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This is my retro website coded in PHP with a well-worn keyboard, elbow grease and Unix servers running php-fpm with mysql and nginx on FreeBSD.

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travel tips


Package vacations?

Wait, what is this doing here? I took my first all-inclusive package vacation to Cancun in my early 30s, and had a really great time. It's easy to travel this way and requires little planning. Good community websites exist for recommendations, asking questions and getting answers. For Cancun I used,, and the travel company sites (Expedia, iTravel2000, etc). Many people use TripAdvisor and Google Maps to find reviews.

Package vacations don't need much planning, so I won't write about it here. Backpacking, on the other hand, and visiting developing countries is a whole different type of travel and has its own incredible rewards if you are of the right mindset.

Traveling solo to the developing world?

Very exciting! On the chance you're visiting India, Laos or another developing country, I have written these travel pages as a resource for you. I've spent a year living out a backpack and kept good notes along the way. This is information I wish I had before my first trip to the other side of the world.

Most of this guide is written from the perspective of when I was single and in my 30s. This guide is about visiting developing countries. Adapt it for your age and lifestyle.

Traveling with family or friends in the developing world?

If you are not traveling solo, you have additional considerations. These days when planning to visit India with my wife and daughter, for example, we have no need to be frugal. Today I would take advantage of obvious luxury choices that make travel in developing countries easier like having a car and driver 24/7 at my call, hiring people to perform tasks like buy tickets, wait in line or do my laundry. When traveling with family I stay in much more expensive hotels and we like former palaces, rustic but expensive and charming cabins, and uber luxurious hideouts. I believe in spending money on experiences not on things.

Despite changing needs and a desire for luxury as we age, I still believe in the virtue of traveling light. And I'm in my 50s now.

Traveling light

When traveling by myself I set a goal to always travel very light -- as light as possible. With some restrictions. In addition to clothing I always carry a laptop computer, its power supply, adapters and cables to charge a phone too. Often I have an underwater camera and other gear most people don't carry, like a Geiger counter. A warm jacket, a week's worth of attire, a notebook, my bathroom kit, a snack or two, a bottle of water and a small medical kit. I had one goal with these posessions. All must fit in a small sub-50 litre travel pack.

Why? I wanted to get off the beaten path. I wanted to be able to travel by motorcycle (Royal Enfield!), or by foot up a mountain, or by plane or bus, or auto-rickshaw, and I didn't want to get bogged down with stuff. I had to travel light if I wanted to see remote places.

It wasn't easy. At first, my pack was stressed to the seams, overstuffed with most of my clothes inside but without a few "essential" items and without the computer that I desparately needed to take. I stuffed those extra things into a daypack and ended up pretty weighed down. It wasn't going to work. It was too much and too heavy. I had to pare things down.

What items are truly essential?

Whatever item you need, can you buy it where you're going? Almost everything can be replaced on the road. Clothes, personal items, even some electronics.

Over time I figured out what was was essential, what I could buy when needed then dispose of (give away), and what I could leave behind. After a year of travels many things were lost, stolen, given away, left behind or mailed home for future use. Most things are not essential. Many things can be purchased along the way, in a pinch. Twelve months on the road and able to move fast, a year later I was still carrying my travel pack and it was looking just slightly worn. But it worked fantastic.

Travel pack, backpack, or suitcase?

For traveling light I recommend a "travel pack" as opposed to a backpack or suitcase, meaning a quality pack that is a little more upscale, a little more durable and somewhat of a cross between a suitcase and a backpack.

Spend the money and get the best pack you can afford. Mine had only a single compartment with a zipper that opened the pack completely, like a giant flap. Simple and nowhere for things to hide. It had shoulder straps so it could be carried like a backpack but the straps could also be zipped inside so the pack looked and acted more like a suitcase, much more suited for air travel. After 12 months it was not overstuffed, either. I found my 45 litre pack to be just right.

If you must have wheels then get a carry-on size suitcase and figure out how to use every single milimeter of space inside. You won't regret sticking with carry-on size, which is probably around 45 litres anyway.

I should not have to mention this, but light does not mean cheap

Wherever you are in the world, quality clothes and shoes are important. Wear stylish, comfortable clothes that look great and show off your best features. Tropical and sub-tropical weather allows for thin, light clothes which you can often purchase there. A sweater or jacket, even in hot climates, can be very useful at night, especially if you rent a motorcycle or scooter. Don't forget those extra extra large condoms, if you are single. Haha

Spending money on quality items like Merino wool and various high tech fabrics is worth it. Plain and simple.

When on the move

All my shit, if poured out from my pack or suitcase and onto the floor, takes me at most 30 minutes to pack tight on a lazy day. In a panic situation, as it would arise, when I'd overslept and almost missed my ride or flight, I could pack up all my shit in 10 minutes flat and not lose any of my life's posessions.

Even in a panic I always will invest 5 minutes when leaving my hotel room for the very last time to double-check what I was about to leave behind, because I almost always forgot something behind in my first few months of travels. That's one way of learning what's truly essential. Can it be replaced? I learned in those situations, those tight situations when I had to move myself and all my worldly possessions toute suite or I'd find myself up shit creek... the bare minimum time I need to move my entire life is 15 minutes if I don't want to leave anything behind.

How to pack for extended travel in the developing world

Packing light is not easy, at first. Do you really need it? Probably not. Will you use it? No, you probably won't. But only you can decide what's essential. Make up a list and then cross half the stuff off, you don't need it.

Now that you have your list of things to take the question is... how to actually get all your shit to fit into your tiny pack, and quickly?! Do you know kung fu? Can you perform magic?

Your clothes will take up the most space. They are also the easiest to pack.

I tried several methods of packing clothing tightly in order to travel with a small, light pack. I considered every method out there and ruled most of them out. I love those vacuum sealed bag of clothing but they will never work in the developing work. What about folding clothes first, or just stuffing them in? These are useless methods when traveling light!

My favorite super-small pro packing tip is to organize all my clothes my type, separate them into two or three similar-size stacks and then roll them up and tie them in a bundle. I put these bundles into my pack then used the space between them to stuff in everything else such as electronics, toiletries like shaving gear, toothbrush etc., all of the small items ideally packed up in small zippered bags. Ziploc bags will do fine until they break. My computer always went on top and inside its own padded sleeve. My passport, wallet, money and phone are always be on my body. Then I zipped up, tightened my pack's exterior straps, and was gone.

Read everything you can

Preparation for a year of travel, or even a few weeks in a developing country, is essential. Even simple things like packing my bag and walking around home for 30 minutes helped me determine if my pack was to heavy.

I spent many, many hours researching the places I'd be visiting. Culture Shock India was one of the best books I'd read about how to adjust to the many cultures, colors, sights and smells of India.

Lonely Planet still has some of the best guides for developing countries. The Rough Guide is good too. There's so much good information out there, in guidebooks, books, and on the web. But the best information comes from other travelers who you meet, who've already been to where you're going.

When I was in India and later Thailand I'd asked around for advice on traveling across Laos. It's a very less traveled country, and one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. But you'd never know it while visiting. The few travelers I met who'd been to Laos before I got there said it was such an incredible experience... their stories convinced me and I made sure I went there, and of course I absolutely loved it. Just an example.

Find people who've been to the places you're planning to visit and ask them questions.

Next up: packing your bags

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