16 days, 7 flights, 3 countries…1 carry-on.

I’ve always been a fairly light packer, so as my SouthEast Asia trip started coming together, I knew I wanted to get by with carryon luggage only.  My first flight involved a 20 hour, overnight layover and a hotel stay – what would happen to my checked baggage?  Not to mention, with 7 flights over 2 weeks, I didn’t want to waste time at baggage claim each time or worse, risk losing my belongings!  I knew I would have to do laundry at some point in the trip, but that’s pretty typical on my longer trips.  I had a few pool days planned where sending my laundry out wouldn’t be an inconvenience.

This was not an easy trip to pack for.  Heat and humidity, combined with modesty guidelines for visiting temples meant no tank tops and shorts, for the most part.

The carry-on I took for this trip is the TravelPro MaxLite 3 International Carry-On Spinner.  It looks and feels tiny, but you can cram a whole lot into this bag!  My “personal item” was my trusty Timbuk2 messenger bag.  I love this bag – I’m wary of backpacks when traveling as I feel like someone could easily get into the back without me knowing and they just scream “tourist!”  Plus, this bag has crazy loud velcro (not so great on a flight!) and buckles so I feel like it would be hard for a thief to sneak into.

Here’s the list of what I took along:

  • Clothing:
    • 1 pair white linen pants (Athleta)
    • 1 pair black linen capri pants (J.Jill)
    • 1 black skort (LLBean)
    • 1 pair gray shorts (Prana)
    • Pajamas – old workout clothes I planned to leave behind
    • 1 swim-suit (Boden)
    • 1 maxi dress (JCrew)
    • 1 t-shirt dress (Garnet Hill)
    • 2 lightweight sweaters (Eileen Fisher and Athleta)
    • 7 Tops – 3 t-shirts, 1 nicer top, 3 tanks
    • Yoga Capri pants and denim tunic I wore on the plane
  • Shoes:
  • Accessories
    • 1 Panama Hat
    • 1 Sarong
    • Pashmina wrap for the plane
    • Extra tote bag for shopping/return carry-on
    • Compression Socks (for the flight)
    • Sunglasses, prescription sunglasses and prescription glasses (ah, life at 40!)
  • Electronics
    • DSLR – Nikon D3000
    • 3 lenses, battery pack, charger, etc
    • iPhone 4S w/ waterproof case
    • iPhone 5S for photos, podcasts and Instagram updates
    • Kindle
  • Miscellaneous
    • Kind Bars and Lara Bars.  For just in case!
    • G2 Powder
    • Lifestraw Water Bottle
    • Laundry bag & Laundry Soap Leaves – for sink laundry
    • Wet wipes, bleach wipes, bum wipes
    • Toiletries – the usual toothpaste, deodorant, face wash…no makeup!
    • First-Aid – small bag with aspirin, band-aids, pepto, immodium

I got off to a bad start when they weighed my luggage at the O’Hare Cathay Pacific ticketing desk.  I hadn’t anticipated this, and of course, my roller-bag was overweight.  So I was that person at the desk, shuffling items from one bag to the other (not sure why, as they were both being carried on!) and was eventually given the green light despite the fact that I was carrying several loose items that I stuffed right back in the roller-bag as soon as I was out of sight of the ticketing agent.  And while I’m confessing my sins, I’ll also admit to bringing 2 1-liter bags full of 3 oz toiletries!  I had strategically packed one of necessities and a 2nd I could live without if I got busted, which thankfully, I did not!

I feel like I brought a lot of items that were more suited to a backpackers trip – as I mostly took planes and stayed in nice hotels, I didn’t need as many wipes or cleaning items as I thought.  I barely used the Lifestraw Water bottle as every hotel provided bottled water on a daily basis, although looking back, I should have used my bottle to reduce waste as recycling wasn’t widespread.

On final reflection, I could have actually gotten by with much less – maybe 1 more swimsuit, more underwear and fewer shoes and sweaters.  In total, I spent about $40 to send out my laundry twice, both times using the hotel service.  (Granted, I could have taken it down the street for $3, but better safe than sorry!)

I never felt like I was missing anything by not bringing a larger suitcase, and it was so nice to bypass the baggage claim area every time I landed.  I did eventually check the roller-bag towards the end of my trip after buying some souvenirs and expanding into a 2nd tote bag, but for the most part was quite happy with my packing strategy!  I’ll never be one of those people who always tries to go smaller and smaller, as there are some trips where I want lots of shoes and clothing options, but this time carry-on only worked perfectly for me!

And, despite what my sister might think, I did not wear the exact same outfit every day for 16 days 😉

Angkor Wat


Siem Reap

Are you a light packer, or do you bring everything but the kitchen sink on your travels?

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Exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

As my final year in the Midwest kicks off, I want to be sure to see all the highlights that I’ve somehow missed in the last 10 years.  I’ve taken a few trips to the U.P., but there were some key areas that I hadn’t yet visited.  With July 4 falling on a Monday, I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head north in search of cooler weather.  Work was crazy right up to the minute I left so I hadn’t had a chance for my usual meticulous planning.  This time, I literally threw a bunch of stuff in a bag and hit the road.  No reservations…holiday weekend…I figured I might spend at least 1 night in my car!

I didn’t actually leave home until after 2:00 on Saturday and after a few hours was already talking myself into getting a hotel room for the night (not in the budget!)  As luck would have it, when I got to Minocqua, WI and really decided on a hotel, they were all booked up.  So I started calling campgrounds.  One wanted $45 for a site…um, no.  My next call was the Arbor Vitae Campground on Big Arbor Vitae Lake, where they still had several primitive sites available for $24.  We were way back in the woods, far from the crazy RV’ers and had a great sleep as it was nice and cool overnight.

Bailey has dinner in the tent, lest another dog walk by while she's eating!

The next morning, we continued on towards Ironwood and the Porcupine Mountains State Park – a place I’d wanted to visit for years!  I didn’t have firm plans in place, but I had seen a UP waterfall itinerary on Facebook, so that seemed a good place to start! First stop was Potawatomi Falls, which has several falls and a nice boardwalk with overlook platforms.  It was a hot day, so we found a way down to the river for a dip.

Cooling off at the bottom of Potawatomi Falls

Next on the list was Gabbro Falls – this was trickier to find as it was tucked behind a ski resort and not marked at all.  Of course, this also meant no crowds, which is always a plus!

Gabbro Falls

From here, we headed into Porcupine Mountains State Park.  I parked near Presque Isle campground, and we followed the river trail to Lake Superior.

Porcupine Mountains State Park / Lake Superior

We then headed East through the park and I was SHOCKED to get a site at the Union Bay campground in the park.  The campground was nice, albeit full of RV’s on a holiday weekend, but very clean facilities and walking trails right to Lake Superior.  After setting up camp, dinner and a nap, tonight was the night I would try out some night photography.  Little did I know, it doesn’t actually get dark this far north until almost midnight!

Sunset on Lake Superior - 10:30 local time!

I managed a few star shots, but unfortunately, no Northern Lights.  I’ll have to go back in the winter when it gets dark earlier!

The next morning, we took the short walk to Lake of the Clouds, and then headed towards the Keewinaw Peninsula.

Porcupine Mountains State Park / Lake of the Clouds

The Keewinaw Peninsula is a gorgeous strip of land jutting into Lake Superior that will remind you of the Maine coast.  I’d been here before to catch the ferry to Isle Royale, but hadn’t spent much time here.  Amazingly, I was able to score a campsite at Ft Wilkins State Park, albeit a scruffy patch of dirt next to the bathroom.  (I think “beggars can’t be choosers” is applicable here!)

The campground was super quiet in the morning, so I got to sleep in – I guess all the kiddos were worn out from the previous night’s fireworks.  I packed up and hit the road again, this time headed across the UP to pick up the “waterfall trail” again.  I really wanted to visit Pictured Rocks, but as a National Lakeshore, dogs are not allowed on the trails here.  Imagine my excitement when I found out that Pictured Rocks Cruises offers on-site kennels for customers! I called from the road and made a reservation for the 3:00 cruise (the cruises that go the extra bit to Spray Falls were all sold out) My ticket was $38, which I thought was a good price, given that parking and dog kennel were free!  The cruise lasted 2 1/2 hours, and was a great way to see the park from the water.  I know many people who have backpacked here and this definitely made me want to return for some hiking!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After the cruise, it was time to continue East – I decided to aim for Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  It was now Tuesday night, most folks would be returning to work in the morning, so I was surprised that the campground was full – my first strike-out of the trip!  By now, it was 8pm, so I spent some time photographing the falls but couldn’t stay long as I now had to figure out Plan B for the night.  This was another gorgeous state park – I would love to come back here, too!  You can even rent boats to paddle up near the falls.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Now driving south, we were heading towards Mackinac Island, and hotels were increasingly expensive, but it was also starting to get dark. I pulled into Straits State Park and set up my tent in the last bit of light for the day.  I’m now kicking myself for not going to photograph the famous Mackinac Bridge at night.  I had no idea how close I was!  First thing in the morning, we drove to a few viewpoints to see the bridge before driving across it.  Mackinac Island is a popular tourist destination, but accessible only by ferry as cars aren’t allowed on the island.  I think it’s fairly touristy (think lots of fudge and taffy shops!) so I wasn’t disappointed to pass it up.

Mackinaw Bridge

From here, we headed back to Chicago along the Eastern coast of Lake Michigan.  We made a few beach stops for Bailey to play in the water.  Now I’m back home, planning my next trip to the UP…looks like I’ll be back in September, hopefully for some cooler weather, fall colors, and Northern Lights if I’m lucky!

I have to say, Michigan has some incredible state parks – I’m so glad I was able to explore it just a bit more on this trip.

For all of my photos from this trip, click here!


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