February 8, 2009

There is Nothing to Fear But Gear Itself

Michael Jordan. George Foreman. Doug E. Doug. All three have revolutionized their respective professions. Are they more talented than you or I? Not a chance. They have done what they've done because of one thing: gear.

Think about it. Where would MJ be without his trusty Air Jordan sneakers? What about GF without his infamous "lean, mean grilling machine?" And DED would never have been "Sanka Coffee, pushcart champion" without those three kids and the Rasta Rockett.

Obviously then, traveling around the world with poor gear could be the difference between, well, a fun trip around the world with good gear and a fun trip around the world with not-so-good gear. So gear up and enjoy our post.

Zhou and I are what some would probably call indoorsy. I couldn't tell you the last time I went camping. Oh wait, yes I could. It was before freshman year of college at Squirrel Camp. (Vanderbilt had a lot of squirrels running around campus, so they named a freshman orientation after them. But they didn't name anything after the plethora of girls wearing way too much make up.) The camping was miserable. I think I might have vowed never to do it again.

Zhou, on the other hand, didn't go to Squirrel Camp. I did catch her looking out a window once though. So she knows the outdoors exist.

So here we are, two non-traveling, non-camping troglodytes (yes, I knew that was a word myself, and then I looked it up and realized it sort of fits this sentence). Choosing what to pack seemed like quite a task. Let's start with the basics.

Microsoft Excel.

We made an Excel spreadsheet of our entire trip - the budget, the daily agendas, what visas we'd need, what immunizations we'd need, the Eurail schedule, what to pack, etc. Zhou spent countless hours researching different online sites (a favorite) on trips such as our own, and I spent countful hours cheering Zhou on. Once we'd come up with a complete list of what to pack, we started buying.

Clothes. We budgeted enough money to buy all new wardrobes for the year - we each get approximately four shirts, two pairs of pants, a jacket and some socks and underwear. From here, we began to live at REI, and constantly check steepandcheap for new deals. We each bought a jacket on the site (a Marmot and an Arcteryx), and we've now gone to REI on four consecutive weekends. I think the REI cashiers know us almost as well as Julian at Jason's Deli.

Packs. We'd each need one backpack for the trip. Thankfully, my parents got us started by researching (and buying) a great Osprey Porter 46 (46 liters of space) pack for me. (Tip: if you're sticking to a budget, don't hesitate to make an extra long Christmas list.) From there we figured the easiest way to size Zhou's pack would be a ratio: my weight to my pack size vs. her weight to her pack size. Since I hear it's not polite to go telling everyone a woman's weight, I'll just say this: we found that she would need a 4 liter pack. Since they don't make them that small, we got this.

Sleeping bags. This seemed so simple, yet when we actually dug in and did some research, we learned that there are actually more types of sleeping bags than there are people in the world. And if you're used to sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies, then the difference between 40 degree down and 20 degree synthetic seems insignificant. To narrow things down, we ended up prioritizing our needs in the following way:

1) Stuff size - how small the bag is when rolled up. Since we'll be living for a whole year out of about 5,000 cubic centimeters of pack space, we'll need small sleeping bags
2) Price - our budget did not originally account for sleeping bags, so we'd need to keep these somewhat cheap
3) Recommended temperature - honestly, we're not really sure what weather we'll encounter, but we decided if it's cold, we'll put more clothes on when we sleep

After a couple weeks of searching in between episodes of The Office, we settled on the Lafuma Warm'n Light 600. And take it from me (who's yet to actually sleep in the bag outdoors, or indoors for that matter), this is one quality bag. It just looks so nice.

Ok, now it's time for me to step off my gear soapbox and onto my, er, game shampoobox.

S=1, H=4, A=1, M=3, P=3, O=1, O=1, B=3, O=1, X=8. And when played on the triple word, you get... drumroll... 0 points. Shampoobox is not a word, but nice try.

Scrabble - everyone's favorite game. On Survivor, contestants usually get one personal item. If Zhou or I were on the show, it would be our travel Scrabble board. And that's why despite our space limitations and rather large size of the travel Scrabble case, we are not only bringing it with us, but also creating a section at the end of each blog post for a summary of our recent games. Our goal is to play Scrabble in all 32 countries we visit, including in front of sites such as Mount Everest, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Before I continue, there's a few things you need to know about Zhou and me (I was tempted to say Zhou and I, but realized that if I dropped the "Zhou and" that "I" made no sense). Our idea of fun is watching Jeopardy while solving calculus problems and eating buttered scones. So rather than think, "wow, I don't want to hear about their Scrabble games," just remember how much more boring we get.

And with that, I bring you Scrabble signoff number 1 (no, WPL is not an insider Scrabble acronym, but yes it does also stand for Westerville Public Library):

Games: 1 (full log)
Zhou wins; points per game; points last game (WPL): 1; 369; 369
Kevin WPL: 0; 278; 278
Zhou Bingos last game: SWATHEd (85), READINGS (64)
Kevin Bingos last game: none


  1. Just a word of advice, and yes I know this seems very counter-intuitive: believe it or not, when sleeping in a bag, you will actually be warmer the less clothes you are wearing. I promise. Hopefully you will fit in the bag Kevin, you crazy tall person :)

    Also, the idea for Scrabble in all of the world's most awesome places is... an awesome idea! And dorky. But awesome.

  2. I approve. You found your unique thing to do, like the guy that does his goofy dance in every place in the world. Make sure you get a picture of playing everywhere, and figure out some sort of special award for the highest scoring game and word during the trip.

  3. Kevin,

    Since it's clear that you're the one writing these entries, I have only one complaint. This may in fact be the worst title of all time. Zhou, you seriously need to have some congressional, wait, fiancee oversight to these entries. He's reflecting upon you too, and I don't think you'd appreciate the image. That is all.