Living Out of Suitcases

img_0371-kopie.jpegMaybe the most common question we hear from people (okay, women) about traveling for so many months at a time is “How in the world do you pack?”

We could laugh and say, “It’s easy!” but that would be disingenuous.

In truth, it is not particularly hard to figure out what we want to bring with us. What’s tricky is fitting it all into two small suitcases and a backpack each.

We have learned tricks. Compression bags, packing cubes and moisture-wicking underwear definitely are all that they are cracked up to be. This winter, we will be only about three weeks in temperatures reliably hotter than 75F. Doris packed everything she would need for those destinations in a single Eagle Creek packing cube with dimensions not much bigger than a sheet of paper.


Summer wardrobe in a cube: two pair short pants, four tops, one dress, one bathing suit, one coverup, one pair of sandals.

But clothes turn out to be the easy part. Splurge adventures have their own requirements (Galapagos: water shoes, binoculars, underwater camera). We also carry “kits” – pre-packed plastic envelopes holding items we have learned are expensive, inconvenient or impossible to find on the fly. Sunscreen, specialty toothpaste, sulfite-free shampoo. When the Bluetooth iPad keyboard Doris cannot write without cracked during our first week out, she was mighty glad to be carrying a traveler-shaped supply of duct tape and teensy travel scissors in our portable “tool kit.”


Doris likes to think that a duct-taped iPad keyboard is proof she is a true road warrior.

Our kitchen kit even holds a very lightweight cotton apron because we cook a lot of our meals on the road. Carrying as little clothing as we do, we need to protect what we have from cooking accidents.


Remember the book What Color Is Your Parachute? When hitting the road, the question ultimately becomes “How Big Is Your Comfort Zone?” Living out of a suitcase for four or six or eight months is a great way to map a comfort zone. Rule of thumb? Bigger zone, smaller bags; smaller zone, bigger bags. The photo at the top is our Dutch friend Herman schlepping the only luggage he and his wife Annet carried on a round-the-world trip a few years back. Sure sign of a giant comfort zone.

Traveling as we do has taught us more about our own comfort zones, and we pack accordingly. With each trip, we find ourselves packing fewer clothes and more gear. Louis, for example, has learned he really doesn’t need ten different shirts on a trip, but we wouldn’t leave home without a miner’s lamp.

Processed with MOLDIV

Room too dim to read, cook or apply makeup? A miner’s lamp does the trick every time.

There’s a fair amount of minimalist snobbery out there in the travel blogosphere (e.g., anyone who checks a bag is not a “real” traveler), and we confess that we have been known to snicker at travelers hauling what looks like their every worldly possession through airports. But, at the end of the day, travel is a challenge, even under the best of circumstances, and few road warriors encounter the best of circumstances all the time. We now always check one bag because it is the only way to get all the liquids we will use over many months onto our flights.

Comfort choices go beyond packing decisions. In Colombia, we talked with a young Canadian working his way around the world who said he happily shells out for the shortest, most direct flight he can find between destinations. Back in the day, when he was only 21, he was willing to take three connecting flights to save $100 on a route, he told us. At 27, he’s “too old” to be uncomfortable.

At 27-plus, so are we. We may live out of suitcases, but packing to be comfortable enough is one of the reasons we can do that.

Random crap bag

We have yet to fly an airline that does not allow passengers to carry on reading material, food, personal electronics and outer wear in addition to the standard carry-on allowance. Our luggage always includes a sturdy shopping bag to tuck in those items and maybe hide a few more.

From the Partout Toolbox: One of the drawbacks of traveling light is leaving home with every square inch of luggage packed and no space for buying anything on the road larger than an emerald ring. Doris’s solution to this dilemma is to pack a few items of  clothing that are still presentable but nearing the end of their life in her closet. At her last stop or whenever she wants to free up some packing space along the way, she leaves clean and neatly folded items behind for the housekeeping staff to repurpose. Especially in underdeveloped countries but even in many developed ones, gifts of usable clothing are a far bigger bonus for low-paid workers than a handful of small coins.

COMING SOON! Cuenca on Fire

A Verry Cuenca Christmas

Overhead dancers
Flying out the United States a couple weeks ago, Copa Airline’s in-flight magazine contained an article about colorful Christmas observances around the world. Rockefeller Center’s tree was there. The 37 million (yes, million) lights in Medellin.

And Cuenca’s Pase del Niño – the “passing of the child” Jesus, a Christmas Eve parade that dates back 500 years and draws most of the city population to its streets.

The occasion is the procession of a 200-year-old baby Jesus icon from one end of the old city to the other. Having now spent the day among them, we can confirm plenty of angels, holy families and wise men turn out for the happening, but they aren’t the half of it. Joining the Marys (many pregnant) and Josephs are cowboys, clowns and indigenous gods, dancers and prancers and drummers, every child, woman and man reveling in a day of tradition, family and fun.

Doris could spend thousands of words describing the masses that followed the 1823 niño Jesus icon down Simon Bolívar Street, alongside the plaza and all the way to San Blas Church. Or we could just bet that Louis’s photos are worth far more. Since the man took more shots than he is willing to admit, Partout is going with the photos.

Thus, without further ado (or many more words), merry Christmas or whatever holiday you may be observing (or not) and bring on the parade.

The Sacred and the Masked

Version 3


Music and Dance and Showers of Flowers



Paraders and Watchers

Crowd shot

Girl on horse

Doggy duoProcessed with MOLDIV

Color, Color and More Color


Montage 1


With that, until next time, and may everyone’s day be as happy and bright as Cuenca’s.

From the Partout Toolbox: Searching local blogs and online news, Wikipedia articles and other sources for topics like “Christmas parades around the world” helps us find events, festivals and other local spectacles we otherwise might miss. That’s how we know that a week from now, Cuenca will turn out for the ritual burning of monigotes to see out the old year. We’ll be there.

COMING SOON! Living Out of Suitcases

Related link: “Cuenca’s Biggest Parade of the Year Combines the Sacred and Profane” from the local expat newspaper 



Mining Emeralds in Bogotá

Bogota - Colombia
For the record, neither of us are shoppers, especially on the road where anything we buy would have to be hauled for thousands of miles before reaching home.

All the same, non-shopping Doris has a wee tiny weakness for colorful sparkly things for her fingers. And, really, how much room does a ring take up in a carry-on bag?

Thus it was that long-suffering Louis – who innocently believed Doris’s pitch that we should return to Colombia en route to Ecuador because we missed the country’s coffee area last winter – found himself a week ago in Bogotá, capital of the world emerald trade.

Emeralds scattered on a shiny surface with prominent emerald in the middle

Colombia is to emeralds what Tanzania is to tanzanite. (Photo © Victor Moussa |

As many as 90% of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia, including the rarest and highest quality of them.

In Bogotá, emerald jewelry stores line the streets for block after block, some of them decades old, many selling goods from their own mines. Adding to the color (and potential for emerald fraud), freelance dealers are on the streets, too, sidling up to anyone with emerald lust in their eyes, furtively pulling folded squares of white paper from their pockets in which they have tucked their wares.

A real shopper could probably spend days in the city’s commercial emerald center, comparing stones, settings and prices. Doris figured she could get the job done in a couple hours.

dreamstime_s_121059030 (1)

Doris was sure an emerald was waiting for her somewhere on these streets. (Photo © King Ho Yim |

Doris searched “buy emeralds” on TripAdvisor, picked a store with perfect reviews, and set out by GPS with uncomplaining Louis in tow. Fortuitously, the store she picked was situated in a cozy shopping patio where Louis could sip strong Colombian coffee and do Duolingo Spanish lessons while Doris took a crash course in emerald buying behind locked doors.

In self-defense, emeralds are supposed to increase intelligence and empower their wearers to predict events, making them more than just a pretty carat. Cleopatra went for them (lesser grades come from Africa), and they bejewel many of the pre-Colombian treasures in the Gold Museum down the street from the emerald center. Unsurprisingly, the conquistadors fell on them like ravenous locusts.


Cleopatra dug emeralds big-time (Photo © Timothy Kurtis |

Inside Emerald By Love, Doris’s guide was Kim Wang, a 20-something adventurer who left her native China to work for a cruise company in Boston, met her true love in Colombian Gerson Morales and moved to Bogotá two years ago to open an emerald store with her new husband, whose family has mined for decades.

Kim patiently explained how the source mine determines the final green of an emerald and that darker green is better than lighter but only up to a point. She said the best stones go into gold settings instead of silver because gold is stronger and less likely to result in a lost stone and that most modern settings are designed by computer (resulting in a 10% loss of gold) and the rest still cast by hand. She showed Doris how minerals like fool’s gold get embedded into emeralds as the earth is shaping the esmeralda, adding to their character.

Then came the fun part: Doris tried on virtually every ring in the store of the color she preferred (dark, of course). Big, little, bling, modest. On and off. When she finally narrowed things down to two candidates, she sent a text message to patient Louis, asking him to join her in the store.


Yes, Doris tried on just about every ring in this and another display case.

Once at her side, Louis immediately bonded with Kim by flourishing the few Mandarin words he remembers from his Bejing days and then turned to Doris’s choices. Being a visual person and a smart man to boot, he immediately pronounced Doris’s selections the most beautiful in the store. One, 1.5 karats and with tiny diamond chips around the band and on the setting, was deliciously elegant. The second, pear-shaped, was handmade in a Colombian style that probably could not be found outside the country.

He urged her to buy both.


Kim and Gerson with the candidates.

Yikes! Both? Doris quailed. She had mentally budgeted for one good ring, but two? More time was required.

Gerson (Anglo names are common in Colombia) had joined his wife Kim in the store by then, and he is a smart man, too. He invited us to lunch with Kim and his brother Christian to give Doris time for the possibilities to percolate.

Over a hearty local almuerzo in a local joint, he explained how he grew up around emeralds, his family having owned mines for more than 30 years. Kim told us how her parents encouraged her to seek her future in America even though she was their only child. The couple described how their romance began with no shared language and how it continues to benefit from neither being fluent in the other’s tongue (they can’t argue).

Doris smiled and listened but was all the while weighing the case for two emerald rings. Though she likes finger sparklies, she owns only two of them. Buying two would double her lifetime collection overnight, which seemed excessive. On the other hand, on Partout’s first day in Tanzania two years, our guide had taken us to a rustic trading post that sold jewelry set with tanzanite stones from the nearby mine. Dazzled but fretful we were in one of those “I have a friend and he’ll make you a deal” situations, Doris passed on making a purchase and has regretted it ever since. She did not want to take a similar regret home from Bogotá.

A whole afternoon had passed, but when we eventually walked out the door of Emerald By Love, not one but two emerald rings were safe in a hidden pocket of helpful Louis’s shirt. Better yet, we were both satisfied we would enjoy not only the rings but the memory of buying them from Gerson and Kim in Bogotá for years to come.


Mine meets jewel in this photograph on Emerald By Love’s shop wall. (Photo at top of blog © Carlos Mora |

From the Partout Toolbox: Before leaving home, print and carry the receipts for airline tickets you are holding, not just the reservations themselves. Partout has found that most online check-in programs do not indicate what special services you have already purchased (e.g., extra legroom, checked bag, toilet privileges). Having the receipt at hand helps avoid inadvertent double purchases and comes in handy if there are challenges from the airline at check-in over what you have bought.

COMING SOON: A Verry Cuenca Christmas




Here We Go Again

We often meet people whose response to hearing about our marathon travels is, “I want your life!”

To which we (or, at least, Doris) respond, “Beware of what you wish.”

We are now embarked on our third consecutive winter on the road. The international segment will be our shortest yet: only (haha … “only”) three months, followed by a month in San Diego – four months in all.

We have friends in the Netherlands (you know who you are!) who seem able to pack a couple roll-on bags and hit the road for a year at a time, making it up as they go. That is them. This is us.

This is also us: leaving home with tickets for 20 flights, two trains, one sailboat and 124 nights of lodging in hotels (18 nights), AirBnBs (78 nights) and home exchanges (28 nights).
Screen Shot 2019-12-21 at 5.22.26 PM

Thanks to the magic of Xcel, where every move is recorded, it is easy to count all those bookings. Tallying the hours Doris spent making them all would be impossible. Each checked box represents a juggling act in which hopes, expectations, assumptions, wishful thinking, airline schedules, weather considerations and budget are tossed into the air and hopefully don’t come down on our heads. Coups are scored. Mistakes are made.

And that’s before the trip even starts.

For all the conveyances and lodgings, Partout will not be as all over the place this winter as in winters past. With the exception of outings in Panama, Colombia, Peru and the Galapagos (that altogether add up to less than one-quarter of our time in Latin America), we will stay put in our favorite stay-put city of last winter: Cuenca, the colonial jewel of Ecuador an hour’s flight south of Quito.
IMG_7359Staying put raises new questions for us and for the Partout reports that will follow until we return to the States.

Will we relish the familiarity of one location or long for more novelty? Revel in the climate so temperate it varies no more than six degrees year-round or weary of the sameness? Will we find ourselves luxuriating in stretches of unscheduled days or wilting from boredom? Might we tire of struggling day after day in a foreign language?

And will our Partout followers find our stay-putting so dull they would not even open our emails?

Only time – and future blog posts – will tell.

Processed with MOLDIV

En route to Cuenca, we visited our Taylors in Florida, ogled ships in the Panama Canal and hiked Colombia’s Cocora Valley, home of the world’s tallest palm trees.

From the Partout Toolbox: If you are shopping flights, try (a function of Like all internet travel fare aggregators, Momondo leaves out some of the budget airlines, which means bargain-hunting takes a few more clicks to be complete. All the same, it is Doris’s new go-to for flight hunts because the app’s multi-city search is smooth and customizing an itinerary is easy. Fare alerts can be set up to track prices.

COMING SOON! Mining Emeralds in Bogotá

Related Link: Introducing Partout with Louis & Doris