Monthly Archives: November 2010

Doing Laundry In Your Hotel Sink

As I’ve recently completed my No Baggage Challenge for Charity, using Scottevest clothing to travel 10 days in Japan with no bags, I thought it’d be interesting to share one of the key parts of my trip: doing laundry every night in the hotel. Since I only brought two t-shirts, three pairs of boxers, and three pairs of light wool socks, I had to wash whatever I wore that day at night in my hotel sink. Though you could use shampoo, I’d brought a small, TSA-compliant bottle of concentrated, biodegradable laundry detergent. In what turned out to be a life-saving move, I also brought a travel clothesline which I got from REI for $9. This clothesline includes plastic alligator clips and is long enough to cover the width of most hotel rooms (especially Japanese ones).

My nightly process went like this:

  • Target key smell areas on each garment with detergent – eg, the armpit or the sole of the socks.
  • Wash with cold water and ring it out.
  • Twice more rinse each garment with cold water and ring it out.
  • Thoroughly ring out each garment one last time.
  • Place a towel on the floor & lay a still-damp item of clothing on it. Roll it up in the towel. Stand on the towel to squeeze out more water.
  • Hang garment on travel clothesline & repeat the towel procedure until everything is hung up.

A few things:

  • While a couple of the hotel rooms I stayed in had clotheslines in their shower, I found these were less effective. The bathrooms didn’t have windows and as a result, they didn’t get much air moving through. Hanging the clothesline in the main living space, near a slightly open window, resulted in much faster drying times. The problems with the bathroom drying could be because it was fairly humid in Japan, but drying the clothes near moving air definitely worked better.
  • The Q-Zip and Performance T-shirts consistently dried faster than the Travel Boxers and wool socks.
  • While I was concerned about bringing the clothesline in my kit, it weighs almost nothing and takes up very little space. I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who plans to do laundry while traveling.
  • I didn’t bring anything that was pure cotton, so I can’t really compare it to the drying times of the various Scottevest clothes items or the wool socks.

The whole clothes washing process never took more than 10-15 minutes at most (the longer end on nights when I did the Q-zip & pants). It became part of my routine and wasn’t much of a hassle at all.

The benefit of being willing to do laundry at night in your hotel sink is that you can pack much lighter when you travel. In effect, I was only washing the things that touched closest to my body – underwear, socks and what served as undershirts. Even if you didn’t want to cut down on how many pairs of pants or top shirts you brought with you, cutting down on the undershirts, underwear and socks can free up a lot of space. As a result, I definitely will be doing this sort of thing in the future and recommend it to others.

Chat with Scott Jordan

I just had a good chat with Scott Jordan, CEO of Scottevest, about how my No Baggage Challenge for Charity went. Scott recorded it and it is posted above. Enjoy the sausage making!

Rube Goldberg Bean Cake Machine

This really cool machine made sweet bean cakes in the Nishiki Market in Kyoto. It was a joy to watch work.

10 Days in Japan with No Bags: Final Thoughts

This is the sixth installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here and my exploration of Kyoto’s Nishiki Market can be read here. My visit to Bar High Five, the best cocktail bar in Asia, can be read here.

I returned to Washington DC on Saturday morning, two hours before I left Tokyo after ten days of traveling in Japan with no bags and only Scottevestclothing. The trip was incredible – I primarily split time between Kyoto and Tokyo, though I did day trips to Osaka, Nara, and Nikko as well. I’ve had a little bit of time to reflect on traveling with no baggage…here are my thoughts:

Challenges

The two items I brought with me to document my trip were an iPhone 4, which I used to take pictures, shoot and edit video, and an iPad, which I’d intended to use to write my blog posts. Data costs from AT&T were very high, so I elected to just use these as WiFi devices to post on my trip. Unfortunately, there is almost no open WiFI in Japan. The main reason behind this is that WiFi was never a needed development for mobile devices due to the country’s incredibly fast cellular data networks. People have long been able to use their cell phones to browse the web at fast speeds – there was no need for WiFi to be widely used and so it isn’t. I was able to find open networks at a couple of my hotels and there were also some Starbucks (and McDonald’s, though I didn’t use them) which had WiFi. But for the most part, this meant that I relied primarily on free computers in my hotels’ lobbies or business centers. The iPad was basically superfluous for most of the trip. Unless I were to buy a local mobile data plan, I wouldn’t bring an iPad with me again. This would actually save a lot of space in my kit, which I’ll address below.

One unstated challenge was that Japan is an incredibly formally dressed country, at least as far as Tokyo and Kyoto went. Most working age men who aren’t in the service industry wear suits. While I had success getting into a couple very high-end cocktail bars wearing my Scottevest clothing, I often felt underdressed for where I was. This isn’t a no baggage issue nor a Scottevest issue, though. Had I packed as I normally do, I still wouldn’t have had brought a business suit or two with me. It’s just not my style; so in any event, I would have likely felt underdressed in Japan.

The only other challenge came when moving locations, with my Scottevest Carry-on Coat fully loaded with all my stuff. I’m not sure what it is, but most indoor spaces in Japan are kept at a fairly high temperature, including train stations, subway stations, and train cars. While I didn’t have any problems with body temperature while loaded and outside, I sometimes got quite hot wearing the Carry-on Coat, loaded, over the Scottevest Tropical Jacket. Of course the beauty of traveling with no baggage is that when I got hot, I could simply take off my overcoat and carry it by hand. The clothing I had with me ended up being largely well-suited for the climate and beyond the few times I was in transit, I never really felt overheated or uncomfortable.

Successes

The clearest success of my trip with no bags had to be my ability to move through airports at the beginning and end of my trip. Security was never an issue and I wasn’t stopped at Customs on either side of the trip. Not having to carry a bag around the airport was really freeing and easy. The same carried through while taking trains around Japan, though it also freed me to help my girlfriend and my mom carry their suitcases up or down flights of stairs. The peace of mind of not having to worry about where my bag was or if it was safe was a welcome development in my no baggage travel.

Obviously odor was a big concern going into the trip. I only had two t-shirts, three pairs of underwear, and three pairs of wool socks with me. I washed whatever I wore each night, as well as periodically washing my Q-Zip and Travel Pants (due to how I wore them, I didn’t wash the Flex Cargo Pants nor the TEC Shirt). I was also showering twice a day – in the morning and usually in the early evening, while regrouping at the hotel before dinner. I kept checking with my girlfriend and my parents, but they never noticed me or my clothes smelling bad. I think this is a testament to both the quality of Scottevest clothing to resist odor and value of washing clothes immediately after wearing them to minimize the chances of odor sinking in. I also have to say that bringing a travel clothesline was a life-saver. Two of my hotels had built-in clotheslines in the bathroom, but the rest didn’t. Being able to properly hang the clothes ensured they were dry each morning and ready to be either packed or worn.

The last, biggest success was that I packed really well. Everything that I brought with me, excepting the iPad, was used every day. There was no real wasted stuff in my kit. Had I left the iPad home, I would have saved a lot more weight and been less bulky. I’d definitely recommend ultralight travelers think about whether they will be able to unplug enough to rely only on communal computers or internet cafes to go online – if so, tech gear like an iPad is really unnecessary.

The Big Question

The big question is obviously, “Would I travel with no baggage again?” It really depends on the situation. I can definitely see myself going with no bags for trips by myself or trips that are shorter than this one. I felt really comfortable traveling with no bags and enjoyed the freedom that came with it. That said, while I was able to have a great trip with no bags in an advanced, formal country with my girlfriend and my family, I’m not sure I would do it in these circumstances again. I did feel a bit underdressed in Japan, but also underdressed compared to my travel companions. The good news here is that Scottevest is coming out with a sports coat soon, which would be a solution to the level of dress problem.

The more important point of traveling with no bags is that it really showed me how much less stuff I can take with me when I travel. I may not have plans to do this same sort of trip again in the foreseeable future, but the lessons of it will carry through immediately – to upcoming trips to Oklahoma, New Orleans, and Chile. I do plan on taking a bag on these trips, but it will likely be substantially smaller, with less stuff than normal.

After doing this no baggage challenge for charity in Japan, there’s really no situation in which I can’t comfortably function with no baggage. I look forward to trying travel with no baggage again, particularly if I can do it under a different set of circumstances, like a business trip or on a more outdoors-focused trip.

I highly encourage readers to try their own no baggage challenge. I didn’t think I could do it when I first read about Rolf Potts’ no baggage trip around the world. But once I set my mind to trying it, I had no problems. Scottevest makes great clothing that suits no baggage travel well. Between Rolf’s trip and my own, I hope that you have some sense of how achievable no baggage travel is and you’re ready to go travel with no baggage. Trust me, you can do it and you’ll have a blast.

Cheers!

Disclosure: My No Baggage Challenge for Charity trip is being done in collaboration with Scottevest. I received some of the clothing I am using, including the Carry-On Coat, Tropical Jacket, TEC Shirt, Travel Boxers and Flex Cargo Pants for free. I am also using other Scottevest clothes that I’ve purchased myself: Q-Zip, Performance T-Shirts, and Travel Pants. Scottevest is making a $1500 donation to Students for a Free Tibet in honor of my trip and will raise their donation to $5000 if videos I shoot on this trip reach 10,000 views. I am covering all other trip costs.

If you would like to make a donation in support of Students for a Free Tibet, please click here.

No Baggage Challenge for Charity Visits The Best Bar in Asia

This is the fifth installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here. and my exploration of Kyoto’s Nishiki Market can be read here.

As an avowed cocktail geek, one of the most exciting things about traveling in Japan is the opportunity to visit some of Tokyo’s legendary cocktail lounges. Cocktails first came to Japan in a big way following World War II and as is the case with most cultural importations, the Japanese quickly added their own take to making cocktails. Over the last sixty years a defined Japanese style of bartending evolved, with unique methods for shaking drinks, preparing ice, and serving guests. To my American eyes, the Japanese style of bartending is primarily focused on precision in practice and making sure each drink is suitable for the person who ordered it. There’s something magical about it in a way that goes beyond what you get at Pre-Prohibition style cocktail bars in the United States.

Throughout my trip, I’ve seen bartenders at bars deploy the particular Japanese style of preparing drinks. This was surprising to the extent that in the US, while there is, broadly speaking, American style for craft cocktail bartenders, this style doesn’t get transmitted through your run-of-the-mill bartenders at dives, beer halls or hotel bars. In contrast, every bartender I’ve seen in Japan – from a hotel lounge to small restaurant’s bar to high-end lounge – has worked in the typical Japanese style. A hard shake is employed, droplets of the mixed cocktail are tasted on the bartenders wrist to confirm it is suitable, and the ingredients of the drink are displayed on the bar for a guest to enjoy. The ubiquity of the Japanese style is impressive, though not all top Japanese bartenders think this is a good thing.

I spent last night at Hidetsugu Ueno’s Bar High Five, which in 2009 was named the best barin Asia and the Pacific. Mr. Ueno thinks the formal style of Japanese bartending gets in the way of bartenders actually making good drinks that are right for the person they’re serving. “Recipes are meaningless,” he says, emphasising that each person should have a drink that’s right for them, not what is printed in a book. He says he never uses recipes himself, but relies on his sense of balance and aroma to determine how to make a drink that is right for his guest.

While the concept of bartending by rote style being bunk is somewhat radical to hear, the idea that a drink should be made specifically for the person who will drink it is not. Throughout contemporary bartending literature, both in the US and Japan, there is an expectation that a guest should be able to have the right drink for them, not the bartender or an author of a recipe. Of course, what’s said in theory might not always make it out to the other side of the stick.

As if there were any doubt, the three cocktails I enjoyed with Mr. Ueno were all superb. I started the night with a Martinez, a precursor cocktail to the Martini made with Old Tom Gin (a sweeter, stronger type of gin), sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters. In what was my first surprise of the night, Mr. Ueno didn’t know the recipe. He said that while Japan is a country of traditional cocktails, there is almost no interest in the older cocktails now popular in the US thanks to exhaustive research into 19th century cocktail manuals. As such, there is no demand for what are considered Pre-Prohibition classics like the Martinez or Ramos Gin Fizz. He looked up a version of a Martinez in one of his many cocktail books and made me an excellent drink that I thoroughly enjoyed. If a bartender can make you a cocktail he or she isn’t familiar with and it can still turn out to your liking, you’re almost always in the presence of someone who has mastered the ability to balance ingredients in cocktail form.

I next had a Daiquiri. This is one of my favorite cocktails and one of the simplest ones, made with only white rum, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. I find it’s a great drink to order at a lot of bars as a means of finding out the style of the bartender who serves you. Recipes for this drink vary widely, some with a lot of sugar to make a sweet, tart drink, others with a heavier pour of rum to make a dry cocktail. This is the style I prefer and Mr. Ueno’s Daiquiri nailed it.

My final cocktail for the night was a White Lady. Though this is not an original to Mr. Ueno, he is known in Japan for mastering it and making it a signature drink at his bar. He uses a strong pour of Beefeater Gin, along with scant pours of Cointreau, a fine orange liqueur, and fresh lemon juice. He then deploys the famed Japanes hard shake and the resulting drink is a light, refreshing, yet still brisk rendition of a White Lady.

White Lady

45 mL Beefeater Gin
12 mL Cointreau
15 mL fresh lemon juice

Combine ingredients in a cobbler shaker over ice and shake. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Do not double strain.

One of the unique things about Mr. Ueno, though I’ve seen other Japanese bartenders do the same, is that when serving a shaken drink from a three-piece cobbler shaker, he does not double strain it. Instead, he uses the built-in strainer in the shaker and lets the tiny shards of ice to sit on the surface of the drink. When he made my Daiquiri and explained his logic on this, he noted that the way he shakes produces a very cold drink (-7.1 C in this instance). Since the liquid is so cold, the flecks of ice on its surface won’t melt and dilute the cocktail. Instead, when you take a sip of it, they will melt in your mouth and throat, adding a bracing burst of cold to the profile of each sip.

Going to one of the world’s best cocktail bars was quite an experience. The only thing that made this even more remarkable was that I went wearing clothes that I’d been traveling in for over a week. Japan is an incredibly stylish and well dress country, with suits the norm at most bars. Going to Bar High Five, with only nine seats at the bar and very closed quarters throughout, was a test of Scottevest clothes, both stylistically and whether they resisted odor. Fortunately all was well. I wore my TEC Shirt, which is a very stylish gray button down, and my Flex Cargo Pants, which look like a regular pair of chinos, and fit it just fine. Even more importantly, my method of washing what I wear each night (at least the tshirt, socks, and underwear, then sporadically pants and top shirt) has kept the clothes completely free of odor. Add in that I’m showering twice a day and I’m free and clear. This was definitely the biggest test of my clothes, beyond the daily travel with my girlfriend and parents, and the Scottevest gear passed with flying colors.

Today is my last full day in Tokyo – I fly back to the US tomorrow morning, marvelously landing two hours before I take off. The flight will be another opportunity for me to go through security with no baggage, as well as come back through customs. I had zero problems leaving the US and coming to Japan with no baggage and expect the same for my return.

Disclosure: My No Baggage Challenge for Charity trip is being done in collaboartion with Scottevest. I received some of the clothing I am using, including the Carry-On Coat, Tropical Jacket, TEC Shirt, Travel Boxers and Flex Cargo Pants for free. I am also using other Scottevest clothes that I’ve purchased myself: Q-Zip, Performance T-Shirts, and Travel Pants. Scottevest is making a $1500 donation to Students for a Free Tibet in honor of my trip and will raise their donation to $5000 if videos I shoot on this trip reach 10,000 views. I am covering all other trip costs.

If you would like to make a donation in support of Students for a Free Tibet, please click here.

Hot Pancake Drink in a Can

This is really what it sounds like. At the Kyoto rail station, my brother Jesse found a vending machine that, amidst the standard array of hot and cold teas and coffees, sold a hot can of pancake drink. While we still don’t know why exactly it existed or who would drink such a thing, we got a can and tried it. It tasted exactly like hot pancakes with butter and very commercial maple syrup. It wasn’t bad so much as it was strange. We couldn’t finish the whole can, but had enough to be totally befuddled by it.

Shopping in Nishiki Market

This is the third installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here.

This post originally appeared at Huffington Post.

Nishiki Market is a food and vegetable clearinghouse in central Kyoto. The market is known as Kyoto’s Kitchen and many of the stands within it have been managed by the same families for generations. There aren’t many foods which you can’t find in Nishiki Market – fish of every variety and in every state, from fresh to frozen to salted, cured, seasoned, fried, and dehydrated. Butchers, egg stands, roasted chestnuts, dozens of different types of sweets, exorbitantly priced fresh fruits and color vegetable stands fill the market, which runs on block after block.

Though the market opens early in the morning, my first visit to Nishiki was at one of the notoriously worst times to go: late afternoon, when the market is packed with house wives doing their evening shop. Moving through a sea of people made it only more challenging to take in the huge range of sights and smells emanating from each food stand. When I returned this morning, the crowd was much more sparse, making it easier to navigate, as well as loiter in front of some of the more visually interesting stands (though more time was not enough of an impetus to make me want to try the cured baby octopus whose head had been stuffed with a quail egg).

Twice I’ve been given knives from the Aritsugu store in Nishiki Market. Their incredibly high-quality, handmade blades are among the finest in the world. Though the store isn’t particularly big, they have hundreds of different types of knives. With Japanese style cutlery, every different shape and size has a specific purpose, from sashimi to vegetables to poultry or eel. The number of options are overwhelming to a very low-key Western cook like myself. I ended up getting a beautiful, carbon steel chefs knife.

One of the coolest things about Aritsugu is that they will add a custom engraving to any knife you buy. A skilled craftsman notches the knife onto a small wooden stump and then proceeds to use a hammer and small chisel to add Japanese characters to the blade or hilt of the knife. It’s a remarkable touch and a final display of their workmanship before the knife heads home for use.

Buying things while traveling with no bags presents an interesting challenge. It’s compounded by the fact that knives definitely cannot be carried onto an airplane. I was already out and about for the day when I purchased the knife this morning. Today I carried the knife in the front right pocket of my Scottevest Tropical Jacket. The pocket has an elastic strap, designed for holding bottles upright, but the knife box fit into snugly and I was able to stow it there without worry all day. I’m going to ship my purchase from Aritsugu back home tomorrow, so I won’t have to worry about carrying it with me the rest of my trip, let alone to the airport. One of the pleasures of travel is finding things that you couldn’t find back home. Just because I’m without bags doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of acquiring things on my trip.

I have two days left in Kyoto and I’m sure I’ll be back in Nishiki Market before I leave. There’s simply too much that draws my curiosity there. Maybe I’ll even get up the courage to try a food that really makes my stomach turn…

Disclosure: My No Baggage Challenge for Charity trip is being partially sponsored by Scottevest. I received some of the clothing I am using, including the Carry-On Coat, Tropical Jacket, TEC Shirt, Travel Boxers and Flex Cargo Pants for free. I am also using other Scottevest clothes that I’ve purchased myself: Q-Zip, Performance T-Shirts, and Travel Pants. Scottevest is making a $1500 donation to Students for a Free Tibet in honor of my trip and will raise their donation to $5000 if videos I shoot on this trip reach 10,000 views. I am covering all other trip costs.

If you would like to make a donation in support of Students for a Free Tibet, please click here.