What A Life – Incredible Tales From The Road


This is a guest post by Samy Amanatullah who has written two other brilliant guest posts for this blog HERE and HERE.

One of the Moustache Brothers

One of the Moustache Brothers of Mandalay

“What a life” was something we’d say when there didn’t seem like anything else to say.

The first time I thought this phrase the way I’d think it for the next few months, I was sitting across from a Thai cowboy. He wasn’t a real cowboy though he wore the hat. Cowboy is the name of his bar.

He sat with his wife, sipping and constantly refilling a glass of whiskey and soda, his wife sometimes going for more ice.

He left home at a young age and found work as a chef for the U.S.army, where he’d learned to speak English and cook western. Decades later, he opened a bar tucked into one of those smaller passageways that fit into the streets of Chang Mai.

It wasn’t the travel or the family or the decades of stories that put a “What a life” under my breath. It was his daily schedule. He woke up, cooked for the kids, opened the bar, closed it when he was tired, got drunk in the in-between. He considered himself a content man.

What a life.

The only other person in there was an old friend of the Cowboy’s—English, old and bald, speaking nonsense. He’d come to the table where we were sitting, try to speak, and be shooed away by Cowboy who was having none of it. He cleaned furniture for a living, and even if the booze hadn’t done him in that night, the decades working with chemicals had mushed his mind. He visited Thailand a few months every year. He didn’t have anyone back home.

What a life. In a different way.

There’s a tendency to be shocked by what you see and also by what you don’t notice anymore. “What a life” was a recurring thought, a response to the incredulous. The kids on the beach who build a bracelet on your wrist on the spot? What a life. The tour guide who points out his house and, without skipping a beat, points out the adjacent killing field where his family died? What a life. The tuk-tuk drivers, men in as many industries as they have fingers—pimps, drug dealers, tour guides, drivers, police informants, whatever else might be paying at the moment; the motobike taxis, who take the tuk-tuk drivers’ ambitions and prop it on a suicidal weave through big city traffic; their counterparts on trishaws, motos, and cyclos. The bar girls, young and thin and glossed with make up, looking for sugar daddies. The old men, fat and pasty and tall, looking for Thai “wives”. The women dressed to find a john. The men dressed as the women. The guys they let screw them and then rob.

What a life.

The old man in the sleepy tourist attraction town in Myanmar whose job it is to unclog my friend’s toilet, whose age suggests he’s lived through not just Cyclone Nargis, the riots and shootings of his country’s recent history, the release and many arrests of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, but also the inception of his country, its partition from India, even World War 2, who walks into my friend’s room, bucket in hand, ready for shit duty, and smiles.

What a life.

The old toothless woman who distills rice moonshine out of a shack and sells it for 50 cents a bottle. The Lebanese painter who describes this jetset “as his life” and then tells me about places I saw as a child and will never go back to. The journalists dancing on the riverside, on a brief vacation laughing, dancing, tripping when a few days ago they were in Egypt when Egypt was ousting its president. Mr. Lao Lao’s son, serving the hard drink on the river, his entire body drawn on with magic marker and dancing around the dock as the water rises, intoxicated foreigners all around him. What a life.

The Mustache Brothers (deserving of a blog post of their own), resigned to house arrest, performing the same show every night, its host smiling on cue, looking tired and weary when the spotlight’s on his brothers, who spent seven years in work camps doing hard labor for telling jokes (“Do you think,” my friend asks later, “that they ever just get the urge to go outside and dig a ditch?”), and the people you see from your bus window as you leave building a new pagoda in a country that uses forced labor and believes that building pagodas can offset bad karma. What a fucking life (apparently to be reincarnated in).

The crap police informants you notice following you, and the better ones you don’t notice. The kids hawking cheap wares and making rational arguments in your language as to why you should buy. The girls learning to balance baskets on their heads by practicing with bricks. The makeshift family that doesn’t sell anything and lives in a shack and plays their music on the beach.

What a life.

There’s the foreigner at a random train station. A volunteer English teacher in small town Thailand, younger than me, who’s almost on his way out, who will next walk the Camino de Santiago and follow that up with Burning Man, who admits that while it’s awesome that he’s based the rest of his year around festivals, what’s seems most important, most exciting is doing things with the people in his life he’s been away from.

And let’s not forget the animals: the monkeys and birds in cages and chains, doing the dance so their owners get money and they get snacks; the stray dogs wandering in packs, begging, roaming the car parks, the sole thing you see against the moon on the streets at night, battling amongst each other for turf, for fun, for a stick; the horses—the poor horses—marching through the heat, carrying at least two fat foreigners and the driver, in some towns the main source of transport and no other way about it but miserable. “What does the horse get out of it?” my friend asks as it steers us towards a semi-famous ruins site. Maybe something at the end. Maybe some sweet, sweet hay.

Then again, as someone suggests after a day spent wandering a village and drinking a tea-whiskey concoction that’s supposed to make us tired and healthy, what about us? What about we who go from place to place without any particular reason, acclimated to the long bus rides, the winding roads, the stenches and bathrooms that will never see porcelain? A little thing I found out was that almost every foreigner I met going through Southeast Asia kept with them sleeping pills for the long bus rides. So much so that in conversation it stopped being a question and became more of an assumption, something you’d compare or share as the novelty of going somewhere else faded into the reality of a bumpy, disorienting ride.

There are people who live in countries of tremendous beauty who have never gone the 50 miles between their home and that incredible beach or mountain because they can’t afford to, and we do it in a single run and we tell them about it and ask questions, and they smile and at least act like they’re happy for us. We who go just because we can, spoiled for travel, eating and drinking whatever and whenever we want, jumping out of planes and onto buses, living lives that are equally strange and infinitely more charmed, doing nothing as people ask, incredulously, as if they don’t understand, if we’re actually just going until we run out of whatever, no phone, no travel insurance, no plan.

What a life.

But, of course, it can’t last, and a little later, I can’t help but ask my friend if, when he returns to the states, he’ll just get the urge to go off and take a 14 hour bus ride. Imagine him seeking out the shittest bathrooms and the worst bus seat and soaking in the smells of being sandwiched between someone throwing up into a bottle on one side and someone spitting betel nut out the window on the other, thinking contently before the sleeping pills kick in that this, indeed, is the life.


Visas in Southeast Asia – The Lowdown


One of the most stressful things for many people when planning a big trip is working out which countries require a visa, which don’t, how much they cost, where to apply, when to apply and a million other visa related questions. I will try, as best I can, to answer these questions in this blog post but as visa requirements differ depending on what nationality you are, I HIGHLY recommend you check each countries embassy site before embarking on a trip.

My friend (I better not name her as she might kill me haha) actually got DEPORTED from Vietnam because she didn’t have her visa on arrival. She got sent to Thailand, and then as she had no visa for Thailand they tried to deport her from there too. It really was the stuff of nightmares and like a clip from the movie ‘the Terminal’. Thankfully due to some quick thinking and the ability to apply for visas online (while stuck in limbo!) she got sorted and was back on Vietnamese soil within 24 hours. It was a lesson for her, and a lesson for me. ALWAYS do your own research!! 

I essentially did TWO South East Asia trips within 1 year, one in Summer 2013 and one in summer 2014 so I will include all the countries I went to during this time which include; Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Here’s a quick guide to visas in Southeast Asia – or at least the main tourist destinations anyway.

Indonesia – Easy Peasy. Just remember you $$$.

Tourist and Transit Visas on Arrival are available for nationals of these 52 countries and territories. A tourist visa for up to 30 days costs US $35.00. (This seems to increase every few years!) Visa Free Entry on arrival for 30 days free of charge is available for nationals of the following 11 countries and territories: Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Overstay visitors incur a penalty of US$20 per day for under 60 days over-stay. Stay any longer and you could end up in an Indonesian prison!! These penalties can add up quickly so it might be better option to fly out on a cheap AirAsia flight then re-enter the country for another month. 

Personal experience I did not have US dollars on arrival in Bali and this caused A LOT of hassle as there is no ATM inside the customs area. I had to beg them to let me outside to get the money, then come back inside to pay for the visa then exit again. I am now always sure to travel with at least 100 US dollars in my wallet for times like this!

Singapore – Most peeps don’t need a visa.

Most nationalities (North Americans, South Americans, most of Southern Africa, Europeans, and Australians) do not need a visa for Singapore for the first 30 days and in some cases 90 days. (You would want to have A LOT of money to be a tourist in Singapore for longer than that!)

You simply need proof of onward travel, proof that you have sufficient funds (print out a bank statement before you travel), and a passport valid for at least 6 months. If you are from North Africa, the Middles East and few other destinations you will probably need a visa and can find more information HERE.

Malaysia – Free and easy for 30 days.

Similar to Singapore, many nationalities (most European countries, North Americans, South Africans, Australians etc) do not require a visa for Malaysia. You are permitted to stay within Malaysia for 90 days (although this differs depending on nationality.)

Thailand – Best to enter by air.

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in South East Asia, you will be happy to know that things should be pretty hassle free for you here when it comes to visas. Most of the Western world can enter without a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.

If you wish to stay in Thailand for MORE than 30 days, you can apply for a 60 day visa in a Thai embassy before you arrive. If you are already in Thailand and need an extension, you can go to the nearest immigration office, pay the 1,900 baht fee and have your visa extended by 30 days in a few short hours.

Personal experience I arrived in Thailand overland by bus from Cambodia and they only gave me a 15 day visa. I am unsure if this is still the case but it was as of August 2014 (15 day visas if you arrive overland, 30 if you arrive by air). This meant I had to go to the immigration office in Koh Samui (I was in Koh Tao when I decided to stay longer) and it cost me quite a lot extra to get this sorted out.

Cambodia – E-Visa with ease.

I went to Cambodia twice last year and both were relatively hassle-free. Relatively!! Nearly all visitors to Cambodia require a visa. Unless you are from South East Asia, you will probably need one. I found the e-visa process pretty straight forward. You just apply online, pay the 30 dollar fee, and your visa is emailed to you. You then print this out and give it to immigration on arrival.  In Phnom Penh, tourist visas can be extended (only once), giving you an additional 30 days at a cost of around 30 dollars.

Personal experience Whatever you do, make sure you print TWO COPIES of your e-visa and keep them in a very safe place where they won’t get damp or torn (yes, this is exactly what happened to me – and could happen to you if travelling during the monsoon season!!) When you exit the country, they won’t let you leave until you hand then the second copy of your e-visa. I literally nearly got stranded at a dodgy border post thanks to this slip up.I eventually handed them a ball of wet paper that they could (just about) verify was a copy of my e-visa!! Lesson learned!!

Vietnam – Get it before you arrive – or be deported!

Pretty much EVERYONE needs a visa for Vietnam unless you are lucky enough to be from one of its neighboring countries…or Russia. Pretty random, I know.

Vietnam is definitely the country that causes the most hassle when it comes to getting the visa. The first thing you should know is that they DO NOT issue a visa on arrival unless you have an invitation letter from a travel agency. 

It is very important to decide what type of visa you need as this also happens to be the most expensive visa in South East Asia. The stamping fee for a visa on arrival at the airport is fixed: US$45 per person for single entry and US$ 65-95 per person for multiple entry visa. This fee is paid in cash, USD or VND, at the visa-on-arrival counter. You can only get this Visa-On-Arrival stamp if you already have your visa invitation letter which you get from a travel agency online for about 20 dollars before arrival. So you are talking about 65 dollars minimum if you do it yourself, more if you do it all through a  travel agency and get your visa stamp before arrival.

I hope this was helpful, let me know if I can answer any more of your questions regarding visas in any of these countries! Please, please, PLEASE leave a comment below if you feel my information is wrong or outdated. :-)


Backpacking Budget For South East Asia – The Lowdown


This is going to be the first post to my South East Asia series which I was meant to write about 6 months ago…when I was actually IN South East Asia! However, blogging will never be something that I force myself to do.

 If you are simply having too much fun and don’t feel like writing and sharing your experiences straight away…then don’t. This long break between traveling and writing has also given me time to really think about the places I went, the people I met, and the weird roller-coaster of emotions I went through on my journey.

To start the series, I would like to break down how much money I spent on my 2 month backpacking adventure which included Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. So without further delay, here’s my backpacking budget for two months in South East Asia.

airplane in sunset

If you are new to this blog there is only one thing you should know about me…I spend a ridiculous amount of time searching for, and succeeding in, finding cheap flights. Thanks to this, my flights were by far some of the cheapest expenses of my trip. I flew from: South Korea – Thailand – Vietnam – London – Ireland. There were also internal flights and many overland bus journeys. 108 hours, in fact, were spent on a bus over the 8 week period! (I also spend 200 euro on return flights to Australia from Bangkok, but ended up not going. I got about 80 euro refunded and lost the rest. C’est la vie!)

Seoul Incheon – Bangkok : €93 AirAsia Via SkyScanner

Bangkok – Hanoi: €82 Via VietJet SkyScanner

Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh: €35 VietJet Via SkyScanner

Bangkok – London: €300 Air India Via SkyScanner

London – Cork: €30 Ryanair Via SkyScanner

Total flight cost: €540

tuktuk thailand

Other transport included over night buses, tuk tuks, boats, taxis, trains and possible every mode of transport under the sun. Trains were the most expensive with a one way trip from Hanoi down to Hoi An costing over 40 dollars! Overnight buses were all around 20 dollars (I think) and shorter 12 hour journeys were between 10 and 15 dollars.

8 overnight bus rides x €15 – €120

2 train rides x €30 – €60

2 ferry rides x €20 – €40

Miscellaneous taxis and shuttles – €100

Scooter/ Motorbike/ Quad bike rental – €30

Total other transport cost – €350

hanoi backpackers

For the first month (mostly in Vietnam) I was travelling with some friends and as none of us were exactly on a shoestring budget we stayed in nice (but reasonably cheap) hotels or private rooms in hostels. The most we ever paid for a room was about 20 euro each, and that was a pretty amazing place! Most nights we averaged about 10 dollars a night. For that price you can share a double room, or a cabin on the beach or get a bed in a really nice dorm. You can also find dorm beds for as long as 4 dollars in some towns, just depends on your budget. In Thailand, I stayed in amazing hostels with bars and swimming pools and cool cafes for as cheap as 3 dollars a night in a dorm room. Absolute bargain.

As my accommodation costs varied in each country, depending on who I was traveling with, I am estimating the cost in the following way:

€5 x 10 nights = 50

€10 x 35 nights = 350

€15 x 10 nights = 150

Total accommodation cost: €550

street food

When it comes to food, South East Asia is a foodie paradise. Not only does the food taste great in virtually every restaurant, ever street stand, every casual soup seller, it also costs close to nothing. Seriously. Food will not cost you very much and you can over indulge on the most delicious delicacies every day. That said, it’s also possible to spend a small fortune if you go to top tourist restaurants, eat western food, drink expensive western cocktails and refuse to explore secret side alleys where you eat your dinner sitting on a plastic stool surrounded by locals.

Again, depending on where I was and who I was travelling with, my food costs really varied throughout the 2 months. A nice meal in a restaurant could cost up to 10 dollars, at the very maximum. Street food costs as little as 1 or 2 dollars for delicious Vietnamese soup, or traditional Khmer curry or a generous helping of pad Thai. Considering I spent a lot in some places and near to nothing in others, I will again average it all out. Eating out 3 times a day can be quite costly, so pick your restaurants wisely and stay away from tourist traps! 

€5 x 5 days – €25

€10 x 35 days – €350

€15 x 10 days – €150

Total food cost = €525

booze cruise

Next up is entertainment and activities. This, if you choose (or if you aren’t careful) could take up the biggest chunk of your budget. South East Asia is not called the banana pancake trail for no reason. In the summer, this popular backpacking route is swarming with young, carefree gap year students, college students, people on career breaks and God knows who else. To cater for all these travelers, there probably isn’t a single town or village in South East Asia which has not attempted to cash in on this never-ending trail of tourists. Offering a myriad of fun activities ranging from river rafting to booze cruises to elephant rides to playing with tigers, doing a homestay, hiking, biking, swimming in waterfalls, sleeping in tree tops, exploring temples in tuk tuks….you name it, they will most certainly have it! This is where your money will go.

Personally, I didn’t spend a lot on activities apart from a few big things in each country such as a Halong Bay 3 day cruise (200 dollars) or entry to Angkor Wat in Cambodia (40 dollars). Most days I spent no money, some days I spent lots. Thus, I’m just going to roughly estimate how much I spent over the 2 months. (If you go scuba diving or decide to do other very expensive activities this total will be A LOT more!)

Total activities cost –  €600


Every hostel will have a bar, will run a pub crawl, will organize theme nights and will make it their mission to get you drunk every night of the week. Every city will have ‘happy hours’, every street seller will know the best bars, every beach boy will know the best parties. If you don’t have much self-discipline, both your liver and your wallet will suffer greatly!

So, how much does a beer cost? Honestly, not much. There are bars in Hoi An in Vietnam where a glass of local beer will cost you about 10 cent. You can literally drink there all night and the bill will only come to a dollar or two. Some of the more upmarket places could make you part with up to 3 dollars for a beer but we happily avoided places like that. Beach bars in Sihanoukville, on the coast of Cambodia, charged about 1 dollar (sometimes 75 cent) for a cold pint of draft Angkor beer, while bars on Koh San Road in Thailand usually charged about $1.50 minimum. At the Full and Half Moon parties in Thailand, it’s all about the buckets. The price of these depended on what type of alcohol you wanted – local or imported and thus ranged form 5 dollars to 15 dollars if I remember correctly.

Minimum 1 beer per night for 60 nights = €60

8 BIG party nights (1 per week) x 25 euro = €200

Random drinks with new friends x 1 million!! ;-) – €200

Total drink costs – €460

Last, but not least, and something you ABSOLUTELY need is travel insurance! I always go with World Nomads as they have a good backpacker policy that covers motorbike accidents and a good selection of adventure sports too.

Travel insurance cost – €150

Cost of backpacking around one of the most fascinating, beautiful and fun areas that planet earth has to offer??


(Just kidding. It was more like a cool €3,200.)

..and her name was Katie Taylor!

Katie Taylor 

Check out this amazing video of the ‘Thai Tims’, kids from a school in Thailand, singing loud and proud about the legend that is Irish Olympic Gold medallist Katie Taylor.

Absolutely love these kids, such an inspiration for all.



Guest Post 1: “How much does your life weigh?”

Thanks to Samy Amanatullah, for this great guest post!

How much does your life weigh?

“How much does your life weigh?” is the staple question of George Clooney’s motivational speech in Up in the Air. It’s a springboard for inviting his audience of slack-jawed hangers-on to try and fit all their STUFF–their possessions, their fixtures, their relationships—into a backpack. And its end result is the condemnation of long-term relationships (girlfriends, mortgages) and, for our purposes, STUFF.

Go look in the mirror, take a look that can be short but make it hard. There is either some part of you that agrees with this statement, that has contemplated dumping everything, walking away, or you just don’t dig it. Anyone who’s been backpacking has answered this question at some point, even if they don’t realize it. STUFF, if we’re being honest, is a pain in the ass. When I said goodbye to South Korea (as well as the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) to travel around Southeast Asia, everything I thought I’d need had been (over)stuffed into a bag. 

My plan was to travel for a little, celebrate the solar new year, then look for work in Cambodia, maybe Thailand, possibly Laos—someplace where snow wouldn’t be an issue and I could get a decent sandwich (Full disclosure: this plan was amended from an earlier plan). Everything went into that travel bag—warm weather clothes, two sweatshirts, two flasks, underwear abundant, socks, clothes that could be worn for job business, a pair of sports shoes—clunky clunky sports shoes. This thing was overpacked, bursting. I got it closed, but opening it again, as the dicks at airport security made me do was the least pleasant thing in the world. Turning up nothing of concern and seeing that they’d opened a storm, security personnel pushed the bag towards me and looked towards the line that wasn’t behind me or anywhere. Deal with it. 

The next day, I bought a $7 backpack off the street to split the load. I still felt conspicuous. Jam-packed, but with what? I described my load earlier, and I’m still not sure. So it was that as I got further from my plan, I shed.

In Up in the Air, Clooney is a frequent flying loaner, gleefully forsaking conventional relationships to jet set around America, proudly living out of a backpack the whole while. Desert island questions (as in, If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take 5 books/items/etc…) are designed to gauge one’s personality via their possessions. Forsaking the comfort of STUFF, paring down your possessions, evokes a simplicity associated with Buddhism or Zen. 

At the very least, it impresses people. “I quite admirable that he travel with simple luggage,” my couchsurfing host in Taipei wrote of me (this was much later). A Swedish guy I met in Myanmar remarked at how little my friend and I were carrying. His pack had room for a midget and a half, and when it unzipped, spilling out over the usual suspects was the useless—a mug, a cup, a bottle of whiskey nearly empty but tiny enough to leave a titmouse or Mormon sober, a sleeping bag and a hammock, a drum, a book (Burmese Days) among many others that he bought not out of interest but because that’s what people read when they go to the country formerly known as Burma. It sometimes becomes a thing to judge people by what they’re unwilling to do without. We are what we think we need. 

It was before dawn on the Mekong. At one of those stops that exist only to sell foreigners crap breakfast while the border opens, the bus from Bangkok to Vientiane unloaded its cargo (older men getting away from their Thai “wives”, itinerant trekkers going north, farangs working in Thailand on visa runs, backpackers, tubers-in-waiting and a small group looking for work at the tubing bars, Travelers i.e. people for whom travel has ceased to be a vacation and is now a way of life) who then lined up for coffee and toast. 

Between wafts of cigarette smoke, steam pouring off coffee, and the hazing pre-dawn, they compared bags. An older English guy who’d traveled Laos before and with whom I’d end up spending much of my time there carried with him a square pack, adorned with patches of countries visited, consisting of about four shirts, two shorts, a pair of trousers, underwear (‘pants’ as the English say,), and shoes on his feet. Books weren’t an issue because he had an iphone with the Millennium Trilogy on audio. No jacket. No sweatshirt taking up half his bag. When people asked what he did on bus rides when the air-condition blasted, his response was, “Oh, it’s not that cold.” His country count was in the fifties.

A middle-aged Irishman showed off his bag, also with flag patches and not much bigger than my laptop. By his standards, that bag was large. His friend, he said, who’d made a mission of going to every country or territory and had pretty much succeeded had two shirts, two pants, a pair of shoes, socks, and no underwear. Later, when I told a travel companion about that last bit, he took it to heart and went commando, an unfortunate move as the waistband to his shorts bulged in the back, leaving a view to his crack. I was taller than he, so I made a point of not walking behind him.

As they talked, I thought of my bags. I was glad that they weren’t with me at the time, but I didn’t feel self-conscious anymore. Yeah, they were clunky mothers—the red mingled with dirt that would cling to my black, the strip of blue drooped over my shoulder making every narrow crossing a bit awkward. They were more than I needed. But I wondered why it was that these older people could get by with less while these teenagers and twentysomethings lug 50 or 70 pounds behind them. What’s the point? What’re we preparing for? When we think travel, we tend to think of freedom, the open road, adventure, but when I see travelers I think turtle, snail, crustacean laboring over the dunes, trying in vain to keep its home on its back. We are what we think we need? Maybe.

It’s hard for girls. Girls are expected to dress for every occasion,” says a Belgian woman as we discussed this very topic at a bar overlooking the river. And it’s true, especially in the age of social networking, traveling is so many things—tourism, party, adventure, cultural exchange, culture shock, status update, profile picture—that we get caught up in being prepared for anything instead of what we’re facing.

No one wants to find themselves at the top of the mountain with a dead camera, or in an excrement-floored squat bursting out the behind and suddenly without toilet paper. On the other end, you don’t need a cocktail dress to go out for drinks. A hammock and a sleeping bag is probably over-doing it. It’s easy to judge, so I had to wise up. That’s why in some bungalow on the 4,000 Islands, there’s a blue travel bag filled with all the STUFF (shoes, socks, pants, dead camera, wires, water bottles warm and plastic-tasting) I didn’t need.

That’s why 2 months later wandering round Taipei, my STUFF collection was a passport, carton of Bamar (i.e. Burmese) cigarettes, a fifth of apple vodka, two MP3 players, 4 books (3 for trading, 1 used tour guide), three pairs of pants (one of which was always worn), 5 shirts doing double duty as towels, board shorts, a lucky pair of Obama socks that I’d kept because they were a gift (from the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) and because wearing them at night stopped me from scratching the mosquito feeding farm, and sweatshirt that took up half my bag, because my Southern Californian ass doesn’t handle the cold well. Also, toilet paper, though that had also been a gift from a Bamar guesthouse. My STUFF was like my trip—random, disorganized, endearingly chaotic, and indulgent. 

But most importantly, my STUFF was disposable. I could dump it wherever. I’ve left and lost and broke things in every country to which I’ve been. If you look in Janet’s apartment, you’ll find the random remainders of my life in Korea. Some Thai guesthouse has that lime orange sweatshirt that made me stick out wherever I went. In Laos, there’s a pair of shoes that climbed mountains, hiked jungles, forests, and walked through some of the biggest cities on either side of the world. The time came for my grey cargo pants twice burnt-on-the-crotch and mysteriously stained with Full Moon party paint to make someone else look like a chic hobo. 

My relationship with STUFF has always been strained as an adult. Moving from house to house every year in university, I came to hate it. STUFF was a symbol of oppression, of being unable to just get up and go, of being tied to one place or thing. The people I lived with swore by STUFF in one way or another. But it’s different when you’re traveling, the temptation for STUFF comes in many forms, but souvenirs are the best way to hemorrhage space and money. Obviously, what we need is defined by where we’re to end up and how long we have till we get there, but souvenirs are for Mantle Place People, folk who have a mantle on which to put their souvenirs. I met one person whose philosophy towards souvenirs was the most agreeable I’d heard. He went by a get one/toss one rule. Every time he bought a t-shirt, he threw one out.

“How did you know you didn’t need a bigger bag?” a travel companion asked me. He wasn’t a Mantle Place Person either, maybe less of one than I am. When we met up in Bangkok, he looked at my knock-off Lowe Alpine bag, limit 50 pounds. How did I know? I didn’t. I assumed my life would shrink or grow with the backpack, kind of like a goldfish. How much does your life weigh? It doesn’t. It depends.