Uncornered Market » Travel Gear http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:57:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Pack For A Trek: The Ultimate Trekking Packing Listhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/how-to-pack-for-a-trek/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/how-to-pack-for-a-trek/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 16:25:11 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=14432 By Audrey Scott

How should I pack for a trek? What should I pack for a multi-day hike? What is too much? And what is too little? How am I going to carry it all? Which gear and trekking supplies should I buy in advance and which can I buy on the ground? After receiving numerous emails, queries […]

The post How to Pack For A Trek: The Ultimate Trekking Packing List appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Audrey Scott


Packing List Trek

How should I pack for a trek? What should I pack for a multi-day hike? What is too much? And what is too little? How am I going to carry it all? Which gear and trekking supplies should I buy in advance and which can I buy on the ground?

After receiving numerous emails, queries and comments asking about trekking gear and how to pack for treks, especially when the trek is incorporated into a longer trip, we decided to assemble our packing advice for treks, short and long.

By way of background, during the first six years of our journey we carried all that we needed in our backpacks so as to be prepared for just about any kind of climate or activity, from beach to glacier. In retrospect, we made some silly decisions in those early days. As a result, we schlepped a few bits we never used. But through experience and experimentation and after about a dozen multi-day treks across all continents, we got smart not only as to what gear to carry with us, but also what to buy locally or rent.

And we figured out how to do all this while on a budget.

We’ve created two pieces of content for you. The first is below and includes thorough explanations of what to bring and why. We realize it’s extensive. That’s why we’ve also created a simple one-page downloadable trekking packing checklist to help make your next packing experience smooth and easy.

Packing Checklist Trek

Note: The following advice applies mainly to multi-day treks where your sleeping and eating arrangements are taking care of already (think guest houses, lodges, huts, tea houses, or home stays). If you are camping, then you’ll need to add food, camping, and cooking gear to everything below.

Skip ahead:

Trekking Packing Myths

1. You must purchase the latest and greatest trekking gear.

It’s true that some trekking clothing technology is especially useful for lightness, wind-resistance, waterproofing and wicking (GoreTex, fleece, Polartec, etc., come to mind). However, we suggest focusing on the trekking basics: clothing that is comfortable, breathable, light, easily layered. You’re not climbing to the peak of Mount Everest here. (If you are, that’s for a future article.) For a little perspective, watching locals breeze by you in flip-flops might make all your pre-purchased fancy gear seem a little unnecessary.

So there’s no need to overspend. Go for good quality, but resist the shiny bleeding-edge trekking toys. I know it’s hard. Outdoor stores are dangerous shopping vortexes for us, too.

2. You need to bring EVERYTHING with you.

For every trek we’ve undertaken, there’s been ample opportunity to rent or buy gear to supplement our trekking kit. For example, it’s just not practical for us to carry around bulky waterproof pants in our backpacks when we only need them a tiny fraction of the time. Same goes for walking sticks and sleeping bags. Do your research and find out what is available on the ground and at what cost. Ask the tour company you’re going with or reach out to other independent travelers who’ve experienced the same trek. When you land on the ground, shop around for the best price.

Audrey with Kilimanjaro Glaciers - Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Decked out in rented trekking gear on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, we’d traveled through Bali, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Jordan and Thailand — all from the same gear in our backpacks throughout. So it was more than worth the $65 I spent in Moshi, Tanzania to rent a sleeping bag, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, walking stick, gaiters and more to get me to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Dan even rented hiking shoes for $15 which offered a little more ankle support and stability than the ones he’d been wearing. When we departed for our safari just after the Kilimanjaro trek I could just drop all that stuff off at the trekking shop and continue with my regular light backpack.

3. Real treks require camping.

This is all subjective. It’s true that camping and carrying all your own gear may give you a greater sense of independence and accomplishment and allow you to dive deeper into nature. However, we take issue with the assertion that camping equals a better trekking experience. In fact, some of our most memorable treks (e.g., Annapurna Circuit, Markha Valley Trek, Svaneti, Kalaw to Inle Lake in Burma, etc.) have been memorable precisely because of the local culture and human interaction dimensions surrounding our accommodation and food arrangements.

It’s the combined experience of nature and people (and the human nature that responds to the surrounding environment) that we find truly soul nourishing.

Packing for Your Trek: First Principles

1. It’s all about the layers.

This is true in all types of travel, long-term and short, but especially for trekking into high altitudes. Temperatures can very drastically during the course of a day. I always prefer to have an extra layer in my bag than to go cold.

Dan at Ganda La  Pass - Markha Valley Trek, Ladakh
Layers. The key to preparing for a freak Himalayan blizzard in June.

Even if the days are warm at low altitude, nights may still be chilly. On summit days you’ll often need to pile on everything you have to get to the top, only to peel it off layer by layer as you descend.

2. Rest and sleeping clothes.

I learned this from the folks at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales near Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. They called the yucky, stinky clothes you’ll find yourself wearing every day until the very end your uniform. In light of this — and even if you are going minimalist — try to include an extra set of night clothes to change into at the end of the day. These clothes will be dry (quite important if you’ve hit snow or rain that day), comfortable and relatively clean. I usually pack an extra t-shirt, pajama pants and socks. I’ll further layer other clothes on top to stay warm at night. Regardless, the layer closest to my skin is dry and relatively fresh.

Oh, the little joys while on the trekking trail.

This technique also gives your wet and stinky clothes a chance to dry and air out overnight. The next morning you can slip back into your trekking clothes — yes, your uniform — and you’ll be ready to go.

3. Never skimp on sun protection.

As you advance higher in elevation, the sun becomes scary strong. So even if you tan beautifully on the beach without any sunscreen, be sure to pack ample and strong sunscreen. Carry a hat that will protect your face from the sun (think rollable foldable sun or jungle hat — we don’t need to look pretty while trekking). Trekking with sunburn — head, face or hands — is miserable. And if your sunburn is bad enough, you’ll almost feel flu-like. Not good for peak performance.

Also be sure to have sunglasses with quality lenses that protect your eyes. Otherwise, they too will become burned and sore.

Trekking gear: Bags and Clothes to bring on a multi-day trek

Backpacks and Bags

Small backpack: You’ll be carrying all your stuff on your back up and down mountain passes so the size, fit and comfort of your pack is important. Aim to carry a pack that is big enough to hold the essentials, yet not too big that it will weigh you down. The size will depend on how many days your trek is and whether or not you will camp. Don’t forget to bring a rain cover to protect your backpack in storms.

We’ve often repurposed our Crumpler laptop bag and rented backpacks from trekking agencies. They usually did the trick, but they were not always entirely appropriate and thus kind to our back and shoulders. This may be something you want to invest in before your trek.

Trekking in Ladakh with Crumpler - Markha Valley Trek
Repurposing our Crumpler laptop backpack for the Himalayas.

Camera bag: If you’re carrying a DSLR camera and multiple lenses consider packing a separate camera bag to protect your gear and to allow you easy access to it. We use a camera bag with a waist belt that allows the bag’s weight to rest on the hips rather than on the shoulders. We can still wear a backpack or daypack on top.

Dry Sack: You never know when it’s going to rain or snow, so prepare for the worst — particularly if you have gear that must remain dry. We carry a dry sack with us in order to protect our gear against freak storms or inadvertent submersions while fording rivers.

Dan Takes in the Mountain View - Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Dry sack to protect camera and electronics against rain.

Trekking Clothes, Jackets and Shoes

Clothes: For a seven day trek we each carry one pair of trekking pants, thermal underwear (top/bottom), 3 t-shirts, 1 long-sleeved travel/trekking shirt, pajama/sleeping pants, underwear (what you’re comfortable with), 3 pairs of socks. I love my silk long johns as they are warm, comfy and take up almost no room at all.

If you are going on a shorter trek then you can cut back, but if your trek is longer you can still carry the same amount of clothes or even less. You’ll just need to “recycle” them more or find a way to wash them along the way. By recycle, I mean turn things inside-out, air them out, wash them. Whatever the best mechanism you have available to give it longer life and whatever your tolerance level might be. The most important thing is not whether you stink (there’s a good chance you just might), but that you are dry and comfortable.

As mentioned above, my approach is to carry and maintain separate trekking and sleeping (or relaxing at night) clothes.

Outerwear (jackets and waterproof pants): I always prefer to have the option to remove layers than to not have enough to put on when I’m beginning to chill as I head over a mountain pass or through a storm.

For jackets, we each usually bring a fleece jacket, thin windbreaker and waterproof outer jacket. We usually borrow or rent waterproof pants (and sometimes jackets) from a local trekking agency.

Hiking Shoes: Shoes may be the most important thing you bring with you so if you invest in one thing in advance, invest in a solid comfortable pair of hiking shoes. And break them in. Your shoes can literally make or break a trip. Ask in advance whether you need mid- or high-cut hiking shoes for ankle support as this may influence your purchasing decision. We don’t find ourselves often needing high-cut boots. However, if your ankles are weak or susceptible to turns and sprains, more support is better than less.

We wore Vasque Scree Low Ultradry Hiking Shoes for over a year and really like them not only because they are supremely comfortable shoes, but also because they are waterproof and quick drying (which we tested hopping across and into streams on our Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh). Vasque stopped making these shoes for women last year so I’m now using the Mantra GTX Hiking Shoes.

Flip flops or river shoes: At the end of a long day of walking you may want to take off your hiking shoes and give your feet a rest. But you’ll still need something on your feet to go to and from the outhouse or nearest bush. That’s where flip flops or river shoes worn with socks (yes, ignore the fashion police) are perfect. Outside of these situations, you may find river sandals either useful or required for crossing or fording rivers. Depending on the bottom surface of the river and the depth, we’ve also just managed in bare feet or with our waterproof hiking boots, given some time to dry.

Other Trekking Gear

Headlamp: Lights the way and keeps your hands free. If you’re staying with families in guest houses or home stays, you may find they are without electricity at night or in the bathroom/outhouse, a most unfortunate place to trip in the dark. If you’re camping, headlamps are of course absolutely essential.

Quick-Drying Travel Towel: Always good to start and end your day by washing your hands and face. Don’t expect hot showers on treks, nor running water of any kind. But on a few occasions we’ve been able to get a couple of bucket baths that were really, really nice.

Silk sleep sack: Arguably non-essential, but nice to have. Whether staying in home stays with provided bedding or sleeping in a rented sleeping bag, you sometimes wonder when the last time anything was properly laundered. And you may also wonder about bed bugs and other critters. That’s where a sleep sack with a pillow wrap comes in to provide a clean layer between you and everything else. Prophylactic!

Note: We do not carry a sleeping bag with us. If we need one for a trek or camping, we rent one locally.

Reusable water bottle: We carry a reusable liter water bottle on us and refill along the way. A CamelBak type water bladder in the backpack also works really well. Even if the trek has bottled water to sell, resist the urge to buy bottled water, as plastic bottle waste is an enormous problem at elevation and in villages around the world.

Water Purification: Some treks will provide you with clean, boiled water as part of the service (e.g., Kilimanjaro, Markha Valley). Sometimes there will be a program of UV (ultraviolet) purified or pass-filter cleaned water services in villages where you can refill your bottle with clean water for a small fee. Hop on it, maybe even pay a little extra. It’s worth it to you, the village, and the environment.

On other treks it’s up to you to somehow purify or clean the water you source from mountain streams or village taps. We suggest carrying a combination of a SteriPEN and sterilization tablets or drops. The SteriPEN uses ultraviolet (UV) light and technology to purify the water which does not affect the taste. The sterilization tablets or drops may make the water taste a little funny, but it won’t make you sick. We find water sterilization drops to be a little easier to abide and stomach than sterilization pills.

Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses: Bring the highest SPF sunscreen you can find and wear a hat at all times. The sun’s rays are exceptionally powerful at altitude and you’ll find yourself especially exposed when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

Moisturizing skin cream and lip balm (with SPF): Creams and moisturizers may sound extraneous, but they can make a difference. Many mountain treks involve high desert where you will not only be exposed to lots of sun, but also arid conditions. Your skin and lips will dry and crack to discomfort if you don’t keep them moist. Treat them nicely: moisturize! And be sure to carry only a tiny lightweight container, not the original 32 oz. tube!

Walking stick: Highly recommended on most treks, especially for downhill sections. If you don’t bring a walking stick with you, then keep your eye out for a tree branch or limb that can be carved for the purpose. Two walking sticks or one, you ask? We’ll rent or purchase a set and share the set between the two of us so each of us uses one stick.

Snacks: Even if your meals are provided to you on a trek, it’s sometimes nice to have a little something to nibble on between stops. We usually bring a small stash combination of Snickers bars, granola/power bars, a jar of peanut butter and crackers. You’ll want a little bit of both salty and sweet foods.

Peanut Butter, Snack of Champions - Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Peanut butter. Helped us up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Hand sanitation gel and soap: One of the best ways to avoid becoming ill: wash your hands thoroughly and often. If you feel a little obsessive compulsive with the hand cleaning, that’s a good thing.

Toilet paper: One roll, used sparingly. Better to be self-sufficient here. No explanation needed.

Medicines: You may be miles or days away from any doctor so be sure to have some basic medicines with you in case you (or others) fall ill. On our treks, we’ve picked up sinus infections and helped others who have picked up the wrong kind of gut bacteria. Having the basics with us allowed us to deal with medical issues immediately and to keep going.

We recommend packing: band-aids, aspirin/Tylenol, Cipro (or other stomach antibiotic), Amoxicillin (or other basic antibiotic to treat sinus infections), rehydration packets, anti-flu powder (a packet that dissolves in water that breaks fevers may work better than a pill if someone has been throwing up), and duct tape (magic in preventing and managing blisters). For a full list of travel medicines and how to use them, check out these travel health tips.

Note: You can easily stock up on medicines at pharmacies in many developing countries. Basic medicines such as the ones listed here and in the article above will likely be astonishingly cheap and will often not require a prescription.

Earplugs: A good night’s sleep on the trekking trail is supremely important for your condition. And although you may be sleeping in the middle of nowhere, there are still noises from roosters, howler monkeys, birds, lions, and not least other trekkers that will all conspire to keep you up. That’s where earplugs come to the rescue and help shut it all down to silence.

Batteries, memory cards: It’s usually better to assume that you won’t find electricity along your trekking route. If you do, consider it gravy. Be sure to ask your trekking guide or agency, or other route-experienced travelers (either in forums or once you are on the ground). Ask them all once, then again for good measure. Bring extra memory cards for your camera so you have ample space to snap away or record video.

This means you should try to bring extra batteries for your camera, headlamp, and anything else that’s battery-powered. If you’re carrying your smartphone with you consider bringing an extra battery pack and putting your phone on Airplane Mode to preserve battery life. If there’s electricity along your trek and you’d like to recharge, by all means bring rechargers. We do. But it’s just something else to pack — and something you must prioritize when the final bag stuff begins just prior to setting off.

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What did we miss? What are your go-to items for trekking?

———

If you want all of the above in a nifty 1-page PDF checklist, then click below.

Packing Checklist Trek

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ExOfficio Travel Clothes: From Backpacking to Businesshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/exofficio-travel-clothes/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/exofficio-travel-clothes/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 14:43:16 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=9314 By Audrey Scott

This is a story of what we wear — and how, when you pack so little, you’d better make it count. When all your clothes need to fit into a couple of packing cubes, every item seems precious. Multi-purposed too, like a Swiss Army knife. Easily layered, sink-washed to dry overnight or even in hours, […]

The post ExOfficio Travel Clothes: From Backpacking to Business appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Audrey Scott

This is a story of what we wear — and how, when you pack so little, you’d better make it count.

When all your clothes need to fit into a couple of packing cubes, every item seems precious. Multi-purposed too, like a Swiss Army knife. Easily layered, sink-washed to dry overnight or even in hours, and good-looking when it needs to be. Sturdy enough to hold up through chicken bus rides and mountain summits, yet professional enough to give presentations and wear to business meetings.

Not asking much, are we?

Tree Pose at the End of the World - Petra, Jordan
Decked out in ExOfficio, we pose the tree pose at “the end of the world” in Petra, Jordan

We demand a lot from our travel gear. We wear it, we beat it up, we often wear it out. It’s through this lens that we evaluate some ExOfficio clothes through two distinctly different experiences: a presentation to an audience that included a famous political satirist and a search for tigers in the mangrove forests of Bangladesh.

ExOfficio: Good enough for P.J. O’Rourke?

Seconds before launching into a presentation at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) about our experiences in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Chief of Staff whispered in my ear: “By the way, that guy straight ahead is P.J. O’Rourke. He’s watching your presentation.”

Finding out that a famous political satirist is in the audience just minutes before giving a presentation is a great way to kick start the nerves. But for all our anxieties, our appearance and our clothes were not among them. They fit our role: adventure travelers, storytellers, professionals.

A slideshow rolled behind us as we shared stores of traveling independently across the former Soviet Union: hospitality in Georgia, living with a host family in Armenia, traversing Caspian Sea by boat, curiosity in Turkmenistan, small world experiences in Kyrgyzstan, almost dying crossing the land border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the stunning beauty of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.

Every now and then during our presentation, we’d look out to O’Rourke scribbling notes. We wondered: “Is he getting fodder for his next article? Perhaps something to poke fun at?”

As we finished, we were quickly surrounded in visits and questions. O’Rourke slipped out of the room; we never did have a chance to ask him about those notes. If in his next bit of published work you find reference to CouchSurfing with KGB agents, getting lost in the Tian Shan mountains, or having to abide a slideshow dished by some well-dressed wide-eyed scrappy travelers, please let us know.

Audrey’s Outfit: Women’s Nio Amphi Pants and Women’s Savvy Athena Long-Sleeve Shirt
Dan’s Outfit: Men’s Bugsaway Ziwa Convertible Pant and Men’s Bugsaway Baja Long Sleeve Shirt

ExOfficio: Tough Enough for Bangladesh?

The real test of any travel clothes is how they hold up on the road. So how did our ExOfficio duds hold up while backpacking for more than five weeks across Bangladesh?

It was the beginning of the hot season in Bangladesh. On the street, in buses, on bicycle rickshaws and in steamy hotel rooms – we were regularly covered in sweat and lathered in filth within minutes. And since we had left a backpack behind at our friend’s house to lighten our load for public transport, we carried even fewer clothes than usual.

Visiting a School in Hatiandha, Bangladesh
Audrey’s ExOfficio Nio Amphi Pants with a Bangladeshi top.

Virtually every night involved a brief laundry ritual, a hope of rescuing our clothes and keeping pace with the accumulation of dirt, sweat and smell from the day. Hand wash pants, shirts, underwear. Hang it all up. And every morning begin anew with freshly cleaned duds, only to devastate our clothes once we hit the streets again. Resurrect them that evening, begin the process anew.

Dan in Bangladeshi Village - Outside Srimongal, Bangladesh
Dan cycles through a village outside Srimongal, Bangladesh.

There we were in the Sundarbans, the tiger-dotted tidal mangrove forests in southern Bangladesh on a 3-day live-aboard boat tour of the area. Days often featured forest walks and tromps in the mud. Invariably, our clothes were caked in mud.

Trekking through the Mangrove Forests of the Sundarbans - Bangladesh
Looking for tigers with our trusty guard in the Sundarban mangrove forest of Bangladesh

At the end of the day, I’d strip down, determined to keep pace with my filthy clothes.

I stood at a line of sinks at the back of the boat soaking and scrubbing my ExOfficio pants (trousers, if you like) with a bar of laundry soap. One of the other passengers, a well-traveled passenger from North America asked, “Do you wash your clothes like that every day?”

“Only when I need to. It’s really not so bad.”

To wash your clothes in the sink and have them air dry in hours – that’s a luxury when you’re on the road adventuring, collecting grime and focusing on the matter at hand: travel, not laundry. It also always helps to look decent, respectful.

In just a couple of hours, my pants, shirt, underwear and socks will be ready again, fresh for another tiger search.

—-

After a year of wearing ExOfficio through: TBEX New York, presentations and a photo shoot in Prague, 10th Anniversary trip to Tuscany, Bavarian wine harvest, Wadi Rum, Petra and Zikra Initiative visit in Jordan, tracking tigers and visiting schools in Bangladesh, climbing Mt. Batur volcano in Bali, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and The Serengeti in Tanzania.

Still going, still look good. Hard to beat that.

Our Year in ExOfficio Travel Clothes

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you’d like to read the captions, you can view the ExOfficio travel clothes photo essay.

 

Audrey’s Gear: ExOfficio Travel Clothes for Women

  • Women’s Nio Amphi Pants: I love these pants. They are comfortable, light, have good zipped pockets, wick moisture well (sweat, too) and they dry very quickly. I wear them all the time. For presentations and professional meetings, they look great paired with a nice top (see below).
  • Women’s Savvy Athena Long Sleeve Shirt (White): Another piece of clothing I enjoy and wear a lot. It’s comfortable and tough enough for walks in the hot sun; it handles heat and sweat well. I love it paired with the pants above or with jeans for a presentation or special dinner out. Also, it was easy to hand wash and it dries really quickly.
  • Women’s Dryflylite™ Long-Sleeve Cover (Hoodie): The Dryflylite material for this top is very thin, but it provides just enough warmth to cut a chill in the air. It’s light enough to wear when it’s hot outside and you want to cover your arms (e.g., for sun protection or to dress conservatively).
  • Women’s Dryflylite Long Sleeve Shirt: Comfortable, surprisingly good in hot climates as it dries quickly. Useful for layering when it gets cold. Sleeves are a little too short for my arms, so I always wear them rolled up.
  • Women’s Vent’R Capri Pant: The first pair of capri pants I’ve ever owned. I was skeptical at first, but they were perfect for European summer and year-round in Thailand.
  • Nio Amphi Shorts (old style): I wore these at the beach and they were comfortable and flexible. But because I tend to dress rather conservatively when we travel, I found these to be a bit too short for my personal taste. I’ve noticed that the new ExOfficio shorts are a bit longer, which is better for travel clothes.
  • ExOfficio Underwear: My relationship with ExOfficio underwear got off to a rocky start. When I first picked up a few pairs in 2006, I found the bikini undies bulky and bunchy. I got rid of them. But, in recent years the design has changed and I do really like the new models for comfort as well as the fact that they dry quicker than other undies I own. I’m currently using: Women’s Give-N-Go String Bikini, Women’s Give-N-Go Lacy Thong and Women’s Give-N-Go Lacy Low Rise Bikini. Don’t know how they did it, but the Give-N-Go Lacy line is proof that travel underwear can be sexy. Hard combination to pull off.
  • Women’s Give-N-Go Shelf Bra Camisole: Great to sleep in when it’s hot, warm enough to wear as a layering option.

Note: I found that ExOfficio women’s clothes run large. I don’t consider myself particularly petite, yet I often wear ExOfficio XS or size 4. Especially if you are ordering online, take note. You may want to go to a shop first to find your correct size.

Dan’s Gear: ExOfficio Travel Clothes for Men

  • Men’s Bugsaway Ziwa Convertible Pant: When I first looked at them, I thought “kinda thin.” If anything, that feature has been an aid to comfort. They are comfortable, they look great, are simple to wash and lightning fast to dry. My only beef (clothing engineers, this is a request), the pockets. This pair features one zip pocket on the left, another velcro pocket on the right. I’d love to see something more secure than the velcro and an added hidden inner zip pocket in the left pocket for keys, money, valuables. Having said that, I’ve carried scads of gear — especially in the zip pocket — without any problems.
  • Men’s Bugsaway Baja Long Sleeve Shirt: If I need to look especially decent or professional for a presentation or a meeting, this is the shirt. It’s also useful for repelling mosquitos because it features a mosquito repellent embedded in the fabric (lasts for a couple dozen washes, apparently).
  • Men’s Hid’n Away Short-Sleeve Shirt: Funny, when I received this shirt, I didn’t think much of it. But I began wearing it and received endless compliments on its appearance. Looks good and washes and dries quickly.
  • Men’s Reef Runner Lite Long Sleeve Shirt (Blue) : If the Bugsaway pants don’t have enough pockets, this shirt certainly does. It’s like a lightweight photojournalist vest merged with an outback shirt. No matter how much dirt I throw at it, it always seems to look good. Lightning fast to dry, too.
  • Men’s Nio Amphi Short (Long): I’ve trudged through mud and water, rivers and swimming pools with these. They have sort of an indestructible quality to them. Good pockets, too.
  • Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer: I don’t need any other underwear on the road. Perfectly comfortable, easy-to-wash, quick drying. Sturdy. Doesn’t seem to wear out, but it does occasionally vanish while at the laundry service. An occasion for tears.
  • Bugsaway Purdom Hiker Sock: If there’s any place on my body that needs protection from bugs, it’s my feet. Comfy socks that help repel mosquitos (and odor, too) is genius. (Like the pants and shirt above, the mosquito repellent is embedded in the fabric.) For having traveled so much, my feet are in exceptionally good condition. I credit that to wearing socks like these.

ExOfficio Underwear Giveaway

We have two pairs of men’s and two pairs of women’s ExOfficio underwear to give away to some lucky winners.

Like our Facebook Page and leave a comment below answering the following question before 25 September, 2011.

Where in the world would you most like to be with a pair of ExOfficio underwear? Dream big, be creative.

We’ll choose four winners (two women, two men) at random. Available only for shipment to addresses in the U.S.A.

Disclosure: ExOfficio provided clothing above to us, but the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Poo, Pills and Parasites: Around the World Travel Health Tipshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/around-the-world-travel-health-tips/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/around-the-world-travel-health-tips/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2011 14:40:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5590 By Daniel Noll

An around-the-world traveler’s guide to diarrhea, malaria, altitude sickness, motion sickness, headaches, birth control, eggy burps, cuts, scrapes, and green snot. During my first journey outside of North America in 1997, I flew from India to Australia. On that flight, courtesy of some of Mumbai’s most phenomenal street food, my bowels turned to liquid, so […]

The post Poo, Pills and Parasites: Around the World Travel Health Tips appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Daniel Noll

An around-the-world traveler’s guide to diarrhea, malaria, altitude sickness, motion sickness, headaches, birth control, eggy burps, cuts, scrapes, and green snot.

During my first journey outside of North America in 1997, I flew from India to Australia. On that flight, courtesy of some of Mumbai’s most phenomenal street food, my bowels turned to liquid, so much so that the flight attendants officially changed my seat from 24G to Lavatory Aft.

When I arrived in Sydney, I was totally unprepared to enjoy such a beautiful city. All I could do was poop. Actually, it was more akin to peeing, but out of the wrong orifice. And it wouldn’t stop. So I called one of the travel doctors listed in the Lonely Planet who promptly paid a house call to my hotel and charged me $90 to issue me this phenomenal bit of insight: “Oh, you just have a tummy ache.”

He grabbed his doctor bag and whistled out the door without dispensing any advice, medication, or course of action. And I whistled back to the toilet.

At best, this “travel doctor” was totally unprepared for a traveler from India. At worst, he was a hack who had somehow lucked his way into the Lonely Planet.

This guy didn’t know sh** — quite literally.

So what?

After you’ve traveled all over the creation, battling and dodging a few bugs, you come to know a few things. Or at least you think you know a few things. Or your readers think you know a few things. And they send you emails asking some very good questions over and over again about how to travel the world and avoid and treat various illnesses.

Then finally one day, you write down the answers to their questions and you put it in one place.

This is that place.

So here goes. A list of common travel illness scenarios, where they are likely to occur based on our limited experience, how you might want to treat what is going on, and some secrets on how to acquire drugs inexpensively.

Disclaimer: We do not advocate unyielding doctor avoidance and rampant self-medication. Sometimes there can be something seriously wrong, but quite often, there are some simple ways to treat what ails you without spending a lot of cash on piles of medicine at home or an overpriced doctor abroad.

Common Travel Ailments and What To Do About Them

1. I’m pooping too much! (or, It’s coming out of both ends!)

What it is: Difficult to diagnose over the internet, but most traveler’s diarrhea or vomiting comes from an intestinal bacteria or viral infection. Could pick this up from food, water, dirty glass, anything.
Where and when it happens: Countries throughout Asia and Latin America (we suppose Africa too, but we haven’t been there yet on this journey). Do your best to prevent getting sick from food with these simple tips.
What to do: But if you do get sick, the answer comes in several stages:

a) Treat the urgent: Here’s the scenario – you board an overnight bus in Kazakhstan with a queasy stomach (and it just so happens to be your birthday) and you know the toilet stops will be few and far between. From your money belt, you take a Lomotil (a tiny pill that in most cases turns your insides to concrete) or an Immodium to stop you up for the ride. Disaster averted for a few hours.

b) Address the root cause: If you’ve got it bad or your traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away in a day or two, it’s likely you’ve got a bacterial or viral infection. We carry a supply of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) — an antibiotic easily found almost anywhere in the world — as our first line of treatment. Often, you’ll see your body recovering in a day or two. Once you begin taking an antibiotic, you MUST take the full course. Never stop after you feel good.

Antibiotics and Rehydration Drink
Traveler’s Medical Tool Kit: Rehydration powders, Ciprofloxacin and Amoxicillan

If you have a virus, antibiotics will not help you. Period. If what you have lasts more than a couple of days without reprieve or improvement, a doctor is in order.

If your body won’t let you keep anything down, including medication, focus on (c) below until you can.

c) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Don’t just drink plain water, but find yourself some packets of hydration salts or buy some light Gatorade and cut it with water. This will help replenish your system with salts, sugars and minerals that your body has purged in response to the bacteria. And don’t take this advice lightly; it’s all too easy to end up in the hospital from dehydration.

2. My burps smell like eggs.

What it is: When you’ve got a case of burps that smell and taste like eggs, rotten eggs or sulfur, there’s a good chance you are dealing with a water-borne parasite like giardia.
Where and when it happens: Latin America, Asia, Africa.
What to do: Take a full dose of Tinidazole (4 tablets at the same time). If you can’t get tinidazole, try flagyl. If you in fact have this particular parasite, the burps will go away and you’ll feel better pretty quickly. If they don’t, get yourself to a doctor.

3. I can’t poop!

What it is: Con-sti-pa-tion.
Where and when it happens: This is usually never a problem in places like India or Thailand, but it can slow you down when you hit the pasta, bread and dumpling belt of Central, Eastern and Mediterranean Europe.
What to do: What can we tell you? We don’t carry pills for this one. Back off the pasta, dumplings, bread, and cheese. Down as much fruit, greens and water as you possibly can. If that doesn’t work, bring out the big guns and eat a bag of Chinese salted prunes (with another few liters of water). And if that still doesn’t work, find your way to a pharmacy and have fun charading your problem.

4. I don’t want to get malaria.

What it is: A parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitos.
Where it happens: Africa, parts of Asia, select parts of Latin America
What to do: Once you have a rough itinerary, consult the CDC malaria map to determine malaria risk for the regions where you are traveling. Two things will matter most: where you are going and in what season.

Not all malaria is created equal, so you’ll need different medication for different parts of the world.

Doxycycline: Usually good for places like India and Bangladesh. Insanely cheap when purchased locally. Two things to note: doxycycline tends to make people more sun-sensitive. It can also conflict with some birth control pills.

Malarone: We’re carrying it for an expected trip to Africa. It’s outrageously expensive, but its chemistry supposedly messes with your mind and body less than larium or mefloquin, the traditional malaria prophylactics used for Africa.

On the cutting edge of malaria remedies is the Chinese artemisia plant (or qing hao, “sweet wormwood” or “sweet annie”). Although we’ve heard it’s possible to get herbal concoctions of artemisia (or artemisinin) in Africa, it appears to be commercially available from Novartis as the drug Coartem (Artemether 20 mg, lumefantrine 120 mg). It’s apparently now on the WHO essential medical list.

Dengue fever? There is no prophylactic medicine for dengue. The best thing you can do is avoid being bitten — particularly during the day, as dengue mosquitos are usually day-biters.

5. I’m going to puke on this bus/boat.

What it is: Motion sickness
Where and when it happens: On windy buses in the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Myanmar, and Laos. Or crossing the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica.
What to do: If you’re prone to motion sickness, keep a stash of Dramomine or similar in your money belt and take it 30 minutes before departure. If you take it once you’re on the road, it’s too late. As a side benefit, Dramomine will usually knock you out so you don’t have to watch the death defying acts of the bus.

Purchase a pair of pressure point wrist bands (usually go by the name of Sea Bands). Not sure if their effect is psychosomatic or real, but I’ve found them helpful in the past.

6. I’ve gone too high. My head is going to explode.

What it is: Altitude sickness.
When and where it happens: Hiking or walking anywhere above 2500 meters, particularly if you’ve just arrived by air, train, or bus. The worst we’ve ever experienced was taking the bus from sea level in Lima to Huancavelica, Peru over South America’s highest pass. Flying into Lhasa, Tibet from Kathmandu was also bad. Cold sweats and a feeling like our heads were going to blow right off.

Taking a Break - Day 2 of Salkantay Trek, Peru
Feeling the altitude on the Salkantay Trek in Peru.

What to do: If you can, take altitude slowly, acclimatize. Outside of that, we prefer local remedies like garlic soup (recommended in the Nepali Himalayas to thin the blood) or coca leaves (recommended in the Andes, chewed or in served in coca tea) before resorting to traditional altitude sickness drugs like Diamoxx.

7. My snot is green.

What it is: When that cold or cough starts producing thick mucous, then yellow mucous, then green, it’s possible you’ve probably developed a sinus infection.
Where it often happens: After a lot of hand-shaking or holding onto stuff in public, not washing your hands. In heavily polluted cities where air quality is poor and there is lots of stuff floating around the air. Dhaka, Bangladesh and Beijing, China come to mind.
What to do: After 7-10 days with no improvement, go for a round of an antibiotic like Amoxicillan. It seems like Amoxicillin has fallen out of fashion in the U.S. (probably because it’s been overprescribed and is no longer terribly effective) but it is easily found around the world and has worked for us.

A note on antibiotics: We try to avoid taking antibiotics if we can because they kill all the bacteria in your body, including the good bacteria in your gut (yes, there is such a thing and it helps keep you alive). Additionally, over-prescription of antibiotics in recent years has helped lead to drug-resistant supergerms.

8. There is a little man pounding inside my skull.

What it is: Depending upon the intensity and location of said little man, you could be experiencing a garden-variety headache or a migraine.
Where and when it happens: After a series of overnight buses with blaring music (especially Tibetan music) and jerky stops. Sleeping in cheap hotels with oversized pillows and people yelling outside your room during the night.
What to do: For regular headaches, Tylenol or Advil will usually do the trick.

Audrey experiences debilitating migraines with such intensity that it makes her stomach turn and she feels as though her head is no longer connected to her body. For these, she uses Saridon (Paracetamol 250 mg, Propyphenazone 150 mg, Caffeine 50 mg), an over-the-counter medication (in Czech Republic, that is).

9. Help! I’ve got blood oozing from my arm/leg.

What it is: Scrape, cut, road rash.
Where it happens: While riding motorbikes around Koh Samui, Thailand or juggling knives. Or an Italian porcupine quill stabs you from the depth of your backpack.
What to do: Until recently, we had only used band-aids for topical cuts and blisters. Then, I wiped out on a motorbike and we had to dig a bit deeper into the medical kit.
a) Saline solution – for disinfecting and cleaning wounds
b) Povidine – anti-infective
c) Antibiotic cream (polysporin) – after cleaning, put on top to fight infection
d) Cortisone cream – for bad bites and skin rashes

Medical Kit: For Scrapes, Cuts and Blisters
First Aid for Scrapes and Cuts

Note: After my motorbike incident in Thailand, my first instinct was to take a shower and scrub the wounds with antibiotic soap. We later learned that this was unwise. Water in Thailand is full of bacteria (as it is in many places). I could actually have made my situation worse by infecting my open wounds.

10. I don’t want to get pregnant (umm, that’s Audrey writing here)

What it is and where it happens: Me hopes you should be able to figure this one out on your own.
What to do: Contraception options are many, but if you choose to take birth control pills, here’s some advice:

Before you leave home, ask your doctor to put you on a pill with a hormone formula that is more universally known (i.e., you do not want cutting edge technology). Drugs are known by different names around the world, so write down the commercial name of the drug as well as its chemical and hormone structure.

In our experience, many countries outside of North America and Europe (and I assume Australia) will sell birth control pills without a prescription. Along your journey drop into pharmacies and ask if they carry your particular pill. Birth control pills were rather expensive (especially by local standards) and choice was limited in many Central and South American countries. However, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in Argentina. Same goes for Thailand. So, when you find yourself in a country that carries what you need for a good price, stock up.

How do you score all these drugs on the road?

We’ll let you in on a little secret. Most pharmacies outside Europe, North America and Australia will sell you whatever you need without a prescription and at a much lower cost than you’ll find at home. Our advice: if you’re going on a long journey, travel first to a country where prescriptions are not required for basic medications.

Thai Pharmacy - Koh Samui
Pharmacy in Thailand.

For example, when we arrived in Thailand in December 2006, in anticipation of a trip to Central Asia, we took the recommended medications page from our Lonely Planet Central Asia guidebook to a pharmacy in Bangkok. Within a few minutes we had a counter covered with everything we needed.

Prescriptions: not necessary.

Prices: much cheaper than back home in either the Czech Republic or the U.S..

Medicines (at least based on our experience): authentic.

The pharmacist spoke English well and reviewed indications and dosage for everything we bought. We were good to go. Thus, our portable pharmacy was born.

Our Portable Pharmacy
Audrey and Our Portable Pharmacy

Advice on Buying and Restocking Medicines Abroad

  • Write down the chemicals (and percentages) that go into the medication you need instead of just the commercial or generic name of it. The chemical names translate roughly the same in all languages even if the medication is called by another name in that country.
  • If you fear purchasing fake or sub-par medicine, find yourself a major pharmacy chain (e.g., Boots or Watsons in Thailand), ask locals where they buy their medication or go directly to a reputable hospital to buy from the onsite pharmacy.
  • Be aware that if you require highly specialized or newly released medication, you may not be able to find it on the road. In that case, you should purchase a supply for the length of your trip from your pharmacy at home. Also ask your doctor if there is a similar medication or formulation which might be more widely available around the world and switch to it instead.

So, that’s the low down on a few of medications we carry with us on our travels. What do you do? What’s in your portable pharmacy?

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Backing Up Is Hard to Dohttp://uncorneredmarket.com/backing-up-your-data-digital-nomad/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/backing-up-your-data-digital-nomad/#comments Fri, 07 Jan 2011 05:16:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5604 By Daniel Noll

Do yourself the most mundane – yet valuable – of favors in the new year: back up your data. If a hard drive has ever failed you, you’ll know the feeling. It’s like that scene in the horror movie when the victim, in the stroke of a nanosecond, realizes the peril. At that point, the […]

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By Daniel Noll

Do yourself the most mundane – yet valuable – of favors in the new year: back up your data.

2 TB in My Hands - Portable External Hard Drives
2TB of Data in our Hands.

If a hard drive has ever failed you, you’ll know the feeling. It’s like that scene in the horror movie when the victim, in the stroke of a nanosecond, realizes the peril. At that point, the knife is through the curtain and the damage is done. It’s all over.

And you’re asking yourself, “Why didn’t she just run when she had the chance?

So why didn’t you back up your data when you had the chance?

Through five failed hard drives of our own in the last two years – some data backed up, some not — we’ve had to ask ourselves the same question too many times.

We’ve learned a thing or two through this pain. Here’s all you’d ever want to know about how we manage and back up our data while living a nomadic life and bouncing around on chicken buses.

Passengers Waiting for the Bus Repair - Marcala, Honduras
Audrey with her mobile office on her back at the border between Honduras and El Salvador

The Reality: All Hard Drives Are Dying

In a previous professional incarnation, I did consulting work at a major hard drive manufacturer in Silicon Valley. Based on what I witnessed there, I have always found it a miracle that spinning hard drives actually function at all.

And if you’ve ever seen the inside of a hard drive – a lesson in absurd fragility – you’ll understand that it’s not a matter of if the hard drive will fail, but rather when. All spinning hard drives are in the process of dying. It’s only a matter of when they decide to call it quits.

The imperative: back up your data before it’s too late.

Our Requirements for Data Backup

While data backup applies to everyone – we all have data we don’t want to lose – we realize that our special requirements are significantly more complex because of our chosen lifestyle and how we make our living. To digital nomads and travel bloggers, this will be familiar territory. To the rest of you, be very thankful you don’t have to deal with all of this.

  • We have extraordinary amounts of data (well over 3 TB of photos, videos, etc.) that we are continually adding to. We need reliable access to all of it regardless of our location.
  • We are often in places that feature slow internet connections, as in speeds that recall the dial-up era.
  • We need a data contingency plan in case theft or natural disasters take away everything on us.
  • We are often in places where shipping can be expensive and/or unreliable and where receiving electronic items from home can set off the greed of local customs officials and more paperwork than Kafka’s worst nightmare (try sending something to Lima, Peru if you don’t believe me).

How We Back Up Our Data

By no means is ours a perfect setup, but it fulfills our needs. And, of course, we welcome your suggestions.

1) Back it all up before you leave home (or when you return periodically)

Make sure you have a master copy of your data (copy of your laptop and any external hard drive data) backed up in a safe place at home. We now have a copy of our basic data on a 2 TB drive stored at a friend’s place in San Francisco. Before this, we kept backups of data on hard drives stored in Prague.

In this case, if you lose a hard drive on the road, you can have someone copy your data to another portable drive and mail it to you. We can vouch for this from experience; this saved me an early heart attack. The tricky part is to continually update your master copy with new data while on the road.

Digital Nomad, Audrey on Laptop - Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Audrey’s office for the day in Guatemala.

2) Back up your laptop with something like Time Machine

We both own MacBooks, so using Time Machine for regular backups of our laptops is a no brainer. If you have a PC and are using Microsoft Windows, you can try the native Backup Status and Restore functionality. Outside of that, there are dozens of 3rd party products, many of which come already installed on the external hard drive, that will do the trick.

For Time Machine (or a similar alternative), format an external hard drive that is larger than your computer’s hard drive (ideally, find one that is more twice the size). From there, you just need to be diligent to plug in the external hard drive regularly to keep up with your new data.

Don’t do what I did in 2009 and put it off until it was too late; my 2010 started with the loss of months of unsaved notes, drafts and other files. I then spent way too more money than I’d like to remember at three different places trying to recover the data to no avail. It still pains me to think about it. Please, please don’t do this to yourself.

3) Back up to multiple locations

It may sound like overkill to have data backed up in at least two places. After three drives died last year without warning, paranoia began to sink in.

Extra external hard drive. This essentially means saving the same data on two external hard drives and carrying this with you until you are able to transfer the data to your safe place at home. Although it could happen, the chances that both your external drives will fail at the same time is unlikely. However, theft is always a possibility so try to keep your drives in separate bags while traveling.

4) Sending new data home

We are always planning for the worst-case scenario — that all our laptops and external hard drives die or get stolen. This means that we need to keep updating the data we have stored at home with new data. We’ve found this can be tricky, time intensive and expensive. Here are some ideas on how to do this.

Periodically, copy your new data onto a smaller external hard drive (you can find these in most places nowadays) and send it home or to a person you trust. The downside: shipping can be expensive from certain parts of the world and there is never a guarantee the drive will arrive. Be sure never to send any data you don’t have backed up elsewhere.

Post Office Woman with our Package - Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Shipping DVD backups of photos from Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Burn DVDs of your data and send it home. This is cheaper than sending back external drives, but DVDs do degrade over time. So, we don’t advocate this as a reliable long-term approach.

5. Online Back-Up

This is an ideal way to secure your data. Not only is your data stored remotely, but you can have access to it as long as you have an internet connection.

When you are sitting at home in the luxury of a strong internet connection and you’re not producing gigabyte upon gigabyte of data on a daily basis, this works great. Out on the road, the reality is that this can be so slow going that it becomes impractical.

Some online storage options:

a) Cloud storage
There are many services that offer online backup for a reasonable price. These services often run in the background so you don’t even have to worry about remembering to turn it on. Although this all sounds great in theory, if you generate huge amounts of data on a regular basis, the service will probably not be able to keep up.

To put into perspective how long this type of backup takes, we’ll use Audrey’s experience with BackBlaze, a cloud storage service that runs $50/year. After almost six months of regular use with better-than-average internet connections on the road, the 300GB of data on her laptop hard drive are almost fully backed up (she has 41 more days to go). She hasn’t begun to touch the terabytes of data we need to back up from our external drives. BackBlaze provides a great service, but the large amount of data we produce makes it difficult for the service to keep up.

However, if you don’t continually generate large amounts of data, a service like BackBlaze might be the best option for you. Our suggestion is to sign up for one of these services months in advance of your departure and get a copy of your laptop hard drive (and any other data) backed up online before you set off to travel around the world.

Update: We now use Crashplan for our online storage. Read the reasons why and how we use Crashlplan.

b) Backing Up to a Remote Server
During our last trip to the U.S., we set up remote access to a hard drive stored at our friend’s house with a MobileMe account. This means that we can remotely add new data to this hard drive and we can also download data that we need from it. This sounded like the perfect set up when we tested it out in the United States.

While on the road, however, it’s not quite as ideal as we first thought. The downside is that access speeds are slow, so we have to leave our laptops on overnight for many nights in a row to upload just a day’s worth of data from our photography. However, it is great peace of mind to know we can access data from anywhere.

c) FTP Upload
Most web hosting accounts offer unlimited storage online (if your webhost doesn’t offer this, consider switching to something like HostGator). We find that FTP upload speeds tend to be faster than uploading via MobileMe and cloud storage. The downside is that you’ll need to leave your laptop on overnight for days at a time and if you are sharing your internet signal with others at a hostel you will – rightfully so – quickly draw ire for eating up the bandwidth.

Choosing a Portable External Hard Drive

Data storage takes up less space and becomes less expensive by the day. When we began traveling in 2006, finding a 200 GB portable external hard drive was cause for celebration. Today, it’s possible to get 1TB (1000 GB) for the same price or less.

We still dream of a solid state terabyte on a stick without all the moving parts of spinning drives. Until then, you can check out these external hard drives.

A Display of our External Hard Drives
What 4.8 TB of data looks like. Give names to your hard drives if you have several of them to remember which data is where.

Western Digital Passport (1 TB): This is our current external hard drive of choice. We have several of them and we find them light, easy to use and as reliable as hard drives can be. For whatever reason, Western Digital decided to make a Mac-specific drive in addition to a normal drive. We’ve tried both versions (the Mac used to be more expensive) and find that the regular drive works just fine with a Mac, provided you reformat it “Journaled” when you receive it.

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex (1 TB): This drive is a bit heavier and bulkier than the Western Digital Passport. Our first drive failed within six months (not good). Seagate support was terrible; returning the drive under warranty was unnecessarily hassle-ridden. One customer service person almost hung up on us when she found out we were calling from outside the United States. We are now using the replacement drive – and keeping our fingers crossed.

Buffalo Technology MiniStation Metro: We have an older version of this line of external hard drives and it has lasted the longest. The external case also features a shock absorber, which is much appreciated. The prices have come down a bit; this will likely be the next drive we purchase.

And once you have your portable external hard drive of choice, consider our low tech travel hack. Pick up a few Tupperware containers to keep them protected as you bounce around on your travels.

—-
This is a long way of saying to you digital nomads, travel bloggers, photographers and everyone else at home: take advantage of the data storage tools out there and back up your data.

After all, you don’t want to end up like that silly character in the horror movie.

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Our Low Tech Travel Gear of the Yearhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/low-tech-travel-gear/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/low-tech-travel-gear/#comments Wed, 15 Dec 2010 06:00:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=6282 By Audrey Scott

These days, gadgets and flashy digital toys steal the limelight. And I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t enjoy ours. But sometimes it’s the low-tech items that literally save the day. From the dollar store to the health food store, we go old school for a moment and highlight some simple, non-gadgety […]

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By Audrey Scott

These days, gadgets and flashy digital toys steal the limelight. And I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t enjoy ours. But sometimes it’s the low-tech items that literally save the day.

From the dollar store to the health food store, we go old school for a moment and highlight some simple, non-gadgety stuff in our backpacks that we’ve come to know, rely on, and in some cases — love.

10 Favorite Low Tech Travel Gear Items

1. Dry Sack

When you’re off trekking, kayaking, horseback riding or zodiacing around Antarctica, there is always the risk that Mother Nature decides to dump buckets on you. Here is where the simple yet mighty dry sack comes to the rescue. Relatively lightweight and inexpensive peace of mind.

Dan Takes in the Mountain View - Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Dan with his Dry Sack in the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Use it as your camera bag for the day (we usually put a towel or sarong at the bottom as a shock absorber). Or pack your electrical gear inside and then throw it into your day pack.

We acquired our dry sack after several tour companies in Thailand promised to lend us one to protect our camera gear. Instead, they offered the equivalent of a sandwich bag. In response, we bought a 5-liter dry sack in Thailand in 2006 for about $5, tested it in the shower to be certain of its effectiveness and we’ve used it constantly ever since.

Cost: $5-$15

2) Hard Drive Tupperware

Quite possibly the gear of the year winner. Why? With the proliferation of external hard drives in our equipment backpacks and two external hard drive failures earlier in the year, we figured some more protection couldn’t hurt.

Enter the Snap-Top Container (i.e., the Tupperware for a new millennium) as a cheap and easy way to further protect your external hard drives from the wear and tear of constant movement, surface shocks and moisture.

The day of cheap solid state drives is coming. But until then, Tupperware.

Our Low Tech Hard Drive Containers
Tupperware containers to protect external hard drives

We keep each external hard drive in its own cloth carrying case. Throw in some bubble wrap on the bottom and a couple silica gel packets to keep things dry. (We’ve heard rice also works in a pinch, but that could get messy.)

You can fit a couple of drives in each container. Again, we’re not talking guarantees here, but peace of mind.

Our only wish: that we’d thought of this earlier.

Cost: $1-$3

3) Carabiners

We don’t mean the mountaineer-grade carabiner used to summit Everest. Instead, we’re talking about the ones that are engraved “NOT FOR CLIMBING.” We use them to keep stuff attached to us for easy access: water bottles, GPS data loggers, hand-held camera bags.

Carabiner With a Lock
Caribiner with a lock, handy to secure so many things…

For additional security, find a carabiner with a lock at the end. Perfect for attaching phones and handheld camera cases to your belt loop to prevent petty theft. We found ours on the streets of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, but you can find them at just about every outdoor store.

Cost: $1-$10

4) Earplugs

We’ve sung the praises of ear plugs before, but it’s always worth mentioning again as a good night’s sleep is golden for staying healthy — and happy.
But not all earplugs are created equal. This is where Howard Leight earplugs stand above the rest. Soft, pliable, durable, comfortable. They really work in keeping out motorbike, rooster, screaming hostel mates, snoring, throat clearings, morning constitutions and other hard-to-ignore noises. (I’m embarrassed to admit that one pair literally lasted more than two years. All you have to do is wash them.)

Travel Gear

Pair them with a soft, comfortable eye mask from your favorite airline of choice and you’ve created your happy bubble of quiet and darkness.

Cost: $15 for 200 if you’re a juggler or $7 for 20.

5) Tea Tree Oil

One of nature’s miracle extracts. Rub tea tree oil on bites and cuts. It naturally soothes, cleanses and dries out whatever is ailing you. A small amount goes a long way. Dan swears that he was able to run his first marathon injured because of a dose of tea tree ointment applied to his knee.

And tea tree oil smells kind of nice, too. Or, at least that what I’m telling myself as I bathe my legs and arms in it to dry out all the mosquito bites I’ve picked up during the close of monsoon season here in the Gulf of Thailand.

You can find tea tree oil in pharmacies or in health food stores. Be sure to get the medicinal strength stuff.

Cost: $8-15 (depends on size & strength)

6) Sarong

One of the keys to packing light (we are forever working on this) is to find items that serve multiple purposes. The sarong is the Swiss Army Knife in cloth form. It knows a versatility that goes beyond a lie on the beach. We bought ours six years ago during our first visit to Thailand. Still have them.

Use it as a blanket when your sleep sack isn’t quite warm enough. Use it as an extra layer of protection between you and that train or hostel sheet that has never been washed. Use it as a bath towel. Or a shock absorber in your bag. Or when all your clothes are at the laundromat, make a fashion statement and turn it into a lungi, skirt or dress.

Cost: $5-$10

7) Packing Cubes

In my world of chaos, packing cubes are genius. They enable us to know where things are; their colors cue us to grab the bag we need (for me, the pharmacy is in the striped half-cube, dry sack and winter gear in the green one, clothes in black, undies in blue). When packing, it takes a few minutes to get the cubes into the backpack in the right order and I’m good to go.

Pack-It Cubes To the Rescue
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes, keeps us sane when packing.

Cubes also help me to keep possessions to a minimum by providing a guide. All my clothes need to fit into one regular-sized cube. Medical stuff fits into a ½ cube, same with undies. So, the cubes help me to perform a routine check as to whether I’m accumulating too much stuff on the road and whether I need to clean house, er backpack.

Cost: $8-$15

8. Dental Floss

Why dental floss? Never underestimate the value of dental hygiene. Take a look at this: flossing regularly has been proven to prolong lifespan. Not to mention, all the fluoridated water your teeth has become used to at home: forget about it on the road.

Author’s confession: This began as Dan’s obsession, but after being married to him for 10 years I’ve drunk the dental floss kool aid as well.

Not all dental floss is created equal, however. Woven floss with paste or powder is by far the best. Its one of the items we pick up on visits to the U.S. since we haven’t been able to find it elsewhere. Actually, it’s becoming more difficult to find in the U.S. these days. We have friends who understand this obsession; together we’ve formed a sort of support group, giving out leads on where the next supply can be found.

I think MacGyver even used floss to extricate himself from a few sticky situations.

Cost: $18/6 packs (I’m sure you can find single packs if you’re not addicts like us.)

9. Windbreaker in a Bag

We’re often asked how we manage to dress when we go mountain trekking or when we’re faced with cold weather. For me, my windbreaker is an important part of the “layer, layer, layer” equation.

When we climbed Annapurna Circuit and went up to 18,000 feet, I wore no special mountain gear. My windbreaker plus six other layers kept me warm. The coldest place we’ve been so far — the Pamir Highway in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — saw us outfitted with layers of donated clothes, plus a windbreaker on top.

Dan with Bactrian Camel - Murghab, Tajikistan
Dan wears his windbreaker while petting a wooly bactrian camel in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.

Although my windbreaker (Dan has a similar one) is relatively thin, it provides a warm and water resistant (no, not waterproof, I’m afraid) layer. And mine bundles up into a tiny bag, hangs from a belt loop and barely takes up any space.

Cost: $12-$20

10. Underwater Camera Bag

OK, so this is about as high-tech as this list is going to get. Forget those ridiculous disposable underwater cameras. When we visited the Galapagos Islands, we stocked up on them, thinking we’d be all Jacques Cousteau. What a joke. We were more like Steve Zissou. The pictures were blurry, there was no zoom and video wasn’t an option.

During that week, we watched with envy as one of our boat-mates recorded video and high quality images with her handheld camera protected by what looked like a fancy ziplock bag. It was actually something made by a company called DicaPac.

As you’ll see from this video, we’ve got one of our own now. We haven’t yet tested it out on snorkeling trips, but expect more fun underwater pics from us. (And no, you can’t take it scuba diving unless you want to give your camera the bends. That’s what professional underwater camera housings are for.)

Cost: $20-$25. Check this chart to determine which size to purchase for your camera.

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By no means is this a definitive list. Just a few items that we find ourselves recommending often. Someone suggested we share it. So we did.

What’s your favorite low-tech gear for home or travel?

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Lensbaby, GPS upgrade, and a Mac: What’s New in Our Packshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/lensbaby-gps-upgrade-and-a-mac-whats-new-in-our-packs/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/lensbaby-gps-upgrade-and-a-mac-whats-new-in-our-packs/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2009 13:26:43 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=2005 By Audrey Scott

We physically feel the weight of our equipment day in and day out. After settling down for a few days in northern Nicaragua recently, we unpacked and were visually reminded of it all, too. Although the contents of our gadget bags haven’t changed drastically since we first shared the nuts and bolts of our digital […]

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By Audrey Scott

Digital Nomad, Audrey on Laptop - Rio Dulce, Guatemala
A pleasant day at the office. Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

We physically feel the weight of our equipment day in and day out. After settling down for a few days in northern Nicaragua recently, we unpacked and were visually reminded of it all, too.

Although the contents of our gadget bags haven’t changed drastically since we first shared the nuts and bolts of our digital nomadism, a few items have.

Here’s what’s new in our packs these days and why.

DSLR Camera Gear

Nikon D300Nikon D300 DSLR Camera: The Nikon D70, our former rig, was a champ. We loved that camera. But after four years of harsh climates, difficult conditions, and tens of thousands of photos, it began to falter. During its life, we replaced the CCD/sensor and shutter motor. Fearing that something else might break in the middle of the Bolivian salt deserts, we decided to upgrade.

Our decision came down to: Nikon D300 vs. Nikon D90. Although the D300 is a bit heavier and more expensive, we chose it for its rugged metal frame toughness and features like its 51-point auto-focus.

Casio EX-V8Casio EX-V8 Digital Camera: For us, the beauty of the Casio EX-V8 is in the absence of an extending optical zoom lens. The death of our previous Casio EX-Z750 handheld was related to problems with the zoom lens after we dropped it over a dozen times. The EX-V8 built-in 7x optical zoom also works while shooting video. In our experience, this line of Casio cameras is difficult to beat when you consider all its features…and the fact that it can fit in your pocket. Full disclosure: Casio provided us this camera.

LensBaby MuseLensBaby Muse: An item for the ‘fun’ category. Lensbaby lenses are selective focus SLR lenses. While photos taken with traditional lenses feature a consistent depth of field (be it shallow or deep) throughout the image, a photo taken with a Lensbaby lens will likely have just one area in focus while the rest of the image remains soft, dreamlike or in motion. You can see some examples here and here.

The Lensbaby Muse also features an “optic swap” system whereby you can switch the element of the lens (for example, from glass to plastic). In addition to the Lensbaby Muse standard plastic optic, we also purchased the glass optic swap and macro extension kit to allow us greater artistic range.

GPS Data Logger

AMOD GPS Data LoggerAmod AGL3080 GPS Data Logger: The Sony GPS CS-1, our previous GPS data logger, kept up with us for the first two years of our trip, but then it began to hiccup. The deciding factor in our purchase of the Amod AGL3080: it could be read by a Mac without the aid of additional software or hacks. Mac users looking for an alternative to the Sony GPS CS-1KA should consider this device.

Note: The only problem we’ve found with the Amod AGL3080 is that you must ensure that the device is turned off completely before you remove the batteries to recharge them. If the batteries are removed while the device is still powered on, your data will be corrupted and you will likely have to reformat the device’s built-in flash drive.

Laptop, Storage and Accessories

MacBook 13-inch Aluminum LaptopMacBook 13.3-inch Aluminum Unibody Laptop: Dan finally made the switch. A failed hard drive on his Sony VAIO PC — likely caused by overheating due to running multiple virus scans — sent him packing to the Mac camp. That it comes out of hibernation almost instantaneously still makes him giddy. Pleased with the switch? That would be an understatement.

Western Digital Passport 500 GB StorageWestern Digital Passport 500 GB Portable External Hard Drive: The amount of data we generate from our travels is staggering. We always need more space and you can’t beat the size (tiny) and price ($120 for 500 GB). The day of 1TB pocket drives is not long off.

SanDisk Compact Flash and Card ReaderSanDisk 8 GB Compact Flash (CF) Extreme III and SanDisk Extreme Reader: A new Nikon D300 camera means increased photo file size. That also means more data to transfer. We not only needed a larger CF card, but also a faster CF card reader. This combination allows us to transfer heaps of photos much faster than your garden variety CF card/reader combination.

Belkin Power Strip and Surge ProtectorBelkin 3-plug & USB Travel Multi-Plug: We often find ourselves in hotel rooms with only one electrical outlet. When we need to charge camera batteries, laptops, an iPod and a mobile phone, we could be forced to shack up for days. This multiplug, equipped with 3 electrical outlets and 2 USB outlets, allows us to charge everything at once, all while protecting against not-so-infrequent power surges.

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Our Office-less Officehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/our-office-less-office/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/our-office-less-office/#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2008 01:53:15 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2008/03/our-office-less-office/ By Audrey Scott

Why are you carrying a dead body with you around the world? — A fellow traveler attempting to carry one of our backpacks. If you’ve run into us on this trip, you may have noticed something of a contradiction: we appear heavily laden even though we exhibit a knack for wearing the same clothes almost […]

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By Audrey Scott

Why are you carrying a dead body with you around the world?

— A fellow traveler attempting to carry one of our backpacks.

If you’ve run into us on this trip, you may have noticed something of a contradiction: we appear heavily laden even though we exhibit a knack for wearing the same clothes almost every day.

“What’s with that?” you might ask.

If our bags aren’t stuffed with spiffy duds for nights out on the back beach, then what on earth are we carrying?

Our Equipment Landscape: A Snapshot

Check out the photo below and you’ll see that we literally carry an office-meets-production studio on our backs. This equipment enables us to capture our experiences and share them with our readers.

Gadgets on the Bed
A digital nomad’s office, one that fits in a backpack.

The table below attempts to organize our equipment into functional areas: photography, audio/video, computing/storage/networking, and everything else. We’ve added links to Amazon in case you’re in the market for some new electronic toys. If you purchase something through our website with this link, the price will stay the same to you and we get a percentage as a commission.

Note: The links below may reflect a newer model than the one we own.

Digital Nomad Gear and Technology

Lexar 32GB Flash Memory Card + San Disk Extreme 64GB Flash Memory Card.
Type of GearItemHow We Use It
PhotographyNikon D70 Nikon D300 DSLR Camera Nikon D7100 (February 2014)The camera we use for much of what you see in our photo gallery
Casio EX-Z750 Casio EX-V8 Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Digital Camera Canon PowerShot S95Versatile pocket camera, particularly useful for quick shots of food and landscapes. Can also take video.
Nikon 18-200mm AF-S VR DX zoom lensThe primary lens in our bag.
Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S LensA back-up lens in case something happens to the 18-200 mm lens.
Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro LensMacro (close-up) and portrait shots.
Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye lensCylindrical and spherical panorama shots.
Hoya Circularizing Polarizing Filter (72 mm)For glare reduction. Yields particularly interesting results with clouds and water.
Compact Flash Memory Cards Storage media for our DSLR camera.
Velbon RUP-43 monopodThink "tripod minus two legs." For panorama and night photography.
Joby GorillaPodA versatile GorillaPod (like a movable monopod) that can hold the DSLR, used for videos.
Nikon SB600 Speedlight FlashExternal flash for the Nikon DSLR for low light settings.
Video and AudioCasio EX-Z750 Casio EX-V8 Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Digital Camera Canon PowerShot S95Captures all the video you see on this site.
Apple iPod G5Replaced with iPhone.For audio recordings. Also helps to preserve sanity on long bus trips.
Belkin Tune TalkMicrophone/recording device for the iPod iPhone.
Griffin Stereo Lavalier MicrophoneUsed in conjunction with the iPod iPhone to record interviews.
Laptop and StorageMac PowerBook G4 12" MacBook Pro 13.3-inch Aluminum Laptop MacBook Pro Retina Display 13-inch (February 2014)Audrey's laptop, used primarily for photo editing, writing, and audio editing.
Sony VAIO VGN-SZ110 MacBook 13.3-inch Aluminum Laptop MacBook Air 13.3-inchDan's laptop, used primarily for writing, website development and video production.
Western Digital (WD) Passport 120 GB 500 GB Portable Storage 1 TB Portable StorageBackup storage for photos, videos, documents, website, etc.
Buffalo 320 GB Portable Storage Western Digital My Passport 2TB Portable Hard DriveBackup storage for photos.
Seagate Free Agent Go 1 TB Portable Storage DeviceBackup storage for photos and videos.
USB Storage Device - 8 GB USB Flash Storage Device - 128 GBTemporary storage of files for use at internet cafes or between laptops. Also holds music collection (iTunes).
GPS, Smartphone and MiscellaneousSony GPS-CS1 Amod AGL3080 GPS Data LoggerTo log location data as we travel to geotag our photos.
Palm Treo 650 iPhone 3Gs (bought via CraigsList) and iPhone 4s (factory unlocked, bought directly from Apple USA)Smartphone used as a mobile phone on the road and for digital note-taking and writing on the road.
Apple Airport ExpressTransforms a LAN connection into a WiFi (wireless) hotspot.
Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Surge Protector with USB PortsOne of the most used pieces of equipment in our kit. Allows us to plug in multiple devices into one outlet + surge protection.

Updates: June 2009, January and June 2010, and March 2014

Do You Really Use All This Gear?

Frighteningly enough, yes. While we use certain pieces of equipment (e.g., cameras and laptops) more than others, everything has its purpose.

Laptops…as in plural??” Most people gasp when they find out we’re traveling with one. Our embarrassment runs so deep that we don’t often have the courage to share that we are actually carrying two.

We had hoped to travel with one, but we found it unworkable given the volume of content that we aimed to produce and the division of duties that we negotiated with one another. Additionally, working and traveling with your spouse day in and day out carries its own set of challenges – battling over the same laptop was not something we wished to add to the fire.

Does it make sense to travel this way?

For most people, the answer is obviously “No,” but it really depends on your travel objectives. Certainly there are people who travel with laptops, not only to connect with the office and friends back home but also to write and to manage their photos and/or videos on the road.

The obvious drawback to carrying so much stuff is physical strain. It’s no fun schlepping 50 pounds from bus to guest house (Though it does help keep us in shape and allows us guilt-free second helpings of things like Penang curry.)

Working by the Beach - Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Not a bad place to get work done…

Emotional stress is also a factor. Our equipment obviously has value. These are also the tools through which we attempt to make our travel financially sustainable. Finally, our laptops and external hard drives store our memories from this trip. [We do have an elaborate backup plan, including regular shipments of backup DVDs to the U.S. CrashPlan cloud backup.]

We continually consider potential theft and loss scenarios and we take steps to prevent them. For example, we must constantly make judgment calls regarding whether or not it’s safer to keep our bags locked up in a room or to take them with us. We haven’t had to turn down any experiences yet because of our equipment, but when we take shaky boats or head into the hills, our belongings (i.e., which pieces we take with us and which pieces we leave behind) are a major consideration.

Although we are making our equipment list public on this website, we don’t advertise our portable production studio when we’re on the road. Our Crumpler backpacks carry the majority of what you see above. Crumpler’s brightly colored designs resemble regular day-packs and manage to playfully conceal the complexity that lurks inside.

Why do it?

We’ve provided ample reasons why you should consider not traveling with a lot of equipment. So why do we do it?

In addition to subjecting ourselves to independent long-term travel for the sake of the experience, we had hoped to challenge ourselves creatively and professionally along the way.

We have chosen to do this by becoming proficient in producing stories, well-documented photo essays and semi-produced video and audio pieces as we travel. Despite the occasional aches and pains and the not-so-occasional desire to launch our laptops across the room in frustration, we do not regret our decision.

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