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Price of beer in a bar: US$1.14 for 500ml of draft

Song currently stuck in my head: Black Coffee In Bed (Squeeze)

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(I’m here, by the way. It’s a nice room, though crowded and bustling at the moment and the internet is awful.)

Sometimes you have to get by with less physical security than you would like. I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans once with my neighbors, who had unknowingly booked a room in a particularly rough ghetto, even by that on-again, off-again (National) murder capital’s standards. Our motel room was broken into, naturally, but luckily we were gone at the time. When we got back, my neighbors insisted that we spend the night in the room anyway, even though the thieves had stolen our extra room keys. I couldn’t drive and had no where else to go, so I put a chair against the door, sat in it, and tried to get some sleep. Luckily nobody came back.

In 2007 I was passing through San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua and the two surfers I was sharing a room with insisted on leaving the door to our room open while we slept so we’d get a better breeze. I packed up my pack and slept wrapped around it like a body pillow. One of us woke up with all of our stuff the next morning.

In fact, I’ve never had anything stolen while traveling. I’m not bragging though, it will happen sooner or later. I’ve seen it happen to people I’ve traveled with quite a bit and last week it happened to The Girlfriend. We had put back several glasses of wine over at Buket Vyna, hit the street and, within minutes, I caught a small girl behind The Girlfriend with her hand buried in The Girlfriend’s day pack. It was a crowd of about 5 kids, 12 or under (or something) and a woman; seeming to match every imaginable stereotype of an Oliver Twist like group of Gypsies (“Roma”, if you prefer, though it lacks the literary allusion) right down to the setting, which was daylight hours on the old cobble stoned streets of a medieval city. They made off with a pair of freebie sunglasses and a sizable chunk of The Girlfriend’s self esteem as a seasoned traveler, even though the near worthlessness of their purloined haul is owed entirely to the planning and execution she put into organizing her bag, working ‘cheap to valuable’ in order of accessibility.

In the spirit of this example of security gone right and wrong, here are some of my tips for not getting burgled, robbed or killed. Employing all of these may seem paranoid and would often be overkill, but also keep in mind there are a lot of people out to get you.

Know where you are. Talk to front desk clerks, waitresses and other locals, especially younger women. They generally seem more aware of their security. Ask a few. Ask your front desk person or Airbnb host for a restaurant recommendation (even if you ignore it) and use that opportunity to ask about the safety of the area. Be specific and ask:

  1. Is the area safe to walk around in?
  2. Even after dark?
  3. Where around here is not safe?

Ignore other travelers who tell you things are fine; this observation has no value. Listen when they say things aren’t fine. Pay attention to the physical security of the neighborhood. Do the street level windows have bars on them? Is that the norm here or does that indicate a particularly high crime area? Are the newer windows free of bars? That’s a good sign, suggesting that the neighborhood has become better over time. Are there armed security guards in front of trivial stores or are they just around luxury stores and banks? Are there crowds? Crowds are good. Are local women walking around alone? That’s an excellent sign. Casually after dark without a quickened pace and an ongoing series of furtive glances? You’re golden.

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The lack of bars on the newer windows on the left indicate a neighborhood in transition

Secure your self and your belongings. In apartments I use a door security device, like a door jammer, to secure the place at night. There’s no telling how many copies of you keys are floating around. Unfortunately, most of these only work if the door opens inward. In Latin America there is a common type of door lock that allows you to tighten a thumb screw that renders the lock unopenable from the outside, keys be damned. I’ll rely on this if there’s no conceivable way someone can reach the lock from the outside (no window in reach, for instance).

Hide your valuables. I use decoy ‘wallets’, a small stack of invalid credit cards or similar rubber banded together with a small amount of cash. I’ll put these in easy to reach areas of the home (near a window) or my luggage (exterior pockets) as a kind of canary in the coalmine. As The Girlfriend’s recent experience demonstrates, a layered approach to security is a must. If you do make a decoy ‘wallet’, be sure the cards you use aren’t simply expired, since they’ll have the same CC number as your active replacement cards.

Be on full alert on travel days. Travel days are the worst of all possible worlds along all possible timelines when it comes to the security of your person and belongings. You have everything with you and you’re usually advertising that fact by parading some candy colored luggage on your back or wheeling alongside you. You’re overloaded, physicall and mentally. You’re likely to encounter crowds, navigate unfamiliar locations, make your way during undesirable hours and come in contact with cab drivers, who are complicit in or directly commit the vast majority of robberies that I’ve heard recounted first hand. In the worst of these situations, like an unavoidable layover in San Pedro Sula (World) murder capital contender, I’ve been known to fold US$50 or US$100 dollars up very tightly and tape it to my body under a gauze pad, simulating a bandaged wound, just so that if I found myself stripped of my belongings I’d still be able to afford to sleep indoors and have a meal while I regrouped.

In impoverished locales, consider dressing down on these days. Walk the line between “presentable” (so as to not attract unnecessary attention) and “slightly down on their luck gringo” (there are a million of these to look to for inspiration). Old, nondescript luggage really helps sell this look.

Generally I’m very wary to let my bag out of my sight, like allowing it to travel under or on top of the bus. I’ve ridden for hours with my pack on my lap, especially on haphazardly run chicken buses. I’ll make exceptions for well organized, higher end touring buses with some semblance of a bag check system. All of the well heeled locals on those buses are wary of their belongings too, so sometimes I’ll let myself follow their lead.

Travel wallets, whether over-the-neck-under-the-shirt, over-the-waistband or around-the-waist, are to thwart pickpockets not robbers. Pickpockets take what they can get, robbers take your pants. Don’t laugh, I’ve heard of this first hand on several occasions. Okay, now laugh. My point is, travel wallets are for carrying things safely but not secretly. I recommend you break up your valuables across your pack and person, utilizing more than one location in/on each. Keep your hands on things that aren’t attached to you.

The prevailing philosophy in security is that you can never secure anything entirely. You can only make yourself a less attractive target than the next person and hopefully more trouble than you or your possessions seem to be worth.

 

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Price of beer in a bar: ~4.75/pint for craft brew.

Song currently stuck in my head: Welcome to the Jungle (Guns N’ Roses)

It’s come down to this.

(Not pictured: pile of spray bottles, paper towels, vacuum, sponges)

The girlfriend and I arrived in this progressive Midwestern college town in February of 2012 with the intention of staying 2 or 3 years. Last week we ended our stay after five and a half. There were several advantages to sticking around, but mostly we lingered to care for our 2 elderly cats and provide them a comfortable home in their twilight years. We were down 1 with a poor prognosis on the second this past spring when we decided not to renew our lease. Since then we’ve slowly whittled down our possessions and obligations in anticipation of last weeks departure. Our furniture was never bought to last, so most of it ended up listed for free on craigslist and being carried away relatively hassle free by people with varying levels of tweak. With a full car, a scrubbed apartment and a few addresses saved in Google Maps, we set out to cover a couple/few thousand miles in pursuit of family time before we board a Berlin Air Aluminum Tube at ORD.

I discussed my individual costs here in this thread over on the Financial Independence Subreddit.

Farewell, Bloomington, IN.

Price of beer in a bar: ~$4.75/pint of craft draft

Song currently stuck in my head: Black Betty (Ram Jam)

Ari Shaffir has a 4.5 hour podcast interviewing Rolph Potts, author of  Vagabonding (among other works). Readers of this blog will find plenty to enjoy. I think Ari keeps it relatively tame in this episode, but assume it’s neither SFW nor safe for the easily offended. Rolph mentions travel anthropology, basically looking at the social dynamics of travelers as a group and the repercussions of their interactions with locals. I had no idea this was an active field of study, but I’m fascinated. I always appreciate a deeper understanding or at least a new conceptual framework through which to view situations and activities in which I participate.

Ari previously interviewed former Black Flag frontman and asocial travel maniac Henry Rollins, who later sat down with Joe Rogan as well. The Rollins interviews really made me feel like I’m not doing enough with my life. He’s like a character out of a Gibson novel, if one of the contemporary ones.

So there’s over 10 hours of travel related audio content to help you while away the workday and/or chicken bus ride. Joe’s conversations do tend to be less focused than Ari’s (and that’s a low bar to start with).

The Girlfriend passed along this handy map of The US superimposed over a map of Europe to show how the latitudes line up. Looks like our trip will be… refreshingly brisk?

I continue to update and tinker with my pack. I’m aiming for a base weight (Total Weight – Weight of clothes I’m wearing) of 10 kg, since that’s the carry on limit for our flight. It looks like I should make it without much issue.

What might be more of an issue is political unrest in Poland, our first major stop on this trip. I’m eyeing the situation anxiously but thus far there’s been no violence, just a little ‘democracy in action’, so as of right now we plan to stay the course. Literally.

Price of beer in a bar: ~$4.75/pint of craft draft

Song currently stuck in my head: Bird 1 (Underworld)

The core clothing in my pack is as follows:

1 Pair of Ecco loafers

3 pairs of Smartwool merino wool socks

3 pairs of Icebreaker/Cabela’s merino wool breifs

1 Pair of Dickies cotton/poly pants

1 Pair of Old Navy wool/poly pants

2 3 Icebreaker/Cabela’s merino wool short sleeve T shirts

2 Exofficio Give-n-Go short sleeve T shirts

1 The North Face synthetic button down

1 Colombia synthetic button down wind shirt

1 Merona cashmere sweater

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The wool socks/underwear/Ts were purchased on deep discount, often clearance. Everything else was bought second hand for ~US$5. Wool is the standard for onebaggers due to it’s odor resistance and weight/warmth ratio. The Dickies are a little more non-standard, but I think they’ll do well. They’re well made, stain resistant and quick drying. Average highs in Krakow are around 66 F (19 C) in September and we expect the weather to dip from there as we move into warmer climates in colder months.

Basically everything you see pictured can be interchanged; the T’s under the button downs under the sweater, the Ts on their own, the Ts and button downs on their own, the Ts under the sweater, all with either pair of pants with my shoes. I don’t care as much about variety as being able to grab whatever is clean in whatever temperatures and prolonging my time between washes.

In my opinion the Give-N-Go Ts are incredibly overrated. They smell awful within a few hours, the lighter colors are transparent enough to simulate a wet T shirt contestant’s costume and the necks sit in an odd way that isn’t uncomfortable but is often unsightly. But I’ve got 2 of them and this is what they’re made for, so I’m going to give them a shot. There’s not much in this pack that will make it to Asia (most of the items have been chosen to be discarded after several months of use), but the Give-N-Gos are light enough to consider pushing forward.

I will be carrying additional clothes for exercise and/or around the house lounging and will also bring a black Salomon soft shell jacket, but this is the entirety of my core wardrobe for the fall/winter/spring in Central Europe.

Testing photo upload from mobile app.

Price of beer in a bar: ~$4.75/pint of craft draft

Song currently stuck in my head: The irritatingly catchy theme from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I visited my parents over the weekend, packing lighter than I’ve ever traveled overnight before. I spent the last year or so preparing for a lengthy backcountry hike, aiming for a base weight under 20 lbs. While that trip isn’t going to come together, I learned a lot during my preparations and most of it is directly applicable to travel generally.

I spent 4 days in the same T shirt, pants, underwear and socks this past weekend. I know what you’re thinking, but keep in mind the shirt, underwear and socks were all made for this purpose. They were all lightweight merino wool, which suppresses odor and maintains it’s shape and comfort for surprising amounts of time. I’d say ideally the socks should have been swapped after 3 days and everything else could have easily gone on for 5th or 6th days. The T and underwear were both Cabela’s + Icebreaker, a joint venture that might be close to discontinued. I got them on clearance for about $13/each, but you’re probably going to pay 2 or 3 times that for comparable items at retail prices. The socks were Smartwool.

When you hear me say wool, don’t picture warm sweaters. I wear the lightest weight merino T in their line, which is 150 micron if I remember correctly, and comfortable up to about 80 degrees F. Mine is black, so a lighter color might push a bit higher. The briefs are similarly reasonable in warm conditions. I wouldn’t hesitate to try them in the tropics. Why not, everything else is terrible.

The pants are 5.11 Tactical Taclite Pros (or very similar, the product models change over time). I have mixed feelings about the pants. They dry fast and shed water and stains relatively well, though you would not mistake them for rain gear. The construction is solid and the cut allows for a wide range of mobility. But the main slash pockets are cheap and developing holes, the snap tends to unsnap too easily, they don’t breathe as well as I’d like… they’re a mixed bag.

Since the weather was predicted to be stable and I wouldn’t be spending much time out doors (this is the Midwest, getting things done is just a walk to the car, a walk from the car), this outfit plus a lightweight windbreaking Columbia button down was all I needed for day to day wear. Full synthetic shirts like this hold odors terribly in my experience, but the wool T prevents that layer from ever coming in contact with sweat or the bacteria that cause body odor, so working together they’re fine for days of wear. Add a pair of sweats and a T shirt for evening wear (I left for this trip directly from the gym, otherwise I’d have packed actual pajama pants), a stick of deodorant, a toothbrush, some face wipes and I’m there. The entire kit fit in a small day bag, about 11″ X 8″ X 4″, pictured below, excluding what’s already on my person.

This was a car trip, so the convenience of a small bag was minimal. I wasn’t lugging anything through airports, bus stations and the like. But the additional advantages of a small kit, like having far fewer things to keep track of, to pack, verify and manage, and far less to unpack/wash/etc, upon return, were greatly appreciated. This was a bit of a dry run, as many of these items will form the core of my pack for Europe. So far they’re even better than I expected.

Price of beer in a bar: This town is lousy with brew pubs. I can get a good stout for less than $5/pint.

Song currently stuck in my head: Lebanese Blonde (Thievery Corporation)

Preparations are underway. We’re providing hospice care for a loved family pet, so the timetable is undetermined but the outcome imminent. I’ve hucked my computer and 24″ monitor in favor of an X series Thinkpad that I’m trying to grow accustomed to. I hate laptops; they’re underpowered, overpriced, the screens are too small and about 18″ lower than they should be and the pointing devices fall far short of the mice we’ve been using for 25 years. They’re similar to mobile devices (Android, Ios, etc) in that they’re just good enough to be tolerable. Not to sound like a snob, but with my IT background of tens of thousands of hours at a keyboard, my standard is a bit higher than ‘tolerable’.

But, these devices travel. And that’s why we gnarl our hands onto and around these miniature keyboards.

There are alternatives. I could go for a high end ultrabook. They’re not even that expensive. But I bought this used for $40 because when I travel I want everything I carry to be more or less disposable.

I could get a Chromebook, but I don’t think I can rely on near constant connectivity and without it those things are doorstops.

Maybe a tablet? Get serious.

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