Sunday, August 5, 2018

Packing for a Trip 'Round the World

A few people asked me what I bring when I travel. First, I don't make anything complicated. I don't buy packing cubes, I don't roll my shirts, and I don't buy the most expensive jackets or fanciest backpacks. Though I don't have kids or a wife, I do what every penny-pinching parent does: I scour the clearance racks for winter clothes in the summer and look for summer clothes after back-to-school season is over. As a general rule, I shop at home state outlets where I can easily return items if they don't fit. 

Outside of North America, Lazada.com, owned by Jack Ma's Alibaba, is great for ordering items in SE Asia. In Singapore, it seemed like every woman sitting near me on the MRT/subway was browsing the Lazada app. (Competitors have a long way to go before they catch up to Alibaba/Aliexpress and Amazon, one reason why existing leaders have such high stock prices. DHGate.com rejected my Abdul-Rauf jersey order because its security procedures erroneously flagged my order as suspicious. At least they refunded my money promptly.) 

Before I list my preferences, it may be useful to know I'm 6 feet tall and weigh over 200 pounds, and I have not been paid money or received free merchandise to write this article. I'm sharing my tips because I sincerely believe the more people who travel independently, the easier it will be to build meaningful cross-cultural links. 

1. Dri-FIT casual shirts and socks from Nike. Only one of Nike's Dri-FIT shirts hasn't lived up to its billing. Although laundromats are cheap in SE Asia and northern Africa, you can't always be sure they'll be open, and being able to hang your clothes to dry overnight after hand-washing is crucial in humid climates. I've wasted many hours pointing a borrowed or hotel hand hair dryer at my cotton shirts the night before my next flight. (Luckily, in mountainous or high-altitude areas, clothes dry quickly with no special assistance.) 

Also, I suffer from sweaty feet, and the only socks that help are Nike's Dri-FIT brand. Despite the expense (15+ USD for one pair of the Jordan brand), I grew weary of removing dead skin from my feet. I've avoided blisters because regardless of the brand, I follow Coach John Wooden's advice to roll up socks completely and ensure no wrinkles. 
Jordan Dri-FIT socks & shoes from Lazada.com. The shoes were 36 USD, including shipping.
Unpopular colors are marked down eventually.
2. Shorts from Under Armour. Clothing stitched or manufactured in Jordan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh--in order from best to good--seems to last the longest. Under Armour must agree because much of their apparel, at least as of 2018, is made in Vietnam and Jordan. 
Bought in Houston, TX. 2 for 15 USD each.
BTW, don't visit Galveston if you're not a TX resident. Trust me.
Quality manufacturing is a fast-moving game. I remember when Shenzhen, China was the premier manufacturing location, but costs quickly increased, driving manufacturers to SE Asian locations. In contrast to developing countries, advanced countries tend to focus on IP-intensive manufacturing like semiconductors and pharmaceuticals as well as weapons. There's a lesson somewhere in there for developing countries... 

3. Anything from Columbia. Once you sign up for the complimentary membership, shipping is free. I like Columbia products that dry quickly (look for Omni-Shade and Omni-Wick products). The website has a convenient "SALE" link on its front page, and once on the "Sale" page, you can sort by "Low to High" prices. 
Screenshot of Columbia website with drop-down menu.
Recently, I spent about 160 USD online, mostly on collared fishing (PFG) shirts. For me, a person so cheap I risk fistfights with unscrupulous cab drivers in developing countries, it's a huge purchase. I plan on wearing these products for 5 to 10 years and bought them as a homecoming gift to myself in April 2019. One issue: some clothes don't do well in dryers, so I recommend line drying if possible. 

My top suggestion is to buy a lightweight jacket from Columbia. Their mesh pockets have saved my wallet and valuables many times, and I also put items in them when I fly to avoid cluttering my bags. Even if I'm in humid weather, I bring my jacket because rain can occur anytime. (Side note: countries close to the equator allegedly receive more rainfall, but I haven't noticed any definite pattern. I'd say countries close to the equator receive more than average flash storms but not extended rain.) 

4. Two pants, OR one pant and one jeans. One long pant for cold weather and one for hot weather is all I've needed. For cold weather, I found Adidas CLIMA 365 (Climalite), 100% polyester basketball pants in an Iowa store's clearance rank. For warm weather, I use Nike Dri-FIT pants, especially if I know I'll be visiting a formal place like a church or mosque. The Vatican turned me away the first time because I had shorts, but mosques will lend you a robe if your attire is too casual. 

If you frequent nightclubs or bars, bring jeans and wear them with your jacket when you fly to reduce baggage weight. On my third trip around the world, I didn't bring any jeans--they were too heavy compared to other options. 

If you're going to subzero temperatures, buy thermal undergarments, also called base wear. North Face is one place you can shop for these, but many stores have them, including Dickie's. I usually avoid North Face and Patagonia because their sizing is inconsistent, but for thermalwear, I own North Face underpants I've yet to use. My everyday underwear from Uniqlo does the job in all weather conditions. 

5. Backpacks. This is the most expensive single item you'll buy. I've only used Eagle Creek carry-ons, but the company was bought by a multinational corporation and now focuses on more fashionable items with flimsier material. Their website is still fantastic--employees demonstrate each carry-on bag's features in short online videos. The first carry-on I bought in 1999 used a tough corduroy material, which the company sadly no longer uses. I bought their largest carry-on before my most recent trip, but the company appears to have stopped making it, too. From 1999 to 2018, I've used only two carry-on bags, both from Eagle Creek. 

If you're a woman, Osprey is probably your best choice. Most of their packs are light yet durable. I suspect one reason Eagle Creek stopped making my preferred bags is because they're too heavy for both genders, and targeting only 50% of your customer base isn't typically a winning strategy. I don't know anything about Deuter, but they're also a popular brand. 

Most airlines allow one carry-on and one personal item, and the personal item usually doesn't get a second look as long as it can fit under your seat. (Strangely, some employees ask if I have a laptop in my backpack, as if it's a requirement for a personal item--it's not--but airlines probably don't want to handle laptops in checked bags.) I've heard horror stories about European budget airlines like RyanAir and Wizz Air refusing to allow one personal item on board in addition to a carry-on, which is an unfortunate part of budget travel--sometimes, you take the risk of checking in luggage and paying an additional fee. Over time, if budget airlines continue to be unpredictable with personal item allowances, they'll lose business or go bankrupt like Air Berlin (though to be fair, Germany has excellent train systems, so fewer residents rely on planes for domestic travel). After the way they treated me, I'm personally hoping Blue Panorama Airlines goes bankrupt sooner rather than later. (I avoid Blue Panorama Airlines, United Airlines, and Avianca when possible.) 

For backpacks aka personal items, anything will do, even the 15 USD backpack at your local Walmart, as long as it has a laptop sleeve or compartment. I bought my backpack on L.L. Bean's website for about 30 USD. It was marketed to elementary school kids, but the reviews by parents said high school kids used it, too, and I haven't had any issues. 
Another "off color" sale item.
I don't like Quechua, but many people seem to like their small daypacks (my preferred minimum size is 15 liters, even for a daypack). A lot of young women like the Anello brand, which opens like a 19th century doctor's kit. If you can spare the money, Fjallraven (their logo looks like a sleeping fox) seems to make the best backpacks, but this space is crowded with competitors, including the little-known Craghoppers and the up-and-coming Eiger

6. Buy a TSA-compliant lock. They're usually less than 10 USD and worth the peace of mind. Make sure you read the instructions about setting the combination--it's not intuitive. 
7. My biggest mistake has been waiting too long to replace my shoes/trainers after I depart. I walk 3 to 5 miles a day, and my habit of buying new shoes only when part of my shoe had a hole was a classic "penny wise, pound foolish" approach. Now that I'm older and heavier, I regularly throw away and replace shoes when traveling. 

That's all I can think of for now, but feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I can be snarky, but I answer my own messages, and I'm always looking for international movie recommendations

Bonus: Thinking about Nike and Under Armour made me realize no one has put together a definitive All-Star Muslim NBA team yet, so I gave it a shot: 

PG Abdul-Rauf (aka Steph Curry before Steph Curry); 

SG
Fadi El Khatib (a poor man's Oscar Schmidt); 

SF Abdur-Rahim (Mr. Consistency aka the glue guy); 

PF Faried (rebounding and defensive specialist--not quite Rodman, but damn close); 

F Turkoglu/İlyasova; (Turkoglu should have won it all with the 2002 Sacramento Kings, but Tim Donaghy happened); 

C Abdul-Jabbar/Olajuwon (tie) 

By the way, the reason I shop at Nike is because they have several outlet stores near me. You might prefer other Dri-FIT brands, but the key is to look for outlet stores with large clearance sections. 

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