Friday, May 3, 2013

Observations and other random notes

Travel necessities. This was my first trip for more than three weeks. I've always prided myself on traveling light. But when you are packing a bag for the next 6-7 months of your life, it's hard to really predict what you will want/need. I researched online what others suggest bringing but found nothing particularly groundbreaking. So after living out of a bag and leaving a trail of items I deemed unnecessary as we've traversed the planet, here are the things I could not have lived without (omitting the obvious things like a camera, etc.):

  • Jeans. It's actually kind of controversial in the long-haul travelers circle to bring and wear jeans. The detractors say they are too heavy, don't dry fast enough and are impractical for hot weather countries (of which most of our trip would take place). Ok, fine, technically they have a point. But I am a jeans and t-shirt guy. I feel more comfortable in a pair of Levis then I do in anything else. I only brought one pair of new, dark blue Levis and 7 months later I am wearing the same pair, only now they're a lot lighter, thinner, and worn in. I'll also add that jeans are universal. You will fit in pretty much anywhere in the world in a pair of jeans, unlike those quick-drying, sweat-wicking, anti-microbial, quick-zip-off safari/trek/travel pants' that so many travelers wear. 
  • Timex military-style watch. I had this watch before the trip but never got in the habit of wearing a watch full time. That has changed. This watch has been on my wrist (with few exceptions) the whole trip. It's been in rain and rivers and oceans, snow and blisteringly hot weather. It's been bashed and scraped and like the saying goes…it takes a lickin' it keeps on tickin'. I may have pushed it a little too far when I wore it diving, as the crack across the face shows, but still it's fully functional and considering the frequency of mis-set clocks we've encountered it's saved us a number of times. Also, it's worth noting that the watch does not look fancy or expensive(and it's not) and therefore does not attract sticky fingers. (although when we wouldn't give a couple of kids in India pens or candy or rupees, they did try their luck at getting the watch) 
  • SteriPen. I don't think I would be comfortable drinking the tap water in any of the 13 countries we visited. So, what does everyone do? Buy bottled water. Sometimes we did too. But think about all the millions of plastic bottles every year that end up on landfills and roadsides because of tourists. So when we could, we used our Steripen. It's essentially a UV light saber that you wave around for a minute in a bottle of questionable water, and voila: drinkable water, free of parasites, bacteria and viruses. Admittedly, the water doesn't always taste great but that is more a product of trace amounts of things like metals, which over the short term are not harmful. 
  • SteriPod. Not related to the Steripen other than it's shared purpose to help prevent the ingestion of unwanted microscopic baddies. The Steripod is a simple idea well-executed. A built-in antibacterial disk keeps your toothbrush from growing nastiness on your travels. 
  • Kindle. Just before we left we bought the cheapest of the Kindles. I love books. I'm especially a fan of paperbacks that, when I am done reading, look more like something that's been read 50 times rather than once. But, when every ounce of weight you add to your bag is another ounce you lug around on your back for hours at a time, packing even a few books becomes excessive. The Kindle is great for this. We loaded at least 60 books on the Kindle before leaving and have added several more along the way. It hasn't stopped me from occasionally buying an obscure 1970's sci-fi paperback in a used bookstore here and there but that's more out of an addiction. 

Wish I'd have brought:
Pedometer. We quickly tried to calculate how many miles we've walked and came up with an estimate in the 800 to 1200 mile range. But it's would have been awesome to have a small pedometer to know a more exact number.

Asians hate the sun. You know how white people like to lay out and get tan? Asians think that is CRAZY. Most Asian cultures think of lighter skin as healthier and more attractive. So much so that young people will go out during the day with as much clothing needed to cover exposed skin. In nearly 100 degree weather, Teenage girls will be wearing a hoodie with the hood up and a face mask covering their face. Sometimes their jackets have special hand covers for scooter driving. In pharmacies there are even sections devoted to whitening products.

Are there any Germans left in Germany? At this point we've met as many German travelers as we've met Indians in India. Sure, there are lots of French, Aussies, and Brits traveling as well. But, by far, Germans have been the majority. And they were everywhere. We'd walk up a secluded trail to some summit and there'd be a couple Germans there. As some guidebook we read said "Germans love a good walk". I guess the explorer spirit is still alive in the German people. Plus, it helps that the typical vacation time of a German worker is 6 weeks a year.