Isla Espiritu Santo, Mexico – How I Packed, What I Didn’t Need, What I Wish I’d Packed

Since the early 1990s, I have dreamt of kayaking the Sea of Cortez, the warm narrow sea between mainland Mexico, and Baja California. It all started when, near the end of my college years, I picked up a paper tri-fold brochure on campus for a company that took tour groups to Baja in an early version of the now trendy “glamping”. The company’s staff would provide all equipment, set up camp, cook, clean and act as guides. Flash forward to Thanksgiving of 2017 when my stepmother suggested that I “do something special” for my upcoming 50th birthday. The long held dream immediately came to mind and I knew it was time to somehow scrape up the money and make it happen. I began researching kayak outfitters. I chose a company called OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), which has a robust website and online presence. I have to say here that the OARS process is so smooth, their customer service so professional, that I never had a moment of doubt about taking this trip with them (and no they are not paying me to say that!).

HOW I PACKED:

When prepping for this trip, I started thinking about traveling carry-on only. I felt like this would allow me to move through airports and other transportation points quickly. It would free me to catch earlier flights as a standby passenger without having to wait for my checked baggage to arrive on the other end. It would safeguard me against the nightmare of lost luggage. It would also mean I would have less luggage to keep track of, which is important when you travel solo and don’t have anyone to keep an eye on things when you want to duck into a restroom or airport shop to get a snack. I did a lot of research about how to pack lightly for different destinations and found Travel Fashion Girl’s wonderful “Minimalista” packing lists. More importantly than following the exact items on those lists, I learned a new-to-me method of packing. In general terms, I packed one of each type of item I would need (ie one short sleeve, one long sleeve, one long pant, one pair of shorts etc), in a single color family so every piece could be worn with every other piece. Having fewer pieces of clothing to choose from, I spent less time coordinating outfits, more time having fun, AND my luggage was lighter than ever before!

I admit I went off plan a little by taking 2 bathing suit bottoms and 3 tops, but they replaced some of the other items I would have brought, and I ended up wearing them all day, every day. For you women who are cringing at the thought of living in a bathing suit top, let me assure you, my tops are so structured they can stand up on their own. In other words, invest in your swimsuit, especially if you are curvy. It is well worth it. Another alternative I used was a bra under a tank top with bathing suit bottom. A jogging bra worked well, since they are built to support and dry quickly. For this trip, I stayed away from one-piece suits and favored tankinis, which give almost the same coverage, are easier to deal with on bathroom breaks in the wilderness, and provide the most versatility as each bottom could be worn with any top.

My real downfall, in terms of what always prevented me from travelling carry-on only, has been the amount of toiletries I “needed”. While I may have gotten away with less in my 20s, basically rolling out of bed in the morning already looking at least presentable, that is alas no longer the case, especially once the ravages of travelling start to show up on my face in the form of puffy eyes, redness, dryness, and any number of other problems. On this first test of carry-on travel, I referred to the TSA 3-1-1 rule, downsized my containers and squeezed as many things as humanly possible into a quart sized Ziploc. I was so proud when I went through security that first time and tossed my Ziploc of liquids into the plastic bin with a heavy “clunk”! Here is a list of the toiletries I brought (both liquid and solid) and approximate starting and ending amounts:

Item Starting amount Ending Amount (after 8 days) Amount used
Camp Suds 1 oz 1 oz Used a couple of drops once
Mosquito spray 1 travel spray pump (.475 oz?) Maybe .25oz .225 oz
Lysol 1 oz 1 oz (didn’t use) 0
Sunblock liquid 3 oz + 1.25 travel size 1.5 oz liquid + 1.25 oz travel (didn’t use the travel size) 1.5 oz
Sunblock solid 1.5 oz .75 oz .75 oz
Liquid Foundation About 0.5 oz .375 oz (Used daily but didn’t need nearly this much) 0.125oz (approx.)
Toothpaste 0.85 oz .425 oz 0.425 oz
Hair sun shield 1 oz .5 oz 0.5 oz
Dry shampoo 0.66 oz Used every day ~.33 oz
Nasal Spray .75 oz .7 Used daily but only drops (nice to have!)
Lip color 1 oz 1 oz Used once
Clear Mascara .34 oz .34 oz 0 Did not use
Nail topcoat 0.5 oz 0.5 oz 0.4 oz used once to prolong toenail polish
Aveda Hair Oil sample 0.1 oz 0 0.1 Used a few times
Neosporin 0.1 oz 0.1 oz 0 Did not use, but important to have
SPF 45 Lip balm .15 oz stick .075 oz .075 oz (Used daily)
Eyeliner .01 oz .01 oz Used once, could have gone without
Travel makeup kit .2 oz .2 oz Loved this, a lot left
Deodorant 1.4 oz ~1.2 oz Used daily but lots left
Approximate Totals 15.785 oz 10.255 oz 5.53 oz

WHAT I DIDN’T NEED:

While the table above is obviously not exact, it clearly shows that I packed too much of too many things! I carried nearly a pound of toiletries with me and only needed approximately 5.53 oz! Granted some things are hard to reduce, like a travel sized mosquito spray pump, but another delivery system, like mosquito repellant lotion moved to a smaller container could be something to consider. I’ve seen tutorials about melting deodorant into a smaller container as well. It may seem like splitting hairs at the beginning of your trip, but trust me, by the return flight you’ll be ready to throw unused things away to avoid lugging them another step.

Toiletries that I brought but could have easily done without were lip color, clear mascara, nail topcoat, and eyeliner (see a theme ladies?) This is not to say that I couldn’t have looked put together on the two nights we had in town before and after the actual kayaking portion of the trip, even without those things. I was glad to have my liquid foundation (justified by the fact that it is moisturizing and SPF17!) and my travel makeup kit. The travel makeup kit is an idea I got from Heidi Rodriguez, a writer for Travel Fashion Girl, and I love mine! It has come in handy, especially on the short trips I take for work, where I attend meetings and speak to an audience.

Another thing I realized while camping in the desert was that extreme heat is not good for solids like stick deodorant and solid sunblock. At one point I opened my deodorant, which appeared completely normal, attempted to apply it and ended up with a pile of gooey yet somehow crumbly deodorant all over my tent floor. The “solid” sunblock was even more liquified! Thankfully, my SPF 45 lip balm softened but was still solid enough to apply, gently…

Aside from toiletries, there were a few other things I brought but didn’t need in the Mexican desert. I had an international electrical outlet adapter and surge protector, thinking that I would use it in the hotel at the end of the week when I would be desperate to charge up my phone and camera. What I didn’t realize was that the entire country of Mexico uses the same voltage and some areas use the same outlets as we do in the U. S! I had also packed both a quick dry towel AND a quick drying polyester pareo. I really didn’t need both. The pareo worked well as a cover up, a towel, AND as a blanket for sitting on the hot sand. Even a cotton pareo in that dry air would have dried quickly enough, though that would have taken up more space and weighed more than my polyester one.

WHAT I WISH I’D PACKED:

On the other hand, I didn’t bring some things I wish I had, like a deep moisturizer. I thought my sunblock would be greasy enough, but I had a “dry touch” sunblock that dried, well, dry. Since I was in a desert climate, by the second day I was desperate to moisturize. Luckily another traveler on this trip brought coconut oil, which she used on her skin AND hair, and she was kind enough to share with me.

Lastly, I did not bring spare batteries for my underwater camera. This was an intentional decision, because I had the idea that I wanted to be limited in my ability to use technology and just be present in the moment. This caused me a lot of angst through the week as I took pictures and video of the incredible number and variety of wildlife and other natural beauty in around the Sea of Cortez, and watched my camera battery QUICKLY die through the week, feeling that I had to choose carefully what I turned my camera on for. In retrospect, I would rather have had the choice to take pictures or not, and have a backup battery with me.

In conclusion, here are the top 5 lessons I learned about planning and packing for this desert-meets-the sea getaway:

  1. Choose a well-established tour company, especially if travelling alone, and don’t be afraid to back out if you start to get any inkling that things are not as they appear. I was very fortunate in my first choice, OARS, and will certainly take more trips with them.
  2. No matter how seasoned of a traveler you may be, there is always more to learn, and thanks to the internet information is readily available.
  3. Pay attention to what you actually use or don’t use, and how little you really need. Multipurpose items, see coconut oil and pareo above, will dramatically reduce what you have to pack and lug around with you.
  4. Consider the special requirements of the location you will be visiting; especially for extreme climates, like the desert! I’m looking at you, solid sunblock. Always, always, always check the weather forecast before you go anywhere!
  5. If you love to look back on photos of where you’ve been and relive your vacation for years afterward, or if you travel solo like me and want to be able to share your experiences with others, bring spare batteries, chargers, and even a backup camera (my backup is my cell phone camera). You won’t regret using the luggage space.
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