Gear Picks - MSR Packtowl Personal

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Now for a bit of gear that's actually been in use here at Go See Run Eat Drink World Headquarters for months already. In fact, it was one of the first bits of kit I picked up when I started contemplating this whole crazy plan last summer - The MSR Packtowl Personal.

Having your own towel is compulsory when trying to travel cheap and light. I'll need one when staying in most hostels, and they're also essential for helping wring out sink-washed clothing, and that's something I'll be doing a lot of. Ages ago I had some kind of sport towel that felt like stiff, synthetic felt, and it absorbed moisture about as well as waxed paper. Thankfully, techno-towels have come a long way.

(Mine is blue!)

The MSR Packtowl still doesn't feel at all like a terrycloth towel, but it's miles better than that towel from my dim past. It's quite thin, and about 24" wide x 53" long. That's large enough to wrap around my body and get me from locker to shower in a reasonably modest state, while still packing up into a square about 7" x 7" x 1" high. Mine is the extra-large size - it also comes in large, medium and small - which is a mere 10" x 14". The towel is thin, but it'll soak up a lot of water, even when it feels wet. If I were just drying myself I could probably manage quite well with a smaller size, but the larger dimensions make it easier to wring out wet clothing efficiently.

The material is some kind of techno-miracle microfibre stuff (85% polyester/15% nylon microfiber) and feels like a cross between chamois and ultra-suede. I think they sometimes call it a "peach" finish. It feels a bit odd, and doesn't have that scrubby, satisfying feeling of terrycloth. The texture takes some getting used to, but it does get the job done. You also have to get used to feeling a bit clammy; because it'll keep soaking up water when it's wet, that means you're "drying" yourself with something wet. It's odd, but really, it works, and it takes up much less pack space than a conventional towel.

It gets most soaked when used to wring out hand-washed clothing, but even then it will dry completely overnight, or possibly even sooner. It's also got a little snap-closing loop on one corner that's useful for hanging it up. I got mine at Outter Limits (not a typo) in Saskatoon for about $44.00.

I also have a small "personal sized" techno-towel made by Bilt that's got a nubblier, more pleasing finish. However, MEC doesn't carry them anymore, probably because Bilt doesn't seem to make them anymore, and it doesn't look like they ever came in any larger sizes. Also, the extra fuzziness in a larger towel would take up more pack space. I may take the Bilt with me too since I think it will be a useful thing to keep in my day pack. It's also nice to have around for toweling off after a run, and for helping with stretching.

I've also looked at the Aquis Adventure Towels, which have a fuzzier, more terry-cloth-like finish. I like how they feel, but I worry that the extra-large sized towel (29" x 55") would take up a lot more room in my bag. Also, the extra large size if $65.00!

I'd give the MSR Travel Towel one and a half thumbs up. It's earned a spot in the Aeronaut.

The State of the Union, March 27

Friday, March 27, 2009

Things are starting to happen fast, so I thought I'd give a quick update on how it's all going. Lately I feel like if I let a day go by without accomplishing something, anything, that gets me a step closer to leaving, then the day is wasted. Of course I've managed to schedule things so that the busiest time at work, and the rush to get the house ready, and the peak of my marathon training all occur at the same time. Oh, and did I mention we've had about 20 centimeters of snow this week? My back gate is completely immobilized from being frozen into a puddle of slush, so I have to traipse through my neighbour's yard to get to my car. Apparently this winter is NEVER GOING TO END. There's a bit of stress over here these days.

The House:

It looks like the house will list for sale and start showing on April 3rd. This is a bit later than I thought, but I'm fine with that. It gives me a bit more time to get everything as close to perfect as possible. And how is the house shaping up? Pretty well I think, but it's a shame that I didn't do a lot of this stuff much sooner. By the time everything's done, it won't really be mine anymore. Still, I'm gratified that I did some stuff - like refurbishing the bathroom - early in the fall, so I've been able to enjoy that myself.

I spent a lot of last weekend thumping up and down the stairs to the basement, trying to clear out eleven years of the stuff that accumulates when you're a do-it-yourself-er and a pack rat (a dangerous combination). That, coupled with the fine (and not-so-fine) layer of sawdust that coated almost every surface, made for a tiring weekend. The basement looks quite tidy now, but sort of soulless. It used to be cluttered and dusty, but full of potential. Now there's almost no raw material down there, and all the coffee cans of unsorted hardware are gone, and those things that I was keeping around "just in case" got carted away by a guy I found on Kijiji. It all seems like it's just not my space anymore and it makes me a bit sad to go down there now.

(By the way, the Kijiji guy was fantastic! He came and hauled away a big load of stuff I left piled on my back deck. Even though he didn't know me at all he agreed to do the job without me having to be there, and he just left the invoice in my mailbox. He even laid down old sheets of plywood to walk over so my wet and muddy lawn wouldn't get churned up. All this for $60.00. Great service from this guy! If you need something hauled in Winnipeg, call SuperDave!) .

And I still have a lot of decluttering and packing to do and I'm a very short on empty boxes. Anyone?


It's getting really busy, and will just continue to get more and more frantic for the next month or so. And interviews for my job are underway, which is really weird. Also, I don't really know when my last day at work will be yet, because it that may depend partly on when my house sells, and what the possession date is.


The Fargo Marathon is about six weeks away, and the workouts are getting tougher and tougher. Last weekend I had my longest run since the Boston Marathon last April: three hours and twenty minutes, for a total of 34 km. I'd like to set a new personal best in Fargo, which would be anything faster than 3:41:09. But really I'm hoping for 3:35 or better.

Travel Preparations:

My application for U.K. citizenship is in the works, and I have no way of knowing whether it will be processed before I have to leave. At this point though, I think it's getting less and less likely. If the citizenship doesn't come through quickly enough for me to get a passport, then my initial entry into England will be a bit more complicated because I'll have to provide proof of onward travel. Also it might be logistically trickier for me to get a passport while in England. Ironic.

This week I tried to apply for a new Canadian passport so I could get one with 48 pages instead of the usual 24 (I didn't want to take the risk of running out of empty passport page while traveling). Despite this perfectly valid and responsible rationale, Passport Canada refused to issue me a bigger passport, claiming that my current one is too new, and it's a "security risk" to issue too many passports. WTF? How is it a security risk to issue me a new passport? It's not like I'm asking for a spare! They can have the other one back! Isn't it more of a security risk to force me to apply for a new one overseas where I won't have access to the same kind of supporting documentation I have at home? Arrrrgggghhhh!!!

Several calming breaths later...

Ok, this is fine. Now I just get to add something else to my list of life experiences: "Have passport renewed in a foreign country." It'll be an adventure. Fun times ahead.

Now that I don't have to wait for a new passport, I've got more time to send my current one to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, to apply for a Russian Visa. (I think that's the only one I need to get before I leave the country.) In order to get that visa for Russia, I have to prove I'm traveling there with a tour company. Apparently they don't let you in if you're just going to be wandering around, unescorted. So I have to go ahead and book that tour, which I think will be the "Taste of Russia" tour, with Intrepid. 8 days, Moscow to St Petersburg! Once I confirm the booking with Intrepid, they'll send me a letter that I submit with my Visa application. (Aside: I wonder if having a tour booked in Russia for 6 weeks after I arrive in England constitutes "proof of onward travel"?)

Tonight I'll be attending my first interview with the local representatives of SERVAS. I anticipate it will all be fine; I think it's just a getting-to-know-you kind of thing so that they can make sure I don't have two heads or fangs dripping blood or something like that. I'll try to remember to leave my Satanic robes at home.

Oh, and then there's the small matter of actually booking some kind of flight to get me out of the country. The trouble is I don't know when to book, because I don't know when my last day at work will be, because I don't know when the house will sell. In fact, I'm not even sure what city I'll fly out of.

A few other highlights from the list:

- change of address stuff
- new bank account for travel (that's another post)
- check on fees for international transactions with my current Visa card
- get a Mastercard for places that don't take Visa?
- find a storage space
- get travel insurance (that's another post)
- visit my G.P. to see if he'll give me a prescription for some general broad-spectrum antibiotics, along with the information to know when to take them (just in case)
- get international driver's licence
- get/make GSRED business cards
- get the rest of the gear I need
- build spreadsheet to track expenses while traveling (Spreadsheets! I *heart* spreadsheets!)
- sell more "big ticket" items on Kijiji
- giant garage sale
- pack up house
- call back SuperDave to haul away everything that didn't get sold or stored or packed
- take a deep breath

And that's the state of "The Getting Ready" for March 27th. Lots has been done, but there's still a big hill to climb before I'm settled into my economy class seat for the long hop to Heathrow.

Stay tuned.

Movie Review - "A Map for Saturday"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On a trip around the world, every day feels like Saturday. A Map for Saturday reveals a world of long-term, solo travel through the stories of trekkers on four continents.

The documentary finds backpackers helping neglected Thai tsunami victims. It explains why Nepal’s guesthouses are empty and Brazil’s stoplights are ignored.

But at its core, Saturday tracks the emotional arc of extreme long-term travelers; teenagers and senior citizens who wondered, “What would it be like to travel the world?” Then did it.

In 2005 Brook Silva-Braga quit his job as an HBO producer, packed up his Manhattan apartment, and set off to travel the world for 50 weeks. He took 30 pounds of equipment and filmed as he went, creating "an intimate window onto the world of long-term, solo travel; moments of stark loneliness and genuine revelation."

He should have called it A Map for Pam, because it's a preview of the next year of my life, neatly packaged in a DVD that was mailed to me for $19.50 USD including shipping. I ran across a mention of the movie months ago, though I can't remember where. It excited me, but I didn't leap to buy it at the time, and then I lost track of the link and forgot about it. Last week I was browsing through my unsorted bookmarks and found it again. This time I didn't hesitate, and Wednesday night, after a particularly tiring day at work, I declared a moratorium on house work and settled in with pizza, beer, chips and the remote control.

Because I knew I was going to want to blog about the movie I took some notes along the way, and most of them ended up being direct quotes - things that really hit home with me. Then it gradually dawned on me that those quotes are really what I want to share about the movie. You've read the little synopsis, you probably watched the trailer, you get the idea. So instead of a blow-by-blow, here's what resonated with me:

On the topic of leaving:

"It seems like a great idea for the other guy to do, and you have decided to become the other guy."

"...the stomach-turning realization of what's ahead."

On India:

"As the traveling cliche goes: "There's the rest of the world, and then there's India."

"India is where itineraries go to die."

On life on the road:

"Four months living out of a bag dull the need for real luxury and warp long-held standards."

"The more you see of the world the less exotic it gets for you. You just get to know the differences between countries are smaller than you expect them to be."

"After half a year away the road truly feels like home."

"Kate doesn't know yet that women travelers invariably gain weight, but ... men mysteriously lose it."

On meeting people:

"The only people you interact with are people you'll never see again and are people you didn't know the day before."

"All the big feelings are at the beginning of the trip, but eventually you get numb, to how great the lifestyle is, how tough the goodbyes can be. You get good at goodbye, because you get more practice at goodbye than anyone should probably ever have."


"Brazil is so steeped in lawlessness that the laws have had to catch up. So it's actually legal now to run through red lights after dark. The danger of car-jacking is too great to stop."

On coming home:

"It doesn't feel like I'm going home in ten days. If you've ever gone home from a vacation, this feels nothing like that. It feels like moving, like breaking up with someone you love, like quitting a job."

"I think I became a much more confident person because when you travel on your own you have to be."

"I think the one thing that's changed about all of us who take this trip is that a normal life really doesn't seem all that attractive at all anymore. I can't imagine not traveling again. I can't imagine going back to a real job."

"No one understands. No one gets it. When you get home and everyone says, 'Oh so what did you do? How was it?' How do you explain to someone who has a 9 to 5 job, that does that every single day?"

"It's like my entire life had been written on this chalk board, and over those nine months it had slowly gotten smeared. So when I got home I was like 'Yeah, this is my family, yeah this is where I live,' but it was like I was coming back to something that I knew but I didn't feel like I fit into that anymore."

And the thing that sums it all up:
"I would love to go traveling again. And if I met anybody that was debating about whether to do it? Go do it. Because one thing I learned while you're away - you only regret the things that you don't do, not the things you do do."

Volun-tourism, Part One

Friday, March 20, 2009

As I mentioned briefly in this post, I'm considering doing some volunteer work while I'm away. I think it would be nice to give a little something back to at least one of the places I visit, and though the idea of leading a life of leisure for a whole year is undeniably appealing, I can't help but think that there will come a time when I'll feel like pitching in and getting my hands dirty with something. To that end, I've started to poke around to see what options are available. Over the next little while, I'll write some posts about a few of the volunteering options I'm considering.

It turns out there there are, simultaneously, lots and not very many. There seem to be hundreds of organizations that solicit volunteers for all kinds of things - teaching English, construction, assisting in scientific research, wildfire conservation, working with children - the list seems endless. However, when you factor in my own restrictions, the options narrow quickly. Here are my criteria:

  1. I want a program that fits into my itinerary - occurring in or near a country I'm already planning to visit, around the time I'm planning to be there. The places I'd be most interested in volunteering would be in Africa or Asia.
  2. I would like a program that lasts 1-2 weeks, 3 at the most.
  3. I'd prefer something that involves construction, scientific work, or working with wildlife, as opposed to working with children, or teaching.
  4. I might chuck all of these rules if I got really excited about something.
The thing that really surprised me as I started researching this is the high cost of volunteering; I guess it may have been naive of me, but I really didn't expect that. I assumed I'd have to pay my own way to and from whatever project I chose, and I figured I'd need to allow for some food and other living costs. What I didn't expect was that I'd have to pay large fees on top of those expenses in order to participate. My research shows that most of these kind of experiences cost at least $1,000/week. It seems a bit ironic to me that I could probably exist quite luxuriously in many southeast Asian countries for $20-40/day, lounging on a beach and drinking from a coconut, but if I want to go help build a school, it'll cost me $150/day, and I'll be living in a communal tent. I'm still not really used to this idea.

However, after checking out a lot of the links provided at the Verge website, looking into many of the organizations listed in their 2009 Go Abroad Directory, and doing some casual Googling, I've come up with a few possibilities. Today, let's look at one of them:

Habitat for Humanity:

Habitat for Humanity Canada is a national, non-profit, faith-based organization working for a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. The mission of the organization is to mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting home ownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty.
I like the sentiment behind Habitat for Humanity - I've really enjoyed owning my house, so I can get behind the idea of helping other people do the same. I also like working with my hands, so this kind of volunteering would be familiar and fulfilling. Habitat has projects all over the world, though they only list them 4-6 months in advance, so I can't research specific projects right now.
The advantage of H4H is that their trips are a good length, and they have projects in a lot of interesting places - Botswana, Jordan, Zambia, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Romania. The costs seem to start at around $1500 for about 10 days in Jordan, up to about $2,000 for 2 weeks in Botswana, or $2,200 for 13 days in Romania. "The cost includes lodging, food, ground transportation, traveler's medical insurance, orientation materials and a donation to (the) Habitat ... Global Village program."

Those fees doesn't include optional recreational activities organized on days off, and those charges vary wildly. I suppose they depend on how many things there are to do, and how cool they are. In Romania, there's only $146 worth of R&R, in Jordan, there's $975. One plus to all these fees is that the entire cost of the trip (not including recreational activities) is tax deductible in Canada.

The other thing to consider it that Habitat for Humanity is, unabashedly, a "faith-based" organization. I'm not sure what this means in day-to-day life on a project, but if it's more than a quick "God-bless-this-porridge" in the morning and a "Please-God-don't-let-anyone-drop-a-cinder-block-on-their-toes-today" invocation at the job site, then I'd start to get uncomfortable. I'm not a religious person at all, and my tolerance for proselytizing is almost zero. I've got an inquiry in to H4H to as about how their "faith-based-ness" is implemented on the ground, but I'm not expecting a reply any time soon. Here's what there auto-response to my email said:
"Thank you for your interest in the Global Village program. We appreciate your email. Due to the high volume of inquiries we will respond to your email within 2 weeks."
I suppose it's good that they're busy, but seriously? 2 weeks? That doesn't bode well for future communications about more important things like actually booking a trip.

I'd really like to hear from anyone who's worked on a Habitat for Humanity project. And stay tuned for future posts about other volunteer programs I'm considering, including dolphins, novice monks, and organic farming! (Not all in one place... although an organic dolphin farm run by young Buddhists would definitely be worth a look.)

Random Realizations III

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Random Realization #6:

I used to watch quite a lot of TV. It's not like I was addicted or anything, but there were certain shows I followed, and it usually worked out that there was about one program like that every night, so I'd record them and watch them and that was that. Once in a while when I was busy, like when training heavily for a marathon or doing long hours at work, I'd get backed up. Then a weird thing would happen and I'd start to feel like I was falling behind in my TV watching. All the stuff I'd recorded was backing up, and I couldn't watch new episodes until I'd watched the older ones, and it all started to feel like a bit of a burden.

These days I seem to have less and less time for TV. I'm spending a lot of time working around the house doing small repairs and spruce-ups to get ready to sell, and I'm still running, and most of the leisure time I do have is now spent online. Researching the trip, reading travel blogs, planning, scheduling and blogging all take up a lot of time I used to spend passively watching TV. The odd thing is that I really don't miss it. For the first little while I'd think, "Damn! I missed House again." Or, more likely, "Yeesh, I've got four episodes of Heroes to get through. Will it ever be good again?" Then as I realized I couldn't catch up, I stopped thinking about it, and I deleted all the stuff in the queue, and I haven't looked back. (Did Heroes ever get good again?)

There are still a few things I tape, mostly so I have something to watch while I'm stretching after a run, or when I want to veg out a bit. I'm also watching more stuff right on my computer. All in all I'm quite happy to be free of TV, and consider it a useful evolution in lifestyle that should serve me well on the road. I'd hate to be stuck to some crummy, grainy TV in a dimly lit hostel lounge trying to find out who won.

Random Realization #7:

The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is, in fact, MAGIC. I've been doing a lot of cleaning in preparation for putting my house on the market, which will probably happen in just a few weeks. (Yikes!) One of the things on my To Do List was "re-paint kitchen cabinets"; I've been using that kitchen for 11 years now, and it's a kitchen so, you know, stuff gets kind of grimy (not that I don't clean regularly, but how many times to you take a toothbrush to the moulding in your kitchen?). Then I actually counted the number of cabinet doors and drawer fronts there are in my kitchen. Any guesses? If you guessed 7,987,574, 329, you're close. There are 28. TWENTY-EIGHT. So "re-paint kitchen cabinets" quickly became "clean kitchen cabinets", and that's when I unearthed a never-used box of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers from my top pantry cupboard. "Ah," I thought, "this is worth a try." And was it ever. Those things are amazing - they freshened up the surfaces of the doors and drawers, and a little elbow grease + Magic Eraser scoured the grime out of the fiddly moulding details that catch all the dirt. I am now perfectly content with the state of my kitchen cabinets. The MCME even (almost) completely removed a black permanent marker "oops" on my painted kitchen wall. I also tried them in the bathroom, where they made it through the soap scum in my tub quite handily.

I don't know what they put in those things, but they could be made out of powdered rhino horn and children's tears and I'd still buy them. There's an urban myth that they contain formaldehyde, but I'm happy to report that says otherwise. If I don't meet the man of my dreams while I'm traveling, I'll probably just marry Mr. Clean.

Note: "Go See Run Eat Drink" receives no kick-backs from the good people at Procter & Gamble (TM). But if we did, we'd take the money and buy more Mr. Clean Magic Erasers.

Snail Mail 2.0

Friday, March 13, 2009

Today we look at three ways of harnessing the power of the internet to wrangle snail mail while on the road. I've only tested one of these websites so far, but I thought they were all interesting enough to report on here.

Receiving Snail Mail Online:

Earth Class Mail is a service that pops up a lot when browsing around long term travel sites. As quoted from their website:

Here's how it works. First, you pick a remote address for one of our locations, and have selected mail sent to that address. As a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency, we then receive your mail, scan all the sealed envelope images, and then electronically deliver each envelope image to you via email and in your online account.

You then log in to your account and tell us what you want to do with your mail.

  • Recycle all the junk with a click of your mouse
  • Have us securely scan the contents so you can read it online
  • Shred sensitive information
  • Forward the original to you or someone else
  • Forward the electronic document to whomever you choose
  • Archive the originals at our facility
It sounds like a really smart service, but it gets some mixed and some bad reviews. Detractors report delays in receiving mail and complain about the cost for forwarding actual mail pieces. Also, if you cancel the service Earth Class Mail apparently won't forward your mail on to a new address. The other difficulty for me is that it's based in the U.S. and relies on being able to forward your mail to a U.S. address. I'm not sure whether Canada Post will forward out of the country, and if they did, that might exacerbate any already-existing problems with lag time. I'll be using a home-grown version of this by forwarding my mail to local friends and asking them scan and email anything that looks like it might be important. I think I'll call it "Friend Class Mail".

Paperless PO Box is another service just like Earth Class Mail, but there's a lot less internet feedback on this service, so if you're interested, go check it out yourself. Or if you've used it, please report in!

Sending Snail Mail Online:

PC2Paper sends actual physical pieces of mail from your email. They print out your message (or Word document, or PDF file) and stick it in an envelope and put it in the mail. They also accept documents with photos and will print in colour, and they allow you to keep an online address book for frequently used recipients.

This service is based in the U.K., so you have to account for the extra time it will take for your letter to travel from there to wherever it's going. The prices are pretty good - a 6 page letter to Canada would be about $1.50 CAD. (PC2Paper also offers a mailbox service like Earth Class Mail, but because they're based in the U.K., the same mail-forwarding issues exist for Canadians as with Earth Class Mail).

I think I may use this service to send printed updates of the blog to non-techno family members (you know who you are), so they can keep up.

Sending Custom Snail Mail Postcards Online:

HazelMail is a site I just discovered through Practical Travel Gear. It looks like a fun way to send your own photos as postcards, all online. The interface is pretty easy to use, though it's kind of slow. It lets you upload a photo from your computer for the front of the card and then write a message and address on the back. There are even a few "handwriting" fonts to choose from so your message looks a bit more personal. (I like "FG Vincent", though it seems to have trouble with exclamation points!). On the downside, they don't give you a lot of space for a message on the back of the card, even though the graphic makes it look like there's a lot more space available.

Of course you have to create an account with HazelMail to send a card. The total cost for one card is $1.50 USD, and they don't take PayPal, so you have to give them credit card info.

The other downside is that this is another service based in the U.S., so your card will be sent from a U.S. address with a U.S. stamp. I think one of the cool things about getting mail from overseas is seeing the fun international stamps, but maybe the ability to use a custom photo makes up for that shortcoming.

This is the only service I've tried so far - I went ahead and made up a postcard which should now be wending it's way to a lucky Go See Run Eat Drink reader! So if you happen to open your mailbox some day soon and find something that looks like this:

... you are now obligated to report back here with a comment about how it looks, how long it took to get to you, and how cool (or not) the whole thing is!

Packing List

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I thought I'd share how my packing list is looking so far. It seems long, but most of it is small, and I'm still reasonably confident I'll be able to get it all in one bag. Stuff that's italicized is stuff I still have to get. Stuff with question marks is stuff I'm still debating about - is it really necessary? Where possible, I've included links to manufacturer's websites or reviews to show the real item. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Aeronaut with Absolute Shoulder Strap
Aeronaut large packing cube
Convertible Packing Cube/Shoulder Bag
other miscellaneous packing cubes/pouches
Day Pack, Rick Steves Civita
Neck Pouch, Eagle Creek Undercover Silk Neck Pouch
Pacsafe Retract-a-safe 200 Cable Lock
small padlocks to lock zippers on Aeronaut

Lee Valley S-biners (Or some other way to secure luggage zipper tabs together on day pack.)

Pants, dark grey Ex Officio Nomad Pants
Convertible pants (I like these ones from Columbia)
shorts, grey, Golite
? super lightweight "lounge" pants for hanging around in hostels?

t-shirt, light blue, MEC short sleeved v-neck
t-shirt, "juniper" colour Icebreaker Tech T Lite (This shirt is on probation - despite it being merino wool, I still find it itchy on my bare skin.)
long-sleeved t-shirt, dark purple, MEC long sleeved crew neck
? t-shirt for sleeping in (or just use one of the above, or the running shirt below?) ? no-sleeve/tank shirt
short-sleeved collared shirt, tan stripe Tilley Women's Short Sleeved "Cool" Shirt
Long-sleeved collared shirt (I can't believe I haven't found this shirt yet, but EVERY ONE I try has too-short sleeves. Honestly, it's not like I'm an orangutan...)
zip-up wind-stopping fleece, black, by Lolë (It's pretty much like this one.)
waterproof windbreaker jacket, khaki, Sierra Designs Cyclone Parka

running shoes, Mizuno Wave Rider
shoe-packing straps, MEC (for squishing shoes together into the tightest possible space)
everyday shoes, Ecco Xpedition Sayan Lo GTX shoes (made with yak leather!)
sandals, Teva or Chacos

bra x 2
underwear x 3, Icebreaker Hipster (Oddly, the merino wool is fine on my butt, just not on my back.)
socks x 3, beige, Tilley travel socks
gloves, Au Clair Polypro Liners
bathing suit
running long underwear, black (Could this double as the "lounge pants" above, or is that too much like hanging around in my underwear?)

running bra
running shorts
"Canada" running shirt (I thought it would be nice to have something "Canada", and a running shirt seems like a good option.)
running hat (also for all other hat needs)
Polar RS200 Heart rate monitor and speed-and-distance footpod device
SPIbelt - for carrying stuff while running

copies of passport, travel insurance, tickets, prescriptions, ID cards, SERVAS Letter of Introduction, credit cards, spare passport-sized photos for visas, etc...
wallet, All-Ett Original
notebook, Moleskine
pen, Chrome Bullet Space Pen
sharpie marker (For labelling food in communal hostel kitchen.)
book (Whatever I happen to be reading at the time of departure, to be abandoned when complete.)
guide book(s) (not for everywhere -just the first stop or two)
Kwikpoint translator (What a great idea!)

Toiletries kit, Rick Steves, red
Shower caddy, Rick Steves
toothbrush and toothbrush cover
dental floss (also for tough sewing repairs)
ear plugs
eye mask
scrubby washcloth, Body Shop exfoliating skin towel
small quick-dry towel/cloth, BILT
nail clippers

Pack-it Liquid/Gel Set
skin lotion
hair goop/gel
hand sanitizer
Tide-to-go stain remover pen
Refresh Tears saline solution

FIRST AID KIT (research still needs to be done on this)

sink stopper
laundry soap, Sport Suds
travel clothesline, Rick Steves
sewing kit

water bottle, Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus Handheld
SteriPEN water purifier and spare batteries
MEC Silk Bag Liner, rectangular
travel towel, MSR Packtowl Ultralite, large
Orikaso Fold Flat Tableware
Halulite cutlery set

? Knifeless Fuse Leatherman (I'm keen to have some kind of Useful Tool, but am worried that, even with no knife, this would still get confiscated)?
Folding Scissors (These also may get confiscated in my first security line, but they only cost $2.00, so it's not a huge loss)
Small compass - for orienting myself to maps
LED headlamp
modest amount of duct tape wrapped around tiny core
? deck of cards / dice ?
? buff ? (They seem like a good idea, but I have one now and almost never use it.)
safety pins
elastic bands
empty ziploc bags, various sizes
? GSRED business cards? (I thought it would be good to have some cards with the blog address and my email address to make it easier to give out to people I meet.)

digital camera, Canon SD1000
camera case, Lowepro Apex 5W
spare camera battery, battery charger
12 x 2GB SD Cards for camera memory
mini USB cable for camera
plug adapter
Eee PC 901, with charger and padded sleeve
A-Data 16GB SDHC card for extra Eee PC storage
8GB USB Drive, Sandisk Cruzer
iPod Nano, 4GB
charger for iPod and other USB devices (if any)
headphones, Creative EP-630
Palm Centro GSM Cell Phone / PDA (unlocked)
Case for Palm Centro

? External hard drive ?

Phew. Big List. Have I missed something important? Chime in!

Safe Sacks

Friday, March 6, 2009

I occasionally poke around in a few travel forums like Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree and the Boots 'n' All Network. Each has areas for discussions about different destinations, but they also have areas specifically for discussing long term RTW travel. One of the topics that seems to pop up regularly is the debate about Pacsafes.

Pacsafe is a company that makes theft-resistant bags and accessories. Bags range from small pouches to camera bags, daypacks, messenger bags and ipod safes. But the item that generates the most controversy is the Pacsafe itself - here's what it's all about, as quoted from the website:

Featuring patented eXomesh® Ultimate security technology, the PacSafe is an adjustable high-tensile stainless steel locking device, designed to cover and protect a variety of bags and packs from tampering, pilfering and theft. Throw it around your pack, secure it to something fixed and get on with your adventure. Four sizes mean there is one to fit almost every type of backpack, soft-sided wheeled luggage or duffel bag... The PacSafe 85 has the distinction of winning Backpacker Magazine's coveted Editors' Choice Award.

There are two sides to the debate about the Pacsafe - one side says that it's just safer and more reassuring to lock everything up all the time. The other side says that such an obvious anti-theft device makes your bag scream, "I''m full of expensive stuff. Do everything you can to steal me!"

Not surprisingly, I'm torn. I'd like the peace of mind of knowing that my bag and its contents were as secure as possible, but it's also just another damned thing to haul around. Even the smallest one - the Pacsafe 55 - weighs just over a pound and packs into a 5-1/2" x 4" x 2" pouch. Also, lots of the people who comment on this topic say the device is a pain to deploy and an even biggger pain to re-pack into its little pouch. I think the slickly-produced video may not be telling the real-life story, and the preponderance of opinion among people who post on travel forums is that the Pacsafe is more trouble than it's worth.

I've decided to skip the Pacsafe. Instead, I invested in another product from the same company, the Retractasafe 200. It's a retractable cable lock that I intend to use to attach the Aeronaut to an immovable object when I leave it behind. The device has a resettable combination lock, a 3 foot long cable, and weighs about 3 ounces. I'm also going to secure the three zippers on my bag by padlocking the zipper tabs together. It won't be a completely slash-proof solution, but I feel like it's a reasonable compromise. As a bonus, I've discovered that the Retractasafe doubles quite neatly as a padlock for gym lockers.

As always, I'd love to hear opinions on this topic, especially from anyone who has actual real world experience with this stuff.

Magazine Review: "Verge"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Verge is a travel magazine, but one with a difference - it's subtitled "Travel with Purpose", and the blurb on their website says: "Each issue takes you around the world, with people who are doing something different and making a difference doing it. This is the magazine resource for those wanting to volunteer, work, study or adventure overseas." I've had a chance to look over 3 issues, which is 3/4 of Verge's yearly output - they only publish issues in February, May, September and November. In all cases I've found the magazine to be interesting, informative and a bit inspiring. As an added bonus, Verge is Canadian - their senior staffers are from Waterloo, Edmonton and Kapuskasing. Also, their web address ends in a comforting ".ca".

Verge's goal is to highlight ways of traveling "with purpose" - not just heading to a remote location to soak up the sun, snap a few pictures and buy a souvenir. Many of the articles in the magazine are about people in other countries who are contributing to the communities they visit in some way. I've read pieces about a Winnipeg lawyer working in a community legal clinic in a small Guatemala town, a documentary filmmaker trying to produce video shorts about Rwanda's recovery after the genocide, and about the New Zealand Department of Conservation's efforts to revive the native bird population, with the help of visiting volunteers.

Even the short "Inbound" section at the beginning of each issue has a conscience - the image on the right is a look at one of the pieces from there.

The magazine is not all save-the-whales / dig-a-well-for-just-pennies-a-day kind of stuff, but even the articles about less altruistic topics seem a bit different. I really enjoyed one feature about "Car-free Islands" - a rundown of eight different small islands around the world that have banned most or all motorized vehicles. And the issue pictured above (Summer 2008) had a "Best of our Planet" feature including Best Adventures, Best International Music, Best Wildlife Viewing, Best Remote Destinations, Best Landscapes, and Best World Culture. It's a great spread that's should be enough to get the blood boiling in all but the most determined home-body.

The other two issues I've read also have big "theme" features, one showcasing the winners of a reader-submitted travel photography contest, and one listing "hundreds of opportunities for meaningful travel". There are also regular pieces from a Toronto doctor about travel health, a "Specialists' Directory" near the back listing details on study, volunteer and work programs abroad, and a recently introduced "Ethical Traveler" column.

Even the advertising in the magazine is interesting - most of the big colour ads are for study abroad programs, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language jobs, or volunteer opportunities.

In fact, after reading a few issues of Verge I'm seriously considering seeking out some kind of volunteer work somewhere in my travels. More on that in a later post, but for now I'll just say that I'd probably subscribe to Verge ($18 CDN for 4 issues per year), except that pretty soon I won't have a mailbox anymore.