Monday, August 23, 2010

Traveling Light

How much do you weigh? A question that isn't often asked, but you don't actually need to tell me. How much luggage do you take when you travel? If you take one carry on and one piece of checked luggage, you're probably carrying about 30 kg. I weigh around 70kg, so 30 kg is about 20% of my body weight. Trust me when I say it's a lot to lug about. Foreign correspondents have an informal rule for how much to bring: nothing you couldn't carry at a dead run for half a mile. I can shuffle along with 30kg hanging off my body, but anything quicker than a stumbling jog is out of the question. So the thought of traveling with nothing more than what's in my pockets is quite appealing to me. This is exactly what Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding (a great book on travel philosophy and tips on long term travel), is doing.
Tim Ferris has the story over on his blog, as well as some tips of his own on how to travel light. Needless to say I was very much inspired by this article and it put me into a bit of self reflection on how to trim the fat from my own luggage. However the kind of travel I'm engaging in hampers my ability to really cut down on my luggage. Unlike Rolf Potts and Tim Ferris, I'm not traveling for just 6 weeks, nor do I have an apartment from which to return from my travels. Each time I move to a new country I am uprooting my entire existence and trying to make a new life for myself there. I have almost 7 kg of camera equipment that I carry (including a beast of lens, the Canon 300mm f2.8). I've also got a recent addition of about a kilo of wood carving tools. So that's my hobbies, plus I have the consideration of finding work while abroad. This means I need several smart outfits, plus a couple of books, a folder of teaching materials and my laptop. I'm pretty much at the max for what I can carry around. I do however have the advantage that I don't often have to lug all 30 kg with me on my travels (except for 2 months in Thailand).
One piece of advice on packing that crops up from time to time is to take half the luggage and twice the cash. Again, this is something I can't apply quite so easily. I'm already taking all my cash as well as all my luggage. While the idea of traveling with just one bag sounds great, I'd rather carry it with me than re-buy things when I arrive in a new place. There are things that I tend to ditch when leaving a place. One is a fluffy bathroom towel. I travel with a Lifeventure travel towel that folds to about the size of a t-shirt, but I find that it doesn't do the job quite as well as a good fluffy cotton towel. These I buy once I'm more settled in. I traveled to Thailand without an umbrella and bought one once I was there. I brought it with me to Korea, but it has since fallen apart. Given the small size and the incredible difficulty in finding an umbrella when you really need one, I'll continue to pack one.
There is something that I want to take away from Tim's advice on packing light, and that is to allocate a certain amount of cash to be used as a settling fund, to buy the things you need once you're sure you'll need them. I think this is a great piece of advice as I'm guilty of buying things in the build-up to a trip that I think I'll need but end up never using. Most things you think you'll need (mosquito netting, personal airline seat cover, hiking boots) either don't see any action or are cheap and readily available at your destination. You might want to do a little research before hand about the availability of certain items in the country you're going to just so you don't get caught out. A surprise for me was despite the massive number of hikers in Korea, decent camping equipment is expensive and not too readily available.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Two Years, Six Countries

South Korea (August)
Getting ready to leave. I've got flights booked to the US. I'm waiting to sort out a few details for where 'll be in the States in late October before buying tickets to Costa Rica (I need a flight out of the States to be let in). I also need to apply for a 3 month position in Japan sometime this month.
USA (September and October)
Spending a week in L.A., then a week in Lake Geneva, WI before setting out on a road trip across Route 66. We might spend two weeks in the Mojave desert if Courtney gets accepted into an art residency program there.
Costa Rica (November to April)
I'm going to be wwoofing for at least November, maybe December too. In December, the application period for teaching in Spain opens. As it works on a first-come-first-served basis, I want to get my application in as soon as I can. Back in Costa Rica, the main hiring period for teachers is in January, so banking on finding work then. Hopefully I'll be spending my time teaching English, learning Spanish and chasing sloths.
Japan (May to July)
If we get the gig, then it'll be three months pretty hard graft somewhere around Mt. Fuji. Three months is long enough to get a feel for a country but still short enough to feel like a vacation. We hope to be able to put away most of our earnings to help with setting ourselves up in Spain.
UK (August and September)
What will probably be a very welcome visit home, I'll hopefully have the time to meet up with friends I wouldn't have seen for a criminally long time. I also hope to do my parents the favour of moving out and selling as much of my junk as I can that's currently taking up about half their loft.
Spain (October to May)
It'll be nice to be living and working somewhere closer to home. Hopefully six months in Costa Rica will have given me enough basic Spanish to make the transition there a little easier. I'm not 100% confident on getting the job, but apparently most people who apply get an offer. Just have to wait and see on this one. Of course, this isn't the only option for me, but 700 euros a month for a 14 hour week does sound rather appealing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cicadas, Mosquitoes and Heat, Oh My.

Had a rough night last night. Very little sleep. It was darn hot, so I tried sleeping above the covers, but then I was at the mercy of mosquitoes.
Despite my ludicrously hairy body, I was being feasted upon. So I spent most of the night hiding under the covers until I was uncomfortably hot, then lying on top of them until I was frustrated with having to slap myself wherever I thought I was being bitten.
In the end I went and got my silk sleeping bag liner and climbed into that. Around 3 a.m. I managed to drift off. Until dawn came around 5:30 and the cicadas started up.

Mosquito facts (source):
  • Only the females bite, and they use the blood not as food for themselves, but as protein for their eggs. Mosquitoes actually feed on nectar.
  • Of the 3,000 species of mosquito, only three spread most human diseases.
  • The itchiness is an allergic reaction to the mosquito's saliva.
  • Rosemary (herb) will deter mosquitoes, as will eating plenty of garlic.
Cicadas facts (source):
  • They can be heard up to 1 mile away.
  • They have a lifespan of up to 17 years (mostly as larvae).
  • They are a powerful symbol of rebirth in ancient Chinese culture.
Tips for sleeping in the heat (source):
  • Wear light clothing. This can be better than wearing less clothing.
  • Take a cool bath or shower before bed. It won't lower your core temperature, but it'll make you feel better.
  • Don't engage in physical activity or exercise too soon to going to bed. This will give your body a chance to lower it's core temperature.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals near bedtime. Try to eat cool and refreshing foods instead.