Tag Archives: preparation

Ethiopia: T Minus 20

With twenty days until I leave for Ethiopia, and it being my last chance before then to perform all the time consuming checks, the pace has picked up on the trip planning.

The most fundamental task was to ensure that I have all the clothing and equipment that I will need to take with me and to that end I have been purchasing bits over the past few weeks. This weekend’s task was to collect it all together and see what’s is missing – and if it is all going to fit!


When I went to Antarctica I went through the pain of having to research, and then buy, a complete cold-weather wardrobe. Now I have had to do the same for the other end of the climate scale. As with the online advice for cold-weather gear, advice for hot-weather clothing is equally diverse. In the end though I have settled upon taking the following:

  • One pair hiking boots – Salomon Quest 4D GTX (plus spare laces)
  • One pair hiking shoes – Salomon Ultra X
  • Two Rohan “Core Silver T” base-layer T-shirts
  • Two Bspoke “Epping” Coolmax base-layer T-shirts
  • One Rab “MeCo 120” base-layer T-shirt
  • Four pairs Rohan “Cool Silver” Trunks
  • One pair Rab “MeCo 120” Trunks
  • Two pair Smartwool “PHD Outdoor Ultra Light” Socks
  • One Pair Icebreaker “Hike Light” Socks
  • Three Craghoppers Nosilife long sleeve shirts
  • Two pairs hiking trousers [TBC]
  • One Berghaus Polartec 100 fleece.
  • My trusty wide-brimmed hat

As you can see it is a bit of a mix: three different types of base-layer t-shirt for example. My reasoning for this is simply that when reading around the general consensus was that synthetic material doesn’t work well for some people: I didn’t want to stick to one brand or technology only to find that it didn’t work for me.

The hiking boots and shoes are both new. My trusty 18 year-old Scarpa BX boots failed in Iceland and despite being waxed began letting in water. My Merrell Moab hiking shoes finally fell apart in Israel – only just surviving due to a couple of tubes of superglue. So back in September I went in to the local GoOutdoors shop with the intent of trying them on and them buying online and went through several makes – Mendl, Scarpa, Mammut – but all slipped when I walked – a recipe for blisters. In the end the guy took one feel of the shape of my heel and ankle, disappeared and came back with the Salomon. They fit like a glove (well, a foot-glove). The whole process took 40 minutes and it was not service that should go unrewarded by then buying elsewhere. I was so impressed that I even emailed them to say how pleasantly surprised I was, and that rarely happens. The hiking shoes were bought yesterday, Salomon again due to the fit.

The other thing – which is a new experience for me – is that I’m taking only five days of clean clothes for a two week trip. For the experienced trekkers amongst you this may not seem particularly noteworthy, but for me is it a big departure from what I am used to. Well, almost. On my trips to Iceland and then Israel earlier this year, despite having sufficient clothes for a daily swap of underwear and t-shirt, I didn’t use half of them. So this is really just an extension of that although it will be much hotter than both Iceland and Israel in the Danakil Depression and so sweat will be more of an issue. As a backup I am taking a small tube of travel washing liquid although given the lack of running water and that the only bodies of water are either highly acidic, poisonous or have a higher salt concentration than the Dead Sea, I’m not altogether sure how I would get to use it.

The trousers are still to be bought as I am still stuck on the decision: I love the multiple pockets of cargo-style trousers, but I also like the idea of those which can be converted to shorts. This is a decision that needs to be finalised this week. I’ll also be buying two more pairs of lightweight hiking socks.


For the majority of the expedition we’ll be away from civilisation and in the middle of nowhere. This means no electricity, gas, running water, mobile phone coverage and no sanitary facilities. With the exception of the first night in Awash and the last night in Mek’ele, accommodation is listed as being ‘under the stars’  – a euphemistic term for sleeping on the ground. Our comfort – and more importantly health – will be dependent upon whatever we take with us.

  • A Vango Sherpa 65 litre backpack
  • Snugpak “jungle” sleeping bag
  • Exped Ultralight inflatable pillow
  • Karrimor sleeping mat
  • Gas mask
  • Mountain Warehouse large travel towel
  • Lenser P7 LED torch
  • Petzl Tikka XP head torch
  • Medical kit
  • Voltaic Systems’ 18W solar charging kit
  • Swiss Army knife
  • A funnel
  • Several large plastic bags and some zip-loc bags

The pillow may seem like a luxury item but I’ve woken up with a stiff neck too many times to know that it can real pain (so to speak) to have a sore neck when you’re rushing around. And at 46g in weight, it is not exactly cumbersome.

The jungle bag – so called as it is a lightweight one season sleeping bag- is less to keep warm and more to provide protection from the little critters that will be roaming around – mosquitoes included. It has a thermal comfort rating of down to 7°C and includes a handy zip-up mosquito net over the head opening. The pillow fits in the hood nicely.

The gas mask is probably the oddest item on the list, but it is required for certain areas, especially around the crater of the volcano and the lava lake. The biggest risks here will be hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide gasses, both of which have a habit of killing you if left untreated. As we’ll be around 600km from any form of medical aid, prevention is definitely better than cure in this case.

The solar panel is the luxury item. As mentioned in a previous post it is there to charge the camera batteries and the battery on my trusty MacBook Air. I could survive without the laptop – although doing of would make checking image quality tricky – and five camera batteries may be enough for the trip. In a pinch I could charge the batteries off the cigarette lighter socket in the 4WD, but there is possibility that may not be an option. Any in any event, there is nothing wrong with a bit a tech geekery!

So, the big question is: Has this weekend been a success? The answer is both yes and no.

No in the sense that I have not performed a complete test pack and checked the weight. This is only a little annoying in that it would have been nice to do, but a quick educated guess would suggest that I should be OK.

Yes in the sense that I now have a final shopping list which can be summarised as:

  • Two more pairs lightweight hiking socks
  • Two pairs of hiking trousers
  • Medical supplies
  • Sanitary and personal care supplies
  • An inflatable globe
  • Glucose tablets, energy bars, dried nuts and fruit.

The biggest challenge of this is the trousers simply as I need to actually go somewhere that has what I am after and try them on – a struggle given my busy work schedule and hence why this weekend was so important. By contrast the other items are easy to come by.

Including the all important inflatable globe of the World…

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Plan C…

It’s been a while since the last update, mainly due to work being more hectic than usual. I’ve been travelling across the country visiting various clients, often for days at a time, and so I would have thought that being stuck in hotel rooms would have given me plenty of time to write some of the articles I have planned. But no, it hasn’t worked out that way. On top of that, weekends have either been spent on overtime or on other projects and so the Cambodia trip has taken a bit of a back seat. Until now.

Here in the UK we’re experiencing what we consider to be a bit of a heatwave. The past week or so has seen temperatures over 30 centigrade and we’ve all gone from complaining about how miserable the weather is to how unbearably hot it is! I’m one of the biggest complainants of all, not really liking hot weather and so it dawned upon me that spending four weeks in Cambodia, just as the country is coming out of the monsoon season and into it’s summer was going to be challenging. So it was early last week that I decided that a plan B was in order.

The initial thought was to head over to Las Vegas and from there take in the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Antelope Canyon. but after pricing up the flights, the accommodation and the necessary tours required to see Antelope Canyon, it quickly dawned on me that I was going to be spending a lot of money on getting to the destination for what would be a short trip. So, that idea has been shelved until I can spend more time planning it, making the flight costs seem more reasonable.

Plan C came about as a result of my stereotypically dubious reasoning:

  • As I was thinking of spending a lot of money on the travel aspect of the trip, then I should at least consider some of the options I have dismissed in the past due to cost.
  • Anywhere, absolutely anywhere would be cheaper than the Antarctica trip and so a bargain by comparison.
  • The last major trip was Japan and that came in at GBP £2500 for three weeks, so that seems a reasonable bench mark.
  • I prefer cold to warm and already have cold weather gear as a result of last year.
  • I want to spend less on getting there and more on being there.

One destination was a clear winner of this line of logic: Iceland.

So planning is well underway. All accommodation was finally booked yesterday and work have signed-off on the annual leave. Now for the fun part – the preparation…


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Planning a Trip isn’t Easy: Here’s my Approach.

Well, it’s a long weekend here in the UK and so I’m determined to make the most of it by getting the framework of the Cambodia trip organised.

I think I’ve all but decided that the trip will be to Cambodia only; reading around the web it felt as if four weeks for both Vietnam and Cambodia was going to be too rushed. Dedicating a full four weeks to one country means a more relaxed pace, better opportunities to capture sights in different light conditions and to make repeated visits to places.

So the planning stage in now in full swing. By the end of Monday I would like to have the international flight booked. Not a simple task  in my World. Booking flights means that I need an idea of where I am going and how long I am spending in each part…

…which means I need to know what there is to see in each part…

… and how long I want to dedicate to each part…

… and how many days to allow for internal travel.

So the first step is hours in front of Google reading the official tourism sites, reading reviews from other travellers, search photo sharing sites for inspiration, reading about best ways to travel internally etc, etc. That’s a lot of information to store and manage and so you need a good system to keep it in order.

I use Evernote to capture and store large volumes of information. It can be free to use, it can be accessed from the web, from your PC and laptop, from your mobile devices and it  automatically synchronises changes amongst all of these. It also has a handy browser plug-in that allows you to not only grab a web page, but it also automatically stores the URL so you can always go back to the page at a later date.

Everything gets stored in Evernote: Booking confirmations, possible ideas for shots, sights to visit, reviews by other people, questions to find out answers to, maps, bus timetables. Everything.

Organisation is key for me, but so is simplicity. I like to prefix each note’s title with an indication of its nature. Ideas for things like where to stay or things to do get the ‘Ideas’ prefix; if an ‘Idea’ becomes a definite thing to do, it gets turned into a ‘Sight’; anything related to travel to, from or between places, or hostel bookings get the ‘Travel’ prefix.


Organisation with Evernote is key to my planning…


This way I can see pretty much instantly what is outstanding and when the time comes to plan a day-by-day itinerary I can look for everything marked a ‘Sight’ and make sure they all get included.

So, that’s this weekend. A lot of web surfing and note taking using Evernote. But by the end of it, I should be in a position to book flights safe in the knowledge that I’m going to see everything I want to.

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Cambodia and Vietnam

It’s not set in concrete yet, but I have a strong suspicion that I’m off to Cambodia and Vietnam later this year.

It all started with a idle contemplation of historically significant sites that I would like to see. The two that kept floating to the top of the list were Machu Picchu in Peru and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Whilst Machu Picchu is still very much a place I want to see and the Inca Trail a walk I very much want to do, Going back to South America would mean going back to Bolivia and also down to Patagonia. A lot of preparation and perhaps best left for another time.

My interest in Angkor Wat stems from a photograph I saw years ago where a tree was growing on top of an old temple. ‘Just how cool is that!’ was my initial thought. At the time I wasn’t really into taking photographs and I certainly didn’t have the courage to travel alone outside of an English speaking country. So there it stayed: a very cool image of what be a very cool place.

Still, these days I have no real problem travelling outside of my comfort zone and not being able to speak a language sometimes work better. And, to be honest, whilst the expense of Antarctica last year left me telling all and sundry this year would be a quiet (i.e., cheap) travel year, I’m already getting itchy feet.

But the deciding factor was when I nearly bought a new MacBook Retina a couple of weeks ago. Twice it ended up in the shopping cart and twice I thought about all the places I still want to see. If I had money for a new laptop, I certainly had money for travel.

Still lots of preparation to be done. The first hurdle is whether it’s affordable. Yes is the probable answer. Flights there and back will be by far the majority share of the total cost as once there accommodation and daily living is cheap, especially for how I like to travel.

The next hurdle is time. It’s a 13 hour flight and so I’m not looking at a two week break. Initial plans were for three weeks, but now Vietnam has crept into the itinerary, I’m looking to take the maximum I can. So when I asked my boss the other day “I’m looking at taking October off on holiday” I wasn’t kidding. In reality I’m looking at 24 days holiday, so nearer five weeks. It’ll be the longest trip I’ve ever been on. The boss has tentatively agreed, although official confirmation is still to come.

On the plus side, it would appear that Adrian, one of the people I used to study Japanese with now lives in Cambodia, which means lots of tips and insider knowledge. Also Teja at work spent several weeks in the area last year, so more useful tips of what to see and avoid.

Since planning a photography trip is usually the hardest part of the whole experience, and it’s something I have become reasonably good at doing, I’m going to try and keep the blog updated with how it’s coming along…

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