Saturday, January 30, 2010

Preparing for my next trip

I have to admit to being obsessed with travel preparation. I don't mean having my entire trip fully planned and booked pre-departure, having every immunisation known to man and having a medical kit larger than my clothes allowance. In fact quite the opposite.

I will spend hours, adding up to many days and weeks, doing research on my planned destination, trawling through hundreds of internet sites, cutting and pasting what interests me into individual files based on destinations. I'll also use published guidebooks, and avail myself of the advice of other travellers on forums such as Thorn Tree. In the end I can become so knowledgable about a place I have to stop myself offering advice to others because I haven't actually been there yet!!

All this knowledge gives me an understanding of what to expect, particularly in regards to accommodation, climate and availability of products to hire or buy. Therefore I can pack much less stuff in my bag and travel lighter and quicker. It doesn't make sense to pack stuff "just in case" unless I am really going into the back of beyond, but with my next trip to the highly populated Indonesian island of Java it would be ridiculous.

After my big trip last year, in which I did a number of long treks staying in local villages (the longest being 8 days in NE Vietnam) I found I had used every item I had brought at least once. The only exception was the medical kit, though I did manage to offload the blister kits to some very grateful hikers in China! The trouble was that many items were only used very infrequently, like my sleeping bag, and most times I could have hired one locally for a camping trip and saved myself the joy of lugging it around Asia. I would certainly never recommend anyone doing a classic tour of SE Asia take a sleeping bag, but I was planning to do many mountain treks when a sleeping bag would be necessary. Now that I know I can hire one in most places for a small fee, I won't be taking my own unless my trip is more than 50% camping.

The next best way to minimise weight is to be really strict with clothes. This is an area that I'm prepared to spend money on, to have lightweight, high tech clothing that dries easily overnight allowing you to travel with very little. No longer do these clothes have to look like you are on African Safari, they now come in all sorts of colours and trendy styles. There are times when you have to be prepared to wear the same clothes for days at a time (just like your guide and the local villagers will be doing) and it isn't really a hardship. As long as one gets the chance to change underwear that is! The treks I did taught me I didn't need much, so next trip I'm only taking the bare minimum: two trousers, one tshirt, two short sleeved polos, one long shirt, one sarong and one warm jacket and beanie for those dawn summits! And if I get bored enroute, I can just buy something new and give away the old.

My biggest weight problem is my camera gear, as I pack an SLR and extra lens, plus external hard drive and battery charger. My hard drive runs on the same batteries as the camera and the charger is very lightweight and compact. The hard drive is alot smaller and lighter than a laptop, an item I am yet to be convinced should become an essential part of my luggage. As much as I'd like to edit my photos enroute, I also know how much time that would take from my sightseeing or sleeping budgets!!! I'm no professional, I'll leave editing till I get home. And with internet cafes almost anywhere on the planet....

My other little headache is my tripod, an item I have used countless times, including on summits, and consider an essential part of my travel kit. I continue to be amazed when I read debates on photography sites from trekkers who believe tripods are just not needed, but I doubt they get sharp shots with expansive depths of field when they snap their landscapes. Horses for courses I guess. Anyway, I ended up spending pretty big on my tripod so I could get something light and sturdy. It's still somewhat bulky but it fits easily inside my backpack, or else strapped to the outside for easy accessability. I keep looking at the gorillapods but I still haven't worked out how you get height if there isn't a tree or rock in sight...

Choosing a pack is a nightmare. Last year I travelled with a 55L trekking backpack which took a bit of getting used to as far as the harness (even though it was adjustable) was concerned. With a short upper body I find getting a comfortable harness very difficult. I walk everywhere, so this is a high priority. But in March I'm only going for a month, I've revised what I want to take, and that 55L bag is far too huge, and weighs over 2.5kg empty. Plus I'm using alot of local buses and smaller is definitely better!

Last week I ventured down to Perth with all my planned luggage, to get myself a smaller pack. I needed to see whether what I was taking would fit, and whether I could find a comfy harness. And I wanted something lightweight. Of course there is a tradeoff on durability, but I'm prepared to shave off a kilogram for the risk. I'm again talking high tech, with a not so cheap price tag, but I should be able to rely on good workmanship at least. As a result I have on order a 33L pack weighing a mere 920g. That's before I fill it with my 3L Camelbak bladder!!

My new pack will be small enough to take as carryon on airplanes, an experience I am really looking forward to. Most of those freaks who go on about this topic seem to be obsessed with the risk of losing their checked in baggage, but for me what I'm looking forward to is breezing straight off that plane and straight out the door without having to deal with the porters, trolleys and waits for the baggage carousel to start up. And my baggage always seems to be the last off the bloody plane, which means the queue at customs and immigration is enormous by the time I get there! But I'm also looking forward to not struggling to get into a bemo because of my bag, and not paying for it on said bemo as well, to not having to pack my bag on the roof of the bus, to not having to separate my valuables from everything else ad nauseum. To being able to go sightseeing somewhere in the morning then move on to my next destination without backtracking for luggage. This will be fantastic....

Since I'm off to Indonesia again, and because I love this country so much and expect to visit it many many more times, I am back learning the language. I am extremely happy with Shaun and Cici's language program, which you can find at, because it is so easy to follow and relevant to my needs. Shaun needs to work a little on his pronunciation though....

The trip to Perth and back allowed me to get through many hours of revision lessions, but there's still lots more to get through so "sampai nanti!!!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Summertime, and the living is easy...

Happy New Year to all and sundry, though New Year celebrations will never be the same for me after my experiences in northern Laos last December. This year's events were a very quiet affair, amongst friends camping up at our usual windsurfing haunt of Coronation Beach.

I took the camper trailer down a week before Christmas and spent a bit of time commuting before the holiday proper. Even though I already live in a beachhouse within 150m of the high tide, it's very relaxing staying in the camper, with no mod cons, and getting up with the sun for long walks along the beach, paddling over the reef at low tide spying small fish and the occasional octopus, and getting lots of windsurfing in. It's great for getting that early session in before the hoards from town arrive, and to enjoy the evening session just before dusk when the waves smooth out and the wind turns offshore, knowing a hot shower (courtesy of the good old solar shower bag) and a cold beer are only a few steps away. It's a great crowd of regulars who do the Xmas stint at Coronation, so it's also very social.

The kids from next door joined me again. Maddie and Demi stayed five nights but Carter only managed 2 nights before he missed mum too much, though I suspect he probably missed his computer games even more! The girls relaxed once they didn't have little bro' to look after and just chilled for a few days. The highlight of the trip was when we strategically placed a toy rubber snake across one of the paths leading from the beach to the camping area. Six hours of fun was had as successive campers were confronted by what looked to be a possibly poisonous snake obstructing their passage, and we laughed hysterically at their responses. Then further mirth occurred after the girls decided to slip it under the wall whilst people were showering! The occasional gasp of disbelief was thankfully not followed by the sight of a frightened naked bather, and mostly there were bellows of recognition as the same snake made a second appearance amongst now much wiser campers.

But after another week of commuting I at last packed up the camper and headed home, to a house which has had mice free ranging for a few days unchecked, and the death of my last chicken by what looks like a fox. I've still got the neighbours' three, who roost high up in the bougainvillea where no fox will get them! They've even been known to lay eggs in there!

Hazel has loved being up at Coronation, so much so that she has been extremely reluctant to return home on those days when I've had to come in to town to work. Her rebellious nature has raised its ugly head a couple of times, with one day where she ran off down the road to the beach and then slipped out of her collar and ran back down again after I'd hauled her home. I think I'm reading her body language pretty accurately when I say she is not happy about being home. Bah, she'll get used to it!!