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New Must-Haves for the Mom Abroad

Posted in: Our Perspective

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Here are a few of my favorites.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

10 comments… add one
  • Emily Sep 3, 2014, 9:14 pm

    What about wipes? Parenthood brought them into my life… with a bag of wipes in my purse, I’m unstoppable! (and I second the antibiotic ointment, after dealing with Impetigo in Costa Rica). Have antibacterial baby wipes been invented? Then we’d be really unstoppable!

  • Christy Sep 19, 2011, 4:41 pm

    Where do you get your materials for homeschooling and what activities are there for children where you live? I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old and would have a lot to consider if we ever decide to live abroad.

    • Bryan Haines Sep 20, 2011, 7:45 am

      We order our materials from Canada (some from the States) and either ship them to Ecuador or have friends/family bring them when they come visit.

      For activities, there are lots of parks, outings, volunteer opportunities. She is exposed to so much – we haven’t had any shortage of things do to with her.

      All the best on your plans!

  • Dalene May 14, 2011, 7:37 pm

    What are the sunscreen options in Ecuador? I have very light skin and sunscreen is a must have, but both my children and I are very sensitive and are allergic to many brands here in the US. Any ideas?

    • Bryan Haines May 16, 2011, 6:22 pm

      I don’t know about specific types, but there are lots of options. Its good to know, though, that it is quite expensive. When you come on your visiting trip, check out the supermarkets and the pharamacys – so you have an idea. We brought a couple of tubes with us when we moved. Sorry I can’t help more.

  • Eric Lutz Feb 17, 2011, 8:22 pm

    Thank you Brian and Dena. give my love to Drew. I know things aren't what they seem to be from a distance. or as my dad would say. it looks good from the road.

  • Susan Feb 8, 2011, 8:26 pm

    Do they sell hand sanitizer there?

    • Bryan Haines Feb 9, 2011, 4:52 pm

      Absolutely – its in all the pharmacys. Big and little containers. Same price as in the US/Canada.

      (Denas computer is still on the blink – so i\’m responding – sorry)


  • santafetraveler Feb 8, 2011, 11:33 am

    Some great traveling tips- they work for people of all ages. Great wallet tip. I'd add band aids to the list.

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