Forks and Jets

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Six Months Later, Six Pounds Heavier

November 5, 2009

30 Comments

For our year on the road, we packed a lot of stuff into two relatively small backpacks. We spent a lot of time researching gear, reading packing lists and visiting REI — finally being confident about our whole inventory. Six months later some things have changed, but most have stayed the same. Here’s a quick look at what’s been working for us, and what hasn’t — including some notes about shopping for gear abroad.


Eva with her pack

Backpacks WIN
Jeremy’s North Face Primero 70L and Eva’s 42L Deuter Futura Pro are chugging along nicely. Nothing’s broken, torn, uncomfortable; we even feel like we’re carrying the right sizes. Overall in terms of features, for us top and bottom loading is a must, but side access isn’t really a big deal. The air-vent/net back on Eva’s is a lot better than we expected. The pack duffles are a must on planes and buses where straps and clips could easily be crushed, and cargo holds are filthy.

Packing Cubes WIN
If you’ve never traveled with packing cubes, run out and get some now. Everything in our backpacks fits into a cube, so we don’t have any loose items rolling about. There’s a separate cube for electronics, clothes, socks, medicine. It’s dead easy to unpack, repack, and most importantly: to make sure we didn’t forget anything when moving from hostel to hostel every 2 or 3 days. The cubes have waterproof dividers and front faces, so if the sunscreen explodes, the mess is contained.

Eagle Creek Koala Shower Bag WIN
Not exactly the one in the link, this dopp kit packs down quite flat, and holds ALL the shower/bath items we both need, together. It doesn’t have any inefficient padding, but the clever folding structure actually keeps bottles reinforced. Again, it’s waterproof, so spills are minimized.

Compression Sacks FAIL
These are just too big. Maybe there are smaller ones on the market, but even our smallest one is much bigger than required. Whatever goes in comes out looking wrinkled and terrible. We’d use these only for sleeping bags, if we were carrying them.

Jeremy’s Ecco Yucatan Sandals FAIL
Though the straps are sturdy and not ostentatious, the insole isn’t made for travel. It’s a soft suede which feels nice at the start, but once some dirt gets rubbed in (inevitable) it can’t ever be cleaned out completely. The rubberized designs on the insole have begun to break down, creating sticky stripes underfoot. They ought to be sold as a city sandal, because they won’t last through tough abuse.

Eva’s Chaco Sandals WIN
Our first try at Chacos, and we’re hooked — Jeremy wishes he had a pair instead of his Ecco Sandals. The Chacos are tough, and can be easily washed. The entire sole is one piece of rubber, and hasn’t shown any signs of degrading. The toe-wrap design of Eva’s pair sometimes pulls itself too tight — the classic Chaco structure would have been better.

Eva’s Merrell Siren Sport Shoes and Jeremy’s North Face Prophecy Shoes WIN/FAIL
Both shoes are “trail runner” type outdoor shoes meaning they are light weight running shoes with dense soles. We chose not to buy the gore-tex models afraid that they would not breathe or dry well enough. With the heavy use, we really need for them not to smell and so far they are doing their job. The only fail is that six months in, the material at the heels is ripping.

Smartwool Socks WIN
An expensive luxury, but unbeatable. They last through tough washes, let our feet breathe, and even air out overnight enough to give us an extra day of wear when laundry isn’t possible.

Super Feet Insoles WIN
Another luxury, not necessary but much appreciated. Like the Smartwool socks, these puppies were pricey (~ $30). They’re very rigid compared to everything else on the market, and give our shoes much more support than their included insoles. They keep our shoes fresh, but the comfort is really legendary.


Where the fabric gave up

Eva’s North Face Pants FAIL
While Jeremy’s North Face Paramount Convertable Pants carry on looking a day old, Eva’s have frayed, balled up and lost their shape. The fabric on the shins has literally melted from coming in contact with DEET, and now she mainly rolls them up as shorts. They are far too light weight, and clearly they aren’t meant for actual travel abuse.

Jeremy’s J. Crew Broken-In Ts WIN
A surprising win, one of our few “normal” items that we didn’t give much second thought to. While Eva’s t-shirts have all balled up and gotten shredded from hand-washing, Jeremy’s J. Crew T’s are still smooth, soft and more nicely broken in than ever. It’s a silly thing, but we don’t want to run around shopping for new shirts. Having something just last is a relief.

Jeremy’s Marmot Oracle Rain Jacket FAIL
This item in only a fail because we were so dumb to lose it! The jacket was nicely shaped, lightweight and extremely effective. We hope the staff at the hotel in Portugal we left it in enjoys it.

REI Pack Towels WIN
We laughed at these chamois things for weeks before we left, completely doubting their effectiveness. But, to our surprise, they’re performing just as advertised. They take up less space than a notebook, haven’t gotten funky, dry in less than an hour, and the extra large size is more than enough for an adult, even to cover up.


Modeling new ways to tie a sarong with Lucinda

Sarongs and Turkish Pestemal WIN
We bought a sarong wrap in Brazil and the Turkish towels while on our Blue Cruise. Both are thin and light, but give us something to sit on at the park or beach, and a quick robe in the mornings. It wouldn’t be worth bringing these from home, but they’re a nice useful souvenir to pick up on the road.

Pacsafe WIN
We thought this little retractable lock would be paranoid overkill, but it actually gets used quite often — adding confidence in strange places, or crowded hostels. We lock up cabinets with our backpacks inside in hotels, and if a hostel doesn’t offer lockers, we can put our most valuable items into one backpack, and pacsafe it closed. Giving our bags to manned luggage holding stations feels a little better when we know the contents can’t be rifled through.

Braided Rubber Clothing Line WIN
With hand washing comes the problems of where to hang things to dry. We’d strung this line on balconies, over hostel beds and in backyards. The rubber cleans off easily, and the braided design means that clothing clips aren’t necessary. Find the kind with loops at the ends instead of suction cups which can’t be used most places and won’t sustain the pressure necessary to hold up a few soaking shirts.

DEET FAIL
DEET is lethal. It harms the environment, and can melt your clothes or most other synthetic materials. It’s even been linked to Gulf War Syndrome. We left home with REI’s Jungle Juice (over 90% DEET!) and a less extreme Ultrathon 34% DEET lotion. The stronger liquid made Jeremy’s tattoo break out in a rash, and melted Eva’s pants and a corner of our packing cube. We relied on it a lot in the jungle in Mexico, but it was a constant liability — spilling out and causing more damage (the cap on the damn bottle finally melted partially too, and then the bottle had to be upright to not spill – absurd!). We ditched it before we even made it to the Amazon. Ultrathon is more skin friendly, but we still use it sparingly. Most mosquito-ridden regions have their own unique repallant on sale in the market. These are usually naturally derived, and work particularly well on the area’s bugs.

Our library FAIL
4 fiction books and 2 guidebooks have multiplied into 9 and 4. Book exchanges were common throughout South America trading whatever we had read 1:1 or sometimes 2:1. Europe doesn’t have it as good… we rarely find good book exchanges and have had to buy used books more than once. We’ve been hoarding these finished books, too sad to throw them out. Perhaps they’ll be a book exchange at the next hostel? Bad idea! We’re now shlepping a whole bookshelf on our backs.

Moo Business Cards WIN
100 unique cards for $20 was cheap, and now we’re able to give our blog address to new friends easily. They’re memorable, fun, and really convenient. Even if we were just sharing our email address, these are much better than handwriting on scraps of paper.

Apple iPod Touch WIN/FAIL
We love showing off photos to friends and family on the big touchscreen, and it’s alarm wakes us up most mornings. Many web apps like Currency and Metro work offline, and provide quick solutions to puzzling problems. Our Stanza App has over 30 books downloaded (as if we weren’t carrying enough already!) It’s only flaw unfortunately lies in the very reason most long-term travelers have one: wifi access. The antenna simply isn’t very powerful, and it often fails keeping a connection where our laptop can. We wouldn’t rely on it as our only source of internet access.

First Aid and Medicine FAIL
It’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, but when fitting your life in a 40L backpack, a overzealous med kit probably isn’t a good idea. We’ve used the neosporin and antihistamine cream, but not much else. Basic medications like aspirin and immodium are available everywhere (often for much less than at home) and we could easily slim our gear down in this department. The one thing that can’t be bought abroad (or at least not easily) is dayquil and non-drowsy allergy relief. Bring these from home, but leave the gauze and motion sickness pills.

Totally UNUSED
Doorstop
Secret Pocket
Cellphone
Ziplock bags
Camp Suds
Hostel International discount cards
Most of the First Aid and Med Kits
Drain Stopper (hostel sinks are too small anyway)


Refilling at Carrefour

Restocking on the road has been easy and cheap, usually we only need basics like toothpaste and shampoo. In Mexico, we loved Chedraui for one stop food and gear shopping. Throughout Europe, the Carrefour chain takes the place of our American Target store.

They sell everything from groceries to televisions. Store brand versions of most goods make our budget go farther than elsewhere, and stores are easy to find. Pint-size Carrefour Express stores appear centrally in town, and complete Carrefours are in shopping centers along major transportation lines.

Travel gear is expensive at home and even more so abroad. The single exception seems to be the Quechua brand, found so far in both South America and Europe. Quechua makes everything: sleep sacks, shoes, tents, bikes, backpacks. Their prices are much lower than our North Face or even REI brand goods, but the quality isn’t as high. For cheap replacements it’s more than enough, however, and the best place to buy Quechua gear that we’ve found is Decathlon, all over Europe.

These stores are typically in big shopping plazas on the outskirts of town, reachable by bus or metro. A quick internet search usually yields one or two in large cities. Decathlon sells Quechua brand goods, as well as cheap knits brand Domyos, and some North Face and Columbia items. Prices in Spain were excellent (T shirts for 2 Euro!), but high in Poland — your experience may vary based on country.

Here’s what it all looked like before we left. Want to see our original packing list?

Comments

  1. Shannon OD says:
    November 5, 2009

    I love this update! And I am right there with you about the chacos – I love them to death but I wish I hadn’t bought ones with the toe-strap either! Smartwool and Superfeet – right on! Couldn’t live without ’em either :-)

    I didn’t bring a rope but always kinda wished I had – glad to see it’s handy :-)

    Reply

  2. Erin says:
    November 5, 2009

    Thanks for that- it’s always really useful to get reports on packing lists. You’ve reminded me that business cards would be really useful!

    How have you found your icebreakers? We are considering forking out for them for high altitude places in South America. I get cold easily and need a lightweight base layer.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      November 5, 2009

      The icebreakers are a stellar buy. We’re converts for life. You only need one in your wardrobe, but on a cold day it’ll be the best relief, especially as a base layer under something windproof (or a fleece).
      The prices are steep (seen some sale prices come in around $60, but that’s it). Jeremy has a slightly lighter weight than Eva’s, but it suits our personalities/warmth requirements. They have a snug fit which is flattering in that superhero kind of way, and nice long sleeves for coziness. The fabric resists odors completely (unlike Patagonia’s Capilene), and dries quickly when washed. It is a wool knit, so you have to be carefully about the washing (no machine drying!) and they might ball up slightly, but ours they look almost new.
      Can’t say that we have gotten loads of use out of them, since we’ve been following the warm weather around the globe, but it is reassuring knowing we have them. If you want to cut costs a bit, depending on your itinerary, you could cut them out, but we see it as a kind of backpacker luxury item and failsafe.

      Reply

  3. Erin says:
    November 5, 2009

    Thanks so much for your quick response. I’m convinced on the icebreakers now -staying warm is important!

    Reply

  4. Lauren, Ephemerratic says:
    November 5, 2009

    Nice approach to the packing list update. Agree entirely on the godsend that is packing cubes as well as the space waste that is the store-bought med kit. Will be making my own med kit for the next trip, with more bandaids and less of everything else.

    Reply

    • Ayngelina says:
      November 5, 2009

      What a great post. I was on the fence about Chacos but you’ve convinced me they are as good as everyone says.

      Reply

      • Team Rees says:
        November 6, 2009

        I thought they weren’t all that special first time I saw them: thick, heavy, difficult strap loosening system… but once you put them on, and get the fit where you want it, they really are the best activity sandals I’ve ever had.
        I used to opt for Tevas, but don’t even get me started on how hideous those have gotten.

        Reply

  5. michele says:
    November 5, 2009

    Great post. thank you

    can’t wait for india posts

    Reply

  6. Geoff says:
    November 5, 2009

    I have to agree completely on the packing cubes – I was a bit unsure before I left but I really can’t imagine now how people survive without them, they truly are perfect for keeping evrything organised, making packing quicker, and helping to check you have everything.

    When it comes to books – I’ve mostly given up on book exchanges (although I still always look – I got 4 amazing books the other day from one) – but mostly I’ve had my best luck by looking out for other travelers with books, and arranging direct swaps with them – it’s funny how many other people hoard their good books rather than exchange it for something bad from a book exhange, so direct swaps have been a much better source of luck for me.

    Reply

  7. Natalie says:
    November 5, 2009

    Wow, what great information! Awesome to have truthful (non-sponsored) reviews on travel products. Thanks for consistently posting interesting/fun content!

    Reply

  8. dreamalittledream.ca says:
    November 6, 2009

    Couldn’t say enough good things about packing cubes! They are some of our most favorite gear items too.

    We gained quite a libary in our bags too while going through Europe. The guidebooks we wait until we’re visiting the country next, but fiction books have slowly added up with no exchanged anywhere in Europe. In Asia though each place we’ve stayed at has had a library to exchange 1:1 which is nice, and even in restaurants they’ve been buying books.

    Business Cards are also a great plus we’ve had as well, it makes it easy to give out email address for future contact and ours were pretty cheap as well.

    cheers

    Scott

    p.s. Love the design of your blog!

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      November 6, 2009

      Glad to hear about the book exchanges in Asia, we’ll be here for the next few months! It surprised us a bit that with all the backpackers in Europe we couldn’t find any decent ones.

      Reply

  9. Akila says:
    November 6, 2009

    I love this rundown. I think we’re going to have to get some business cards because people keep asking us for our site name. I like the idea of unique cards for each one so we’ll look into that.

    Our icebreaker base layer gear has been indispensable in New Zealand. Erin, if you’re going to New Zealand early on, buy your base layers here because the prices are much better than in the U.S. They have a brand call MacPac which sells 100% merino wool sweaters for $50 New Zealand (that’s like $35 U.S.) and they are SO warm. Unfortunately, they only sell them in New Zealand.

    The book exchange thing sounds like a bummer. My parents bought me a Kindle before we left and we bought one for Patrick and they have been really really helpful because we tear through books (I think I’ve already read about 25 or so books and we’ve only been traveling for 2 months). If you are willing to shell out the dough, it is well worth the purchase.

    And, just curious, do you know when you’re heading to India? We should be there in January and it looks like Gillian from One Giant Step should be there around the same time. It would be great if we could all meet up. :)

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      November 6, 2009

      More travelers that I imagined carry the kindle. We download the freebie books online onto our Touch, and it’s somewhat similar, but since we’re still on the fence with physical and digital books we never shell out for anything new to read (the freebies are beyond their copyright)

      Since it’s hard to tell where we are from our backdated blog, sadly we just LEFT India! We had a great time touring a lot of South India this time around. Can’t wait to return and see the north next time. Wish we could meet up!!

      Reply

  10. brian from nodebtworldtravel.com says:
    November 6, 2009

    Business cards…YES!

    Your report on DEET is scary. We have been warned about malaria and prompted to take the strongest DEET our bodies can take. Got to try the local remedies, like you recommend.

    If you’re in Hong Kong still, try out Maxim’s in the City Hall building on Hong Kong Island for dim sum.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      November 6, 2009

      DEET can be okay, it’s just there’s a lot of people don’t know anything about it and just slather it on. The lower-concentration in the Ultrathon works just as good as the crazy 99% stuff. But it’s still got a strange feel and smell, and still eats away a little at the ziplock bag we keep it in. I like the local bug sprays because they’re cheap, and they’re in a spray. It’s easier and quicker to put on when I don’t have much time. Carrying DEET in a spray seems like a quick way to ruin everything in your backpack, so be careful.

      Reply

  11. JoAnna says:
    November 7, 2009

    I’m really surprised you haven’t used your Ziploc bags. I always pack and use them on the road.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      November 8, 2009

      This is a funny one, actually. Rather than use the ziplock bags, we’ve been hoarding them and using plastic bags we pick up with small errands instead. Ziplock is rarer abroad and we’re “saving” them, which is quite comical — I’m pretty sure we’ll come home with all of them unused.

      Reply

  12. Danielle says:
    November 8, 2009

    I love how you did a review of the stuff you brought at your half point! Sometimes you have to actually see how you are or are not using things before you can decide. And then you have to be willing to just let go of what you aren’t using.

    When getting ready for our trip I found plenty of what to pack lists but far fewer how it held up/what we used the most lists.

    I didn’t end up using packing cubes because I didn’t want to spend even more money on gear, but being a fairly organized person and the hate for the constant digging around the bags makes me think I might like them after all.

    And on another note, I can’t say enough good things about my Kindle! I read well over 100 books in 9 months of travel.

    Reply

  13. Mark H says:
    November 11, 2009

    Superb review. I agree that packing cubes are excellent and I was really dubious when I first was told about them. I used DEET through Africa (around 60% strength) after pouring it into a more robust bottle and it certainly worked but it is evil stuff as you describe. I can’t agree on your commentary to the medical kit – this is insurance and only for usage in bad times. I’ve lumped a small but useful medical kit around for years and been very thankful in far out places (as have others) when it was needed. Books are a tricky topic. I occasionally managed to do a swap on public transport (at some strange times) as you could spot those looking at books/guides in English and struck up some good conversations. You are right that South America, Asia and Africa seem better for exchanges than Europe or North America.

    Reply

  14. jen laceda says:
    November 13, 2009

    What a useful resource!! Will definitely bookmark this one!! Those Moo Business cards are the best, aren’t they? :)

    Reply

  15. Dave says:
    November 20, 2009

    Great list! I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t think the Moo cards were kick ass. Especially when you’re traveling, they make exchanging info so much easier.

    Reply

  16. mina says:
    November 21, 2009

    I’m so glad I came across this! We’ve just posted a few of the items that we’re taking on our blog and are in the middle of getting the last few things sorted our before we leave. This was so incredibly useful to read.

    Reply

  17. Clark says:
    April 12, 2010

    Great gear suggestions. Don’t you just love those Goorin hats? It’s a must for our RTW.

    Reply

  18. Jens says:
    May 22, 2012

    Great review – thanks a lot!

    One point regarding the med kit and buying medications locally: Be aware that in many developing countries, medications you buy may be fake products – ineffective at best or outright dangerous. And no, you cannot tell fake from original, not even as a medical professional, I tried and failed miserably. The only possibility to check would be to call up the pharmaceutical company and read the medication’s batch number to them for verification. So be sure to at least keep the potentially life-saving medications in your kit (antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs etc.).

    Regarding merino wool garments: In my experience, they are great also for hot climates (in the thin variety, like T-shirts and boxers). They don’t smell, so you can air them out often and reduce your amount of laundry. If need to be, like in extreme cold climate, disaster zones etc., you can even wear them for days without interruption without any bad odor developing.

    Reply

  19. susan klee says:
    January 16, 2014

    in case anyone is still looking at this at the beginning of 2014! Am I the only person who finds that packing in cubes means you cannot get as many cubic feet of clothes and things into your pack or suitcase? If I pack everything as flat as possible, i can get a huge amount of my gear into its container. If I put everything into cubes, it cuts down severely on the total volume of gear I can take.
    No???

    Reply

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