Getting where?

Menu Close

Category: Gear

Downsizing

Over the past year or so, I’ve been slowly upgrading bits of my travel kit to allow for keeping the size of my bag way down while maintaining reasonable creature comforts. Most of what I had to begin with is from when I first went backpacking in 2004 with what I think is about a 65 or 70L pack plus a 15L daypack. TOO BIG.

My current bag is 40L, which is perfect (and carry-on size! though I’ll probably end up checking it on the way home because I’ll have my Gerber in there), except maybe when it comes to winter gear. But seeing as how I’ll probably be WEARING all the outerwear, I don’t think I’ll need to pack it away very much.

I’ve not decided what kind of bag to bring for carrying things around all day. A backpack is obviously handy, but also more to worry about when it’s on your back. The shoulder bag I use at home right now is pretty beat up so I may just use that. Particularly because if it gets destroyed or lost or stolen, I won’t really care.

Anyway, the thing about downsizing to fit this minimalist packing style is that it requires making use of good design, both in specific products and also in the decisions I’m making about what goes in and what doesn’t. And that makes it even better for me, because I love a bit of good design. I’m a sucker for a product that someone clearly thought through from every angle and has a level of awesome to reflect that. Efficiency! Plus style. I will totally pay for it. I’d rather pay more now for something I’ll use another 10 years. Case in point: my transformer sunglasses. The best!

On the technology front, there was the stronger-lighter-faster computer upgrade – from a 13″ MacBook Pro to a 13″ MacBook Air, half the storage and a fraction of the weight and size – and the Kindle so I could carry a library rather than a book or two.

I have been editing the clothes I own and buying new stuff with travel at least partially in mind. I have a lot of merino wool layers, and I want more. They’re pricey as hell but they hand wash and dry easily and quickly, they don’t hold on to the funk of I’ve-been-living-in-this-for-3-days travel smelliness, and they’re comfy and adaptive to temperature. But I’m not stuffing my backpack with £50 t-shirts. I’ve also got cheap stuff, because you really can’t beat H&M basic leggings and tank tops and the like. (Also if my bag gets stolen it’ll be nice to know that it’s not all luxury technical clothing.)

New on the left. And it's even thinner than that once you squish the air out!

New on the left. And it’s even thinner than that once you squish the air out!

This week I got a new sleeping bag liner/sleep sheet thing, which I’m disproportionately thrilled by. My old one is cotton and ginormous in terms of pack real estate. I’ve been eying silk ones for ages because they’re tiny, and very nearly went for a silksak, but at the last minute, due to wandering eyes on Amazon, went for the Nod-Pod, an artificial silk (made in the UK by a small business!) option. It’s soooo much smaller than the cotton one! This thing is at least a quarter the size if not smaller. And very well-reviewed too, so I hope it was the right choice. It was only £20, which is probably not a whole lot more than I paid for the cotton one 12 or so years ago.

I’ve also recently bought a new travel towel, which is slightly bigger than my old one. BUT, it’s also much bigger in area, so unlike the old one, I’d feel plenty comfortable walking down a hostel hallway wrapped in this one. When I bought the original, for some reason I couldn’t find a towel big enough to modestly cover a 5’11” lady and have been looking out for one ever since. And I’m happy to give a bit of extra space for a good towel, because as we all know, it’s the most important thing when traveling the universe. I have even considered bringing both my old AND my new one. There are times when dry towels are worth their weight in gold. But I think I’ve decided against that, mostly because I can use a sarong or a scarf as a backup, and multipurpose items are key.

Alas, the one thing I can’t really downsize is my shoes, because my feet are huge, you guys, and shoes take up SPACE. Now that I’ll be doing some dancing, I have to take the requisite shoes for that, which do squish down a fair amount, but it’s still one more pair of shoes than I originally intended. Hopefully all my other packing efficiencies will mean this doesn’t matter much though. (After all, I’m turning into a packing cube BOSS).

Stop worrying about the last cake plate and go

When I moved to Edinburgh, I went poking around the charity shops in Stockbridge and I found these retro cake plates. I don’t remember how much they were, probably like £2 for all of them. I loooooved them. I still do. They are MY cake plates. And I make and eat and serve a whole lot of cake.

They really are the best cake plates.

They really are the best cake plates.

So about a year ago when I was doing some hardcore kitchen cleaning and extraneous-crap-purging, I looked at my stack of plates and saw 5 where I thought there should be 6. But I couldn’t remember. I went back and forth between being ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN there had been 6 and believing that actually there were only ever 5 and I’d debated over buying them at all for that reason. And as there is no one who could confirm either, this non-issue took over my brain for a whole friggin’ day.

Until I had this moment where I was like, ‘OH MY GOD, KATE, IT DOES NOT EVEN MATTER, and this is also solid proof YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE’.

The first tipping point. It’s always something weird.

How on earth do some plates make you understand why you need to go take a trip?

I’ve said before that I am not all about getting rid of all one’s earthly possessions because I LIKE stuff, and I like MY stuff. But that was the moment when I realised I need to not be completely attached to it. Why was I freaking out about the existence of a 6th cake plate when what I really wanted was to NOT be tied down to shit. CAKE PLATES. I will not be tied to cake plates. Who can ride a bunch of trains across half the northern hemisphere if they’re worried about cake plates? Eeeeeesh.

So I think about these plates every time I’m in prep mode. Particularly today when I was setting up my Crashplan account to try out the service. My computer is easily the single most expensive thing I will be carrying with me, but I want to make sure I’m not too attached. It’s a nice thing. But the computer itself isn’t the important thing, it’s what’s on it. With a proper backup system, the very real possibility of theft or massive damage isn’t really a thing I need to freak out about. It would be annoying as hell, sure, but it’s not my life.

This is also how I’m trying to look at every single thing I take with me. I’ve got a lot of specific and sometimes pricey gear to make living out of a very small bag easier, but if it all disappears, I don’t want to feel all panicky or distracted. The main thing I’m concerned about is my health and personal safety. As long as I can keep that in good standing, I’d like to think I’ll be able to handle losing some stuff. No big attachments.

The prep that goes into creating that attitude reveals what you feel is important REAL FAST though, because setting up backups and figuring out insurance and all that is boring and time-consuming. And I am not about to spend hours of my life backing up or insuring shit I wouldn’t miss.

(There is also a tangent in my head here about how we’ve gone past the point where we can have a zombie/flu/rage/blackout/nuclear apocalypse situation and still have concrete memories to carry around in the rebuilding, because now everyone keeps their life in the cloud and there are no hard copies to be in pockets and backpacks getting worn out with love and nostalgia in the big bad post-apocalypse world. This makes me look at my Kindle with consternation. It also makes me want to print pictures. I’m a little strange.)

As for the plates, in the big clear-out, they stay. Of course they do. But if another one is missing when they come out of storage, I’m not gonna spend a whole day wondering about it. (Ain’t nobody got time for that when they have to brag-post 3 months of pictures on the interweb.)

How the Kindle won me over

Kindle and David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks

Living in harmony.

Kind of like Harry Potter, I avoided the Kindle for a long, long time.

I like ACTUAL books. I like the design of them, the smell of them, the weight of them. I like real print and typefaces. I like giving my books to other people when I think they’ll love the story or a character. I like how my copy of Franny and Zooey has embarrassingly high-school-me comments in the margins. I like finding OTHER people’s ridiculous comments in the margins in used books. I like dog-eared pages and coffee stains.

You get none of these things on a Kindle.

I also like the idea of not going digital on every last thing. But as I continuously learn Every Single Day, I do NOT need to be all-or-nothing on anything in life. And that includes my position on e-ink.

And so, also like Harry Potter, I was won over suddenly and wholeheartedly by the Kindle. Without betraying my beloved books.

Before I get to exactly how, here’s a related truth about my life:

I am early. For EVERYTHING. EVER.

ALL. THE. TIME.

This not only drives me crazy, it drives OTHER people crazy (just ask my sister). Seriously, even when I attempt to be on time or fashionably late, I fail. There’s something in my makeup that won’t allow any kind of casual disregard for time. So I often find myself sitting around waiting for the start of something. Usually on my own. And that’s fine, but I found that ever since I got a (blasted/wonderful) iPhone, I was defaulting to dicking around on Facebook or some other useless, pointless endeavour to waste time and not have to feel awkward about my place in the world. And I HATE that.

And here’s another related truth:

Since I graduated college (I KNOW THAT WAS AGES AGO, SHUT UP), I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d like to. I used to read SO MUCH. But then, as you may know, the reading load for an English/Drama double major is pretty full-on, and I spent 4 years reading reading reading. Usually stuff that was great and worth it and engaging. But with a life full of extracurriculars and college-level drinking, much as I wanted to be reading all that stuff, there’s something about the pressure of HAVING to that adds a bit of extra exhaustion. So when I graduated, my reading dipped off for a few years. I was recovering. And while it’s gone back up in the past few years, it’s nowhere near the level I’d prefer. There’s just so much shit going on in life that it’s easy to resort to the computer or the TV  at the end of the day and forget how great a really good story is. Greater, definitely, than most things on the interweb or Netflix.

So, back to what got me to give the Kindle a go. I’d been hearing how great it was from so many people for well over a year. But then one day, I was sitting at the pub with my friend Kristina and she was talking about how her mother insisted she’d be a Kindle convert so much that she straight up bought her one to prove it. And, formerly being a holder of similar opinions to myself on the subject, she was shocked when her mother’s plan worked. And then she said the magic words: since she got the thing she’d read so much more than she normally does.

I went home and ordered one. Pretty much right away.

And I’m so glad I did. It’s so small and light that it’s now one of my default items in my bag, so I can ALWAYS read. Instead of defaulting to my phone. And as a result of even that alone, I too have read more in the past few months than I have in the past two YEARS. I bought it in July, and I’ve read 7 full books on the Kindle alone since then. (Including The Goldfinch, which is LONG.) I also read a good chunk of the SNP’s white paper on Scottish independence, which I probably wouldn’t have managed if it hadn’t been on me all the time. And I have chosen many, many adventures in To Be or Not To Be, Ryan North’s choose your own adventure Hamlet book.

All this without abandoning my love of actual books. I now just save the book-buying for special stuff. I got David Mitchell’s new book in hardcover. And Randall Munroe’s What If?

Randall Munroe's What If?

I could never deny myself a cover like this.

But now I can also take multiple books on holiday without worrying if I’m going to get bored of one or how much space or weight they’ll take up. And the battery lasts foreeeeevvverrrrr. It’s fantastic.

So, I can now wholeheartedly recommend getting a Kindle if you’re the reading kind. The basic ones are dirt cheap, and you’ll never have an excuse to waste your life on Facebook again. That’s probably the true win.

My transformer sunglasses

Ray-Ban folding Wayfarers

One of my constant companions.

I am forever in sunglasses. (Despite popular stereotype, the sun does shine in Scotland. Quite often actually.) It’s not that I’m perpetually battling a headache or hangover or something – I just hate squinting and eye strain. I’ll even wear them when there’s just glare and no actual sun. It’s a comfort thing. But I may as well look awesome while I’m at it.

I actually get really attached to accessories, and I like when I find something good that lasts forever. I want to replace things as little as possible, so I’m picky and I seek perfection. I want my sunglasses to be MY sunglasses. I had the same pair of Armani sunglasses my parents bought me for my 18th birthday for 11 years. (In fact, I still have them, I just don’t wear them anymore.) They’re nothing fancy – I think about $100 at the time, and I don’t go for flash – they’re just simple and nice and I managed to not break them for that long. (All down to a hard case, methinks. Important!)

So about 2 years ago when my 29th was coming up and my parents asked me what I wanted, I’d been eying a pair of Ray-Ban folding Wayfarers for a while, and I said well, why not just update my 18th birthday present? Even if they last only half as long, I’d count that as a success.

I was drawn to Wayfarers because they are a solid design classic. And my previous sunglasses were nice, but I don’t think they suited my face as well as the larger frames of the Wayfarer. I feel like a friggin’ rock star every time I wear them. An under-the-rader, rock star, not a look-at-me rock star. Just as I want it.

But outside of that, there’s the most important and super awesome thing about them: they fold.

Not like normal sunglasses folding, like 5-point-transformer-fold-down-tiny folding. Into a lovely, compact square case that takes up barely any space in my bag. PERFECT for travel. And this is why I really love them.

Folded Ray-Ban Wayfarers with case.

Folded up.

I hesitated to buy the folding version at first. More moving parts always means more potential to break, and I wanted these things to be in it for the decade-long-haul of my previous trusty shades. I expect a company like Ray-Ban should be making a high quality product, but still, you never know.

So in the sunglasses bit of Jenner’s in Edinburgh, I asked the woman working there if she had much experience with the folding glasses (they also do Aviators that fold). In addition to a few anecdotes about friends who’ve had pairs with no problems for a year or two, she started to tell me a vague history of folding sunglasses. Apparently Ray-Bans were not the first to do folding, and some Italian company did them long ago. She sort of stopped herself, conscious that not everyone might want to geek out over sunglasses history (lady, I TOTALLY want to geek out about ANYTHING like that). I’ve since done some Googling on the subject, but with little to show, so I’m just gonna have to find myself another rogue sunglasses historian.

In any case, I was suitably convinced to go for the transformers, by her enthusiasm if nothing else. And after having them 2 years, I see I needn’t have worried about quality. These things are great. And the foldy bits not only elicit awe (and occasionally even jealousy) from people who see me take them out or put them away, they don’t seem to make the glasses weaker in any way. When they’re on, you really can’t tell there are 3 extra joints, even though one of them is dead-centre of my face. And when they’re off, they are one of the most travel-friendly, packable things I have.

So, if you want to feel and look like a classic badass (and be ‘practicably fabulous’, as claimed on the Ray-Ban website), I highly recommend folding sunglasses. They get so small you’ll have plenty of extra space for all the other crap you need that does not conveniently fold down to nothing.

In the hammock

Practicably fabulous.

Travel-friendly design from the MoMA

OOF - Edward Ruscha

Love me some Edward Ruscha

I’ve never been to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I’m not sure how I’ve managed this. I’ve been the the Whitney and the Guggenheim and the Met numerous times, but the MoMA has always escaped me. So my sister suggested we go when we were in the city because she wanted to check out the Matisse cut outs show, and I just wanted to see ALL of the things.

My favourite ended up being the Robert Gober exhibition. He had a few pieces in the Death to Death show that was on when I worked at the National Galleries of Scotland, so I recognised some things, but I thought it was all way, way better in the context of the rest of his own work. I don’t remember what anything was called (I’m terrible at that) but my favourite piece was this giant suitcase that was sitting open on the ground. The bottom was a sewer drain grate and about 6 feet under the floor was a pool of water with a bunch of coral and stuff in it, and if you looked down from a certain angle, you could see some legs and a person holding a baby over the water like they were just wading in. I LOVED it. And I rarely love contemporary art so much.

Of course, any trip to the MoMA wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the shops, which carry all sorts of awesome, covetable design. I thought this would be a dangerous venture, and it WAS, but they also had a ton of travel-friendly stuff that I could actually justify buying. Adventure supplies!

Vapur MoMA bottle

The anti-bottle.

First off, I’ve been wanting a collapsible water bottle forever. And they had one with the (new) New York city skyline MoMA design. I love getting actual functional things that have souvenir-y tat design on them, so I grabbed this without even considering it. It folds down super small when it’s empty, and it’s really sturdy when it’s full. The lid screws off and it’s a wide enough mouth to clean easily with a bottle brush, and the top is a hinged thing that’s not too fiddly. Excellent.

Tote and Able flask

For the whisky.

Further in the realm of travel-friendly drink receptacles, they had this sweet fabric flask that takes up next to no space. AND it’s got a shot glass on the cap. It’s canvas so I feel like I should maybe screen something cool onto it. (The sharks in the background of this are on one of the new BAGGUs I got to replace my old ones. Also good for travel and everything ever.)

Abitax tag light

Tiny light.

And when I was in the queue to pay, I came across this wee super strong LED tag light. You can squeeze it for temporary use or switch it on for steady light. I’m going to clip it in to my waterproof jacket zip I think, but I feel like it’s going to be super handy to have and it’s simple and nicely designed. Not tacky like these things can be sometimes. Impulse-buying at its finest.

Of course all these goodies were merely consolation prizes for what I REALLY wanted: dinosaur cake stands! But you can’t travel with that, so it’s lights and portable beverages for now.

Loading

HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS. #Dinosaur #cake stand. It’s like they knew I was coming.

View on Instagram

Memory foam headphone tips

Headphones with red tips.

My current trusty earbuds with red Comply Foam tips.

I am incredibly particular about my headphones. This is in no small part because of how heavily used they are when I travel. I am a fidgety person by nature and if I’m even the least bit uncomfortable, I will fidget EVEN MORE. To the point where a small, solvable discomfort turns into a massive pain in the ass that I feel trapped by. Maybe that’s dramatic.

I will put it another way: If my headphones are bothering me, I can easily have a claustrophobic fit. That can turn a travel day downhill real fast. On the other hand, if I want to keep my sanity on a long travel day, I NEED to be able to plug myself in for certain stretches of time. Particularly in airports and on long-range public transportation.

So, I learned early that headphones were one of the things I really had to nail when it came to the perfect gear. If my ears are happy, I am happy.

One of the first things I ever did to deal with this issue was get an airline adapter so that I could use whatever I damn well pleased in those double-jack seatback plugs. Luckily those are now, largely, gone. (I stopped carrying the adapter ‘just in case’ about 3 years ago.) But the headphones airlines give you are still rubbish.

I can’t wear over-ear style headphones, no matter the size. Big or small, they drive me nuts. I’m sure the sound quality is better and yada yada yada, but if I have them on for more than about 5 minutes, I freak right the eff out. They are uncomfortable in at least 3 different ways, and I have a threshold for ZERO different ways. So it’s in-ear headphones for me, always.

The main benefit of this is that they don’t take up any space. They also keep me from spending loads on them. You can easily spend over £100 on a pair of fancy earbuds, but it seems moronic to spend more than £20-£30 on something that is so easily lost or crushed or tugged out of commission.

So, my perfect pair is something with decent sound and replaceable tips and NO bloody remote or mic on the wire (getting increasingly hard to find). Currently that’s a pair of Sennheiser CX 160. I think they were £20. But what makes them amazing, what makes ANY pair of earbuds wearable for me, and what this post is really about, is memory foam earpieces.

Pretty much all earbuds you get now come with a few sizes of rubber earpieces. They are  a waste of time. Toss them. About 8 years ago, I bought a cheap pair of JVC earbuds in the airport and they had the option of memory foam earpieces along with the rubber ones. I tried them and I have since never used anything else.

For a while, that was hard. I would save the earpieces for longer than was probably hygienically wise. I’d switch them from an old pair of headphones to a new one. When that particular JVC headphone disappeared from the market after my third pair, I used my leftover earpieces for 2 YEARS until I found another brand doing memory foam. Yes. That is disgusting.

I searched a few years ago online for a place to order just the earpieces, but didn’t have a lot of luck, so I muddled through for another wee while. But recently I checked the interweb again and found what I’d been looking for all these years: Comply Foam headphone tips.

Comply makes various different types of memory foam earpiece, and they make them to fit all different brands of headphone. So you go to their site, tell them what make and model your headphones are, and they point you at the right size. You can then choose the type of earpiece you want and the in-ear size (and in some cases, colour). I went with the T-500 isolation tips in medium.

One of my favourite things about memory foam, aside from how comfortable it is to wear all day, is how well it blocks outside sound. It’s so effective at this that you don’t have to turn your volume up nearly as loud as you normally would in order to hear properly, both out in the world and on an airplane. I remember the first time I used memory foam earpieces on a plane and anything louder than the first notch on the volume control was suddenly too much. The background noise on a plane is so hard to cut through, so I was super impressed with my cheap-o little JVC earbuds. I felt like I’d uncovered some massive secret answer to life. And it had cost me less than $15! Plus, keeping your volume down can only be better for your eardrums.

Comply tips are about $15 for three pairs, and I think that’s a great deal. Now I can buy any headphones I want, regardless of what earpieces they come with, and I can make them perfect with the tips I choose. That to me is well worth the extra cost, even if shipping to the UK is a bit high. Also, I can now toss my earpieces when they get manky instead of hanging onto them for as long as possible. That has to be better for my ears.

The tips fit my headphones pretty tightly, so it was a little difficult to get them on, but that’s probably good because they also seem to stay put once they’re in place. And the foam itself is pretty high quality. It’s a lot nicer than the tips that came with my old cheap headphones. And they fit my ear so perfectly I can barely feel my actual headphones. I can wear them for a long, long time with no fidget fits or feeling claustrophobic. That is a gear WIN.

 

Digital downsizing

Facepalming at my computer

DOWNSIZING. This is pretty much how I feel about the process.

I decided almost immediately when I started this whole shift to the travellin’ lifestyle that one of my first moves would be to get my digital life in order once and for all. I still find it ridiculous that a digital life is even a thing, but I think that’s my resistance to becoming completely consumed by technology rather than my resistance to reality.

I’m a reasonably organised person, but somehow in all the years I’ve lived my life on computers, I’ve failed to have a proper, consistent system for keeping all my digital crap in order. Moving your digital life around is unlike moving your physical life around in that you don’t really see all the stuff you’re taking with you, no matter how big or unruly it gets. If you’re anything like me, when you get a new computer, you just chuck everything from the old one onto the new one and never really pay a great deal of attention to what’s in all those boxes. They just come with you because they’re there. At least when you move house, you’re motivated to get rid of some of your old shit so you’ve got less to lug up and down stairs and shove into closets.

So this time, I’ve declared, will be different. This time I’m going to clean out my digital past and try to be as ruthless with it as I’m trying to be with the clear-out of my physical stuff. The first milestone on this particular adventure will be upgrading/downsizing to a Macbook Air (wooo, new toy!). I’m currently on a nearly 3-year-old 13″ Macbook Pro. It’s in fantastic shape, but the smaller and lighter I go, the better. And this computer has 500GB of space on it where the Air I’ve currently got my eye on has about half that. So I’m immediately being forced to chuck some things out.

Rumour has it that Apple will be releasing new Macbook Airs in September when they’re meant to announce all manner of other new gadgets, so I’m waiting to see if that will bring a higher capacity 11″ than the 256GB you can get now, but I also think that maybe it’ll be good to be confined to less. Because much like all the extra crap sitting around my house just because it has space to be there, I don’t actually USE most of the files taking up all that space on my computer. I’m only using about 242GB of my current space, but that’s too close to the line I’m shooting for, so I’ve already started the process of cleaning out.

Not surprisingly, the majority of that space is music (97GB) and photos (52GB). The hardest things to get rid of.

So the first thing I attacked was my image folder. I started with around 57GB of photos, and I didn’t really get rid of much in terms of unique content. Most of what I cleaned out consisted of:

  • Doubles and triples of the same files
  • Random images saved from the interweb in college for now-forgotten reasons
  • Album art
  • Vast selections of AIM user icons
  • Alternate versions of the same picture
  • Bad pictures of food

It took HOURS to do this. And it was, in some ways, a pain. But it was also just as nice as when I did the same purge on my physical box of photos in my parents’ basement last year, in that I got to look through 10-15 years of photos and memories from all different points and places in my life. And it’s nice to be reminded of what you have and where you’ve been and people you don’t see anymore.

I won’t be getting rid of most of the rest of what I have because I think it’s great to be able to look through your own history like that. Particularly as a way to combat homesickness or general travel fatigue. It’s built-in therapy. As well as an instant storytelling aid for people you meet along the way. So once the actual chaff was chucked, I was happy that I’d pared it down as much as necessary.

The music is the next thing to attack, and that’s a little less straightforward. The 97GB I have now is AFTER clearing the doubles generated by moving my collection between computers. It’s so easy to justify keeping everything because it’s only taking up digital space. But I’m willing to bet I’ve never even listened to about 10-15% of what I’ve got on iTunes at all. This comes from the massive amount of music I got from other people over the Washington College network. Things that I grabbed just because they seemed like ‘good things to have’. Quite a lot of Beatles and Zeppelin for example. I love the Beatles, but I don’t really like Led Zeppelin enough to own nearly their entire catalogue. And there’s a lot of other stuff in there that I like well enough, but just never, ever listen to and probably never will. Half of it is probably a digital rip of the CD I once had and sold or gave away because I knew I wasn’t going to listen to it. So why is it SO HARD to delete the files?

Thanks to Spotify, I can listen to most any of this stuff whenever I want without having it on my own computer, but for some reason it’s still hard to shake my stubbornness about not having it MYSELF. I think this is because I’m one of those people who still buys CDs (and the occasional collectable vinyl release) because I really value the idea of having a proper music collection, at the very least of your favourites. No matter how ruthless I get about purging my earthly possessions, music is important.

I think some of the experience of having music is lost when it all only exists digitally. I still love putting in a physical album and listening to the whole thing. I like album artwork and liner notes and knowing who helped the band out and seeing flippant comments and inside jokes among the credits. I like the deliberate effort of physically going to the shelf and choosing the thing you want to hear at that very moment. And if I ever need to put my stuff in storage, a good bit of what’s there will be the music I refuse to get rid of. My CD collection isn’t nearly as big as it once was when I was a student with nothing but disposable income and space in my parents’ house, but I still have the stuff I really love, and I still buy releases by my favourite bands. I always will.

Despite all this, I know I need to cut back on the digital front. I also know I’ll never miss the stuff I do decide to delete because I don’t miss it now. I barely know it’s there. No one can give equal attention to over 21 days worth of music, and according to iTunes, that’s what I’m currently sitting on. So, as a first goal, I will set 70GB as a target. I should really get rid of more, but hopefully once I get to 70GB, I’ll be on a roll and it’ll be easy to keep going. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Outside photos and music lies a whole mess of other files I need to whip into shape with a proper filing system, but that’s a story for another post.

The best carry-on-friendly bottles

Muji travel bottles

I have wavered between being staunchly carry-on only and always-check-the-bag (even when the bag is easily carry-on size). I’ve never had a big problem with packing light, but I don’t enjoy lugging things around when I don’t have to on long layovers, and I like to have things like my multi-tool with me for at least 50% of the trips I take. I can also be particular about my sunscreen, and it’s easier to just bring the whole bottle.

Aside from sunscreen though, I can make it an awfully long time on 100ml max of any one liquid toiletry. (Take that, terrorism!) And after finding what I believe to be the HOLY GRAIL of reusable travel bottles something like 6 years ago, I feel like a winner every time I chuck my travel kit into a bag.

I tried a bunch of bottles, from cheap stuff you get in Boots to expensive things from Aveda. They always broke or were hard to clean or got stained or were too fiddly or SOMETHING. Something that made me fed up enough to keep looking. And then one day when I was in London, I wandered into a Muji, (likely drawn by the dizzying array of stationery) and my TSA-compliant prayers were answered.

I think of Muji as the IKEA of Japan. They have everything and it’s all very functional and cleverly designed and minimalist in the nicest way. They do clothes too, but I am a tall western lady not fit for the proportions of Japanese clothing lines (I have a hard time in Uniqlo with anything other than the sleeveless), so I don’t normally bother with that section, but it’s nice stuff as well.

Anyway, Muji has a pretty comprehensive travel range, and they sell a few different types of travel bottle, but the ones I have and love are the frosted, squishable ones. They are PET plastic so not for solvent-based stuff, but I use them for shampoo, conditioner, and sometimes hand lotion if I don’t have a tiny enough bottle of it. I have a few of the 100ml ones and a few of the 50ml tubes and I have been using the same ones since I bought them ages ago. They are super easy to fill, empty, and clean (even my bright red Aveda colour conserve conditioner, which stains EVERYTHING, did not stain my travel bottle), and if there is a way to break them, I haven’t found it.

The other thing that’s great about these is that they sell them separately, so you don’t have to buy some kit of random bottles you don’t end up using all of. You just buy what you’re gonna use and they last forever and ever and ever. For non-squishable liquids like sprays, they have clear, non-squishy bottles. I do have one of the foaming pumps for the cleanser I used to use, which was really great because the travel-sized branded one was WAY pricey.

Muji have lots of other little travel bits and bobs that may or may not be just as awesome, so it’s probably a good place to look if you’re in the market for that kind of thing. The other really handy thing I have from there is one of these clear, zippable, TPU plastic pouches to hold my beloved bottles. I was so fed up wasting ziploc bags at airport security I just decided to try one of these one day and see if it flew (har har). And I’ve never had a problem. It’s the same size as the disposable bags they offer you at the airport, but it’s super durable, (again) easy to clean, and plenty spacious, and security is always happy with it. It’s not completely waterproof, so if you’re super worried about spills, then maybe it’s not for you, but then these bottles have never leaked on me in 6 years, so it’s not something I think about too much.

So, if you’ve been searching high and low for the be-all, end-all of travel toiletry containment, I highly recommend you have a look at Muji. I get nothing from them for saying any of this, I just really, really love those bottles.