Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Things I Carry

I was packing up the other day when I realized how little of the stuff in my suitcase now were things I started out with.  So I thought I’d go through my bag as I packed things up, and talk about some of the cool things I’ve bought or replaced, and what is standing the test of time.
Beginning with the bags, my original eBags bag that I started out with began to rip on the top handle somewhere in Peru, I think. I ended going to their website and doing a webchat with someone at eBags about it, since they have a 100% warranty on their bags.  Amazingly, the guy I spoke with immediately said sure, no problem, what color do you want and should I ship it to the same address? I said we were traveling but we’d be back in the States at Christmas, could he ship it to this address in San Diego and maybe in purple this time? He said sure thing, it’ll be there in 5-7 days. (I wouldn’t be there for another month, but the bag was there waiting for me!)  I am completely bowled over by their excellent customer service. I asked them if they wanted me to ship the other bag back to them, since it was damaged and they were replacing it, but they said no, just donate it.
I will say, however, that there were a couple of issues with my bag when I got the new one, and they’re attributable to the same issue the other bag had—something that happened in production. The bag has inner straps that help the bag keep its structure and tighten all the contents together, but in this new bag the straps don’t line up in one half of the bag. Not even close. The straps are supposed to fit through a sort of buckle to help with the structure, and on that one side the buckle and the strap are about two inches apart—far enough that the bag gets wonky if you cinch it down with them clipped as they should be.  It looks like the strap is just pulled to the right in this picture, but it really isn’t.
But my bag basically can tighten the contents down to the bottom of the bag, but not pull the sides in on one half.  I am not in a position to get a replacement bag, and I noticed when I was packing to leave the U.S., so it seemed a moot point to complain or try to get a replacement. The bag is functional, and it’s only one of the two straps that is misaligned, but it still works.
I also had a combination lock on my bag, but somehow lost it somewhere along the line in New Zealand, I think.  I ended up buying a two pack of locks at the market in Chinatown in Sydney to lock all three of my compartments on my bag.  As a side note, locking the two halves of one zipper together does not prevent someone from opening your luggage completely with a Bic pen, and then returning it an apparently unaltered appearance by running the locked zipper halves all the way open and closed again.  Locking the two halves to a third thing that prevents any motion will at least prevent someone from hiding that they’ve opened your bag, which probably means they’ll just move to lower hanging fruit.  Also, for the non-paranoid (I’m looking at you, David) it means you can lock two different zippers with one lock, which is cheaper.
Shoes-wise I’m about 50/50. I still have my Keens and running shoes from my original packing list, but I broke a pair of flip-flops in Bali and replaced them with the strappy Crocs sandals on the center left. This is my third pair of Toms, and I love them to death. They go with almost everything so I end up wearing them out. The last pair could have lasted a bit longer, but after a bird pooped on them and I stepped in gum (and a new pair arrived in a care package from home) I let them go to the great shoe rack in the sky.
I tend to go through sunglasses with some frequency, so I never spend very much on a pair. This is my latest set that I bought at the Temple Street night market in Hong Kong. I’m not very good at bargaining but I had fun with it.  I’m under no illusion that they’re actual Ray Bans, but they’re quite sturdy. The hat is still going strong, and I really love it. It’s been soaked and baked and I’ve worn it in the pool and in the ocean. It rolls up nicely and I can stuff it in a side pocket of my daypack or my cross-body bag.
Speaking of which, this is one of those things that I find essential. I had a cheap one from Target for our South America leg, but after getting a little too much dirt and gelato on it, I retired it and bought a moop bag as a Christmas present to myself. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s very sturdy (it’s machine washable Cordura). I use this bag almost everywhere, except for when we’re actually traveling. Then it gets flattened into my big pack and all the vital stuff goes in my daypack. Otherwise, once we get to a new destination it’s the first thing I pull out and load up. It’s not huge, but I can fit a ton of stuff in it, including our laptop if I want, a scarf, my hat, tablet. It’s got great compartments for a pen, a phone, and even has a leash for keys.  There’s a back pocket on the outside that you can put things that you pull out 100 times, like the map. The buckles are complicated enough that it would be pretty obvious if someone were trying to get in it, but for added security when we’re in a crowd, I can turn it the other way with the flap toward my body. The strap can be shortened to carry it on one arm or lengthened to wear cross-body, which is the way I mostly wear it.  This is a really good thing for anyone to have while traveling (David has a similar sort of canvas bag for when he doesn’t carry his entire camera kit). I think backpacks make you more of a target than a purse, but it’s still functional. I’m a fan of the messenger style bag for this purpose, but any type of purse or man-purse will work.
Some of the things I always chuck in my purse when it comes out of my suitcase are things we’ve bought along the way, too.
I keep things like mints, an Epipen (I have a bee sting allergy), Chapstick, Advil, Sudafed, Splenda, and a lipstick in this bag. I had a similar one I bought from a woman in the Witches’ Market in La Paz, Bolivia, but it finally burst in Siem Reap, Cambodia so I bought this one. That is Khmer script from a newspaper (looks like horoscope?) that was coated in plastic and made into bags. The money for the bags went to charity, so it was $3.50 well spent.  This one is a little bigger than the last one, but it seems to be easier to find (and pull out) in my purse with the slick sides, so it’s all good.

If you plan on doing any traveling in Asia (or anywhere beastly hot) I HIGHLY recommend you buy a fan. I bought this one in a marketplace in Denpasar in Bali, and at the time I felt ripped off by the ladies there(mostly because they followed us around for 20 minutes afterwards trying to get us to go to another shop to buy something else) but it was worth every penny (I think I paid $4-5 for it?). When you’re stuck on airless transportation, walking around where there’s no breeze, or just sitting somewhere, we use these (David bought a smaller one in Saigon) almost every day when it’s hot. It slips into a side pocket of my backpack next to my umbrella when I’ve got my purse away, and I usually jam it down one side of my purse so I can easily pull it out when necessary.
We had an unlocked cell when we left home, but it didn’t work in New Zealand so we bought another inexpensive unlocked one. We honestly haven’t used it much in Asia (we only bought a sim for Thailand last week), but it was helpful in NZ and Australia and I’m sure we’ll use it again in Europe.
I bought this card wallet in Buenos Aires at a streetfair. One of the great things to buy in Argentina is leather goods, since they have all that beef there. I have a larger wallet as well, but I like having a separate case for cards away from any cash and change—it’s light and I can stick it in my pocket if we’re walking somewhere I don’t need my purse for.  I actually carry a credit card and an atm card in it but it looks like it’s empty because the cards are tucked away in the inner pockets. I’m sneaky.  As we mentioned in our post about the night market in Luang Prabang, it works better for us if I carry the cards and David carries the cash in his wallet. 
kitty cat wallet
I also have a change purse that I use for whatever coins we get—sometimes there just aren’t any in a particular currency (Khmer rials, for example), so I can just put the kitty cat away. I had another one before that I brought from home but it died somewhere along the way in South America so I bought this one in Santiago.
I always have a notebook and pen in my purse too. I don’t do a daily journal, but I’m always jotting down other people’s emails or suggestions for places to eat or things to see, as well as addresses of hotels to show to taxi drivers and phone numbers for them should we get really lost.  It comes in handy and it’s very small and light. I stole the pen from our ritzy  place in Sydney. But in my defense it was our most expensive hotel of the whole trip thus far and therefore I paid for it.
I started out the trip with a multi-striped scarf/sarong that I bought on our trip to Belize last year, and I managed to carry it all over the US and Canada, all through South America, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong and Hanoi. And then I left it in a cab on the way to our hotel from the airport at 11pm. It was a very devastating loss as I loved that thing. I wore it as a sarong in the Galapagos and as a scarf in Patagonia. It went with everything. It was the Amazing Technicolor Scarf. I bought a replacement silk scarf in Hoi An, and it’s very pretty and it goes with my coloring, but it’s not the same. I will miss you forever Amazing Technicolor Scarf.20130402_153451_310HS_IMG_6584

My camera case died on the North Island in New Zealand, and I bought this replacement really inexpensively. It fit the criteria of having a place for my extra battery, and having a carabineer on the top so I can hook it to a beltloop or my daypack on a hike for easy access. It’s a little on the dark side in the bottom of my purse, but otherwise fits the bill, and it doesn’t make sense to replace it just because I don’t love how it looks.
Speaking of bags, I picked up this canvas tote bag in Melbourne, which works great for groceries, or for carrying things like towels, etc. down to the beach, but we mostly use it for laundry. You load it up, take it off to the per kilo laundry down the street, and they wash the works (usually the bag, too) and send it back to you in the bag, or sometimes with the bag folded in with the clothes in a plastic bag.  It’s nice because if your clothes are really funky they can stink up the bag they’re in too, so this way everything gets clean, and it’s one less plastic bag that gets thrown away (well, most of the time). It’s actually quite capacious, holding up to 4 kilos of laundry on those days when we’re almost down to the set of clothes on our backs.
This tunic was one of the first things I outright bought, not to replace anything but just because I liked it. I found it in Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay, on our day trip there. I love this thing, although it’s gotten to the point where it’s kinda see through, so I have to wear something under it. But it’s very light and breathable, has a sleeve that falls just below my elbow, and it’s a crazy enough print that I can spill something on it and it won’t be noticeable. At some point I realized it was my go-to choice for travel days, comfy enough to bear up under a 12 hour bus or train or plane journey, but it looks nice enough that I don’t look like I’m wearing pajamas (you know who I’m talking about). I think it was a very loosely woven Indian cotton, which has tightened up over time, but it feels very thin and fragile and I’ve been worried about whether it will survive the entire trip. So much so, that when we got to Hoi An (city of 600 tailors) I had two more made in it’s image:
I love the prints on these two shirts so much; they’re somewhat dark but they really hide a lot of stains and they’re super comfy with a pair of capri tights for travel. I also had another shirt made that ended up being a bit fancier than these two, but I still like it.

I also had that pair of wide-leg capris made in Hoi An, but the quality of the linen they were made out of is not great, and it’s begun to pill and change color in the crotch area. Ah well, they’re still wearable for now, although I may send these two pieces home rather than wear them out on the rest of the trip.
I found this similar shirt on sale at a little boutique in Phnom Penh, and it’s just as comfy as the others, and a cheerful color as well. Although in the heat we’ve been in lately it matches my face more than anything.
I also bought this dress, because it was cute and I didn’t have a sleeveless dress, or one that was below-knee length.
It’s also super comfortable and cool. 20130402_151616_310HS_IMG_6571
I also bought this shirt in Saigon, which is sort of a souvenir Vietnam t-shirt, sort of an ode to Star-Bellied Sneeches. It’s very comfy and I can wear it as pajamas or as a short sleeve shirt as needs must. It matches both skirts I have, too.

These shorts and pants were bought in New Zealand, and they’ve been doing pretty well except the pants, which have chosen now to rip at the seams and all the buttons to fall off. Awesome. There’s nothing like trying to find a pair of pants in Thailand to devastate your self esteem.  The skirt on the right I had made in Hoi An and it’s nice and simple, and goes with just about every shirt I have.
These are the clothes I bought in Asia to replace some things I’m retiring and those pants that are on their last legs. I have a couple of items that I’m shipping home instead of ditching (like the things I had made in Hoi An) because we’re sending a packet with some journals and hard drives anyway. So everything should still fit, despite the new items. I decided for Madagascar long pants and long-sleeve shirts would be a good idea to protect us from mosquitos, and I only had one pair of pants and no long-sleeve shirts.  So now I should be set.
I heard so many times before we left not to bother spending too much on clothes, because you’d just pick stuff up as you go. And that has obviously been true, but it’s also been a struggle to replace certain things, like my pants, and so often finding our sizes is the challenge more than anything.  And if you know you’re going to be using the heck out of things, then buying a $3 dress at the night market doesn’t make much sense. But I love that so many of the items in my pack now are things I picked up along the way, too. It makes the journey thus far a tangible part of my day, and it’s a way of things being useful and souvenirs at the same time. The general rule is something has to go if you add something new in, and I’ve done that to some extent but I may have pushed the envelope a bit on that as well. I’ll pull the girl card.
The clothes below are some of the few pieces that have lasted the entire journey thus far. But I can see some of the shirts and wearing thin, and the sleep boxers are on their way out too. It looks like I’ve replaced a lot of my clothes but you should know that things tend to wear out more quickly when you’re wearing them every six days or so, and someone else is washing them in unknown machines (sometimes I’m convinced they’re beaten against rocks), unknown water temperatures with unknown soaps, and sometimes drying them at unknown drying temperatures (either kiln hot, or line dried).
Here’s an example of what can happen in the laundry:
I won’t show you pictures of my underwear (you’re welcome) but they’re wearing out as well. I had the misfortune to lose two pairs of knickers when we sent our clothes to be washed at our hotel in Aguas Calientes after hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Two out of six pairs is a devastating loss, but I did manage to find some replacements in a mall in the suburbs of La Paz.  I’ll miss this sweater a lot too—it’s nice for when you’re ducking in and out of air-conditioned malls where you sweat in the heat, and then freeze indoors, or with a dress in the evening. But it does free up some space in my luggage, so maybe I can splurge and bring one of these home…