Our Travel Resources & Tips

(Although we’re fairly experienced travellers I’m sure many readers will have their own suggestions: please feel free to comment and add to our knowledge base!)

We’re Flashpackers: aging Backpackers who now prefer a private room (as opposed to a dorm), our own bathroom (although not adverse to sharing  and  quite happy with squat toilets). We also enjoy the occasional splurge (swimming pool in Bangkok? oh, yeah!).

In the almost 20 years we’ve been together our travel style has evolved. One of the biggest changes has been that we now go carry-on as often as possible (sometimes coming home with souvenirs we do check bags). We use the packing list from www.onebag.com. If you haven’t considered going with carry-on read onebag.com in its entirety!

We fly overseas but prefer buses and trains to get around. We love trains. While studying in Prague a schoolmate recommended www.seat61.com. It’s a comprehensive website for worldwide rail travel with many links and photos for those seeking further info. The author makes great arguments about why trains make more sense than planes.

When researching a destination I’ll start with the old standbys: www.lonelyplanet.com and www.roughguides.com. We don’t rely on guidebooks as we once did but they provide good general info and the Lonely Planet Thorntree Forum is a great resource. (when I wanted to find out how Mompiche had fared in the devastating 2016 Ecuador earthquake Thorntree was the only place I found up-to-date info quickly). If you’re going to SEAsia I highly recommend www.travelfish.org which has info on each country and a forum providing up-to-date info. I also subscribe to their weekly newsletter which is packed with informative, and entertaining, articles.

I read many travellers’ blogs. While in Ecuador we discovered alongdustyroads.com. Currently I’m researching South India and am liking global-gallivanting.com, amongst others. A big thumbs up to dedicated travel bloggers!

Frequently there are forums for cities and countries, usually created by and for expats, but also super handy for travellers. One of my faves is the New Hanoian: tnhvietnam.xemzi.com. I used it extensively before travelling to Hanoi and while living there. An expat blog compendium, expatsblog.com/blogs, provides links to expat blogs.

We use Trip Advisor, both for research and for reporting on what we discover. We also frequently use booking.com (with its no-charge cancellation and no charges before arriving policies) and hostelbookers.com.

Recently we found skyscanner.ca is handy for comparing flight costs (the link is to the Canadian version). As it samples several flight aggregators (e.g. Expedia, Kayak) it presents the several available options. These days it’s almost impossible not to use a credit card when making bookings. We both have Alaska Airlines cards which give us good AirMiles plus Alaska has partnered with many other airlines, including some of the world’s highest ranked airlines.

We’re both longtime members of Mountain Equipment Co-op which we started using for backpacking and outdoor sport gear but now MEC supplies most of our travel clothing and gear. We wear quick-dry clothing and plan for layering in countries with varied climates. Over time I learned that I can get by with very very little. Leaving all the more room for gifts/souvenirs!

I bought my Osprey Porter 46 online in 2008 and I’m still really happy with it. I’ve carried heavy loads coming home and all the handles and straps are still holding up. The backpack straps are handy but I wouldn’t recommend them for long distance backpacking. As a carry-on travel bag, however, it’s ace.

Being a visual artist I always carry some sort of notepad/sketchbook. The last few years I’ve used Moleskins simply because of the size and handy pocket at the back for bits and pieces. Sketching is a great way to get to know a place and meet people!

Currently I take my Nikon D7000 and two lens (both relatively inexpensive): a Nikon 18-140 (most frequently used) and a Sigma 70-300 (for wildlife). Yes, a bit of overlap in length as I bought the Nikon more recently and decided it was a good, all-round size. I usually don’t bother taking a separate flash or tripod. I carry the camera gear and a laptop in a Think Tank Urban Disguise 50. I like this bag as it’s relatively discrete and I can either carry it with the shoulder strap or by its hand grip. I don’t like to carry camera gear on my back as the bag might get slashed in a crowd.

On our most recent journey, to Ecuador, I took half a dozen big SD cards for my camera. I shoot RAW images on one card and the second card slot stores back-up jpegs. Plus everything got backed up onto a portable hard drive, packed separately.

What laptop to take? I used to take my MacBookPro but on both our last trips (SEAsia in 2012 and Ecuador in 2016) we took an Acer ebook. It drove me nuts but did the job and I wasn’t as worried about it dying or getting lost/stolen. I prefer  Adobe’s Lightroom for cataloging and doing quick edits of photos but on the Acer I use an old version of Adobe Photoshop Elements.

I use a pacsafe for security when leaving the camera bag in an unattended room or when sleeping on a bus or train. All our bags are locked with TSA approved travel locks. Plus we carry an extra padlock or two, and a cable, for lockers or rooms without locks.

Here’s an interesting article on travel insurance: www.cbc.ca/news/business/buy-travel-health-insurance-end-up-with-less-coverage-a-couple-s-hard-lesson-1.3495864. We used to shop around but now we’re going with our primary insurance provider, even though it costs more up front.

We carry an extensive medical kit, which seems like a lot to carry but it frequently comes in handy, for ourselves or people we meet. Although many tropical accommodations have mosquito nets we pack our own just in case. And we usually take along sleeping bag liners in case of dubious bedding (if you’re travelling to SEAsia you can find excellent silk bag liners for cheap).

Most important: a good attitude (a big smile goes a long ways) and a sense of wonder. I love the feeling of childlike wonder that foreign places brings forth. Sharing that sense of wonder with the locals often leads to a tips about their favourite places which you may never find in a guidebook.

Happy trails!

(last updated November 2016)