What Worked and What Didn’t on Our SE Asia Trip

Overall, I think the research I did and the fabulous advice I found from so many smart travelers helped me to have a stress free carry on only trip.  So here is the round up:

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1)  My Osprey backpack was terrific.  I carried it on my back easily, hoisted it up into the airplane bin easily, packed and repacked it easily, and never had it weighed after the first flight with Turkish Airlines.  I think the people at the check-in counters just figured that a tiny little old lady with a backpack probably couldn’t carry more than the allotted 7 or 8 kgs.

2) Packing cubes are the bomb. ‘Nuf said.  Or perhaps I should phrase that differently for security personnel ;-0

3) The luggage scale was indispensable at home because it made me ditch lots of things which I never really missed anyway.  Admittedly, we never used it after we left home.

4) My three smartwool shirts (one short sleeve black and two bright colored tanks) worked as advertised, although I must say that the black tee was the most useful.  The weather was unseasonably chilly in both Hong Kong and Hanoi and that shirt got one heck of a lot of wear. And I never washed it.  And it never smelled.  And it didn’t itch. The tanks . . . meh. Once we hit warm sunny places I actually wanted more coverage and didn’t wear tank tops at all. So, bottom line, I just ordered another Icebreaker short sleeve tee in grey from Moosejaw (on sale, natch) and a super lightweight 3/4 sleeve merino v-neck in ballet pink from J Crew (also at a steal).  I’m totally convinced that merino wool in a fine gauge works for both hot and cold temps and packs and wears like a dream.

5) The rayon long sleeve T was a lifesaver, mostly because of the chilly temps early in the trip, but if I had it to do again I would take the new J Crew merino instead.  The button up tunic blouse, not so much. I really didn’t use it.  The Coolibar sarong was a great idea, and would be more useful if we had done more beach time.  So, no regrets, but it didn’t get as much use as I thought it would. My bathing suits worked out fine, but we didn’t swim as much as we thought we might on this particular trip.

6) Most worn item:  the Adea white tee shirt.  Loved it.  Cool, non-smelly, great coverage but stylish fit, washed that sucker out day after day and it was dry in a matter of hours with no wrinkles.  I immediately ordered four 3/4 sleeve shirts when I got home, only two of which were on sale, which tells you how much I love the brand since I hardly ever pay full price for anything.  The feel of this fabric on the skin is to die for, the fit is oh so Italian designer, and the care is easy peasy.  I could do an infomercial on this brand!

7) Pants: the Lululemon travel/bike-to-work/dry-quick grey pants were AWESOME.  Wore them constantly in heat or cold. The Athleta taupey haremish pants were perfect, but I am a little concerned that they won’t last. Only wore the Kuhl shorts one or twice, but they were comfy and fit great. I much preferred wearing the yoga cropped tights out in public in warm weather places. I only wore a skirt once in Cambodia.

8) My hat was a great success, and totally necessary once we left Hanoi. Best part–it smushed down in whatever shape to fit into my pack and then could be reformed (the wire in the brim meant it didn’t flop). And, it fit my rather small head and stayed on even in gusts. And of course, sunglasses both prescription and regular, were essential.

9) I really didn’t need the Prana yoga top.

10) All of the shoe choices were great.  No blisters. Lots of walking in each pair. Felt stylish and not clunky. Win.

11) Ex Officio underwear is everything everyone says it is.  I bought two more pair on sale when I got home as I have discovered they are the best for yoga and the gym too–no panty line and (ahem) no stink. Plus they dry in an instant.

12) My Patagonia Nanopuff jacket was indispensable.  Not only for the chilly times, but wadded up as a pillow on the plane (we took nine flights in all). And it took up no space in either my purse or my backpack.

13) The Athleta SPF50 white ruched v neck coverup and my  Blockshop Textiles scarf were the most used items, providing layers, sun or wind protection, style, all the while keeping me cool when that was important, skin cancer free we hope, or warm when necesary. I can’t say enough about either one.

14) Tech-wise, I never used the new camera tripod.  It was bulky and I hadn’t practiced before the trip. We didn’t need the voltage converter because all of our electronics did that themselves.  Those two items were heavy.  We never bothered to get phones in Vietnam, but I will get a new iPhone 5 or 6 before our next international trip so we can use SIM cards. Best tech tip:  Get Tunnelbear. I never felt compromised using public wifi in hotels or cafes or airports. It’s worth it and very reliable. My RFID tiny wallet was also great for peace of mind.

15) TSA was fine with my scissors — both the small kid ones and the sewing kit ones.  Hong Kong balked at the kid ones, measured them and let me pass. Danang security took the sewing scissors. No one cared about liquids. Sometimes I had to take my shoes off, sometimes I didn’t.  Moral of the story: you never know. Every checkpoint is different.

16) My J Crew purse was terrific for flights because I could stuff so much into it (camera, liquid 1 quart bag, guidebook, IPad, chargers). Outside of Hong Kong I didn’t carry it but instead used a fabric carryall that folded into a tiny pouch.  Why? Best not to be carrying an expensive leather bag in places where that seems first-world extravagant.

I have a lot to say about toiletries, cosmetics, medications, etc. but I’ll save that for the next post.

What I’m Packing for Three Weeks in Asia

One of the first bits of research I did involved choosing a carry on.  I vowed to travel light, as I always had back when I was a twenty something and exploring the world. After our trip to the West Coast this October, when I had mailed half of what I had packed home midway through, I was done with checking luggage and using space bags that ended up weighing the equivalent of kettle bells. Time for a reset.

I found a wonderful site that led me on the path to what I hope will be carefree plane, train, boat and bus travel: TravelFashionGirl. Also, there are numerous YouTube videos showing what (and how) a variety of male and female backpackers and other travelers packed for their journeys.  Yes, most were twenty somethings, and included items like denim booty shorts that this “lady of a certain age” will not be including in her wardrobe.  But with a bit of adaptation I put together a stylish, functional kit.  No white sneakers or baggy cargo pants with too many pockets, zippers, straps and horrible fabrics for me! 

What am I packing?

1)  Osprey 46L backpack. It meets airline carry on regulations, opens like a suitcase instead of from the top, is comfy to wear from plane to hotel (its not intended for heavy duty backcountry hiking) and is simple in design.  You can see a video review here.

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                                           Osprey 46L Porter

2)  Packing cubes. Not only do they separate your items by type, they hold an amazing amount of stuff in ventilated little packets. You can watch a how to video on using them here. 

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3)  Luggage scale. This seemed kind of silly at first, until I realized that Vietnam Airlines required carry ons to weigh no more than 7kg (or roughly 15 pounds). What a challenge it has been to whittle down to that!  While it seems unlikely that my backpack will actually be weighed, I don’t want to have to decide what to throw away while standing in the check-in line with lots of people yelling at me in a foreign language.

4)  Smartwool. I was like, “huh?” when I first read about smartwool in the tropics, but I am a convert. After all, those sheep in New Zealand live through hot summers, right?  A company called Icebreaker makes really wonderful things that are 150 weight, are guaranteed not to be itchy or hot, do not wrinkle, wash in the sink and dry quickly, provide natural SPF protection, and (this is key) do not smell.  Lots of travelers swear by these as insulation layers in the cold and stand-alones in the heat.  I got a black tee shirt and two tank tops in bright colors. And they came with info about the actual sheep who provided me with the wool!!!!

5)  Sun protection. For me this was essential.  I got a sarong in a cute print from the SPF specializing company Coolibar that can double as a scarf, beach towel, blanket, etc. I bought a great sun hat at Athleta, along with a white SPF 50 mid-thigh length beach cover-up/hoody.  I can also wear that as an extra layer for cool evenings or sails in Halong Bay.  I have a white rayon long sleeve tee and a white rayon button up collared shirt/tunic to throw on when visiting temples or just plain getting fried in the sun.  Both are lightweight, but provide some additional protection.  And of course I have a pair of cute long rayon pants from Athleta to cover my legs in the heat and for temple visits where modesty is expected. 

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                                   Giddy Up!

6)  Layers. Istanbul (where we have a layover) will probably be in the 50s, Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s during the day, Hanoi ditto and then hot from Hoi An to Siem Reap. I calculate I need to be ready for as much as a 50 degree temperature swing!  That means layers.  Everything I have coordinates with bottoms in basic colors like grey, navy and taupe and tops in white, grey, black and a few brights thrown in for good measure. Scarves add color, sun protection, modesty and warmth when needed. I can layer to my heart’s content, up to my Patagonia nanopuff jacket, which folds up into its own pocket when not needed.

7)  Wash and wear, ie quick dry. EVERYTHING.  Including undies from Ex Officio, yoga capris and skinny pants from Lululemon, a mid-calf skirt from Athleta and the aforementioned items. 

 8)  Sensible shoes.  One pair flip flops, one pair mesh and suede ballet flats from Patagonia, and my trusty Dansko sandals.

 So, here is the complete list:

 

2 pairs long pants (pinky taupe and grey)

1  pair black yoga capri tights

1 white Prana tank as an underlayer and for yoga

1 white long sleeved tee

1 white button up shirt, tunic length

1 white SPF hoodie

3 cap sleeve tees (black, grey, white)

4 tank tops with full coverage in back and high cut in front and good bra strap coverage (azalea, turquoise, pale yellow, pale pink — two are smartwool from Icebreaker and two are Italian miracle fabric from Adea.  I don’t think I really need all four but I want to see which ones I use the most).

1 navy skirt

1 pair water resistant shorts from Kuhl (you can get them at REI or Title Nine)

2 bathing suits

1 SPF sarong

1 sun hat

2 pairs socks (one Icebreaker to wear on the plane — my feet always get cold) and one pair quick dry biking socks for whatever)

5 undies

2 bras

1 pair flips flops

1 pair ballet flats

1 pair sandals

1 jacket

2 scarves (one very lightweight to dress up tops when going out and one Block Shop Textiles mango chevron pattern for warmth, sarong wear, whatever BECAUSE I LOVE IT.

 As for wearable items — that is it!!!

NEXT:  Electronics and Security