On Buying a Bag: The Agony of Luggage

Backpack Buying!

I AM STOOD in Beer Gonzo, in Earlesdon, Coventry. It is by far and away one of the best UK beer shops that I have ever been in, and I am struggling to keep my composure due to the sheer ecstasy of choice before my eyes. An attractively laid out bottle selection informs me that the beer of the week is called Shnoodlepip and contains pink pepper, passion fruit and hibiscus. I am in heaven.

Unfortunately, I have just bought seven bottles of beer at the off license down the road, thinking at the time that they had a great selection and I should take advantage.  Wandering amongst the aisles of the new bigger, better Beer Gonzo, I berate myself for my stupidity, and then buy three more bottles, telling myself that one is for my father-in-law (we’re in Coventry for his 60th birthday: we later share it at lunch) and the other is for my wife (she doesn’t like beer, but I keep trying): so in reality I’m only buying one more bottle for myself.

Later, BK-C confronts me. “Dave, you’ve bought nine bottles of beer, how on earth are we going to get them home?” She points out that we are travelling by train and without a suitcase between us. I point out that one of the bottles is actually technically hers, so it’s a shared problem. She leaves the room, inexplicably exasperated.

IN GENERAL, I am reluctant to visit shops and then chronically indecisive when I do. This leads to either zero purchases when I actually need something or, as in Beer Gonzo, impulsive purchases that I later regret (this is a lie: I will never regret buying beer). The saving for the Round the World Trip is going well.

So I try to offset the impulsive/indecisive dichotomy of shopping by doing Research. We are going to the Coventry Go Outdoor Store (a giant warehouse of outdoorsy stuff, akin to the USA’s REI stores) tomorrow, and I promise myself (as I have done for the past two weeks) that I’ll do some bag Research before we go.

IT’S 24 HOURS later and I am standing in the Go store. I have not done any Research, besides some hurried googling on my phone on the way here. This does not qualify as capital R research. It is BK-C’s idea that we have come here, she having been here two weeks previous and identified a contender for her RTW backpack. Now we sit in the middle of the rucksack aisle, surrounded by an orgy of luggage. It’s like we’re auditioning for QVC, as we zip up and unzip the various bits of luggage around us, demonstrating to each other advantages and disadvantages of each bag. This one has a better, more comfortable back. That one has a daysack attached. This one has side opening; that one has top opening but more pockets.

I still harbour ambitions to be featured in the John Lewis catalogue.

I harbour ambitions to be featured in the John Lewis catalogue. I’m still waiting for the phone call.

BK-C’s parents arrive, ostensibly to pick us up from the store, but in reality just so that we can QVC audition with an audience. We demonstrate what all the various buckles, straps, zips and pockets do on all of the bags. They nod appreciatively. After half an hour, they’re up to speed on the latest models, and the pros and cons of nylon vs polyester, top loading vs side loading. The Go store is a black hole where time mysteriously evaporates, like water out of a boiling pot.

IN THE END, it comes down to a choice of two bags. The Osprey Farpoint 70, or the Osprey Aether 70. The Farpoint is side opening, like a suitcase, and has a detachable daysack. The Aether is top loading but with an extra side opening zipper. It has no daysack but more pockets and feels a bit better on my back. I am crippled by indecision, and insist on trying on both backpacks in a number of different combinations, postulating a number of increasingly unlikely scenarios that we might find ourselves in over the coming year, to test how each bag would survive (“We’re caught in a typhoon and we’ve lost all our clothes, no, wait, I still have a baseball cap that only fits if I wear it backwards, the peak facing the top of back pack. And there’s a volcano erupting.”).

Ultimately, I am swayed by the Farpoint, for two reasons: 1) it has a daysack and the other one doesn’t and, 2) during my brief research in the car on the way to the store, it came out as the top bag for 2013 on OutdoorGearLab’s Travel Backpack test. Obviously at this point I haven’t cross-referenced that review with at least seven others, but it’s the best that I have to go on.

The Farpoint also happens to be the same bag that BK-C had previously identified for herself: unfortunately, now, as was the case two weeks ago, Go don’t have it in the small size so she doesn’t buy it. Yes, we are going to have the same bag as each other. We will be that couple. But I’d just like to state publicly: I bought mine first.

BACK AT BK-C’s sister’s house, I do some Research (yes, I know, why bother after I’ve bought it, but I can’t help myself.) I stumble across This Kentucky Girl’s devastatingly forensic review of why the Farpoint just hasn’t worked for her as bag on her RTW trip. She makes lots of very practical, reasonable points. I am devastated.

Suddenly it is time to catch the train back to London-town, and I hastily pack. The side opening pocket is great – so easy to pack stuff. I heft the thing onto my back. With nine glass bottles inside alongside all my other junk, it’s quite heavy. But now that extra weight that I didn’t have in the store makes it feel so much better on my back: it rests snugly on my hips, and carrying it is no bother at all. I stride out of the house, and leave Coventry feeling happy about my choice of bag.

Thank goodness I bought all that beer.

Beer reflections

Goodbye London, Hello World

The FutureTHERE ARE GOING to be some changes round here.

I love South East London as much as the next man, but it does have some vital deficiencies:

-There’s no sea.

-There’s no sand

-I have to go to work

I realise that the last one isn’t strictly restricted to living in London (but from the way some Londoners go on you could believe that nothing happens outside of the capital). But it’s such a major minus, I thought that I’d chuck it in there anyway.

So we’re leaving to go travelling for a year.

The future. A perpetual roller coaster ride of excitement, and definitely not a year living in cockroach infested hostels.

The future. A perpetual roller coaster ride of excitement (much like this blog), and definitely not a year living in cockroach infested hostels (not like this blog).

THE TERM IS “Career Break,” which is a wonderfully professional sounding phrase for a year long holiday. And the really weird thing about it all, to my mind at least, is that no one has said that we shouldn’t do it. I’m kinda expecting someone to stage an intervention soon, y’know? We’ll come into our flat from work or something and all of our friends and family will be there.

“We had to go along with your crazy talk for a while, David,” they’ll tell us, “we thought you’d get it out of your system but now you’re talking about actually booking real tickets that will let you get on a plane. This madness has to stop.” Then everyone will nod sympathetically, their expression sorry but serious, like when someone tells you they’ve just run out of gin at cocktail party, and they’ll all repeat “it has to stop.” Then my mum will cut our passports into little pieces and everyone will go home.

There's going to be a lot of pseudo-arty pictures featuring sunsets and lens glare. ("Oh God not ANOTHER breathtaking sunset. Better get the camera...")

There’s going to be a lot of pseudo-arty pictures featuring sunsets and lens glare. (“Oh God not ANOTHER breathtaking sunset. Better get the camera…”). Yes, it’ll be sickening.

There’s a lot of literature around career breaks. And Chapter 1 is always “how to tell your family, friends and work colleagues that you’re leaving.” There are always sections like “overcoming nay sayers,” and “convincing your boss.” I don’t know if it’s because a lot of this literature is American and apparently having a holiday as a US Citizen is pretty much a criminal offence, but this has not been my experience. I haven’t met a single person who thought it was a bad idea. Perhaps my parents might have had more reservations if they’d have first asked where we intended to store all our stuff for the year; but, seriously, that back room has needed clearing out for some time now. Dad, you won’t even notice the difference when it’s filled with all our junk instead of yours*.

Honestly, you'll be sick of inanimate objects silhouetted against the sun by the time our year of travelling is over.

Honestly, you’ll be sick of inanimate objects silhouetted against the sun by the time our year of travelling is over.

SO WHERE ARE we going? The headlines: SE Asia and Australasia. The details:

Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand.

That’s the plan anyway. We were just going to get a one way ticket to Bangkok and let the wind take us, but then we got a fantastic quote for flights from the wonderful Travel Nation and we realised that we could save quite a bit of money and stress on the road if we booked our flights in advance, so that’s exactly what we’ve done (for a rundown of the pros and cons of each approach, I recommend Bootsnall). No perhaps it’s not what Paul Theroux would have done, but there’s still a five month gap from when we fly into Rangoon in April until we fly from Bali in September.

So I reckon that’s plenty of time to get lost.

I've never been so excited about the prospect of getting lost. When taken with my poor sense of direction, it's a winning combination.

I’ve never been so excited about the prospect of getting lost. When taken with my poor sense of direction, it’s a winning combination.

SO WHAT DOES this mean for Elsewhere, Underwritten? You’ll see some changes over the next few weeks. I’ll still be continuing with my longer, more in depth pieces on the places that I’ve been in Britain and beyond. And the California series is certainly not over. But you’ll also start to see some shorter pieces on my preparations for our Round The World Trip. The focus will still be on a slightly offbeat, under the skin look, with an eye to the absurdities of life. I can’t help but feel that the trip to the Chinese Embassy to pick up our visas is going to feature somewhere, in a kind of it-was-a-horrifying-five-hour-wait-to-be-told-that-we-filled-our-forms-in-wrong kind of a way.

And I don’t even want to contemplate the fact that I might end up with a matching backpack to my wife (OMG we are those people. We might as well just give it all up now and buy matching gilets).

In short, there’s a lot to write about, and that’s before Mrs Knight-Croft and I even leave the country.

And then, on 3 January 2014, I’ll get to write about stuff like a real travel blog. You know, actually involving travelling.

I hope that you’ll stay with me for it.

Lago de Atitlan

For those who are curious, all of the pictures featured in this post were taken during our two trips to Central America in 2009 and 2011. The sunset is Roatan, Honduras, the dive bombing in Belize, the city sunscapes Leon, Nicaragua, the get lost picture Antigua, Guatemala, and the volcano picture Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala.

*I am, of course, incredibly grateful to my parents for agreeing to look after all our stuff for a year. Though every time I tell them that we bought another book or piece of furniture there’s a significant pause at the other end of the phone.

Got any recommendations about where I absolutely need to visit in SE Asia and Australasia? Let me know.