Monday, November 3, 2008

Travel Gear


Erin and I have just returned to Bangkok from our trip to Ko Samet, the island where we met five years ago. Our tour included such nostalgic stops as the bar where we first danced (I’ve danced on about two other occasions in the five years since) and the beach where Erin’s friend Bess received her eyeball scratch that was subsequently invaded by a parasite, causing her to go temporarily blind (her problems went on for months, but she’s now fine).

It was nice. Mostly, we ate. We went up and down the beach searching for the mystical journey you get from a really good spice high. I got mine from a bowl of tom yum-like noodle soup I had for breakfast one morning. It had me leaking four different fluids from my face, which is perfect, because the fifth fluid would have been blood. Erin got her mystical journey from a mixed-seafood red curry. It was awesome.

We didn’t have much in the way of adventures. We’re still not quite over our jetlag, so we’ve been going to bed at 10:00 PM and waking up at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. I feel like a farmer.

So, instead of relating to you our latest adventure, I’m going to answer a question I am frequently asked: “what do you bring with you on a 4 ½-month trip?”

Yes, I’m going to write a post about my luggage. Listen, I’m going to have adventures, but they haven’t started yet, and I need to write about something now, don’t I? People ain't going to check this web-log for nothin'.

Besides, some people are interested. They swear they are, and I’m too polite to doubt them. My parents are probably interested — right about now, they’re packing their bags so they can come to Asia and climb Mount Kinabalu with me and Nate and Erin and Linda and representatives of Linda’s enormous family.

(Did I mention in previous posts that we’re doing that? I’m terrible at exposition. We’re doing that, all of us. My parents are coming. It's going to be fun.)

A friend at home asked, “You aren’t old, but you aren’t really young — do you bring a suitcase or a backpack?”

Not young? Ouch. I’m 31. But I’ve already got a bad knee, and young people are starting to really piss me off, so I guess she had a point.

My age is irrelevant, however. The answer is and will always be, backpack. On this side of the world, even in the cities you seldom find a stretch of pavement smooth enough to roll the little wheels of roller suitcase over without it tipping over. They’ve started making backpacks that have wheels built into them and a handle that pulls up, so it can become a roller suitcase when you want it to be, but they just make your backpack heavier and less comfortable. Believe me, you’ll be pretty pissed off at yourself when you’re carrying that extra weight all over the world, walking down slippery planks onto riverboats in Borneo, or dodging cow shit on Indian streets with those fucking little wheels digging into your back.

What Erin and I have are 50-liter travel packs that zip all the way down the side so you can get at the stuff in the bottom. They have waist straps and nice, wide pack straps. 50-liters is pretty small, but these bags are damn heavy, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. On top of this, both of us have a second piece of luggage — I have a shoulder bag with a laptop pouch in it, and Erin has a cool journalism backpack with a built-in camera case and a laptop pouch.

Now you’re asking, “You fucking idiots have two laptops with you?”


Traveling light is a matter of pride among most backpackers. Unlike most backpackers, we’ve got shit to do, man. On Ko Samet, while we were looking around for a hotel, a guy saw us and smirked and said, “you guys have a lot of stuff.”

And I was, like, “fuck you, man!” Only, I didn’t think of that comeback until we were way up the road, but it’s what I would have said if I’d thought of it in time.

We’ve got a lot of stuff. We don’t have a lot of clothes or personal comforts. We’re doing a great job of traveling light when it comes to that stuff. We do have two computers, a big SLR camera and two small libraries with us. I’m afraid to count, but I think we have close to 25 books with us. At least three aren’t shown in these two photos. Consequently, our shit is heavy. Fortunately, we are mighty, and not afraid of looking a little silly.

We each have an excuse for our extravagent luggage.

Erin is a journalist. She is journalizing. Many of the books she is carrying are reference works for magazine stories she is either hoping to write, or has already been hired to write. She needs a computer for writing, and she needs an awesome camera on the off chance that she’ll take an amazing photo and get it published alongside her story.

I, on the other hand, am a ridiculous twit. I can’t stand the idea of sitting around doing nothing while my girlfriend is writing brilliant things and making a name for herself in the magazine business, so I need my own three-kilogram computer so I can write things while she is writing stories that will actually be published (it’s a bit like installing a toy steering wheel in a child’s car seat). I am also a voracious and extremely picky reader, so I need loads of books that I have personally chosen because I’m much too much of a snob to just read the books that other travelers have left behind.

Apart from the library and the expensive electronics, we are packed very sensibly. We have a small amount of clothing. I have three pairs of shorts and about six t-shirts (two of which I bought here), so I am perpetually looking for somewhere to get my laundry done and I am always a little stinky. I have a small pair of boots for the mountain we’re going to climb, a reasonable little bag of toiletries, and all the little tools and toys you need when you’re traveling, such as a flashlight, swiss army knife, malaria pills, mosquito spray, emergency cash, passport, and my Indian backpack chain and padlock, so no one can walk off with my bag while I’m sleeping on a train.

I’ve never needed my Indian backpack chain. I’m not sure why I brought it, but they sell them outside of Indian train stations, which makes you wonder if you can dare to go without one.

Once you get past the idea that you need to bring a clean change of clothing for every day of your trip, it’s easy to pack for 4 ½ months. Just pack like you’d pack for a week, and bring money to pay for laundry, and to buy anything you forgot.

But if you have big feet (I don’t) bring all the shoes you need, and if you have a big ass (I do) bring all the shorts you want. In Southeast Asia, they don’t have big feet and there is a shortage of three-dimensional asses. My poor friend Tucker (a.k.a. Mooseass) can’t buy shoes or shorts in Southeast Asia. Shoes are the bigger problem, actually; if you can’t find shorts that fit you, you can just take your enormous ass over to the tailor’s (or in Tucker’s case, the tentmaker’s) and he’ll whip up a nice pair for cheap.

Tomorrow: night train to Penang.
Wednesday: US election news and curry-induced mystical journey.
Thursday: Fly to Borneo!


  1. Nobody ever comments. Weird stuff.

  2. Hey Cousin Benny, it sure is great to enjoy your adventure, wit and writing skills again. I couldn't sleep yesterday morning so was up at 0400 reading the lastest from you and Erin. You are both clever, and excellent writers. I've hooked up some of your followers from the past with your new blog and told them to check out Erin's site too. Have fun you lucky bastard - I just looked out the window and it is snowing like mad. Looking forward to more great reading.

    Anita from the north

  3. Too bad you don't like / can't do the e-book thing... then you could leave that 20lbs of paper at home and just read on your computer.

    It would certainly help you retain some of that mighty flesh you've accumulated over the past years of relaxation.