make use of my ripped pants, but it’s come in handy multiple times!

That’s it! Though it still is a lot…

Final pieces of advice:

  • Pack your Carry-On smart! On the way to country and returning home, pack clothes, toiletries, and other basic items you will need during PreDeparture Training and In-Country Orientation, and then ReEntry Training. This way, you don’t have to unpack and repack your checked luggage until you get to your home(s).
  • Pack according to You and Your Style. Know what you need and don’t need. You’ll learn that especially during Independent Travel, because Less Is More when you don’t want to pay for a checked bag when you’re only traveling for less than 2 weeks around the country.
  • Let It Go. Sometimes you’ll have to make hard decision between items to keep and to leave behind. I’ve always been horrible at that. So this is what’s helping me. Knowing that I can remember the significance of certain items if I have them written down here made it easier for me to leave them in Brazil. Same with packing for country, you’ll be back home after 8 months, and all your stuff will (hopefully) still be there, so you don’t really have to pack your entire 18 years of life to bring with you on your Gap Year.

Love and Peace,



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