Wednesday, 26 March 2008

How to Pack for a Long-Term Trip Part 1: How Much Crap Do I Really Need?

I've had to pack for 3 long-term trips now, and it's daunting and hard.

Not this hard, but pretty tough

They are the kind of trip to fall somewhere between "I'm going there for a few months" to "I'm going there and maybe staying", and everything that falls in between. You can't bring your whole wardrobe (i.e. you're not using movers), but you also can't survive on 5 black separates either.

If this is useful stuff to you, then congrats on your big trip! Maybe you are studying, maybe you landed a new gig. Maybe you're not sure and going anyway. Well done on having some cajones cos you'll need them. But, you won't be needing that 3rd pair of black shoes (just sayin..)

Packing list: Pants-Yes, Cowboy boots-NO

This first post will be about how to edit your random crap into some kind of sharply-honed fashion miracle. Why? Because when you're away from home, terrible, cataclysmic things can happen. I'm not being dramatic. When traveling, you should just expect it (yes, wonderful, delirious things happen too, but let's not harp on about it).

So when that thing happens, and you're ready to kill yourself or someone else, you can at least look in the mirror and be reminded you too used to be sane once.

The second post will be how to pack it all. Not just for the trip, but for the week you'll probably spend re-packing, finding stuff when packed and un-packing on the other end too.
Be a happy monkey: Pack wisely

Be warned, it gets quite anal. But then, attempting a big move requires a kind of military precision in the details in order not to go completely monkey-nuts crazy (for me, anyway).


When at home, our wardrobe is like a government department. Entities can languish inside for years and never have any use.

However, taking the show on the road immediately demands a justification for everything that's taken. Suddenly everyone has to pull their weight or even do double duty. So, who makes the pick?
Most obvious question is: Where are you going?

A little research will let you know what's going to be appropriate culture-and-weather-wise. After that, it gets a little murky, which is where some self awareness helps. Use the following handy spectrums to scientifically ascertain your packing persona.

My fashionista status is DoA................................................Vogue is on hold

If you're happy to go ahead with a random sampling of all your beige clothes, then you're probably not reading this anyway.

To my fashionistas: My advice is to tone down the variety of your clothes and dial up the tone of your accessories. Belts, scarves, jewellery all can pack a sartorial punch and take up less space. Shoes are always going to be a big space-hogger but they also make a lot of difference, so bring something fancy if you must, but make sure you use it! Same goes for bags.

Another point to note–if you're also contending with seasons or weather very different from your own, don't bother too much about getting stuff beforehand (I'm thinking of Americans buying sarongs and flip flops from Macy's or Southeast Asians getting winter gear). Your local shops probably a)aren't going to be up to snuff in range and b)the bargains will be better in the new place. Bringing bare essentials will suffice.

My moolah is stronger than Moses................................I'm drafting up a ramen budget

Those looking to travel light always back it up with, "If I really need it, I can get it there". That's true, but travel is an expensive business mostly and how much shopping you can do there depends not just on your available funds, but also a lot on the strength of your currency.

If going to Cambodia, for example, a Gap t-shirt at the Russian Markets runs about USD$1-4. At those prices, you can go with just the clothes on your back! Meanwhile, those same t-shirts are $16-20 in the 'real' Gap in the States (bitches). So feel relaxed if your dollar is strong, but if not, keep in mind the different situations you'll need to be prepared for.

I'm going to America (bringing a sink).............I'm e-baying Mary Poppin's bag right now

Depending where you go, and what kind of airline you go on, luggage allowance differs so get clear on it early. Trips to America allow 50kg in 2 bags whilst budget intra-Asia flights allow only 15kg. If traveling budget, I would plan on springing for the extra luggage space. Even going to the States on the largest allowance known to woman was not easy and involved many borrowings once I got there.

Start off with the right luggage and work from there. If you are lucky enough to be buying luggage, look for sturdy but store-able. My Victorinox (something like this)fit 25 kg easily and packed down flat(ishly) to fit under the bed when I got to the States. Which left me feeling very smug. Which is about all that we're really after, isn't it?


Once you have pretty much covered your bed and surrounds with stuff you think you'll take, you can call it your first cut. Now it's time to examine your collection more carefully for:
  1. Quality
  2. Fit
  3. Usefulness that order.

1) Quality
Nix anything that doesn't look as though it can take a rough washing machine (you'll want to keep the hand-washing down to a minimum)

Nix anything that isn't in good condition, or get it fixed. Buttons, hems, seams all fall apart like a mofo once they leave your area code.

2) Fit
Generally everything should be just so, but especially jeans, bras and shoes all need to be doubly examined for fit and quality. They are often not easy to get right, so finding replacements won't be easy either. Consider carefully! If something pinches or is not quite right at home, you always have options. But on the road, you'll be stuck with it until you get round to finding a replacement who knows when.

Someone I know, I'm not saying who, went to the US and packed on the pounds, promptly ruling out half her pants in 2 months. Something you may want to keep in mind when considering your 3rd pair of skinny jeans!

3) Usefulness
Hold on, it's still not ready to go into the bag yet.

Ask yourself:
Can I use this in at least 3 different ways?
Will I really be going to that many cocktail parties/yoga classes/wilderness hikes/[insert sartorial situation here], to justify taking this?

Once an item has jumped all those hurdles, then it can go in. Congratulate it, cos it's fit for travel!

Next post: Getting it into the bag

Earth Hour 2008

Am full of work at the moment and working on a biggish post. In the meantime..

Have some fun in the dark for a good cause.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Udon Thani

I was recently lucky enough to tag along when my mum was invited to share Ayurveda at a couple forest monasteries in Northeast Thailand. They're not really places you can just rock up, as everyone needs the permission of the abbot to enter, so the opportunity was rare. Thanks to the awesome Miss H's Christmas gift, I was nearly half-bottle full of information on the Theravada, or forest monks' way of life when I got there.

I was ready for the one-meal-a-day quota, I was ready to sleep on the floor and I was ready to go to bed with the sun. I was not ready, however, for the cold. Mum's warning that it's "a bit chilly" there turned out to be completely false. It was bloody freezing! Enlightenment apparently requires warm pajamas. As I was sleeping next to a hole in the floorboards, I proceeded to catch the mother of all colds. I would meet one of the spiritual advisers to the Thai King with a snot rag in hand. Great.

Sinus issues aside, the talks went well, the monks got their livers cleansed and I woke up before 7 (it's an occasion so rare and selfless, that I feel some kind of commemorative statue to be in order--something in gold leaf perhaps).

"Stoking the home fires" is not really an expression so much as a daily job

Most everything else was different and an adjustment as well, but in quite a good way. Rising with the sun also means sleeping with it too (10 hours sleep. woo!), as only the kitchen has electricity (for lights mostly, not stoves :p) Everyone has their own kuti--a kind of self-contained hut, and eats together at breakfast with the monks.

It's probably as close as I'll get to living on a commune. They don't farm, but they do have extensive gardens and prepare the food together. With thick forest and pristine air, I can see why so many Bankok-ians(?) were in residence. In comparison, Bangkok with its choking traffic and already a chore to live in, takes on a pretty bad light.

With the impossibly nice Thai people, the abundant random cute squirrels/butterflies/birds, the awesome food (the one meal is a 20-30 dish affair) and of course being in the presence of wisdom, I could definitely do an annual stint there. Ideas!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Things we find lovely

Having had to fight for every last scrap of internets that we could muster these last few weeks on the road, I have come to love very deeply, whoever it is that I'm stealing connection from now. Bless their little unprotected souls. I may offer them my firstborn, or quite a nice cow.

Such has been the paucity (there's a $5 word) of time and internets in the last few jam-packed weeks (more about that later) that we have not had the opportunity to wax lyrical about our second time seeing India. She is very beautiful still, and says hello.

Although I did get food poisoning there, although the hotels are seriously, seriously over-priced and although I could do without the eau do cow dung, it is still a really exciting/exasperating/exotic place. Why don't you see for yourself.