Packing for a Six Week Asian Adventure

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our Asian Adventure will be our longest trip, both in weeks away and in flight time.  Packing for six weeks felt more than slightly overwhelming, so I decided to reframe my thinking.  Instead, I packed for TWO weeks, something I have done many times.  I reminded myself that there IS such a thing as hand washing in hotel sinks and/or laundry service.

I also needed to make sure I have enough toys in my carry on to keep me sane during our 20 hours in the air. I think I have it covered with my iPad and a paperback.

Normally I use a backpack as my carry on; it has just enough room for my camera, money, “toys” and snacks.  I usually don’t pack a change of clothes,  but we only have a one hour layover in Korea, so to lower my anxiety level, I’m taking a “real” carry on.  That way, I can  include some essentials,  just in case we get separated from our checked bags.

Checked luggage

  • 3 lightweight long pants (including one in carry on and one to wear on plane),  3 long skirts, 1 dress.  Asians dress more formally, so I am leaving shorts and capris at home.
  • 6 short sleeve shirts ( 2 in carry on), 4 long sleeve shirts to protect against mosquitoes (one will be worn on plane.)  No tanks or sleeveless tops.
  • 2 belts, sun hat, 1 scarf, 1 alpaca wrap, cheap jewelry (the only kind I own)
  • 1 Bathing suit, a bathing cap (Yes, I actually own such a thing to minimize the amount of chlorine in my hair), 1 cover up (doubles as bathrobe), 1 sarong, flip-flops
  •  2 sandals, 1 flats (I’ll wear my Merrill’s on the plane)
  • 2 pajamas (1 in carry on)
  • 7 changes of underwear, 6 socks (2 changes in carry on)
  • Lightweight rain jacket with hood (no umbrella needed), fleece, sweater for cool nights in Vietnam –these will all be worn to the airport, and if weight and space allow, will be stashed in luggage before it is checked.

There you have it–my entire wardrobe for 6 weeks.

Also in my checked luggage:

  • Electrical adaptor
  • hair dryer, brush and comb
  • Toiletries:  toothpaste & brush, floss, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, razor, tweezers, scissors, kleenex
  • Sun screen, insect repellant, body lotion, baby powder
  • flash light
  • Materials for Global Volunteers work (photos, books, index cards, chalk, teaching aids-these are the heaviest items)
  • Starbucks Via.   I learned about these single serving packets of instant coffee from another blogger so decided to stock up,  just in case we need an early morning jolt.
  • my backpack
  • elastic bands, extra zip lock bags, a couple of packs of woolite
  • my medical stuff: band-aids, z-pack, Imodium, Neosporin, Advil.  I read somewhere that Asian diets are low in fiber, so fiber capsules were recommended.  We never needed them before, but there was room in the luggage, so what the heck.

Carry On

  • Credit card, bank card, local currency, singles
  • Passport, passport photos for visas, immunization card, global entry card
  • Etickets, travel info, notebook, pencil & pens
  • Camera, batteries, charger, photo cards and camera bag
  • Ipad and bose headset, cell phone
  • Water bottle and holder
  • “Comfort kit” (ear plugs, tiger balm, gum, cough drops, tissues, eye shade, sleep aid, airborne, wipes)
  • Glasses and case;
  • Paperback book
  • Snacks
  • Emergency contact list
  • Clothes listed above and change of clothes for Mike.  (He did his own packing–I don’t meddle.)
  • extra toothbrush and paste
  • Fanny pack and “Neck Wallet”

Believe it or not, it all fit.  Here’s what the packed bags and plane wardrobe looks like:

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I used lots of gallon zip lock bags and a packing cube to keep things organized.

In my never-ending quest to pack “smart” and to share what I have learned, upon return,  I will fess up to any items that I brought but didn’t need, and will also list anything that I didn’t have but wished that I had.

Only 72 hours till lift off.  Fellow travelers–have I forgotten anything???

On your mark, get set…

Twelve days till the Asian Adventure starts.  Phase One is in full swing!

I have benefited greatly from those that generously shared their travel tips and experiences, so this post is my attempt to do likewise.  Future travelers journeying to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, this is for you.

Road Scholar sends out a terrific information package, but I almost screwed up big time because I under counted the number of passport photos needed.  As is usually the case, Mike was paying attention.  (I always knew there was a reason I married that man!)

Getting In and Out of Countries

  • Get three passport photos; four if you decide on a “loose leaf” visa for Vietnam.  Road Scholar takes care of visas for Laos and Cambodia, but we need to bring along the required photos.  No visa needed for Thailand.
  • I finally figured out the only advantage to the loose leaf visa was you didn’t need to mail your passport to the service.  The disadvantage was you had to keep track of that extra piece of paper.    No loose leaf visa for me!
  • Send away for Vietnam passport include photo (one or two depending on type of Visa chosen) with request; pack remaining two to ensure they don’t get left behind.  Did I mention that I tend to be absent minded?
    The service recommended by Road Scholar was excellent, and from my quick scan of the internet, appeared to be attractively priced.  I downloaded the application from their website and was pleased that sections that would have confused the hell out of me had been pre-filled for Road Scholar participants.  The cost was $129 per person, including the Road scholar discount.
  • If the passport has less than 4 blank pages, request additional pages from the state department.  It cost $82, and you DO need to send them the passport.
  • Both the visa and extra pages are more expensive if you need rush service, so it helps if you can plan ahead.

I dutifully copied the key pages of my passport and the Vietnam visa.  I also scanned a copy of my passport and emailed it to me.  (Hey, I actually lost my passport once–fortunately it was in Las Vegas.  No further explanation needed or forthcoming.)

Money
For this trip,  3 lunches and 3 dinners (out of the 18) are not included, so we will need to have funds for those, for our before and after travels, plus any purchases we make along the way.  Normally when we travel, we don’t bring cash, relying instead on ATMs and credit cards, but for Asia, that wouldn’t work well.  Here’s the scoop for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam:

  • Current Exchange rates: $1 US = 30 bhat; 7,941 kip; 4,000 riels; 20,840 dong
  • Credit cards are not accepted in Laos or Cambodia.
  • We get dollars in Siem Reap, Cambodia from an ATM, but not in Vietnam.  Those machines only dispense dong.
  • Dollars are accepted everywhere but any change you receive will be in the local currency, so…
  • I ordered 7,500 Bhats from my local bank.  That sounds like a lot, but it is only $250.
  • I’m not going to worry about dong.  We’ll be in Vietnam for over three weeks, so I’m sure I will be able to spend any dongs I get from ATMs.  Besides, my cousins are quite fascinated by that particular currency, so I might give them any leftovers.
  • Road Scholar recommended bringing about $300 in cash for 18 days on the trip, so we will follow their advice.

Security
Because Mike and I spend all of our discretionary income on travel, there is little in our house worth stealing–unless you are looking to stock up for a gigantic yard sale.  Our concern is that anyone foolish enough to break into our house would completely trash it looking for non-existent valuables! So we take all of the usual precautions with police, security, mail, and newspaper delivery.   Additionally, we always call our bank and credit card company to tell them when and where we will be traveling.

Health
The CDC website didn’t indicate any dread diseases were rampant in the Southeast Asia countries we’ll be touring, other than the usual mosquito warnings.  Our booster shots are up to date, and our “health kit” has been stocked with bandages, neosporin, advil, Immodium,  Z Pack, and for me–sleeping pills to knock me out on the flights to and fro.

Communications
Although I use Wi-Fi whenever possible, I like having my iPhone as an emergency backup, plus I use Trip Advisor and other apps when the need arises.  I have read horror stories about huge phone bills racked up unwittingly because of roaming charges, so I had a very productive chat with Verizon Wireless.  Their international data plan costs $25 per 100 MB per month.  If you go over, Verizon figures you would want to buy another 100 MB, so they automatically take care of that for you.  To avoid unwanted charges, you can turn off “cellular” (under settings-general) and turn it back on when you want to use the internet.  That way, your phone will search for any available wi-fi.

Voice calls are $1.99 per minute in Thailand and Vietnam, but are prohibitively expensive in Cambodia and Laos, plus there is a “per use” charge in those countries when you access the data plan.  The Verizon service rep was very helpful.  She also taught me how to get to the + on my iPhone key pad.  (That little + is needed for international calls.)  Since my memory isn’t want it used to be, this is as much for ME as it is for anyone that doesn’t already know the trick:  You hold down the “0” until the plus sign appears.

Attire
Asians are conservative dressers, so for this trip, I won’t be packing any shorts or tank tops, despite the heat.  Surprisingly enough, Vietnam CAN be cool in March, so I will be bringing along a sweater and fleece.  Next post will be all about the fascinating contents of my luggage.

Tourist or Traveler?

One of the blogs I follow, Where’s WiWi, recently posed the question “Tourist or Traveller: which are you?” I loved her conclusion–that our chosen style of travel is not what is important.   She asks “isn’t what really matters is that we’re actually there: seeing, doing, interacting, contributing to local economies? Even the most sheltered of tours will teach you something of where you are.”

She got me thinking about my travel style and after pondering deeply, or drinking wine (I forget which, but then, whenever I drink wine, I always think that I am pondering deeply) I came to the profound realization that I am indeed both. In addition to places noble and noteworthy, I have been known to seek out the tackiest, cheesiest tourist traps (as proven during Greg’s and my cross-country odyssey this past summer) with unbounded enthusiasm, loving every minute of it.

Whenever I contemplate leaving any of the lower 48 however, I go into “traveler” mode. That is the essence of my Phase One:  learning as much as I can about the country’s people, history, culture before I leave home.  Not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, but it also makes my trips feel like they last longer.

One of the many reasons I love traveling with Road Scholar is that in addition to the trip lectures, the pre trip materials always include a suggested reading list.  Additionally, their website now offers “social networking” features, such as trip blogs from prior participants.  As I type this, my new virtual buddy, Nancy from Canada,  is  on the  “Journey Into the Heart of Asia”, so  traveling along with her, gives me a sneak preview!

So, in the spirit of doing likewise for those future Road Scholar Asian Adventurers, I will attempt to be as helpful in my posts.

For starters, here is my opinion of some of the books on the reading list.  I didn’t buy any of them–fortunately I have access to an amazing library system here in New Jersey.  (Okay, so we do have high taxes, but we also have access to fantastic services).

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Mike and I will have some time in Thailand before the Road Scholar tour begins so although it was not on the list,  I’m reading “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”  just in case we decide to visit Kanchanaburi.

The Insight Guides (already back in the library) are a wonderful starting point, and provide a very useful overview of the countries we will be visiting.

I have finished  “Culture Smart Thailand”, “The Gods Drink Whiskey”, and “A Traveller’s History of Southeast Asia”.  If I only had time to read one, I’d pick The “Gods Drink Whiskey”.   I won’t even attempt to do a review of the book–why bother, because I could never improve on what Mindy McAdams wrote.

While meandering through the library stacks, I discovered four books about Vietnam that were not on the Road Scholar list and are worth mentioning.

  • Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American”, set in Vietnam, in the early ’50s, during the war with the French, before American involvement.  I also rented the movie, and as usual, found I much preferred the book.
  • “The Sorrow of War” a novel by Bao Nihn, a north Vietnamese who was one of the 10 survivors out of 500 boys that fought in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade during the “American” war, as it is known in Vietnam.  I skimmed through sections of this book, which was quite sufficient to get a feel for what it was like for the typical young Vietnamese during and after the war.
  • Two non-fiction books:  “Seeing Vietnam” by Susan Brownmiller and “Vietnam Now” by David Lamb.  Susan was on assignment for a travel magazine in 1992, which was when travel restrictions for Americans were lifted.  David Lamb was first in South Vietnam as a journalist in 1968 then returned in 1997, to live for four years in Hanoi as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

I’ll be spending two weeks in Hanoi, working as a Global Volunteer in a Vietnamese school, so I figured it would be very helpful to gain additional insight into the country by reading a few post war narratives.

So, three books  and sixteen days to go.  It feels like the best part of the college experience–the thrill of learning, with none of the pressures of exams!  Sorry to disappoint you,  if you thought I might be revealing some other college thrills.  Hey, that was a long, long time ago!

Speaking of “exams”, here are the answers to the last blog’s Quiz:

  1. Istanbul is split between the continents of Asia and Europe.  Unlike the Four Corners in the USA west, however, you can’t put a body part in each continent, because the Bosphorus River divides the city.
  2. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never ruled by a European power.
  3. True, all males in Thailand are encouraged to become monks for at least several months so that they can gain merit for their families.  King Mongkut, also known as Rama lV was a monk from the age of 20 until he became king at age 47.  By the time he died at age 64, he had accumulated 32 wives and 82 kids.  Talk about making up for lost time!
  4. I’d rather have $50 US dollars.  1,000,000 dong currently equals $48, and 1,000 Bhat is worth $33
  5. Thailand is the country formerly known as Siam, as in “The King and I ” fame, which by the way, was an unflattering and historically inaccurate portrayal of that very same King Mongkut mentioned earlier.