15. When you find good clothes, buy them

It’s going to happen. There’s going to be a vendor on the street and he’s going to have the perfect piece of clothing. (T-shirt, button up, dress, scarf, shorts, etc.) You’re going to buy one, just one, and think, at the end of my trip, I’ll come back here, and I’ll pick up a bunch more.

Except you’ll never be able to find him again. It will be like he disappeared into a side alley, down the gutter or was picked up by the trashmen. He will no longer exist and your chance to get more of those shirts will be gone, forever.

I should point out that my favorite button up shirts were all bought (cheaply) from a street vendor when I was traveling through Paris, France, during my time as an au pair.

There are a couple other things that should be noted when buying things from vendors, at least in Thailand. The first is, haggle them down (assuming no price tags). If you’re buying in bulk, use that as a bargaining chip and if they’re asking too much, and won’t budge, just walk away.

The next is, don’t be afraid to just buy shirts, pants, shorts, whatever it is, there. I realized far too far into my trip that a synthetic Bangkok soccer team polo was probably one piece of clothing I should have been wearing much of the time, rather than a cotton T-shirt.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

You got to have some fun, right? Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

You got to have some fun, right? This is the synthetic soccer polo I should have first bought when I got in country. Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.

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.

Two Recipes for Some Thanksgiving help

Thanksgiving is right around the corner which means, if you have to cook any part of the meal, you’re scrambling for ideas, for  ingredients, for menu planning, for drinks, for the whole shebang.

I’ve been there before and I’m going to be there again this year which means I’m scrambling as well.

I know a few parts of the meal ‘m going to be making already. Obviously, there’s the turkey. That’s a given. Then there’s the gravy. (Here’s the full recipe.) That’s something where the majority can be made ahead of time.

Then there’s the stuffing which I rarely stuff inside of the turkey. (I like to put a few lemons, maybe a lime, some apples, maybe an orange, in the bird’s cavity.)

I personally make a sage sausage stuffing with sourdough bread and bake it in the oven. This makes it toasty and more delicious.

There’re two options for the sage sausage. Either, make it yourself or just buy it. When it’s on sale, I buy it. When it’s not, I make it myself with fresh sage which I then dry in the oven.

There you go. Two great options.

I highly suggest you take my advice on the gravy.

Either use the links above or see the recipes after the jump.

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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.

Boozy apple crisp

I’m a big fan of the apple crisp. That should come as no surprise, considering I written about two crisps/hybrids and consistently use the crisp (aka crumble) topping as a basis in other recipes.

There’s the original, double sided crisp which is just a crisp on both the top and bottom and then there’s the hybrid cobbler crisp with raspberries.

I’ve since used the crumble/crisp topping in an apple coffee cake (the crumble/crisp is also called a streusel). It’s the search for inspiration for that coffee cake that brought me to a recipe by Monique at the Ambitious Kitchen.

There were two things I took away from her recipe, both of which I incorporated into the apple coffee cake: the addition of liquor in the baking process and mixing the streusel topping into the middle.

I recently made the Ambitious Kitchen crisp with the addition of, and more, liquor than called for in the original recipe and eliminated the nuts.

I also substituted my streusel topping for hers, which I found to have too much sugar. Finally, I used semi-sweet apples from my co-worker’s orchard.

Finally, I didn’t deal with the the vanilla bean the recipe and conceded to the use of butter on the apples. I don’t know that it added anything and I found the apples needed a bit more sugar.

My last note is that it really does need to be heated back up before serving and it might actually be better a day later, after being reheated.

With that, I give you my modified recipe:

(If you want just the recipe, it’s on my website, here.)

Ingredients

Streusel topping
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1+ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1+ teaspoon ground/powdered ginger
The apple filling
  • Optional: 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 medium-sized Granny Smith apples to 5 pounds, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1+ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1+ teaspoon ground/powdered ginger
  • 1/4 cup spiced rum
  • 1/4 cup brandy

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 pan.
  2. Peel the apples if desired. Cut the apples into very thin slices.
  3. Melt the butter for the streudel topping. In a medium-large bowl, mix the bottom’s melted butter, brown sugar, flour and, if using them, spices. Mix in the oats.
  4. Place the apple slices, the 1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, cinnamon and liquor in a very large bowl and toss to combine.
  5. Take 1/2 cup of the streudel topping and mix it into the apples.
  6. Pour the apples into the greased pan.
  7. Cover the apples with the rest of the streudel mixture and lightly pat down.
  8. Either put the pan on a baking sheet, or put it directly in the oven, and bake for 50 minutes to 60 minutes (an hour).

(Recipe adapted from the Ambitious Kitchen, “The best apple crisp you’ll ever have.”)

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This spiced apple crisp, baked with booze, gets better after the first couple of days. Serve warm or hot.

 

See, use, whatever you want, because all the photos are here on Flickr.

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.

 

Making sushi rice

There are two subjects here: the rice used in sushi and how to prepare that rice, once cooked, into sushi rice.

The first deals with brands and varieties, that is, what type of rice to use. The second is purely recipe and technique, that is, how to make the sushi, or vinegared, rice.

By no means do I claim, proclaim, profane or otherwise pretend to be some kind of expert on rice, sushi, or the rice used in sushi. However, the topic has been written about multiple times. My takeaway was Kokuho Rose. I’ve grown so fond of it that I had to take a more cost-effective solution to buying it, mainly, 40 pound bags. It’s become my favorite white rice.

My default brown (long grain) rice is whichever five pound bag of (brown) jasmine rice I’m currently working through.

The great thing about making vinegared, or sushi, rice is it goes fantastic in rice bowls or really, anything. Then again, I like vinegar.

The rice question

The basics are, the rice used in sushi is either medium or short grain. If you look on the internet, you will find that the answers go either way. Koda Farms, who grows Kokuho Rose (a variety only grown by them) claims that short grain is should never be used. The Kitchn proclaims short grain is sushi rice.

So, this is all confusing. Japanese style medium-grain or short grain rice seems to be the answer. (Japan, for the most part, does not export its rice).

Try out different varieties/brands and find what you like. I know what I like. (I buy the stuff in the red/pink packaging).

Making sushi rice

When it comes to making the rice, I suggest using a rice cooker, especially because they are both so cheap and because they make cooking rice so easy, and perfect.

But what makes vinegared, or sushi, rice, special? The vinegar! And sugar. And salt.

(Use a rice cooker. Seriously. So much easier.)

So, you get your rice cooking (for what I use, the ratio is 1 and 1/4 cups water to 1 cup rice, meaning, for two cups of uncooked rice, you need 1 and 1/2 cups water in the rice cooker) and then move on to making the vinegar solution.

For the purposes of this post, as well as the recipe, the quantity will be two cups of uncooked rice.

I’ve found that heating the vinegar up in the microwave is the easiest way of getting the sugar (1/4 cup) and the salt to dissolve. It should be noted, however, that I just wing it with the salt and sugar. I literally just pour some of both in and call it good.

Another point of confusion is the washing of the rice. Many claim this is essential. I notice no difference with the rice I buy.

All that being written, here’s how to make sushi (vinegared) rice.

For just the recipe, it’s housed on the main website, here.

Ingredients

2 cups uncooked rice

2 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

Directions
  1. In a measuring cup, mete out 2 cups of uncooked rice
  2. Wash the rice if desired, until water runs clear.
  3. Pour uncooked rice into rice cooker.
  4. In a measuring cup, Measure out 2 and 1/2 cups water. Pout into rice cooker.
  5. Close rice cooker and turn on.
  6. While the rice cooks, measure out 1/2 a cup of rice vinegar in a microwave-proof container, if possible.
  7. Add the sugar and salt to the vinegar. Mix to combine.
  8. Heat the vinegar up in the microwave, while mixing periodically, until all the sugar and salt is dissolved. Once dissolved, move it to the freezer while waiting for the rice to finish cooking.
  9. Once the rice cooker either turns off or turns to warm, allow it to sit undisturbed for 5-15 minutes.
  10. Open the rice cooker and quickly mix the rice one or twice. Replace the lid and wait another 5 minutes.
  11. Remove rice from cooker into a large non-reactive bowl.
  12. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rice and, with your rice spoon/mixer (oversized, flat spoon), lightly mix with a forward-pushing motion.
  13. If making sushi, cover bowl with a wet towel and allow to cool further. If consuming rice bowls, consume!

See, or download, all the full-quality photos on Flickr.

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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.