Pack It Up: Part 2 in a Series

As I mentioned in the earlier post, travel accessories are helpful when you pack. We’ve accumulated ours over almost a decade, so there’s no reason to lay out a lot of cash for one trip. If you have these handy, great, if not, there’s no rush to buy them. We simply get a lot of use out of them.

For long, long trips, I have the compression bags similar to the ones below (mine are from Walmart and are fairly ragged at this point). From experience, I can tell you that you can get three weeks worth of socks and underwear down to a mass roughly the size and shape of a footlong from Subway. Plus it has the benefit of sealing all your clothes in waterproof bags, which is a handy thing. This is how I got everything I needed for 3 months in Europe down to a carryon suitcase.

So we don’t have to go digging in our bags and cause a massive explosion of clothes in the hotel room or friend’s living room, we have about five packing cubes in the full and half sizes. Shirts and pants in the full sizes, undies/socks in the half. This will be super-useful when we have the baby to keep all of its accessories and outfits contained. These in conjunction with the compression sacs or extra-large Ziplocs are good for holding the dirty laundry–then the rest of your clean clothes don’t end up smelling like feet.

Speaking of Ziplocs, I had an exploding bottle of lotion in my backpack on a flight to London in high school and that taught me to either wrap your toiletry kit in a plastic grocery bag or go by the TSA guidelines and seal the liquids in a 1-quart baggie. I like the regular rectangle kits, mine came from L.L. Bean in 2001 so they don’t carry the exact model anymore, but the one below is pretty similar–I have one less front pocket and two pockets on the sides. Their top-selling toiletry kit is one that hangs up, which is okay–I never see my sister travel without hers–but it doesn’t sit flat on a countertop and that’s a dealbreaker for me. Ours is big enough to hold both of our toiletries, even at TSA-approved bottle sizes.

It’s a good idea to bring a raincoat wherever you go. It really came in handy in San Francisco in general and again Maui when we went to the upcountry–it was cold and misty. I got a Columbia packable rain jacket three years ago and the $50 price tag felt a little high, but it looks fantastic for how long I’ve had it and I bring it everywhere (totally unrelated plug–this is the tenth year I’ve had my L.L. Bean ski parka. It was $250 when I first bought it, and I don’t think it’s so much as faded. It’s in storage in Maine until we move somewhere cold so I think I will easily get 15-20 years out of it). Plus it has a “packable pouch” stitched inside so it folds up into a pouch about the size of a 5″ x 7″ index card and about an inch and a half thick, so I can throw it into a day purse easily. Makes a halfway decent airplane pillow too! The Columbia Kona Rain Jacket is comparable to the jacket I have. Tom has a spiffy one from Helly Hansen that goes with him.

The last two items are specific to a certain kind of travel: budget backpacking/camping/crashing on people’s floors. With the baby coming along, our days of pulling up a bit of floor space at a willing friend’s apartment are coming to an abrupt halt (*sniffle*), but we forsee doing a lot more family camping. However, I bought the Therm-a-Rest Lite self-inflating sleep pad in Chicago and it has been a wonderful purchase. It rolls up small enough that I can just use the straps on the side of my backpack to clip it in place. The price tag feels a bit high but Tom has had his since he was a child and it’s in good enough condition that we can give it to our baby to use on camping trips and Tom can get a grown-up size one (his feet hang off the end, poor dear). Everyone who has used it has been surprised by how comfortable it is.

The last item is a camp towel. We just bought fabulous ones from REI on sale, but it’s similar to this one on Amazon. We have two full body size towels and two hand towels, which I think came to about $19 at the REI sale. Stacked up together, the four are less thick than a single full-size terry bath towel. It saves a ton of space and they dry ridiculously fast, so no musty-towel smell. We’re looking forward to using these for camping, at cheaper hostels where you provide your own linens (possibly also coming to a halt with the baby in tow), and on our island-hopping adventures so we can bring them to the beach and don’t have to get extra towels from the hotel service.

So that’s what we have! Over time they’ve made packing into a brief and relatively painless process. Next up: how to pack a carry-on and dress for the airport.


Pack It Up: Part 1 in a Series

Departing from the topic of babies and liberal environmental guilt, I’d like to get back to the original purpose of this blog. To wit, tracking travels and travel-related topics. By my very quick estimate, Tom and I have been to 25 different countries between us. We have been accumulating travel experience since our first trips out-of-country in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Next month he gets to add a continent and island chain to his count with his conference trip Down Under. We both fly several times a year, and between us we have a few degrees in international relations and cross-cultural communications. All this is by way of saying that we may be no closer to multicultural understanding, but we certainly know how to pack. My one claim to fame is that all I took to Europe for three and a half months was a carry-on suitcase and a school backpack with a rolled-up duffel inside for the return trip.

Tom is a man of devotion and dedication, so the pack he uses has been with him to several continents. As for me, it took a bit of trial and a bit of error to determine the right piece of luggage that I could take on any trip. I still have my set of purple and teal L.L. Bean duffel bags (particularly the extra-large teal blue outlet-store castoff that inexplicably has “Moe” embroidered on the side–the Rolling Moe has gained such notoriety in my family that I think they would howl at me were I to dispose of it), but they serve a different purpose. Those are for trips to the gym (small), quick local overnights (medium), to be put in my main luggage for a spare souvenir bag (large), and when the baby is born we’ll start using the largest of the bags (Moe) to consolidate all the crap that comes with porting a baby from spot to spot. Aside from using Moe when I lived out of my bags for three months in Portland, I haven’t used the others for a plane trip in a long time. I like them fine, but I have a weak back and shoulders and these simply aren’t practical for hauling over long distances. That’s a major consideration for me–because we are cheap and will avoid airport shuttle fees whenever possible, will it cause me pain if I have to take it through three subway transfers and a walk of several city blocks? Will Tom need to relieve me of my burden so my back won’t scream in agony and he will be spared the worst of my whining? If the answers are yes, I won’t use it. A good traveler is not a burden to their buddy.

The Samsonite is a good piece that I borrowed from my sister and the hard sides were handy for more fragile items brought back from Europe, but I am generally opposed to rolling luggage. Unless it’s a well-oiled piece and fantastic motor control, most people cannot pilot a rolling suitcase to save their lives. If I had a nickel for every barked shin or squashed toe I’ve gotten at the hands of a rolling suitcase, I wouldn’t need a frequent flier account.

Anyway, I am a light souvenir-purchaser (and am more likely to mail home anything bulky, like the kick-ass sushi set we got in Japantown in San Francisco that I can’t bleeping use because I can’t eat sushi until I deliver), who travels with as little bulk as possible, and typically takes trips between 3-5 days, sometimes longer, to urban areas where we rely on public transport or to places where renting a small car is no hassle. So what did I buy?

The piece of luggage that has had my heart and my back on nearly 10 trips since 2007 is The North Face Women’s Terra 40. The current model is below, although mine is bright teal and gray. Not super-attractive but I always know it’s my bag. This is a great weekender bag if you pack heavy. I can use it for longer trips and it held everything I needed for 10 days of hosteling and camping in northern California.* This is an adjustible internal-frame pack, which doesn’t require a professional fitting (although Tom is capable of executing such a task, thanks to his past job experience at an sporting goods shop). It also meets carry-on size requirements so I don’t have to check it. When I do check it, I put it in a protective outer bag so it doesn’t get nasty and no straps get caught in any baggage-handling machinery. Most importantly, the hip straps are super-thick so all the weight settles there, and handles comfortably.

*Tom, by mutual agreement because his pack is larger, carried both sleeping bags and the tent, although I could have easily clipped my bag to the lower straps. We had three bags for our 10 days in San Francisco/Napa/Sonoma–my pack, a smaller backpack for Tom, and his uber-pack for all our camping gear, and my purse, which easily held my Canon Rebel with 24-70L lens attachment. Worked out splendidly.

Now, would I buy the pack again? As much as I adore how it fits and how it works for my travel needs, probably not. The only reason for this is because of the recognizability of The North Face brand. Seriously, if you want your picture taken at some famous foreign spot and are afraid to draw someone who doesn’t speak English, ask a college-age kid wearing a North Face jacket. They are invariably American. I tested this theory extensively in Europe just for kicks, and I was never wrong. The North Face is super-recognizable shorthand for moderately affluent American, and that is not what you want if you’re going to be a tourist. It is virtually impossible to de-brand this pack. I’m not going to replace a perfectly good bag for that reason, but it is definitely something I will remember if it rips or tears, and I will remember when we travel that aside from being a somewhat nasal blonde with a big camera, I also have a bag that screams well-off Westerner (kidnappers will be displeased to hear that I have saved extensively for my higher-end items or lucked into them by chance and don’t actually have that much disposable cash). Three strikes for me!

Tom does not have the exact pack below, but his uber-bag is something similar. The Blackhawk 3-Day Assault Pack was recommended by a contributor to Brave New Traveler about a year ago and I think I would buy something like it if some harm befell my current pack.

I don’t like that there aren’t as many access points as the W(omen’s) Terra 40–I can get into that thing from any angle–but I like the removable modular daypack and this could easily be suited to my needs.

In summary, this is the perfect bag for me but possibly not for someone else. When buying a good piece of luggage, consider:

How often do you travel? Do you take a plane, train, automobile? Do you live in fear of lost luggage?
How long do your trips generally last?
How do you get around when you reach your destination?
What is your itinerary? Do you usually visit places that require specific attire (a fancy cocktail dress with heels, perhaps, or layers for hiking)?
Are you a light or heavy packer?
What travel accessories do you already have to streamline the process? Will you need to buy more if you buy a certain piece? (More on that in later entries.)
Do you tend to buy a lot of souvenirs? Is shipping those home an option you’re willing to consider?

The pack I bought fits every answer to the questions I posed. Good luck finding your bag!

Cloth? Yep.

Tom is a National Parks buff, and whenever we go to a place maintained by the Park Service we always see the signs that say “Take out what you bring in,” or some variation on “Leave the park as you found it.”

How does this relate to our decision to use cloth diapers? We consider ourselves environmentally conscious (with the exception of the nightmarish carbon footprint we leave by traveling so often), but what got us over the “Eeeeew, baby poo in my washer/dryer?!” hump was the savings. Startup with our preferred cloth diapers, which are among the more expensive on the market, is still only about $500-$600. We plan to have two children, so we don’t have to buy them twice–perhaps just buy a few more if they’re both in diapers at the same time, so maybe $700 total. Compared to $2000+ for disposables PER child, it’s a no-brainer. But as for environmental impact affecting our decision, this paragraph from Cotton Babies’ (where I have ordered all my cloth diapers so far, in budget-manageable six packs*) website says it all for us on their cloth vs. disposable options:

“Based on a report from the Women’s Environmental Network, The Real Diaper Association reports:

* Disposable diapers are the third most common consumer product in landfills today.
* A disposable diaper may take up to 500 years to decompose.
* One baby in disposable diapers will contribute at least 1 ton of waste to your local landfill.

Landfill issues are very important. This is a very interesting dilemma facing in Hawaii right now as many of their landfills are either closing or set to close very soon. This article is one of many that discusses this issue. Honolulu has one landfill remaining. Kauai’s only landfill will reach capacity in 2009. Hawaii is running out of places to put its trash.”

We aren’t going to be in Hawaii forever. It’s a tiny, beautiful place. We’d have done cloth anyway, most likely, but this is even more reason to do our small part to help out. As much as we can, being consumptive humans and all that, we’d like to leave Hawaii like we found it and try not to leave 2000+ pounds of baby bottom-related garbage in our wake.

*Yes, I do see the irony in ordering diapers made of cotton, a major source of pesticide and pollution, from a retailer based on the mainland, which then have to be shipped out here in some sort of exhaust-producing means of conveyance. There is no way to bring a child into the world without making SOME kind of environmental impact, and on this one our biological instinct to procreate won out. Well, my biological instinct and Tom’s desire to share the lifetime of suffering of a Philadelphia Phillies fan with a child won out.

Maui Christmas!

Sorry about the bad pun up front, but as many of you know that is how we role here at Travel Monkeys. We both really enjoyed Maui because it was a departure from the almost blatant tourism of Oahu. Granted, Maui is an island devoted explicitly to resort tourism, however things just seemed to move a little slower here. Also, this trip features the first travel by our new mascot, Reginald the Sock Monkey. Wherever we travel over the next few years, Reginald is coming with us.

Our first full day in Maui was Christmas Day. We figured a lot of places would be closed so we decided to take the Road to Hana. The road is over 50 miles long, features 600 turns and over 50 bridges, plus some of the most amazing scenery in the islands. Unfortunately, because we were on a bit of a time crunch, we decided to hit a couple of spots along the way and not stop at every overlook and point of interest. Later that night, we had dinner at the Ruth’s Chris in Lahaina. Nothing special, but we did not want to get burned on not be able to have a Christmas dinner when traveling like we did in the past.

When we woke up on Friday, it looked like it was going to be a fairly nasty weather day. With this in mind, we decided to head up to the Upcountry portion of Maui. For anyone looking to get away from the standard beaches an. Our first stop along the way was Tedeschi Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch. The winery has been around for several decades and is the only working winery on the island. They serve a variety of wines at their tasting, white, red and sparkling, but none are really that great. Most of the white and sparkling varieties have pineapple mixed in, which makes them truly acidic. The exception is the Ulupalakua Red, which I would be proud to serve any guests who might visit us in the islands. The next stop on our tour was the Aliikula Lavender Farm. The farm is truly amazing, plus it has some of the best views of western Maui. Everything here has lavender infused into it in some way. Tours of the farm are $12 per person and last about a half and hour. My recommendation is to try the lavender scones and lavender lemonade. The final stop on our trip was the Surfing Goat Dairy in Kula. A little bit rustic, it was nice to find something different on the island. Plus we were able to taste some yummy cheeses, as well as, being able to feed the goats.

Our last full day in Maui, we decided to drive up the summit of Mount Haleakala. Haleakala is really cool because as you travel the 10,000 feet to the summit of the mountain you go through several climatic zones. Unfortunately the weather on the summit can be uncooperative, so make sure you take a jacket or sweater and realize that you might be disappointed by what you are able to see. Also, be wary on the way down for bikers. Lunch was furnished by the good people at Who Cut the Cheese, which served a fantastic, albeit expensive panini.

Before we headed back home to Oahu, we made sure to hit up the studios of Hot Island Glass in Makawao. The studios offer glass blowing demonstrations, in addition to a cool selection of island inspired glass creations. Our last stop before boarding the plane was Krispy Kreme donuts, the only place you can find them in the state.

Sugar Sugar

Happy 2009! We have slacked and not posted about Maui, but it was a smashing good time. Well, about as smashing a time as we can have, given my need for an afternoon nap and inability to drink festive beverages. I promise I will write about it, but for now I have to spend my morning at the mercy of Gluuuuuu-co-laaaaaaa!

Glucola is the ghastly orange drink that I had to consume prior to the gestational diabetes test, which will take place in about forty-five minutes. I dreaded drinking the Gluuuuuu-co-laaaaa (should always be sung to the tune of “Riiiiiii-co-laaaa” like the cough drop ads) because I am not a huge sugar fan, but it wasn’t so awful. If you enjoy snack foods laden with the taste of artificial dye like Otter Pops or Kool Aid–and I do–this was a similar taste to those that wasn’t incredibly bad (although still yucky) when chilled. Think a slightly thicker, flat version of orange soda. You have to chug down the whole drink within five minutes and be at the lab, in the chair, and ready with the blood vials exactly 60 minutes later in order to get an accurate blood sugar reading for gestational diabetes. Fortunately the lab is approximately ten minutes from here–occasionally I love suburbia–and I could make the horrible gaggy faces and noises in the privacy of my own home.

So, wish us luck. GD is a manageable complication, but a complication nonetheless and I truly hope all turns out fine and spiffy.