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Monthly Archives: December 2016


European Backpacking: How to Pack

Planning for a big, multi-country backpacking tour of Europe? This is a logistical mess with huge rewards and I highly encourage it. You should be very careful to pack well and intentionally so that you can be a prepared and self-sufficient traveler. It is important to bring a limited amount of necessary items and avoid over-packing. Most things you will need, you can get abroad. Keep it lightweight, as in under 25lbs ideally. This way you can always carry on your bag at airports, and you won’t easily tire when exploring new places.

I compiled this list based on my own experiences in both European and wilderness backpacking, and from my observations and mistakes. This list may not work for everyone, and consider the details of your particular trip.

The List:

Your Pack. This is going to be the carrier of everything you own for your trip. It is going to be on your back carried through train stations, city streets, and airports. It is important to have a pack that is big enough to carry everything, but not too big to be a major burden. I recommend getting a backpacking style pack that is between 30-45L. I specify this size range so that your pack is small enough to be carried on a plane, or stowed away as train luggage, but still larger than your average backpack. For comfort purposes, it is essential to have a hipbelt and sternum strap, as well as nice padding. The Osprey Kestral/Kyte are highly recommended for their comfort and quality design.

Clothes. Clothes are the easiest thing to over pack, and therefore can be the bulk of the weight and volume of your pack. Keep it minimal. Consider that you’re not going to have the opportunity for laundry often, and that it will cost money each time you do. You’ll likely do laundry once or twice per week. Bring clothes that you can wear often without washing, and do not easily wrinkle. Bring several pairs of synthetic underwear that you can easily wash in a sink and will dry quickly, such as the brand Exofficio. Bring 4-5 pairs of moisture wicking, anti-microbial socks. Either Darn Tough, Point 6 or Smartwool brands work well. I do recommend bringing one outfit that makes you feel nice, because you’re going to want to go out and don’t always want to wear your dirty jeans or pseudo hiking clothes. My favorite brand for flattering adventure clothes is prAna. They make durable, flattering clothes in wool, acrylic, and other materials that are good for not washing every day.

Clothes Breakdown (subject to modification):

  • 2 pairs of pants.
  • 3-4 shirts.
  • 4-5 pairs of synthetic underwear.
  • 4-5 wool/synthetic socks.
  • Warm layers. Season/place dependent.
  • Comfortable pants/shorts for hostel chilling.
  • Bathing Suit.
  • One nice outfit. Make it versatile and adaptable to items you already have.

Rain Gear. It’s going to rain sometimes, make sure you have a pack cover, and a quality rain jacket.

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Re-usable Charger. I recommend Goal Zero products for recharging your phone, camera or other electronics. These chargers work by first being charged via USB, and also have a solar charger option. Then you can plug your device directly into the charger and charge without having to plug in to an outlet.

 

International Charger Adapadaptterter. Mainland Europe uses different electronic plugs than the U.S. Great Britain uses different plugs than mainland Europe. You can buy international charge converters so that you can plug into a variety of outlets. Buy specifically for your trip. I recommend bringing this item so that you can use it immediately upon arrival. I also recommend buying more than one.

Travel Pillow. You’re going to be riding a lot of trains, buses, metros and planes often on little sleep and at weird hours. You’re going to want to sleep. I recommend the Sea-to-Summit Aeros Travel  pillow because it packs down really small and is easy to inflate/deflate.

Lightweight Sleeping Bag/Liner. If you are planning on staying in hotels or hostels, you will usually have linens provided. However, if you are couchsurfing you may not, or if you want to spontaneously camp on the beach, you should bring your own sleeping bag. I recommend the Sea-to-Summit Traveler because it is super lightweight goose-down and packs down smaller than a Nalgene waMF_20140405_0348.dngter bottle. Another option is a sleeping bag liner, such as the Sea-to-Summit liner.

Comfortable shoes. You’re going to be walking a lot. Bring sensible shoes. Bring a second pair of shoes for hanging out in your hotel/hostel/airbnb/etc or perhaps a pair to shower with. Flip flops are ideal because they are lightweight and don’t take up too much volume.

Journal. This is a unique, potentially life altering experience. You’re going to want to record your new thoughts, perspectives and experiences and my personal favorite medium is via journal writing. Bring a pen, too.

Padlock. You’ll want to ensure the safety of your belongings while away for the day. Hostels usually provide lockers but not always locks.

A small daypack. I always pack a smaller backpack (a purse also works) inside of my large backpack, so that I can carry essentials with me through the day without lugging everything I have. This includes: water bottle, snacks, journal, map, camera, rain gear, phone, wallet, passport, and reusable charger.

Quick Dry Towel. You usually have to pay for towels, so bring your own quick drying packable towel! 

Headlamp/Small Flashlight. Unless your phone has this capability. This is most useful if you come to your resting place for the night late, and don’t want to wake up roommates.

Toothbrush cover. Keep it clean, y’all.

13650_D1Ziplock Bags. These little things are extremely useful. They can be used to store wet items, extra food and things that are prone to spilling. I also recommend sealing your important documents in ziplock bags to avoid destruction via water.

Backpacking Utensils. These are useful if you’re trying to eat on a budget. You can buy groceries at a store and eat in a nearby park.

Photocopies of your important documents. Photocopy your passport just in case.

Duct tape. It’s useful to wrap some duct tape around your water bottle, because it can be used for a large variety of purposes.

Paracord. This can be used as a clothes line for drying wet clothes, or many other random, useful purposes.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Pure-Castille Soap

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Pure-Castille Soap

Toiletries. Keep it simple: use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap as your shampoo, body wash and laundry detergent. Do use deodorant and toothpaste, please. Baby wipes are extremely useful in making you feel clean despite not showering for a week. Pack your toiletries in a small bag that can hang, because space is very limited and you don’t want to put your toiletries on the floor of your hostel bathroom. Ladies, I recommend a cute headband for when you haven’t showered in days. Bring small, travel versions of your items. However, you can buy almost everything abroad, so unless you’re very brand loyal, consider not bringing toiletries over the pond.

Headphones/Music. This is most useful on that long train ride. I like to put on my headphones and stare out the window and pretend I’m in a music video.

Space. Leave plenty of space in your bag because you will be leaving with more than you came with. Be mindful not to buy too many souvenirs, it’s a trap!

Here are some items I commonly see people packing that you should NOT bring:

  1. A Knife/Multi-tool. This will be taken away from you at airport security.
  2. Hair dryer. Even with a charge convertor, it will blow up.
  3. Lots of books. A small paperback is fine, but save the weight and be more present.
  4. A heavy guide book. Write down the important information. You can usually get free maps at your location, and can recycle them afterwards to save weight and space.
  5. Selfie Stick. Please just don’t.

9 Tips for Traveling India

 – by Eli “Shinbone” Staggs
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1) Eating Well

Finding authentic, cost efficient food that will not make you sick in India is not difficult. In order to hit these qualities a restaurant must have a couple india-blog-2key characteristics. These characteristics include a high turn over rate for customers and no multi-national cuisine on their menu. Detecting high turn over isn’t too tricky. Walk the streets until you happen upon a restaurant (or pot’straunt as some travelers and myself graciously labeled them). If the restaurant has lots of people eating or the restaurant has multiple pots sitting out with food you know they have enough traffic to allow variety. This ensures fresh food and freshness can be guaranteed further if you eat on the Indian schedule; Breakfast between 10 am and noon, Lunch between 3:30 pm and 5 pm, Dinner much later around 10 or 11 pm. The reasoning for not eating at a restaurant where multi-national cuisine is included on the menu is that the prices will be better for your meal and you will be eating at a restaurant that locals eat at. A multi national cuisine restaurant is catering to travelers which means the prices are inflated to accommodate your wallet which is thick with fresh rupees just withdrawn from the ATM. Eating at a restaurant with the qualities will help immerse your experience by allowing you to learn a little bit of Hindi and exchange conversation with Indians eating around you.

2) Haggling/Negotiating Prices
india-blog-3Learning how to haggle appropriately is key to your travels in India. As foreigners we stick out like a sore thumb and the prices for street vendor goods, rickshaws and taxis will be increased because of this. While purchasing items in a bazaar always half the cost of an oddity when starting the haggling process. Once you half the cost work from there. Rickshaw and taxi drivers are notorious for over charging foreigners for their services. All you need to know is that the price locals pay for rides is approximately 25 rupees per kilometer. Do not let a driver charge you 1000 rupees for a ride  from the trains to bus station! When it comes to food, hostels or hotels those prices are fixed and can not be haggled but always ask around for the best priced hostels.

3) Beggars
The choice for whether or not you wil give money to beggars is a very personal decision and I will not try to persuade you one way or another. The only piece of advice I have for you is to make your decision before you depart and to stick with it the entirety of your journey. Picking and choosing who you give money to through out the trip can strain the conscious. One suggestion I implore you to follow is not to give money to children. It reduces the incentive for them to find alternative options and perpetuates the practice.

4) Travel Agencies

Unless you’ll be staying in one place during your travel to India you will have to book either a plane, train or bus ticket along the way. This can always be done online through a government booking website but wifi can prove difficult to find in certain places. And 3G isn’t possible with out a SIM card so you’re left with one option, a travel agency.  Use this as an absolute last resort since these agents increase or even double the price of all tickets to earn their commission. So plan ahead of time, or find a way to access the internet before booking with a travel agent on the street in The area you are in.

5) Large Bills and Change
Upon arrival you will have to exchange all your useless US currency for the new beautiful Gandhi covered Indian rupee. Currently there are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 2000 denominations. 2000 notes are what will be given to you when exchanging large sums of USD and this note is practically useless until it can be broken down to smaller denominations. Restaurants, street vendors, and even some hostels will not accept such a large bill since it will deplete the source of change money right away. Best way to acquire change at this point is to try and find a bank or make a large purchase. One more questionable way of acquiring change is to approach a beggar with your flashy new 500 note and request 480 back. Beggars often have large sums of small bills to exchange for a 500 note since the culture of India is to give to beggars rather than the strange tension between homeless and non homeless we experience in the United States.


6) Rickshaws and Taxisindia-blog-4
One more note regarding rickshaw and taxis drivers is to negotiate all pricing outside of the vehicle. Once you enter the vehicle you’ve expressed how badly you need it in their eyes so they will not budge on price. Staying outside the vehicle keeps the ball in your court by allowing you to walk away any time to play the cold shoulder card and hopefully get a better price. Also these drivers are often the last folks you want to ask for lodging recommendations since they can earn commission through taking you to the hotel they have ties with.

7) Learning Hindi
Out of respect and enhancing your experience in India, learning a little bit of Hindi is especially useful. Locals will warm up to you quickly if you can speak even just a word or two of their language. They love to hear you interacting with them through Hindi and will always like to teach you more. It’s a great conversational tool as well as a tool for acquiring appropriate prices and finding a good place to eat. Dont stress about pronunciation and sounding like a fool it is perfectly acceptable. One quick phrase you can say to just about anyone which will make them smile is bahoot achcha. Bahoot achcha directly translates to very good but based on my experience I think certain inflections can create a more dynamic connotation to the phrase.

8) Eat Curd
One of the more unique tips picked up from a traveler was to eat curd with the first couple of meals at every new location you travel to in India. The curd will have all the delicious, beneficial local bacteria you want to combat the nasty barteria lurking around that you at potentially ingest. Doing this will give you one more barrier from the dreaded Delhi Belly that can put you on your back for a few days!
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9)AC or Air Conditioned? 

Learning this the hard way can be quite uncomfortable. Advertisements promoting AC with their services does not always mean that its actually a cooled compartment or room. More often than not it means that the hotel room, bus, or train is sealed from the wind or weather. If it is especially hot make sure you can communicate that you are looking for a cooled room beyond just saying AC.

Readers Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Inspirational Adventure/Travel Reads

by: Louie Knolle

Introduction:

I don’t know you reader, but one thing I do know is that you are human. Should I meet you someday, perhaps we will have a nice conversation about some books we have both read.  At one of my two jobs, I pick apples on an orchard and work in the farm stand.  Man oh man, how I have learned how subjective taste is.  What can taste sweet to one person, can taste more on the tart side to another. What one considers to be crisp, another can think of as soft. This is why I firmly believe in testing a variety of things, no matter the object of desire.  When it comes to things like travel destinations, foods, or reading books, the worst that can happen is you decide it is not for you.  Armed with this knowledge, you will be better suited for the decision making process on the next go-round.  I think we can all agree that learning more about ourselves in one of the most adventurous endeavors we as human beings can undertake in our lives.  I consider this way of thought synonymous with breathing, it’s just something natural that everyone has the ability to do.

Although I would consider myself a novice bibliophile at best, I always enjoy the books that I choose to read.  Whether they be travel memoirs, eastern philosophies, metamorphoses inspired by nature, classic literature, or even the standard 14 part fantasy epic, I am always intrigued by the books that end up on my book shelf.  Never able to succinctly answer when asked what I like to read, I prefer this M.O. of book selection and am able to learn so much.  For this reason, I have been assigned the duty of compiling a list of some of my favorite adventure, travel, inspirational, etc. reads.  Since our resident wordsmith and book bandit Man-goat is off finishing the AT like the child-like cherub that he is, I will do my best to elucidate in his stead.  This is by no means a complete list of course, there are thousands upon thousands of books that would fit in these genres, and I am but one man who knows what he likes.  Unfortunately I cannot read them all, that’s where you come in! I will do my best to explain what I liked about these books and share a few details without writing several book reports.  I hope that you will use these as a starting point on your search for both books to read and places to go out and experience in real life.  I know some of these have determined some of my both past and future trips.  Happy trails and happy reads!

zenZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance   Robert Pirsig

This book was published in 1974. Told through the frame of a long motorcycle trip across America, the book explores life and how to best live it.   Perspectives from Eastern and Western philosophy and religion are referenced, highlighted, and explored, and through this exploration, the narrator addresses the pivotal question of how to pursue technology in a way that enriches human life as opposed to degrading it. The motorcycle trip starts in Minneapolis, Minnesota and concludes near San Francisco, CA. The narrator and his son, Chris, are accompanied by a couple, the Sutherlands. As a contrast to the narrator, John and Sylvia Sutherland represent people who are uncomfortable with technology. They feel oppressed by it and use motorcycle trips to escape. At the same time, however, they are dependent on technology. This conflict hints at a larger conflict in society and life. The narrator aims to explore this conflict with technology and get to its root.

In Bozeman, Montana, the Sutherlands decide to turn back and not continue on their journey.  The narrator and his son then decide to embark on a hiking trip in the mountains nearby and a lot is revealed about their complex relationship and about the narrator’s troubled past.  Coincidentally enough, I read this book while on a 3 week road trip out west a few years ago and could not think of a more perfect place to have read it.  Both for getting to actively live and experiment with the ideals of introspection on the road and for the simple fact I love, love, love reading while traveling.  At the end of a long day of driving and sight seeing, nothing is more relaxing then reclining in a hammock at a brand new campsite.  Although this book has been around for decades, I still find a lot of friends who have not read it yet!

Read more of Louie’s Suggestions here.

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