Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Time I Almost Lost My Travel Backpack

Now that I've told you all about how great my travel backpack is, wanna hear about the time I almost lost it in Thailand?

Just reflecting on this experience makes me sweat.


Once I arrived in Chumphon, I booked a 7 a.m. boat to Koh Tao, which included a shuttle that picked me up at 6 a.m. I was the last person of about 20 to be hustled onto the massive shuttle once it arrived, and the driver hurriedly plopped my backpack on a stack that was precariously secured at the back of the vehicle by a single bungee cord.

The bungee cord didn't quite make it up to my pack. My stomach churned.

As the shuttle began moving, I watch my pack jiggle this way and that. One small bump seemed like it would be enough to jostle it out of place and send it flying onto the busy road behind us. The driver was up in his enclosed cab, so if I did lose my bag, chances were that I wouldn't be able to alert him before the truck behind us smashed it into oblivion. And in his hurry, the guy just didn't seem like the type who would turn the shuttle around.

I began to think of what I had in that pack that I couldn't live without.

Laptop? Camera? Kindle? No, I had all those in my daypack, which was on my lap.

Wallet? No.



I leapt up and reached toward my pack, which was across the luggage-filled center aisle and, well, quite unreachable. An older Thai woman sitting right next to my pack must have noticed the frantic look in my eyes as I desperately communicated, through gestures, just how screwed I would be if it went flying.

Wordlessly, she placed her hand on the pack and nodded at me. Homegirl had my back.

Whew! That was a close one.

And then... I noticed her eyelids drooping.

For a good half hour, I watched this woman fall asleep, loosen her already-tenuous grip on the laces that connected my running shoes to my pack, then jolt awake and reassert her grasp... over and over again.

The shuttle hit pothole after pothole, causing everything on board to bump and jiggle every 10 seconds.

Meanwhile, I watched that Thai woman like a hawk, feeling helpless and shitting bricks.

My backpack did not go flying, of course, and I profusely thanked the woman once we got off the shuttle. She simply gave me a withering stare that said, "You are such an idiot." Or maybe that's just what I was mentally yelling at myself.

This is one of those travel situations that never occurred to me before I found myself knee-deep in it. I find it kind of hilarious now, but, fellow travelers, please learn from my mistakes: Be ye not so stupid!


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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Post-Trip Backpack Review: Osprey Farpoint 55

One of the questions I'm asked the most is how I like my Osprey Farpoint 55 travel backpack. Now that I have three months of world travel under my belt (with more to come!), I figured it was time to do a proper review.

If you missed my pre-trip overview of this pack, be sure to check it out!

I had high hopes for this pack since it came highly recommended by a friend who used it to backpack through Europe. Now that I've carried, dragged, thrown and even crutched it across five countries, I can safely say...

I love it!

Let me count the ways.


I chose the unisex S/M size for my 5'6" frame, which gave me 37L of space in the main pack and 15L in the detachable daypack. (Only the taller M/L size provides a total of 55L, as its main pack is 40L.)

Packed to the gills on Day 1 of my trip.

I was a bit worried about limiting myself to 52L total, but I never, ever, EVER wished I had a larger pack while on my trip. Rather, I was the envy of every backpacker who lamented the size and weight of his or her gigantic 70, 80 or 90+L pack. I earned major respect for traveling relatively light.

I'll never forget the Australian Greyhound bus driver who grabbed my pack to throw it into the storage compartment, then paused, looked at me and said, "Is this it? Good on ya!"

My fully packed main pack is on the left; a hostel roommate's monstrosity looms on the right.

I'm not into souvenirs, so I didn't worry about having extra room for more stuff. I believe many travelers just ship souvenirs home, anyway. I did add a few clothing items throughout the trip — a few extra tank tops, a pair of jeans — and they fit wonderfully, thanks to the magic of my Sea to Summit compression sacks.

The Farpoint 55 is advertised as being carry-on size, but when it's fully packed (minus the daypack), it does not fit into those luggage sizers you see at airports. I managed to use it as a carry-on only once, on my very first flight — from Seattle to Los Angeles on Alaska — and that was because I sort of hid it from the airline employees. It fit perfectly into an overhead compartment on the plane, but it wouldn't have passed if I'd been asked to place it in the luggage sizer.

With every flight after that first one, my problem was not the size of the main pack, but its weight. Most airlines I flew imposed a weight limit of 7 kg (about 15 lbs); my main pack weighed in at 12 kg (about 26 lbs). I wound up checking it every time, and it was actually a relief not to have to carry it through the airport.

I really loved being able to zip this back panel over the harness and hip belt to protect them while in transit!


My main concern with checking the Farpoint 55 was that it would get lost or that my belongings would be stolen by shady luggage handlers. I was lucky — neither of those things happened to me.

Of course, I always kept my valuables with me on the plane. I used the daypack and my DSLR camera bag as my carry-on and personal item to closely guard my laptop, two cameras, Kindle, etc.

I became highly attached to this TSA lock, as it protected the main pack whenever I checked it and whenever I moved anywhere, really. If the lock was ever opened by the TSA, I couldn't tell.

I love how the main pack's zippers meet in a lockable single point of entry.

Some hostels provided lockable storage compartments for my belongings, but many did not. In those situations, I would usually keep my toiletries and compression sacks of clothing on my bunk bed (you wanna steal my loofah? go for it) to make room for my valuables in the main pack, then lock the pack and shove it out of sight under the bed.

I never had anything stolen, but I also didn't made a big show of having a laptop or nice camera. The daypack does not have the same lockable zippers, so I never left anything valuable in there.

I never saw anyone use a PacSafe mesh net or anything like it, and I didn't feel like I needed one. With the Farpoint 55, I felt like a good lock and some common sense were enough.

On the other side of the spectrum, I noticed that a lot of travelers would leave their laptops, phones, cameras and even cash right on their beds, and to that I say... good luck!


When I was preparing for my trip, I first bought a top-loading Deuter backpack. I got a lot of feedback from experienced travelers advising me to choose a front-loading pack instead.

OK, guys — you were all right.

If you want to be able to see all your stuff at once and unpack/repack everything neatly and easily, you need a front-loading pack like the Farpoint 55. It's that simple!


As I traveled from city to city on my trip, I usually looked like this:

Brisbane. 6 a.m. Gotta catch a Greyhound bus.

I wore the main pack on my back (with running shoes tied to a loop on the side of the pack), wore my camera bag and purse across my body and held the daypack in my hands. Sometimes I'd throw the daypack over my shoulders facing the front if my arms got tired.

Fun fact about that purse: It stuffed nicely into the daypack if I needed to stash it for flights on which I was only allowed one carry-on (the daypack) and one personal item (my camera bag). I eventually had to toss it in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when it became filled with moat water during Songkran. I never bought another purse and got along just fine without it!

Anyway, I found the Farpoint 55 to be quite comfortable, but I never had to walk very far with it. I mostly carried it short distances, like from the airport to a taxi, taxi to hostel, hostel to bus, etc. If I got lost or found myself with a several-block walk from a transit stop to my hostel, I used the hip belt and sternum strap to ease the weight on my back.

And when I sprained my ankle, I hardly had to carry it at all, since so many fellow travelers offered to help me!

I rarely zipped the daypack onto the main pack because it put way too much weight on my back, and the main pack was so stuffed that the daypack would barely zip on anyway. I much preferred carrying it by hand or throwing it onto my front. Choose your own adventure!


I can't even count how many times I've packed my Farpoint 55, but I noticed the weirdest phenomenon: some days, I could zip the pack up with ease, while other days, I'd be pressing it closed with my knees while wrenching the zippers shut in a sweaty fury. I guess it all depended on how diligent I was in packing smartly.

Let's just say I had a lot of zipper-wrenching days.

Regardless, my pack is practically like new after three months of backpacking. Nothing is broken or torn, and I've seen just how strong those zippers are because, trust me, I pushed their limits.

I'll be using my Farpoint 55 until its dying day — probably several years from now — and I can't wait to bring it on more adventures very soon.


The Osprey Farpoint 55 is completely awesome and the perfect travel backpack for me. Will it be perfect for you? Only you can figure that out, but I hope my review provides you with some good information as you make your decision.

If you have any further questions about this pack, please leave a comment and I'll absolutely answer you as best I can!


Note: All links to are affiliate links. I currently make zero dollars writing this blog — I just like doin' it — but if you purchase a product using one of those links, my travel fund will grow a tiny bit and I'll be very grateful. I only link to products that I personally use and love. Just wanted you to know. : )


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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Awkward Travel Photo Thursday: Nemo in the Toilet

Using the restroom in Thailand is always an adventure. You never know what you'll find!

Will there be a Western-style seated toilet or a squat toilet? An automatic flushing mechanism or a bucket of water with a scoop to flush your deposits manually? Toilet paper or just a bidet-style spray hose? (Always carry your own supply of toilet paper, just in case. Always.)

In one restroom off a quiet beach on Koh Phangan, the squat toilet and the in-ground source of water for flushing looked quite similar. This creepy, Nemo-like painting stared me down and warned me to choose wisely as I surveyed the situation.

I'm sure plenty of tourists made the wrong decision before someone appointed Nemo to lay down the law. And I'm... pretty sure that I made the right one.

Apparently, Western-style toilets present just as much of a problem for those who are more accustomed to squat toilets. As seen in a Bangkok restaurant's restroom:

I... just... hmm. That last one had never occurred to me.

Do you have any travel-related bathroom mishaps to share? I know many people will consider this a gross topic, but I think it's interesting how basic human functions are carried out so differently across the world, and how lots of us manage to screw it up as we travel. I even read How to Shit Around the World before I began my trip and I was still confused in several situations!


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Monday, May 21, 2012

Twenty-Five, and My RTW Adventure... So Far {Video}

Today, I turn 25.

To celebrate, I'm going to hang out on my mom's couch, elevate my ankle, make my very favorite tuna casserole to enjoy with my family tonight and drink beer/eat ice cream while watching The Bachelorette.

I don't need any elaborate celebrations this year. Being back home is enough for me!

A happy snap from my first night back in Seattle. You may remember this guy!

On my 23rd birthday, I wrote about how much I enjoyed wandering aimlessly around my neighborhood.

On my 24th birthday, I ran a 15K (9.3 mile) race.

Little did I know on those birthdays that I'd continue to dedicate quite a bit of time to wandering and running.

So on this birthday, I won't try to predict what'll happen in the next year or set goals to achieve before I turn 26.

I've never had such an uncertain year ahead of me, but I've also never been so content to let the possibilities bounce around in my head, and to let the next adventures unfurl as they please.

It's hard to imagine that it could be any better than this past year, but I have a feeling that, somehow, it will be.

For now, I'm just going to relax, enjoy being home with my loved ones and continue to feel oh-so-thankful that I am alive.

I'll also look back on all that I experienced in my last three months of traveling and think, "Whew! That kicked ass."

Join me? : )

My RTW Adventure... So Far from Devon Mills on Vimeo.

P.S. At the end, I say: "Oh my God, I shouldn't have chugged that Milo." Although tasty and refreshing, I would not recommend it for cycling up large hills in Thailand!


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Friday, May 18, 2012

From Thailand to Yosemite to Seattle... On Crutches

Oh, hello there, travel blog. I've neglected to inform you of several key events over the past few weeks.

For one thing, I'm back in the U.S., and have been for more than a week! Greetings from San Francisco.

I'm also flying home to Seattle today.

And... I'm now a pro at hobbling around on crutches.

But let's back up a bit, shall we?

When I last wrote, I had left my little island paradise and traveled east to Chumphon, Thailand, where I crashed for one night before continuing on to Koh Tao.

It was there that I fell in love with diving.

Learning to scuba dive wasn't really on my bucket list, but I figured I'd try it since Koh Tao is a relatively inexpensive place to earn an open-water diving certification.

I had no idea I'd enjoy diving as much as I did. I completed my open-water and advanced certifications in five days, and probably would have stayed on Koh Tao much longer if I hadn't already booked a flight back to the U.S.

I'll definitely write a full post about my entire diving experience — I loved and highly recommend my diving school, Scuba Junction — but for now, I'll tease you with a glimpse of the coolest creature I encountered on my whole trip.

That's a whale shark, baby. Whoa.

After Koh Tao, I hopped a boat south to Koh Phangan for a little shindig called the Full Moon Party.

When in Rome, right? Although I doubt Romans drink buckets quite like these.

And then, in an event that may or may not have had something to do with the above photo, I wound up with a sprained ankle and the sketchiest pair of too-big-for-me wooden crutches you can imagine.

Yes, I used rubber bands to attach tank tops to the crutches in a lame attempt to add some padding. Necessity is the mother of invention!

Perhaps I'll get into this more in a later post, but I had a really low last few days in Thailand. I wound up on Koh Samui at an isolated hostel where I'm pretty sure I was the only occupant and the one employee didn't speak a word of English. I had to crutch for a good 15 minutes down a looong dirt driveway in the hot sun to the nearest place to get food. And at the time, I didn't know whether my ankle was sprained or broken. Either way, it was nice and swollen and unusable.

I cried quite a bit. I felt so alone. I really, really, really just wanted to go home.

My epic journey back to the States on May 9 involved four flights, five airports and 18 hours in the air. There were wheelchairs and in-flight movies and vain attempts to elevate my ankle. There was grotesque swelling.

San Francisco welcomed me with a wildly inaccessible hostel (stairs! everywhere!) and the swift diagnosis of a sprained ankle and — bonus! — bronchitis. Between the hostel's complimentary breakfast and dinner, I fasted in order to avoid going down a huge flight of stairs to find food. One night (and day), I slept for 14 hours in a codeine haze.

After a few lonely and sick days, my dad and brother rescued me and whisked me off to Yosemite National Park, where we spent five days with my aunt, uncle and cousins.

I made a valiant effort to keep my crutches out of photos, but just know that my family was incredibly patient in helping me get around despite my inability to actually hike. The strong Mills men even pushed me in a rented wheelchair up steep, paved trails to beautiful sights like Bridalveil Fall.

Dear family: You are the best.

Even though we just left yesterday, I'm dying to return to Yosemite when I can actually walk on my own. I'd love to hike, rock climb and go whitewater rafting down the Merced River. But I had my fair share of adventures these past three months, so I was quite all right with a low-key visit this time.

I'm just glad I got to participate in the event that was the main reason we went to Yosemite in the first place: spreading my granddad's ashes on a cliff that overlooked the Yosemite Valley.

I had to do some extreme, off-road crutching with the help of multiple spotters to get to this viewpoint, but it was well worth it. We had a nice little ceremony in which we shared memories, tears and even some laughter. We said goodbye.

You may remember from this video that my granddad was one of the key people who encouraged me to travel. His passing last September really reminded me that life is short, and we shouldn't waste it doing anything less than exactly what we dream of. It felt fitting to end this portion of my travels by paying tribute to a man who would've been so proud to see me bungee jump in New Zealand, sail the islands of Australia and scuba dive in Thailand.

I'll always remember what he said about making travel a priority: "You'll never regret it." 

And even with the sprained ankle, the sketchy crutches, the bronchitis and the utter misery and loneliness I felt in those last few days, I know he was absolutely right.

People are already asking me, "What's next?" I just say that I'd like to go to Europe, but that I'm taking a break from travel planning for now. After all, it wasn't so long ago that I felt really burned out.

In reality, I find myself staying up late to research flights and browse accommodation options in a few destinations I plan to reach sooner rather than later. What is wrong with me?

I suppose I've been bitten by more than just mosquitoes these past few months. The travel bug is alive and well in my veins, and I no longer fear the idea of traveling halfway around the world to places I've never been.

I now know that life on the road is not always about thrilling adventures, private bungalows and sunsets on the beach; there are also grim, dirty streets, saggy hostel beds and days when you just want to sit around and do nothing. There is loneliness, and even boredom.

But I preferred even the worst travel days to those I spent in a cubicle.

So I will see how long I can sit still — at least long enough to let my ankle heal and catch up on blogging about my travels — and then take off again, and likely not on my own this time. I may take shorter trips with breaks in between. I kind of refuse to nail down plans right now, as it's the possibilities that I find most exciting.

And if that's wrong, I just don't want to be right.


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