Customers frequently ask us for advice on what to bring on their trips - small (or large) items that might make a big difference when they’re far from the comforts and familiarity of home. Most trips to Europe demand basic essentials: a guidebook, a phrasebook, a city map, luggage locks, a money belt perhaps… (We have a printed list if you’re curious.) Simple enough.
But Europe isn’t the world, and other destinations have other demands. I spent months preparing for a somewhat epic five week-long trip to Northern Thailand and Northern India this Spring. I consulted my fellow employee and our resident Asia guru; I solicited advice from customers who’d trodden down those paths before. I felt as ready as I could be. My curly hair was already frizzing with anticipation of the humidity.
As ready for elephants, street food, dusty streets, insane train stations, and overwhelming crowds as I might have been, there were just a few items that would’ve made the journey a little less “character-building” and a little more fun. (Because, let’s be honest: Squat toilets in your Udaipur hotel when the nightly power cuts start can be an un-dainty challenge.)
This may seem an extraordinarily dull and even obvious suggestion, but hear me out. I discovered last year when I lived in Istanbul that gum is a surprising commodity for the homesick and weary expat. Upon giving a piece of Orbit Wintermint to a fatigued coworker, his eyes lit up and he said (no joke,) “You must’ve brought this from home, because Turkish gum is crap.” Instant friend!
Fast forward a year, and I found myself wishing I’d brought more of that same Wintermint to India. As you can imagine, the Indian culinary palette is both exciting and assertive. The subcontinent is not bashful when it comes to flavors (or aromas, or maybe anything), and once that fiery ginger, garlic, or chili pepper hits your mouth, it’s there to stay - sometimes even post-teeth brushing. Having said that, my travel companion and I have a tacit rule that we are obligated to sample every flavor of non-shrimp related chip we come across. I’m a vegetarian, so she’s responsible for those that are “meat oriented” and I get the veg-based ones. Enter our train station gems, “India’s Magic Masala” and “Spanish Tango Tomato.” (And, for that matter, enter “milk skin” flavored lassi, care of our very insistent taxi driver.) As “magical” and “delicioso” as those snacks were, fourteen hours of train time with them lingering on my breath were a bit much. Not being able to brush my teeth until we arrived, exhausted, grumpy, and hungry was also a bit much. Gum would’ve softened the blow.
Aside from somewhat trivial bad breath, a more legit reason for that trusty Wintermint is the air quality in Indian cities. Pollution, dirt roads, roaming beasts, and heaps of burning trash collide to create some major smog and grit. Gum is a trusty friend when it comes to clearing out a dry throat.
4. A package of flexible straws
My mom started making my packing list for me the nanosecond I told her about my trip. She’s obsessively organized, but to her credit, as seasoned a traveler as they get. On top of the list: straws. She assured me that though seemingly ridiculous, these would save me from dehydration and dysentery - a miracle. For, as she prophesied, while I wouldn’t see green bins lining the streets of Bangkok and New Delhi, recycling there is common. Those glass soda bottles are collected and refilled. Green, but not necessary hygienic… especially when those bottles are left to gather dust under staircases or the dirt pavement next to a fruit stall. Recycling bottles is so common that my trusty Lonely Planet India even mentioned that placing lips directly onto any bottle - new or used - just isn’t done. And yet still I flouted Mom’s Law.
Fortunately, I never “paid for it” with stomach cramps. I just embarrassed myself by constant spills and unnecessary inconvenience. Many of our hotels and restaurants had straws on offer (all did in Thailand,) but not always.
Listen to your mom, folks.
3. Dry Sack from Sea to Summit
To be frank, I own one of these already and just didn’t think to bring it. I wasn’t headed to any beaches, wasn’t traveling during monsoon season, and didn’t anticipate entering any bodies of water. Having said that, I also didn’t anticipate the dunk into The Ganges my camera took one bright and early morning in Varanasi. Whoops. The good news is that, somehow, someway, my camera lived to take another photo. (An Easter miracle overseen by Hindu deities if ever there was one.) The bad news is that it was 100% my fault, and created a lot of stress.
A dry sack - and actually using the camera strap - would have prevented this colossal disaster. Lesson learned.
2. A Girls’ Guide to India: A Survivor’s Handbook, by Louise Wates
I’m only glad I didn’t read this before my trip because reading it now makes me laugh to the point of tears every time I pick it up. India isn’t an easy place. It’s beautiful, fascinating, delicious, dirty, friendly, and mind-boggling. It is the opposite of comfort-zone. Louise (I’ve decided we’re on first name basis now) breaks it down honestly and without judgment. From the ubiquitous “boob swoop” to the touts, the food, the fake gurus, the bus delays. This is India, straight-up. I plan on giving a copy of it to my travel friend so we can relive our trip together. I know, though, that it would’ve made a very helpful traveler’s manual had I found it before I took off. Lonely Planet was great, for the most part, but they’re trying to sell the trip. Louise is trying to get you through it, and help you laugh about it while it’s happening.
I think all of our employees agree that this is probably the best conversation piece in the store. Men pick it up, entranced by the packaging, and then promptly put it back when they hear the explanation. Women usually chuckle and say “wish I had that.” Bluntly, GoGirl is a funnel-shaped piece of flexible plastic that lets us girls pretend peeing is easy and uncomplicated when we’re confronted with a squatter.
Not that I died, but this would’ve been a life-saver had I thought to get one pre-Asia. I spent my first week in Thailand volunteering at an elephant reserve, which much to my surprise, sported some dubious but very Western toilets. I spent my second week basking in hippie-friendly Chiang Mai, where much to my surprise, we stayed at a hostel that had facilities an elephant would sniff at in dismay. Looking back on it, that was paradise. India was reality. Without the tourist-based economy and the sewage infrastructure, India’s bathrooms are a delicate affair. And by delicate, I mean… Well, you know what I mean. On top of the squatters, or even worse, the foul and filthy Western toilets, electricity cuts are a common enemy to the woman in need. You find yourself faced with a choice: do you a) keep the door open and give your friend a peep show, or b) do you risk the hazards of falling into/stepping in/soiling… (This is the part where I mention something I did bring and absolutely needed: two flashlights.)
We also did all of our city to city travel by train. Add the hole in the floor which is an Indian train toilet, and the very bumpy ride. What do you get? Peril. Fourteen hours of potential ick.
Oh, GoGirl. You would’ve been swell.
Over and out!
“This quaint travel bookstore has informative books about every country. In a welcoming environment, the store has a sitting area where you can peacefully peruse books until you find the perfect one. Its Distant Lands Travel Outfitters section has all of the items traveler’s love – luggage, clothing, travel accessories and more. The shopkeepers are knowledgeable and friendly, and if you are purchasing a gift, they will also wrap it nicely for you.”
Thank you CBS, and Thank you to our customers for making Distant Lands the go to shop for all things travel.
Step 1:PLAN YOUR DREAM
As a travel bookstore and outfitter, we provide the necessary means for people to get started on making their travel dreams a concrete reality. So if you’ve always wished to one day find yourself in Japan, but just don’t know exactly when, then we have a wide selection of guidebooks and maps to get you started on planning your own “My trip ‘one day’ to Japan” trip and help you prepare for anything from ordering food in a restaurant to taking the train to Osaka to finding the perfect hiking spot.
Transport yourself to ancient Japan or modern Tokyo while you’re waiting to board an actual airplane. You can do this by picking out some great travel writing we have available here. Become immersed in Japanese culture through the voice and imagination of another writer. Choose from travel writing like “Under the Osaka Sun” in which the author chronicles his 3 years living abroad in Japan as an English teacher, or pick up a classic Japanese work like the 1155 page tome “The Tale of Genji” written in the 11th century by a Heian period noblewoman.
While you’re here, we have some great gift items for that Japan-lover, artists, or wandering nomad that you know in your life (heck, maybe they’re all you!).
Pick up “The Book of Sake: A Connoisseur’s Guide” and impress everybody you know with your adeptness at ordering sake next time you go out for a sushi dinner.
“Tokyo On Foot” is a colorful book for people who appreciate fun illustrations and quirky humor.
Step 3:INDULGE YOUR TASTE BUDS
No need to restrict your mouth just because the rest of your body can’t leave the States! Head over to Little Tokyo in Downtown LA for smattering of delectable food options you can choose from. Stop by a bakery to pick up the yummiest Japanese pastries you’ll ever have on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Bonus for you (and the environment!) if you ditch the car and take the metro — you can practice your sake ordering skills without worrying about the drive back home or your contribution to smog :)
Step 4:VISIT A MUSEUM
While you’re in Little Tokyo visit the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). It’s the largest museum in the U.S dedicated to the Japanese American experience and sharing the richness of Japanese culture. In addition to their exhibitions they have a full events calendar with lots of interesting workshops, film screenings and festivals.
Step 5: LEARN THE LANGUAGE
It is a rewarding experience to understand a culture through the logic of the language they speak, and an audio CD is a handy way to pick up on the nuances of the Japanese language while you’re in your car, doing chores around the house, or on the go with your mp3 device. We have a great selection of language learning books to find one that’s right for you.
Dōmo arigatō and happy (armchair) travels!
There is a new travel hygiene kit in town, and it’s made right here in our own L.A Chinatown! The TOWELSAFE™ Pocket Towel + Hygiene Kit is compact, portable and very convenient to have in your bag for quick weekend trips, after the gym, for camping, or what ever other scenario you can think of! The kit includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, and a 3-in-1 body wash + shampoo + shave gel and a comb, all inside a handy pocket towel.
Proceeds from your purchase of one of these kits goes towards funding the CareSafe Project, which delivers these kits to homeless youth across Los Angeles.
The intersection of food and travel is the reason so many people travel. The exotic spices and flavors, the unique ingredients one can only find in equally unique localities all can beckon us from our couches and onto the road. Only food can bring us back to the memory of that little back-alley noodle shop in Shanghai or taco stand in Ensinada with just a taste. The staff here at Distant Lands have joined forces to help you with those in your lives who are, shall we say, “gift resistant.” The chronically hard to shop for, or those loved ones who already have every kitchen gadget they can shove into their drawers.
1: “Clean Plates: Los Angeles” by Jared Koch - $14.99
A very practical guide to the sustainable and allergen-friendly restaurants in the greater LA area. Perfect for the health-conscious foodie on your list.
2: Jane and Michael Stern’s “The Lexicon of Real American Food” - $19.95
3: “Eat L.A.; the Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles.” Edited by Colleen Dunn Bates – $19.95
4: Lonely Planet’s “The World’s Best Street Food; Where to find it, & how to make it.” - $19.95
5: “Communion; A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam” Written by Kim Fay – $19.95
6: “The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table” by Mathew Acialabba and Mellissa Pellegrino - $19.95
An intimate look into the traditional cuisine of Southern Italy, complete with recipes for delicious meals.
7: “The Diner’s Dictionary” by John Ayto - $24.95
8: Lonely Planet’s “Food Lover’s Guide to the World” - $39.95
9: “Food France; A Journey Through the Country of Taste” By Marianna Mordenti - $75.00