Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gear Reviews

The question everybody keeps asking us as we prepare to depart for months of travel around the globe  (beginning tomorrow!!) is "What are you packing??"  So here's the scoop on a few of the things we're bringing on the trip, and the luggage we're stuffing it all into.  Keep in mind that these haven't been road-tested yet, so I'm sure we'll post updates down the line after we lug this stuff for a few months and a few countries:

Primary Luggage: Osprey Meridien Convertible Roller/ Backpack
I'm using the 22"/40+20L bag (which is carry-on size), and Mohit is using the 28"/55+20L size (which will be checked luggage).  Both zip open from the front (this was important to us- top-loaders would be too difficult to keep organized and to access daily) and have a sturdy retractable handle and durable wheels that can handle rough terrain.  They also convert quickly and easily to backpacks, complete with a hipbelt and vented back panel (ventilation is key in the warm, humid climates we'll be lugging this stuff through!).  Since we plan to travel more as "flashpackers" than as "backpackers", these bags were a good compromise of convenience (we plan to roll whenever possible) and practicality (we can throw them on our backs if we're headed across cobblestones or dirt roads).

In both sizes, the Meridien packs come with a detachable day-size (20L) backpack.  Mohit is using his, and I opted to leave mine at home in favor of my trusty eBags backpack.  My eBags backpack saw me through 3 weeks in Turkey and Greece in 2007 and a month in Vietnam in 2008, and it still looks brand new.  I love the multiple zippered compartments and sturdy construction.  Both the Osprey backpack and the eBags backpack fit about the same amount of stuff, but the Osprey pack is flatter and longer, making it difficult for me to pack the not-so-flat things that I plan to bring.

A quick post-trip update: we both loved our Osprey bags!  Mohit wished he had the smaller 22" version, which I found to be more than enough space for months of travel.  Mohit used the extra room in his bag to stash the Lonely Planet giudes that we discarded along the way after leaving each country.  The Osprey bags are very well made, super durable, and there's extra space to stash shoes in the compartment where the backpack straps are stored.  

Day Bag: eBags Piazza Day Bag vs. Baggallini City Bag
For the past several years, I've used an eBags Piazza Day Bag for international travel.  I have to say, I have loved this bag and it is incredibly handy.  I could easily fit a large water bottle, camera, windbreaker, guide book, reading book, sunglasses, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, spare toilet paper, and whatever else I needed for a day of adventure into this trusty bag.  The only drawback is that it's a bit frumpy looking.  On our last trip, I found myself wishing I had a more stylish bag that wouldn't look completely out of place when I traded in my dusty shorts at the end of the day for a clean dress to head out for a nice dinner.

So this year, I upgraded to a Baggallini City Bag in graphite. It is a bit smaller and flatter, but still has lots of hidden compartments to deter pickpockets and to stash everything I need for a day of sightseeing.  The style is a bit more modern and dressy and the graphite color is perfect to hide four months worth of dust and grime. A cross-body style is crucial to keep my hands free and to keep the bag securely on my body in crowds.

Reading Material: Nook eReader
On our month-long trip through Vietnam last year, I packed 6 books.  I finished them all halfway through the trip, and found myself without anything to read as we prepared to spend our last 4 days at a beach resort on Phu Quoc island.  On our last day in Saigon before heading to the beach, I desperately searched for a bookstore selling English-language books, but all I could find were expensive photocopies of fluffy books- the genre you'd pick up at the magazine stand at the airport.

This time around, I didn't want to be stranded without reading material, since I devour books on vacation (during plane flights, bus rides, at breakfast, on the beach, before bed, etc.).  In November I treated myself to an early Christmas present and ordered a Nook from  It's a good thing I ordered early, since I found out AFTER placing my order the the Nook was super back-ordered and would be delivered only days before we left the U.S. in late December!  I also considered's Kindle and the Sony eReader, but opted for the Nook mostly because it allows users to share eBooks.

I personally think that eReaders are the best gadget ever for long-term travelers.  I can load 20 or 30 books onto my Nook and carry them all in a size that's slightly smaller than the average paperback, even including the black leather cover I added to protect my Nook.  So far, I've almost finished reading  my first eBook, and I'm super pleased with my choice.  The fully-charged batteries last for more than a week, the screen is easy to read and easy on the eyes (looks more like text on paper than a computer screen), and I can read the same books that I'd buy in paperback for about 30-40% off since eBooks are cheaper! (generally $9.99 or less).  My only complaint is that travel guidebooks like Lonely Planet aren't yet available as eBooks.  Mohit's using the extra room in his slightly larger Osprey bag to carry a few Lonely Planet guides that we'll leave behind after we complete those countries.

Staying in Touch: Acer Aspire One 10" Netbook
We knew we'd need a way to stay in touch with friends and family while on the road.  We'll also need internet access to research accommodations and travel arrangements along the way.  In the past, we've relied on spotty availability of slow shared computers in hotel lobbies or at backpacker internet cafes.  However, since my 7-year old Dell laptop was on its last legs anyways, we decided to get a new 10" mini netbook to bring with us on the trip. Mohit chose a dark blue Acer Aspire One primarily for its long battery life (8-9 hours) and it sat wrapped under our Christmas tree until Christmas morning.

So far, so good!  I've typed the last two blog posts on my new netbook.  The processing and page-loading speeds are fast enough and the keyboard is a bit smaller but still easy to use.  The netbook is tiny and lightweight, about the size of a thin hardcover book, and Mohit bought me a compact neoprene carrying case to protect the netbook while it's packed away in my backpack.  The Acer Aspire One comes with a videocam.  We've loaded Skype on the netbook and showed our families how to use Skype over the holidays so that we can call home and reassure our moms that yes, we are still alive.

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