Lisa King

I am going to provide you with a sample list that will help you pack properly for this amazing adventure.

I studied abroad in Colombia for two weeks and had to plan for two completely different climate zones. Our field school started in the high altitude capital city of Bogota and continued down to the tropical rainforest of the Amazon. Luckily we were able to leave half our gear in Bogota and pick it up upon our return.

The Essentials

Shots: Talk to your travel clinic at least six months prior to your trip and find out what is needed for the zones you will be entering. I needed malaria pills and a yellow fever shot. Some people react negatively to treatment so be aware of the possible side effects.

Identification and Money: It is very important to keep your passport and other documents safe by locking them in your room or carrying them on your person in various hard to find pockets. In my opinion, it is also a good idea to use the currency of the country you are visiting. At times, it was hard to find locations that would accept American currency let alone Canadian dollars. I exchanged my money in the Toronto airport before flying into Colombia and received a really great rate.

Footwear: Find yourself a strong pair of comfortable shoes. You do not want to be dealing with sore feet or injuries during your time abroad. I lived in my Keen close-toed sandals, hiking boots, rubber boots and flip-flops. The best place to find these items is Mountain Equipment Co-op or Winners. My flip-flops were only packed as an alternative to wear around camp or in the hotel. We purchased our rubber boots in Leticia; it is a good idea to consistently wear such boots when trekking through the Amazon. Bring a pair of comfy insoles from home to put inside your boots and your feet will certainly thank you. I also suggest taking at least one pair of merino wool socks. It doesn’t matter if you are deep in the heat of the Amazon or up in the cool crisp air of the mountains; merino wool will keep your feet dry and at the correct temperature.

Clothing: This was both an interesting and frustrating experience for me. All the pre-departure meetings talked about wearing moisture wicking athletic clothing in the tropics and avoiding cotton. As stated above, I needed to pack for both cool alpine conditions as well as tropical damp conditions and I planned accordingly. I went to MEC and invested in the lightest items they carried. It is important to purchase long sleeve shirts and long pants when trekking through bio sensitive areas. If you scratch yourself on certain plants or trees or touch a poisonous creature by accident, your trip might quickly take a turn for the worse. I purchased a beautiful purple rash guard shirt, hemp pants and hiking pants and ended up returning them all after the trip. I found out the hard way that heavily dyed items are not recommended for tropical countries because the ink from the shirt can leached into yourskin and stained everything else you are wearing.

Outerwear: Multiple climates call for multiple jackets. I took a warm jacket for Bogota because it was a colder climate and a poncho for the amazon because it was so warm in the amazon region that I did not want to wear a jacket; the poncho allowed for air to cirulate through my clothing while still protecting me from the rain.

Toiletries: Take toilet paper; facilities in some countries have a charge for toilet paper or don’t supply it at all. Bring sunscreen, deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, baby wipes and lots of bug spray. I also brought a tiny bottle of biodegradable camp suds which can be used to wash everything, including yourself.

Accessories: Headlamp, hat, bandana, bathing suit, a sturdy water bottle, Gravol, sunglasses, a plastic handheld folding fan, day backpack, microfiber towels, small medical kit, a camera and of course a good hiking backpack fitted to your body.

Optional Items

Take a journal/ sketchbook/ artist supplies – Write about your feelings and experiences; draw your surroundings.

Laptop – Not everyone needs to lug his or her computer around. There is something to be said about being unplugged.

Language phrase book – Working on expanding your linguistics? This is handy if you need a quick vocab lesson. I did not come across many fluent English speakers in Colombia.

Before You Leave

It’s a good idea to take off any jewelry that is precious or of value. For example, if you are married and still want to wear a ring, find an inexpensive non-flashy one to wear while away. The last thing you want is to lose something precious, or look like a naïve tourist and risk becoming a target to thieves because you are wearing expensive items.

Pack light, enjoy your trip and remember to leave a little room in your luggage for souvenirs. Bon voyage fellow study abroad students.

By: Lisa King, a member of BCSA Writers in Residence team and former stories abroad scholarship recipient. Lisa is currently working as a photojournalist and is one of the most recent graduates of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Bachelor of Arts General Studies program. Her study focuses were in Fine Art, Creative Writing, Geography and Sociology.

Writers In Residence


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