Yesterday I mentioned "travelling close to the ground" and to me that means basically using mostly public transportation, not staying in hotels designed specifically for tourists, carrying as little luggage as possible (I always use a medium-sized backpack), and trying to be around the local people and maybe even get to know a few. Sure, I like to visit some of the famous tourist spots in a country, but I like to also get out and wander in the non-tourist areas too. In addition, I need to have a bit of freedom, so a regular tour group is just not for me. Absolutely nothing wrong with them, but since I usually travel for several weeks to several months at a time I don't need, or want, to try to pack in too much in a short time. With more freedom I am able to pursue my photography and not have schedules interfere as much. Even when I meet up with an adventure travel group the atmosphere in these kinds of groups is very relaxed and I still have a lot of freedom.
I just got back from the 2 months in Thailand and Japan and, yet again, I am thinking about trying to find the ideal travel backpack. :-) Over the years I have gone through several trying to find the one that is just perfect for me, but so far no luck! You can see in this photo my current backpack (photo taken last year in my hotel room in Quito, Ecuador). I have been using it for 5 years and it is the best one I have found so far, but it still has some annoying design features and omissions. I stopped by REI after lunch today to see what they had, but I didn't find anything that was significantly better than the one I have now so I guess I will have to hold off awhile longer or keep looking. My Kelty Redwing 2900 pack is 2,900 cubic inches (47.5 liters) so that's not all that big, but it is enough space for me to carry my travel camera gear, plus pretty much everything I need to travel for months at a time. I carried it for 4 months travelling through Europe in 2001 and many other trips since. Actually, my camera gear uses up about 1/2 the space and makes up 2/3 of the weight when I'm all packed up -- and I am careful to not even carry much camera equipment! Without the camera gear I could easily travel for months with just a daypack. I'm not real happy about the straps though because they are not adjustable and they concentrate most of the weight on my shoulders. That isn't a super big problem though since while on the go I usually don't have to carry the pack for really long periods. Generally, getting from a guesthouse/hostel/hotel to the train/bus station, etc.. Still, that plus a few more things have me looking again. Any recommendations?
Speaking of packs, it reminds me of the whole business of packing. I know you have heard it before, but I will repeat it: pack light!!! If you are wondering if I am suggesting you leave the hardback books, CDs, and portable refrigerator at home then the answer is yes! :-) You will enjoy your trip so much more if you don't have multiple heavy bags to carry. Keep it simple and just take the minimum. If you really need something (another pair of shoes, suntan lotion, snacks, etc.) you can almost always get it at your destination! Not only that, but in many places, such as Thailand, you can usually get it for less than at home. :-) Just as an example, I only carried one pair of shoes to Thailand and they were just some lightweight sports shoes that I knew I would need on the trek I wanted to go on. I have trekked in Thailand before and figured I could get by without hiking boots, which are bigger, heavier, and generally not too comfortable to wear all the time. My plan was to buy some flip-flops/thongs in Bangkok to wear most of the month I was in Thailand and just before the trek I could buy some Teva-style sandals in Chiang-Mai to take on the trek. That's what I did. The thongs and sandals were ubiquitous, cheap, and completely met my needs. And I didn't have to schlep them around Japan and Thailand until I needed them!!! I only took one short-sleeve shirt, one long-sleeve shirt, and one pair of lightweight trousers to Thailand. Figured I would buy a couple of T-shirts and some short pants when I got there. Did that in Bangkok, wore them while travelling around Thailand and then left them folded up in my last guesthouse. :-)