Category: Travel Products


As a travel writer, I prefer to invest in travel products that go a long way. Also, I’m not a shopper. So when I do buy something, it’s usually because I need it. Or it’s a book. But if I’m prepared to spend a little more, it’s almost always because the product stands for something I believe in.

Like Ethnotek bags.

I found out about these travel bags through my best friend Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning). We were planning a trip to Thailand at the time, and she thought it might be cool to check out this socially-responsible line of bags, recently brought in to Singapore by The Bag Creature.

Ning checking out Ethnotek's Raja packs

Ning checking out Ethnotek’s Raja packs

I accompanied her down, of course, and what I found out about Ethnotek really impressed me. The business itself originates from the U.S. but the founders – two young men who are also travellers – have committed to supporting the work of local artisans in remote villages around the world, so that their traditional weaving practices can be kept alive.

The communities whose weaving culture Ethnotek is currently supporting

The communities around the world whose weaving culture Ethnotek is currently supporting (Source: Ethnotekbags.com)

These intricate weaving techniques are amazingly tedious and time-consuming. And at the speed fabrics are being mass-manufactured in urban factories these days, traditional artisans are not only losing their jobs, but also their cultural heritage. There is no longer an impetus to pass on the craft to the next generation.

Check out this insightful video to get an idea of just how intricate the process is…

 

What the Ethnotek founders did was to travel to these remote villages in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Guatemala etc. and seek out these artisans, and negotiate a fair price for their handiwork. Not only are these weavers paid fairly through direct transactions, their unique culture and traditional practices – as well as their livelihoods – are kept alive by a global stream of demand.

 

“The one thing that all of our weaves and artisans have in common is the fact that their craft is dying out. Every year, they experience less and less local demand for their fabrics due to low yield and long lead time. Traditional techniques are quickly being replaced by machines and factory labour in major cities, drastically reducing the amount of jobs and industry in the regions where it is needed most. By creating new demand for these traditional handcraft practices, we are in a sense forging an effort to keep them alive and well, and in the same villages from which they came.” 

– Founders of Ethnotek bags – 

I respect this. I believe in this. It’s responsible business.

And the way Ethnotek does this is by creating quality base bags that allow you to swap ethnic threads like you would swap smartphone covers or straps for Swatch watches. It works like this:

(Source: ethnotekbags.com)

(Source: Ethnotekbags.com)

The base bags come in various sizes and shapes. The bigger backpacks are called Raja Packs, and Ning was keen to get one of those for the trip, together with a Messenger bag for regular work on-the-go. Ethnotek also carries a line of pretty tote bags!

Ning's Ethnotek Raja Pack Vietnam 6 and Acaat Messenger Vietnam 5.

Ning’s Acaat Messenger Vietnam 5 + Raja Vietnam 6

Optional Threads for the Raja Packs.

Options for Raja Pack threads

The price for a Raja Pack ranges from S$225 to S$289, and you can also get replacement Threads at S$59 each. Different ethnic designs and weaves from around the world are showcased in these unique Threads; and truly, they are precious pieces of dying art!

For my own needs as a travel writer, I prefer a smaller day pack. When I check-in my luggage at the airport, I just want a compact knapsack that I can carry around, but one that’s also big enough to slip in my 13″ MacBook Air, in case I need to work while on transit. Furthermore, it has to double-up as a day pack when I’m out exploring new cities or hiking.

I picked the smaller Wayu Pack because it has a separate section for my laptop and is just nice, size-wise, for my “on assignment” needs. My Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack costs S$189 from The Bag Creature – online orders available.

My travel writer's default combo - with my Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack.

My travel writer’s default combo – with my Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack.

I also got an additional Vietnam 5 Thread (S$79) so that I can swap designs when I feel like it, and blue is my favourite colour. This Thread incorporates a hand-embroidered textile from the Tai Lü tribes of Vietnam. Each and every piece is unique and different from the next, and best of all, there are only four in existence!

Ethnotek Wayu Backpacks & Threads, supporting artisans in Vietnam

Ethnotek Wayu Backpacks & Threads, supporting traditional artisans and weavers in Vietnamese villages

Check out the intricate artwork of these artisans!

Check out the intricate handiwork!

These gorgeous bags aren’t cheap – I admit – but they are good quality, they promote fair trade, and help sustain the livelihood of villagers in indigenous communities.

I don’t normally promote travel products, but I’ve been so pleased with this travel bag and what it stands for that I’ve started following Ethnotek on Facebook and Instagram (@ethnotekbags). I guess it’s the satisfaction of being part of a community of world travellers that believes in fair trade and keeping cultures alive. Or as the founders call us – #etktribe 🙂

But above all, just as my 42-litre backpack reminded me of how much (or little) I really needed while on the road for 9 months, may your travel bag remind you too – in an unconventional sort of way – of what’s more important in life.

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

 

 

 

 

Let me first start by saying this is NOT a paid advertorial. It’s important to state this upfront because when it comes to featuring travel products, people wonder.

Anyway, after going on a waterfall trek with my friends Joey and Tarquin last weekend, we’ve been talking about investing in a GoPro camera. The good thing about a GoPro – I’m told – is that you attach it to you, like on a helmet or wrist, so that both your hands are free to climb or engage in whatever extreme sports you’re crazy enough to attempt.

Check out the shots you can get from a GoPro camera:

I guess with adventure travel or extreme sports, you really don’t want to be handling a fragile Lumix LX7 camera while you’re scrambling up a vertical cliff, skydiving, skiing or surfing!

My previous Lumix LX5 was badly battered and bruised when I returned from my RTW trip in 2011. And for this recent jungle trek to Pelepah falls, I ended up leaving my camera on the bus and keeping my iPhone in a Ziploc bag in my camel pack.

I checked out the GoPro HERO 3 cameras online, and they do look solid. But what’s holding me back is: Where do you attach the camera? I do not intend to wear a helmet when I travel. Plus, it’s an actual camera. Do I really want to carry another camera, charger, and wires etc., in addition to my Lumix LX7 and iPhone?

GoPro HERO 3, white edition

GoPro HERO 3, white edition

Having said that, it’s quite affordable for a hardy kickass camera. This HERO 3 white edition (above) goes for US$199. The silver edition for US$299, and the black edition for US$399! That’s excluding shipping, but I reckon I can find a store here that sells these cameras.

Additional accessories include a wrist housing or a skeleton housing (for waterproofing), which adds on to the cost.

GoPro HERO 3 Wrist Housing

GoPro HERO 3 Wrist Housing

GoPro HERO 3 Skeleton Housing

GoPro HERO 3 Skeleton Housing

Because I seldom travel just for adventure or extreme sports, the thought of having to pack this extra camera isn’t too appealing. I like to travel light.

Judging from the footage in the YouTube link above, I see the GoPro more as a hands-free video recorder than an actual camera. I mean, how do you activate snap shots, right? I reckon you just start the recording and go!

And since I’m more a travel writer than a travel photographer or videographer, I’m not particularly thrilled about having to sift through loads of video footage and doing post-production work. Except maybe when I went skydiving in North Shore, Hawaii, in 2011. I had to hire a videographer to jump off the plane with me at 10,000ft and he cost more than my jump!

A GoPro would have been perfect then!

So with these questions and considerations dancing in my head, it was no wonder I sat up and paid attention when I came across this awesome photo by my Instagram friend Jus aka @ahh_lose_money this morning.

Jus is a surfer dude from Oahu, Hawaii, and I’ve been following his Instagram feed for a while. This latest picture totally grabbed me:

watershot

I asked him how he managed to take such an amazing shot while surfing, and he surprised me with his reply. “With my iPhone 5 in a waterproof housing,” he said.

With an iPhone?!

“But when you’re out in the ocean surfing, with waves 10ft high, how do you even keep an iPhone secure in your hand?” I asked.

“I’ve definitely had it ripped out of my hand a few times!” Jus said, but explained that the housing has a pretty good grip (sold as accessories). “And there’s also a lanyard that goes around your wrist.”

My Hawaiian surfer friend gave me a link to the Watershot housing website, and I wasted no time in checking it out, zooming in on Underwater Housing for iPhones.

Watershot Underwater Housing for iPhones!

I still own an iPhone 4S, and a waterproof housing like this would set me back US$99.99. For iPhone 5, the same housing costs US$109.99. Of course, I’m not considering the PRO version. But if you are, it would cost you US$189.99 (*See below for specs)

I have friends who use waterproof cases for their iPhones and iPads, and I was wondering if there’s a difference between cases and housing. According to Watershot, “cases cover; housings protect”.

For the benefit of tech geeks, here’s a bit more info:

  • Watershot is built to live in the water and withstand rocks, reefs, salt, sand and extreme pressure.
  • Full suspension system “floats” your iPhone inside the housing for maximum protection.
  • Waterproof performance to 40 m / 130 ft deep
  • Watershot PRO depth rating 60 m / 195 ft deep

This tells me one thing: I can take my iPhone snorkelling and scuba diving!

Screen Shot 2013-08-10 at 1.28.40 PM

And wait.. caving and waterfall trekking too!

Screen Shot 2013-08-10 at 1.27.50 PM

Other than the waterproof housing for your iPhone, you can add on special accessories like grips (in 5 different colours, for US$19.99) and a lanyard to secure your phone to your wrist (US$15.99)…

grips_1

iphone-housing-buoyant

… so that even if you’re surfing in Hawaii and being bashed by rip curls, you’ll still be able to take those awesome shots like Jus!

I’m still in the process of researching on these two options, but as it stands, I’m leaning towards the Watershot housing. The only thing is that I reckon I should get my iPhone 5 before I invest in one.

Well, if you already use the GoPro camera and/or Watershot housing, do share your reviews with me. I’d like to hear them!

Stop and Smell the Coffee

photo-2

I collect Starbucks mugs and tumblers from around the world and display them on a shelf in my room.

I have never mentioned this to anyone because I don’t consider myself an “official” collector of mugs. I don’t go searching for them when I travel, but when I see one I like, I bring it home – often to add to my unofficial collection.

I bought this special Starbucks mug in 2008. It’s been sitting on my shelf for five years.

photo-2

Today, I picked out this mug and decided – for the first time – to use it.

To be honest, I am terrified that the klutzy me will break it. Then I’ll never be able to fix it or get a new one again.

But I thought maybe it’s better to have a brief moment of enjoying it everyday – filled with coffee – than to admire it from afar for 100 years.

 And so, I’m filling it with coffee right now. There’s a lesson to be learnt here, I’m sure.

Geek Gifts Can Be Clues…

I’ve done Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, and “Receiving Gifts” ranks the lowest for me.

I know I’m not a gifts gal because there are still many unopened presents lying around, from Christmases five years ago. *sheepish*

But there are two types of gifts that rank way up there for me: (1) Small thoughtful gifts (especially if handmade), and (2) Geek gifts.

While I’m not a gifts girl, some presents do make me clap my hands in delight and bounce up and down like a silly school girl. Geek gifts.

The cool thing about following your passion is that when your colleagues learn that you are leaving to pursue something like travel writing, they give you travel gifts.

P1000298

… like this cool travel organiser that allows you to grid your digital devices, personal objects etc. all in a flat case to dump in your hand-carry or backpack. *grin*

This is from my ex-Channel NewsAsia colleague Milton (@miltonsau), who sits opposite me in the newsroom. We’re the sort of pals who snack on seaweed noisily, make Nespresso for each other on sleepy afternoons, and go gaga over fast food order-ins at work.

I love this gift, and I love our friendship.

And then I received this from my BFF Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning) last night.

P1000294

Ning found this pretty little passport sleeve at the National Museum flea market over the weekend. What I love most about it is that it has the word “wanderlust” embroidered on it. It’s my favourite word in the world.

These are simple gifts, but thoughtful and mindful ones. And this is when they speak the language of love to me.

I guess when you leave the safe and familiar, gifts can sometimes be clues as to whether you’ve made the right decision. If the farewell gifts you receive – to set you on that next leg of the journey – make you squeal in delight, you probably have.

To be ready for a Grand Solo Adventure, you need to make time to pack.

I remember packing for a 9-month trip around the world in 2011, stuffing into a 42-litre bag, all I needed to travel through summers and winters, cities and countrysides, from Hawaii to the Sahara to the Himalayas.

Of course my BFF Ning and I weren’t always prepared. We were definitely caught off-guard when in Maui, Hawaii, we decided to climb to the summit of a 10,000-feet volcano to catch a sunrise and locals informed us temperatures would dip to zero degrees Celsius.

Catching a sunrise on Haleakala volcano, Maui. 10,000ft and 4 deg C.

Catching a sunrise on Haleakala volcano, Maui. 10,000ft and 4 deg C.

Or when we moved from a cool Parisian summer (16-22 deg) to the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert in Morocco (38 deg) and then immediately to the cold winter of Cape Town, South Africa, in Aug 2011.

Erg Chebbi dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Erg Chebbi dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco.

That aside, we did have the essentials in our backpacks. Good travel undies that dry quickly and don’t smell too bad… travel toiletries that we often shared and replenished on the road… good Timberland water-resistant, non-slip walking shoes… and always a good book for long waits at train stations, bus depots and airport transit lounges. To embark on any adventure, you need to make time to pack.

Well, today is Day 2 of my Grand Solo Adventure as a Freelance Writer who Travels.

I’ve been a freelance writer before – from 2003 to 2006 – but these are very different times. For one, I’ve stocked up my tool-box with more tools!

Working with photographers, designers, stylists to put together a magazine… Interviewing people ‘live’ on-air and keeping questioning crisp and succinct… Developing a “radio voice”… Learning the difference between writing for print, radio and TV… Working with camera crews and understanding angles… Writing and publishing a 60,000-word book, among others.

And then there is Social Media. That’s the biggest difference. Today, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I didn’t have these tools back in 2003. And they make a huge difference in putting stuff “out there” to a global audience.

Having said that, these tools don’t need to physically go into my Writer’s Knapsack. It’s already a part of Pam, the multi-platform journalist. *grin*

But what needs to physically go into my knapsack are three items: MacBook Air + digital recorder + digital camera.

On 1 Jan 2013, way before I knew I was going to leave Channel NewsAsia, I invested in this beauty: Lumix Lx7 digital compact camera (with Leica lens!).

My brand new Lumix LX7, which I got for a steal on New Year's Day 2013.

I call it an “investment” because with this tool, I’m going to be telling many stories. I don’t know what stories yet, but it makes visual storytelling possible for me, especially overseas.

Today, I’m meeting my ex-radio colleague, Philip Tnee, to make my 2nd investment: A 2nd-hand H2 digital recorder. I will definitely need that in my tool-box for the many interviews I will do with the many amazing people I will meet around the world.

Here’s a pic Philip sent me last night as he was packing my H2 digital recorder. She will be in my hands tonight! *grin*

Philip Tnee send me this image last night, my new 2nd-hand H2 digital recorder

Which leaves me with one more big item to stuff in my knapsack: My 13″ MacBook Air. I’m still on the look-out for a good, affordable 2nd-hand one that’s under $1K. Preferably the 2012 model and 256GB.

(Photo Credit: Janice Lee Fang via Instagram)

(Photo Credit: Janice Lee Fang)

And so, this is what I plan to do for the next 10 days, before I head back to Channel NewsAsia to produce two shows for Current Affairs.

All this, and meeting up with friends (whom I believe are operating in their Element) to explore new collaborations.

Over the next 10 days, I have externally created a space in my life for metaphorical packing and preparation.

Internally, I have also created a space in my soul for possibilities.

I have always described myself as “a learner of the deep-end kind, and a lover of unexpected madness”.

It feels good to be home.