ZINK Year Gear: Around the World Packing Guide

We spent a month preparing for our trip. Most of that time was spent on prepping our gear – reading blog posts like this one, making spreadsheets of what we needed vs. wanted, taking various trips to REI and other outdoor shops, ordering socks from dodgy online sites, packing our bags, weighing our bags, repacking our bags, etc. On October 30, 2013, we headed to the airport with the 55 pounds of gear that would keep us clothed, entertained, and healthy for the next eight months.

Of the nearly 200 items we packed, a few exceeded our expectations – these I talk about in depth in this post. If you’re the nitty-gritty-details type and would like to see the entire list of items we took, have a look at our Google Spreadsheet Packing List (feel free to download, edit, and make it your own). And if you’d like additional info on any of the products, give me a shout at patten@zinkyear.com.

Osprey Meridian 22 Suitcase – Emily and I went back andScreen Shot 2014-06-27 at 3.49.32 PM forth before leaving the States: Should we strap on Winnebago-sized backpacks, so popular with long-term travelers, or go the roller-bag route? The good folks at Arty Dubs tipped us off to Osprey’s best-of-both-worlds Meridian 22 (and its wheel-and-back/waist-strap combo), and we really can’t say enough good things about it. Tough as nails, lightweight, and compact was our pre-purchase criteria, and that’s exactly what we got.

While you can use the Meridian 22 as a backpack, we never did. The wheels are so large and sturdy you can truck them over gravel, cobblestones, dirt roads, and down stairs with ease. If you’re like us, most of the time, you’ll be pulling them over smooth concrete and tiled airport floors. So, unless you plan to do a lot of overnight hiking (and you’ll be carrying a sleeping bag and a tent), bring a bag with wheels. Your back will thank you. That said, if given the chance, I’d still opt for the back/waist-straps, simply for “you never know when you’re going to need it” peace of mind. If you find yourself in a situation when you know you won’t need the straps, simply unsnap them and use the extra space for storage.

Added bonus: the Meridian 22 includes a detachable daypack (Meridian Day) that is equally comfortable in the city as it is on the trail. I’d recommend a good day pack to anyone planning a long-term trip, but I’m especially fond of this one given its size (big enough for the essentials and small enough not to be overloaded) and features (padded back, backpanel sleeve, inner computer sleeve, internal organizer).

Others have pointed this out, but just to to reiterate, the Meridian 22 will fit in overhead compartments on domestic flights within the U.S. Outside of the U.S. – especially on budget airlines – you’ll have to check the bag. We were able to carry on our Meridian 22’s on our initial flight from LA to Tokyo on Delta, but then we hit the 15-pound carry-on restrictions that plagued our every step thereafter.

Icebreaker Tech T –  After eight months on the road, I can say Icebreaker_Tech_T_Lite_IBQ231-B86I believe the hype behind Icebreaker Tech T’s. Made from 100% merino wool, they regulate your body temp, look fairly stylish, and are easy to wash. We can wear these shirts for four to five days in dry climates, or two to three days in a hot and sticky Singapore before they need a good wash.

I have two Tech T’s: black and green. If buying only one, I’d recommend the black – it looks a little dressier when we go out at night. Emily has three Icebreaker shirts: a Tech T (crew neck), a scoop neck, and a v-neck. She likes having all three styles, but would recommend the crew-neck Tech T if picking just one. The crew neck protects her chest in the sun and has a looser, more comfortable fit.

Before purchasing, we read that holes may start appearing in the shirts. Sure enough, Emily recently found a few small holes in the fabric. But judging by more recent buyer reviews, Icebreaker may have resolved the issue. Regardless, buy the shirts, and think of getting piece of clothing repaired in, say, Vietnam as a fun activity – it was for us.

Icebreaker Socks – Again, same merino wool, same extended usage. We prefer the thicker, Multisport Cushion Micro 4” if you’re walking all day, and the Run+ Ultralight Micro 4” if going for a run.

T-mobile Simple Choice Plan – Okay, cat’s out of the bag,t-mobile-logo we cheated. In fact, we cheated everyday of our trip (sans Myanmar). We had unlimited data, texting, and 20-cents-per-minute calls in 120+ countries and destinations (unlimited within the U.S.) through T-mobile’s Simple Choice Plan. Sure, we probably missed out on some interesting conversations in broken Japanese asking for restaurant recommendations or asking for directions to an about-to-be-missed bus, but we’re okay with that. If you like regular access to email, news, Instagram, FB, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Booking.com, etc, think of the Simple Choice Plan as a trip enhancer/stress reliever. If your plan is about to expire, do yourself a favor, sign up ($50 per month for one user, $80 for two, $90 for three, and so on). It’s one of those too-good-to-be-true situations, but we promise… it’s true!

Satechi Energy Station 10,000 – I know next to nothingSatechi-Portable-Energy-Station about electronics, but I do know that two phones and two readers require energy and a lot of it. And recharging devices while on the move proves difficult unless you carry an external energy source. Enter the Satechi Energy Station 10,000. One charge of the Satechi equals about five iPhone charges. And with two USB outputs (1A and 2A) you can charge two devices at once. The Satechi was and remains a permanent fixture in my Meridian Daypack.

Vapur Water Anti-Bottle – This was an impulse buy,Vapur Element which we don’t typically do. But considering the features (folds away into near nothing, stands upright when full, attaches to bags via a built in carabineer, and BPA-free), and the cost ($10), the Vapurs were a no brainer. And sparing a few issues, we’re super glad we brought them along. Word of the wise, I’d stay away from the Eclipse model. The matte finish wore off and, worse, a strong smell and taste of soap persisted weeks after washing with dish soap. Thankfully Vapur came through with excellent customer service offering advice on how to rid the bottles of the taste/smell (vinegar unfortunately didn’t work) and then offering to replace the Eclipse bottles with two Element bottles, that continue to perform well.

Exofficio Give-N-Go UnderwearExofficio Lacy Bikini – Stinking sucks, in fact, Exofficio Boxerwriting those words makes me want to vom. But when you’re switching hotels every three days on average, spending countless hours traveling to your next destination by boat, train, car, and plane, or scouting for exotic beaches and restaurants, washing clothes isn’t always the first priority (old me, meet new me). So, it goes without saying that you’ll need underwear that can stand the test of, well…time. I’ve been wearing Give-N-Go Boxers for years (light, durable, long lasting), so of course I brought them along on the ZINK Year. For the ladies out there, Emily loved Exofficio’s Give-N-Go Lacy Bikini.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Chase Sapphire Preferred – It’s a good idea to have at least two credit cards while traveling, so you might as well get the ones with the best rewards. I mean, who doesn’t need an extra $900? Here’s a quick breakdown of each card.

Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard – Zero foreignScreen Shot 2014-06-27 at 1.15.30 PM transaction fees, 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 120 days from opening account (the equivalent of $400 in travel statement credit), 2X miles on all purchases, chip and signature card with PIN capability, annual fees waived the first year – $89 each year thereafter.

Chase Sapphire Preferred – Zero foreign transaction fees, 40,000chase-sapphire-preferred bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days from opening account (the equivalent of $500 towards airfare or hotels when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards **redeeming points is super easy**), 2X miles on travel and dining at restaurants (1 point per $1 on other purchases), chip and signature card with PIN capability, annual fees waived the first year – $95 each year thereafter.

Canon G Series Camera – I love photography, Canon G16always have, but I don’t like the idea of traveling around the world with a five pound, $5,000 camera. It’s always seemed silly, that is, unless you’re a pro or budding pro on your way to making money. That’s why in 2008, I opted for the much lighter (about a pound), much cheaper ($450) Canon G10. Six years later, it still takes super crisp photos. Canon’s worked their way up to the G16 now, surprisingly the same price today as I paid years ago and no doubt better.

Leatherman Style PS – Space in our bags is sacred, Leatherman Style PSso in lieu of carrying multiple tools, we opted for the all-in-one, yet still bare bones, light-as-can-be Leatherman Style PS, which includes spring-action pliers, file, scissors, tweezers, mini-screwdriver, and my favorite, the bottle opener. I used every tool at least once a week and one tool specifically a little too often. Note for the wise: On two occasions in Japan and Turkey, I nearly had the Style PS confiscated by over-anxious security guards simply because it looked like a pocket knife, despite having pointed out repeatedly that it didn’t have anything close to a knife inside. (A fair bit of pleading won out in both cases and we were able to keep the tool). If you’re checking a bag anyway, avoid the possible hassle and store it in your checked luggage.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Garment Folder and Packing Cube
I remember days not too terribly long Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 12.45.54 PMago when it was completely normal to carefully fold shirts and pants and place them into a suitcase, along with shoes and toiletries, without any sort of inner containment. By the time you opened the luggage after the flight, you had a big rat’s nest on your hands. Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Garment Folder and Packing Cubes solved all that, and I’m forever grateful.

Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Lock – Close your eyes,Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Lock imagine that everything you own fits into two small roller suitcases. A bit overwhelming already, right? Now, imagine all of your stuff being stolen because you didn’t lock your bags. There are tons of luggage lock options out there that minimize the chance of this happening, but we prefer the Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Locks. The sturdy, flexible cable swivels so it doesn’t get bound up like locks with fixed shackles and bends minimizing the chance of breakage on airport conveyor belts. I recommend one lock for each bag and an extra one in case you lose one. If you’re the extra careful type, pair the Lewis N. Clark TSA Cable Luggage Locks with a Pacsafe Retractasafe 250 Retractable Cable Lock. We used the latter at a train station (and on a train!) and in a few sketchy hotel rooms.

Pacsafe Walletsafe 50 Compact Wallet – Pickpockets existPacsafe Walletsafe 50 because people don’t take the proper measures to protect their stuff. Simple as that. The Walletsafe 50 keeps shifty hands at bay with a safety chain that attaches to a belt loop. It’s small enough to wear in a front pocket and features a convenient inner cash/credit card divider and external coin pocket. An added benefit of the chain is that it prevents you from misplacing the wallet along the way.

If Mickey Rourke were a beach…

…he’d be Patong. Let me explain.

You'll spot Mickey doppelgangers everywhere in Patong.

You’ll spot Mickey doppelgangers everywhere in Patong.

Following incredibly amazing, yet exhausting tours of Japan and Taiwan, it was time, time for rest. So we tabled our dumpling- and pork-bun fantasies of Hong Kong, and subbed in Thailand. For those of you with images of swaying palms, warm breezes, lonely white-sand beaches, and fruit cocktails you’d be right…well, eventually. Emily will cover that in the next post.

Once Thailand was determined, we chose Phuket as our first stop. Why? Phuket was easy to access, and supposedly had beautiful beaches, good food, and luxurious resorts, all at closeout prices. We booked a red-eye flight with AirAsia and a hotel for four nights in Patong Beach.

As soon as we boarded our connecting flight to Phuket, we knew we’d screwed up. Imagine a demographic blend of Sturgis moto-ralliers, Preakness infield partiers, and a couple of soccer hooligans – many of whom were already buzzed on our 6 am flight. But, good travelers roll with the punches, and that’s what we did.

After arriving in Phuket and catching a taxi to our resort in Patong Beach, we were told that we’d arrived a few hours too early to check in, so we dropped off our bags at the front desk and took off for the beach. What we saw was a city that stayed up partying hard till 5 am every night, waking up just enough long enough around noon to vomit on itself, and repeating for 30 years. Heaps of hot trash on the sidewalk, prostitutes giving me the eye, rip-off Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, and sign after sign advertising all-day English breakfasts…all set on a once pristine beach. Patong Beach represents everything I hate about poorly managed tourism.

On the bright side, there are a few highlights in the Patong area worth mentioning.

The Senses Resort: Our normal ritual for booking a hotel involves a lot of work. We pore over reviews on Agoda and TripAdvisor, careful to search for value (a formula involving cost, quality, location, and amenities, including the critically important wifi – this blog ain’t writing itself). And the resort that floated to the top in the case of Patong Beach was The Senses Resort. Located in the quiet hills behind Patong and built just last year, The Senses was a knock out – outfitted with large rooms, a soft bed, an infinity pool, and a nightly happy hour with strong pina coladas. After a few days in Patong we didn’t venture more than a few blocks from this place. I mean, why would you need to.

   

The Restaurant with No Name: Always in search of the best local bites, there’s a bit of tango played with hotel staff each time we move to a new city. We generally ask where they eat; confused, they try to send us to the town’s cheesiest TGI McFridays look alike. Then on night two or three, with enough harassment, the hotel staff realizes what we’re looking for and we hit gold. In Patong, we didn’t get a restaurant name (doubt it had one), but we did get rough directions (bottom of the hill, hang a left, first open air restaurant you see on your left without tourists). The fiery papaya salad, and grilled pork and mushroom soup were perfect, and hinted at the culinary wonderlands we’d experience outside of Patong.

Hotter than hell papaya salad

The Amanpuri: I hadn’t seen an ultra-luxury resort until visiting Aman Resorts’ Amangani property located near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I was wowed. Set in picture-perfect locals with only 50 or so rooms, Aman Resorts – for me – is the pinnacle of hotel luxury. When we found out Aman’s first hotel, Amanpuri, was just a taxi ride away, we decided to pay them a visit. The hotel concierge was nice enough to take us on a tour of the place – black granite infinity pools, white-sand private beaches, plush cabanas on rocky outcrops, yachts just for guests, villas that come with a cook and butler, the latter of whom brought us ice-cold towels and water…on a silver tray with orchids. Let me make this clear: if we could swing $1000/night rooms, Em and I would split the rest of our days on earth living in all of Aman’s 24 resorts. (Aman Management, if you find this post via google alerts, I want to work for you, like forever, http://www.linkedin.com/in/pattenwood)