Archive for the 'Packing' Category
Monday, November 10, 2008
In less than two hours I will begin a four-day, 30-mile hike into the wilds of New Zealand. Despite how ridiculous this sounds, it seemed like a sane – even fun – idea from the comforts of my living room last year. Rudyard Kipling made this stretch of trail famous by calling it, “The finest walk in the world.” But as the departure date has drawn closer, an overwhelming feeling of, “What the hell am I doing?” has cast a pall over my mind. My fellow RTW traveler, Jodi, did the trek last January, and was met with four days of crystal-clear skies. This is unusual: the Milford Track receives up to seven meters of rain a year, about 21 feet. You are repeatedly warned that the odds of encountering a day of rain on your trek, even in the middle of summer, is very good. In the promotional brochure there are photographs of smiling, grungy hikers wading through waist-deep water. (Why the advertisement isn’t filled with bronzed 20-somethings frolicking through sunny fields of wild flowers is a mystery to me.) Yet somehow I had deluded myself into thinking we were going to be met with Jodi’s incredible luck.
As we rolled into Te Anau yesterday, from where we’ll begin the trek, I watched towering banks of charcoal clouds roll over the jagged, snowy mountain peaks. When we checked in at the Department of Conversation’s visitor center yesterday to receive our passes, we read the forecast. Yesterday alone it rained about four inches, as much as New Mexico receives over the course of months, with more rain forecast over the next four days. “It even snowed last week,” said the parks staff said, cheerily. When we went to rent our equipment late in the day, I asked the owner if we really needed hat, gloves, and rain pants, to which she responded, flatly, “That’s basic safety equipment.” I wearily studied the neat rows of wet, mud-caked boots and wondered what sort of an outdoor adventure I was embarking upon. More importantly, I wondered why I had ever thought this was a good idea in the first place. It doesn’t boil down to badges of honor or bragging rights. Like this trip itself, it’s an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone. I am not an outdoorsy person by nature. Maikael has the corner on that market, as does our friend Tim, who is traveling with us throughout New Zealand the next three weeks. As I shrugged on my pack last night, brimming with four days of food and countless pairs of wool socks, I asked myself again why I was doing this. I have to trust that there is something to what ol’ Rudyard said, that there is magic in the woods.
It also doesn’t hurt that we awoke to clear, blue skies this morning.1 comment
As I was waiting for our flight to Spain at Chicago O’Hare, I went to use the restroom. When I went to wash my hands, an older Indian woman, dressed in a flowing peach sari, was trying to wash her hands in the basin next to mine. She carefully studied my motions, and it soon became clear that she had never encountered an automated sink. I turned to use the towel dispenser, and she did the same. As the water in her sink kept flowing she looked panicked. She gave me a look, the equivalent of a shrug, that said, “How the hell do I turn this thing off?” I smiled and made “okay” gestures with my fingers. But the message got lost in translation, and she banged on the metal spout with her fist, hoping that would do the trick. Finally it turned off by itself, and I smiled, reassuringly trying to say, “See, it’s okay!” Inside, I was thinking, “That is going to be me soon.”
Little did I know that soon would come in a matter of hours. We arrived Madrid at 8:15 am, bleary- eyed and exhausted, having slept little on the plane. After clearing customs and collecting our luggage, we began the great debate of how best to get to our hostel. We had been warned repeatedly about pickpockets and gitanos running rampant on the Metro, and wanted to make sure our belongings were secure. First, we made the executive decision to carry our backpacks by their handles rather than the straps, so as to appear less vulnerable. I slung my daypack awkwardly over my shoulder, and Maikael strapped his to his frontside. The result was two Quasimoto-like figures ambling through the underbelly of Madrid, looking more vulnerable than ever.
Second, we decided to give my money belt its maiden voyage. I crammed the belt with passports, cash, and credit cards, and within minutes my protruding paunch was sagging. By the time we reached our destination, it was somewhere towards the bottom of my thighs. Maikael slung his backpack atop his shoulder, as if he were carrying a bag of coffee beans. I finally stopped halfway through a Metro tunnel and strapped on my backpack properly. “We’ll get better at this,” we said.
We emerged from the Metro, after wrestling with the ticketing machine, sweaty and tired. We arrived at the Hostal Alaska, relieved that our room was ready for check-in so early in the day, and Maikael removed his pack. His chest was ringed by a bullseye of sweat from hugging the daypack to his chest. On a normal vacation, I’d say, “Big deal. We’ll throw it in the laundry when we get home in two weeks.” But today my mind began calculating the complicated equation between shirts owned, opportunities for laundry, and days on the road. We are fortunate enough to have a bathtub in our room, so I immediately plunged all of our dirty clothes in the soapy water and decided to do a load of laundry. When I went to hang up our laundry line – which came highly recommended for its versatile design – I discovered that there was nowhere in our room to hang the now-sopping laundry (note to self: assess laundry line situation before submerging clothes). “We’ll get better at this,” we said.
After a brief nap and shower we went to a lunch spot that was recommended by our hostel. We ordered from the menu del dia, typical midday fare in the Spanish-speaking world, which provides a choice of one of three primero and segundo platos, plus “1/2 of wine” and dessert, all for 10 euros. The waitress brought two bottles of wine, both about ½ full, and we waited for her to pour us each a ½ glass. When she left we raised our eyebrows at each other. “Does this mean we get an entire ½ bottle each?” We glanced around to make sure there hadn’t been some mistake. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve stumbled tipsy out of a restaurant into the midday sun.
It took only one day to determine that we might need to buy a strap for our backpacks for certain situations; that our laundry situation needs some reevaluating; and that the shoes I bought are proving to be disappointing. It’s a reminder that we’ll hardly ever get it right on the first time on this journey, despite our planning and best efforts. We’ll get better at this.
Despite an exhausting and difficult day of feeling like babies beginning to walk, I am writing this post with the balcony doors propped open, as Madrilenos pour out into the waning daylight, laughter rising from the cafe below. I can even hear the strains of an accordion playing an eclectic repertoire of “Happy Birthday,” “When the Saints Come Marching In,” “Those Were the Days My Friends,” and, curiously enough, “Jingle Bells.” Could I be in any more of a quintessential Spanish scene?
Tomorrow is another day. Hopefully with better shoes.
In the immortal words of John Denver:
Well, this isn’t completely true. The bags aren’t totally packed. We’ll be back March 15. I’m certainly not standing outside any doors. But all in all, we’re ready to go. I’m happy to say this is the last post I will place in the “Planning” category.
It’s been a strange week. I have been riding an emotional roller coaster all day: one moment I can barely contain my excitement for the journey ahead, and I feel calm, cool, and collected. The next, I am panicked and nervous and just about ready to leap out of my skin. I guess this is to be expected at the eleventh hour; at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
We’ve said a lot of goodbyes this week, mostly over duck eggrolls, fancy grape martinis, Saggio’s pizza, sangria, and the best Mexican food in town, which we will miss dearly. It’s strange to say goodbye to people, knowing we’ll be back but that things will be different when we return. Most times in life, change just happens. We don’t realize until we’re in the throes of transition that things are different, and usually we never could have predicted it. It’s an odd feeling, then, to embark on a process that you know will most certainly result in coming out the other side a different person, not unlike having a gypsy tell your fortune.
As I’ve said my goodbyes and begun shedding the tangible trappings of my everyday life – cell phone, date planner, garage door opener, house keys – I’ve noticed a strange thing. With each item I give up, I compensate for the loss by adding another to the bag. I’ve found myself sneaking in extra razors to my toiletries bag, and wondering aloud if I shouldn’t buy just one more shirt. I think it boils down to an issue of control. Most of the things I am about to face in the next eight months will be out of my hands, but I have some say as to whether I add another item to my scant wardrobe. I am reminded once again of the powerful pull of stuff.
And yet, I look at the meager piles of items that we’re packing. It’s amazing to thing that I have pared down my life to 3,500 cubic inches. I’ll probably regret packing half of it by next month. Even today I found myself clutching pieces of paper, wondering, “Do I really need this?” To ensure that gender stereotypes don’t run rampant, I’ve included photos of Maikael’s pile and my pile of items to be packed. As you can see, they are nearly equal in size.
Signing off from Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the eve of a journey of a lifetime. See you in Madrid! Buenas noches.3 comments
I have a confession to make: yesterday, we spent $77.21 on six pairs of socks. The most expensive pair? $17.05 (on sale). I can safely say this is the most I have ever spent on socks in my entire life. If you think this is absurd, it is. But these are no normal socks: these are merino wool socks. And if you think wearing wool socks in a warm tropical climate sounds perfectly awful, I share the same thought. However, in the upside-down world of RTW travel, nothing is as it seems. Our research tells us that wool is the best fiber for regulating heat; it keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Wool does an excellent job of wicking away moisture, and keeps nasty odors at bay.
In the world of shopping, socks rank right up there with the easiest possible purchase. There are no sizes to worry about; you just pop into the store, pick up a few pairs, and you’re on your way. But, again, in the world of RTW trip planning, socks became one of the most difficult items to make a decision on. It took three trips to the store to get it right. While socks sound incidental they are a wardrobe essential, given the amount of terrain we will undoubtedly be covering by foot over the next eight months. Never in my life have I spent so much time evaluating the relative merits of a strip of fabric that covers my feet. One must consider the bulk, the color, the length, the support. I am now accustomed to walking into a store, scanning the premises for trip-appropriate clothing, and immediately clutching a fist of fabric, quickly calculating how much weight this might add to my pack and how fast this garment might dry after washing it in the sink.2 comments
I clearly remember my family’s first computer. We purchased it in 1993, and it was a behemoth. It took a full day to set-up the machine and we were afraid to touch anything, lest the computer self-destruct. For some reason I can’t recall we backed up the entire Windows system on floppy disks. When I opened the box to our new Asus EEE PC, I couldn’t help but remember that first computer. “How things have changed,” I thought. The computer we will use for our trip weighs just a little over two pounds and can be held in the palm of one’s hand, like Vanna White demonstrating some super fabulous product.
We’ve spent a few days trying it out and, despite its size, are pretty impressed with its capabilities. We held out for the newer model that was released at the beginning of June, which provides a larger screen and longer battery life than its predecessor, and I’m glad we did. We’re having some troubles getting the iPod and computer to “talk” to one another, but hope to have it ironed out soon. The keys are pretty small, too, but we’re praising the gene pool that we both were blessed with small hands: we may not have a future in piano playing, but we’re turning out to be the perfect EEE users.
Sort of like how kids enjoy the box a gift comes in more than the gift itself, my very favorite feature of the EEE is its small, plush carrying case, which looks like a cute clutch. If it wasn’t such an aberrant idea for keeping ones goods secure while traveling, I’d carry it in the crook of my arm everywhere I went. Just because I could.2 comments
As I’ve written here before, one of the most common questions we receive is, “How will you pack for your trip?” Other than responding, “Very carefully,” I don’t have a good answer. Besides the occasional nightmare or two about the packing process, I’ve somehow managed to put off thinking about it. Until now. The trip is less than ten weeks away, and unless I want to buy everything in the panicked last days before the trip, I realized that I better start buying some things. But where to start?
I made the decision to stay focused by shopping by category; I started with pants. Why pants? Pants, for me, are the most difficult thing to purchase, so I figured I’d better tackle this monster while I’ve got the energy to do so. Pants are also the foundation of any wardrobe — with pants purchased, I can more easily focus on tops and shoes. But the most compelling reason is that I happened to be at Dillard’s one recent Friday afternoon and saw a lot of pants that looked good, so I bought ‘em.
All of the RTW books and blogs seem to have an opinion about pants/bottoms. The extremists advise bringing only a pair or two. Others get downright daring by packing five pairs of pants/shorts AND two skirts. But the biggest point of contention seems to be the inclusion of jeans. Some swear by them: they are versatile, easy to dress up or dress down. Others swear they are the devil incarnate: they weight a ton and take forever to dry. I realized I would have to wade through the differing opinions and take a leap by making some decisions of my own, based on where I’d be traveling and my own personal preferences. Everyone seems to agree that choosing light, neutral-colored bottoms that can serve a variety of functions is key. Based on that, here’s how my packing list shook out:
~ One pair long, lightweight, tan pants (light enough to wear in tropical climates; long enough to wear when it’s cold; the tailoring is smart enough to wear in cities, but casual enough so as not to look out of place at the beach)
~ One pair calf-length capris in grey (neutral color that will blend easily with most shirts/shoes; light enough to wear in a variety of climates, with secure pockets for storing money)
~ One pair knee-length shorts in beige (sleek enough styling that I don’t look like I’m going on a safari; easy to dress up or dress down, depending on circumstances; modest enough for conservative countries, cute enough for the beach)
~ One black, flouncy skirt (can easily take me from a day at the beach to a night on the town — who knows how many of those there will be)
The jury is still out on bringing jeans. If I can find a pair that’s light enough, I might make a concession. But with the pants taken care of I made my first shoe purchase with an awesome pair of black Merrell’s. These shoes are great because they feel like you’re walking on air, but the styling can easily take you from city to trail. A pair of brown Sketchers and Chaco flip-flops and that category will be crossed off, too!6 comments