A Travellerspoint blog

Packing for the Ultimate Adventure

We weren't kidding about 'travelling light'...

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With an ambitious plan to cover more than twenty countries in six months, we decided we'd 'backpack' rather than suitcase for the duration. Lloyd did the primary research and - about twenty trips to REI later - we ended up with a 90 litre backpack for Lloyd and a 70 litre girlie version for me. Actually, Lloyd was trying to persuade me to go for those backpacks that also have wheels on them - a tempting option that - in retrospect - would have suited us just fine for much of our trip. The only trade off is the additional weight associated with the integrated wheels.

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Day 1. Wishing I'd done some weight training in preparation....

Of course, we were determined to set off with the bare minimum we could. But how to pack for everything from safari in Africa to hiking to Everest Base Camp to scuba-diving in Papua New Guinea? We left Heathrow with Lloyd carrying about 26 kilograms (about 57 pounds) and me about 17 kilograms (about 37 pounds), and quickly realized it was too much for prolonged carriage! We also knew that we had to get down to 15 kilograms each for our safari flights in Kenya, and leaving additional kit in storage in Nairobi didn't seem to be the wise choice. Happily for us (but not so for Emma and D'ell), we were able to offload about 14 pounds of 'stuff' in Greece to be transported back to the UK where it would gather dust for six months.

This turned out to be the first of several 'dumps' of kit. As we travelled, we sent packages from Hong Kong, Jaisalmer (India), Saigon and Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) with stuff we'd either bought or didn't need anymore. The expense of sending mail plus the added uncertainty that it would ever arrive proved to be quite a discpline in terms of buying 'stuff' on the way! Far more reliable, of course, are people, and we asked the friends and family we met with along the way to help us by carrying home back-ups of our photos and more expensive electronics items.

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Sending a package from Jaisalmer, India. The 'customs' form was nothing more than a scrap of a paper stapled to the cloth-bound box. We were 100% certain we'd never see the box again .... but it arrived safely in London within two weeks!

I'll post a complete list of what each of us carried and where and why it was jettisoned separately. But, first, a few tips in case you are planning your own trip.....

1) It really is true. Pack what you think you'll need and them lose half of it. Shoes can consume a lot of space, so find two pairs that can cover any eventuality: we each had a pair of good quality sandals that we used day-to-day for most activities and a slightly heavier pair of hiking shoes that we used for everything else (and indeed were essential for hiking in North Vietnam and getting to Everest Base Camp etc). Maybe it's obvious, but we wore the heavier shoes on the days we were flying to lighten the load.

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Our worldy possessions for six months....

2) If you're going to live with the same clothes for six months, make sure you love them! I bought my blue shirt at REI thinking that a splash of colour amidst all the khaki and beige would be welcome. And I spent the next six months wishing I'd bought something more neutral. Similarly, Lloyd and I both settled into a pattern of 'favourite' shorts and 'preferred' tops, sending back multiple items almost completely unworn. We did roadtest the key items with a few outings in the Bay Area prior to departure, but figure out your favs earlier, and you'll be a step ahead of where we were.

3) With so few clothing items, you're going to end up doing laundry very frequently - in our case every three days at least... more frequently if I was in a good hotel! With this frequency, you can carry less underwear than you think you'll need..... we each started with enough for five days and ended up with enough for three. That's plenty, but make sure you have the fast-drying stuff that will easily dry overnight in just about any environment (the only place stuff didn't dry out was the Vietnamese highlands during our hill-tribe trek).

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Laundry ... again! Don't forget your own hanging line!

4) In fact, make sure that ALL your clothes are made of the new technical materials that are breathable and dry super fast. It's worth the investment.

5) Don't worry too much about one-off requirements that crop up along the way. In most places, clothing is so inexpensive that you could literally buy-it for a single use if you needed to. For example, we purchased some heavier jackets in Lhasa as we prepared to head up to Everest Base Camp (and actually sent them home after), and we bought a few 'smarter' items tops to pair with our 'uniform' shorts in Bangkok before we turned up at the Four Seasons Tented Camp.

6) If you are meeting friends and family along the way, plan in advance to have them replenish supplies. For example, we asked friends and family to carry a 'comfort box' that we'd given them prior to our own departure. Ours included essentials such as malarone pills and sudafed, but mostly non-essentials designed to ease the journey: artificial sweetener for Lloyd's coffee, twinings english breakfast teabags for me, sachets of lemonade, mini tabascos and HP sauces, travel sized versions of our favourite toothpaste and hand-wash, and mini cans of bug spray. You get the idea. One thing I really wished I'd put in was dental floss.... we ran out and really had to go hunting for it in Hoi An, Vietnam!

7) Don't even leave the house without duct tape.

8) With just about every element of our trip planned online, we were surprised that we still ended up with about twenty paper airline tickets that we had no option but to carry with us. We fully expected that our travel folio (with these documents and others, like our travel insurance policy) would be lost or stolen at least once. So, we had scanned versions on our laptop as a primary back-up but, in case that got stolen too, left paper and scanned copies with the family member most likely to be accessible in an emergency.

9) Don't forget biros, post cards, small gifts. Shame on us. We didn't have any biros for the kids in Kenya or Cambodia. Ug.

10) Finally, a shameless plug for Pack-It cubes. I'm SO glad we discovered them before we left and I'm now a lifelong addict. Basically, the cubes are sturdy zip pouches that organize your luggage. Whenever we arrived at a destination, I just pulled all the pack-it cubes out and - voila! - we were unpacked.

If the weight distribution between Lloyd and I seems a little on the unfair side, consider this: I started the trip carrying around about 32% of my bodyweight, while Lloyd was 'only' carrying 28%!! In terms of what we carried, we each carried our own clothes (which worked well because my smaller clothes fit well into my smaller backpack!). Lloyd carried the extra weight and bulk associated with the laptop and other electronics, while I responsible for safe carriage of the sizeable medical kit, our very modest toiletry bag and other travel odds and ends (travel towels, sink plug, door stopper, washing line etc).

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Since Lloyd insisted on just about every technical gadget on the planet, it was only fair he should carry it!

I'll try and extract Lloyd from work long enough to get him to write an entry about the technical stuff. We see discussions all the time about whether or not to bring a laptop. There's no way we could have put our blog together if we hadn't had it. We absolutely expected to lose or break it somewhere during the trip and insured it accordingly. But here I am, three months post-trip, tapping away on the same old keyboard! The only technical mishaps we had were (i) losing one of our little point-and-shoot cameras in Greece and (ii) Lloyd's iPod meeting with it's final song at Everest Base Camp - apparently the altitude was too much for it. Hell, it was too much for Lloyd so I guess that's fair enough.

If you're hitting the road soon and have questions regarding packing, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Posted by jacquiedro 05.04.2008 17:51 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Must Do's On Your World Trip!

According to Jacquie.... Lloyd's 'Improvements' to Follow....

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Post trip, the most common question is inevitably: "what was your favourite place?" And while there is no short answer, the following is today's attempt at my personal Favourite Experiences during the trip. Lloyd will post separately on how his list would differ (I know, for example, that he certainly wouldn't agree with my Top Pick!), but this - and the forthcoming additional 'list' type entries - will also give us the excuse to post some more photos that haven't previously featured on the site. Enjoy!

10 - Qingzang Railway (Beijing to Lhasa)

No doubt, the novelty factor (with parts of the track having been opened for less than a year at our time of travel) is part of the reason that a 48 hour train journey makes the list! Compared to the Trans Siberian, the journey to Lhasa was extraordinarily comfortable - with brand new carriages, well designed common areas and edible food! So we were able to experience the world's highest railway track (up to 5300 metres!) in considerable comfort. The scenery, though, was the most memorable element of the journey. Read more here.

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On the left, staff being checked for adverse effects of altitude in the restaurant car - at least two passengers have died while travelling on the train; and on the right, stations may have been unmanned, but they certainly weren't unobserved: we counted at least four cameras on this mast seemingly in the middle of nowhere!

9 - Leaping off a Bridge in New Zealand

Proof - if it were ever needed - that travel liberates the mind. This is something I said I'd never do, and - looking back - I still can't quite believe I did it. If you're physically up to it (and be cautious of the sales folk who will try and sell you on it even if you roll in on a wheelchair), I'd recommend it. Stupid though it may sound, I feel bolder as a result. Read more here.

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Waiting on Karawau Bridge for the big moment. The second photo shows my focus on getting the job done (either that, or sheer terror judging by the hand grip!).

8 - Cambodia

I was utterly fascinated by Cambodia and it would feature very highly on my list of places to return to. Angkor Wat is, of course, impressive to visit, but far more appealing is the opportunity to see a country still relatively undeveloped. Cambodia's people are easily the most welcoming we came across, and with a simply fascinating - if appalling - recent history, I could have spent as many weeks here as we did days. Read about our visit to one of Cambodia's famous Killing Fields here.

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This young lady is condensing palm milk to make palm candy, which is a lot like scottish tablet (a very sugary treat).

7 - Motorbiking around Hanoi

Where else in the world would you get on the back of some random motorbike - without a helmet - and allow yourself to be thrust through crazy streets simply thronging with thousands of pedestrians and other bike riders seemingly each with a death wish? Of course, it's totally the right thing that as of December 2007 (i.e. after our visit), motorcyclists are now required by law to wear helmets, but I have to confess that the whole experience might be somewhat less exhilerating as a result.... Read more about our motorbike tour around Hanoi here.

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6 - Mongolian horses

It wasn't planned this way, although perhaps it was inevitable, but the common theme in Mongolia definitely turned out to be horses! I loved our overnight homestay in a ger despite our comical 'guides' and the ride through Teralj National Park is something I'll never forget. A few days earlier we chanced upon a spectacular display of horsemanship at a recreation of a Gengis Khan battle involving 500 horses! Read more about our ger stay here, and more about the Gengis Khan re-enactment here.

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During our horse trek, we left our guide (in the left hand picutre) for an hour while we climbed up to a local monastery. When we returned, we couldn't stir him from this pose... I guess taking us out for an afternoon trek was a welcome break from the more arduous tasks waiting for him back at camp! On the right, the most incredible spectacle I've ever seen involving hundreds of horses!

5 - Varanasi pilgrimage

Older than even Delhi, Varanasi is nothing less than an assault on all the senses and is an absolute must-see on any Indian itinerary in my view. We were blessed to be taken in by an Indian family that had travelled from southern India for days to undertake their pilgrimage to the great Ganga, turning our experience into something that was far more spiritual and touching than either of us was expecting. Read more here.

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OK, so you've seen this picture before, but we felt intrusive taking pictures of what was a very personal experience for these ladies, so we didn't take too many!

4 - Cycling Yanghsuo China

The spectacular karst scenery of Guilin, perfectly framed by the Li River, was a destination that did not disappoint. In contrast to our urban Chinese experiences, we found the farming communities to be far more interesting and friendly, and we loved cycling through tiny villages on our way to the famous Moon Hill. Read more here.

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Another reason easily makes the Fav list.... my good buddy Martin came along too!

3 - On Safari in Kenya's Masai Mara

We did this way back in July and it easily turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences ever. While the timing was great (we were there right at the start of the Great Migration), we kind of wished we'd saved it for the end as it was a long time into the trip before anything came close to impacting us the same way. Read more about our safari - including our close encounter with mating lions! here.

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2 - Bathing the Elephants at Chiang Rai in Thailand

Easily the most expensive thing we did on the trip, we'd nonetheless recommend the Four Seasons Tented Camp as a once-in-a-lifetime decadence. The organized elephant interactions were less contrived than we were expecting, but it was the early morning bathing sessions that offered a far more intimate experience that we will never forget. Read more here.

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We were as glad of the shower as the elephants after bathing in poo-infested waters!

1 - Heli-Hike on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

Perhaps one of the more normal things we did on our trip, so I'm surprising myself a little putting it right up top. This was my first experience anywhere near a glacier, nevermind on one, and I was absolutely stunned by the scale, power and beauty of this ancient beast. Read more about how we almost didn't make it onto the glacier at all here.

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Posted by jacquiedro 05.02.2008 17:19 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Adjusting to 'Real' Life: An Update

Reality Bites

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Six months on the road seemed like a blessed eternity. With so many new experiences each and every day, I have to say that the six months actually felt like a really long time. We extracted as many hours as we could out of every day, and seized every opportunity. In short, I think we squeezed in a lifetime of travel in a compressed period of time.

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Our change of address card highlighted just a few of the many places we'd been...

Back in California, our first month has just flown by, with the whole of January feeling like about three days on the "trip" clock. And, of course, it can't be a surprise that it's felt a whole lot less fulfilling than any of our last six months when we averaged 10,000 miles and four countries a month, each with innumerable unforgettable experiences. Half of me is left thinking that six months wasn't long enough. But the other half warns that the adjustment would be correspondingly more difficult if we had stayed out longer.

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Who's this guy? Lloyd tells me that shoes are kind of hard to get used to again...

It might be marginally easier for Lloyd who has thrown himself back into work 110%. For me (and Lloyd kindly labels me an 'uber'-type-A), I'm doing my best to feel fulfilled by a combination of home-building, job search and CFA study, but world travel is a pretty compelling option when it's up against the best job in the world, never mind unemployment. I'm chomping at the bit to get back into the corporate world, and the 'adjustment' phase will likely endure until I'm settled in my new role. Watch this space....

Talking of home-building, we spend the first few weeks back looking at furnished homes for short-term let in the Bay Area. Ironically, we came closest to renting from a couple heading out for their own six month adventure (!), but our final walk through exposed the couple as massively uptight, with an almost obsessive compulsive disorder with regards to their home, despite the pet bird that was allowed to fly freely around the place. I guess there are cat people, and bird people. We don't understand the latter.

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New apartment: moving in.

Since the bird people put us off renting furnished entirely, we quickly found an unfurnished apartment to rent in San Jose. Bearing in mind that we sold every stick of furniture with our house last May, we moved into a very sparse apartment on the 19th of January, and headed to the nearest IKEA to furnish the place. And so it is that we find ourselves living in what could easily pass as an IKEA showroom. I guess we could blame my new sister-in-law for the Swedish influence!

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Anyway, look for some Trip Statistics, and Top Ten Lists in the coming days. It's a great excuse for us to relive our very happy memories.

Posted by jacquiedro 03.02.2008 16:18 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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