July 17, 2013

How I Travel

I have been working an 8 days on, 6 days off roster for the past two years.   To name a few places I have travelled in 6 days or less: Singapore, Malaysian Borneo, Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Darwin, and Tasmania. Whenever I get on an airplane to go somewhere for 1 week or less, I like to travel simply and light. Here is my method:

One 30 litre backpack, one small shoestring backpack. I have been using an old black Jansport 30 litre backpack for years. It has multiple zippered pockets which prove useful when I start accumulating dirty clothes. It is durable and looks basic. Wearing a pack made of space age material with hip belts and compression straps looks out of place in a city or remote third world country. 30 litre size looks like an everyday pack and leaves room for things I might buy to bring back with me. I don’t like to carry a lot of stuff while exploring a new city so I bring one of those cheap shoestring packs. It allows me to carry a few things like camera and jacket for dayhikes or city walkabouts.


1 pair of jeans. Jeans never get that dirty. I actually wore the same pair every day for two years to work. No one noticed or they just didn’t care. So why should I?

2 casual t-shirts. I always regret it when I take 3 or 4 shirts. And I can always just buy a shirt or any article of clothing if I really need it.

1 heavier long-sleeved/hoody. I wear the jeans and long sleeve on the plane so I have extra space in my backpack. Australia and Asia, where I do most of my travelling, never gets that cold.
1 rain/wind shell. For windy summit attempts or cool Melbourne mornings. This is the same gear I would use when hiking John Muir Trail or any hiking trip. Very lightweight and packs small.

1 pair basketball shorts. Mostly for lounging around the hostel at night or wearing on a hotter day when the jeans are too warm.

1-2 pairs of running shorts. The running shorts double as swim wear and underwear if needed. I always wear the running shorts in the shower to wash them. By the next morning they are dry and somehwat clean just in time for the next run.

1-2 running t-shirts. They start to smell after one run but I just keeping wearing them anyway. I go running alone and then shower right away so no worries.

2 pairs of underwear. I use the ex-officio underwear which doesn’t start to smell for a week or more. I try to bring old socks or underwear or shoes that I just throw out after using.

4 pairs of socks. Two pairs for running and two pairs for casual use.

1 pair of Runners. Running shoes double as walking or casual shoes.

1 pair flip flops. Good backup if running shoes get muddy or fail. In Borneo, I sacrificed my 4$ running shoes from an REI garage sale to the Mt. Kinabalu Gods. 1 week of rain and mud made me not feel right to take them in my carry on.

Computer or no computer. I prefer to leave the computer at home. I have brought it with me many times reasoning that I could organize some photos or watch movies, but I just never do. I do like to write thoughts and ideas down but a computer is too much of a hassle. You have to bring additional power cords and inverters. And it’s something else you have to worry about getting stolen or lost. It is just easier to leave it at home.

Notebook. I always bring a small notebook, A5 size, to write down what I did during the day. It serves as log for the trip. It also allows me to write down names or email addresses of people I meet. Moleskins are nice, but a cheap 1 dollar one gets the job done.

Read 2-3 books per week. I tend to smash out 2-3 books during a 6 day trip.  Sitting on planes or trains for a few hours a day allows me to read more than normal. It is a nice change to day to day life where I am too busy with work or appointments to slow down and read.  I recently inherited a kindle from my mom.  That changed the game for me.  Never any excuse not to have a book...Unless I run out of power.  So I always carry a paper back or magazine to read if the kindle busts or during takeoff/landing. 

Run every day. Even the past few years when I have been “injured” and was told not to run, I always ran everyday while travelling. I love to explore a new place and running offers the best method for me to do that. I normally take off in a different direction every day, get lost, and find my way back. I never know what I will find. Besides, I will never to get to run in some of these places again.

Try something new. It doesn’t matter what, just live a little bit when you are out on the road.  Karaoke, swim with whale sharks, go dancing.  Just mix it up to what suites the time and place.

Take a train or bus to a random suburb, get off, and walk around. I like to do this for an afternoon during every trip. I did this for the first time in Singapore. I was at this amusement park called Sentosa island because it was on the list of things to do (even though someone told me not to go there). It just annoyed me because it was like Disneyworld and westernized. I have been caught up lately in checking off lists of tourist sights. I don’t want lists, I want experiences. So I walked out after 5 minutes, got on a train to some random stop and just started walking for two hours through neighborhoods.  I then sat under a tree in a park and read a book.

The cheaper, the better. I always stay in hostels, though I am intrigued to try couch surfing. The people you meet have such interesting stories and journeys. Most are just travelling as cheaply as they can for as long as they can. Some are PHD computer programmers who quick the Silicon Valley rat race to travel for a few years and figure out what is important to them. Others are 63 year old Buddhists from Idaho, living in Sri Lanka, and travelling. The older people staying at hostels are always the most interesting. I also try to travel and eat the way the locals eat. It tends to be cheaper and more culturally enriching.

Grow a Beard.  This is mainly for Asian travel.  The people will love you.   

People is what it’s all about.  Mix it up with the Locals. I see so many epic sunsets and misty mountain tops and buzzing market places, but the moments I remember and cherish most all involve people. This is hard for me because I am not that outgoing and it’s so easy to stay in the hostel and listen to interesting people chat all night. One night in Borneo, I happened to be the only foreigner staying at the hostel. The rest of the hostel was booked by a family celebrating their daughter’s wedding. I was invited to join them in the celebrations and ended up staying up until 3 am hanging out. They invited me to the actual wedding ceremony but I was slated to run the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon (which in itself is an amazing local event). Sometimes it is just luck, sometime you have to step out of your comfort zone. But that evening with the local people was the most memorable moment in Borneo.

Picture: Haji Lane, Singapore

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