Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Today is the first day of the rest of my trip! :)

Day 1.  Istanbul!  A little photo report:

"First thing that strikes about Istanbul is it’s neatness.  Think Frankfurt.  Hell, think Munich!  Second thought: these people are obsessed with their plants! From construction sites around the airport to squares of Sultanahmet – everything is surrounded by most elaborate flower beds and the grass is bright green everywhere!  It’s October for Pete’s sake!  Didn’t they just have five hundred days of summer?  What kept it from turning the same lovely shade of poo-poo brown as Kiev chestnuts?"


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Three is a Charm! Apparently...

Ok, perhaps I’m bored.  The time has slowed down to a sadistic crawl.  The apartment is sublet, storage room is cleaned and closets reorganized.  Jabs are done.  Documents are in order and budget is triple-checked.  (When will I be gone, already?!)

So I moved this blog.  Again.  First Tumblr, then Blogger.  Now WordPress.  I promise, this time it’s for good.  8 more days and I’ll be forced to do more traveling than travel blogging.  But for now - just bare with me.  And re-subscribe.  Or re-bookmark.  Or re-tell me to go to hell - do whatever you gotta do.

Here goes: http://tinybackpacker.com

Oh, yes, new title…  Exploiting my gender and size now.  Nothing’s sacred anymore.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beauty Tips for Girls on the Road

Leaving one's favorite shoes, outfits and beauty products behind doesn't mean that one should give up  looking pretty. For starters, one might run into someone cute. And then feeling good about one's appearance shouldn't stay back at one's home along with the rest of one's crap. So let's see if there's anything one can do...

I have to admit -  I suck at downsizing toiletries.  I will pack only 2 pairs of underwear if absolutely necessary, but my face wash, tonic water, shampoo, conditioner, etc. are always coming with. Most of beauty tips on travel websites come down to 1) buy small airplane-friendly bottles and relocate your favorite products or 2) buy the same stuff in the travel size containers.  Unsurprisingly, both involve shopping.

Here's my problem with it: if I simply re-pack all my cuticle treatments, hair masks and body scrubs into plethora of little bottles, the said 2 pairs of underwear won't have a fighting chance. Something has to be sacrificed.

Trying to come up with candidates for kill off, I have searched homemade beauty products sites and travel blogs.  It appears body scrubs and hand lotions, facial masks and even shampoo can be easily created from the most basic ingredients. I have picked the recipes that seemed budget and backpack friendly and split them into categories: Face, Body, Hair, Hands & Nails.

Naturally, this list isn’t complete - it's just a tip of the iceberg of collective wisdom. If you have simpler, better, more affordable beauty tricks in your travel repertoire - please share them with fellow vagabonds.


  • you're at an airport and you want to remove the afternoon shine from your nose and forehead: a toilet seat cover works just as well as oil-blotting papers.
  • on a plane take couple extra packets of sugar and (if available) honey.  Later you can mix the two together, gently massage on face, rinse. Lemon or lime can also be added to the mix.
  • just honey: this is an easy, natural mask for people with dry or acne prone skin. After washing your face, gently apply honey to your face, lips, and eyelids. After 10 - 20 minutes, gently rinse it off.
  • take 4-8 aspirin (white, uncoated) in palm and add a little water to make paste.  Apply on clean face, leave for 10 min, massage gently, rinse off.
  • for oily skin, mash up a ripe tomato and leave it on for 15minutes. Rinse with warm (not hot) water.  (Ripe plum also works and makes my skin matt).
  • for dry skin, mash half a ripe banana or avocado and spread on face, let sit for 15 minutes, rinse well (works for the body as well).
  • take a green tea bag and steep in boiling water for a minute. Let it cool down and drab it on your puffy areas (eyes etc.) 
  • chilled green tea is a refreshing and cleansing toner - perfect for acne prone skin.
  • put slices of raw potato on your eyelids to reduce puffiness.
  • got a spot? Pop a dab of honey on it and put a band-aid over it. Leave over night. 
  • exfoliate your lips by using the corner of your bath towel dipped in lukewarm water.
  • and most important: don’t touch your face!  Easier said than done, but think about all the buses, street food and odd money bills your hands have handled today...  Nail biters, nose scratchers and chin rubbers - listen up: come up with a way to “distract” your fingers, e.g. buy rosary or baoding balls.  (And if you’re trying to nap on a bus/plane/train with your head resting against your palm - wear a clean sock as a glove, then press your cheek against it).


  • to save packing space, use you hair conditioner as a shaving creme, it is said to work just as well.
  • pinch a cupful of oats or muesli from the breakfast buffet if there is one, then tie it up in a sock. Float the sock in a bath full of hot water, then use as a moisturizing puff and massage all over your body. The sock will be a bugger to wash but your skin will feel wonderful. 
  • mix one sugar sachet with a squirt of shower gel for an invigorating body scrub. If you are swimming on a sandy beach, sit in the shallows and give yourself a scrub with a couple of palmfuls of sand. 
  • for mosquito bites pop a little bit of clear nail polish over them. The itch will stop as soon as the polish dries and the polish will just peal off in a day or two's time!
  • caffeine is the main ingredient in many cellulite creams. Try massaging warm coffee grounds into your skin while in the shower.
  • apply any oil (e.g. common in Asia coconut oil) on wet skin after shower and dab gently with a towel - works better than any lotion (Works great as an eye make up remover!)


  • according to Brandy from http://livevicuriously.com you don't really need shampoo: "Baking soda, my friends, baking soda. 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of water - now, shake shake shake, and pour it on your dome. Clean, shiny hair with no freaky chemicals seeping into your brain."
  • as i curl my hair with mossa waving system - which requires natural pH cleanser to maintain  shape - baking soda isn't an option for me, unfortunately.  I usually resort to Johnson's baby shampoo (hopefully less of freaky chemicals than in the adult stuff), and use it also as shower gel and laundry wash.
  • cut back on the amount of shampoo you use. Do the same with toothpaste. (Companies selling the stuff market overuse - a pea-sized drop of toothpaste is enough).
  • looking for that really sun kissed Aussie Surfer look? Add a little lemon juice to your shampoo and get out into the sun. The sun will naturally bring out your highlights. 
  • humectant, meaning it attracts and holds moisture in your hair.


  • wet your hands in warm water, then rub oil of any kind into them. Keep rubbing until most of it has been absorbed. Wipe off excess with a clean cloth.
  • for whiter nails, rub lemon onto them.

info from the following websites:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Travel Budget For Budget Travelers

Heights, wild dogs and running out of money - these 3 things scare the living shit out of me.  Heights are somewhat of a mystery, though my mom believes that some idiot nurse dropped me (on my head?) in the maternity ward which resulted in a broken collarbone that went undiscovered for years.  With dogs it’s rather straightforward: an overgrown mutt attacked me from behind as I was strolling to work one day, iPod in my ears, no sudden moves or loud sounds - go figure.  Fear of going broke goes back to my college freshman year: with a $12 monthly expense limit, my weight didn’t go above 42 kg/92 lbs, as eating was the luxury I could rarely afford.  Safe to say, it was one of the worst years of my life, for food I love!

Thirteen years later I am about to embark on a six months unpaid vacation.  Financial security is still my biggest concern and I dedicate a great deal of energy to budget planning.  Weekly updates of this little table (below) appeared to be the best way to calm my nerves.  For there’s no better way to protect your money, than staying on top of your expenses.  (Working as a producer for 8,5 years teaches you that).

So how much is enough?  What amount on your bank account says that now it’s safe to travel?  Naturally, it depends on many factors - from your dream destinations to drinking habits - but where do you start?  I have read a number of useful articles and blog entries on the subject (the most thorough - again! - here: http://travelindependent.info/b4yougo.htm#cost), but approached it from a slightly different angle.  I counted all my savings and started to research what I could afford for the money.  The price of basic accommodation and food as well as routes of low cost airlines (http://www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines/asia) went into the decision about the number of countries I visit and the duration of my trip.
I present here my current budget as a sample.  Hopefully it plays out well, but in either case, I will be posting per-country reports as I go.
(I used Apple’s Numbers to create this file - I like that you can uncheck certain positions, e.g. things that are already paid for, and they will be deducted from the total, while you can still see how much they cost.)

What (Not) to Pack

To pack or not to pack is not the question.  If you love traveling, you’ll have to try to like (or at least not hate) packing.  From the beginning of your trip till the moment you get back home, organizing your shit and keeping it neat will be your main chore.  The amount of fun on the road will depend on the ease with which you pack, unpack and re-pack your possessions.  Spontaneous trips, gorgeous sites and many new friends can be missed if you don’t have a “system”.  I’m not saying that mine is perfect - if anything it’s anal bordering on ridiculous - but it works really well for me.  Of course, girls will find more useful ideas than guys (with me being a girl and all), but there are some universal points here also.  
This weekend I have performed a “packing test”: I have selected, categorized and photographed everything I’m going to bring with me to Asia, weighed each group of items separately and then once more together inside a fully loaded backpack.
Packing light is my religion.  Addiction to clothing, on the other hand, is my biggest sin. I constantly attempt to reconcile the two by following few simple rules:
1) Select mono-pieces: a flimsy summer dress weighs less than any top & bottom combo.  Plus it’s a ready outfit, which means you’re out of the door twice as fast;
2) Pick 2-3 pairs of lightweight shoes and matching handbags, then build your outfits around them;
3) Try to choose 2-3 color directions: it will make laundry and accessorizing that much easier;
4) 2 bras and 6-8 pairs of panties (preferably half in dark and half in light colors) are sufficient for a trip of any duration;
5) Couple of wide scarves will protect you from sun during the day and add warmth at night, they can also work as a light blanket on a train or as a sarong on the beach;
6) Bus drivers in the tropics love their AC’s - a long-sleeve sweater and a pair of leggings (they’re more compact than “proper” pants) will help you to survive the ride.
Here’s a picture of my chosen clothes split into outfits.  The central image is my travel attire: keen shoes and jeans cut offs are heavier than other items, so I wear them on the plains/trains/buses.  Total weight of all “wearables”: 2.6 kg.

Other Essentials
The above picture illustrates - besides the unquestionable fact that I need to be diagnosed - my makeup&hair set, medical kit, hygiene paraphernalia, electronics and other gadgets, as well as entertainment material, also known as books.
1) Makeup&hair.  I’m the kind of girl who wears full makeup to the supermarket across the street.  And it has to match my outfit.  Carrying expensive, fragile and bulky eye-shadows half way around the planet seemed crazy, so I came up with an alternative: eye pencils in assorted colors are easy to apply, resilient and occupy virtually no space.  (Practical tip: ubiquitous vegetable oil serves as a great eye-makeup remover - one less bottle for you to carry.)
2) Medical kit.  To minimize the volume of your healthcare products, get rid of all the boxes and packages (you can have directions scanned and emailed to yourself).  It also doesn’t hurt to write down the names of active ingredients of your key meds.  (Brand names differ from country to country - imagine explaining yeast infection drug to a non-English speaking pharmacist using gestures!)  
[Content of my medical kit: (top row) pancreatin aids digestion;loperamide is effective against diarrhea; activated carbon in pills treats poisonings; (second row) fosfomycin is a one-time urinary tract infection antibiotic; one pill of fluconazole will make yeast infection go away; condoms can be filled with water and dropped from rooftops on fellow travelers; (third row) validol (mild heart disorders as well as motion sickness) and two painkillers of various strength; (forth row) cough spray and sore throat pills, electronic thermometer, iodine, “golden star” (Vietnamese version of Tiger Balm is useful against headaches and colds as well as mosquito bites - at least so all Soviet kids strongly believe), dicloran (anti-inflammatory and local anesthetic); (fifth row) assorted band-aids; (bottom left corner) Lady Cup - carefree travel on any day of the month!  GIRLS, DO NOT GO WITHOUT IT!  (detailed explanation here:http://travelindependent.info/comments.htm#Keeper)]
3) Miscellaneous.  Couple of padlocks, key-chain LED flashlight, sewing kit, iPod, iPod USB charger, USB power adapter, USB and regular Nokia charger (the said Nokia is not portrayed as I’m taking all my pictures with it - hence the absence of a digital camera), a tiny 4Gb USB storage, prescription- and sunglasses, daily and monthly contact lenses and a case for the latter (I haven’t decided which I’m going to stick to, so I’m taking both for now).
4) Shower kit.  Buy a “hangable”, foldable toiletry bag and you won’t have to balance a dozen of tiny items on the edge of a sink ever again!  Plus it’ll keep your bathroom gear perpetually packed.  (Look out for the ones that already come with airplane-friendly empty bottles or buy those separately.)
5&6) Makeup, medical, toiletry and electronic gear in their respective “homes”.  Combined weight of all of the above: 2.5 kg
7) Reading.  This year “Great Paper Books Vs. Kindle-type Device Debate” surpassed both “Big Sleeping Bag Argument” and “Never-ending Malaria Meds Dispute”.  Somehow I happened to be on the retrograde side of this battle: I stuck to paper books.  Two reasons: firstly, the assholes from Amazon are being exceptionally non-friendly to the users from “developing countries”, and more importantly, over the last year I spent a fortune at Strand with about 20 volumes yet to be read.  I tried to select books that are light and diverse.  Weight: 1.6 kg
So… ta-daaaaaa!  Fully packed and ready to go!  Total weight: 8 kg.  The only thing that will be added is my not-yet-purchased netbook by Asus: 1 kg.  But still - I think I’ve done fairly well for a former overpacker.  Don’t you find?

It’s Not Only Fine Backpacks That Make Fine Backpackers!

My new backpack has arrived!  And oh, what a long journey it was: a relationship of 1.5 years had ended before the damn thing crossed the ocean…  But at last it’s here - and I’m happy.
…Shopping for a backpack is not easy.  Backpacks are to backpackers what boobs are to women: they come in different shapes and sizes and your entire style is defined by them.  Adding to the resemblance, there’s an endless debate about which are better - big or small - with big (shocking!) slightly in the lead.
Being somewhere between the categories in the boob department, I’m definitely a small backpack girl.  This year I have successfully traveled to Cannes with just one 35 liter pack.  It might not sound like much, but it’s an uncanny achievement for a chick!  Think 7 days, 2 outfits a day (something light and small for the beach as well as something warmer and fancier for the night).  Plus matching shoes and handbags, toiletries and make up…  On top of all, I carried half of all Radioaktive promorabilia: 50 booklets, 30 USB drives, 200 business cards… 
How did I do this is a topic that I’ll elaborate on in the upcoming entry “What (Not) to Pack”.  Meanwhile just trust me: thoughtful packing for warm weather doesn’t require much space.  40 liter backpack is perfectly sufficient given that you’re traveling in the tropics or during summer months in moderate climates.  (Those who prefer not to take my word for it are welcome to explore this brilliant article:http://travelindependent.info/whattopack.htm).
Choosing small is one big decision, but other questions remain.  What price range is “reasonable”?  Which brands offer “best quality”?  Internal or external frame?  Or fuck the frame altogether and settle for a slick ultra-light 1.5 pound Equinox?  
There are two main backpack characteristics that will make or break your trip: “comfort” and “reliability” - in that order.  (Anything else - from color to speciality pockets - is just a matter of taste and will hardly impact your travels).  Your backpack should be sturdy enough to still hold your shit together after weeks of being tossed around on all sorts of buses, boats and tuk-tuks, but it’s even more important that it should never-ever under any circumstances cause you any physical pain.  A light (40 liter pack shouldn’t weigh much more than 15 pounds in the perfect world) comfortable backpack that you can take as a carry-on on a plane or stuff under a seat of a bus is independent traveler’s biggest blessing.  Walking for miles with all possessions strapped to your back and still enjoying sites is the ultimate definition of freedom.
So make sure that you google the name of your preferred pack together with the word “reviews” and read carefully.  I guarantee that you will change your mind many a time - until, that is, you find The One. I think I did.  
My criteria were the following: 
- weight: under 4 pounds/2 kg
- size: up to 40 liters
- frame: internal (for better distribution of weight)
- and a few useful extras: external sleeping pad straps, built-in rain cover, wastebelt pocket for often-accessed essentials, etc.
After weeks of research I proudly present you my new travel buddy: REI Lookout 40 (female edition).  Still has to be tested on the road, but so far - like in the beginning of any relationship - I’m convinced that this is my best pick yet.

My Name Is Lena and I’m a Downshifter...

My name is Lena and I’m lucky.  I have done well in one of the most random lotteries of all: parental one.  Besides the practical convenience of being pretty (you know, free drinks), compact (enough leg room on the smallest bus) and healthy (no allergies, no broken bones and a digestive system that can process nuclear waste), I owe to my dad my boundless curiosity and an over-anal(ytical) mind to my mom.  
When I was a little girl my mother told me that there was nothing I couldn’t do: focused enthusiasm was the key ingredient of any magic in her opinion. So whatever I wanted bad enough (to work for it hard enough) always ended up within my reach.   Thus by the age of 30 I have built a highly successful career.  So successful in fact, that there was nothing left for me to improve in my job - short of implanting somebody else’s brain.  
Yep, I’m that good.  Of course, there’s always more money to be made, newer cars to be bought and companies’ names to be upgraded.  But ultimately this is as good as it gets for me.  I will never have a more spectacular combo of benefits:  I love my job, I travel a lot, I look and feel like 20 (thanks again, mom!), I’m single (read “free”, not “alone”) and have no debts or liabilities of any kind.  
The biggest commitment in my life is work.  Wait, let me correct that: it’s my ONLY commitment!  I occasionally help my parental family financially, but I do that out of love, not because I’m obliged.  With work it’s different: loving it (and I do, I DO!) helps me cope with the obligation part.
I have never particularly wanted to have kids, pets or a husband.  When I think of myself at an old age, I picture a Miss-Marple-like character, living in a neat little house in a neat little village.  Curious and somewhat nosy, yet intelligent and still enjoying her days, with books and memories for company and entertainment.  What a charming chapter in life!  No more appearances to be kept, no more men to seduce, no more external, unsatisfiable desires - just living…
Couple years ago I started hearing about downshifters: these vagabonds of the modern world seemed to follow their wanderlust so effortlessly! For them living - just living! - didn’t require vindication of elderliness.  I was enchanted by them, envied them and knew that I - clearly! - would never have the guts to become one of them.
A little later, during a (painfully short!) trip to Thailand, I met numerous escapees from the West. Their expatriation stories were almost identical: a vacation that ran several months/years/decades longer than was originally planned.  Some owned bars and guest houses, motorbike rentals and internet cafes.  Others just strolled around the planet, country after country, returning to the developed world only to generate enough cash for the next journey.  
Back home I started to really think about it.  I looked at my fear of uncertainty through my mother’s eyes: “There’s nothing you can’t do!”  I counted all my savings (don’t need a car, not enough for an apartment and hell, not taking any credits in this economy!), talked to my bosses (“All my boyfriends combined didn’t last quite as long as this job - I need a break!”) and started planning my exodus.
So here!  My name is Lena and I’m a downshifter!  Well… at least a part-time one.  Starting October 2010 I’m taking 6 months off and heading to South East Asia.  I’ll be posting my prep reports as well as my travel notes and photographs here.  I’ll try to keep it real (“what’s the cost of a tram ride in Istanbul?”, “are shared bathrooms really that atrocious?”), entertaining (roasted bug tastings with graphic descriptions) and funny (I solemnly swear to recite all travel jokes and report all comic accidents, no matter how embarrassing!)
So far my route looks as follows:
- Istanbul (October 5-14, 2010)
- Sri Lanka (October 14-November 5, 2010)
- Phuket, Thailand (November 6-December 4, 2010)
- Koh Phangan, Thailand (December 10, 2010-January 10, 2011)
- Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, North Thailand (January , 2011)
- Laos (February, 2011)
- Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam  (March, 2011)