Thursday, July 1, 2010

Minimalism in packing

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Some of you probably watch Rick Stevens on PBS.  He focuses on Europe, so there are limits to the application in Vietnam.  In SE Asia, some items are not easily found.  For example, Neosporin.  It's very easy to find in the USA, but it is like gold in Thailand.  In terms of packing, there are now a number of issues that you have to worry about.  You have to factor in the TSA.   There are restricted items on their list for check in as well as carry on luggage.  Go here for an update.

Essentially, if you are going to pack for SE Asia, it is a matter of timing.  If you are going during the rainy season/monsoon season, then that will dictate what you bring.  Let's be very clear.  Rain in SE Asia is not like rain in Los Angeles or New York.  It is not cold.  When you walk out, it is almost like being in a shower.  It also rains in spurts.  You'll get a torrent of rain, and then sunshine.  Your purpose for the visit will also determine a few things.  I'm going to be using photographic documentation, so my load is going to be heavy.  For most normal people, that isn't going to be a factor.  Your weight will be cut down.  You can go the backpack route, but you are limited by the TSA restrictions.  

What to pack?  You can go to and see their list.  I will not really offer a real list, but a more focused notation about why I bring certain things.  There are a few tricks to reduce the weight of your check in as well.  When I go to Thailand to deal with my NGO, I tend to restrict my stuff to one carry as a backpack and one check in luggage.  When I bring gifts for friends, my load tends to get heavy, but then I can't do that for this trip.  Remember, I'm packing for almost 2 months of time, so my load is going to be a little more.

Key Items and Issues for me
I use Pacsafe items.  For my carry on baggage, I've inserted a portable safe.

I've inserted this into a Eagle Creek Travel backpack, which is also locked by a TSA lock.  When I arrive, the PacSafe allows me to secure my items with my own lock.  Some people I know bring zip ties, as they can easily be cut, but it also will show you if anyone messed with your luggage. 

Getting There:
What do you wear?  Think of it.  If you wear it, you don't have to check it in.
  • Sportcoat--If you are a man, just wear one.  There are pockets and some handy places to stuff stuff.  It also won't get wrinkled in luggage.
  • Dressy clothes--If you wear them, you don't have to pack them.  The set you want to appear in is the set you wear.  It also helps to smooth your way through customs.  You only need one set of long pants and a long sleeve shirt. 
  • Shoes--I bring my Doc Martens.  I don't care about ease of things; they are heavy in luggage.  Essentially, they can be cleaned up for formals, or pass as hiking boots.

  • Neck Pillow--I've never bought into this, but I bought one for this trip since my neck is sort of hurting me.  I will update if it is worth the 20 bucks to Eagle Creek.
  • Snacks--I'm bringing Altoids and some snacks.  American Airlines charges for everything so I'm worried.  If it was JAL or ANA or EVA, probably not.
  • Magazines--Books don't work with me.  They work with other people.  I'm bring a few books, but mainly it is for the research.
  • Meds--You know that TSA little bag--the 1 quart clear plastic thing.  Make it work for you.  Keep personal items like toothpaste and prescription drugs and all that stuff together.  When you go for your bag during the flight for anything, you only have to deal with one item.

Packed Clothing:
  • Shirts--Generally, I bring about 7 to 10.  1 shirt goes into my carry on.  You never know if you will get stuck some place.  You sweat more in SE Asia, so you need more of these things.  Depending upon your destination, you can reduce the amount.
  • Denim Shirt--I usually bring one, as it gives additional protection to the arms from mosquitoes.  Regular long sleeve shirts can also suffice or double.   It doubles as a jacket.  
  • T-Shirts--I bring a few.  You might ask why, but a T-shirt helps to prevent those sweaty underarms images.  Just have starters. You can always find T-shirts for cheap.
  • Underwear--At least 7.  I don't mess around with that stuff.  Generally, I like boxers in SE Asia.  You can try to stretch them out over a longer period, but I like to be clean them.  To me, it's just gross.
  • Socks--About 6 or 7.
  • Pants--I pack one in carry on, 2 for check in.  I wear one black pair with my sport coat.  Usually, I wear one dressy set up when I travel (actually one black Levis).  People tend to give you better service if you look semi businesslike.
  • Shoes--Again, I wear my Doc Martens.  I pack flip flops and a lightweight shoe like Sanuk's Sidewalk Surfers.  It cuts down on the weight.
  • Tie--one set with the pin, just in case.
  • Hat--The sun can feel demonic sometimes. Nike Fit hats are nice, but I also am partial to Kangol hats.
  • Swimsuit/Shorts--Can be nice.  I bring 2.
  • Rain Gear:  I have one parka, but it is light and packable.
  • Wallet--I ride motorcycles, so I like chained wallets.  I bring one.  Because of Homeland Security, I detach the chain when I fly.  I also bring a front pocket stealth wallet.  Sometimes, discrete touches are necessary.

  • Never really an issue.  Just be aware of the way they wash.  Some soaps make the colors fade.  I bring 2 packets of soap just in case.

Personal Hygiene Items:
  • Medications--Don't be an idiot and forget this stuff.  It also goes into my carry on bag.  Imodium is good, but I also bring Pepto Bismal chews, Phazyme.  Cold remedy stuff also is helpful, and I also bring Salonpas since carrying luggage sometimes makes me sore.  Of course, aspirin or ibuprofen.  Also, any other medications that you might be issued by your travel doctor.  Hep A is a key immunization issue now.
  • Prescription Glasses--Bring a second pair if you need it.
  • Sunglasses--If you are not blind as a bat like me, then you should bring a good pair.
  • Contact Lenses--In terms of travel, you might just want to be a soft lens person.  You never know about the water.  Soft contact cleaners are very specific, but they must be checked in. Usually, they will be over the 3 oz rule.   
  • Kleenex--Those little packets.  You would be surprised how much you will miss them.
  • Wipes--I bring the flushable wipes like Charmin Freshmates, not the baby wipes.  They are good for cleaning your hands before eating, and if you use the loo, very helpful.  Toilet paper is often an option in some parts of the region.
  • Toothbrush and paste--I bring a set for check in and also one light set for carry on.  Generally, you can buy more overseas.
  • Shavers and Cream--I bring 3 sets of disposables with one shaving cream thing.  The problem is that sometimes shaving cream can be hard to come by.
  • Aftershave--I shave my hair off, so I bring Loreal Aftershave Balm.  It has a sunscreen element.
  • Towel--I bring a lightweight towel from REI.  This is what it looks like.  With the restrictions on weight, I have to cut every little thing.
  • Sunscreen--Neutrogena Spectrum +.  It's a 100 SPF lotion.  

Most of these things are in my carry on.
  • Phone--I bring 2.  One is unlocked, and I can get a sim card anywhere.  The other is my iPhone (also unlocked, but 3G is spotty in SE Asia), but I will use it like an iPod there.  It also doubles as my travel clock.
  • Speakers--I bring a little speaker.  I need music.  Not necessary for most people.
  • Netbook--I leave my big computer at home.  I will use it to dump my photos and email friends and blog.
  • USB drives--Important item.
  • Adapters--Never had a need, but it never hurts.  I never bring one.  It saves weight.
Paperwork and Financials:
Usually, I have a little neck thing for this stuff.  I got a free thing from a conference, so I've used that as my neck pouch.  The passport and flight information goes into it, as well as a pen.  It's about keeping things simple.  Also, if you have credit cards, then you should call the bank or credit union prior to leaving.  American Express doesn't require it, as they say their software will catch it.  Capital One prefers it, and they also don't charge transaction fees.  
  • Passport--If you forget this, stay at home.  Don't forget the visas.  Some countries will give you a permission to enter at the airport.  It is not a visa, and it can range from 2 weeks to 6 months.
  • Copy of Passport--This is recommended.  I have a small folded copy in my wallet.  For each luggage item you have, you should make a copy.  
  • ATM Card--Call your bank/credit union.
  • Credit Card--This is when I use Capital One.  They do not charge fees for overseas transactions.  I also have the money market account that doesn't charge with withdrawals.  American Express says that it is not necessary as they can detect issues regardless.
  • Health Care Card--Most of them honor international treatment.  Kaiser does so.  Most of the others also will reimburse you.   
  • Drivers License and International Drivers License--I sometimes rent a motorbike, so I need this.  You might not need this. 
  • Immunization--sometimes this comes up.  I keep a copy in my travel papers. 
  • Money--If this was just Thailand, all you need is 300 dollars.  Since I am going to 3 countries, the amount increases.  Make sure the bills are new and clean.  SE Asia has a hang up about old paper money.
  • Flight information--Always have the flight print out around.  You never know when you will need to consult it. 
  • Destination addresses--Keep the addresses someplace, as you will need them when you go through customs.   

I'm a geek, so my list is long, but I will not bore you.  This will be very short.
  • Camera--I take at least 2.  I always bring 2 for a shoot, as I don't know if one camera will go down.  For this trip, I'm taking 3---A pocket, a Micro 4/3 camera, and a standard DSLR.  This includes a Joby tripod, memory, chargers, and other nonsense.
  • Wires & chargers--Check the voltage and make sure they will work.

Getting Around Stuff:
  • Compact Backpack--I'm bringing a small backpack. This REI backpack is ultralight and compact.
  • Man Purse--I know, but they can be practical.  I use one from Eagle Creek.

Organization of materials:
Don't be a retard and spend more for those compression bags.  You can go to your local grocery store and get those bags with a zipper.
  • ZipLock bags.  They are cheap, and if you do it right, you compress your items and increase space.  I keep a few extras in the bag just in case.
  • Dry Sacks.  I use these for specific items like electronics when I know it will be really rainy.  I have 2.  One for a DSLR camera and the other for one set of clothing in my carry on.   
In Japan, and in many Asian countries, you bring a gift.  Sometimes these things make up the bulk of your weight.

Business cards:
Don't be a retard and not have them.  In Japan, no business card equals no business.  Be aware.  It goes the same in many parts of South East Asia.

If you keep things down to 2 bags for 2 months, you are good.  If you can get away with carry on, then you have reduced your stress load.