This is one of my favorite moments in any trip. It’s an immense feeling of relief, that after the stress of packing up and saying goodbye, you are finally underway. What’s done is done, and what’s not done frankly isn’t going to get done. If you don’t have it, either you didn’t actually need it or you can buy it there (as long as it’s not contact solution).
Eleven years ago, I took my first trip to Africa for a semester-long study abroad program in Tanzania. I think I spent six months getting ready for that trip: making sure I had all my shots and medical supplies, buying the camping gear for my first, long field experience, picking out precisely the right clothes to get me through 5 months of university and fieldwork, and calculating exactly how much disposables I’d need until I was back to the States again. Preparation for this trip could not have been more different. It’s my 12th trip to Africa, albeit the longest since that first trip to Tanzania. I now know that I can buy shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. in Africa, so I only packed enough to get me there. Did spend some time on the med kit – I’ve taken too many chances recently in malarial regions, and now that I’m certified in wilderness first aid, I know exactly how unprepared I’ve been on previous trips. Not entirely sure what clothes I ended up with; Mom and I picked some things out yesterday, and I crammed them into half a checked bag and a carryon. Shoes, though, I know: hiking boots, running shoes, black dress shoes, and chacos.
Why this seeming unpreparedness? Age, no doubt about it. Somehow, I own a house, and I had to pack that up for the semester. Somehow, I became a professor, and there were grades to calculate, manuscript revisions to complete, recommendation letters to write, and 6 students under me needing just the right materials for their research next semester. Most importantly, the older you get, the closer your family and friends become and the longer it takes to say goodbye. And, knowing what to expect, there’s not quite the same nervous excitement spurring you to pack and plan.
But finally, the plane door closes, all electronic devices must be turned off, and it’s time. Twenty-four hours to mentally prepare for 4.5 months of (mis)adventures in Ethiopia. What trouble will I get myself into, and out of (please, please, please), this trip? Only time will tell.