14. Consider bringing a duffel bag for the return trip

I don’t know how much shopping you plan on doing but you should really consider bringing a duffel bag (that is very small and lightweight when empty) on your trip or buying one in country.

The simple reasoning for bringing it is: it saves you from having to find one on those last days before you leave, when you’re trying to get all your shopping done.

I write a duffel bag because they’re just so much smaller and easier to deal with than a suitcase.

When it comes to the main travel bag, I’m a big fan of a big backpack. Mine has a sub-backpack that attaches to the front or, for shorter trips, detaches, making it perfect for backpacking.

I ended up using one of the bags I bought (shopping bag sized) as my second piece of checked luggage to store many of the scarves and shirts I bought over there. Fortunately for international travel, depending on the airline, you get two bags free, which is why I suggest the duffel bag.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

13. Consider your shoes and a hat

I’m by no means a monster of a man but I do have big feet, by some standards (11 1/2) and I have a large head. This means it was nearly impossible to find shoes or sandals in Thailand, when I needed to buy some for walking in the jungle, because everything was just too small.

The same went for hats. Almost all the hats I could find were just too small for my head.

My take-away? Next time, I’m bringing my own hat (you really need it) and I’m making sure to bring a pair of amphibious sandals or shoes with me because I know, as a large footed man, I’m going to be screwed otherwise.

The other thing to consider about your shoes is, bring something comfortable to walk in that can also stand the heat. That may mean shoes with socks, or just flip flops, or, whatever makes you feel good.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

That's a polish guy up ahead. We're in the jungle. Honest to god jungle. Stepped in muck so deep, nearly lost my sandal. Bring some amphibious shoes/sandals. Please. And consider a hat for your big, non-Thai head. Taken on Dec. 13. 2015.

That’s a polish guy up ahead. We’re in the jungle. Honest to god jungle. Stepped in muck so deep, nearly lost my sandal. Bring some amphibious shoes/sandals. Please. And consider a hat for your big, non-Thai head. Taken on Dec. 13. 2015.

12. Special things to bring: sunscreen, Imodium, painkillers

In Thailand, Vietnam and most of Southeast Asia, sunscreen is expensive. Everything else is cheap but sunscreen, man, it’s more expensive than it is in the U.S., especially for the type that you’re willing to put on your skin.

That means you should bring more than enough sunscreen (you’ll be sharing with other travelers, of course) than you think you will need, and it will likely have to go into your checked luggage.

In 2016, in Vietnam, I managed to lose my sunscreen down the side of a cliff while hiking with my bag. I then had to buy whitening sunscreen because I couldn’t find any of the normal brands.

While sunscreen is expensive, there are a few other things from the pharmacy that you should make sure to bring so you have them when you need them.

The first is the anti-diarrheal medication Imodium (generic name: loperamide). If you’re lucky like me, and have an iron stomach, you’ll get “sick” just once. I did incredible amounts of street food eating and ocean and reservoir swimming in Thailand and I ate even more questionable food in Vietnam. (I ate lots, I mean lots, of pâté  and mayonnaise-based spreads that, in the US, would have been thrown away hours before.)

During my 2015 trip, I only got sick once, in Cambodia. I had to look up the generic name for Imodium and I paid way more than I should have when I did finally find the pharmacist.

In Vietnam, and more importantly, on my plane rides to and from Vietnam, my problem was larger-than-life headaches. Finding ibuprofen, or your painkiller of choice, is not the easiest thing in the world when you’re bouncing between flights.

Headaches were the bigger issue for me because, in Vietnam, I always had Imodium handy and made sure to take some if I even had the inkling that I was getting sick.

You should have both Imodium and your painkiller in your carry-on baggage so you only have to go to the pharmacist when you want to buy drugs that would otherwise require a prescription in the U.S. (such as Valium, generic name diazepam, and Xanax, generic name alprazolam).

Trust me. Imodium is a magical drug and having it in your bag will save you.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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See all those super pasty Europeans? (The ones in front of the boat are Polish. The two closest to the camera are Dutch and Belgian.) They need sunscreen. I need sunscreen. We all need, nay, scream, for cheap sunscreen brought from our home countries. Taken on Dec. 13, 2015.

 

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The market may look a little shaded but actually, the sun is beating down. Really wishing sunscreen were cheaper, if you didn’t bring any (in your checked luggage.) In Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

11. Keep a travelogue

See those people? The one in the center, (blue shirt) he’s from (or lives in, at least,) Montana. He’s on a 6+ month vacation after saving up.

He’s going to buy a motorcycle in Vietnam and go on from there. Do I remember his name? Nope. Not in the least. And I’m not going to remember because I (idiotically) didn’t keep a travelogue when I was in Thailand.

Even worse? I can’t remember all the places I went. Again, this is the folly of not keeping a travelogue.

 

 

 

 

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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We peruse the shelves in the largest market in Thailand, in Bangkok. It’s a maze. The guy in the blue shirt? I can’t remember his name to save my life. All because I didn’t keep a travelogue. We were perusing the weekend market on Dec. 6, 2015.

 

7. Bring your wide angle lens

I shoot with an old Canon XS from 2010. It was the bottom of the line at the time and it has no bells or whistles, but it can take a damn fine picture with the right lens. When I went the first time, I figured to shed weight and reduce liability I should not bring a laptop or most of my lenses. I specifically for the trip bought a 50 mm f 1/8 prime lens, as well as a 20 mm prime lens. Considering I shoot on a APS-C, or crop sensor, camera, that means the 20 mm is quite a bit longer, as is the 50 mm. I also brought my zoom lens. (I love my zoom lens.)

What I didn’t bring is my wide-angle lens (10-22) or my kit 18-55. I wish I had brought the former and I’m glad I didn’t bring the latter. The kit lens is just horrible. But my wide-angle lens is fantastic and many things I saw required it.

(This later became a moot point in Vietnam when, on my third day in country, I broke that wide angle lens. It was in the top of my partially unzipped backpack and when I lifted it, bam! It shattered on the hostel’s concrete floor. This led to a longer odyssey that resulted in the purchase of a lighter, but higher F-stop, wide angle lens.)

I managed to get by a little by using the 20 mm and trusting that I would be able to stitch the photos together later. I normally used Hugin, a free photo stitching (panorama) program, but I found after I tried to get some photos stitched, it was not having it.

However, the new CC version of adobe Lightroom has a merge/stitch function which gets the job done.

So, bring your damn wide angle lens or get one, all you DSLR shooters with crop sensors.

This radiant Buddha shows what the low light prime lenses can do. Picture taken in Bangkok on Dec. 5, 2015.

This radiant Buddha shows what the low light prime lenses can do. Picture taken in Bangkok on Dec. 5, 2015.

8. Bring enough big SD cards and extra batteries

I use an old Canon XS from 2010. It doesn’t have the bells, whistles, GPS, WiFi, movable screen or anything else that even basic DSLRs now have (like higher ISO) but it gets the job done. One downside is that it can only use SDHC cards, which max out at 32 GB. I didn’t learn this until a couple days before I was set to leave for Thailand and I tried to use a 64 GB SDXD card.

But, I had enough SD cards and I mostly shot in JPEG (something I later regretted when it came to processing photos with certain light settings) which means I didn’t run out of room.

I did have to rely on my final backup, though, a 8 GB card. What I learned, after shooting on 16 and 32 GB card for two weeks, was the buffer time on smaller cards is more. Even though the camera might have a certain speed it can shoot at, a bottleneck can become smaller cards. The lesson? Make sure all your SD cards are 16 GB or above.

There’s another, secondary lesson here: make sure to shoot in RAW. So many of my photos from Thailand were just throw-aways because I shot in JPEG and not in RAW. It’s a decision that I rectified when I went to Vietnam. This led to more post-trip picture processing but it also meant that a lot more of my photos, when I was in bad conditions, were salvaged.

Finally, bring extra batteries. You never know how long you’re going to be out before being able to charge so spend the cash and buy a few extra batteries. Please! You’ll thank me later.

9. Bring a waterproof camera

I went on a couple of treks in Thailand, that involved snorkeling, swimming, going through water-logged caves and the like. I only had my trusty Canon XS from 2010. That was a mistake. I should have also brought a waterproof camera (point and shoot because I just don’t have that much money). I didn’t know that at the time. I do now. Woops!

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I stayed on a floating guest house on a reservoir. People didn’t like me pointing out it was a reservoir, not a lake. This part of my trip involved lots of water and, consequently, I have few shots. Hence the need for a waterproof camera.

10. Change your camera’s time/time zone immediately

You will forget this but, once you get in country, change your camera’s date and time to local time. Otherwise, you’re going to have to change all the metadata when you’re at home, trying to figure out which pictures were taken on which day. If you’re like me, and sort photos based on date, this can become a big issue.

It’s also important when you’re trying to sort your photos by day and all of a sudden, you realize one set has been split into two because you’re camera thinks you were shooting between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. when really, it was 3 in the afternoon.

Setting your camera’s time and time zone also helps when you’re trying to figure out when something happened. As a journalist, in my job, I find this to be a great asset. It’s like a time stamp, which, when combined with your travelogue, makes everything clearer.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

6. Bring extra headphones

It’s inevitable. It’s a fact of life. You’re going to lose your headphones.

There is a simple answer: make sure to bring a few extra pairs. That way, if you’re on the plane, the bus, the train, the boat or in the car, you always have an extra set on you.

Also consider bringing an MP3 player, loaded with music and audio books. Depending on how much traveling you will be doing in country, it comes in handy. It’s also nice to supplement the long, trans-continental flights and the layovers in various airports.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A canal gate in Bangkok. Taken on Dec. 4, 2015.

A canal gate in Bangkok. Taken on Dec. 4, 2015.

5. Consider getting a VPN subscription

Now that you’re considering bringing a laptop, or even just your smartphone and using WiFi, you should really consider a VPN subscription, at least for the time that you’ll be away. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It’s often described as a tunnel that your internet traffic goes through which is especially important when you’re connected to public WiFi.

Think about being in airports, or when you need to convince your bank (lost my debit card!), Netflix, Amazon Prime or any other entity that you’re actually in the United States and not in Thailand or Vietnam.

This offers a level of security and the convenience of appearing to be in a country of your choice for other purposes.

If you’re like me and you’re spending most of your time in hostels, you’re working on an insecure connection. While a VPN isn’t perfect, it does add a level of security for your internet usage while overseas. Personally, I like being able to use it at home, as well. Just because you think they’re spying on you doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A woman holds a pot in alley, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. I really like alleys.

A woman holds a pot in alley, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. I really like alleys.

4. Consider bringing a small laptop

Although I own a small laptop, nay, a tiny laptop, I did not bring it with me when I went to Thailand. I figured there would be computers available, from either cyber cafes or hostels, if I absolutely needed one, it would be extra weight, extra liability and I just did not need it.

In hindsight, there were a couple of times, although not that many, where my life would have been greatly simplified if I had just brought my laptop and also, possibly, an external hard drive to dump photos onto.

I did, however, make do with my phone in Thailand.

When I went to Vietnam, I had my laptop and two external hard drives. I did not want to risk losing any photos, so I brought redundant backups. Having a laptop did make life easier and it was not that much of a pain when moving about. It allowed me to write, to read, to research, to dump my photos.

That’s the really important one though, the researching. Having a laptop allows you to research, important if you’re like and and don’t have specific travel plans.

Consider investing in a padlock so you can lock your locker, if you’re staying at hostels because there’s no reason to be carting it everywhere.

If you don’t own a small laptop, consider buying one (although I would suggest against chromebooks). Fry’s often has them on sale for 80-90 dollars and, coupled with an external hard drive, you should be fine.

I personally own a Lenovo 11e that was on sale for $200. The screen is terrible, and small (12 inches) but it gets the job done and that’s the most important thing.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

Pillars over a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec. 5, 2015.

Pillars over a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec. 5, 2015. This picture has nothing to do with laptops. But it is pretty!

3. Just rent the scooter

When you’re outside of Bangkok, either in the countryside or on an island or otherwise in areas that don’t have a large amount of transportation, from either Tuk-Tuks, taxis or motorcycle taxis, just rent a scooter. It doesn’t cost much and it will make your life so much easier.

This is especially important on islands in Thailand, and I imagine other locales throughout Southeast Asia.

The scooters are not very hard to ride, renting them is cheap and it beats any other form of transportation when you’re outside of the big cities.

The same applies to Vietnam. If you’re not in a densely populated area, rent a scooter.

(They are not that hard to learn to ride).

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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On one of the islands, outside of Krabi in Ko Lanta, everyone used scooters and you would see this little kiosk like things on the side of the road. Everywhere. Notice the scooters in the background.

This farmers market somewhere on Ko Lanta was gotten to by scooter, something I'd never ridden before. I only had one fall. Just one! Taken on Dec. 11, 2015.

This farmers market somewhere on Ko Lanta was gotten to by scooter, something I’d never ridden before. I only had one fall. Just one! Taken on Dec. 11, 2015.

2. Get a SIM card from a telephone vendor as soon as you get in country.

The title says it all. Get a SIM card as soon as you get in country.

My first time around, when I went to Thailand, I waited far too long and then tried to do it myself. I don’t remember if I thought I could save money or if I wanted to get a better deal or I didn’t want to be connected to life like I am at home or I was just busy.

It doesn’t matter.

I should have switched my SIM cards out either in the airport or the following day at a telephone vendor. I think I was under the impression there would be enough WiFi networks to connect to. I was wrong.

I instead waited for a week and a half and tried to get it set up myself, and then tried to get the people in a 7/11 to set it up. It never worked very well and I really wish I would have just had some god damned 4G when I needed it.

On the other hand, the next year, when I went to Vietnam? I got a SIM card in the airport. Maybe it cost me a little more than it should have. I didn’t care. I had a functioning phone with a working phone number and internet access.

Trust me. You want to be able to access the internet, without having to rely on WiFi.

The flip side of this lesson is to make sure your smartphone both has a SIM card and that it can be used on overseas networks. If it doesn’t, consider buying a used smartphone that will work in the countries you plan on visiting. I bought my last and current phone, an HTC One M8, used, through Swappa. It still works like a charm and I can use it overseas.

The costs are minimal and they are worth it. Remember that if you go to a different country you may, or may not, need to get a new SIM card. Depends.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.

A woman cleans a fountain in a park, Dec. 4, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand.