Our gear, Part 1

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I love making gear lists for trips, it’s one of my favorite research and relaxation hobbies. Usually it’s trying to get a suitable set of camping gear under very tight budget constraints, and not terribly worried about weight. This works great for a few days in the woods, but one year around the world living out of a pair of backpacks? How do you even begin to plan what gear to take? This is what I thought about during the month it took me to pull together a final sheet of gear, most of which we wound up carrying around the world, and some of which we left and lost along the way.

Step 1 : The requirements.

First I laid out what I thought the most important criteria were, sort of ordered by strictness.

  1. Volume and weight limits – I didn’t want our gear to take up too much space. None of that jangling gear hanging off the pack stuff if it could be helped. I also wanted everything we took to not cross thirty pounds per person. This was a rough limit and we went above and below at different times, but we kept it at 20-30 lbs most of the time. The biggest effect this had was restricting the amount of specialized gear we carried, making sure that everything served as many purposes as possible, including being useful in the wilderness and in a city.
  2. The min and max temperatures we’d hit – Clearly we weren’t going to Antarctica (probably) but I knew we’d be climbing at least a few mountains in South America, and we’d be in Siberia during some part of the trip. This meant that we had to be able to layer on enough clothing to carry us through at least the freezing point, but probably not much lower. I found this out by looking up average temperatures and highs/lows for a few peaks in various S.A countries, and Siberian summertime temps. Max temperature was important since we’d be chasing summer, and hitting at least a few deserts and hot, muggy, rainforests. We had to be able to strip down to thin enough clothes to be comfortable while still being decent.
  3. Being somewhat inconspicuous – this was basically moot from the get go since I’m very tall and pale, but I wanted our total package to look respectable but not particularly expensive. While we never encountered real trouble along the way, we kept meeting other travelers who had had their stuff taken, in part or in whole. For me this meant simple mono-colored clothes and nothing that looked too technical. Camping gear really couldn’t fit into this, but it was inside our packs anytime we were around people, and once the bags had a patch or two and some dirt on them, they looked pretty ordinary.
  4. Carrying us through an entire year – I didn’t have any real thoughts on this one. Clearly we’d be living out of our packs for the whole year, so all of our basics needed to be there, but also we’d have chances to resupply. This ultimately resulted in picking out things like wool socks and carrying a small but comprehensive baggy of repair supplies. Of all the repairs we had to do, the vast majority were clothing rips and tears, and some some backpack damage.
  5. Budget – everything takes money, and we weren’t sure how much this trip of ours would wind up costing. A small but present thought was to not blow a tone of cash on our gear. Not only would we be saving some amount, but we’d also be in less of a bind if something broke or went missing. There’s a balance of course – getting down to the weight and size I was aiming for would not be possible with the cheapest gear, and an investment up front meant that that item would be likely to last much longer. I set a budget of $1000 for upfront gear purchases, and missed it slightly. We wound up spending about $1200 up front for all of the gear we were missing, with the big ticket items being in the camping department.

Step 2 : What did we actually need?

For this step I made a big list of generic items. For example, I wanted to have two pants and three shirts, so I added 2 spots for pants and 3 spots for shirts in my spreadsheet. I racked my brain for every last item I thought we’d need or want to carry, and this is what I came up with for one person.

Shirt Columbia dry 6 0.375
Shirt SmartWool micro 150 5.15 0.321875
Longsleeve UNIQLO heattech medium 5.75 0.359375
Shirt UNIQLO heattech medium 4.52 0.2825
Leggings REI lightweight 5.72 0.3575
Socks SmartWool PhD long 2.51 0.156875
Socks SmartWool PhD medium 1.91 0.119375
Socks SmartWool PhD short 1.73 0.108125
Leggings REI mediumwieght 8.08 0.505
Longsleeve Stoic lightweight 8.5 0.53125
Pillow SeaToSummit aeros 3.14 0.19625
Pants REI Sahara cutoff cargo 13.41 0.838125
Longsleeve Columbia Sunshade 9.92 0.62
Compression SeaToSummit drybag 2.19 0.136875
Longsleeve REI Sahara 8.93 0.558125
Sandals Custom 9.25 0.578125
Underwear ExOfficio Boxers
Hat OutdoorResearch WindStopper 2.68 0.1675
Compass + bag REI 1.45 0.090625
Gloves BlackDiamond city 1.62 0.10125
Ground pad NeoAir Xlite 13.76 0.86
Light BlackDiamond 2 light 1.98 0.12375
Watch G-Shock 2.15 0.134375

Step 3 : Pick out actual items.

With my spots ready, I went and read reviews, checked prices, weights, read about durability and gathered just as much data as I could on a wide variety for each spot. I eventually narrowed most of everything down to a few items and we went to try on a small selection of pants and shirts and everything else. I wanted to try on everything before buying it, so I limited us to what REI had in stock. For the tents and other camping gear, we went to the store and tried pretty much everything they had until we were satisfied with our collection.
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Let’s talk about camping gear and traveling. First, we were super thankful we had our tent in all sorts of places, not just on the mountain or out in the wilderness. The gear we carried let us do things like : rent a much cheaper car in New Zealand, because we could sleep outside; walk along the edge of lake Baikal for a few days and not have to worry about reaching a town to find a place to sleep; be comfortable in any hostel and many busses, because we had our own blankets and pillows; cook a meal anywhere because we had our mess kit with us. That said, I would not bring much of the same camping gear if we were not specifically planning on at least a few through-hikes. I might also take the option of renting or buying very cheap gear on the spot for outdoors adventures – plenty of other travelers did just that.

After deciding for sure that we wanted a tent and the associated gear, I set about finding a budget and weight conscious kit. Our final gear choices :

The general category, our choice, and the weight in oz and lbs.

Tent Big Agnes copper spur  ul2 51.13 3.195625
Footprint BA cs ul2 footprint 7.45 0.465625
Cooking G.S.I Halulite micro dualist + msr pcketrocket 20.57 1.285625
Purifier First-need xle 16 1
Sleeping bag REI Flash 28 1.75
Ground pad NeoAir Xlite 13.76 0.86
Compression SeaToSummit drybag 2.19 0.136875
Pillow SeaToSummit aeros 3.14 0.19625
Sleeping bag REI Flash 27 1.6875
Ground pad NeoAir Xlite 11.5 0.71875
Compression SeaToSummit drybag 2.19 0.136875
Pillow SeaToSummit Aeros 2.96 0.185

About 12 lbs total, and pretty much the majority of the volume of our packs. The biggest outlay was in the tent – almost $500 for the toughness, size, and light weight. It’s not ultralight by any means, but this list makes for a solid foundation that, with a few lucky sales, didn’t break the bank. We purchased these in August and September and caught a big REI sale. I would definitely recommend making a list in advance and purchasing as things come into discount.

Of the items on this list, the only one I cannot recommend is the First-Need XLE water filter. We were in Peru, in a tiny mountainside town waiting for our first long hike to begin. On a whim I decided to test the filter with their provided blue-dye test. It failed, then failed again, and again. I don’t know when the filter first broke, but it definitely was not working when we needed it, and the company did not respond to any of my emails about it. We went on the hike anyway, and met with a pair that had a Steri-pen. At our first opportunity (Australia) we bought one and have been super happy with it ever since.

The rest of our gear performed flawlessly. The REI sleeping bags were great 20 degree bags that stuffed down to the size of a melon, and with layers they could readily make us toasty in the coldest weather we encountered. The NeoAir Xlites were loud but rolled up small and never gave us any trouble with punctures, though they did start growing a bit of mold at one point. The SeaToSummit pillows worked great, we still use them – I opted for the slightly heavier and more expensive version made out of soft and quiet fabric instead of polyester. The Halulite cooking kit served us great, tucking itself away into the pot and having just enough space inside for the stove, a small towel, and some misc cooking items. The cup bottoms on one set did crack eventually, but they leaked only slowly and were still fine, even for tea. The tent performed admirably under a ton of rain. In some intense conditions it did eventually let moisture through, but never enough to really get us wet. I can’t say it’s the best I’ve seen, but it was light and relatively large on the inside while packing down quite small. During hot, clear nights, the canopy came off and the view was great.

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Next time I’ll cover some of the stand-out items and a few lessons learned on the road.

Departure Mishaps

As of yesterday, we’ve officially left the United States. Hello from Mexico City, capital of Mexico! And while there are always hiccups in travel, destroying yout travel computer is definitely a serious oops.

We’ll be posting later about the gear we’re bringing, but we had planned to bring my old laptop, a ThinkPad X220 affectionately known as Ol’ Bricky, for two reasons: it looks old and shabby so it’s less likely to get stolen, and it’s INSANELY durable, having survived being launched off my desk, dropped down a flight of stairs, and daily life thereafter without much of a complaint.

There were a couple of cracks in Ol’ Bricky from the life it had seen, including splitting at the plastic seam around the screen, so we figured we would patch them with epoxy. Stoytcho did this, and managed to use clamps to hold the screen’s plastic together while it cured. I, naturally, couldn’t wait for it to cure and kept working on my email backlog. At some point I shifted the screen a bit too much and knocked one of the clamps off. It fell onto the keyboard, directly over the hard drive area. Ol’ Bricky stuttered and seemed fine for a moment. Then it shut down.

We spent the next three hours figuring out how bad the situation was. I tried booting from the hard drive in the bios, then Stoytcho pulled out the hard drive and tried booting from an external hard drive, with mixed results. When it became clear we couldn’t fix it, I pulled out my backup laptop and started downloading things we would need for the trip onto it.

The new laptop–we’ll call it Spaz–is a ThinkPad Yoga, so it’s a newer and (technically) nicer laptop. I didn’t want to bring Spaz on the trip though because 1) newer means higher likelihood of theft and 2) it’s actually terrible to use and less durable for a whole host of reasons I won’t go into here because it’s not a tech blog. Suffice to say that I’ve had more problems with Spaz in three years than I had with Ol’ Bricky in almost double that time. But maybe Spaz will surprise us. And as for Ol’ Bricky, it’s resting for now, but we’ll bring it back to life with a new hard drive when we return.

That’s all for now, but I pinky promise the next entry will be about actual traveling. And it will have pictures!

 

 

 

Our Route

The Itinerary
Hi all! We’ve gotten a few requests for itinerary from friends and relatives, so below is a rough itinerary of our trip. Overall, our travels will take us Central America -> South America -> Oceania -> Southeast Asia -> East Asia -> Russia -> Europe.

Month-by-month, here’s the current plan, in case anyone wants to join us somewhere!
November – Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
December – Colombia, Peru, Chile
January – New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia
February -Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia
March – Vietnam, Hong Kong
April – China (if we get visas), Taiwan, Japan
May – Mongolia, Russia (if we get visas)
June – Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands
July – Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine
August – Bulgaria, Greece, Israel
September – Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, France
October – Spain, Portugal, Iceland

Planning a Route
For those of you interested in planning your own route around the world or for any long-term trip, we followed 4 steps that can help you too!

1. Set a draft route between regions
Start by getting a laminated map of the region you plan to visit so you can draw and erase routes as you plan them. While there are tons of great digital options for route planning, nothing yet beats the real-world feel of drawing the lines for yourself. We used the map from Amazon and a standard Sharpie marker as it’s less prone to getting accidentally erased (but comes off with isopropanol/ethanol–er, rubbing alcohol or booze >100 proof).

Once you have your map, circle the regions you want to visit. This is where “design considerations” come in. We used these:

  • Budget/money available
  • Time constraints – this breaks into two parts:
    • Duration/time you have for your trip
    • Any time-limited activities you may want to do (ex: hiking)
  • Direction constraints
    • What direction do you want to travel in?
      • North vs South – This breaks down into summer vs winter, or rainy vs dry season
      • East vs West – You probably want to go west. Explained below.
    • What is the most efficient route between your desired regions? Backtracking is inefficient and depending on your travel method, expensive.

For our round-the-world trip we budgeted $25,000 per person for the year, which we decided on based on how long we wanted to spend in each region (2-3 months). Following that, we knew we wanted to carry everything with us AND do a lot of hiking, which are both points in favor chasing summer because it means less gear to carry and better weather. Because we’re starting off in November, we should head to the Southern Hemisphere first, then flip to the Northern Hemisphere around April. We next decided to head west because we would gain hours. While that seems obvious, there’s an instinct to head to Europe first to get the expensive countries out of the way. For us, that was less important than having a good sleep schedule for all the amazing things we wanted to do.

2. Add in “must-do” experiences
These are the experiences that you’ve always wanted, immortalized in a clipped picture from a magazine, a bookmarked webpage, or a story told to you by someone. They are what you dream and daydream about. For us, these were things such as stargazing in the Atacama desert, hiking in New Zealand, and taking the trans-Siberian railway across Russia.

Something helpful to keep in mind as you think about these : separate the “experience” from the “place” and know yourself. Those sunsets on the beach look lovely, but are you the kind of person who likes sitting in a hammock and watching the sun go down? Similarly, that picture from the peak of Cerro Paine Grande is spectacular, but are you willing and able to make the climb and see it for yourself? You’re going to have the most fun if you do what you want to on the trip. Don’t try to live out someone else’s fantasy.

Circle the locations of “must-do” places on your map, and if they take place in a specific time period write it down underneath. When you’re done, take a step back–these are the countries/areas you’re going to visit (and the times you have to visit them). Hopefully they fall into the regions that you circled previously, and if not you may want to reconsider the regions you’re visiting or leave that “must-do” for another trip. You’re going to overestimate how much you can do on your trip, so adding more is a bad idea (we tried this with Antarctica before deciding against it). This also narrows your route to specific countries, meaning you can pass over others to leave more time for what you want to see. Using this, we were able to eliminate some countries (Sorry Ecuador! Sorry Laos!) where we didn’t have anything “must-do”.

3. Fill in the gaps with specific locations
If you went from one amazing experience to another for weeks/months, you’d get burned out pretty quickly. You’re going to need downtime to rest and prepare for the next experience, so find rest places along the way. If you’re outdoorsy like we are, this means building in time to stay in towns and cities where we can restock on supplies, relax, and recover from any injuries. For many experiences, there’s a common “base” that people use as a start/end point because of proximity (ex. Cuzco for hiking the Inca Trail, Ulan Ude for driving around Lake Baikal) so look for these and plan to rest there for a few days. We planned to be on the trail on average 4-5 days before we would return to civilization.

This is also a great point to look at travel requirements for the countries or areas you want to visit, which break down into regulatory (visas, special permissions) and medical (immunizations, medicine). Most of the regulatory information can be found on Google, and there’s a handy list of visa requirements for US citizens on Wikipedia. For some countries, you can’t apply for a visa more than 6 months before your trip, so keep that in mind if you plan to visit multiple countries that require a visa. The medical requirements are a little trickier–information is easy to come by online, but most vaccinations/treatments require that you visit a travel nurse or doctor to get immunizations. For me, that appointment alone cost $110, followed by an additional ~$400 in vaccinations and medications.Several vaccinations also require multiple shots with weeks in between, so it’s best to figure that out sooner rather than later.

4. Lastly, connect the dots (or circled spots)
You’ve got your must-do places and resting spaces, so the last thing to do is connect them in a line that minimizes the travel time or, if you’re not constrained on travel time, the order in which you would most enjoy the experiences.

Before you draw any lines, is there an easy way to get between to spots on your map? Two points on a map may look close, but that doesn’t mean there’s an easy or direct way to travel between them. This is especially true if you’re going to be flying, as the world’s flight network is set up as routes radiating from central “hubs”. For us, this meant that while it’d be closer to go from Oaxaca to Merida directly, flight routes dictated we’d have to fly from Oaxaca to Mexico City, then from Mexico City to Merida.

You’ll need to do some sleuthing to figure out how much time and money it will take to travel between your desired destinations. To do this, I used an amazing website recommended by my friend Nancy, Rome2Rio, which gives you the time, money, and mode of travel between any two destinations. When you find a route that meets your criteria of minimizing time, money, or misery, mark it on the map. Continue until you’ve connected all the dots.

 

You’re done with your first route! While this may change (due to time/money limitations, or because you find some new awesome must-do thing), you’re on the first step toward your trip.

Around the world with Natalie and Stoytcho

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Hello! Welcome to the blog that will document our journey around the world.  I’ll update this as we move through the planning stages of the trip, then as we hit the road as we begin our journey through Central America, South America, Oceania, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Russia, and Europe. But why a yearlong trip around the world? Two reasons: the love of travel and the challenge.

Reason #1: The Love of Travel
I’ve always loved travel. I grew up on road trips through the national parks of the U.S. and longer trips abroad to Mexico, England, in China. In college, I started taking my own trips for fun (Australia) or for research (Tahiti). No matter where I went, I always came back with new experiences, new information, and new learning. The world is so big, and every person has something I don’t know, something to learn. It’s unlikely these people are going to find me, so I better go find them!

There’s also a sharpening of the senses that occurs in new and unknown places. The colors are brighter, the sounds are clearer, and every smell seems to hang in the air, mixing and swirling around to create an almost synaesthetic symphony. Much of this comes from the the nature of travel itself–when we find ourselves in new places, the lack of familiarity engages our mind, placing us on alert. Even in the absence of danger, this sharpening of senses occurs, thrilling us and and drawing us to focus on the immediate, present experience.

Reason #2: The Challenge
Travelling around the world for a year is a HUGE planning and logistics challenge. I loved fitting together all of the interolocking pieces of the trip, and part of the reason this blog exists is to share my travel experiences  and help others plan their trips. I’ve broken down below into four categories of planning below, with examples of what it entailed:

  1. Route planning
    1. Rough-draft route around the world
    2. “Bucket List” locations we definitely wanted to visit
    3. Specific activities we wanted to do
  2. Financial
    1. Estimating total cost
    2. Finding ways to reduce costs
    3. Setting up financial instruments that would enable us to access money safely worldwide
  3. Gear
    1. Figuring out how we wanted to live
    2. Identifying potential equipment we would need
    3. Narrowing equipment options based on planned locations and activites
  4. Life Interruption
    1. Setting up ways to keep in touch with family and friends
    2. Fitting career with travel plans
    3. Planning immediate next steps post-travel (lodging, savings)

Each of the above categories had three stages – exploration/research, then decision/execution, and finally testing and review. Our goal was to be able to test and then change anything that didn’t work, because more than anything we wanted to have fun on the trip and minimize our worrying. In coming blog posts, I’ll add more details about our thought process for each step.

In addition to logistics and lessons learned, we will also be posting pictures and writing about the amazing things we experience on our travels. Stay tuned!

– Natalie