#goaustralia: how i'm packing for a photography, scuba-diving, adventure trip to the other side of the world

Antoine de Saint Exupéry once said, "He who would travel happily must travel light." I clearly do not subscribe to this belief.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry once said, "He who would travel happily must travel light." I clearly do not subscribe to this belief.

Back in June my Kiwi friend Marianne spent the night at my house, near the beginning of her 5-month world tour to promote her amazing book, Zen Under Fire.  (No, really, her book is incredible.  You should pick up a copy now.)  She had just flown in to Houston from California where she had spent a few days, and when I went outside to greet her, she popped open the trunk of her car, pulled out a carry-on bag, and closed it again. 

"Where are the rest of your bags?" I asked. 

"This is it." 

"No, I mean the rest of the clothes for your tour -- did you leave them in San Francisco, or something?" 

"No, this is it.  This is everything I've got for my 5 months away from New Zealand." 

My friends, I am still agog when I think of this.  I would love to say that I'm capable of doing the same, but the truth is, it's just flat impossible for me to pack that well -- especially on journeys like this upcoming trip to Australia, which is going to be unavoidably gear-heavy.   I thought I'd share what I'm planning to take with me here; however, fair warning:  this isn't going to be a how-to-pack-for-a-2-week-trip-in-nothing-but-a-pocketbook kind of post.  (For that, check out my friend Allison's excellent post here).  For this trip, I'm aiming for one large checked bag, a carry-on and my handbag.  Which, trust me, is the embodiment of efficiency in my world, my friends.

So without further ado, here's what I'm carrying: 


carry on bag (camera gear)

My carry-on bag is always exclusively devoted to my cameras and other electronics.  I never check these items, since learning my lesson on a business trip to Cairo many years ago, when the power cord of my computer was stolen right out of my checked luggage (and the little thief actually took the time to replace it with an empty cardboard box, about the same size as the power cord transformer.  Because apparently that was going to fool me). So now I keep everything electronic right by my side, with the help of my beloved Jill-E roller camera bag.  I've had this bag for years, and it has been around the world with me.  The compartments for cameras and lenses are completely padded on the inside (including a laptop pocket), and the best part is that it doesn't scream "camera bag."

So yes, my trusty Jill-E will be by my side again.  And because my chances of getting back to Australia are slim, it will be holding ton of camera equipment, to capture as much of the country as I can, in every possible photographic way that I can.  Here's what will be inside: 

•  Nikon D4

•  50mm lens, 16-35mm lens and 70-200mm lens.  I own more lenses, but the truth is that these three will cover everything from wide angle to telephoto -- they're really all you need.

•  Extra batteries

•  Extra memory cards

•  Nikon FE, with manual 50mm lens and extra film.

•  Hasselblad 501C, with manual 80mm lens and extra film.

•  Download cords, battery charges

•  Apple Macbook Air , power cord, charging cords for phone, etc.



scuba gear

This is where things really get bulky.  I could, of course, rent all of my gear when I get to Australia; however, I'm a pretty nervous diver, and since I haven't been diving in a while I decided I would feel more confident wearing my own gear, since I know where all the buttons and valves are.  Besides, let's face it, this stuff is about saving my life under water -- why take any risks?  The only things that I do actually own that I'm choosing not to take are my wetsuit and my fins -- even though I went out and bought a wetsuit for this trip, it's really heavy, and I'm afraid of overweight baggage (and I can easily rent one when I get there).  I was planning on bringing my fins, but they're heavy, too.  Everything else is coming, however

•  Buoyancy Compensator.  This is the jacket that divers wear, and sadly, it takes up a good third of my large suitcase, and does not fold well.  This is an issue, but this is also the piece of equipment that connects me to my air supply, so I really don't want to leave this behind.  

•  Booties.  Even though I'm not taking my fins, I figured I'd take these.  They don't weigh much, they don't take up much space, and they fit me perfect.  So they come with me.   

•  Mask/snorkel.  Masks are exceedingly annoying if they don't fit well, since a too-small one hurts, and a too-large one fills up with water, making it difficult to see.  I'm bringing my own.

•  Dive log/dive card.  This is the book that documents all the dives I've done in the past, and contains my card proving that I've been certified as a diver.  Diver operators require you to show both before they'll take you diving. 

Dive watch.  This is actually my everyday, regular watch.  I'm very picky about watches when I travel actually -- they have to be analog, so that I can easily & quickly change them to the time of my destination when I get on the plane.  I do this because I think I'm tricking my body into operating on that local time, but it never works -- I get jetlagged anyway.

•  Sinus medicine, mask cleaner, swimsuit, etc.  A word about my swimsuit:  it's a very unsexy, sturdy, basic black one-piece swimsuit, with no ties or fasteners.  I know the movies make women scuba divers look awesome as they peel out of their wetsuits after an epic dive to reveal their bikinis underneath, but the truth is that wetsuits rarely peel off that easily, and often take portions of the swimsuits underneath with them.  (Please do not ask me how I know this.)  Trust that a sturdy, basic, one-piece is the right decision.


So given all of this gear, I sadly have very little left room/weight left for my clothing. So the rest of my packing is going to require a bit of strategy. 



Here are my general requirements for travel wear: 

•  The need to iron anything has to be greatly minimized.
•  I flat refuse to be uncomfortable.

And here are the facts for this upcoming trip:  at the time of this writing, we still haven't received a finalized itinerary, but here's what we're being told will likely be included:  

•   Diving the reef
•  Possible zoo visit
•  Dinner at the Sydney Opera House
•  Possible meetings with various chefs, other representatives designated by Tourism Australia

Also, the temperatures while we're there look like there'll be daytime highs of around 80°F, with nighttime lows around 45°F. 

Given all of this, it's obvious that this is not just a trip where we get to hang out in sweats and/or swimsuits all day -- there are some business meetings and other more formal events that will be required of us when we get there.  Also the relatively large fluctuations in temperatures lead me to a specific packing philosophy for this trip, which I like to call Variations On a Pajamawear Theme.  This translates as follows: 

•  Colour coordination.  I'm all about my clothing being interchangeable, which means that for this trip, I'll be sticking to a colour palette that is relatively neutral:  black, white, ecru, dark grey, royal blue, emerald green.  Everything will go with everything else.  And while we're on the subject ...

• ... I'm embracing my love of black.  I do wear a lot of black, it is true, but I've decided I'm not going to apologize for it, for this reason:  black always looks more formal than it really is.  This means that I can get away with dressing up black basics (think Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, the dressing up part to be discussed below), and still look like I've made an effort for any evening events.

 It's all about the jersey knit.  It may not be the fanciest fabric, but it doesn't require ironing, and tends to hold its shape.  Ninety percent of the items I've packed are jersey knit.

•  It's all about the tunics and the leggings.    Seriously, folks, I'm not kidding:  it's ALL about the tunics and the leggings.  I'm bringing many different tunics/dresses, and many different leggings (some patterned, some not), and I'm mixing and matching them all like they're Garanimals.  I'll be wearing a pair of jeans on the plane, but otherwise?  Tunics & leggings, baby, dressed up and down as necessary (again, to be discussed below.  I promise, it's coming.)  We land on the 8th, and will remain in Australia until the 18th, and since I don't know what our access will be to laundry (i.e., I have no idea if we're spending more ethan one night in a single place), I'll be bringing enough for 8 days.

•  It's all about the wrap dress.  God bless Diane von Furstenberg, and her fabulous invention, the wrap dress.  Ladies, here's the thing about a wrap dress:  it looks great on everyone, no matter what shape or size you come in, and always looks professional.  I'm literally taking two or three with me, and dressing them up or down with (here it comes) ...

•  It's all about accessories.   So now that I'm wearing what are essentially pajamas (knitwear and wrap dresses, what else would you call it?), I dress and change the outfit with accessories.  In my world this means:

- scarves:  I love me a scarf, and will be taking several, in different colours (to add to the black).  Scarves are great because they don't take up very much room, and automatically look like you tried to dress up, you know?  I particularly love this American Apparel circle scarf, which is wide enough that it also doubles as a swimsuit cover up (notice all the different ways to wear it at the bottom left of that page), also I'll be taking a few from my Ethiopian friends at FashionABLE as well, just because they're awesome.

- thin but gimongous hoop earrings:  because hoops are classic, but the size makes them look dressy. 

-  2 jackets:  one lightweight, and the other heavier.  Both of them are actually casual (one is technically a hoodie!), but they're black (more formal!), and they're tailored to fit a woman's body, so they look dressier.  Throw them over jeans and a t-shirt, add ankle boots (to be worn on the plane) add one of those scarves and those hoop earrings, and hopefully I'll look like I made an effort.

And then -- this is the best part -- because I have that strict rule about not being uncomfortable, I'm not taking any high heels (because I have no idea how much walking we're going to do, and again, I refuse to be uncomfortable).   So how, you ask, will I dress up for evenings out?

Silver flats, my friends.  Silver makes them look dressy, flats make them comfortable.  Those, a black knit dress, an awesome scarf and those silver hoop earrings, and I'm ready for the opera house. 


My  Epiphanie Madison    camera bag .  It converts to a backpack. Oh yes, it does.

My Epiphanie Madison  camera bag.  It converts to a backpack. Oh yes, it does.

travel day

A few years ago, I wrote a post about all of the things I have to have with me on a flight, and nothing's changed -- I still love to have every one of those items in my "cavernous bag" (and this trip, that bag is my Epiphanie Madison camera bag, which converts to a backpack, as necessary - score).  There are a couple of new things I'd add to that list:

-  My iPad Mini.  It does everything my iPhone does, plus holds books.  I'm officially an e-reader convert. 

-  Origins Peace of Mind.  Origins makes my favourite cosmetics, and once while I was shopping there, the salesperson threw a sample of this stuff in my bag. Basically, you just "apply just two dabs of Origins mind-clearing formula on the back of your neck, temples and earlobes," and seriously, stress just melts away.  I've used this on nights when I was having trouble falling asleep, and even shared with a friend who was fighting some motion sickness in Ethiopia.  It's really lovely,  I suspect it'll be really great to have on hand during that endless flight over the Pacific.

So that's it then -- everything that I'm taking with me to Australia! For reading this far, you deserve a chocolate.  

Or, you know, at least a playlist.  

This one for October is perfect for fanning wanderlust and crossing the international date line.  Click here or on the image below to have a listen.