The Seven P’s

My time spent back in Texas was dominated by trying to replace my electronic arsenal, piece by piece. This was even more frustrating considering that when it comes to electronics, the old adage “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to” seems to ring true in every case. The new laptop has a less optimal screen and cheaper plastic. The new iphones are gigantic, weighting down my pants pocket. And the ipod, once a phenomenal music storage workhorse designed to fit in the tiniest of places now exists primarily as a full phone-sized gaming device. One by one, I tried to replace my tried and true tools, only to learn “new and improved” is in the eyes of the beholder. Why can’t they leave well enough alone? Well, one reason is because we live in a disposable culture brainwashed by marketing.

But slowly but surely, as I watched daily for the big brown truck coming down the driveway, I got assimilated back into a life driven by technology. As I replaced my items, I did so with the plan for more travel in mind. A smaller, lighter weight, less expensive laptop. An unlocked iphone that is GSM ready. And I had to take to ebay for a used model of the smaller ipod.

I also took this opportunity to revamp my current travel kit. My old duffle bag on wheels was starting to split. My oversized laptop bag was heavy and bulky. And I needed some way to keep my valuables at hand without having to wear my backpack backwards.

I am returning to my backpacking roots. While the current trend seems to be leaning more toward hard sided, four wheeled, upright rolling luggage (i.e. the “Away” brand,) for me, a backpack is more practical. I tend to stay in less expensive guest houses or pensions without an elevator. I use public transportation almost exclusively, which typically involves multiple levels of stairs. And I tend to go places with less than ideal sidewalks. But also, since I travel solo, I feel more secure with my bags as close as possible. I have only two hands, so the back and shoulders need to help with the load. Besides, it’s not really any different than going to the Main Street Gym and leg pressing a hundred lbs. 😉

My chosen pack, an Osprey Fairview 40, as recommended by my friend Maureen. She even altered me of the REI sale! She also helped me find my iphone replacement. Maureen is my personal shopper. 😉

I also replaced the old bulky, three level backpack bag with a more streamlined, slimmer model with a built-in padded laptop sleeve. And added a cross-body bag just big enough to hold my walk-about essentials, money, keys, camera, phone, and a small bottle of water. It goes across the shoulder, keeping valuables in front. Not only is this version more secure, but many museums now require the bag to be worn in front, so this is more comfortable.

Crossbody bag keeps items like money, Metro ticket, and camera close at hand.

I am also going 100% packing cubes this trip. To show that bad situations can have a positive outcome, last fall during my “No Zen in Sedona” stay, I met youtubers Tim and Fin while boondocked in the cul de sac. They fund their travels through their TRIPPED Amazon store. They gifted me a set of compression cubes; two large, two small, a shoe bag, and a laundry bag. I tried a hybrid solution when I went to Ecuador, and it seemed to work well, so this next trip, I’m going all cubed. I like having everything compartmentalized and color coordinated so I know which cube to reach for when I need a certain item. They also double as good pillows for additional support when those in the guesthouse or hostel are lacking. I managed to compress six short sleeved shirts, two long sleeved shirts, two pair of pants, two pair of shorts, nine pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, a swimsuit, sarong, a pair of Chacos, flipflops, two bandanas, a hat, and toiletries into a 40cu carry-on. Not bad.

My TRIPPED packing compression cubes. What a nice gift! Thanks, Tim and Allison!

And they all fit!

While I said I was not going to keep talking about the theft that happened to me in Quito, fact is, there is rarely a day that some aspect of that traumatic event doesn’t cross my mind. So my plan in replacing my gear and planning my next trip has been to do everything I can think of to be prepared….then forget about it. The hope is that securing my items and being more cautious will become a habit of “good hygiene,” rather than fear-based thinking. I will follow what’s known in the military as “The Seven P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

Here is the laptop cable I purchased. I like this one because it doesn’t “dead end” into the laptop. The butterfly clasp in the upper right corner inserts into the laptop Kensington lock slot. Then, you can use the cable as a loop to secure other items as well. (Orange combination lock is for backpack. It only has to be as strong as the zipper. Again, a deterrent, not Fort Knox.)

Here are my “Seven P’s of Travel Planning”

1.) Placement — Place “emergency cash” in several diversified locations. A Ziploc baggie ducttaped beneath the suitcase lining is one I have used in the past. Or beneath the inner soles of my shoes. Or inside a pair of socks. The key is not to have too much in one location. Spread it around!
2.) Photocopy, Produce PDF, and Print – Photocopy your passport and credit cards, front and back. It’s not enough to keep on your hard drive, as the laptop can be the victim. Scan and leave a copy with loved ones. (Also helpful to have the non-toll free number listed on the back of credit cards to phone collect in case of loss or theft.) Keep a printed copy of your passport as ID inside your luggage.
3.) Phone – Call your bank and your credit card companies to place a “Travel Alert” on your ATM card and accounts with destination country and dates of travel.
4.) Padlock – Add one or two padlocks to your gear bag. Yes, I know it would take mere seconds to cut through these small locks. Best one can hope for is to slow them down. Most criminals are opportunistic, so the idea here is to make your own valuables less of an opportunity than the next target.
5.) Password Protect – Place passcode and add tracking tools to cell phones. Yes, I know these can be hacked, but again, the idea is to slow them down until you can change the passwords on your accounts.
6.) Purge vs Preserve – Remove all emails from your inbox that could potentially lead to secure information, or location of accounts, stored passwords, etc. Make sure you back up all documents, music, photos, etc. onto an external hard drive before you leave. (While I thought I had done a full back up of files, I lost a lot of documents I had saved to the desktop.)
7.) And my final “P” is for Portugal! Next stop, Lisbon!

Here’s my pack load. Carry-on. 😉

It’s a Bloody Mary Morning in the DFW Airport.

Blue Interlude

Back to Texas after four months away, and the Winnie was like I never left it. Central Texas had an unusually cold winter with single digit temps, so it’s always a relief to hear the water pump roar to life while filling the lines, then stop once it’s done its job, not to be heard from until summoned for duty once again.

Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of my native state. I always felt like I was the oddball in one of those “Which one is not like the others” games. It took leaving Continue reading

And Finally…Cuenca!

At long last, the tour through Ecuador has come to an end. Last stop, Cuenca.

For those of you who stuck with me through the Quito chaos, sailing 8 days through the Galapagos, and five stops along the Wanderbus circuit, I thank you. While the country of Ecuador is only half the size of Texas, there is much to see here, with enriching cultural experiences that are as varied as the topography. So while it has been a bit of a struggle to get the blog caught up, I wanted to get it all down before the memories began to fade. Continue reading

All Out Assault on Alausi

While the Wanderbus is a wonderful way to wander through Ecuador, it’s not perfect. The bus only rolls through town every other day, and not at all on Sundays. So when planning out an itinerary, sometimes one can get “stuck” for longer than they would like.

I arrive into Alusi the afternoon before my scheduled Devil’s Nose train at 8:00am the following morning. Given that the train ride is only 3 hours tops, it would be ideal if I Continue reading

Riding Rails Up the Devil’s Nose

I’ve expressed my love for trains on many occasions on this blog. Doesn’t matter how touristy, how pricey, how short or how long, if there is a train in town, I’m going to hop it. I attribute this love to many things. First, I came by it honestly. My Dad hopped into an open box car and rode all the way from Texas to California when he was only 18 years old. Wanderlust runs deep in the genes. Continue reading

On Ozogoche and Eating in Ecuador

One of the many things I appreciate about the Wanderbus itinerary is the stops made along the way to patronize local merchants, immersing in the local culture. When it’s time for a bathroom break or a snack stop on the bus, where some tour operators might utilize gas stations and mini-markets, Wanderbus incorporates some type of local Ecuadorian experience. In most cases, these stops afford the chance to not only get a better understanding of Ecuadorian customs, but also try the local cuisine. The next leg of our journey will be making a stop in the Ozogoche Lakes region within Sangay National Park, where the local indigenous women will be preparing lunch for us. Continue reading

Baños, Ecuador’s “Adventure Capital”

The Lonely Planet travel guide describes my next stop along the Wanderbus route, Baños, as a “mixed bag.” Between their description of “garish tour operators, cut-price spas, and budget accommodations” that’s not exactly a glowing endorsement to lure me in, particularly when it is also billed as the “adventure center of Ecuador.” Too much testosterone. However, the name of the town which is actually Baños de Agua Santa, means “baths.” In other words, hot springs! It would take a pretty abysmal description to get me to skip a place named for its hot springs. Continue reading

Quilatoa Crater Rim Hike

As the Wanderbus climbs up the winding roads gaining elevation, we near our next stop for the day, Quilatoa Crater. The bus will be continuing on after a brief stop at the overlook, but I am choosing to “hop off” to spend a couple of nights here. I ask Darien, our English speaking guide if he knows the location of the hotel I have booked, and if I will need to take a taxi. He laughs out loud and says, “A donkey, maybe. But not a taxi!” Continue reading

Cotopaxi National Park to Pujilí

The Wanderbus is not just a mode of transportation looping around Ecuador. There are times when the bus veers off the main route, in this case the Pan-American Highway, and acts as a tour bus while our English speaking guide provides commentary on a destination. Cotopaxi National Park is one example of this guided excursion off the main road. Continue reading

Wandering Ecuador on the Wanderbus

Ecuador is one of the few countries offering the option of independent travel with all the conveniences of an organized tour, serving up the best of both worlds. The “Wanderbus” is a hybrid solution for those of us who prefer flexibility and solitude of solo travel as opposed to feeling like cattle being herded through the masses, following the umbrella-waving tour guide while making all the mandatory carpet and jewelry shop stops. The infrastructure feels like “cheating off someone else’s homework” to visit all the highlights while letting someone else map out bus schedules, connections, and arduous hours of research that can otherwise wear a person down. Continue reading