|Coffee in the morning(ish) sun in Mocambo Cafe, Buenos Aires|
A word of warning, what's essential for me may not be essential for you, and vice versa. I took my purse (see the article in Thrifty Tanguera regarding "Frankenpurse" - and a freebie backpack my husband got from a vendor. I checked no luggage so everything I brought needed to be really useful to justify taking up room in my bag. Here's what worked best for me.
Clothing and Accessories
Scottevest Women's Trenchcoat - This is part of why I didn't need to check a bag. A couple of months before I left I needed to replace my old rain coat. I found this one online, read the reviews, then after getting a 20% deal, decided to get it. (In black of course.) I had to waterproof it before I left (thankfully I realized it wasn't as water-resistant as advertized before I left for Buenos Aires.) Other than that little hiccup, the thing was great. Warm, but not too hot. It holds a lot and very comfortably. I didn't take anything out of the pockets when I went through the airport, I just took it off and threw it on the x-ray belt. Didn't have the slightest problem. It also washes very well in the washing machine (on gentle cycle.)
Terramar Silk Pointelle Long Underwear - I got the top and bottom for $17.50 each at Sierratradingpost.com and I'm glad I did. Mostly it was very temperate in Buenos Aires, but it got quite cold a couple of nights and having these to wear under my regular clothes kept me warm without adding any bulk to my outfit or weight to my backpack.
Sprigs Phone Banjee Wrist Wallet from REI (which I'm wearing above) - this worked best when I had long sleeves on (and everything I wore was basically black) because it blended in and also covered my watch nicely. I had just taken my sweater off in that picture (since I was sitting in the warm sun) and it's much more conspicuous. Out and about, I would have stuck with either my SPIBelt around the waist (under my skirt waist band), or the silk undercover money belt from Eagle Creek . Both are very comfortable and I switched them out depending on what I was wearing. I had both of those accessories in black. The SPIBelt I've had for several years for just running errands downtown or dancing in festivals when I didn't want to leave money in my shoe bag. It's always done a great job of staying in place and not being too noticeable.
Firm Support Coolmax Over the Calf Support Socks - My doctor recommended these and honestly, I was going to skip them. My grandmother wears these and I didn't want to admit they would do me some good. I'm so glad I rethought that (lack of) logic and got a couple of pair. These kept my legs from swelling up after the long flight (and some long nights dancing), relieved pain in my calves and dried very quickly after washing. Plus they're soft and comfortable.
The North Face Women's Crystal Wrap - -I wore this constantly! A black, wrap sweater that dries quickly but still keeps you warm. Perfect for packing - weighs almost nothing.
Capezio Free Form (Practice) Shoes - I loved these for the trip. They fit in the pocket of my coat so I could slip them on any time I didn't want to wear shoes but wanted something on feet (on the airplane, in practice, in my room etc.). They were fantastic! Plus I could just throw them in the wash when I got back.
Medications in chewable/dissolvable (no water needed) form. My motion sickness tabs, allergy tabs, Peptobismol - everything I could, I got in chewable form. Ten hours on an airplane when the flight attendants act like you're asking for 25 year old scotch every time you ask for water - you'll thank me. Another note on medications - about two months before I left, whenever I needed a medication refilled (that I knew I would need to take to Buenos Aires), I asked for it in the smallest bottle they could possibly fill it in. Since you have to carry the damned bottles with you, this helps save a little space.
Visine Multisymptom Eye-drops - I can't recommend these highly enough. I skipped bringing my contact lenses which turned out to be the right call. I would never have been able to wear them in BsAs - my eyes were just too irritated.
Technology and Logistics
Skype - I can't say enough good things about Skype (and also Google Voice). There were times when Skype didn't work because the wi-fi signal wasn't strong enough, but I could still get a text message through on Google Voice. I did not take a cell phone/service with me and I didn't buy or rent a phone while I was there. If necessary I was ready to buy a calling card if I needed one, but I never did. The wi-fi wasn't very reliable where I was staying, but the ice cream shop down the block had great signal so when I needed to, I would go there, get some food and catch up with everyone.
Streetwise Buenos Aires Map Thanks to my friend Pat and my aunt Melissa for the recommendations on this. Foldable and laminated - this was a great map, except that it didn't go quite as far out as I needed it to for some of the places we went. That's why I also loved the Offline Buenos Aires Maps for Android.
Samsung GAlaxy Tab 2 Tablet 7" - This thing was a gem. I turned my old LG Ally Android phone into a PDA relying on wifi for everything. The problem was that the antenna was so small, and battery so weak, unless the signal was very strong, I couldn't rely on it for Skype video. The Samsung Tab on the other hand, did a great job getting and staying connected to even the weakest signal.
Copy of Passport in my wallet - I only needed it once, but I did need it. And I felt much more secure not carrying the original with me.
Which brings me to Make-up Remover Pads - I was doing everything I could to avoid carrying liquids, so I didn't want to take a bottle of makeup remover (and I have to use makeup remover to get the waterproof makeup off at night.) The Almay Moisturizing Makeup Remover Pads are the only things that remove my makeup, but the canister they come in seemed too big for just 9 days worth of pads. So I took 10 or so pads and stuffed them in a little sample tub. By the way, these are also great for getting oil-based stains out of clothes.
Delta Sky Lounge Day Passes - When you have almost 5 hours to kill at the Atlanta airport, it's worth the $50 bucks to check in to a Delta Skylounge. There's snack food (Nutella, hummus, fresh vegetables, etc.) plus free wine, beer and wifi. It sounds decadent, but being able to charge your electronics, catch up on email/Skype etc., and have some wine, olives and hummus made what would have been an unpleasant and long chunk of time much nicer. We were also grateful that we had the presence of mind to put a few packets of nutella and hummus in our pockets (hey, don't judge) as there were some mornings we were living on those.
There you have it. I'll probably think of more but for now, that's the list. Thank you to everyone who gave me recommendations before the trip and keep giving me great recommendations now. I look forward to more travels in the future, and I've learned so much from all of you!