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by Rick Green, photos by Brian K. Smith

Travelers waiting with their luggage outside a train station.Our consumer culture offers a wealth of products to ease or solve a multitude of problems. We carry with us a variety of items to be prepared for every potential scenario that might arise from whatever activity we are engaged in. Consequently, North American society has developed the means to accommodate relatively large amounts of personal possessions—limitless luggage choices, storage lockers, SUVs, minivans, trailers, motorhomes, etc.

When traveling, people naturally want to maintain the level of comfort and safety to which they have become accustomed. However, "more is better" doesn't translate well when going abroad to visit Asia. In fact, the opposite is true. Considering cost, comfort and convenience, less is more.

Cost

The rising cost of fuel has forced airlines to reduce the free checked baggage allowance for passengers in terms of size, weight, and number. Exceed this and even before you have left, you could find yourself paying a premium for the privilege of bringing items you might not even use! It pays to pack smart.

Once you arrive in Asia, you may be visiting other cities via air or train. There are even more limitations on free checked luggage when traveling within countries or flying regionally via low-cost carriers, like AirAsia. Typically for economy class, you are allowed one piece to a maximum of 20 kg (44 lb) and not exceeding 160cm (63"). On China's new high speed trains, for example, the maximum allowable dimension of your bag is 130 cm (51"). If your luggage cannot fit in the train's overhead rack, there are very few free storage options and no guarantees that it won't be roughly handled.

Avoid surprises when checking in for your flight or train. Know the free checked baggage allowances ahead of time. And if you plan on bringing back souvenirs, be sure to leave enough room for potential purchases.

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by Rick Green

I came across a thought-provoking article on My Mélange that discusses six mistakes people make when planning/taking trips. These are common enough – and big enough to ruin your vacation – that they are worth repeating. I examine them here with an Asian context.

Excessive Itinerary: Hit & Run Travel

Jockeying for a Shot, Taroko National Park GateIt's easy to get excited about your next trip and want to see as much as possible in the limited time you are in another country. But if you have only two weeks of vacation, especially when travelling in a large country like China, it would be foolish to cram as much in as possible. You will have no time to actually appreciate things, much less meet people beyond your fellow travellers and those you interact with on a commercial basis – tour guide, hotel & restaurant staff, souvenir sellers, touts, etc. You'll just be running around, taking a quick look at the most popular sights, shooting some snaps, then roaring off to the next stop to do the same thing. I call this hit and run travel. Is this really that much different than watching a television travel program edited with quick cuts? Is it worth the $4,000+ more dollars that you'll spend living a television experience? Realize that you won't have any time for serendipity, to take advantage of random opportunities to connect with locals that may never be available to you again.

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by Brian K. Smith

Stupa Sunrise, Bagan

Having made countless trips over the years as a photographer, I have noticed a pattern to my adventures. Getting great shots is more than arriving in an exotic location with a bag full of gear, ready to shoot everything that strays in front of your lens. It's about the experiences.

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by Rick Green

Eating Fried Tarantula, Skuon, CambodiaBrowsing the booths at the San Francisco Book Fair in 2000, a large paperback caught my eye on the Ten Speed Press table. On the cover, a Khmer girl wearing a red and white-checked krama on her head was biting into one of two spiders on a bamboo skewer. Her left hand, grasping the top of the skewer, was partially splayed out in what looked like the "okay" gesture while she held the spider's head between her pearly teeth. She appeared naturally content.

Cambodia was just one of 13 countries that Man Eating Bugs surveyed where people eat insects. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio had documented in full colour eating the likes of flying ants in Thailand, Japanese caddis fly larvae, and scorpions in China. Needless to say, I bought it.

Although I love food, I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a culinary adventurer with respect to my day-to-day eating habits. I don't actually relish the thought of popping sheep's eyeballs or tucking into pig's intestines. While I have ventured considerably beyond my North American meat and potatoes upbringing, the meat and seafood I cook at home is still supermarket conventional. That changes, however, when I travel. I attempt to transform my mind into a tabula rasa to let go of my inhibitions and prejudices. That way, I can better absorb and understand the culture of my new surroundings.

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