Category Archives: General

A Merger of Sorts

Well guys, big news. We decided to take a HUGE step in our relationship and… combine our blogs! We want to still be able to pack in as much world-seeing and adventure seeking as possible, and trying to capture it all on two separate blogs was proving to be quite the time sink. Plus, with Alan’s impeccable detail and trip-planning tid-bits and Jenni’s colorful anecdotes of how she is massively afraid of everything, we thought that the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts. Hence the birth of our new baby: champagne&backpacks. 

All the content from our old blogs has been ported over here, so you can access each of our views on prior destinations by visiting our respective pre-merger posts.  Going forward we’ll do one combined post for each destination. Some posts may be spearheaded by one of us, but always with the flavor, passion and enthusiasm we both share for this adventure. We hope the end-product is more enjoyable and helpful to our dear readers.  Our goals are to document our experiences, to keep our friends and families updated and entertained, and to provide useful information for those planning long-term or more typical travel.

Jenni picked such a great name for our combined blog, and it’s kind of self-explanatory, so you’re probably not wondering why…but just in case.  While this remains a work in progress and perhaps always will, after some months we’ve been able to reflect and gain perspective on our travels and writing.  There are many blogs devoted to stretching one’s budget in every way imaginable to afford long-term travel.  Others focus purely on the luxury segment.  We fall somewhere in between.  Saving money is always on our mind, but so is maximizing our convenience and enjoyment.  We tend to pay up for location and time saved, so we’d rather spend $100 more and cut out a day of uncomfortable travel.  At the same time, we’re happy to spend $100 less to stay across the street from a fancy hotel and suffer the indignities of low thread count sheets. We like to splurge every now and again, but we’re not above pairing our Moët with some In-N-Out Burger. 

By the way, you will be automatically re-directed to the new site if you visit the url’s of either of our old blogs, and if you signed up to receive e-mails when we post new entries, you should still receive those, only now from the new and improved champagne&backpacks!

We hope you enjoy!

The Obligatory Round-the-World Travel Blogger’s Packing Post

Jenni : Packing :: Gremlins : Water. Packing sucks. Is there anyone out there who actually enjoys it? Our search for the proper gear for this trip has been somewhat of a work in progress for a while. Of course, the brunt of it was spent the week before we left for Chile. It’s a daunting task putting all you need for 6 months in one(ish) bag, and there are lots of travel bloggers out there who offer tips on how they packed, so I figured I’d do the same in case it ever comes in handy for one of y’all. Or in case you’re really voyeuristic and want to know how many socks I’ve packed. Also so you judge me less when you see in my pictures that I am wearing the exact same outfit day after day after day after day after…

Disclaimer: I realize we’ve definitely over packed on a lot of items, but I’m still pretty pleased with myself for getting it all technically in a carry-on (though we are checking our bags as we have big liquids (does this even matter at all after leaving the states?) and a pocket knife).

The Vehicle


  • Swiss Gear rolling 22” duffel bags (1 each) – this was a bit of a last minute headache. We were so torn on backpack vs. rolly bag vs. who knows. We ordered new luggage on Amazon right before leaving but it ended up not shipping in time, so before going to the airport on our last day stateside we ran to Target and picked up these bad boys (only $80 a pop, and seem to be great so far).
  • REI daypack – it’s very light (not quite as light or compactible as the ultra-sil daypacks out there) and convenient, though there isn’t much in the way of organization. It’s basically one big compartment with a little zipper pocket inside. I do love that it has a safety (rape) whistle on it.
  • Real daypack – Alan is carrying his actual hiking daypack, which holds much more than my little pack, so he has the immense pleasure of lugging around our massive bag of Rx pills and whatnot. We’re thinking this bag will come in super handy for Nepal and other various hikes.

Organization (the only fun part ;):

  • Eagle Creek Specter Packing Cubes – these bad boys are super lightweight and you can really stuff them. I use 1 of the large for all my tops (excluding my raincoat and puffy down jacket), 1 large for all my pants and shorts, 1 medium for bras, sports bras, bathing suits and my beach cover-up, 1 small one for undies and socks, and 1 long one for cold weather accessories (hat, gloves, hiking socks, balaclava etc.)
  • Lots of ziploc baggies!



  • 3 quick dry t-shirts
  • 3 cotton t-shirts
  • 1 tank top
  • 1 quick dry long sleeve shirt
  • 1 hooded long sleeve shirt
  • 1 “nice” long sleeve shirt
  • 1 “nice” t-shirt
  • 1 tank top
  • 1 cardigan
  • Fleece (generally wear this on the plane rides)
  • 1 Dress


  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of hiking pants
  • 2 pairs stretchy exercise pants
  • 1 pair fleece pants
  • 1 pair linen pants
  • 1 pair jean shorts
  • 1 pair mesh shorts
  • 1 pair sleep shorts


  • Rain Jacket & Pants
  • Light Down Jacket
  • 1 sun hat and 1 wool hat
  • Balaclava
  • Gloves


  • Hiking Boots – big and clunky but necessary, especially for Nepal!
  • Sneakers
  • Rainbow Flip-Flops – I finally ordered my second pair, as my first pair (that I bought as part of my initiation to LA) was looking so ratty I was embarrassed. I love these flip-flops more than I ever thought it possible to love a pair of flip-flops. If you don’t have them, you simply must try a pair. (They do take a few days to break in though, but after that they are formed to your feet and perfect)
  • Flats – I’ve still never found a pair of flats that I walk around in comfortably for more than an hour. Except this super cheap pair of imitation Tom’s I bought at Urban Outfitters one day while I was walking around Westwood after work while waiting to pick my Dad up from a meeting. My feet were killing from the heels, so I went in and saw these shoes for under $10 and it was a done deal. I actually wore them a ton in India, so I thought they would be good for Asia, and at $10 I can throw them away when they poop out on me. I’m still very tempted to try a pair of Tiek’s, as many people have told me they swear by them and how comfy they are. The thing is, they are pricey shoes, and I’m not super crazy about them style-wise aside from the fact that they are comfy and easy to pack. We’ll see how long it takes me to cave.

Necessities (for all you man-folk, feel free to skip to the next section now…):

  • Undies – I know I don’t NEED 15 pairs, but… the thought of not having at least some clean underwear scared me. Plus they take up practically no space at all. And what self-respecting lady can get dressed in the morning and not offer herself a range of pinks for her panties? I mean, you can take the girl out of LA…
  • Bras – 2 regular, 3 sports
  • Bathing Suits – 2 of them, plus one really thin, lightweight cover up.
  • Socks – 2 pairs of tall hiking socks for my boots, 2 pairs of regular socks


Toiletries and Medication:

  • Contacts – 6 month supply for each of us
  • Malarone – unfortunately, we are going in and out of countries where there is a risk of malaria, and you need to start the medication a few days before entering those areas, and continue taking it a week after leaving. So we basically have to take it the entire six months we’re in Asia. We’re told some people take the risk and just “try to not get mosquito bites.” But, that’s a thing? I mean… you will get mosquito bites. It’s practically the first law of physics, or something. So, we figured we’d bite the bullet and carry 350 pills with us, which cost a truckload (over $1,000!!! Had we known this in advance, it may have altered our opinion, but… better safe than sorry?).
  • Diamox – for altitude. We’ll be doing some serious hikes on this trek, including a trek in Nepal (probably the Everest base camp route), which puts us at elevations of around 20,000 feet above sea level. Holy! I’ve never been that high (ha ha), so no idea how it will affect us, but the Diamox should help make it more pleasant.
  • Sea Sickness patches – my motion sickness has been getting worse as I get older, and given that we’ll be spending a lot of times in island-y locations, I thought it best to bring a few of these so I can enjoy those tropical Thailand boat trips.
  • Birth Control – bit of a fight with insurance to get these bad boys in advance, but they sure are a whole lot cheaper than a baby.
  • Cipro – in case of, you know… really bad food poisoning. Fingers crossed we’ll never need these!
  • Advil, Pepto, a handful of cold medicines, etc. as well as everything that came in our handy dandy First Aid Kit
  • Toiletries –I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say we probably (definitely) packed too much.


  • iPhone & charger – I ended up putting my service on hold for 6 months (which AT&T allows you to do up to 6 months of the year). It brings my monthly bill down to $10 and I can still go back to unlimited data when I return. Plus, the phone still works with wifi, and it’s unlocked so I can plug in a new SIM card while abroad. (Alan also brought his)
  • 13” Macbook Air & charger – for blogging, but of course! (Alan brought an 11” Macbook Air)
  • Kindle & charger – I still like real, hold ‘em in your hands books, but alas, this is much more travel friendly, so I caved and bought one. Pretty awesome too that I can check out e-books from the Los Angeles Public Library from anywhere in the world! (Alan also brought his)
  • Camera & charger – we use the Panasonic Lumiz ZS20 (, which is OK, though to be honest we haven’t spent the time to figure our how to use it’s features yet, and thus I’m not a huge fan. I also edit most pictures with simple editing functions available in iPhoto. In addition, some photos are taken with our iPhones and some are edited on Instagram.
  • Solar Charger – this was a gift from my former colleague, Darcy, and I think it will be a huge lifesaver on our trek in Nepal where we are without electricity for weeks!

Non-tangible but also helpful technology:

  • I signed up for a Carbonite account to backup my computer. It only works with wifi, and it’s so slow often here that its utility is almost non-existent, but better than nothing I suppose
  • VPN – I signed up for ExpressVPN service so that I can help protect my sensitive information when we have to log onto to public wifi hotspots

Travel Docs:

  • Passports, driver’s license, 2 credit cards, debit card, a bit of cash in USD
  • Copies of passports, visas, extra passport sized photos, proof of vaccinations, print-outs of itineraries and hotel reservations (those we booked at least)

Random Things:

  • Clothesline with suction cups and laundry wash sheets for washing our clothes (every once in a while)
  • My former colleague Darcy gave me these awesome mosquito repelling bracelets that have already come in quite handy
  • Headlamps
  • Quick dry small towels
  • Neck pillow for the many plane/train/boat/automobile rides in our future (usually it hangs off a carabiner on my daypack)

I’ll try to update this one day with any info on what was definitely not necessary and what we’re missing.

Getting out of Dodge(rtown)


WARNING: The first part of this post is about my decision to leave my job for an indefinite period of travel, what it was like to give notice and to pack up and leave, and some rumination on life.  If this interests you, please continue.  If not, you might want to skip to the lower section or the posts more directly covering the geographic journey.

I loved my life in LA and had fought hard for an extremely coveted job at a wonderful buy-side shop in Santa Monica.  Resolving to leave all this was terribly difficult.  But the more I thought about it, the less afraid I became of the downside risk.  And the more afraid I became of living with major regret if Jenni and I did not seize the opportunity to travel the world sans kids and mortgage.  Besides, a certain level of risk ought to be welcomed.  I do not believe life is a perfectly efficient market, but there is undoubtedly correlation between risk and reward.

Once my mind was made, I dreaded the necessary conversation with my colleagues.  I feared I was letting them down, and that they would hurl barbs of guilt and accusations of madness.  If any felt this way, they hid it well.  I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by how supportive and understanding they were.  To be sure, this is a reflection of the good nature, warmth and professionalism of my colleagues.  I think it is also because others tend to respect those who demonstrate courage and conviction.

Reactions to the news in general were overwhelmingly positive.  “Congratulations” may have been the most common refrain.  I was nervous (and sad) about telling the student I mentored that we would have to end our formal relationship, but even he (at 15 years old) demonstrated such maturity and compassion in his reaction.  He pretty much said “well, that sounds like a great opportunity and I’d probably do the same thing if I were you.”  A few evoked Verbal Kint when Special Agent Kujan asks “who’s Keyser Soze.”  Oh #$*&, now I have to confront the possibility that maybe I could do this.  Many said they were envious and wished they had done something like this or could do something like this.  If you are reading this, I will wager that you are not dodging bullets in war-torn Congo and desperately wondering where you will find bread for sustenance.  And if I am correct, then it is probable that your life decisions (from the mundane to the complex) are really about priorities.  Perhaps you are pregnant or must care for a loved one who is not well, but most likely you could drastically change your life and start traveling soon if not this moment.  Which is not to say that you should do so.  I find it challenging yet rewarding often to ask myself the difficult questions in life rather than passively accepting the status quo.  Instead of saying “I wish I did that” or “I would love to but just can’t do that,” you might consider switching the phraseology to “I could do that, and/but…” You will thus free your mind to assess the relative weight of your priorities in life.

This exercise may be difficult in part because the side of the scale representing benefits of drastic change may have fewer objects readily visible.  And it is often difficult to determine the weight of the object without holding it in your hand, so to speak.  How do I measure the positive “weight” of traveling the world when I’ve never done it?  It seems far simpler to comprehend the negative “weight” of those thousand details that have to be sorted out when uprooting your life and, of course, the supremely scary notion of giving up a paid occupation.  All I can say is: make your decisions consciously and faithfully, then rejoice; when you are honest with yourself, you cannot be wrong.  I want to reiterate that this is a very personal decision and one size does not fit all.  I find some of the full-time travel writers more than a little patronizing when they suggest theirs is clearly the right path to choose.  I merely want to impart that if you really want to make a big change in your life, you probably can.  And if you care about the reactions of your closest family, friends and colleagues, which would be perfectly normal, those reactions may be more positive than you think.

Make no mistake, drastic change is not easy.  The path of least resistance is usually the easiest.  As with most significant undertakings, the effort is front-loaded and the reward comes after.  Think of this like physics.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to stop a moving train and start it going in the other direction.  I won’t bore you with all the details of becoming voluntarily homeless, though there are probably more than you would imagine at first.  But once done, this new direction becomes the path of least resistance.  This is why we decided to give up an apartment we loved, sell some possessions and put the rest in storage.


This was by far the hardest moving experience of my life.  It is much more difficult to figure out what to keep, what to dispose of, what we might need access to, etc., than it is just to throw everything into boxes and move it to a place where it will be unpacked promptly.  On the back-end, though, there is no abode to decorate or cable service to set up.  Having already undertaken the effort to scale down and become rather nomadic, the presumption is now in favor of continuing to travel.

I began to notice some changes in my life even before we left LA.  Brace yourselves…I took the bus a few times!  It may seem ridiculous to those outside LA that this is worthy of comment, but most people I know in LA have literally never once ridden public transportation (in LA).  The immediate opportunity to spend more time with family was both fortuitous and related to this decision.  We probably would have seen Mia and Matty at the Phish show at the Hollywood Bowl anyway, but definitely would not have hung out with them and their delightful friends til the wee hours at Cantor’s on a Monday.  When Sam and Kaitlyn were in town a couple of days later, I was able to spend more time with them, and likewise my cousin Jonathan a few days after that.  Not much beats quality time with family.

Adventure awaits us, and I am excited to see what the world has in store!


Slimming down included selling one of our two cars.  Since Jenni’s car is newer and more spacious for a road trip, gets far better gas mileage and is still under warranty, that meant saying goodbye to Seymour (my Audi S4 convertible, and first true love in California).  It was an emotional event; I truly feel that Seymour was inextricably linked with my identity and joy upon arrival in LA eight years ago.  Classic LA stuff, I know.  I spoke with a couple Audi dealers who would not even make a bid and then a local used car business that bid me much less than I wanted.  CarMax handily beat that price, and I have nothing but good things to say about the experience.  You may be able to get a little more if you cut out the middleman, but that entails locating a buyer, ensuring payment clears, dealing with title transfer, possibly risking liability, etc.  If you want a reasonable bid and stress-free solution, check out CarMax.

Like most Americans, our health insurance was provided by our employers.  We have not yet selected a replacement since COBRA effectively offers a 60-day free option (you can enroll retroactively).  Based on our research to date, we expect to go with International Medical Group.  I will likely provide more details in a later post.

We picked a somewhat arbitrary budget of $100/night for accommodation and $70/day for food and beverage (all of these figures are total for two people).  The idea is to be frugal, but not unnecessarily so given our savings.  Some backpack internationally and spend a small fraction of this, and we certainly hope to rack up non-camping nights in Asia and elsewhere for more like $20-40/night.  The accommodation budget should allow us a mix of camping, hostels, airbnb and splurges.  Though in truth most of these splurges will seem more like the budget option from our most recent employed lifestyle.  Camping typically costs $10-25/night.  We enjoy it, and it allows us to fill our splurge fund.  Here are a few links for camping and budget accommodation:

Oatmeal for breakfast, PB&J sandwiches and simple grilled protein help save money and allow for some higher-end meals in foodie locales.

I plan to write in greater depth about packing and preparing for the international trip, but I will mention a few things about the US road trip.  We own some backpacking gear and that made it easier to camp a lot while still fitting everything into a small car.  Gear includes the following:

  • MSR MicroRocket Stove
  • MSR Quick 2 System Cookset
  • Camo folding boat seats from Wal-Mart…seriously.  We bought these in Napa for Bottlerock thinking we would just throw them out after the festival, but they have become our new favorite purchase.  They are easy to transport and, unlike a typical folding chair, can turn a picnic table bench into a comfortable dining seat. IMG_0624
  • Kelty Gunnison 2.0 Tent
  • North Face Cat’s Meow 20º bag for me and Sierra Designs Eleanor DriDown 19º bag for Jenni
  • Weber portable propane grill
  • A soft-sided cooler

For a camera, we chose the Panasonic Lumix ZS20.  There are probably point and shoot cameras that take somewhat higher quality pictures in a range of conditions, but this one got generally good reviews and the 20x optical zoom was the key selling point.  We will have more than enough gear without hauling an SLR, and I like a powerful optical zoom, especially for the inevitable African safaris.  A few photography equipment review sites that I have come across include:

A fantastic resource for traveling and life in general is downloading eBooks from your local library.  I do not know which public libraries offer this service, but I know Santa Monica and LA do, and it is amazing.  If you are a resident, typically you can join for free and download free software and then check out books to read on your computer, iPad, smart phone etc…for free, anywhere in the world you have an internet connection.


One of the many enjoyable aspects of long-term travel is I get to read a lot more…for pleasure.  I am starting a new post that I will update periodically to list the books that I have read (or am reading) since our journey began.  Note that many of these authors have corresponding blogs where you can get a taste for the concept without buying/reading a whole book.  And if you have suggestions for books you think I would enjoy, please do let me know!
The Lean Startup: a very popular book relevant for both new entrepreneurs and established companies launching new products, among others…as the title suggests, the goal is to figure out if your business is viable and if so start and grow it without betting the farm…advocates practices like continual testing of assumptions, metrics that are both measurable (of course) but also meaningful, etc.

Investment Biker: older book by Jim Rogers, partner of George Soros at the Quantum Fund with legendary returns…as Amazon says, it is “the fascinating story of his 1990 investing trip around the world by motorcycle, with many tidbits of hard-headed advice for investing in foreign markets.” while not infallible, he is quite prescient and it is a good read.
Delivering Happiness: the Zappos story, a book about building the best customer service business and having fun in the process.  Tony offers some neat ideas for managing employees and creating the right culture.  I enjoyed it a lot and many of his philosophies align with my own.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: book about the Mumbai slums.  Bill Gates said, “It reads like a novel by Dickens, but is a real-life depiction of the challenges hundreds of millions of people face every day in urban slums. It’s also a reminder of the humanity that connects us all.”  The tales of corruption are truly horrifying.

Business Stripped Bare: Richard Branson book about how he got started with Virgin and his relentless focus on brand.  If you do not define your brand, someone else will.

Long Walk to Freedom: Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.  His patience, tolerance, sacrifice and humility are quite the inspiration.

The 4-Hour Workweek: another very popular book, Tim aims not only to inspire you to examine your professional and personal lives but he gives step by step instructions for freeing your time and generating income.  At first I was lukewarm because it seemed like another book heavy on philosophy (which I don’t really need since I already made the decision!), but then Tim proceeds to offer a wealth of resources for starting businesses and using outsourcing both professionally and personally.

The Kite Runner: per Amazon, Khaled Hosseini offers “an educational and eye-opening account of a country’s political turmoil–in this case, Afghanistan–while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers long after the last page has been turned over.”  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and great fiction is just what Madurai called for.  I think I particularly like historical fiction for the simultaneous escape/repose and learning.

Half the Sky: informative book on women’s rights issues around the world, which the authors wisely convey as human rights issues.  They focus largely on maternal mortality, human trafficking, sexual violence and routine daily discrimination.  The authors argue there are extensive pragmatic, as well as ethical, reasons to empower women and eliminate discrimination and repression.  A nice balance of facts and studies with many individual stories makes it an enjoyable read, and the authors recommend specific remedies at the policy level and actions you can take to help.

Little Princes: about an American man (Conor Grennan) who volunteered at an orphanage in Nepal at the start of a round-the-world trip and was drawn to return and start a children’s home and reunite children lost/trafficked during Nepal’s civil war with their families.  A very enjoyable read, and for those Latham-ites seeing this, Liz Flanagan is featured prominently as she connected with Conor, then spent time with him and the kids in Nepal and now they are married.

David and Goliath: a disappointing entry from Malcolm Gladwell.  The theme is that sometimes what we consider disadvantages are actually advantages, and vice versa.  He covers topics like the extraordinary success of many with dyslexia, inverted U-curves witnessed in studies of school class size, the limits of power, etc.  I loved Blink, The Tipping Point and Outliers and had high expectations.  This is not a bad book, it is just not nearly as good as his others.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: a book about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti and elsewhere. Though my Kindle loan expired midway through, I enjoyed what I read.  Clearly a brilliant man, Dr. Farmer’s work focuses on the intersection of medicine and anthropology.

Undaunted Courage: a terrific book by Stephen Ambrose, per Amazon “the definitive book on Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, the most momentous expedition in American history and one of the great adventure stories of all time.”  Jeremy L. recommended this book to me years ago and I finally got around to reading it…I only wish I had done so before our US road trip!

Three Day Road: Joseph Boyden’s first novel about two Cree Indian friends who leave Canada to fight in World War I.  It is said to be loosely based on the real life of a famous Canadian sniper. Quite graphic but a good read.  And as I read it immediately after Undaunted Courage, it furthered my education on some of the abuses by whites against native Indians in North America.

A Lesson Before Dying: I did not love this book

Omnivore’s Dilemma: I loved this book.  A seemingly balanced and very informative analysis of the facts and philosophy of America’s food system.  Highly recommended.

Born to Run: a very enjoyable read about the Tarahumara tribe and Mexico’s Copper Canyons.   And more generally about running and approaches to living.   A nice mix of scientific support and a riveting story.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage: fantastic book about the extraordinary survival journey of Ernest Shackleton and his fellow shipmates.  A quote for all you mariners: “But the sea is a different sort of enemy.  Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape.  It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.”

Setting the Table: Danny Meyer’s book about hospitality.  His priority is to his own team, then in descending order guests, community, suppliers and investors.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: I thought the book was good but not amazing.  The story, though, is pretty amazing.  Per Amazon, she “was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.”

Miracle in the Andes: inspiring book written by one of the survivors (he was one of two who made the trek to get help) of the famous Uruguayan rugby team plane crash in 1972 in the Andes.  A great tale of overcoming unspeakable personal tragedy.