Pearls for Packing

I am a nurse practitioner and Foreign Service Medical Provider with the Bureau of Medical Services. I’ve been a MED Rover for two years, and love the crispness and unknown of each temporary assignment. From getting my visa to reading the Post Report and Medical Capabilities Index, I am always excited about providing or arranging the best medical care possible in a place I know little about. On the personal side there are many thrills. I relish buying the Lonely Planet and reading it on the plane. I love to use my “off” time to explore the unique-ness of my temporary home — music, dance, art, good hikes, food that I can’t get anywhere else, the best coffee shop or just people watching and hearing their stories.

My packing strategy, on the other hand, is sometimes more complex. For a while I kept a bag packed with “constants” such as makeup, a bathing suit and goggles, plastic coffee cone filter and a shawl for the Arctic climate of embassies. I left the suitcase out and topped it off as I saw fit. I stopped doing this for several reasons. First, there was invariably something I needed from the bag, such as the shawl (a beautiful gift from my husband Ahmed) for the occasional dressy evening event in DC. Secondly, fully unpacking and storing the luggage brings temporary closure from being away, and signals that I’m really home, fully engaged and don’t have one foot out the door. Thirdly, the packed bag was reminiscent of the “go bag” of ordered departure. Lastly, our dog Emma knows what luggage means, and gets the blues.

The internet has loads of advice on organized packing. To that I add these pearls:

1. I love various brands of durable, ultralight zipped bags, such as Eagle Creek (Container Store, REI). As an adjunct I use Ziplock slider bags. I have separate bags for cosmetics, medications, chargers and cables and small garments.

2. Always, always carry on medications. As many of you, I carry an Epipen and inhalers. I have never had an issue during the screening process in any country (and that’s a lot). I hereby knock wood.

3. Although I will always travel with at least one medical-type book in hard copy, most of what I read is digital, on my iPad Kindle app. Depending on the level of Wifi where I’m going (Hong Kong excellent, Havana — not), I may top that off as well, or resurrect books from the Cloud that I didn’t finish. I also allow myself the indulgence of a periodic magazine at the airport!

4. I am particular about coffee. My lightweight plastic one-cup coffee filter has been a great investment. You can go with the filter-less model, or use paper or reusable cotton filters. I usually bring one bag of finely ground coffee beans and hope to arrive early enough to grab some whole milk.

Melissa Jefferson, MSN, MPH is a family nurse practitioner and Foreign Service Specialist.

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