Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

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Traveling Black

My personal belief is that we are one race, the human race, and we are all so incredibly and beautifully unique that it’s silly to try and group people into categories based on physical attributes. Physical attributes that have begun to meld and blur more and more as love defies all and every social boundary that attempts to tether it. That being said, when I am seen through other’s eyes I am a black female, and I am damn proud of that, but it doesn’t always make traveling easy… especially traveling alone. I want to share just a few things I have experienced being a black traveler, that guidebooks written for the general public are never going to cover.

When foreigners travel to new places sometimes they can face discrimination, having assumptions made about their intentions in that country or being called names like gringo or worse. I personally have not experienced much in terms of these hardships of travel, but I have been called other things that when lost in translation seem horribly derogatory. To make this clear I have to explain a little bit about the Spanish language for those not familiar with it. It is common practice in Spanish to make a word more affectionate by adding “ita/ito” to the end of the word, this is usually used to say something is small or cute. For example gato+ito = gatito for a little kitten, or “que linda es tu pelito” for how cute is your hair, the ending simply emphasizes the cuteness of something. Here in Peru I have experienced tons of catcalling, which having grown up in the Caribbean doesn’t phase me at all, but being referred to as negrita and crespita did throw me for a spin. Those words translated literally to English mean little back one and little curly one, but literal isn’t the way languages work. After discussing it with many friends here in Peru, a few of them saying that their nickname in their family is also negrita because they are the darkest of their siblings, I was able to get a better understanding of these words. In the U.S. there is something we assume when people refer to you by the color of your skin, that they are attaching to those words some discriminatory stereotype… and often times this is correct. Learning more about the Peruvian culture, I came to the beautiful understanding that there are no stereotypes attached to these words, they are said honestly with pure intent. Calling someone negrita or black girl is not a comment on anything other than the beautiful darkness of her skin tone. Once I truly understood the comments as they were meant in this culture, it was such a refreshing moment, realizing that being brown or black or having kinky hair had nothing to do with anything else other than having a beautiful physical attribute. I have since reveled in the fact that my brown skin and curly hair are so celebrated by this community!

Being a foreigner in a new place you also must get used to a certain amount of attention… especially being a black female alone, which just might be the rarest of all traveling types. That being said, I had to get used to a whole new level of attention in the more remote areas of Peru I have visited on this trip, places where they have never seen anyone… not on a TV, not in a book… with hair like mine. This was especially true in the jungle where my presence was met with the stares of every adult and the tiny hands of children in my locs when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was quite the culture shock that swiftly blossomed into a learning experience for all involved!

I can’t say that I am particularly tolerant of anyone putting their hands in my hair. I am not a petting zoo, and I did not grow my locs for 8 years for your entertainment. In the U.S. I have been in plenty situations where someone has, without asking, come up to me and touched my hair (FYI… That’s really not ok) I am not one to be confrontational and so I typically do nothing more than let them know it’s an invasion of personal space to do what they just did. Then there are people who ask to touch my hair… with almost a frightened look in their face, like they are afraid of what might jump out. These people are not interested in my hair for what it is… an extension of my vibrant energy… They want to see if some crap they heard from a friend about locs being dirty or smelly or itchy is true. I could really rant at length about the ignorant things I have dealt with in the U.S. when it comes to my hair, but this is just a little background so you as a reader can understand where I am coming from when I discuss my time in Peru.

Naturally I was looking at the situation of my hair being ogled at and touched through the lens created by personal experience, but none those scenarios were in play here. There was a genuine and honest curiosity of the complete unknown, which is something I love and is one of the main reasons I travel. I quickly became a lot more tolerant of fingers in my hair, reminding them kindly that it isn’t polite to touch someone without asking, but then allowing them to continue their exploration… which usually resulted in them calling their parents over to join them. I also got used to addressing adults who were staring in a way that made me uncomfortable, asking if they liked my hair… which always resulted in a smile and a nod… telling them it is indeed real, that my hair is curly, and no i can’t take it out and make it straight… and inviting them to touch it if they like. No my hair does not bite!

People fear what they don’t know. So know me. Know me in all my glory. Familiarize yourself with my dark brown skin, my full lips and wide grin, my curly brown hair that flows nearly to my waist. See yourself in the kindness of my face, so it’s crystal clear there is nothing to fear.

Bucket List Weekend – Chincha and El Carmen

The first stop on my journey was El Carmen, a tiny town in the district of Chincha known as the hotspot for all things Afro-Peruvian. The only way to get to this town is to go to Chincha and take a taxi or a much cheaper combi (also known as colectivos, these are cars or minivans that carry multiple people to a designated area for a very small set fee… aka the human tetris game. I took a combi from the airport and paid 4 soles ($1.50), rather than the taxi fee of 40 to 60 soles ($20), and I shared that ride in a minibus smaller than most SUVs… with 25 other people! That got me some serious “street-cred” with all my Peruvian friends). I got a rather late start to my day on Thursday, so I decided to take an afternoon bus to Chincha and tour El Carmen in the morning. My bus left Lima around 3pm and took about 2.5 hours, getting me there close to sunset. I went with the company Soyuz, which is a middle of the road quality bus, and it cost me 23 soles ($7.50).

About bus travel: I was all about taking the cheapest option and was planning to disregard my friend’s pleading for the contrary until, very unfortunately, shortly before my trip there was a tragic bus crash here in Peru resulting in the loss of 37 lives, apparently it is not an unusual event. The danger is not about the safety of your belongings, it’s about your life… and for that reason it was not worth the risk to go any cheaper on bus fare. That said, buses are absolutely the way to travel through most South American countries, just be wise about the company’s reputation for safety.

Chincha is not much of a “destination” it’s very busy and congested, and no matter what you do to not stick out… you will. I usually try to arrive in a new place well before sundown, especially if I have nothing booked as was the case with this trip (mom don’t freak out!), but I was cutting it pretty close. After a long bus ride I step off the bus to the typical onslaught of aggressive taxi drivers, brushing them off like I actually knew where I was going I continued out the station and onto the main road. I needed to figure out where the “centro” was, the central plaza of the town, usual the place to go if you have no idea where you are going. My “go to” lineup for people I ask to give me directions, in this order, are traffic police (which is absolutely an oxymoron in Peru), fruit vendors with the movable wagon stands, really old men, and women with children… trust me its fool-proof (despite the fact they are known for not liking to ask for directions, men are remarkably good at giving simple directions. Women on the other hand, tend to tell you the color of every house along the way and the name of all the stores on every corner you need to turn at… by the time they’re done I don’t even remember where the hell I wanted to go in the first place!). Also be sure to ask multiple people, if I am really lost I typically ask someone new every block to be safe. For example, someone tells me its 4 blocks away and I walk one block, ask again, and that person tells me its 6 blocks from there… not a huge concern at least the consensus is that it’s straight ahead… somewhere. Now, a crossing guard tells me its 4 blocks ahead and then a vendor tells me its 8 blocks to the left… that’s when I start looking for an old man.

After quite the walk, where miraculously I was almost run over ONLY twice, I reached the central plaza. Peru has the craziest traffic I have ever seen, hands down, it’s like every driver seeks to break every single traffic law known to man at least 30 times… every time they get behind the wheel! Unfortunately for me, the central plaza is under construction so not only are there no vendors or old men hanging around to give me directions but the giant wall of building material makes it impossible to see the other side… so I end up circling this plaza 3 times looking for a hostel before I decide it’s getting too dark and I need to get some help. I break my own rule and just ask the nearest person, who happens to be a young waiter at a restaurant just opening for dinner… apparently everyone working here is under the age of 20. “Do you know where there is a hostel named La Posado?” I ask, in Spanish of course… he stares at me as if I am literally starting to sprout a unicorn horn out of my forehead! “Do you know of any hostels nearby?”…again in Spanish of course, again with the unicorn-horn stare. Ok I am really regretting breaking my own rule at this point, I’m not fluent by any means but my Spanish is not THAT bad, you would think I was asking him where I could find a flying cow! Finally his face begins to look slightly less alarmed, and more pensive. “Si!” He tells me, and I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Aqui” He says as he points out the door. I quickly glance up and down the street not a hostel sign in sight… “aqui where?” I plead. “Aqui”, he reassured me, again with his finger pointing in some arbitrary direction now slightly to the left… “On the corner? On this street? How many blocks?” I ask in Spanish, frantically… his answer to all those questions is a very nonchalant “si” (apparently the teenage tendency toward monosyllabic answers is a global phenomenon…), and I give up, replying with a rather defeated “gracias”… Never again will I ask anyone under the age of 30 for directions… ever!

I finally track down La Posado hostel, after using a stranger’s computer to find that no address is posted online and then trying to follow obscure directions given by the owner after calling from a payphone. I got there and was told it costs 50 soles a night, with an incredulous look on my face I began to haggle it down (not that I really had another place to stay, but I have a really great poker face). I finally get her down to 40 soles ($13), and call it a win. They have wifi and it appears to be reasonably clean, then when she takes me to the room all the craziness becomes worth it. Fellow backpackers will know how hard it is to come by privacy when trying to travel cheaply, I personally have been sleeping on a couch since I arrived in Peru. The room had a glorious full size bed, and a private bathroom… not to mention cable with movies in English! HEAVEN. Needless to say, I slept like a baby!

Bright and early I hauled tail out of Chincha and got a colectivo into El Carmen. It was a short but beautiful ride of about 30 minutes, breaking away from the loud and restless Chincha. The enchanting yellow flowers of cotton plants line both sides of the dusty dirt road, mirroring the Afro-Peruvian culture of this area as it has also blossomed into something of incredible beauty after such painful beginnings. El Carmen is a sleepy little town, apparently slightly more animated on weekends and teaming with life for the Christmas holiday. The people were friendly and curious, everyone wanting to know where I was from. It’s interesting the comfort that comes when looking into faces that resemble yours, even though I someone who loves to explore new cultures and is often the only person who “looks like me” in the room… I still notice the comfort level and familiarity of others when I am around faces that physically resemble mine, even when they belong to a culture so different. It really made me ponder how alike we all are at the core; no matter our differences in language, skin tone, or features I believe we are getting closer to recognizing our global culture. A culture that respects and includes all, one that revels in cultural exchange rather than fearing it.

The people of El Carmen were all shades of brown, most are darker than the typical Peruvian, with the beauty of African genetics written all over their bodies and the familiar sound of Peruvian Spanish on their tongues. I found my way to the one location for information, a “tourist center”, which was really the living room of Guillermo’s house. Guillermo, the keeper of culture in El Carmen, welcomes travelers into his home to share the history, art, and culture of his people. Guillermo and his family were some of the warmest people I have ever met, and I sat for over 3 hours listening to him tell stories in Spanish of the African slaves brought to Peru, their revolutions, their reformations, and their cultural renaissance in the town of El Carmen. There are videos on my Instagram and Tumblr of Guillermo and his son playing the violin and the cajon, a percussion instrument found in Afro-Peruvian music.

I only wish I had been there when the resident zapateo teacher was in town, so that I could learn a few moves from one or two of the traditional dances. The zapateo is a dance reminiscent of tap-dancing, full of life and joy but the meanings of most songs and dances are of somber memories. Most of the dances and songs are written to recall the times of slavery, some even depicting dance moves symbolizing whippings and being shackled. The music, art, and food of El Carmen was all such a treat to experience, and the open hearts and doors that met me upon my arrival were what really made this place special. This was an amazing once in a lifetime experience, I highly recommend taking the time to make the short journey into El Carmen… especially if you are already on your way south.  

Next stop Paracas!

Bus: Soyuz Bus

Hostel: La Posado- listed in lonely planet

El Carmen: Tours El Carmen- on Facebook