Last Minute Rituals
No matter how long I have to prepare for a trip, it always ambushes me as if I didn’t know it was coming. All of my carefully drafted to-do lists pile up in a corner, items glaringly left unchecked. I like to say that it’s okay, I work best under pressure.
I don’t know if that’s how I work best, but it’s how I work.
Tomorrow is my deadline, so I was forced to bulldoze through these outstanding dilemmas this afternoon.
Confession: I’ve never gotten travel jabs. Invincibility was my middle name, so why would I need them?
But now I’m old (30!) so I understand that I’m not bulletproof.
Wisdom. It really does come with age.
My concession was to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A & B.
Solution: Google Translate
I googled the Korean for ‘vaccination’ and ‘hepatitis.’ I wrote these words on a piece of paper and took it to a doctor’s office near the school.
My piece of paper was a roaring success with the nurses, who immediately understood what I wanted.
“A or B?” they asked.
“Both,” I said.
By making an X with her arms, a nurse indicated that was not possible. She ducked her head into the doctor’s office and fired off some questions in Korean.
“A,” she said. “Please sit.”
For ten minutes, various nurses popped their heads out, asking where I was going, for how long, and when I was coming back. As soon as the doctor was free, I was ushered in to see him. I slunk past a row of ajummas who had been waiting longer than me, but they were engrossed in a television ad so I was safe from their wrath.
The doctor’s English was light years better than my Korean, so I got the gist of what he was going to do.
“You have already had the B shot, I think,” he explained. “It is essential for all babies under one. The government must provide it.”
I wasn’t convinced that it was essential back in 1981, but he’s the doctor and I had kind of left it to the last minute. I agreed to a non-essential Hepatitis A shot.
“Come back in six months for the final shot,” he said, brandishing a needle as we stood in a cramped ‘vaccination room,’ a sort of hallway that connected to the reception desk. “Maybe some pain. I’m sorry about that.”
After the uncomfortable needle prick, he looked at me gravely.
“I am very sorry,” he said.
What? Did he give me the wrong shot? WHAT?
“Hepatitis A shot is 80,000 won. Not covered by insurance. I am sorry.”
Oh. That I could handle. It was certainly more painful than the shot, but I could handle it.
I got back on my bicycle, satisfied that I had at least made a partial effort towards inoculation.
Let’s just hope I had that ‘essential’ shot back when I was a baby.
Problem: Temperature Change
Two of my pet hates are being cold and carrying unnecessary stuff.
Right now, it’s -1°C in Yeongwol, 9°C in Shanghai, and 21°C in New Delhi. This presents a challenge, as we’ll be traveling from Yeongwol to Seoul on Friday and spending New Year’s Eve in Shanghai before moving on to India.
What do you do? Bring a coat and be happy for two days, then lug it around for three angry weeks?
That’s not how I roll.
It’s the obvious solution, even though I’ll think it’s stupid as soon as I’m walking around Shanghai without my warm, marshmallowy coat. I’ll just wear a number of thin layers topped off by a Columbia rain jacket. Helps cut back on packing, too.
Speaking of which…
Ugh. I should be really, really good at this by now, but I’m not. I bring stuff I don’t need, I forget stuff that I do, and I always look like a sloppy American tourist wherever I go.
I like to break my packing into stages. Makes it more manageable.
Stage 1: Thinking
This stage lasts anywhere from a month to 2 hours before I have to leave. I research what I should and shouldn’t wear in my destination, mentally combing through my limited wardrobe for appropriate choices.
This is the most important part of packing.
Stage 2: Put it on the bed
Anything I didn’t eliminate during stage 1 goes onto the bed. Clothes can sit there for up to three hours, during which time I claim that I am ‘packing’ and they can’t be touched, even though what I’m really doing is wandering around the kitchen or writing a blog post.
This allows me to revisit stage 1 and decide what I’ll actually wear on the trip, not what I think I’ll wear.
Stage 3: Elimination
Technically, this is the ‘packing’ part. I roll up the clothes and put them in the bag, making split second decisions about what will stay and what will go. Anything left on the bed gets returned to the wardrobe.
Stage 4: Toiletries
The morning of departure, I pack the stuff I use on a daily basis, like deodorant and face lotion. Liquids go into a ziploc baggie for easy retrieval at the airport. I start to second-guess everything in the bag, because I’m almost at the point of no return.
Stage 5: Spontaneous stuffing
While Jared’s in the bathroom on the morning of departure, I run back to the bedroom for two items of clothing that got cut during stage 3 (or even stage 1 if I’m especially panicked). Before it’s too late, they get hastily stuffed into the last crevices of my backpack.
Problem: Loose ends
There’s always something. I might forget to take out the trash or clean the drain in the sink. I’m not sure what kind of converters I’ll need in India. I didn’t pre-write blog posts in case I’m not able to write from the road. I don’t know what I’ll do about a blanket on the sleeper trains in India. We don’t have any remedies for the inevitable Delhi Belly one of us is sure to contract.
Solution: Forget it
I’ve got my passport. I’ve got a visa for India.
The rest will take care of itself.
I’m going to India for three weeks! AAAAHHHH.
First I guess I’d better finish packing. Hello, stage 3.