America 101 — The American Toiletry Kit

Coming Home and Learning how to America, Again

I was invited to stay with my good friend Aparna and her family for a few days in Northern California and it is a wonderful respite from Los Angeles. I am in the woods spending time with good people, a pool, and a wondrous English Lab Layla who is delicious.

In preparation for this trip, as well as a few days later this week in Monterey before I journey South once again, I had to pack a much smaller version of belongings than what came with me on my flight out of Singapore in 4 very large hard-sided suitcases.

My first task was to purchase a duffel bag because all of mine are in a container on a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean (and will be for 2 more weeks). I went where we all go to shop for stuff — Amazon — and was met with a thousand permutations of duffel bags in every color ever created. For the record, I chose the 80L size and it seems to be holding.

The next task was to pack the toiletry kit. My toiletry kit(s) (I have one for the plane and one for my luggage) houses items that are a reflection of living in places that do not have the things I think are critical and/or require a doctor’s note to acquire. Singapore was extremely strict. Even if you didn’t need a prescription for something, you had to scan your Singapore ID to purchase most items. If you tried to go down the street and buy more before the system thought you should, it would flag in every pharmacy in the country. While, just across the Chain Bridge in Malaysia, one could walk or drive across and buy as much as they need of whatever item they wanted without a prescription.

Over the past years, I would find my way to America consistently enough that I would raid Target and Wal-Mart for my favorite supplies and smuggle them back into Kenya and Singapore so that I was always well-stocked. While I embraced a lot of local variations, there are just some items, like tooth paste, that I could not relinquish to Colgate (EWWWWWW).

My toiletry kit weighs about 6 pounds because it is laden with every item I thought MIGHT be required when I was stomping off into the bush, onto a film set, or into some other locale where local versions were either ineffective, unknown, complicated to procure (prescription) or just didn’t exist.

It occurred to me yesterday while I prepared my kit that it was probably time to stop packing as if I were going into the unknown where all manner of health issues may arise and care was either non-existent, not trusted, or too far away.

Living back in America means relentless convenience. Everything you could possibly need or want is a click or a road trip away and that means that all of the extra bits and bobs that have kept me company throughout the years are less necessary and likely will soon become relegated to THAT drawer in the bathroom.

If I forget something, the local petrol station will have a quick-e-mart that houses about 70% of what I need — on every corner. If not, I can poodle on down to town and find whatever I need.

I don’t have to ration my Crest toothpaste, favorite deodorant, and other items that are not available once you leave the border.

It’s time to Americanize the toiletry kit.

And I suppose it’s also time to Americanize the way that I live, in general. I do not need to stock up on the “good paper” or the “binders” that I like because they’re everywhere and will not be out of stock — ever.

I don’t need to scour the Earth looking for a good pair of sheets that I can get through various channels because I can order them from endless shops or I can just go down to the shop and buy a set.

What will become of my “pirating, smuggling, pack my suitcases to the gills self” and how will I convert to my new “bringing little bits of America self”? I can’t really say. An intervention may be required.

I’ve been living life like a prepper except that I wasn’t preparing for the zombie apocalypse — I was preparing for 3 weeks in Cambodia or Chad or South Sudan where Pepto Bismol and ginger biscuits were all that stood between your body and the emergency clinic that may or may not get you well.

***Warning — Lady Bits Ahead*** Tampons, for those that wonder, in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East can be exceptionally difficult to find (good girls and women would never use these as they jeopardize “virginity” — I could talk about this for days) much less the sort that you like. Note to travelers — pack in bulk and if you’re moving overseas, be prepared to smuggle and/or pay a fortune for what you like.

The bigger picture is that I no longer have to buy 3 pairs of Nikes because they’re so much cheaper in the USA. I am in the USA and can buy one pair. The same for electronics, clothes, housewares, etc. — it’s all here all of the time.

As my container chugs across the big blue, I think about all of the house items (kitchen, linens, etc.) that are not making the trip because it was cheaper to buy it again here than to ferry it across the Pacific.

When I do get my own place to live and start to set-up the house, I’ll probably have to take a minimalist officer with me so that I don’t buy 10 super nice towels — 4 will do — and there are always more.

This transition will take time as I learn how to shift my mind and I no longer purchase, plan and save for a Zombie-lead, toiletry stealing invasion.


For those curious about what is in the expatriate toiletry kit — here goes:

Pepto-Bismol (cannot be purchased in several parts of the world)- absolute must

Ginger biscuits from Kenya — must have — can solve many stomach issues

Panadol (headaches — the world knows this brand but America has to embrace it)

Antibiotic ointment — the strong stuff you get in the states

Benadryl ointment — my bug bites go septic in 6 hours

Crest toothpaste — you will not see this outside of America

Pepcid AC for my pesky ulcers — cannot buy outside of America


Eye drops

Deodorant — solid — could never buy any in Singapore and/or it was only sold in tiny versions

Muscle relaxer — the good stuff from my favorite Pharmacist in Pakistan

Antibiotic — for the mystery “flu” I get once a year — again from Pakistan

Some really good stomach issue pill I bought loads of in Central Africa — works great- no idea what it is

The nausea meds I bought in Ushuaia, Argentina before going to Antarctica –the stuff the local ship crews use — again not sure what it is exactly but it works great

Clarinase — some off brand of Claritin I bought in bulk from Kenya

Inhaler — again bought in bulk from Kenya

Disk inhaler thingy — Kenya

Compeed — foot care thingies (now available but for a long time had to by overseas)

Voltaren — topical music ointment whatever

Floss — the fancy stuff from America (the global versions of which don’t compare)

Plasters — BandAids for you Yankees — the European brands are much better/cheaper

Throat lozenges — I fly a lot and my throat gets dry — using them during a flight spares me a sore throat and adds some zinc and vitamin C to my life.

Vitamin C water tablets — just in case I get sick and for all flights a must

Re-hydrant — must have for every journey and take one during a flight

Headaches — I now get migraines — these super pills I used to get out of India — not quite sure what they are, but they’re the best thing I’ve ever found

Vicks — for when you’re sick or go into areas where the vapors are not enticing

Reef friendly sun screen from Australia

40% Deet bug spray out of America — I used every day for 12 years

Hotel procured sewing kit


Foot file

Travel body scrubby thing (free in First Class on Emirates A380 flights when you shower




Traveler, Producer, and Writer crafting stories about the bits of life that inspire, confuse, and challenge me.

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Rebecca Chandler

Rebecca Chandler

Traveler, Producer, and Writer crafting stories about the bits of life that inspire, confuse, and challenge me.

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