Bagcheck: South Africa, 2011

Over the next few days I’ll be importing a few of my old bagcheck lists that might have interesting travel info. This is one I made for the month I spent in South Africa. Highlights include the shots I took and my travel underwear shoot-out (the Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs won and in fact are all I wear now).

Travel (South Africa, 2011)

Travel (South Africa, 2011)

I’m heading out to South Africa and some nearby countries soon. Here’s some stuff I’m getting/testing out. (I’ll be adding to this list as I order/test new stuff).

  • World Nomads Travel Insurance

    World Nomads Travel Insurance

    In the past I haven’t used travel insurance (even when I probably should have), but certainly for hopping around various countries in Africa w/ a fair amount of gear, the minimal price is worth it ($115 for 3 weeks for the premium Explorer plan).
  • Malarone


    atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride
    While more expensive, this is apparently the anti-malarial prophylactic w/ less side effects than Lariam (mefloquine). The CDC has a nice chart of what’s available, as well as country specific resistances/strains. For example, Chloroquine resistance is high in South Africa.I got 27 tablets at $6.95 each. (You take 1/per day, starting 2 days before and for 7 days after. According to the Dr, they are pretty stable, so if you have extras, you can keep them around for a few years. The is a “generic” but it’s apparently a licensed “generic” that costs the same and is there just for insurance purposes)
  • Vaccinations


    List of Vaccinations
    I figure I’d make a list in case anyone finds it useful. All of these can be done in one go. Yellow Fever isn’t present in South Africa, but is *required* to get back in to SA if you visit Zambia. It’s not super high risk where I’ll be (Victoria Falls), but in severe cases has up to a 50% mortality rate…Here’s what I got:
    $110 Yellow Fever (10yr) + WHO card
    $19 Flu
    $84 Hep A (1yr; lifetime in second shot, any time after 6mo)
    $57 TDAP (10yr)
    $62 Polio (lifetime)Also, $87 for oral Typhoid (4 pills, but lasts 5yrs instead of 2yrs), and a $40 Anti-diarrheal kit (10 doses of cipro+loperamide). (and $190 of Malarone as mentioned in a separate item).

    I’d previously gone through childhood rounds of MMR, and I *think* Hep B (Hep B isn’t transmitted through food/water like Hep A is).

    For those near LA, I went to the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena and they were awesome – prompt, clean, reasonably priced and attentive.

  • 3M Ultrathon SRL-12 Insect Repellent Lotion

    3M Ultrathon SRL-12 Insect Repellent Lotion

    2 oz
    Super long lasting (12hr time release) and water resistant, 34% DEET. Note, that DEET will literally melt plastics/synthetics and is neurotoxic. However, it’s been used for decades and is probably preferable to west nile/malaria/yellow fever/japanese enchephalitis.This can be ordered online, picked up at REI etc. I needed to grab some in a bit of an emergency and was able to pick some up at a Passport Health office, which was much closer than the nearest REI.
  • Sawyer SP543 Premium Insect Repellent Picaridin Spray

    Sawyer SP543 Premium Insect Repellent Picaridin Spray

    Picaridin (icaridin) is the new insect repellent on the block. While less tested, it’s supposed to smell less, and more importantly, won’t burn through plastic. In order to be effective 20% solutions appear to be required.There’s a pretty comprehensive guide on REI.
  • Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

    Sawyer Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray

    Mosquitos love me so I’ll take every advantage I can get.
  • Granite Gear Escape AC 60 Backpack

    Granite Gear Escape AC 60 Backpack

    I picked this up in Taipei in 2009 before a whirlwind cross-country tour of Japan (10 cities in 14 days) for a decent price (well, considering the circumstances) after doing some in-store shopping. It’s been a fantastic bag that I’ve used as a carry-on for regular travel. Despite the light-weight, it’s withstood plenty of abuse and has a built-in raincover pocket that’s most handy for wrapping the bag’s bits if you ever need to check the bag…

    My 2009 comparison chart:…

    (Note: the Amazon link for some reason links to the Ki (women’s) version which on Granite Gear’s site doesn’t even appear to exist as a product? Bets are off if you’re looking to actually buy one of these.)

  • Nite Ize SBO-03-01 S-Biner Ahhh Carabiner Clip Bottle Opener
  • Vaultz Mesh Storage Bags

    Vaultz Mesh Storage Bags

    Assorted Colors and Sizes, 4 Bags VZ01211
    A bit of an impulse buy. Just a bunch of different sized mesh bags to help organize stuff. Seems like these will be useful.
  • Scottevest Travel Vest

    Scottevest Travel Vest

    The latest version of their vest has even more pockets (sort of ridiculous, really; one of the pockets can store an iPad), but also neat things like a capacitive phone pouch and a cable management system.

    If you’re buying one, you can use the code TWIT20 to save some money.

  • New Swiss Travel Products Black Ripstop Velcro Billfold Wallet with Removable Keychain

    New Swiss Travel Products Black Ripstop Velcro Billfold Wallet with Removable Keychain

    Crappy travel wallet w/ outside change pocket. The bigger tri-fold is good for non-US bills. I won’t be bothered too much if I lose this.

  • Pacsafe Luggage Cashsafe Belt Wallet

    Pacsafe Luggage Cashsafe Belt Wallet

    I have an old travel belt, but no idea where it went (too bad, It probably has some cash in there still). This belt will do the job, is cheap, and being all plastic, is TSA safe. I may start wearing this all the time.

  • Merrell Men's Pathway Moc

    Merrell Men’s Pathway Moc

    I needed a good lightweight outdoors shoe. I’ve had my eyes on getting a pair of Merrell Mocs for a while (so convenient), and have a pair of slip-on style North Face boots (ridiculously warm) that have been great. I was originally going to go for the Canvas version for extra breathability, but Amazon didn’t have the color I wanted and then I found that 6pm had the leather version on sale ridiculously cheap:…

    Interesting note: it looks like Merrell has gone whole hog into the barefoot/minimalist shoe thing and the Barefoot Life Slant Glove looks fantastic, however, while I’ve been meaning to try the barefoot thing, this trip probably wasn’t the right place to start…

  • Columbia Men's Bug Shield Long Sleeve Shirt

    Columbia Men’s Bug Shield Long Sleeve Shirt

    UPF40, quick wicking w/ Insect Blocker

  • Columbia Men's Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant

    Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge II Convertible Pant

    These have good reviews, are reasonably priced, have a good pocket layout (w/ closures) and have good sun protection/wicking technology. Also, they’re convertibles, so extra flexible/great for traveling light.

  • Black Rapid RS-5 Cargo Camera Strap

    Black Rapid RS-5 Cargo Camera Strap

    I’ll be heading out on Safari and will need a good strong strap for shooting (I’ll be renting a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM (5.2lb, $8K list but only ~$40/day rental).

    The extra pockets will able to carry the TX10, extra SD and extra batteries.

  • Fujifilm FinePix X100

    Fujifilm FinePix X100

    12.3 MP APS-C CMOS EXR Digital Camera with 23mm Fujinon Lens
    Of course I’ll be bringing my X100. I’m planning on shooting most of my travel with this. With a gaffed back, should be fairly inconspicuous. On safari, this will be useful for master shots/coverage and close encounters w/o lens swapping.I ended up shooting almost all my photos on my trip w/ my X100. You can see the results on Flickr. (Most of the safari picks w/ a rented 5Dmk2+ginormous lens)
  • Canon EOS Rebel T2i

    Canon EOS Rebel T2i

    18MP Digital SLR Camera
    Of the camera bodies at my disposal, I’m going w/ the T2i for a few reasons:
    * cheap; not disposable, but will be less concerned about it
    * super small/lightweight
    * uses SD card so can share w/ the X100
    * will shoot 720p/1080i video
    * free 1.6x extension (turn that 300mm to a 480mm; a 1.4x (1-stop cost) extender on top of that gives you 672mm of reach; 2.0x (2-stop cost) would give you 960mm. Ridiculous!)
  • Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 16.2 MP Waterproof

    Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 16.2 MP Waterproof

    We had this lying around in the office. I’ll be bringing it pretty much as a dedicated sweep panorama device. (Sony’s iSweep tech seems to beat the pants off everything else)

  • i.Sound Portable Power Max

    i.Sound Portable Power Max

    We bought about 2 dozen of these for production use earlier this year. These have 5 USB ports (2.4A max draw), claim 16Ah of charge and work as advertised. None of them have blown up yet. Recommended.

  • ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

    ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief

    Contender in Leonard’s Travel Underwear Challenge. ExOficcio underwear is apparently legendary within travel circles for its quick drying and great performance (sweat wicking, odor resistance, anti-chafing).

    After a month of travel, I’d say this came in #1. Some minor pilling, but overall, the most comfortable (very breathable) and pretty quick drying.

  • Minus33 100% Merino Wool Base Layer 702 LightWeight Boxer Brief

    Minus33 100% Merino Wool Base Layer 702 LightWeight Boxer Brief

    This is the final entrant into the Underwear Challenge. Will update at the end of the month…

    #2 – ordered a size larger, still a bit tight, but performed as well, if not better than the SmartWool and was a lot cheaper.

  • SmartWool Microweight Boxer Briefs - Wool - Men's at

    SmartWool Microweight Boxer Briefs – Wool – Men’s at

    Ridiculously expensive, we’ll see how this fairs in the Underwear Challenge.

    #3 – at $40/pair, they really needed to knock my socks off to be worthwhile. They were good, but not worth the premium…

  • Men's O Series Boxerjock® 6" Bottoms by Under Armour

    Men’s O Series Boxerjock® 6″ Bottoms by Under Armour

    Contender 2. Under Armour actually offers a bunch of different styles (like compression, different inseam lengths). This is more popular w/ athletes (and military apparently based on the reviews) than travelers. They wick and are odor resistant.

    #4 – these didn’t work so well for me. Just not on the same level in terms of comfort, dryness, overal performance. Also the waistband had a tendency to roll.

  • Microweight Tee Short Sleeve T-Shirt

    Microweight Tee Short Sleeve T-Shirt

    Men’s by SmartWool
    This was definitely the winner for me. Incredibly comfortable and amazed at how fantastically it performed in blistering/humid heat vs the other travel/”tech” T-shirts. Very quick drying, odor-resistant.Lasted about a year of frequent use before a small hole showed up, so up to you to decide whether to wear this all the time as it’s quite spendy (~$60), but for traveling, I’d give it my highest recommendation.
  • Nike Legend Dri-FIT Crew T-Shirt

    Nike Legend Dri-FIT Crew T-Shirt

    Affordably priced synthetic moisture-wicking shirt

  • Icebreaker Men's Tech T Lite Superfine Ultralite Tee

    Icebreaker Men’s Tech T Lite Superfine Ultralite Tee

    Figure I should compare the Merino wool to the synthetics…

    This shirt was comfy and quick-drying, but started to rip/acquire holes during my first month-long trip (100% hand-washing). Obviously this is only a sample size of 1, but for $60, I expect better.

  • REI Lightweight Polartec Power Dry Crew - Men's at

    REI Lightweight Polartec Power Dry Crew – Men’s at

    On clearance while I was picking up some other stuff at REI.

  • Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeve

    Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeve

    Originally I was looking at the Nike Dri-FIT Solar Golf Sleeves, but they weren’t available locally and when I got online and started surfing around, these were much cheaper and were well reviewed. They are a bit on the tight side, but work fine and are incredibly useful (they really do work, wicking away moisture even in humid/wet conditions and feels significantly cooler in direct sunlight vs bare arms. They are also a nice underlayer for when it gets a bit cooler. You will, however look ridiculous walking around in them.

  • AmazonBasics SDHC Class 10 32 GB Secure Digital Card

    AmazonBasics SDHC Class 10 32 GB Secure Digital Card

    Since I’ll be bringing 3 SD-card cameras, wanted to get a bigger spare card. This is ridiculously cheap ($35 at purchase). Yep, just over $1/GB for solid state memory. Ridiculous.

  • The SanDisk 16GB Extreme ProTM CompactFlash Card

    The SanDisk 16GB Extreme ProTM CompactFlash Card

    45 MB/s, SDSDXP1-016G-A75
    These are (were?) the fastest SD cards you can buy (45MB/s UHS-1) and I have 2 of the 16GB cards. Looking around there seems to be a new 95MB/s card coming out, but it doesn’t seem in stock anywhere.
  • Google Nexus S

    Google Nexus S

    Android Phone from Google
    I am currently running a ICS 4.0 ROM. Hopefully there’ll be an update for some extra speed/smoothness, but it’s fully functional.I will most likely be using this as my primary mobile device, particularly for it’s superior geo tools (GeoRecorder, MyTracks, Maps (particularly offline maps and + My Map layers), various OSM apps [OsmAnd, Locus, Orux]) and tethering ability (also, much better bandwidth monitoring and control, now built into the OS – replacing the need for a separate 3G Watchdog app; no iOS equivalent exists).I made a comparison chart of S African pre-paid mobile services (w/ a focus on data costs) here:…

  • iPhone 4S

    iPhone 4S

    Confirmed w/ Sprint that their 4S is unlocked, so will take any MicroSIM. It is also a world phone w/ support for quadband GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and quadband UMTS/HSPA (I/II/V/VIII) – interestingly it seems to be missing (or undocumented?) 800MHz band VI (big in Japan), which is a step back from the iPhone 4. Also, no 1700MHz IV of course.

    Sadly, w/o an jailbreak, it’s not suitable for tethering. I may end up using it mostly for its camera.

    I will probably get a dedicated MicroSIM for it, although I’ll also probably bring an adapter to have the option of swapping.

  • Round Bottle - 1 fl. oz.

    Round Bottle – 1 fl. oz.

    For less leaky liquids.

  • Comply T-100 Series Foam Tips

    Comply T-100 Series Foam Tips

    Platinum, 3 Pairs, S/M/L
    Replacement tips for my UM3X‘s. I always forget what size are best, so this one is a multi-size pack.Expensive, but super-comfy.
  • Carhartt Men's Utility Short

    Carhartt Men’s Utility Short

    A regular pair of shorts with the right number (lots) of pockets.

  • Red Ledge Vinyl Poncho - Men's at

    Red Ledge Vinyl Poncho – Men’s at

    Emergency use if it gets *really* wet.

  • Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hidden Pocket

    Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hidden Pocket

    For when I’m in transit and need to carry around my Passport cards, etc. The sashes/neck wallets etc are generally ridiculous. This attaches to the belt on the inside of your pants and seems generally less inconvenient and more inconspicious.

  • Nalgene Polyethylene Bottle - 2 fl. oz.
  • Columbia Bug Me Not Booney Hat

    Columbia Bug Me Not Booney Hat

    Slightly less ridiculous looking insect repelling hat. Would have gotten the Bora Bora and sprayed my own, but unfortunately, the outside mesh was changed to black.

  • REI MultiTowel Small Towel - 21.5" x 11.5" at

    REI MultiTowel Small Towel – 21.5″ x 11.5″ at

    This small hand towel is a lot more comfy/handy when the big towel is overkill.

  • REI MultiTowel Lite X Large Towel - 49" x 29.5" at

    REI MultiTowel Lite X Large Towel – 49″ x 29.5″ at

    The X-Large size doesn’t take up noticeably more space. The main cons seems to be that you’ll need to do a fair amount of prewashing since it bleeds color a lot…

  • Marmot Windridge LS Crew - Men's - 2011

    Marmot Windridge LS Crew – Men’s – 2011

    I don’t know if I’ll actually end up needing/packing this, but it was pretty cheap. When I go through final packing I’ll decide on # of longsleeves (cut down dramatically w/ the Izumi sun sleeves)

Berlin Field Notes

This may eventually move to a Page or some other more long-lived category (by tag or geography), but for now I’ll be using a regular post to keep some running notes:


  • People are very friendly and open and most speak/understand English well
  • Days during summer are awesome. Sunset between 9-10PM
  • Packages are delivered often-times to a store/restaurant nearby which you then go to pick up your stuff at. It’s sort of weird.


  • Rent is reasonable, although has been increasingly dramatically the past few years. It seems to be about €500-700/mo for a 1BR atm. Sq footage is generous (as are high ceilings) although AC/central heating seems to be rare.
  • There are over 1000 AirBnB listings for $35/less. 3-star hotel rooms are available for about $80/night and up.
  • Sublets are plentiful. The places I were looking at were between €700-900/mo


  • Dining is plentiful and opens relatively late (restaurants tend to close around midnight w/ last orders around 11PM). Prices comparable to the US. Meals tend to run €10-20.
  • There are pretty few late night options, predominantly Turkish Doner joints – these are among your cheapest (€2-3) and fastest options. Getting food in general after midnight is a pretty miserable affair compared to Tokyo, Taipei, etc. You probably won’t be able to walk to anywhere near.


  • Berlin has supermarkets that are similar to American supermarkets (slightly smaller in size/SKUs). Prices for common items appear to in some cases be cheaper than in the US but otherwise pretty comparable.
  • There is apparently one 24-hour supermarket, and in fact, the number of supermarkets open on Sunday can be counted on your fingers.
  • There are a few convenience stores that dot the city that are open late/all-night (also Petrol stations are apparently an option). Cost for water/soda etc are about double or more the price at a supermarket.


  • SIM cards are not available at the Airport.
  • Cell shops are everywhere and it’s most convenient to stop by a shop as they will deal w/ activating the SIM for you. Otherwise if you buy a starter-pack you’ll typically have to get online to register it (in German). Expect to spend about €15-20 for 1-3GB of high speed data.
  • Prepaid SIMs are super common (just about every store seems to have their own white-labeled MVNO). blau (e-plus/BASE network) seem to be the best for speed/cost for mobile data. Data is fast, well priced, and also has LTE support. I also tried Lebara (Deutsche Telekom) and Rossmann (Vodafone).


  • TXL
    • The primary International Airport
  • Schönefeld (SXF)
    • A relatively small airport in SE Berlin, all terminals are closely walkable (compare to: Burbank BUR)
    • No free wifi
    • Nowhere to buy a SIM card
    • Bus available to the closest U-Bahn station. May be quicker to walk to the nearby S-Bahn station to get into town

Gear List

On my previous trip I put most of my stuff into a ridiculously large (10’x20′) storage unit. My intention for this trip was to try to get rid of everything. While I fell short, I did reduce down to a 7’x10′ unit.

For traveling, I’ve switched from a large (60L) backpacker pack to a small backpack (currently a T-Level Challenger 32L) and a Zuca Pro travel carry-on.

I put together a spreadsheet at the beginning of the year and in a fit of why the hell not, weighed everything on the office small scale when I was back in town during the summer. My plan, which I’ve done a fair job sticking to, is to refine what I’m carrying with a 1-in-1-out policy. By the end of the year I’ll finally getting around to filling out my setup.

The Gear list is in the main sheet, but there are some additional sheets that may be of interest:

Carryon GearBackpack Gear

  • I’ll probably end up doing some write-ups of some of this stuff, especially where existing guides/writeups have been inadequate (spare batteries, international power adapters, the T-Level bag, etc)
  • While it’s a relatively compact setup, it’s heavier than I’d like, mostly due to the amount of gadgets. Once nice thing about weighing everything is you can really have a metric to literally weigh against.
  • There are still a bunch of questionable items/cables that I’ll probably end up getting rid of for my next hop.
  • Some of these items are mentioned in my Wirecutter is always wrong rant.

Yak Shaving

In the spirit of having spent way more time than I really should have futzing on the design and setup of this travel blog (you know, instead of writing about traveling), here’s a list of pointless colophon:

  • The site is open source and pretty much all the code is on Github. I also have a list of todos there.
  • The plan was always to have something map-centric. The final design is very close to my original splash pages from the beginning of the year.  It took so long to put this site up that my original map-tile provider, Cloudmade, basically shut down. I’ve switched to Mapbox, which is great so far.
  • Speaking of procrastination, I spent hours working on an attempt to implement dynamic background blurring but ended up abandoning the effort – it was way too hacky/fiddly.  You can check out the jsfiddle if you just want to see the effect.
  • I am dynamically generating my header from my last 4SQ checkin.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve done much FE work. This theme is based on Bones and should be pretty responsive. It’s also my first time using Sass (I’d previously used Less, so not a big leap). I was also ready to try Underscore,but Bones worked fine as skeleton – most of the work was trimming stuff off I didn’t need
  • I’m also using wp-geo for post-level geotagging, but not super happy with it, looking for something else that might do a better job of attaching GeoNames, WOEIDs, 4SQ locations, etc. (full plugin list)
  • WP-CLI is awesome and drastically simplifies upgrades, plugin installs, and other WordPress related BS
  • I will be porting and backdating some posts from my travel earlier this year as well as some pics.

OK, I think that’s enough yak shaving for a while. I’ll try keeping this stuff to a minimum, but futzing with the site/features is part of the fun, I suppose.

Completely unrelated, here’s a pic I took in Bali earlier this spring:

Monkey Model

First Post

Near the beginning of this year, I started traveling again. It’s taken a while (and 2 continents) for me to get this travel blog up and running, but hopefully now that I’ve nailed down a good-enough design and it’s up and running, I’ll do a better job back-filling content in.

A few years ago I spent about a year and a half semi-nomadic. Last year I started planning to do it again, although with a focus on spending a couple months in the places I’d visited that I’d liked the most rather than just a few weeks in places.

I started out my travels in February visiting Asia: a couple weeks in Taipei, then a week in Singapore and Bali, then two months in Tokyo, another stop in Taipei, a week in HK/SZ, a 3 week gastronomic tour of China, and then another week or so in Taipei.

I spent a couple weeks catching up after this first leg of traveling back in Los Angeles, and then headed out to Berlin in the beginning of July. I’m typing this from a sublet in Mitte, where I’ll be until September (I may visit some European cities while I’m here) before heading to Portland for a bit.

Well, that’s a start at least. My plan for this blog is to keep some notes of my travels and discoveries, and maybe talk about the why and the how (there will be gear reviews). But more on that later…