Gear For Travel – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It is really remarkable how quickly technology has completely changed the face of travel.  Our RTW trip lasted nearly two years, 2009-2010.  As we embarked, we invested in some of the best technology to get the job done that was possible.  We thought of ourselves as flashpackers extraordinaire.  That included a brand new netbook, an unlocked cell phone, and a fancy DSLR camera.  Now, just a few short years later, when I look back on all of that still functioning gear, it just looks so old and antiquated.  That’s the nature of technology.

This old piece of hardware was our PC for two full years.
This old piece of hardware was our PC for two full years.


The Phone – Our mobile phone was nothing but an unlocked GSM flip phone.  We were excited when a SIM card we purchased allowed us to make calls home from the Sahara Desert in Sudan for Mother’s day.  Now with VOIP calling, a smart phone can make calls around the world for free…and from anywhere.  The best part is that there are finally some cutting edge phones (e.g. Galaxy S4 Active) that are water and drop resistant making it even easier to stay connected and travel adventurously.

The Tablet – These did not exist while we were our trip and are a tremendous game changer, at least if you are blogging or sharing pictures while you travel.  We shared one netbook as we traveled, weighing and taking up far more room than two tablets would have taken in our packs.  Any of these today – iPad, Android or even a Windows tablet – are both lighter and more powerful than our “state of the art” netbook was. Plus there is wifi virtually everywhere now making a tablet a really useful tool for travelers to check in.

The Camera – This area has changed a lot less, mostly these cameras now come with more features and more megapixels than before.  However, by and large, they still do the same job.  The big add-ons here are the ease by which photos can be geotagged and quickly uploaded.  Camera processing has also improved allowing for better low-light photography and much better videos.  That would have saved us quite a bit of time geotagging our photos.

This article is NOT about what gear to go out and buy, there are plenty of review sites on the Internet,   It is merely a comparison of what has changed in less than 3 years time.  In the next three years will Google Glass remove the need for a tour guide?  Streaming video and video conferencing might ultimately replace the written word when it comes to blog posts.  We might even be able to sterilize our meals on our plates with a UV light and completely make food poisoning a thing of the past!  Sounds good to me.

Flashback: Argentina

Our visit to Argentina was a bit like the children’s tale about Goldilocks.  In the North we were a bit too late- the melting had begun and the rivers were swollen and in the South we were alittle too early- the show hadn’t yet melted.  Somewhere in between things were just right.


We arrived in Argentina just as spring broke across the continent, or the period of time that the guidebooks refer to as “shoulder season”.  For Argentina, that meant that most of the cities and sites we visited were without the summer crowds, but it also meant that in the upper altitudes and to the far south, heavy snow still remained and trails, roads and even sites were still closed.  Patagonia to us, lived up to it’s stereotype- cold, windy and inhospitable.  To the far south, the nights in Ushuaia were frigid and the hiking trails through Tierra del Fuego National Park required waterproof snow boots.


On the other hand, in the north, the weather was a bit balmy still and the summer’s rains had increased the water level at Iguazu Falls so much that the river had reached historic flood stages and some of the walking paths and overlooks were closed.  We were probably a bit too late on the scene, but thankfully we avoided the summer mosquitoes and crowds.

Iguazu Falls

Too early, and too late and yet ironically at the same time– just right.  The seasonal weather change had a tremendous impact on our month in Argentina, but in true Goldilocks fashion somethings we caught just right.  Like the penguins, who were still nesting on the beaches of Punto Tumbo and Puerto Madryn- the oceans not yet warm enough for their chicks to continue south.


The boats to Antarctica were just starting to leave Ushuaia, so the hotels and restaurants were open for the season.  And Bariloche still had plenty of chocolate!  The weather was perfect for biking through Argentina’s wine country and we were able to spend time at Perito Moreno without hordes of tour buses.

It’s hard to not have a good time in Argentina.  There’s no short supply of Alfajores, chocolate, good wine, and carne asada.  No matter where you are in the country the people are hospitable and there’s enough to do to keep you occupied for more than a month, no matter the season. So what can I say, it was the definition of shoulder season and for us, and things were just right.  Check out our guide to traveling in Argentina for more details!

Flashback: Brazil


We shouted over and over again. Truco! Truco! Truco!

It was as though no time had passed from our first meeting a year before.  Just as we had before, we sat around a table playing cards, unable to peel ourselves away from the game of tricks.

Playing Cards

Truco is a popular card game in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Spain.  Designed around trickery (truco means tricks in Portuguese), the game revolves around bluffing and distraction.  Cheating is not the name of the game; rather the idea is to distract your opponent through fast play, loud conversation, funny stories, etc…  The game is fast and furious, at least when you get a hang of it – it’s the perfect game to play with a group of friends over a round of drinks.

And that’s how we found ourselves, a year later, in the exact same position as we were in DC- sharing jokes, telling stories and generally trying to distract each other from the game.

Visiting with these friends- who had couchsurfed with us in DC -was our first opportunity to have a sense of “normal” on our journey through South America.   We had rushed through Eastern Bolivia to get to a tour we had won in the Pantanal and then flew to Rio de Janiero in time to celebrate the Jewish New Year.  Brazil up to that point had been a bit of a whirlwind so slowing down to take the time to play cards and enjoy the company of others was a nice break in our routine. They were the first couchsurfers we visited on our journey that had stayed with us and for a few days we had the comfort of not only a great place to stay, but also of friendship.  We wrote about how important it was to us at the time, but even now, looking back on it, I know our time in Brazil wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or memorable without the days we spent together.

Sure we visited a few museums and sites, and spent a whole day at the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany (hehe), but mostly our time was spent hanging out, enjoying each other’s company and playing truco.  Our couchsurfers opened their homes to us and although we played a lot of cards, we also got to know their families and share stories and be normal.  It was the exact break we needed, a little truco to revive our travel mojo and get ourselves energized again.

Photo Credit: #1 courtesy of flickr user ccarlstead via creative commons licensing.  Other photos property of IShouldLogOff.

Flashback: Bolivia

My lips are chapped and I’m balancing on the top of Coca-Cola bottle in the middle of Bolivia’s salt flats.  Although that is what our pictures show, it wasn’t exactly the reality of the situation.

Bolivia’s salt flats (also known as the Salar de Uyuni or salt of Uyuni) are the world’s largest salt deposits and the vast, seemingly unending expanse of white salt is perfect for some interesting perspective photography.  That’s how I found myself balancing on the top of a wine bottle.

We dove into Doritos bags, balanced on soda caps, swam out of chip canisters and generally tried to do anything imaginable that might produce a fun or interesting picture.  It was chaos as we tried to position ourselves on the Salar without anyone else in our shot.  Sure it looks completely empty in the photos, but just as I’m not actually on the coke bottle, we weren’t actually alone.  In fact, the space felt a bit crowded with travelers from around the world trying to set up funny pictures.


Our group of six was incredibly creative with the junk food packaging, hiking boots, guidebooks and random assortment of junk from the tour van.   Others on the Salar had small plastic children’s toys, like dinosaurs and G.I. Joe’s as props, the expanse was almost like being on the set of a professional photo shoot. Unfortunately getting the camera to focus on an object 10 inches away and 30 feet away can be a little tricky, especially when you’re trying to look through the viewfinder from your belly on a bed of salt.

I’ll never forget the Salar, and not just because of the fun and interesting pictures.  I know this is where I’m supposed to rave about some amazing cultural experience, but I’m not, because there was no amazing cultural experience in the middle of a salt lake.

When I think of being on the Salar my lips immediately begin to feel chapped and my eyes feel dry.  It’s a psychosomatic reaction to the memory, but that’s what I’ll never be able to forget- how dry everything felt. We spent three days on the Salar and in the end I’m surprise my skin wasn’t preserved.

Salt has been used for centuries to preserve and dry out meat so it shouldn’t have been any surprise that it dried us out as well. I felt like a salted ham hanging in the back of someone’s shed.  It was awful, no matter how much chapstick and lotion we put on, it never seemed to help.

So much of our memories are the result not of what we see, but of what we feel.  Bolivia of course has much more to offer than just the Salar and we spent time in the Amazon, rode the death road and even saw dinosaur prints, but my strongest memory will always be of the Salar.  Balancing on a coca-cola top feeling like a salted ham!

Flashback: Peru

Our first moments in Peru were not our greatest.  In fact, it was the only point on our whole trip when Grilling up Anticuchos in Perusomeone attempted to rob us.  Yup, it was really not a great start.  Things could only get better though and once we thwarted the would be thieves, we were free to roam about the country.

Peru was more than we expected.  It’s not often you can say that about a place, but I was expecting the home of Machu Picchu and little else.  It turned out there was A LOT more to do in Peru than I ever expected.  We spent a month in the country and I still feel as though we missed a lot.  Peru was a country of many firsts for us: my first time hiking above 15,000 feet, the first time I saw penguins outside of a zoo, the first time I ate heart, the first time I let a monkey climb on my shoulder, the first time I ran up a mountain in the dark to get in line to climb another mountain, and unfortunately the first time someone attempted to rob us.

Perhaps it is because of that last first that Peru taught me to ENJOY my travels and to STOP worrying.  Sure it was incredibly empowering knowing that my paranoid watching had stopped thieves from running off with our backpacks, but instead of doubling down on my “all seeing eye” I somehow felt that the experience validated relaxing a bit.  Naively I felt invincible and somewhat like a travel superhero.  I felt like I sent a message out with every look, daring the nextmoto tuk-tuks in ica peru thief to take me on.  Fortunately none did because I highly doubt looking back on it I would have been so successful the second time.

The naïve sense of invincibility allowed me for the first time in the trip to really let my guard down.  Ironic that an attempted robbery caused me to be less cautious, but somewhere between being shaken by the experience and exhilarated at thwarting the thieves I realized that even if they took my backpack SO WHAT. Let me repeat that, my world, my trip, it wouldn’t end just because someone took my backpack.  So I learned to relax and stop worrying so much.  Experiencing something is often less scary than what you imagine the experience to be and after someone tried to rob me I was a lot less afraid of being robbed.  Strange isn’t it, but I learned not to be so afraid.  I learned to let go of my what ifs, worries and fears and go with the flow.  It was exhilarating.

In Peru I learned to let it go and started to really enjoy our trip.