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PACK ANIMALS

Do as we say, not as we do! During our two longest trips (8- and 10-months) we carried 45 pounds apiece - 30 on our backs and 15 more on our fronts. We looked like pack animals. This much weight is NOT recommended! (However, it was not as bad as this photo suggests. The dark shadows appear to be part of the packs - making them look gigantic!)

 

 

We carried this much because we were traveling 1) for many months, 2) in developing countries, 3) in three seasons, and 4) in extreme changes in climate and terrain. We needed gear ranging from mosquito netting to fleece, from sandals to hiking boots.  Since we were traveling through 15 countries during the 10-month trip through Asia, we had a load of travel guides. When in South America for eight months, we had a stack of Spanish language books and materials. For both trips we carried a water filter and an extensive medical kit. Like good Scouts, we were prepared!

WHY BACKPACKS?

Years ago we traveled to Western Europe for five months with everything stuffed into L. L. Bean duffle bags. They were sturdy, but also heavy and unwieldy - we ended up running for trains cradling them in our arms!  For the next long trip we bought good sets of wheeled luggage. These were fine for airports, cement sidewalks and hotels with elevators. But after we had bumped our fully-loaded "wheelies" up four flights of stairs in a (lift-less) hotel in London, and then over cobblestones in a French village, we began to re-think our luggage situation. Despite our gray hair, we decided to become backpackers.

Many of the internal-frame backpacks we looked at were more suitable for mountaineering than travel. Eventually, we found the Eagle Creek "Extended Journey" backpack, liked it very much and thought that the $145 price tag was reasonable. Several years of travel later, we've changed our minds. We don't just like our Eagle Creek packs - we LOVE them! (Below, Lou is wearing his backpack and Joan is holding hers. The smaller pack in front of Lou is worn on his chest.)

 

 

The Extended Journey pack carries about 30 pounds comfortably - more if necessary. It has an internal frame, padded shoulder and hip straps, and three lockable compartments. We lock these with small combination locks that can be opened by TSA personnel at airports without cutting the locks. For long trips, we add smaller Lowe Alpine backpacks worn backwards - on our chests - to carry an additional 15 pounds. We may look like pack mules, but the weight is balanced and comfortable. Normally, we walk fully-loaded only a block or two - from the bus or train to a taxi and from the taxi into a hotel - usually for no more than a few blocks.

(Humorous aside: After we'd been traveling for six months with these Eagle Creek backpacks, Lou finally had had it! His backpack was just too short for him. We went to an outdoor store in Sydney, Australia and he said he wanted to buy the next size larger, as his padded waist belt was about 5" too high. The clerk looked at us strangely and took 30 seconds to adjust the straps. The pack fit perfectly. How mortifying! We all had a good laugh. Then Lou picked up a collapsed walking stick and jokingly said he'd buy one - if the clerk had a longer one for tall people!)

Bonus: Wearing a backpack is a great way to break through the barrier between age groups. Younger travelers don't treat us as old folks, but as fellow backpackers.

WHERE TO BUY TRAVEL GEAR

Experienced travelers used to carry rolled-up, natural-fiber knit clothing. No longer. We travel wrapped head-to-toe in plastic! The new high-tech polyester fibers breathe, are lightweight, don't stain easily, don't wrinkle and will dry in under two hours. High-tech travel clothing is expensive, but it's worth it when worn for several years. It's hard to find good travel clothing in department stores. We order clothing in a variety of sizes from catalogues, try it on and send back what we didn't want. What we spend in postage is saved in gas to the shopping mall and lots of frustrated shopping time.

Travel gear websites:   www.eaglecreek.com    www.rei.com    www.exofficio.com    www.llbean.com

www.travelsmith.com    www.magellans.com    www.campmor.com 

CLOTHING LIST

This is the comprehensive list of clothing we took for 10 months of travel in Asia in 2000, when we encountered a wide variety of terrains, climates and conditions - everything from jungle trails to city restaurants, beaches to mountaintops. They include items needed on one type of trip but not another. Obviously, travel in Western European cities requires far less gear than trekking through jungles and hiking in mountains. This would be MUCH too much stuff for most one- or two-month trips, especially in the First World!

WE EACH CARRIED:  Goretex waterproof parka, waterproof pants (to wear over regular pants), wool ski cap, lined waterproof gloves, North Face fleece jacket and fleece vest, black polypropylene thermal underwear (doubled as pajamas when needed), Goretex hiking boots, two pairs of heavy wool-blend socks, two pairs of regular-weight black socks and Teva waterproof sandals. (We didn't take walking shoes - only hiking boots and sandals; when we needed to dress up a bit, we wore black socks with the dark-colored Teva sandals. For South America Joan added a pair of Ecco walking shoes, which are lightweight, super-comfortable and still looked almost new after eight months of walking.)

We were in the Andes during the dry winter months - best for trekking - and had a couple of cold weeks in the mountain city of Cusco. It was so cold in our unheated room (in a private home) that we wore about half our clothes to bed. Even so, Joan had trouble keeping warm some nights.

 

 

LOU ALSO CARRIED:  Two Ex Officio long-sleeve shirts, one Ex Officio short-sleeve shirt, two polyester/cotton tee-shirts, one black polyester/cotton turtleneck, three pairs of briefs and two pairs of REI high-tech travel pants (one is convertible - the legs zip off to use as shorts or swim suit.)

JOAN ALSO CARRIED:  A swimsuit, two bras, three panties, a black polyester/cotton turtleneck, three long-sleeved Ex Officio travel shirts (we spent a lot of time in malarial areas), one scoop-necked Ex Officio top and two pairs of Ex Officio travel slacks. She wore the pants when walking up to her waist in muddy water through the swamps of New Guinea (see photo in IRIAN JAYA) and later to nice restaurants in Bangkok. After 10 months of non-stop wear, these Teflon-coated slacks had no stains.

CULTURALLY-SENSITIVE CLOTHING

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." We are greatly saddened when we see Muslim women totally wrapped and veiled in heavy black fabric. But we squirm when we see Western tourists arrogantly wearing tank tops and shorts in Islamic countries. Some tourists wear whatever they like - local customs be damned! But skimpy clothing insults the host people and contributes to the perception of Westerners as boorish decadents. Joan, who is furious about the restricted lives of women in Islamic countries, nevertheless dons conservative clothing when she visits those areas. She wears long-sleeved shirts with loose-fitting slacks or a long skirt, adding a head scarf for religious sites.

Even in her ultra-modest clothing, a mosque in Damascus was off limits to Joan unless she put on a traditional burka. It was roasting hot that day, and all the Muslim men were wearing light-weight, short-sleeved Western shirts in the mosque - while the Muslim women and Joan dripped sweat inside their heavy garments. She looks like something out of Star Wars in this photo. While she's smiling at the absurdity of it all, she was actually pretty cranky.)

 

 

KEEPING OUR ACT TOGETHER

Although it means a bit of extra weight, we take along one Eagle Creek "Pack-It" kit apiece. These ingenious kits hold folded shirts, slacks and skirts firmly in place so they don't wrinkle or shift around in and are easily located. They work especially well in backpacks. We each have a mesh bag to store underwear, gloves, hat, socks, handkerchiefs and thermals - to avoid having a screaming fit after months of dealing with a tangled mess at the bottom of the pack. We also carry one Eagle Creek (we should own stock in this company!) "Pack-it Cube" to hold medical supplies.

ADDITIONAL GEAR 

We carried fleece-lined sleep-sacks to Asia (good to 50 degrees - and much colder when we wore thermals and fleece to bed). For our trip to warmer Africa, we are taking silk sack liners; if we ever need more warmth, we'll rent sleeping bags and slip our liners inside them. We found the airline eye masks (photo above) quite useful at times. For mozzie-infested areas we took permethrin-impregnated mosquito netting. Other miscellaneous items: collapsible walking sticks, a roll-up nylon rucksack, an around-the-waist money belt, small quick-dry camp towels, and an inexpensive Timex alarm wristwatch. We're almost to the end of the list now: binoculars (only for wildlife trips), lightweight flashlight, water pump and filters, Swiss army knife, nylon string to hang mosquito netting, travel alarm clock, duct tape (good for everything that breaks on the road) and a small photo album with pictures of our family and country to share with foreign friends.

Camera equipment can be heavy and bulky, but not for us. Long ago we decided that we were going for a carefree experience, not on a photo shoot, and that has made our load significantly lighter. All of our cameras over the past six years can be slipped into a shirt pocket. The first two were Olympus film cameras. Their electronic units failed under humid and dusty conditions, so our most recent camera - an Olympus Stylus 400 digital - is "weatherproofed." There were no camera problems over eight months in South America. Accessory equipment for the digital camera: two 512 mb xD picture cards, 4 rechargeable batteries, and a battery charger with four adapter plugs for South American countries. Every few weeks as the picture card filled with images, we stopped in an internet cafe (some, not all, had a USB connector to the picture card) to burn a CD for mailing home and switched the camera to the second card. Later, after the CD arrived in the U.S., we re-formated the first card for additional use. We always take a backup mechanical camera - a Yashica T4 Super - for use in jungles and along beaches - with a few rolls of low-light film for the jungles.

TRAVEL GUIDES

Much of the weight of our packs comes from the guidebooks we carry with us - especially when we're going to several countries on one trip. We've tried several guidebook series, including Footprints, Rough Guides and Moon guides. We like the Footprints Guides best overall, but find ourselves using the Lonely Planet guides the most because of their useful format and excellent city maps. (Before leaving, we cut out sections that we won't need; in the case of South America, we cut out sections on Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay and the Guianas.) It's possible to save weight by dumping a guidebook after leaving a country, but we can't bear to do it because each is filled with notes and memories.

SECURITY

"Would you please deflate your right breast?" Joan enviously asked Lou as we walked through an airport. It had swollen almost to Dolly Parton size, because he uses its hidden zippered compartment as a safe place to keep passports, airline tickets, boarding passes, US and local currency and a credit card. See TRAVEL FINANCES

We divide our money, cards and important documents between us - in Lou's zippered chest pocket and Joan's hidden money belt. Note that Lou does not travel with a wallet, and Joan does not take a purse or use a fanny pack. These accessories are all accessible and tempting targets for thieves. See TRAVEL SAFETY

TOILETRIES:

It's easy to buy toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, creams and lotions almost anywhere. We take 30 SPF sunscreen and controlled release DEET mosquito repellant with us - they aren't always available abroad. www.chinookmed.com  Also useful: nail clippers, tweezers, disposable razors, nail file and hair-cutting scissors. (This definitely sounds like an ad for Eagle Creek, but its three-part, hang-up toiletry kits have gone everywhere with us for years!) Joan does NOT take a hair dryer; short hair is a traveler's delight. She also leaves most make-up at home - contenting herself with lipstick and face lotion with SPF 15 sunscreen.

MEDICATIONS   See TRAVEL HEALTH

WHEW! We probably forgot to include something, but you get the general idea.

 

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Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net