Jul 23, 2016

The clothes issue

Packing clothes is still very much an open issue. Suggestions are appreciated. I have found no magic bullet there, but a combination of techniques that help: "the 4 R's".

First, the obvious: in order to travel light, the main point is to bring as few items as possible, and the most compact ones. This entails:
- thinking about what you will really need,
- checking the weather forecasts,
- bringing light clothes and just one warm layer made of top-quality wool like cashmere,
- wearing the bulkiest items on you while traveling,
- showering twice a day in order to extend the useful life of your clothes (my aim is 2 days; 1 week for pants),
- having a good deodorant,
- being extra careful not to stain your clothes, especially when eating.

When going out for more than 3 days, I prefer not to bring full changes of clothes, but rather to rely on washing and rotating. Higher-category hotels often provide a laundry service. This service is not cheap, but not expensive at all when you relate it to the overall cost of traveling.
If no service is available, just be ready to do your own washing in your room. A small can or bag of washing powder occupies no space at all. Be sure to plan in advance the sufficient drying time.

Sometimes luggage space constraints are tough to manage. For instance, you travel for work but you would really like to bring running shoes as well; or you want to keep space to be able to bring back stuff on the way home.
A way to handle those cases is to bring stuff which is nearing retirement age. Bring you old running shoes, and tell them in advance that their ticket is one-way only.

Conversely, you may deliberately keep your bag empty in order to buy new clothes at your destination.

I used this technique a lot in the past when packing shirts. Shirts are often a requirement for business occasions but they wrinkle so easily. There is no way to pack a shirt in a small bag without it ending wrinkled. But, to some extent, you can direct where the wrinkles end up. And actually, what matters is that the shirt front and secondarily the sleeves are smooth. The sides and back may be crumpled and usually, no one will care.

Here is how to roll a shirt to minimize damaging wrinkles:
1. spread the shirt on a flat surface;
2. bring the right-hand front over the left-hand one in diagonal;
3. if you bring several shirts, pile them up, with the one you want to preserve best beneath;
4. if you bring more clothes, add them on top, it will help protect the shirts;
5. fold the shirt arms and bring them smoothly in front;
6. starting from the bottom, roll up the clothes carefully but tightly into a bundle; fasten into position with a rubber band.
The result cannot compare to a freshly pressed shirt, but it is frankly surprisingly good, and you can wear the shirt straight away after unpacking. As a finishing touch, if the hotel can't lend you an iron, you can improve the effect a bit by drenching your shirt in the hot shower and then letting it dry on a hanger.

Bottom line?
The bottom line is that, in addition to the clothes that you'll wear while traveling, you can live without problem with 0 or 1 pair of pants and 1 or 2 shirts. I often don't bring spare pants. That's fine, except for the fact that it leaves you totally vulnerable to that rogue ketchup bottle (I love the thrill).

Apart from that risk, rejoice: it means that you can travel for any length of time with the smallest of bags!

Jul 15, 2016

Why do we hold on so much to our stuff?

Science says: it has to do with culture. I knew I was adopted...

After witnessing the “violent rage” shown by babies whenever deprived of an item they considered their own, Jean Piaget – a founding father of child psychology – observed something profound about human nature: Our sense of ownership…

Jul 1, 2016

My little international trade

Things you find in one place in the world and nowhere else.

Here we're not talking art trade or large-scale business. Not really souvenirs either. Just small things that you like to bring back home. Of course, with globalization, this is becoming narrower and narrower. Quite often, the things that you've carried across half the world can actually be found at an exotic shop near your home... How frustrating.

There is one category which still gives plenty of room for discovery: candy and treats.
I believe that what defines peoples is what they consider a treat. Is it candy? candied fruit? dried squid? Even within the realm of western food, shapes, tastes and brands wildly differ from one place to another, perhaps more than any other item...

Here is a selection of my global shopping sample.

From China
Green tea marshmallows
Okay I'm still not sure of the origin. The packaging is definitely Japanese in style, but I think I remember they are made in China. Anyway, my source is at the Shanghai airport shops.
Imagine a marshmallow with green tea flavor and a mellow heart inside. Mmmmh.
Also exists with black sesame flavor, equally good.
Update: they can also be found at Miniso mini-stores.

Chinese medicine.

桂林西瓜霜 Guilin's watermelon frost: nothing frosty really, and it doesn't contain watermelon, but it is an effective cure for pharyngitis.

贴膏 Plaster with ointment, against back pain.

Tea drinking bottle (with filter inside)

From India
1469 T-shirts (at Connaught Place, Delhi)
Quirky embroidered t-shirts

From Spain
Ham (jamón), cured pork loin (lomo)
Pan de pipas, Rosquilletas
Aniseed "oil crackers" (tortas de aceite), ideal for Sunday morning breakfast

From Mexico
Wrestler masks

From Germany
Aronal toothgum care toothpaste

From the US
Pretzel nuggets, crunchy and filled with peanut butter, mmmh.

From Korea
Magic neckties (zip-on) from Dongdaemun market

From Sweden
Candy! Eating candy is like a national sport, candy shops are found at every corner. Family favorites: wasabi crunchies and "blueberry" hard candy.

From the Czech Republic
Kafka wafers. Nice, crunchy and chocolatey. Plus they bear Kafka's portrait, which makes them highly desirable.

From Japan

Bowls! Even when mass-produced, Japanese bowls can be really nice and of high usage value.

From Belgium

Fresh waffles and fancy chocolate!

From Italy
Pecorino con zafferano (saffron-flavored cheese)

From Tunisia
Tunisian pastries !