After spending three months living and working in Antarctica with the United States Antarctic Program, I was dropped off in Christchurch in February, 2013, and spent the next three and a half months traveling up through Australia and New Zealand, around Southeast Asia, and finally up to Japan. It was an incredible opportunity, the trip of a lifetime, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
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All of my blog posts about Traveling Through Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, and Japan, including most photos can be found at:
During my travels, I travelled technically alone – I wasn’t specifically traveling from the beginning with any other person. However, throughout my journey, I was rarely actually alone. I ended up meeting lots of fellow adventurers and locals in all of the countries I visited.
My very general route of travel was:
- New Zealand – Christchurch, Queenstown, Mt. Cook
- Australia – Sydney, Brisbane, Sydney
- Indonesia – Bali, Lombok, Komodo, Flores, Java, Jakarta
- Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur
- Thailand – Ko Lanta, Tonsai, Railay, Ko Pi Pi, Phuket, Bangkok, Kanchanaburi
- Myanmar (Burma) – Yangon, Laisho, Hsipaw, Mandalay, Bagan, Yangon
- Thailand – Chiang Mai
- Laos – Luang Prabang
- Vietnam – Hanoi, Halong Bay, Danang, Hue, Hoi An, Saigon
- Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap
- Thailand – Bangkok
- Japan – Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Tokyo
Below I’ve written a few summaries on various topics from my travels, as well as linked to all major media items, and articles written about my time in each country.
After I was dropped off in Christchurch, I had about 50lbs of gear with me, spread out over three bags – my Black Diamond Quantum 55L backpack, my Deuter 30L backpack, and my Patagonia Black Hole 90L duffle. This was mostly gear for the climate in Antarctica, and a bunch of personal comfort stuff like books, magazines, hoodies, slippers, etc that made life at the south pole much more comfortable. Obviously it was way too much to travel with on my own – and luckily, it was easy to sent home. For 10 days after I arrived back in Christchurch, I was given access to the APO Post Office. The APO is a military post office, and provides users with postage rates similar to what you’d find domestically. So I packed up everything except for a few items, and sent it all home in a giant box – all for about $45.
I packed all of my travel gear in one single GoLite Jam 50L backpack. I had my father send me the backpack for pickup in Christchurch, and it was great. The Jam 50 is an ultralight, minimalist backpack, with just the right amount of space and features to make adventure traveling with it a pleasure. Once packed up, all of my gear weighed about 11kg, and included capability for me to go camping, swimming, hiking, and clubbing in cities. Everything fit in my GoLite backpack. When I needed a daypack, I simply emptied out the GoLite, cinched a few straps, and it was quickly the size of a daypack – very convenient.
Here’s a list off the top of my head of my travel gear:
- GoLite Jam 50 Backpack
- OR Running Cap
- Smartwool thin wool skull cap
- RayBan New Wayfarer sunglasses
- Patagonia wool/poly blend tshirt Blue
- GoLite Wool tshirt Red
- Arc’Teryx Black Polo Shirt
- Oliver Spencer X Monocle blue buttondown shirt
- J.Crew grey skinny tie
- Patagonia R1 Flash pullover black
- Arc’Teryx thin poofy jacket maroon
- Patagona Alpine shell black
- OR Convertable glove liners/thin shells black
- AG Protege jeans black
- Prana Stretch Zion pants grey
- prAna Men’s Linear Shorts“>Prana Linear swim trunks black
- Smartwool PHD socks low grey X2
- Smartwool urban hiker socks calf black
- Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 GTX shoes black
- Timberland Wodehouse Oxford shoes black
- Sanuk flippy floppies
- Patagonia silkweight boxer briefs X4
- Macbook Air 13
- Apple in ear headphones
- Camera Gear – discussed below
- Sea to Summit Micro MC2 Sleeping Bag
- OR Stuffsacks X3
- Thermarest Neo Air Regular Sleeping Pad
- SOL Emergency Bivy
- Esbit Titanium Fuel Tablet Stove
- Fuel Tablets
- Suunto Core Black/Black watch
- Apple iPhone 5 North America, Unlocked w/ Lifeproof case
- Various other electronics and personal gear
- Sea to Summit 10L drybag
- Sea to Summit 1L drybag
- I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting, such as my Passport.
Photography was a BIG part of my trip, and one of my main hobbies while I’m traveling, or really doing anything. Since I was traveling alone and as light as possible, I had to strike a balance between high quality, versatility, shooting comfort, and weight. In the end, I decided to ditch my (somewhat broken) Canon 5dMk2 SLR, and instead went with just two small cameras – my Sony RX100 compact, and my Apple iPhone 5. Traveling with the Sony RX100 turned out to be great. I had loved shooting with that camera at the south pole, and shooting with it while traveling was just as good. It’s very small – I can fit it in the pockets of my jeans. Yet, it still has full manual control of all camera functions, and just barely enough hand controls on the body to make it relatively easy to handle while shooting. Additionally, the other extremely important factor for me while shooting was the responsiveness – and the RX100 is great with that – controls feel snappy and responsive, and the feel of pushing the shutter button is tight. Not quite as instant and seamless as the controls on my SLR, but pretty darn close. When I’m shooting with my SLR, I know it well enough and it’s responsive enough that I can easily stop paying attention to using the camera, and devote full attention to shooting photos. With the Sony RX100, I’d say I can get about 75% of the way to fully forgetting about the camera. Not perfect, but pretty darn good for a compact.
The RX100 takes great quality pictures, and I loved shooting on it. I shot mostly with it on Manual mode, taking RAW files. Occasionally i would have moments of laziness and shoot in Aperture priority or Program mode, but for the most part it was manual. Also, I assigned one of the settings memories to a low quality reference image mode – shooting JPG at a small picture size, full automatic, with a locked in high ISO of 3200. I used this mode for quickly shooting reference images, only for my use – pictures of descriptive signs, menus, receipts, business cards, maps, and other things I wanted to be able to refer back to while editing, but didn’t want to burn too much memory card space on. I didn’t delete any photos.
Being able to pocket the camera, and take it anywhere with me made for a very versatile setup. I could move around easier, and didn’t have to feel like I was sheparding it around, like I do sometimes with my SLR. Also, when I was shooting, it was much less obtrusive and obvious than a larger camera. People took less notice, and I could fit it into tighter spaces.
There were a few downsides to shooting on a high end compact. First of all, although the camera has good manual hand controls, it’s still not at the level of control of an SLR. Changing some settings just takes longer when you have to go find it in a menu. The buttons are responsive, but not instant like on my 5Dmk2. Button response makes a BIG BIG BIG difference when shooting in the field. Also, the fixed zoom lens on the RX100 is nice and bright wide open, but slows down when zooming. The zoom on the camera is fast, but it’s an electronic control. Having a consistently fast zoom lens with manual zoom controls like my Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L is a distinct luxury. One final distinction with the smaller size is the smaller mass and moment of the entire camera. The RX100 is small and lightweight, and therefore it’s easy to move around and shake. Shakes are not what you want when taking photos – and because the RX100 is so light, there’s very little “buffer” to any hand shakes. It’s also physically small, so what little mass it does have is concentrated in a smaller space. In comparison, the 5dMk2, with the 24-70 lens is HEAVY, and with the long lens and overall larger dimensions, that weight is distributed over a larger area. That means that is naturally is more difficult to shake, so small hand shakes get somewhat buffered out. This may seem like a small detail, but it becomes hugely important when trying to handhold longer exposures, and trying to shoot with as low of an ISO as possible.
I traveled with my Apple Macbook Air 13″, and used Adobe Lightroom to organize and edit photos. Although I loaded all of my photos onto my Macbook, I also kept backup copies on the memory cards I was using – I didn’t erase any memory cards, and instead bought more memory when I needed to. This was a bit more expensive, but allowed me to keep two copies of my photos – one on my laptop and one on a small memory card, and still keep on shooting. When I traveled, I usually left my laptop back where I was staying, and carried my memory cards with me – SD Cards are relatively small and portable, and a few of the cards I used were MicroSD w/ an adapter, which is even easier to carry taped to a card in your wallet.
See my full set of photos from Asia on my Flickr Stream.
Adventure Travel Planning
Planning my various adventures and expeditions is usual something I’m very meticulous and calculating about. The trips I do are often times complicated and dangerous, requiring a high degree of advanced planning and consideration to make them work. However, for this trip, I did very little advanced planning. I got my job in Antarctica a mere 5 days departing, and then chose not to take the time while at the south pole to plan out my travels. By the time I arrived back in Christchurch, New Zealand, I had my next week of mountaineering with friends from the ice planned out, but that’s about it.
The rest of my travels were done in the moment, based on what I was feeling at the time – and it was the absolute best thing to do. Since I was traveling alone, I had the freedom to meet anybody I wanted, and instantly modify my route when I felt like it. This opened me up to lots of fun possibilities, and great spur of the moment adventures.
I slept in lots of different places during my travels, and mainly kept to the budget end of things. In Bali, I was fortunate to be able to stay at my friend Jessica’s house for a while. I slept on a few boat, and lots of hostels, hotels, and guesthouses. At the beginning of my travels, I was usually making accommodation reservations a few nights in advance – however, as I traveled more, I transitioned to making bookings on the night of. I found that most hostels weren’t completely booked, and since I had a single lightweight bag, it was easy enough for me to walk around to find a cool place. This also allowed me to check out the “scene” of a place before I stayed there.
Since I was traveling alone, staying in hostels and hotels with active social scenes was a great thing for me. Places like Julie Guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand have nice common areas with food and wifi, where fellow travelers meet up to talk about places to go and things to see. I’d meet lots of cool people this way – both groups, and other single travelers. Meeting people while traveling is easy, and I was very rarely doing anything alone.
While traveling, it was essential to stay connected – both to other people I was traveling with, contacts I would be meeting up with, as well as my friends and family back home. I also updated this blog frequently while traveling, so I needed some sort of connection.
I carried two communications devices with me – my Apple iPhone5, and my Apple Macbook Pro 13″. Both were great.
My iPhone came from AT&T in the USA, however when I was in Sydney I found an online service that unlocked it for me – no need to jailbreak or anything, and I got my phone completely unlocked. So, with an unlocked GSM phone, I could easily buy SIM cards in most of the countries I went to, and stay connected on the local cell network. In Thailand especially, staying in touch was easy – I bought a SIM card for about $2, and then paid about $15 for unlimited 3G data access for 30 days. Since I mostly used data, and not text or voice, this was perfect.
On my phone, I relied on a number of apps to stay connected.
- Apple’s built in Mail app – For email, obviously
- LINE messaging – Keeping in touch with people mostly in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam via text, pics, voice messages.
- WhatsApp messaging – Keeping in touch with people mostly in USA, Canada, Indonesia, Australia.
- Foursquare – Checking out locations popular with other travelers and busy at the moment.
- Facebook – Keeping in touch with other friends, and friending new people met while traveling.
- Tripadvisor – Checking out mass market reviews of potential travel spots, and looking at the location guides for top attractions.
- CityMaps2Go – Super great app for offline maps – I downloaded maps I needed when I had a connection, and could then refer back to them when I was offline.
- BIG Text – Simple – displays text you type in big letters on your screen. Good for spelling out stuff for people, presenting confirmation numbers, etc.
My Macbook Air was a great resource – It’s very thin, lightweight, and strong – perfect for jamming in my backpack. And it’s also fast enough to use Adobe Lightroom with, and for web surfing and messaging. Although naturally I’d prefer a 15″ retina display for photos, the 13″ standard res display was adequate for traveling. After owning this computer for about 3 years, and traveling the world with it, it’s still in great shape.
I never ever felt the need for a tablet, and frankly feel like it’s completely unnecessary. I have my macbook with a full keyboard for typing out messages and doing photo editing and everything else you use a computer for. And then I have my iPhone for mobile computing and messaging. Movies can be watched on either. I really don’t see where I would need a tablet – it’s too underpowered and doesn’t have a full keyboard, so I can’t use it for the more intense messaging and blog posting, and it’s larger than a phone, so I can’t pocket it and have it everywhere. My Macbook Air is so smal that there’s no reason not to have it, given how much it can do.
Wifi was abundant almost everywhere, and in places with no Wifi, I could easily tether my macbook to my phone, and use my unlimited cellular data connection. Easy.
Blog posts from my recent travels, by country: