So how did dragging too much camera equipment and too little clothes work for my recent trip to Thailand? Here’s the scoop:
Too much camera gear: thankfully, you really can’t have too much camera gear! I don’t change lenses nearly often enough and tend to walk around for a while with one and then change it for more walking, but, having more reach, both wide and long, makes for great fun and better pictures. I am not sure I actually got better pictures, but it least I felt like I could. I regularly used the ridiculous external flash, although I didn’t get a chance to use it wirelessly on such a short and fast-paced trip. Taking pictures with a flash is (for me) much more work than just snapping the photo and it slowed me down quite a bit and annoyed people around me some too, but it enabled many pictures that would have failed and if I get better with it, I’ll be able to do some amazing things without torturing those around me! The flash will go on the next trip!
What didn’t work about all that camera gear is my new bag. It’s a great bag, but it just isn’t comfortable to carry around all day, every day, everywhere. You weren’t thinking you could actually leave that expensive camera gear in your cheap hotel were you? Budget travel means carrying things with you 100% of the time. Passports, extra cash, and anything rather expensive really needs to stay attached to you if you expect to have it for the whole trip. The new bag is convenient and safe, but it could only carry camera stuff. No extra room for a guide book and none for water or food, but I needed somewhere to put those things, lest I die of thirst, lost in back streets of Bangkok. It also hurt my shoulder after 12 hours. Waaah! The bag stays home. Back to the store for something else.
Verdict: camera gear OK; but get a more convenient bag with room for other stuff too; even if you have to give up some rapid access to that zoom lens.
Too little clothes: actually, I wondered if I could pare down further. I don’t think that will be necessary, but I definitely didn’t want for an extra shirt or pair of pants. I bought a silly shirt to wear, just for fun and it was four dollars. If I needed clothes, I would have gladly bought some more. Toiletries and medications were also readily available. This won’t be true everywhere you travel, but it’s true in most places I’ve been. You can almost always bring less than you did and get what you need, when you need it, in country. I used stuff sacks to keep stuff sorted and this is a well worth it idea–it even helps you to keep inventory of those things you’ll need to buy when you’re there. A big stuff sack was an awesome addition when I needed to store the few things we weren’t taking on a trek with the hotel. You should get one of these if you don’t have one.
There is one more change though. I may not need a very big bag for the tiny amount of things I bring on a trip but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a bigger bag that one can pack loosely. I carry my extra shoes (or sandals) clipped to the backpack with a carabiner. This is annoying at best, but became an actual problem when the shoes didn’t fit in a bus overhead so, I unclipped them, and then left them on the bus.
I went on an all day hike the next day, in sandals, which actually worked out just fine and then bought a pair of beat-up used shoes for a three-day trek, which also worked out fine, but simply having enough room to throw the shoes in the bag like my traveling partner did would have eliminated this hassle. So, go ahead and get a bigger bag; just make sure it’s a long, narrow one that will likely fit in small bus compartments and that you can compress a lot. Above all, don’t be tempted to fill it, you need the room during your trip.
On the other hand… you might not even need the shoes at all if your feet get tough enough and you have sturdy sandals. You’ll almost never see your local guides leading you in much more than flip-flops. As I said before, save the hiking boots for the trip to Annapurna base-camp. (Actually, you’ll likely have sherpas in old running shoes, maybe you don’t need them there either).
Meanwhile, if anyones going to Thailand in the next couple of days, my shoes might still be shuttling back and forth from Surat Thani to Phuket island on an A/C express bus. If your pack has room, maybe you could bring ‘em back for me?
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I’m packing for another trip. It’s not like it takes long to do; I almost never carry much more than a small book-bag for personal travel abroad. People who are amazed by how little I bring usually haven’t traveled very much yet. Everything you’ve read in those guide books is true: lay out everything you intend to bring with you and then get rid of half of it!
So, for these two weeks in Thailand, here’s a look into my backpack:
- I’ll be wearing a pair of light trail-running shoes, some socks, a pair of quick-drying pants, a plain quick-drying shirt, and a light, long-sleeved button down shirt over that. The rest is in the pack.
- three pairs of socks
- three pairs of underwear
- one more pair of pants
- one more plain t-shirt
- toothbrush, floss, battery operated razor, some extra toilet paper, a few small bottles of soap and shampoo; my Dr. Bronner’s use it for everything soap is in too large of a container to take on the plane!
- foam ear plugs
- a few ibuprofen, immodium, and other simple medications
- a camp towel, it’s a tiny absorbant thing that doesn’t work very well, but I keep taking it
- a pair of sandals that are actually too heavy, but at least are tough enough to hike all day in
- a light, thin, shell (unlined jacket) for rain
- a thin fleece
- swim trunks. I never need these, but they pack small, and if you’re European and think you can make a speedo work, hey, that’ll pack even smaller. Above all, they’re something to wear while everything else is being washed.
- a drawstring bag that I can use to throw stuff in and take my backpack with me for day trips. It can also double as a souvenir bag. The only reason I bring this, though, is because I already have too many cheap bags that are super easy to get in many places.
- guide book. If there’s loads of extra room, I might even bring another book for the long train rides. I shouldn’t though.
I’ll also be bringing way too much camera stuff. This goes against everything I am going to write here, but it’s an experiment for this trip, to see if there really is much reason to bring the extra stuff…after all, I’m carrying so little otherwise I can make the exception. (trap! that’s how it starts!)
- a separate, way too large, camera bag with SLR camera, extra lens, flash (am I crazy?), memory extra batteries and chargers.
It rains in tropical Thailand and it might end up being cold in the north during our trekking. I can’t claim that my trail runners and shell are going to be enough for this travel, but they ought to be work…a little discomfort will make for a better story later. It’s a compromise, after all, do you really want to wear (or worse, carry) heavy boots for two weeks in the tropics, so that you’ll be better off during three days of hiking?
The problem is that there are so many reasons to bring that extra shirt, or that extra electronic gadget. But carrying a big back-pack can also be a barrier to actually seeing a place. Bored with the few clothes you brought? Buy new ones! They’re often cheap and make fun souvenirs. What about clothes for going out? I don’t bother much; I am tired from all the sight-seeing, but if I do, I just wear the darker of the two plain t-shirts. It’s hardly high-fashion, but it passes as hip in many places. I am going to wedding on this trip, so I’ll be wearing the button-up over shirt for that. If I were a part of the wedding, this would obviously not be enough, but how much can people really expect of someone who’s traveled so far in the first place?
Hair dryers and gel? How nice do I need to look while sweating in the tropics? Just two shirts; just four pairs of underwear and socks? They actually have sinks in most hotels. That’s why I sprung for the quick-drying stuff! In many countries having someone launder your clothes (often by bashing them with rocks and then laying them out on the grass to dry) is quite affordable and they come back with the life pressed out of them. (Looking to experience razor creases on your underwear? Launder them in India.) iPods? How are you going to hear the sounds of this crazy new place with headphones on? And when you really need to block out sound, those little foam earplugs sure are much lighter. By the way, you might want to read that guide book and see if the spaghetti strapped halter top that really does pack so light and is so comfortable will get you anything other than uncomfortable stares from the locals. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you; they’ll know you’re a tourist from a mile away anyway, but why have even more barriers between you and the people you’re trying to meet?
Carrying a backpack that is too large to just fit on your lap means risking losing it on the top of a van, or being terrified it’s going to be taken every time the bus stops. It means taking the first hotel you can get to because you’re sick of sweating and checking out the next one. It means bumping into people at lines in the bus or not being able to board the bus at all because of this crazy thing. It means making yourself into a target for people praying on tourists and it means you have more to keep track of everywhere you go and every time you pack for another hotel.
One reason you’ve spent so much money and flown so far is to see something new and have new experiences. Looking your best while worrying about your gear and being unable to hear someone you bumped into because of your iPod headphones isn’t going to make that happen. And by the way, unless you really are traveling to a remote village in a little visited part of the world; guess what, they have clothes, soap, and most everything else you need where your headed, even if it isn’t the brand you’re used to. If only I could heed my own advice and leave most of that camera gear. I’ll let you you know in a later post how stupid that experiment was.
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I got something very special from my friends and family this year for the holidays. I gave them the same thing, so I wasn’t surprised. You see, Santa didn’t bring me anything at all. Nothing. (Well, I did get a jar of homemade mustard–thanks!) I didn’t buy, or even make a single thing for anyone either. Scrooge you say? Bah humbug? Perhaps. But what we exchanged this year was freedom; and I loved my gift! While most folks in the U.S. and elsewhere were running around wrinkling their brows thinking of the perfect give and fighting crowds or cyberspace to buy it, I was carefree and enjoying the cool winter nights around the fireplace.
There’s nothing wrong with trading gifts this time of year or for any reason at all, but the obligation that accompanies gift exchange, especially around the holidays contributes to so many people’s stress! It’s not like it would be fair for me to expect some gifts I’d really like for myself. If anyone really still wants to get me a new camera, this one will do, but I don’t really need, or want more stuff. I don’t want any new clothes, or book store gift certificates. I don’t want more stuff to clutter up my closet, my house, or my car! I am trying to simplify, not complexify.
Everybody likes getting the gift they didn’t even think of, and I am not an exception; I am not opposed to gifts as a rule, but really how many of the things we received this time of year fell into that category? (Hopefully a few!) Even with those wonderful surprises, the stories I heard were of charming things that people we’re happy to receive, partly, because of the fun of receiving gifts, of giving them, and above all the thought behind them. I’d be happy if people knew the deep breath of freedom that comes from skipping the game completely.
I hereby release you, dear friend, family member, acquaintance, of feeling obligated to get me anything at all. Next time you’re out some where and see that special thing that I didn’t even know I wanted, I hope you’ll remember we gave each other a pass this holiday. It’ll mean so much to me that you thought about me, even when there was actually no reason to do so, nothing to celebrate except our friendship. I can’t wait to do the same for you. If nothing comes along, I’m not likely to notice; it’s not like there was some holiday reminding me that you better think of me. As for Christmashanakwanza…let’s just give each other freedom.
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