Monday, September 30, 2013

Kava - and Prawn Salad. Not Together.

1 October 2013

We went to Nadi today to do a few errands, getting ready to head to the Yasawa Islands tomorrow.  And I just had to take a photo of these gorgeous pineapples piled in a pickup truck, as well as the Indian women's lovely clothing.

I stopped in a store, just to look, and started chatting with the men who own the store.  Their village is up in the mountains, and is known for wood carving; they sell the carved crafts in the store.  They were very interested in finding out where the Virgin Islands was located, how many people live there, the size of our island (32 square miles) compared to their island (around 7,000 square miles) - we had a nice discussion.

Then one of the men said I had to try the kava ceremony.  Kava is a the national drink of Fiji, although it is equally popular in most of the South Pacific islands.  And there is a whole ritual to drinking and sharing kava.

First, kava is a member of the pepper family, although it really isn't pepper.  The root is dried and ground, and the powder is steeped in water to create the drink.  The kava contains kavalactones, which give the kava it's, well, sedative and anesthetic qualities.  Yes, kava makes your mouth numb.  Enough kava will numb most of your body - which is great if you're going through the traditional tattoo ritual with a pointy object and a hammer.  And kava supposedly makes you all nice and relaxed and happy, though I didn't really notice those effects either.

So, my friend sat on the floor with the kava bowl (called tanoa in Samoan, but I don't know the name in Fijian) - he explained as he put the powder in a pouch, poured water over it, and squeezed it out.  Then he used the water to wet the rim of the bowl.  He had both of us clap our hands three times.  He asked, in English, for safe and enjoyable travels for Richard and me (though Richard was out getting some files printed).  Then he spoke in Fijian, I'm not sure what he said.  We again clapped three times.  He scooped some kava into a cup made of coconut shell, had me say "bula!" (greetings), clap my hands once, and drink the kava in one swallow ("like tequila," he told me).  He drank his kava next, with the clap and "bula!" and all.

Yes, my tongue was kind of numb.  I think I'm already pretty cheery and mellow, so I didn't feel any different.  But we had a nice chat over the kava - the funniest part was that he told me kava is good for family planning.  I asked if that meant kava helped prevent making babies, or if it helped in making the babies.  All the men in the store laughed, and agreed that kava helps in making the babies.  So my friend said that when we come to Fiji again, I will bring Junior along, who will be our kava baby.  

It all was pretty trippy, for lack of a better description.  Kind of theatre of the absurd, without being totally off the wall.

To end the kava ceremony, we again clapped our hands three times, said "bula," clapped once, drank a hit each, clapped three times again, he said something more in Fijian, wiped out the bowl, and we shook hands.  It was all very interesting, but, as I said, pretty trippy.  

Okay, so maybe the kava added to the trippy aspect, it is a mild narcotic, or something, so I don't know.  It was just one of those strange and interesting cultural experiences, and why we travel.

Okay, I promised to say something about the wonderful salad at the restaurant next door.  This is the prawn and avocado salad.  Fabulous!  Delicious!  Light but filling, and so nutritious!

Easy to make:  put a bunch of salad greens on a plate.  (In Fiji, this is a mix of lettuce and shredded cabbage.)  Put some sliced tomato, carrot, and cucumber around the edge, in a nice pattern.  Place some sliced avocado around the salad - maybe about 1/4 of a nice ripe avocado.  Drizzle a little balsamic vinaigrette over the salad greens.  Place eight steamed shrimp (or prawns) across the salad.   Spoon some pineapple and papaya salsa over the top of the shrimp.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fijian Days

30 September 2013                       

Happy Birthday to my brother, Howard (Howdy) - his assistance is making our travels possible!  Love you!!
It amazes me how we quickly settle into a routine at each new location - doesn't matter that the routine varies from country to country or city to village to town.  Each place has its own rhythm, and we easily fall into the music of wherever we might be.

In Fiji, we're staying outside Nadi right on Wailoaloa Beach - pronounced why-LO-ah-LO-ah - and Wailoaloa means Black Sand.  So yes, this is a volcanic sand beach.  The white beaches are mostly on the outlying islands that, while also volcanic, are much closer to the coral reefs.  (You do know that white sand is essentially parrot fish poop, right?  Parrot fish munch on coral, and excrete the white undigestable part - we humans call it sand.)

So, our routine:  we wake up and have a lovely continental breakfast on the patio, enjoying the view of the water and the waves quietly lapping the shore.  Often, one of the hotel cats will join us - I don't remember their names, but this is my buddy Mr. Dark Orange Kitty, who is very loving and enjoys having his head scratched until he goes into drooling kitty ecstacy.  His brother is Mr. Light Orange Kitty.  There's also Pepper, who is white with dark tabby stripe spots, and their mother, who is white with black spots.  And the sister, Jessie, is a pale orange but she spends most of her time next door at the larger backpacker hostel.  (We're in a smaller backpacker hostel - and while there are dorm rooms, most backpacker places have private rooms for those of us who are rolling luggagers - backpackers at heart but old enough to switch to the rolling luggage.)

After a relaxing breakfast and maybe some reading on the beach, we get down to the business of the day.  On Sunday, everything except hotels stays closed, so yesterday I had a massage on the beach.  Yes, it was heavenly.  Wavy sounds, warm sun, and strong hands easing away the tension in my muscles.  Wonderful!!!  Other days, the business of the day might be time on the computer - researching and planning what next, or researching travel insurance, or, for me, time writing the blog and posting photos.  Or it might be a trip into Nadi, to go to the bank, buy sundries like aspirin or whatever, and maybe some sightseeing.
Today, we finally gathered all our thoughts on "where next" and met with the hotel/hostel manager, and discussed where we wanted to visit.  Our first thought had been to go to the Mamanuca Islands, a chain of small islands to the west of the "mainland" of Fiji.  (I know, we all think of Fiji as being one main island - but Fiji means the whole group of islands that form the nation.  The main island is Viti Levu, and this is where the cities are.  But there are all kinds of islands in little chains, all around Viti Levu, including Vanua Levu, which is the biggest of the small islands, kind of north.  I hope the map makes this clear.)

Anyway, we wanted to go to the Mamanucas.  But many (most) of the hotels and such on the Mamanucas were severely damaged in the cyclone last year, and are not yet up and running.  So that was out.

Next choice - the Yasawa Islands, which are to the northwest of Viti Levu.  We looked, we priced, we talked about what we wanted.  And then we hit on it - Nacula Island.  (No, it does not rhyme with Dracula.  NAH-coo-lah - the "coo" sounds like "cool," not "cute.")

We spent some time talking to Jerry, the manager; he made a few phone calls; we told him the prices we found online; he bargained and brought the price down a bit; and we now have vouchers for the ferry, which leaves Wednesday morning, and will take us along the entire Yasawa chain, and drop us at Nacula Island by early afternoon.  (This is the farthest away Yasawa island!)  We'll stay in an oceanfront bure (BOO-ray, I think) - not sure if this is a room, or a free-standing little bungalow, but we'll find out.  The price includes three meals a day, because there isn't much else on the island but the village (or two), and the resort.  (And this is a backpacker resort, with dorm options.  Trust me, this is not the posh resort in your imagination.  This is the budget resort.  Somewhere between the islands of "Cast Away" or "Blue Lagoon" (both filmed here) and "Fantasy Island" are the budget backpacker resorts.  That's where we'll be.)

And we're hoping we'll have internet to share all of the photos of how wonderful this island retreat will be - of course with time on the beach, and lots of snorkeling, and hopefully some turtles, and maybe some diving, and kayaking, and of course plain old swimming in crystal clear water.

Okay, so, that was today's activity, making our decision and booking that adventure.

And then, it was lunch time.  When we wander over to the restaurant next door, the big backpacker place, and have something.  Burger, fish and chips, curry and rice, maybe Fijian fish cooked in coconut cream - something like that.  (I'll do a separate blog about my favorite salad over there.)  Of course, if we're in Nadi we eat there, and we already have a few favorite spots.

Afternoons are filled with reading on the beach, taking a walk on the beach, playing on the computer, napping, talking to other guests or some of the staff, maybe some laundry (that's me, usually), and even watching skydivers land in the vacant lot next door.  Or more sightseeing if we're in town.

By late afternoon, the air is cooling off and we might go for a walk on the beach, mostly to see the sunset.  Or talk with local kids who are playing - this boy being buried by his siblings wanted to know where we came from, and then the kids were all thrilled to pose for a photo.  I love the fact that kids all around the world bury each other in the sand - one of those funny universal things that children all dream up, and think they're the only ones who invented this activity.

Eventually, it's time for dinner next door again.  (I know, I told you it's a routine.)  Might chat with some tourists - one evening we shared a table with an older man and his two sons, ages 16 and 19, who are touring the Pacific on a yacht and trying to get good enough to do the professional surfing competitions.  Or we talked to the nice guy who runs the dive operation at the hotel/hostel.  Anyway, we take some time to meet other people and just share travel stories and experiences.

Evenings - well, the big hotel/hostel hosts evening entertainment.  Last night was the Fijian dancing and fire dancing show.  These people perform twice a week, and are very good - and some of the music has become very familiar to us!  They don't have the enthusiasm of the kids we saw fire dancing in Samoa, but they definitely do an amazing job.  The fire dancing was on the beach, and the guys (and one young woman) did their twirling while standing, kneeling, fire sticks behind their back, and even lying down in the sand!  And this crew also touches the fire to their mouth (OW!!!!) and transfers the flame from on end of the stick to the other end using their bare hand!  One guy even placed the fire on his thigh!  I'm totally in awe of fire dancers!!!!


And this is my favorite photo of the night - might not be clear enough for the literalists among our readers, but from an artistic viewpoint, it really is a pretty amazing shot!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nadi's Hindu Temple

27 September 2013                Happy Birthday to my Dad and my niece Hannah!!!

Today we went in to town (Nadi, the third largest city in Fiji) and walked around a bit, took care of business (you know, banking, topping up the internet, etc.), and had lunch.  Then I decided to go to the Hindu temple, and Richard went off to explore the side streets of town.

I spent some time looking at the clothing in the Indian stores - the festival of Ganesh was last week or so, and the festivals of Navrarti and then Diwali are coming up.  (And I apologize if I have misspelled those festival names.)  These are major Hindu festivals, and so the stores have absolutely gorgeous clothes in a variety of styles - in India, different regions have different traditional clothing.  I tried on something (which looked horrible on me - Indian people are of smaller builds than those of us who are of Russian/Polish/German descent and are built to carry buckets of milk across the frozen steppes and tundra), but mostly just looked, admired, chatted with the sales people, and learned a lot about how to wrap a sari and how to dress for a Hindu wedding.  (One saleslady was showing me several options, and pulled out something with all kinds of sequins and plastic gems and glitz - she looked at it, looked at me, and said, "Too much bling, hmmm?"  I laughed and agreed!  It was one of those funny cultural anachronisms.)

Then I walked down to the temple - this is the Sri Sivasubramaniya Swami Temple, the largest temple in Fiji.  (And no, I really don't know how to pronounce that correctly.  No idea which syllables to emphasize, nor how to make it flow off the tongue.)

It was gorgeous!  Sumptuous painted plaster for all the roofs and statues.  I have no idea if the plaster is made in molds, or carved, or what.  But all of the roofs, with all those statues, are hand-painted.  They have a workshop at the temple, and I could see workers replastering and painting a few figures.

I had to wear a sarong and shoulder wrap, since my knee-length and strappy sundress was just a little too bare for a temple.  Shoes left at the front.  I wandered in and slowly walked around the temple - passing three high school students who were quietly walking around the perimeter of the temple in a clockwise manner, circling three times.  (I asked the guide, this is a prayer ritual.  And he thought I was strange because I circled the temple in a counter-clockwise direction.  Hey, what do I know about Hindu temples, right?)

There were a variety of small temples within the temple grounds, to some of the various gods.  The main god featured seemed to be Ganesh, the god with the human body and head of an elephant.  (Ganesh, also known as Ganesha, often is accompanied by a mouse.  This is his pet.  Really.  This is what I was told by the guide.)  And since the festival of Ganesh had just passed, Ganesh seemed to be even more prominent.
There were amazing paintings on the ceiling inside, but people aren't allowed to photograph those.  It was similar to the way the Sistine Chapel shows the stories of the Bible - the temple ceiling shows the birth of Ganesh, his parents Shiva and Parvati, his brother Murugan, and a variety of legends and stories featuring these gods.  It was kind of confusing, and sometimes people were different colors (the green lady was born in the bush) - plus sometimes gods transformed into other gods.  

Different sides of the same roof - so different gods, or different incarnations of the same gods, or something like that.
Despite my confusion and not understanding the religious significance, I could still appreciate the beauty of the paintings and the sculpted plaster.  The temple definitely had that mystical, magical feeling that richly decorated places of worship create, no matter what the religion - there just seems to be an aura of peace, tranquility, and as if the stories could truly happen.

I had a wonderful time, and talked with the guide and then the lady at the front gate.  They are all of Indian descent but raised in Fiji, and of course are Hindu.  And they asked if there were Indians where we lived, and if there were Hindu temples.  So I told them about seeing the festival of Ganesh in St. Thomas, when Richard and I were watching the turtle nest and waiting for the hatchlings - a large gathering of Hindu people showed up and chanted for a while, then a few young men took a statue of Ganesh into the sea on a small surfboard - when they got out to shoulder-deep water, they took the statue and placed it on the bottom of the ocean.  Over the next few days, as we patrolled the area we found several statues of Ganesh placed along the beach.  This is part of the tradition, to place statues of Ganesh in the ocean or by the shore - these are special statues designed to disintegrate quickly and return to the earth.

All in all, I had a fabulous day!  And it was interesting learning more about one aspect of Fijian culture, since this is an incredibly multicultural society. 

Bula! Bula!

26 September 2013

No, we are not Yale fans or alumnae.  Bula (pronounced BOO-la) means Hello or Welcome or How are you in Fijian.  Although the reply is also bula, so the "how are you" part isn't really the major part of things.

So Fiji is kind of an interesting mix - the indigenous people are kind of a combination of Melanesian and Polynesian - so they have darker skin and curlier hair than Samoans.  But much of the culture is similar.  While, of course, being different at the same time.

Plus there are a great many Indians (from India), as well as Chinese, Malaysians, quite a mix.

In the downtown area of Nadi (pronounced NAN-dee) there's a huge mosque, and the largest Hindu temple in Fiji.  As well as store after store featuring Indian clothing - saris for the Hindu women, long tops and baggy pants for the Muslim women, and gorgeous scarves and wraps and fabric.  There's a big Hindu festival coming up, and I hope we manage to find some celebrations, wherever we end up in early October.  (And I'm so tempted to buy something like these gorgeous ensembles in the window - I love ethnic clothing!  And embroidery!  And sparkly stuff!)

Our hotel is modest - our room is small, but has a queen bed, decent bathroom, TV, fridge, and a balcony overlooking the beach.  Plus continental breakfast.  And there are five hotel cats, who are very friendly and often sit with us at breakfast.  Not that they want toast, no, they like the pats on the head and chin rubs that they get.

The beach seems to be on a bay, and the sand is kind of a grey color.  The water isn't as clear as most of the seas around here, so we haven't spent any time in the water.  I know, we're so spoiled - but when you've been in crystal clear water, with white sand beaches, everything else just looks a wee bit dirty.

There are a few neighboring hotels along the beach, with cultural dancing and fire dancing similar to what we saw in Samoa.  Even though there were more dancers, and they were adults, they didn't have the enthusiasm of the student group we saw in Apia.  So it was exciting, but not thrilling.  And we were in the back of the crowd, so I didn't get any exciting photos.

That's about it.  We have four weeks on Fiji, we're looking at a variety of places to explore, including some trips to the small islands that make up the Fijian archipelago.  And of course the capital city of Suva.

Last word of the day - Vinaka - pronounced vih-NAH-ka - it means thank you.  A very important word, since the Fijian people are extremely friendly and helpful - store clerks come out to chat with us on the sidewalk, offer to call us a cab, or will walk over to tell the cab driver the fee to take us back to our hotel, to ensure we aren't overcharged.  Really, can you imagine anyone doing that for tourists anywhere in the US?  Wow!  Friendly and helpful!

So we're saying a lot of Bula and Vinaka!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson

24 September 2013

A little known fact:  Robert Louis Stevenson, author of "Kidnapped" and "Treasure Island," (and of course "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde") a man who set a novel in the British Virgin Islands, moved to Samoa for the last four and a half years of his life.  Built a huge house.  Died in Samoa.  And is buried there.

The huge house was used by the Samoan head of state, by various individuals, the goods were sold off, and as is the way of many homes such as this, once owned by venerated artists, the building eventually was given to the nation of Samoa to be used as a museum honouring the memory and achievements of Robert Louis Stevenson.

The home stands on a large flat tract on a hill overlooking Apia and the harbor - it's a huge sprawling house made of imported timber (one wonders why, but so it is).  The museum is now furnished with some retrieved items that originally belonged to the Stevenson family, but also reproductions and other household items similar to those used.

Most impressive (to me):  A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson painted by John Singer Sargent.  Yes, THAT John Singer Sargent!!!

Apparently RLS was very friendly to the Samoan people, visiting rebel chiefs who were in jail for defying the German colonists, and making friends among the Samoan population rather than the Germans.  And for this, he is much loved by the Samoan people, to this day.

His grave is further up the mountain.  Our new friend Sandy, a writer from Montana who just happened to be staying at our B&B (though we saw her in passing in American Samoa), went with us to visit the RLS home, and she and I decided to try hiking up to the grave.  Despite the fact that it was closing in on noon, and we only had a partial bottle of water each.

We hiked uphill.  We climbed up steps made of board and gravel.  We clambered over fallen trees and jumbled rocks.  We continued on the narrow path as it climbed more and more steeply uphill, with frequent breaks to see the view, catch our breath, have a sip of water, cool our steaming faces.

And then, when it looked as if we were nearly to the top, the narrow path turned into a steep almost vertical ascent with a knotted rope to drag oneself up the dirt and gravel.  A little further along was the remains of a landslide, whether from Cyclone Evan in December or the more recent rains, we didn't know.

And that was it.  Steep ascent over mud and dirt?  Hand over hand on a rope?  Climbing over a landslide?

We decided that was our breaking point, and we turned around and hiked down.  Yes, we maybe could have made it - but we knew the hike down wouldn't be without some effort. Yes, we were probably some 400 meters to the grave.  But was it really worth killing ourselves over?  No.

So we had a decent hike down, with occasional spots of steadying one another over rocks, or going over a steep spot on our tushes.  We tried, we had a good hike, we saw great views, and we decided that discretion truly is the better part of valour.


Stevenson requested that his 'Requiem' inscribed on his tomb:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Travel Like a Fashionista for Over a Year

21 September 2013

The Obligatory “What Do You Take” Blog

People ask what one packs when one is traveling all the time, and going from climate to climate.  What do you take when you have no plan, don’t know where you are going, and might encounter anything from freezing snow to tropical sun?  When you might go to a museum one day and then go whitewater rafting the next; or visit an archaeology dig and willingly take up a trowel.  (I did that one summer, it was wonderful.)

This is a LONG blog.  If you aren’t interested, just skip it.  I won’t be insulted.  But this is in answer to some questions we’ve received.  And for soon-to-be travelers, it isn’t the usual take on travel wardrobes, but there’s some sound advice in there anyway.  (And I'm making the photos small, since this is so long but if you click on the photo it will enlarge for you.)

So, for starters – while I’m a minimalist in my dressing, I’m not the kind of person who can live out of a small backpack with just a few tee shirts and a pair of convertible slacks where the legs zip off.  Sorry, I’m just not.  I’m a bit of a fashionista.  I don’t want to look like a stereotypical tourist – I’d prefer to fit in the culture of the place I’m visiting.  I LOVE being mistaken for a local.  (I’ve been asked for directions in Denmark, Israel, Greece, Russia, Italy, Costa Rica, Spain, and places where I speak the language such as New Zealand and Australia.  And I work on learning the language of the country I’m traveling through, so I’ve been able to give directions in Hebrew, Greek, Italian, Spanish.  I LOVE being able to do that.)

I’m also 59 years old now, and I can’t wear the same cute little shorts and tops that I wore when I traveled forty years ago.

Anyway – so my travel wardrobe is NOT a bunch of shorts and tee shirts.  I pretty much have brought along clothing that I would wear to work as a teacher in the USVI.  Nice slacks or skirts, lightweight tops, a sweater or two, a light jacket.  Cold weather clothing includes jeans, a heavy sweater, a few long-sleeved tops.  Clothing suitable to my age and body shape.  Clothing that I've already worn and mostly my favorite pieces.

The clothing probably would come under the general category of “casual professional.”  Or, in an office job, maybe “dress-down Friday.”  Which meant, when it came time for packing, I didn’t need to buy much, I already owned most of what I needed.  (I also boxed up clothing I didn’t pack, putting my personal essential items in every box – white top, black slacks or skirt, neutral dress, a few tops, one pair of coordinating shoes, some undies.  I kept a spreadsheet so I know exactly what is in each box, labeled each box, and these are all in storage.  So I can easily write to my brother and ask for box C-5, and know that that box has replacement clothing for a year or two at a time.  A little compulsive, but it makes life so much easier when you have a system.)

I do carry a pair or two of shorts and a top or two that is super tough and super casual – for whitewater rafting, or mountain climbing, the occasional archaeology dig, or whatever might come up that requires getting hot, sweaty, grubby, or dirty.  But most of my clothing is in the nice casual category. 

Everyone knows to travel with mostly mix-and-match clothing – most tops can combine with most bottoms.  Nothing that can only be worn in one combination or in one way.  Reversible is great.  Items that convert from long slacks to rolled-up-and-tabbed capris or shorts are great.  There are items that can go from a long skirt to a sundress, or a short skirt to a top.  These are great travel items.  Also, I don’t bother with separate workout clothes or sleepwear – the old tanks I wear for rafting or a swimsuit coverup are my sleep shirts; leggings are workout wear or day wear or sleepwear or even long underwear.  Multi-use is the key.

Knits are best for travel because they don’t wrinkle – but in hot tropical weather, knits can be hot and not breathe as well as wovens.  I carry a mix.  And I only wear natural fibers, again because in hot weather synthetics are just too hot.  My trick – carry a small empty plant misting bottle; when I want to wear a woven item I fill the bottle with tap water and mist the woven item (dress, top, skirt, slacks) and hang in the shower to air dry.  (The night before is good.)  The piece of clothing is dry by morning, and major wrinkles are gone.  I hate ironing, and I’ve done this trick for years at home, but it’s great for traveling.  The bottle weighs next to nothing.

Last general thought – be ready for sometimes unusual color combinations – I have no problem wearing red Birks with a burnt orange skirt.  Or pink sandals with a black dress.  You can carry off unusual color combos if you just hold your head high and show people that this is, indeed, your signature look and your fashion statement.

Okay, so I started with a rolling piece of luggage – I fell in love with the Wheely Beast (renamed "Big Wheelie" by us) from REI.  I went with the 28” bag, didn’t really need or want the 34” one (when full it would be heavier than I want to schlep).  It has a ton of space in the lower part for clothing, and I keep toiletries and miscellaneous items up top.  It wheels nicely, is very sturdy, and shows absolutely no wear after a year of travel.  Truly love this piece.

Then I discovered packing cubes.  These are wonderful compression bags, but in nylon fabric and mesh, and they zip rather than having to mess with compressing plastic bags.  I tried stuff sacks, but found they didn’t pack in my bag as neatly and they wasted space.  I have mostly full cubes with a few half cubes, and one folding envelope.  Perfect for keeping clothes organized.  (I have the Eagle Creek packing cubes, available through REI,, Eagle Creek’s website – there are others, but I really like these.  No problems thus far after a year.)

Plus – I love to color code items.  Yes, compulsive, but it just makes life easier if I know that all the red packing cubes hold warm weather clothing, the black holds cold weather clothing, and the zebra print holds items that can go either way.  When we’re in the tropics, I live out of the red cubes and zebra print.  When we were in NZ, I lived out of the black cubes and zebras.  I don’t need to unpack the entire bag to find the last piece of undies or the matching sock.  It truly makes my life easier and saves time – so I can spend more time playing and less time repacking at each location. (Pick one cube to stash the Swiss Army knife when flying.  Also could be used for hiding extra cash, money belt, etc.  And a full cube isn’t bad as a flying pillow or footrest on the train.)

So, the actual clothing:

Red cube 1:  Knit tops for warm weather:  sleeveless linen knit in white, red, and lavender black (the lavender was hanging in the shower after I washed it, and the housekeeper accidentally got some bleach on it; so I asked them to dye it black to cover the bleach spots; works fine for me, I wear a lot of black anyway); off-white cotton tank (for under things); black and beige striped tank; coral floral sleeveless top; linen/poly tees in black, heathered grey, lavender blue; white knit collared shirt.

Red cube 2:  Bottoms for warm weather:  brown roll up shorts; black shorts; black slacks; black capris; grey slacks; 2 pair black leggings; flippy black skirt; narrow black skirt; brown cargo skirt; short chambray skirt; burnt orange print skirt (can convert to a top); blue print reversible silk skirt; two slips; grey linen sundress; black knit sundress.

Zebra cube:  Underwear:  3 bras (1 black, 2 nude); cotton undies – I like cotton for comfort, even though they don’t dry quickly after washing.  I usually carry about 4 weeks worth.  

Zebra mini cube:  Socks and spare shoe laces, in a little compression bag. 

Red half cube:  Swimwear – for me, that means a couple of sports bras and two swim tops, a pair of board shorts, a swim skirt, and a long tank cover up.  Much of this can double as workout gear or rafting clothes, or the long tank as a  sleep shirt.  Also spare sunglasses, sunscreen, and a little waterproof holder for ID/money/keys.  All of this fits into the half-cube. 

Black cube:  Cold weather clothes:  jeans; heavy alpaca sweater to layer; white long-sleeved tee to layer; black sweater; white heavy tee to layer on top; my old rain jacket would go in here, but it stopped being waterproof, so I’ve ordered a new one that will be mailed to us shortly.  Former jacket was black, new jacket is red.  Helly Hensen rainwear is fashionable as well as absolutely waterproof – you can find good buys on  (I gave away the pink sweater in the photo when I lightened up the bag.)

 Black half cube:  Accessories: scarves (including a pashmina which doubles as a blanket) and one that doubles as a swimsuit coverup; warm knit hat and mittens for cold weather.  And a black sequined bolero sweater because I want to be ready for all fancy occasions, LOL!

White packable rain jacket/windbreaker – folds into its pocket, stores in a cube, or can cram into my purse or pack.  Have layered it under the rain jacket for warmth on a ferry.   Indispensible!  
Zebra folding envelope:  Wovens to pack flat:  long-sleeved white long shirt; navy blue cotton jacket; blue print shirt; teal long-sleeved heavy tee shirt to layer over tops; white linen peasant top; dark teal linen peasant top; sleeveless linen tops (one red, one white, one pink); purple embroidered peasant top; white eyelet top; white embroidered short sleeved big shirt; two-layer green linen dress that can be worn as separates or long tops.  Packs into the envelope, with help from a plastic folding board that slides into the bottom before closing up. 

Hats:  one sport hat with a hole for a ponytail (so it won’t blow off when sailing); one big sun hat (crocheted off white); one red hat for rain or sun.  Plus an umbrella for tropical rain.

And that’s it for clothing.  You can see how items mix and match – burnt orange skirt, white top, navy jacket, maybe black leggings if it’s a cool day.  Just the skirt and a white top for a hot day.  Any of the slacks with any of the tops.  Jeans, long sleeves, sweaters for cold cold days, with the alpaca sweater under the rainjacket, throw on the knit hat, mittens, scarf and I can watch fireworks in the rain in Wellington.  (Leggings under the jeans act like long underwear for women – don’t bother carrying separate long undies.)  Combinations aren’t endless, but there are a lot of ways to combine the clothes so I don’t get too bored.  Plus most items are basics that can dress up or down the sequined sweater over the black sundress makes it suitable for everything but a grande ball.

You can also see how easy it is to repack, or to pack a small backpack for a week-long side trip when we leave our big luggage at the main hotel.  Side trips like the fjord cruise in NZ, or to some of the smaller islands around Samoa, or even to Pago meant we didn't need everything, we could leave the big rolling stuff and just carry the small pack with a week of clothes and toiletries.

Small purses (wristlets) holding:  (1) jewelry; (2) pens, markers, small art supplies; (3) laundry items such as bleach or stain sticks.  (Empty items to use the purse for an evening bag.)  The bleach or stain sticks are essential, and can be difficult to find when traveling, so carry your own along with you.  Especially if, like me, you like to wear white.  While eating pasta with marinara sauce.  I tried the laundry detergent that comes in sort of little leaves, and it’s okay – but most laundromats sell small packs of detergent; hand wash items can be washed with dish soap, bar soap, or shampoo in a pinch.  Carry a larger laundry detergent when driving/camping/training around a country or continent.

Various toiletry bags – sorted by use (i.e. daily, or shower, or extra meds, or whatever) – color-coded so easy to find, and again might be in a possible purse.  Make sure one bag can be used to carry to a shower and can hang on a hook if you plan to camp or stay in hostels – I like a shoe bag in bright pink.  Also, I’ve pared down my toiletries to basics:  shampoo, conditioner, soap, face cleanser that doubles as face moisturizer, and body lotion.  Cosmetics are eye liner, mascara, face powder that has a sunscreen, lip gloss.  Vaseline for lip gloss or makeup remover or dry feet.  Nail clipper and files; file for dry heels.  Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss.  That’s about it, other than medications.  (Hair conditioner doubles as makeup remover as well as leather cleaner or conditioner.  Haven’t tried it on white sport shoes though.)  AND – I buy travel size items when we’re flying all over.  When we’re in a country and traveling by land, I’ll buy a full size bottle of whatever and refill the travel size bottle, then use up the large when as we drive/train around the country.  No sense in wasting all those plastic containers, we want to be kind to the earth.  I really like the GoToobs, they’re squishy and don’t break, and are easy to refill.  Available at, REI, other travel sites and stores.)

You might notice that all my medication, toiletry, cosmetics, laundry bags are in pinks or florals – I color code everything, it makes things easier to find in the top of my rolling bag or in our overflow bag.
Foldable cloth (nylon) bags – for laundry, carrying groceries, beach bag, tote bag, whatever.  I really like the ones from Envirosax ( – I’ve also given away a few as gifts to people who are especially helpful.

Small notebook and a few sketchbooks.  In a little cotton bag, so they don’t get lost.  (Could use the bag to hold other stuff, like computer wires, etc.)  I keep a small notebook in my everyday purse, with info like the next flight or hotel confirmation or whatever – when you live on the road, travel plans can change from day to day and you can forget what time a flight might be, so jot it down and keep it handy.

Plastic file envelope for records:  copy of passport, medical records, insurance info.  Contact information.  Receipts and warranties for items bought en route, like the pocket wifi.  Minimal, but essential.  (I'm currently using this as a door stop, LOL!)

Jump drives to store info on computer: essential medical records, photos as we go along.  Jump drives stored in small tins, in a very small bag, so they don’t disappear in the luggage.  (Label drives with a marker!)

Miscellaneous items: deck of cards; camp towel; menorah because I like Chanukah; sewing kit and scissors (don’t put in carry one!); first aid kit; plant misting bottle.  Fanny pack.  Money belt to wear inside clothing.  Medical stuff – all my allergy and asthma stuff for 3-6 months at a time.

Backpack:  travel clock (with alarm); laptop computer; Kindle with over 1000 books, including a few travel or guide books; pocket wifi to for mobile hotspot; camera; iPod; earphones (not buds, I dance with the iPod and phones sometimes for exercise); all the cords for everything, a set of universal outlet adapters, and a universal USB port that goes into an outlet (or the adapters) to recharge the camera, iPod, wifi hotspot.  Also, backup medical stuff like an Epipen and asthma inhalers.  When we fly, I usually add my daily toiletry kit, maybe my bag with jewelry, and of course a jacket and/or sweater because I get cold on planes.  (Just a note – because we’re traveling for an unlimited time and don’t know where we’ll be next, we don’t have a mobile phone.  I have my Macbook Air, Richard has his laptop, we have a MagicJack phone so we can make calls.  We purchased the pocket wifi device in NZ and it is wonderful, we just purchase a SIM card and top up in each country.  Other option would be an iPad or other tablet that has a phone option, but then you’re stuck paying for a plan that may or may not work overseas.  We decided to use what we already had, and not buy new technology.  However, after a few years we may go the iPad route if it works with the pocket wifi, and if it has enough memory to store everything we have in our computers.  Then we wouldn’t need a separate ereader, I guess.)

Shoes:  I’ve limited myself to three pairs of shoes (and I’d be happy with just two if I didn’t need closed shoes occasionally):  one pair of decorated athletic shoes (or whatever you want to call them) – I prefer leather so they’re waterproof, rather than mesh or cloth; one pair of rubber flipflops; one pair of Birkenstock sandals (currently red).  I had a pair of Teva river guide shoes, but only wore them twice in a year so I’ve passed those along to someone else.  I may switch from the flipflops to river guide sandals, just to have more diversity in a rubber sandal.  I store shoes in nylon shoe bags to keep my clothing cubes clean, but I’ve heard you can use hotel shower caps which is a great idea.  And I could do without the flipflops, but wet weather is bad for the Birks so I’ve been using the flipflops to save the Birks.

Purse:  simple grey nylon fabric purse, with various flaps and pockets to hold daily stuff, including the camera (small digital easy-to-use).  Has a separate pocket for my camera, a zippered inner pocket for a wallet, all that good stuff.  Long strap for either shoulder or cross-body wear.  And the lining is bright pink!

Snorkel and mask:  I bought these in Samoa, to use all around the South Pacific and SE Asia.  Not sure if I’ll take them along to northern Asia, or what.  And I haven’t added these to my luggage yet, so I hope it fits in the backpack.

Packing it all
Hats in the bottom of the rolling luggage.  Stack cubes along one side, half cubes standing up on the other side.  (See how nicely they fit in?)  Miscellaneous items around edges or between cubes.  Umbrella on top of half cubes.
Then the plastic envelope of papers (though sometimes this goes in the backpack), and the clothing envelope on top.

Shoes in the bags on top of that.
I keep an extra luggage tag inside the rolling piece – both for extra ID and in case anything happens to the exterior luggage tag (which is integrated into the top flap, but hey, things can get torn off).  Just a weird and weightless precaution.

Zip the bottom half of the bag.  Stand it up to fill the top area with the toiletries and miscellaneous items. 

I realize it sounds like a lot of stuff.  But when you break it down to climate zones, it isn’t that much for any one temperature or climate.  

The rolling piece is the checked item, with a total weight of about 50 lbs, or 23 kg.  My backpack, when full, is probably 12-15 lbs, or 10 kg.  We started with more stuff, but that put our luggage in the overweight category, and we had an overflow bag.  But then we had to pay for that third bag when flying domestic US, and sometimes overseas.  US to international allows two bags per person, but most international flights originating outside the US limit you to one bag of 23 kg.  So we’ve gotten rid of some items and pared down to exactly 23 kg.