Thursday, April 23, 2015

Our Travel Gear: What Worked; What Didn't; and What We Could Have Left At Home

Turns out my minimalist packing could have been even more minimal. At least that's what I was thinking every time I hoisted that bag across my shoulders and marched off to catch a train or hiked down the street to another hotel. It got even worse with the addition of souvenirs and gifts. But on the whole I wasn't terribly off on what I had packed for 2.5 weeks away from home. 

Waiting for our taxi to the Xian airport

I did pretty well on clothes, but there were two things I didn't use at all -- a sweater and a swim suit. So for the most part I planned well for what I thought I would need and used what I brought. However there were some things I only used one, two, maybe three times, and therefore probably could have done without. And there were a few other things that just depended on conditions -- I wore my raincoat almost every day in Shanghai either because of rain, the threat of rain, or cool cloudy weather. But then I didn't wear it again for the rest of the trip because the weather was nice and mild. I would also subtract a couple pairs of socks and underwear next time (yes, I know they're small, but ounces lead to pounds), and a pair of shoes.

Where I probably could have cut down more was on the extra "stuff." A lot of bulk and space in my carry on green bag was taken up by medications and remedies for things that have a liking for tourists. This is sort of a tough one, however, because it would be hard to find a lot of these things if you get there and suddenly need them; but for generally healthy resistant travelers like us, it was just extra stuff to carry around. I am very thankful we did not encounter any sickness on our trip! But if we had gotten leg cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, headaches, colds, allergies, cuts, infections, vitamin deficiencies, or chapped lips . . . we would have been prepared.

I did visit a Chinese pharmacy in Beijing for a mysterious rash that appeared on the back of my ankles. I went from person to person lifting my pant leg and pulling down my sock before being prescribed some little green capsules to take twice a day along with a little container of ointment to apply on the rash. When I asked what it was they said: "allergics." That seemed logical, but they wanted to give me two packages of everything -- enough to last 12 days -- but I only took half and figured I would try it and see since I didn't really know what they were giving me. However I was pleased to find the rash getting better after a few days and completely gone within a week.

Some things were necessary and useful like eye drops for my contacts and Blistex, but I probably didn’t need one for my bathroom kit, one for my purse, and one more for  backup. I took some bar shampoo, but there was always complimentary stuff wherever we stayed, so I really didn't even need shampoo. I also brought a lot of drink powders to add to bottled water that we didn’t really use. And for that matter I could have left my water bottle at home. I brought sunglasses in a case, but then forgot to take them when we went out for the day. I had a notebook for journaling, notes, and keeping important info, but it was too big and had too many pages. I carried it around everywhere anyway, but next time I would go smaller.

Kleenex, wet wipes, and toilet paper were invaluable things to have and we had just the right amount. We also took a small balled up plastic clothes line that came in handy several times. I’m glad I didn’t take any books and just read from my kindle. Packets of Starbucks Via were a morning Godsend for a coffee person like me.

In the grand analysis I am mixed on the Campmor bag. There are a lot of steps in China, and often no elevator or escalator to take instead. People with rolling suitcases really struggled in train stations, subways, and other places with lots of steps, so I was glad to have my pack upon my back. But it was pretty heavy along with my other bag of stuff to carry on my arm and I envied those same people strolling alongside their suitcases with the same effort they would use to walk a dog whenever the surfaces were flat, in train stations, subways, and other places with lots of long halls and walkways. Probably the worst day was when we had to go from a taxi to a train to a shuttle train to a subway, transfer three times, and then walk to our hotel. Yes, we were mobile, but so is a bowling ball – that doesn’t mean you want to carry it around with you all the time.

Holding my friend's suitcase-on-wheels and wearing my suitcase backpack style on my back -- you can tell I am torn on which is better!

The mesh packing cubes are keepers. They fit in everything and really keep your stuff together. I could pull out a cube and place it right in a drawer without having to unpack every separate thing. Then, when it was time to go, it was, basically, already packed. I also used several smaller mesh and plastic zipper pouches for things like electronic chargers, medications, and my day-to-day essentials that could easily go from my purse to my backpack and back again. And my friend Kathy gave me a nice little Chinese 3-compartment zipper pouch for my most essential essentials! All of these things were great for organized travel!

It's just so hard to fully anticipate everything you will need -- as well as what you won't need -- when you are going to a place you've never been before. Some things are basics wherever you go. I think function is the key -- if it doesn't serve you in a purposeful way, then leave it at home, or you will become a slave to your stuff rather than the master.

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