April 6, 2014

Review: Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack and how to choose a great backpack

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A good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.

But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.

That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe.

Review on Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack

osprey frontAfter lots of research, I decided on Osprey Packs Kestrel 48 backpack for three reasons:

But the true test came after wearing my pack for two solid weeks. Included in that time were some very long midnight wanderings in suburban Rome searching for our hotel, running through train stations and for vaporettos, and getting shoved under train seats.

What I liked and disliked about the Osprey Kestrel

Liked:

Disliked:

What to look for when choosing a backpack

1. Functionality

How are you planning to use your pack? Will you be hiking or walking a lot? Do you need it to be water-repellant?

If you’ll be walking with it a lot, pick one with an interior frame and hip belt to redistribute the weight off your shoulders. Water-resistance is a good thing to consider, so check for a rain cover. You can’t always control the weather, but it’s nice to know your stuff won’t get soaked.

2. Durability

You want a pack that wears its age and travels well. You don’t want to deal with broken zippers or rips on the road.

Look for fabric at least 400 denier nylon packcloth with a urethane coating (aka water-repellant). Test the zippers. Do some Google searches on “broken zipper + pack name” to see how it stands up.

A good place to check out long-term durability is reading Amazon’s reviews on the pack; you get a wide smattering of opinions to help your decision.

3. Access into the bag

Do you want to access the bag just from the top (top-loading pack)? Or from the top and bottom (called the sleeping bag compartment)? Exterior pockets or no pockets?

These are things to consider if you want to lock your bag. The more access points into your bag equals more locks you need.

4. Carrying Capacity

Ah, the clincher. Getting a pack that’s too big will restrict your ability to carry it on the plane. Getting a pack too small will curtail your purchasing abilities.

It’s a really good idea to check out the bags in person. After all, this is gear that interacts with your body. Like shoes, how it feels on you will impact how you feel about the trip.

Play around with the packs. Try them on. Figure out how it feels on your back and do a few spins to check your bull in a china shop prowess. The empty pack should feel light and not too bulky on your back.

For me, the perfect capacity size was 48: still small enough for carry on, but large enough for clothes and extras picked up along the way.

5. Backpack size

Backpacks come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes are determined by your torso length, not your height.

Here’s a general guide to figuring out the pack size from your torso length:

Men’s and Women’s
Pack Size Torso Length
Extra small Up to 15½”
Small 16″ to 17½”
Medium/Regular 18″ to 19½”
Large/Tall 20″+

Difference between men and women packs:

Generally, compared to men’s packs, women’s packs are:

But really, it comes down to how the pack feels on you. Even though I’m a woman, I picked a men’s pack based on how it fit me and what it looked like. Oh — and that it had good pockets.

Read more by Laura at Waiting To Be Read.

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Category: Backpacking, Travel Gear

April 5, 2014

Rolf Potts on Budget Travel

Backpack on boat 2

Whenever anyone asks me why I still travel on a shoestring at the ripe old age of 38, I usually tell them about the time I learned how to play the bagpipes in Havana.

Granted, I could probably relate a more typical story about the joys of budget travel - some tidy parable of money saved and experiences gained – but when I mention learning the bagpipes in Cuba it sounds like I’m going to tell a joke, and people like jokes.

The thing is, there’s no punch line. My encounter with Cuban bagpipers wasn’t memorable for its mere quirkiness – it was memorable because it illustrates how travelling on the cheap can offer you windows into a culture that go beyond the caricatured stereotype of what a place is supposed to be like.

If it sounds to you like I’m an ageing backpacker who never quite grew out of his shoestring ways, you’d be exactly right. In many ways, my travel sensibilities have grown out of a journey I took 10 years ago, when I quit my job as an English teacher and took a journey across Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. I probably had enough money saved up to invest in a three-month trip. As it turned out, I learned ways to stretch my travel budget into a life-enriching 30-month sojourn – and in all those months of travel, my day-to-day costs were significantly cheaper than day-to-day life would have cost me back in the United States.

The secret to my extraordinary thrift was neither secret nor extraordinary: like many generations of backpackers and shoestring travellers before me, I was able to make my modest savings last by slowing down and forgoing a few comforts as I travelled. Instead of luxury hotels, I slept in clean, basic hotels, hostels and guesthouses. Instead of dining at fancy restaurants, I ate food from street vendors and local cafeterias. Occasionally, I travelled on foot, slept out under the stars, and dined for free at the stubborn insistence of local hosts. In what eventually amounted to over two years of travel, my lodging averaged out to just under $5 a night, my meals cost well under $1 a plate, and my total expenses rarely exceeded $1,000 a month. Instead of investing my travel budget in luxuries and amenities, I invested it in more travel time – and it never failed to pay off in amazing experiences.

It’s been almost eight years now since I finished that extended stint of vagabonding, but the experience is still very much a part of me. In financial terms, I have the resources to sleep in five-star hotels and eat in expensive international restaurants, but I’ve found I rarely choose such luxurious options. Given a choice between a $400-a-night hotel and an $18-a-night flophouse in Hong Kong, I tend to opt for the latter. Faced with the prospect of an all-inclusive dinner buffet in a Santo Domingo casino, I invariably find myself wandering outside to sample food from street vendors.

Ultimately, the charm of budget travel has always been less about saving money than making the most of my time on the road. Travelling cheaply has forced me to be engaged and creative, rather than to throw money at my holidays and hope for the best. Freed from a rigid, expense-laden itinerary, I’m more likely to be spontaneous, embrace serendipity and enjoy each moment of my journey.

Excerpted from Around The World On a Shoestring-The Guardian Feb. 6, 2009

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Category: Backpacking, Rolf Potts, Vagabonding Advice

April 4, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Caroline Eubanks

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Caroline Eubanks

carolineinthecityblog.com

Age: 25

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Quote: “It’s okay to travel alone. I spent a lot of time with a group of people, but would have been much happier doing my own thing, going places I wanted to see and at my own pace, rather than following along with the group.
(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

April 3, 2014

“Real” travel and stereotypes

There seems to be something of a competition amongst travelers. A battle over who gets to define travel and impose said definition on the rest of the traveling masses. What does “real” travel look like? What are travelers “supposed” to do? Say? Think? Believe?

Recently I was treated to a familiar speech. A long-term traveler, complete with guitar case, backpack full of patches, full beard, and rainbow colored hat, lamented about the “walking stereotypes” disembarking from boats headed for the all things New Age in San Marcos. He shifted into high gear as he bemoaned the sorry state of Western (i.e. US) culture and scoffed at the new arrivals’ clean, and obviously new, backpacks as if such a thing were a sign of a person who should not be allowed to travel anywhere, let alone Lake Atitlan. Outwardly, I neither agreed nor disagreed with his well-rehearsed monologue but I did have to stifle a smile as I noticed that my new friend, the one busy looking down on those newly arrived “walking stereotypes”, wasn’t wearing any shoes- the most obvious and often pointed out stereotype of gringos visiting San Marcos del lago.

We are all stereotypes, us traveling folk. Every single one of us. It’s likely that we fit the bill of any number of stereotypes before we even took off. Stereotypes exist in the eye of the beholder and we are always, all the time, doing something that fits perfectly into someone else’s stereotype of who we are or where we come from. And yet, for some reason, we insist on going to battle with each other, placing our own assumptions on other travelers, and perpetuating the notion of “us” and “them” within our own little traveling community.

You’ve only been traveling for 6 months? That’s nothing. You’re not “really” traveling until you hit 6 years.

Did you see what she’s wearing? Why would anyone wear that here? (laughs) She must be on spring break.

You brought how much luggage?? Why? I’m a traveler, not a tourist, so I can survive with just a towel and a clean pair of underwear.

Why are you saying “sorry”? Good God, you must be American. Western culture is just so full of guilt! Haven’t you figured out how to let that go yet? You’re in (insert developing nation here) now!

You can’t get mad at men for treating you poorly here. (snorts) This isn’t America.

You’re going to eat that?! You should just eat a tortilla. That’s what the locals do. But then again, I guess not everyone is a “real” traveler.

Here’s the thing- we’re all just trying to figure this shit out. Sometimes some of us are sick of tortillas and just want some damn french fries. It’s not meant to be an affront to other travelers or an invitation for everyone to chime in with their opinions on whether french fry eating automatically revokes one’s “real traveler” card or not. The french fries do not necessary represent Western dominance, lack of awareness over environmental issues, or “fake” vegetarianism. You know what they do represent? French fries. Delicious, hot french fries that taste just a little bit like home after a long day.

Not every single one of us is on the same place on the path. Sometimes we’re not even not the same path. Once in a while, we aren’t even headed to the same destination. The lesson I am supposed to learn in this lifetime, is likely not the lesson you are meant to learn. This just might mean that the way we go about doing things might, just maybe, be different.

I write a lot about the fact that there is no “us” and “them” in general. It may be time travelers internalize this same concept and apply it to their own unique, vagabond community. No more “us” and “them”. No more “real travelers.” No more judgment. You cannot stake your status as a “real” traveler by looking down your nose and smugly insulting others, even if they are “new.” Some travelers eat french fries- even in Nepal. Some have brand new, clean backpacks. They will get dusty and worn soon enough, there’s no need for others to rush it.

Every single one of us, whether on the road for a week, a year, or more is just traveling the path they were meant to travel. There is no such thing as “us” and “them”, whether we are talking about the street children of India or the traveler in the dorm bunk next to ours. Many of us offer grace, empathy, and at least an attempt to understand when engaging with people in the countries and cultures we are exploring- why not off the same to our fellow travelers?

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Category: Ethics

April 2, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Motorbike exploring outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand

Cost/day:

$50-55/day

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Without question it is Wat Rong Kuhn, otherwise known as the White Wat. I read plenty about this wat, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and even saw dozens of pictures. Words and pictures alone did not prepare me for the grandeur, beauty and strangeness of this place.

White Wat 1

April Vag 6

Describe a typical day:

In the morning I work for a couple of hours and then we set out on the motorbike for the same place we go everyday for breakfast. We  always change up where we eat lunch and dinner in a city, but once we find a good breakfast spot in town we seem to never deviate from it.

After breakfast we generally hop on the motorbike and go outside of town to places like a massive tea plantation, Buddhist caves, various wats, museums, waterfalls or hiking trails.

After our daily adventure we head back to the hotel for homeschool and to finish work for the day. We then go to the night bazaar where we see the various local and imported wares for sale, mostly to tourists.

For dinner we go to one of the many local stalls selling a type of broth soup that is cooked at your table in a clay pot with noodles, vegetables and meat.

Tea Plantation

Chiang Rai Juxtaposition

Chiang Rai Market


Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

I found it interesting talking with the manager of the hotel about various locations to see outside of town. After going through her list of recommendations, I asked which were her absolute favorites. She answered that she had not been to any of them. When I asked her why she said she didn’t have time to go due to her work and family responsibilities.

It was humbling and a great reminder just how fortunate we are to travel and see sights that often many locals are not even able to see. It’s just another painful reminder how unfair the world is.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I like the ability to quickly get outside of the town and see very beautiful sights. I like that the town and surrounding area are not overrun with tourists or owned and managed by tour agencies and large companies. It feels like the locals’ town.

I do not particularly like the town itself. There is not much about it that I find unique.  Even this, though, has a type of charm when viewed through a certain lens. I would just advise renting some form of transportation when in Chiang Rai because the magic in this area lies just outside the city in the hills, caves, rivers and surrounding villages.

Buddhist Cave

River Thoughts

Describe a challenge you faced:

I got extremely sick due to questionable food while in a village outside of town. I have eaten unidentifiable street food from Istanbul to Bangkok without even a hint of stomach troubles, but I guess I was due. The worst part was that we had to take a bus for six hours the next day.  This experience will not soon be forgotten.

What new lesson did you learn?

I was reminded that I tremendously enjoy having my own transportation, even it it’s just a 110 cc motorbike. Being able to get off the tourist trail and stop where we want has given us some of our most memorable and enjoyable moments. Simple things like finding a game of sepak takraw outside of town was just an unforgettable moment and really allowed us to see the daily life of the locals, something we always seek out.

Sepak Takraw

 

Motorbike

Where next?

Luang Namtha, Laos for hiking and kayaking.

 

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Category: Asia, Vagabonding Field Reports

April 1, 2014

Saskia: On Vagabonding & thanks to Rolf

Last weekend I was in NYC, meeting with Rolf, among other things. It was mentioned, in passing, to a girl I met over dinner one evening and she got so excited: “I’ve read his book!! It literally changed my life!” She gushed. Her enthusiasm for travel was palpable, and she agreed to let me film her talking a bit about what the book, Vagabonding, had meant to her… she also had something to say to Rolf, personally:

Would you like to contribute a video about what Vagabonding has meant to you? Contact me: jenn(AT)vagabonding.net

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Category: Female Travelers, Youth Travel

March 31, 2014

You have to get off the paved road to see where you are

“We all know that it’s possible to drive from here to California and stay at more or less the same motel the entire way, in a landscape where certain elements never change. This might have been an interesting experience thirty years ago when it was still new. It might be an interesting experience is you were V.S Naipaul just arrived here from England. But basically it’s a challenge to one’s powers of describing the humdrum. On the Great Plains — and I’m sure in the rest of America as well — you have to get off the paved road if you want to see where you are.”
Ian Frazier, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day

March 30, 2014

Travel writing today and yesterday: an interview with Kent Davis of DatAsia Press

Sometimes I wonder if modern travel writing still has anything fresh to say, and I can’t really find a satisfactory answer.

This question became much more pressing after I discovered an American publisher who reprints old travel writing gems from early 20th century’s Asia. I’m talking about DatAsia press, based in Florida.

Congai-Cover-Front-500They have just re-released Harry Hervey’s two early travel accounts of French Indochina (which we use to call Southeast Asia, today), King Cobra and Congai. They are the first ever accounts of an American traveler in the region at the end of the 1920s. Only in his mid 20’s, brave Texan Hervey stormed off to Indochina and captured his first impressions by penning down these two sultry, fictionalized accounts of a place we have now lost in time.

Pico Iyer, one of the greatest living travel writers, introduces King Cobra with great emphasis: “Great travel books give you journeys from which the traveler (perhaps the reader) comes back transformed, a mystery to himself. Suddenly you can no longer trust what you knew so firmly a day ago; suddenly all sense of “home” and “abroad” — of “you” and “I” — dissolves. A real trip turns you around so that you leave behind the person you were and maybe the one you wanted to become. Hervey may have embellished his real experiences, and drawn liberally from the books that fired his imagination before he left home — as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and Bruce Cahtwin did.”

I decided to reach out to Kent Davis, owner of DatAsia press, to ask him a few exclusive questions for all those Vagabonding readers who are –or are dreaming of – honing the travel writing craft. Kent has definitely a few opinions that will help your quest to understand more about this difficult craft, and will explain how he decided to look back, instead of publishing anything contemporary.

2011-Kent-Davis-01-Photo-credit-Phalika-Ngin-700pxHow did the DatAsia venture came about, and what is your main publishing goal?

In 2005, my wife and I founded DatAsia as an independent press. Our mission is to publish rare books about Southeast Asian history and culture, with a special focus on topics relating to women. In addition to sharing previously unpublished research, we are also devoted to reviving obscure histories that have long gone out of print and been forgotten. Another aspect of this is translating selected works into English for the first time. In many ways, we have become “literary archaeologists.” (more…)

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Category: Asia, Travel Writing

March 29, 2014

Perspective: The road’s gift

Atitlan

“No journey is too great, if you find what you seek” – Anonymous

When I was little, I met counselors from all over the world at sleep-away camp. If you told me the ten year old who acquired a koala singlet from her counselor, would later marry an Australian and live down under; I would have told you, ‘you’re nuts’!

The travel bug bit hard during my first non-family trip. After university, a backpacking journey kept hold. Not far from the traditional American story there was college, graduate school and then a job. As a teacher, I traveled on every break and worked every summer at camp. The world continued to spin on its axis and adult life, as I knew it, was underway.

Meeting my husband on a trip in New Zealand changed everything. Relationships take work (especially long distance ones) and breaks now included international travel finding a spot between Australia and America. After many kilometers (and large phone bills), we married in 2009 and decided to go on a one-year adventure to follow the sun. Bucking tradition of everything I knew, we leapt and had no idea if any net would appear.

Travel lesson #1: I realized, my husband is my net…and gives me the strength to be my own.

That year, everything changed. I could tell you about the adventures, the people, and the sights, but that’s for another time. Most importantly, the vagabonding experience transformed me. It didn’t happen overnight. Sometimes a whisper, while at other times change screamed loudly. Fears packed in luggage were left behind along the way leaving me lighter in personal and tangible baggage. Certainties that allowed me to go were dropped out of airplanes unnecessary upon return. Vagabonding’s gifts are long lasting and perspective changing.

Travel lesson #2: People change but true friends will always be there.

We knew that the two of us could manage distance, but we didn’t know if our ‘home’ friends could. Those who truly wanted us in their lives did make the effort. Staying in touch mattered. We found that the more we traveled, the more like-minded individuals we met. We embraced and befriended locals. We felt a kinship with those who found that the more they explored, the longer their ‘list’. We learned that no matter where in the world, we were lucky to have close friends.

Travel lesson #3: Comfort Zones: Love ‘em and leave ‘em.

Comfort zones are never easy to leave, but more growth happens outside rather than in them. Like it or not, travel forces you outside of your comfort zone. For me, that was change, but the greater gift was realizing what to do with those newfound feelings is what truly matters. The more you venture outside of your ‘zone’, the more the comfortable one swells. Before we left, the uncertainties were frightening. The leave of absence and keeping the apartment minimized risk and allowed me to jump. How did I know if I was going to enjoy this travel/expat life or not? It was scary, yet exciting.

Somewhere along the line, my comfort zone expanded. Maybe it happened when we literally leapt off the edge of Devil’s Pool in Zambia. Maybe it was getting sick on a trip having to use our travel insurance to find a doctor. Maybe it was the search for a new dentist in Melbourne, bush-camping in Botswana or learning to dance in the rain. Little by little, the bigger picture mattered more. Once anxiety producing experiences became a welcome challenge. If I could write Travel her very own thank you card, I would. Foods I never would have tried, places I never thought to visit and communities I didn’t know existed provided direction, and a door to the outside of my comfort zone. Once outside, I couldn’t go back in.

Travel Lesson #4: Perspective-a traveler’s gift.

Travel Lesson #5: Lessons from the road.

It’s been almost four years since we returned from our first venture in ‘round the world travel. Since then, we’ve continued to travel, been touched by a natural disaster and thought a lot about the type of life we want. We relish knowing we are part of a bigger world and are grateful to have both roots and wings. Last year, we took a second ‘round the world trip (three months) seeing more of the world and interacting with new and interesting people. I took another leave and Mathew quit his job for that journey. We were less bothered by the risk. Change continued. Eventually, I resigned from the very structured world of public education and have found a new freelance career. It’s risky, but; I jumped. Maybe we’ll even take the leap to location-independent one day. Regardless of choice, it’s worth the chance to bring out our happy more often than not.

Travel, has been the gift that keeps on giving. It’s how we met and how we experience life. We don’t want to ‘get it out of our system’. We embrace the itch. Travel opened our eyes to what is out there and has given us the courage to take risks to live the life we imagine. The road provided an incredible gift…perspective. Now, there’s no turning back.

“Fate is what happens to you…destiny is what you do with it”

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

Read more by Stacey at the gift of travel

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Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

March 28, 2014

Vagabonding Case Study: Wandertooth (Geoff and Katie Matthews)

Geoff & Katie MatthewsWandertooth_Portugal

www.wandertooth.com
Age:
Geoff: 37
Katie: 33
Hometown:
Geoff: Calgary, Alberta
Katie: Vancouver, BC
Quote:
Geoff’s favorite: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” by John Henry Newman.
Katie’s favorite: “Not all who wander are lost” by J. R. R. Tolkien. I also like the line before, “all that is gold does not glitter;” it is such a fitting way to look at difficult journeys.
(more…)

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Category: Vagabonding Case Studies
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