View from Museo Casa Blanca, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Have you ever experienced a time when an unexpected trip came up, and it was better than anything you could have planned? This was precisely my situation not too long ago.
I am a ridiculously proud Mom of 3 confident, intelligent, beautiful, and unique children, each possessing exceptional abilities and natural talents.
My oldest daughter Brenna has many gifts, including her love of adventure. She can't get enough of experiencing different cultures, meeting new people, exploring, getting inspired...soaking it all in.
Recent examples in just one year:
~At age 20, pick up and move from Wisconsin to New Jersey herself? Ok, she's in.
~Quit her crappy café job and land a fantastic position in Manhattan? Yup, that's her.
~Get a new apartment and drive a U-Haul truck through New Jersey? Oh yes she did!
(if you've ever driven in that area...the traffic is horrible, trust me)
So when she told me she was planning a trip to Mexico for her 21st birthday, I wasn't surprised.
For various reasons, she was coming up short on people to go with her; life happens, right?!
As we were talking about it one day, I offered to come with her (not that she would want to spend this special birthday with her old Mom). Let's face it, I'm all for having cocktails on a beautiful island with my fabulous daughter, but I had doubts about keeping up with this energetic young woman.
Anyhow, if you know me, you know I enjoy planning and being prepared. Trips, events, parties, you name it. I had about a month or so to prep for this particular trip. For some, this is plenty of time; however, I hadn't traveled that far before, nor to a place where English is not the primary language. Thank goodness my daughter speaks Spanish! Yes, Puerto Rico is an American territory, but from what I understood, most speak Spanish. (As it turns out, most of the time, Spanish was the primary language...thank goodness for Brenna!)
After doing a little research and talking things over with Brenna, I started putting together a list of items I needed to purchase. Some of them made the trip, and some didn't.
5 THINGS I WISH I WOULD HAVE BROUGHT & RECOMMENDATIONS
Ok, folks, this 52-year-old skin has seen some sun, but the intensity of those rays so close to the equator is something else. I used SPF 50...the ocean said, "uh, nice try, that's not going to do it." I did reapply often, but SPF 100 would have been better.
As I was looking for a product to recommend, those at SPF 100 have more harmful ingredients.
Sun Bum is reef-friendly and vegan, with many products that fit the bill. I will be using SPF 50 or 70 in addition to a beach shade (more on that below).
Of course, there are other brands and choices: mineral, zinc, etc.; choose the product that works best for you.
2-Travel Hair Dryer
Our charming hotel did have a hairdryer; however, it had seen better days. Thankfully my hair enjoyed the humidity; it was curly and did its own thing. "Island hair don't care," am I right?!
This little beauty is a perfect size and even comes with attachments...a hair diffuser is a curly girl's best friend.
3-Better Liquids Containers
I was trying to save a buck and some space (geez, those travel bottles are significant) by using hotel shampoo, conditioner, and body wash containers from a previous trip. That did not go well; shampoo was everywhere.
Next time I'll use these small glass pots. They'll stay closed, use less space than the typical travel bottles, and last forever.
Beach-side is my favorite place; bringing a few cold beverages and snacks is a no-brainer. We didn't have a cooler, so we made do with one of those cheap plastic ones from the corner store. It served us well; however, it didn't last and had to be thrown away.
I would have preferred to bring a collapsible cooler to be used at home as well.
This one looks sturdy, has excellent reviews, and could be used as a personal bag on the flight. There are a bunch of other models out there to suit your needs.
As mentioned above, the Caribbean sun is radiant, soul-quenching...and intense. By day three, I was sunburned, but there was no way I was staying off that beach. There was no shade, and no amount of sunscreen was going to help with the sting of those rays. I wrapped up in Brenna's pretty sarong (think superhero style: draped around my shoulders and tied around the neck) and my baseball cap for protection.
What I really wanted was a beach umbrella or tent. I've found a lovely, affordable, portable beach shade here. It's definitely on the list for our next trip!
As a side note, many hotels have umbrellas available for use. It's something to consider when booking lodging, although I wouldn't have traded our hotel for another.
THIS BRINGS US TO 5 ITEMS THAT MADE THE TRIP
1-Compact Beach Towel
With our primary focus being the beach, I wanted a towel that would be compact for packing yet large enough to lay on or wrap up in.
This one was perfect. It is compact, an ideal size for my needs, and pretty cute. It doesn't soak up water, but that wasn't my main concern, so if you're looking for a more traditional towel, this one may not be for you.
I hadn't used compression socks in past travels and wished I had (cankles were an understatement). This time I decided to give them a try. This set, I found, had good reviews and a lot of options. They helped keep swelling down, and my legs felt energized, especially since my return layover wasn't a layover. I had about 45 minutes to get my butt to the gate; they were boarding when I got there, so I had no extra time for stretching my legs.
If you're thinking, "no way am I wearing those nasty, ugly, pasty, tan socks," you will be surprised. Nowadays, there are so many cute ones to choose from I had a hard time deciding which color and design to get.
Note that they have different compression strengths, pick the ones that make sense for you.
3-Personal Bag for the Flight
A few years ago, I was planning a trip to Florida for a women's retreat, then Covid hit and put the kibosh on traveling. I had a brand new personal bag intended for that trip; now, I could finally pull it out and give it a whirl.
It's safer than juggling all my stuff and keeps everything secure. The bag is deep enough for a purse, water bottle, two books, a sweatshirt, phone charging cords, a few snacks, sunglasses, Chapstick (SPF 30), reading glasses (plural, as I tend to misplace), and jewelry bag that I didn't trust leaving in my checked carry-on (and I still had room for more!).
The model here is slightly different than my bag and would be a great option.
4-Small Liquids Containers
Earlier I mentioned the failure of my hair conditioner bottle. I had a solution for other liquids that worked pretty well. I only needed a few days' worth of liquid foundation, face lotion, and hair styling products. After looking at what was available in stores and not needing a new travel kit, I decided to use small, round, leakproof plastic craft containers. They worked pretty well; one cracked but didn't leak. I used a few of them for non-liquids like face and brow powder.
Ok, this one isn't a product; however, having a good QR scanner on your phone is necessary these days. We ate out quite a bit, and only one or two restaurants had menus handed out; even the little mom-and-pop places had QR codes at each table.
My phone doesn't come with a QR reader; I had an app loaded before the trip for shopping, which ended up having many ads, so I chose a different one. In the end, it makes for a smoother dining experience.
Our trip to Puerto Rico was beautiful; I may never have gone if not for Brenna. Her adventurous heart is contagious; we're already planning our next journey.
Whether you're traveling near or far, on a tropical beach, or at the local swimming hole, it's necessary and safe to be prepared.