Our family lives in Cuenca, a beautiful city in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. My husband and I moved here (from Canada) with our 8 year old daughter in July of 2009. After we arrived I quickly learned to add a few important items to what I normally carry in my bag/backpack. When traveling in South America there are a few things we moms need in our bags that may be somewhat different then we are used to carrying.
Here is a short list of must- haves:
- Toilet Paper. Many of the things here in Ecuador and much of South America are less expensive than in North America, but toilet paper is not one of them. Because of this, more often than not, when you need the bathroom, there is no toilet paper available. So to avoid being stranded, always have some in your bag. I carry mine in a sandwich sized Ziploc bag so it’s easy to pass to my daughter when she needs some too.
- Hand Sanitizer. This may not seem different, you may carry it around now, but here it’s a must. Just as there often is no toilet paper in the bathroom, soap is often nonexistent as well.
- Umbrella. The weather changes very quickly here, when we leave the house it can be really sunny and hot, then an hour later we can be in the middle of a downpour. An umbrella is good for the rain and the strong Equatorial sun.
- Map, Directions & Phone numbers. When you are new to an area, especially if you don’t speak the language, a map of where you’re staying with directions in the locally spoken language is very important. Taxi drivers really appreciate it when you can just hand them your little map and they can get you on your way. It’s also good to ask before you head out for the number of a trusted Taxi driver or company; it’s always safer than just hailing a cab on the street. It would also be helpful to have the number of the hotel you’re staying at, and any contacts you have in the area that speak the language you’re fluent in.
- Antibiotic Ointment. We moms usually have some bandages and a few alcohol swabs with us, but the germs where you’re going to be traveling are different, and may need something a little stronger. My daughter scraped her knee not long after we arrived and I thought washing it and applying alcohol would be enough, it always was back home. But it got infected, and what I was used to doing didn’t work. Her immune system was not used to these germs. I was telling a fellow expat mom about the problem and she gave me some of her antibiotic ointment to try. It did the trick.
- A dummy wallet. This is a little wallet with some money (a few small bills all folded up) and a few business cards in it. I carry this in case I’m ever asked to hand over my money, this way I’ll still have my real wallet, and will not be stranded.
These are just a few of the things I carry that I didn’t before. I would also recommend sun block, sun glasses and a sun hat, a bottle of water, lip protection and a cell phone. The purse or bag itself should be one that does not grab attention, and should have a long enough strap so that it can be carried across your body.