Month Ten: Leg Two Revealed

Before jumping in, I’ll just note that Hong Kong is a great city and we had SO MANY good meals there. Too bad it’s so expensive! We’ll fill you in on more details (and recommend some great restaurants) in the coming weeks.

[ptcPhoto filename=”DuckDuck.jpg” title=”Empire City Duck” caption=”DUCK-DUCK-DROOL” position=”center”]

On to the big news: Leg One is over! A couple months ago we decided that we needed a travel break. Asia has been incredible but we needed a change of scenery and our homesickness really only had one cure. We’ll go back to Asia to visit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos at the end of the next leg.

We kept our visit home (mostly) a secret and flew 8,165 miles to arrive in the USA on Thanksgiving morning. It was more fun that way, and besides, how often do people get real surprises anymore? My mom and sister were shocked and very happy to see us. After recovering from jetlag in Denver for a few days we flew to New York to visit family and friends. Now we’re in the Chicago area with Eric’s family, planning for the next leg and putting some pounds back on with home-cooked comfort food.

[ptcPhoto filename=”NYTree.jpg” title=”Christmas in NYC” caption=”The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center” position=”center”]

So, how did this happen? Eric was up to his usual mischief with frequent flier miles and found a very good deal for us to fly round-trip from Hong Kong to Denver with a stop in Portugal on the way back, all in business class. Getting a good deal was somewhat complicated this time, but it involved earning 100% bonus miles for sharing them with each other in addition to a 30,000-mile discount. Turns out this visit home really is a trip around the world comprised of nine flights and more than 26,000 miles. Curious what that looks like?

circle

In reserving all of these flights we made a tiny oversight and booked our ticket back to Asia on March 4th instead of February 4th, giving us seven weeks in Europe instead of our intended three. So, ok – twist my arm, I guess we’ll go to Spain too. A month in Spain should cost less than the change fee, right…? Right!

After all that was worked out, we went ahead and booked flights through the summer. Here is the route we’re flying (also in business class!) for a mere $400 and a total of 100,000 frequent flyer miles.

[ptcPhoto filename=”flights2.gif” title=”Leg Two” caption=”Oceania and Asia…so much for overland travel.” position=”center”]

Long story short, our plan for Leg Two is pretty-much set. After Portugal and Spain we’ll head back to Hong Kong for a few days and rest up before moving on to Australia for five weeks. Come April we’ll go to New Zealand for a month and then take a little vacay in Fuji. Then, finally, in June we’ll start exploring Southeast Asia.

Anyone want to visit? Unlike with Leg One, we have some pretty exact dates. It’ll be a change to stay on schedule (and in the countries we actually planned on visiting). But if the last year is any indication, we need to exercise some restraint!

So for now we’re enjoying catching up with family in the States and exploring some sights closer to home. We went to Niagara (my first-ever visit to Canada!), which was freezing but gorgeous and basically deserted.

[ptcPhoto filename=”NiagaraIce.jpg” title=”Ice” caption=”Ice near the Falls” position=”center”]

Hope all of you are having a great holiday season!

Six Months In: Gear Update

Two hundred days in, and how did we do?

Here was our packing list when we embarked, broken down by “sub-bags”. We’ve added italicized notes throughout and updates at the bottom of some sections. At the end there’s a list of items that have been especially helpful throughout the trip.

Clothing

Sam’s clothes:

  • 4 dresses
  • 2 skirts (1 long, 1 short)
  • 10 shirts (1 cardigan, 1 long-sleeve tee, 2 short-sleeve tees, 6 tank tops)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 jackets (1 hoodie, 1 rain jacket)
  • 2 swimsuits (1 bikini, 1 tankini)
  • Undergarments (3 bras, 7 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of socks)
  • 3 pairs of shoes (running shoes, flip-flops, flats)
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 belt

Eric brought the following:

  • 2 jackets (1 wool jacket, 1 rain jacket)
  • 7 shirts (1 long-sleeved shirt, 1 button-down long-sleeved shirt, 2 button-down short-sleeved shirts, 3 tee shirts)
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • Undergarments (6 pairs of boxers, 4 pairs of socks)
  • 1 pair of swim trunks
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 3 pairs of shoes (running shoes, flip-flops, walking shoes) – We both replaced our hiking shoes with running shoes, and Eric added a pair of walking shoes as well.

Six Month Update: Despite all of my efforts to bring the perfect travel wardrobe, I’ve found that it’s probably better to bring a few versatile, high-quality pieces and complement them with clothes that you don’t mind replacing at some point. It’s nice to pick up new clothes that fit in more with the local trends without feeling guilty for setting aside an expensive item that you don’t like anymore. The merino wool clothing we brought has been a worthwhile investment since it’s awesome in all weather. My only complaint would be that it tends to be more prone to small holes and tears than cotton.

After five months all of our shoes needed to be replaced. Large-footed people be warned, finding shoes in Asia is a challenge!

We also purchased hats and gloves for trekking in Nepal and climbing Mt. Fuji, but after China we shouldn’t need them anymore.

First Aid Kit

  • Bandages
  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Burt’s Bees Res-Q Ointment for bruises, cuts, and bug bites
  • Ibuprofen
  • Decongestants
  • UTI Medications
  • Rehydration salts
  • Immodium
  • A year’s supply of doxycycline (malaria medication)
  • 6 regimens of Azithromycin for infections
  • Pepto pills
  • TUMS
  • Motion sickness meds
  • Candied ginger (also for motion sickness)
  • Sleeping/anti-anxiety pills
  • Neosporin
  • Allergy medication
  • Oxycodone in case of serious pain emergencies
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Cold medicine
  • Tea tree oil for use as an anti-fungal, antiseptic, for earaches and bug bites
  • Blister cushions
  • Moleskin
  • Hydrocortisone cream for rashes and itches
  • Tissue
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Aloe

Six Month Update: Between blisters, cuts and a few stomach bugs (probably food poisoning), our first aid kit has gotten a lot of use. We added an ace bandage for sprains and found that Tang is great for covering up the taste of oral rehydration salts.

Technology

  • Dive watches
  • Headlamps – We would NOT recommend Black Diamond’s Ion model. It’s extremely compact but doesn’t hold up to extended use, has a weak output, and takes a battery size that we haven’t seen outside the US.
  • SteriPen Freedom for sterilizing water
  • iPod and charger
  • Samsung Nexus phone
  • Cables to charge the Kindle, phone, cameras and SteriPen (all micro USB)
  • Chargers for laptops – We sent one home since they’re so bulky, but haven’t had a problem getting by with one.
  • Hard drives/cables
  • Universal power adapters – We’re finding that the smaller one-country adapters work better in that they don’t fall out of the wall so easily, and they can fit into smaller spaces.
  • External battery for emergency charging
  • Kindles – Between the two of us, we’ve had five Kindles on this trip. They may be too fragile for long-term travel.
  • Cameras (with spare batteries, wall charger, lenses, and filters)
  • SD card readers
  • Laptops
  • Tripod – We replaced our expandable tripod with a GorillaPod, which takes up less space and works surprisingly well though it’s very limited in height.
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Extra memory cards
  • Camera remote
  • Ethernet cable
  • Power strip and USB wall adapters
  • Tiny flash drive for storing important documents and transferring data
  • Headphones
  • Headphone splitter for watching movies together
  • USB to Ethernet adapter
  • Eric’s watch

Six Month Update: Our 11” Macbook Air computers and Sony NEX-6 cameras have been great so far, but we’ve had bad luck with our Kindles and one of the hard drives. We purchased a new macro lens for the cameras so we can photograph food, flowers and other small items in more detail.

Liquids Bags

  • Toothpaste
  • Leave-in conditioner spray
  • Face lotion
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunblock
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair gel
  • Eyedrops
  • Red nail polish
  • Hairspray
  • Deodorant

Toiletries

  • Toothbrushes
  • Floss
  • Dry shampoo, which also works as a talc powder
  • Sam’s makeup (foundation, mascara, blush, bronzer, brush, eyebrow pencil/sharpener, eyelash curler)
  • Glass nail file
  • Travel brush
  • Comb
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair ties
  • Lip balm
  • Razors with spare blades
  • Cotton swabs
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Bar soap
  • Jewelry – 2 necklaces, 3 pairs of earrings

Sundries

  • Plotting the Course business cards
  • Mini Cards Against Humanity – Sent home.
  • Duct tape
  • Compass
  • Black marker
  • Pens
  • Gaffers tape
  • Sewing kit (needles, thread, safety scissors, safety pins, rubber bands, small measuring tape)
  • Corkscrew
  • Combination lighter and bottle opener
  • Emergency whistle
  • Zip ties
  • Extra plastic bags – all sizes
  • Laundry kit (bar soap, sink plug, small brush for cleaning clothes, clothesline)
  • Sleep sheets
  • Travel towels
  • Collapsible water bottle – We wouldn’t recommend the Nalgene wide-mouth canteen from REI – it began leaking after a couple of months of only moderate use.
  • Bandana/Buffs
  • Wallets
  • Collapsible cup
  • Money belt – Sent home
  • Sunglasses
  • Current guidebook
  • Packable day bags
  • Small purse
  • Rain covers
  • Point-It Book – Very useful in China, where there’s a serious language barrier.
  • Combination locks
  • S-Clips
  • Looped metal cable for securing bags on overnight trains – Discarded after a few months.
  • Notebooks for recording expenses and journaling
  • 2 Lego people with accessories

Six Month Update: We’ve added a few things to this category, including a scrub brush for laundry, packing tape, comfort shoe inserts, bowls, spoons, chopsticks, and a ukulele.

Documents

  • Copies of passports
  • Passports – Sam’s was full, so we had more pages added at the Shanghai consulate.
  • Money
  • Credit and debit cards- Our Charles Schwab card has been great for withdrawing local currency since all ATM fees are waived with the account. Also, the Chase Sapphire card is perfect for international travel since they don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and if you need to call them you get a real person right away.
  • Vaccine records
  • International driver’s licenses
  • PADI certification cards
  • Extra passport photos
  • Dive Logs

And the Most Valuable Gear (MVG) Awards Go To:

Cocoon Mesh Bags

We use these mesh bags to keep everything in our packs organized, from clothing to electronics. They’ve made living out of two backpacks much easier, and the bags themselves are remarkably strong considering how lightweight they are. We’ve not had one tear even though we stuff things in until it looks like they’ll burst.

Our Packs

The same is true for our backpacks, the Gregory Jade 38 and Arc’Teryx Axios 35. Our only complaint with these is that maybe we should have brought slightly larger bags so that everything isn’t so crammed in all the time. But then, if the packs were bigger we’d just fill them with more stuff. So it’s probably good that we went with the smallest size that would fit the essentials.

External Battery

When international converters, outlets in hotel rooms, and time are all limited, it can be hard to keep all of our electronics charged. This small battery pack really comes in handy since it will charge our smartphone, cameras, e-books and water filter on the go. The caveat with this is that if we don’t remember to charge the battery itself, it’s just dead weight.

SteriPen Freedom

Our SteriPen water purifier has gotten a lot of use given the countries we’ve visited so far. It only takes a minute to sterilize tap water, and it saves us money and countless plastic bottles. At first we were hesitant to use it because there’s no way to really be sure that the water is clean. But we haven’t gotten sick from water once when we’ve purified it with the SteriPen.

Samsung Nexus phone

With a local SIM card this phone is capable of providing internet and phone service. But even if you don’t have internet outside of your hotel room, a smartphone really comes in handy when you’re traveling because you can load maps, hotel emails, and directions before heading out. It’s indispensable on travel days for these reasons, and also for games, music and audiobooks on long train rides. This little thing can multitask more than any other piece of gear we brought.

And so, overall I don’t think we did too badly with our packing. Did we miss anything? What’s your favorite piece of travel gear?

The Complete Packing List

There are a ton of supplies that will find their way into your pack for a RTW trip. Making them all fit into a carry-on sized bag may take some gear gymnastics. Remember all the Tetris you played when you should have been working? Now’s the time to showcase your mad skills.

Here’s our complete and final packing list, broken down by “sub-bags”:

Clothing

As Dave pointed out in his comment on our pack article, there are many options now for travel clothing. If you plan to follow summer around the world it’s much easier to pack light – although I tend to freeze even on airplanes so I’ll be taking some heavier pieces just in case.

We’ve heard some different perspectives on the type of clothing that people take for long-term travel. Some like high-tech fabrics that breathe well, dry quickly, and don’t hold wrinkles no matter how small of a bag crevice they call home. Others like clothes that are inexpensive and easily replaced, since you’re likely to burn through them on the road. We fall in the first camp, in part because we’d like to see how specialized travel clothing holds up over time, and because, well…I like shopping.

Here are the items that make up my travel wardrobe:

  • 4 dresses
  • 2 skirts (1 long, 1 short)
  • 10 shirts (1 cardigan, 1 long-sleeve tee, 2 short-sleeve tees, 6 tank tops)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 jackets (1 hoodie, 1 rain jacket)
  • 2 swimsuits (1 bikini, 1 tankini)
  • Undergarments (3 bras, 7 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of socks)
  • 3 pairs of shoes (hiking shoes, flip-flops, flats)
  • 3 scarves
  • 1 belt

[ptcPhoto filename=”clothing.jpg” title=”Clothing” position=”center”]

Eric, whose clothes take up considerably more space, brought the following:

  • 2 jackets (1 wool jacket, 1 rain jacket)
  • 7 shirts (1 long-sleeved shirt, 1 button-down long-sleeved shirt, 2 button-down short-sleeved shirts*, 3 tee shirts)
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • Undergarments (6 pairs of boxers, 4 pairs of socks)
  • 1 pair of swim trunks
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 pairs of shoes (hiking shoes and flip-flops)

We’ve found that if you lay all of your clothing down in a stack and then roll it up, you can save a lot of space. The photo above shows the bag that fits my entire wardrobe, aside from shoes and the outfit I’m wearing (I do have a separate bag for swimsuits).

First-Aid Kit

I tried to think of every ailment, illness, symptom and sickness for this one. Although we’ll have health insurance (more details to come), we’d like to avoid overseas hospital adventures unless they’re absolutely necessary. The list makes it look like we’ve packed an entire pharmacy, but with the exception of prescriptions we’re only taking enough of each item to get us by until we can find a place to buy more. We’ll see as we go along if we can shed some of these, but I’m just coming off of a terrible head cold so at present I’m suffering from a bout of hypochondria. A beach might be the best remedy for that one.

[ptcPhoto filename=”first-aid.jpg” title=”First-Aid” position=”right”]

  • Bandages
  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Burt’s Bees Res-Q Ointment for bruises, cuts, and bug bites
  • Ibuprofen
  • Decongestants
  • UTI Medications
  • Antibiotic eye drops (in case of eye infections)
  • Rehydration salts for the inevitable Delhi Belly
  • Immodium
  • A year’s supply of doxycycline (malaria medication)
  • 6 regimens of Azithromycin for infections
  • Pepto pills
  • TUMS
  • Motion sickness meds
  • Candied ginger (also for motion sickness)
  • Sleeping/anti-anxiety pills
  • Neosporin
  • Allergy medication
  • Oxycodone in case of serious pain emergencies
  • Muscle relaxers for Sam’s achy shoulders
  • Cold medicine
  • Tea tree oil for use as an anti-fungal, antiseptic, for earaches and bug bites
  • Blister cushions
  • Moleskin
  • Hydrocortisone cream for rashes and itches
  • Tissue
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Aloe*

Technology

There’s no denying it: We’re flashpackers. But hopefully Eric will be able to do some consulting while we’re away, and I have grand plans of taking free online courses and writing secular children’s books about cross-cultural communication. So we can at least pretend like all of it is justified!

[ptcPhoto filename=”electronics.jpg” title=”Technology” position=”right”]

  • Dive watches (to help us to track the amount of nitrogen in our blood so we can dive safely)
  • Headlamps
  • SteriPen Freedom for sterilizing water
  • iPod and charger
  • Samsung Nexus phone for making Google Voice calls, using travel apps, telling time, the alarm clock, internet, games, and music
  • Cables to charge the Kindle, phone, cameras and SteriPen (all micro USB)
  • Chargers for laptops
  • Hard drives/cables
  • Universal power adapters
  • External battery for emergency charging
  • Kindles*
  • Cameras (with spare batteries, wall charger, lenses, filters and tripod)
  • SD card readers
  • Laptops
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Extra memory cards
  • Camera remote
  • Ethernet cable
  • Power strip and USB wall adapters
  • Tiny flash drive for storing important documents and transferring data
  • Headphones
  • Headphone splitter for watching movies together
  • USB to Ethernet adapter
  • Eric’s watch

Liquids Bags

[ptcPhoto filename=”liquids.jpg” title=”Liquids” position=”right”]

  • Toothpaste
  • Leave-in conditioner spray
  • Face lotion
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunblock
  • 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair gel
  • Eyedrops
  • Red nail polish
  • Hairspray
  • Deodorant

Toiletries

[ptcPhoto filename=”toiletries.jpg” title=”Toiletries” position=”right”]

  • Toothbrushes
  • Floss
  • Dry shampoo, which also works as a talc powder
  • Sam’s makeup (foundation, mascara, blush, bronzer, brush, eyebrow pencil/sharpener, eyelash curler). Yes, I know this is completely unnecessary but I may have to wean myself off of it.
  • Glass nail file
  • Travel brush
  • Comb
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair ties
  • Lip balm
  • Razors with spare blades
  • Cotton swabs
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Bar soap
  • Jewelry – 2 necklaces, 3 pairs of earrings

Sundries

[ptcPhoto filename=”sundries.jpg” title=”Sundries” position=”right”]

  • Plotting the Course business cards
  • Mini Cards Against Humanity
  • Duct tape
  • Compass
  • Black marker
  • Pens
  • Gaffers tape – a small amount for covering up the brand name of electronics and general use
  • Sewing kit (needles, thread, fold-up scissors*, safety pins, rubber bands, small measuring tape)
  • Corkscrew – can’t leave home without it!
  • Combination lighter and bottle opener
  • Emergency whistle
  • Zip ties
  • Extra plastic bags – all sizes
  • Laundry kit (bar soap, sink plug, small brush for cleaning clothes, clothesline)
  • Sleep sheets
  • Travel towels*
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Bandana
  • Wallets
  • Collapsible cup
  • Money belt
  • Sunglasses
  • Sri Lanka Rough Guide
  • India Lonely Planet
  • Snacks for the airplane (thank you, Alex and Gloria!)
  • Packable day bags
  • Small purse
  • Rain cover
  • Point-It Book
  • Combination locks
  • S-Clips
  • Looped metal cable for securing bags on overnight trains
  • Notebooks for recording expenses and journaling
  • 2 Lego people with accessories

Documents

[ptcPhoto filename=”documents.jpg” title=”Documents” position=”right”]

  • Copies of passports
  • Passports
  • Money
  • Credit and debit* cards
  • Vaccine records
  • International driver’s licenses
  • PADI certification cards
  • Extra passport photos
  • Dive Logs
  • Copy of first itinerary
  • Copy of bank statement
  • Sri Lankan visas

Since our packs are bursting at the seams we’ll likely shed some of these items. We’ll post gear updates to let you know how we did.

*Immediate update: In a nasty spell of being bad at life, we managed to lose four items in the first four days of our trip. At a particularly stressful security checkpoint in Frankfurt (where they emptied our bags and tested all of our electronics for explosives), my Kindle was left behind. Then, when we landed in Colombo Eric left his ATM card in the machine when we got cash. Also, his travel towel and one of his shirts were left in Hikkaduwa. Thankfully for now we have a safely net, as our friend Caroline has kindly agreed to bring some backup items with her when she visits us in Delhi next month. We’ll have to be better about minding our things! A pair of small folding scissors was confiscated in Thailand even though they made it through security in two other countries. There has been one addition – we had to pick up some aloe right away, as I managed to get sunburnt already.

How to Fly for Free!

Perhaps the biggest way that we’re cutting down the costs of our trip is by taking advantage of airline frequent flyer miles. We’ve found that a little ingenuity has gone a long way in our quest to hoard hundreds of thousands of miles that could land us anywhere on this big grand earth.

Eric traveled a lot for work over the last five years, so he accrued many frequent flyer miles. I think when we met he was already over the 500k mark. But the majority of these little lovelies has come from churning lots and lots of credit cards and by exploiting the marketing tactics of large banks.

Getting the Miles

There are several ways to accumulate miles. If you sign up for the airlines’ free reward programs, each time you fly they’ll give you one frequent flyer mile for each actual mile that you travel. For example, the point-to-point distance from Denver to Chicago is 888 miles so that’s the number of frequent flyer miles you get each time you take a flight between those two cities.

It takes a long time to accumulate a lot of frequent flyer miles the traditional way (“butt-in-seat miles”) if you don’t fly often. Luckily, you don’t have to! Airlines also have branded credit cards that will give you frequent flyer miles each time you use the card. Most give one mile for each dollar you spend, but some give two or three for each dollar. Finally, there are companies that partner with airlines to give frequent flyer miles when you purchase goods or services from them. For example, if you rent a car from Hertz you can get a mile for each dollar spent on the car rental.

[ptcPhoto filename=”cards.jpg” title=”Credit Cards” position=”right”]

Perhaps the best way to get a large number of frequent flyer miles quickly and without spending a lot of money is by taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses. Many credit cards give huge sign-up bonuses in the form of miles for just signing up and using their card for a short amount of time. You’d be surprised how many companies will try to lure you in with bonuses of up to 50,000 frequent flyer miles, and sometimes even more. Of course, these cards always come with a catch – usually in the form of annual fees, high interest rates, and a minimum spending threshold within the first few months. We pay off our credit cards in full every month, and we usually close the accounts as soon as the bonus miles become available. Otherwise, the credit card companies win. And who likes credit card companies, anyway?

Right now we both have the Chase Sapphire cards (which had 50,000 mile sign-up bonuses) and the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer cards, which we also caught during a 50,000 mile promotion. With just these two cards we got a total of 200,000 frequent flyer miles! That’s enough for both of us to fly first-class anywhere in the world.

Using All Those Miles

Different airlines have different policies for how and when miles can be used. Most of ours are with United Airlines where a round-trip domestic flight costs 25,000 miles, and a trip to Europe costs 60,000. If you’re like us and only need one-way tickets, then most airlines charge only half of those mileage requirements: 12,500 one-way domestically and 30,000 one-way to anywhere in Europe. There’s a mileage schedule available on their website that shows every possible route, so it’s relatively easy to find out how many miles you’d have to part with in order to take a flight.

You aren’t always limited to the airline you have your miles with to redeem them for free flights. Most airlines are part of what is called an airline alliance. The two largest alliances are the Star Alliance and the One World Alliance. United belongs to the Star Alliance which allows us to use our United stash on any of the 27 airlines that belong to that alliance.

Be aware, not all airlines are created equal. Some airlines still charge a hefty fee when redeeming frequent flyer miles. British Airways, for example, charges a fuel surcharge fee that can cost hundreds of dollars in addition to the miles you’re parting with. For this reason we stay far away from airlines that operate this way. Be sure to read the fine print when you start your collection.

Sometimes airfare is so affordable that it’s not worth using miles to fly. In general, you want to try to get at least $0.02 per mile – if the flight costs less than this, you’re better off holding onto them for a later flight. An example would be a flight from Denver to Boston that costs $350. $350/$.02 = 17,500, but for a round trip ticket you’d have to redeem 25,000 miles. In this case, it’s better to spend the money.

How to Find the Best Sign-Up Bonuses

Sign-up bonuses change regularly. Credit cards come and go, but there’s always a good deal to be had. The best resource we’ve found on the latest deals is Million Mile Secrets. But any Google search on sign-up bonuses will yield a fair number of results showing current offers.

Isn’t Your Credit a Mess?

Many people have reservations about applying for too much credit and consequently damaging their rating. Thankfully we have no reason to apply for loans or jobs in the near future, so we aren’t concerned if our scores drop a few points. But truthfully, we haven’t had any problems applying for new cards since we make it a point never to carry a balance or have too many open at one time. Creditors like to see that you have a low credit-to-debt ratio since it proves that you’re a responsible borrower, so sometimes it’s good to keep accounts open without charging to them. (We’ll see how this works when we’re unemployed!).

Did we miss anything? Let us know if you’ve used other methods to collect miles!

What’s in Our Bags: Cameras

Three possible travel camera options

Cameras help us capture, share, and remember the places we see, the people we meet, and the experiences we have. For some, the camera on their phone is enough to accomplish these goals, but for many including us, they aren’t enough. Like everything else, selecting the right cameras to take on your long-term travels is a compromise between size, cost, and overall functionality. This is one area where we basically threw out the cost issue entirely. We want the best cameras for our purpose and aren’t willing to settle for anything less.

Size Does Matter

[ptcFlickr id=”8355700978″ position=”right” caption=”Nikon D90″ size=”Original”]

As mentioned here, we are taking insanely small luggage for a trip of this scale. Size is perhaps the biggest tradeoff when selecting a camera for a round the world adventure. SLRs such as our Nikon D90 are capable of taking amazing pictures in all types of lighting conditions. Unfortunately, the size and weight of these cameras and their lenses mean they aren’t practical for this trip (well, not if Sam expects me to have clothes to wear as well). Also, it is often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. We will be traveling in some places where carrying a large camera may not be safe and at the very least will make us a target for touts and scammers.

[ptcFlickr id=”8355700940″ position=”left” caption=”Canon S95″ size=”small 320″]

On the other end of the spectrum are compact “point-and-shoot” style cameras. These are extremely light, can fit in my pants pockets, and would take up no room in our bag. Some of these cameras are actually quite capable. We considered taking a Canon S95 with us on our trip as it has decent low light capabilities, a full manual mode, and it can shoot raw files. This is probably the ideal type of camera if you want good travel snapshots.

After recently completing a quick introductory course on photography we determined that we wanted more than good travel snapshots – we want to create art. For that, point-and-shoot style cameras, even the very high end kind like the S95, aren’t enough. Their inability to control depth of field, the tiny image sensor, lack of interchangeable lenses, and lack of lens filters mean these aren’t the best option if you want to take your photography to the next level.

[ptcFlickr id=”8355701062″ position=”right” caption=”Sony NEX 6″ size=”small 320″]

Up until a couple years ago these were your only two options, a huge camera for artistic ability or a point-and-shoot camera for mobility. Enter the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs). MILCs are the future of travel cameras. They provide the ability to use different lenses and filters, and they have the same senor as SLRs allowing better artistic control all in a package that’s half the size, or less, than an equivalent SLR. There’s no getting around the fact that they aren’t as compact as a point-and-shoot camera, but for us this was the perfect compromise. After much research we settled on the Sony NEX-6.

Lenses

The 16-50mm zoom lens that comes with the Sony NEX-6 is good but it doesn’t quite meet all of our needs. At it’s wide 16mm end it will be great for landscapes, but it doesn’t offer much of a zoom and it’s performance in low light is very poor unless you are using a tripod and taking pictures of still subjects. To solve the zoom issue we are taking the Sony SEL18200LE 18-200mm lens, and to solve the low light issue we’re taking the Sony SEL35F18 35mm F1.8 lens. These lenses are designed for the NEX cameras so they’re relatively compact compared to equivalent SLR lenses.

Tripods

Tripods are large, bulky and totally impractical for long term travel…we had to have one. Tripods allow you to get many shots that are simply impossible without. Taking photos indoors in low light situations, taking long exposures to make water look amazing, doing any sort of night photography, and many other fun photography tricks just don’t work without a tripod.

So if you are going to make the sacrifice to carry a tripod around the world you really need the lightest most compact tripod you can find. We did quite a bit of research and found two possibilities. The Tamrac ZipShot tripod is made out of lightweight tent-pole style collapsable legs. It takes up very little room, weighs virtually nothing, and can be opened in a flash. However, it’s limited in that it can only be used at one height. With this one you can’t get lower to take shots of close objects.

[ptcFlickr id=”8354848705″ position=”left” caption=”Siuri T-025″ size=”small 320″]

We decided to go with the lightest, most compact, fully adjustable tripod we could find. The Siuri T-025 carbon fiber tripod is only 11 inches long when folded, yet it can expand to almost 5 feet tall and weighs only 1.3 pounds.
Hopefully we’ll use it often so it’s worth the hassle of taking it along.

We can’t wait to test out our flashy new camera gear and share images from around the world!