Conde Nast Traveler

Gear Review: Patagonia Freightliner

Freighlinermain_80days Before I thrill you with my review the Patagonia Freightliner (pictured at right), a quick note about bias. You're going to notice that most of these reviews veer towards the positive. This is not because I am taking kickbacks, or because I am generally a very enthusiastic person, or because I fear that by criticizing others, I am opening the door to criticism of myself. The reason is that I put a serious amount of research--days worth, all told--into determining which items would function best on the road. I'm pleased to report that just about everything performed well above expectations, which is either an endorsement of my research skill, or, more likely, a testament to the constantly improving quality of stuff.

Choosing luggage wasn't easy. The major question was: backpack or rolly bag? Then I discovered that there exists luggage that is both. Eagle Creek makes the Switchback, a rolly bag with back-pack straps that tuck away into a zipped compartment. Similarly, the North Face just came out with rolly bag/backpack called the Doubletrack.  This, I thought, was the answer to my dreams.

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Gear Review: Sony Reader


When the Sony Reader appeared on store shelves last September, it didn't make the kind of splash a lot of people expected, and in the months since it hasn't sent waves rippling through the industry. Tech reviewers were less than whelmed by the Readers feature set--no backlighting, no search, no annotation, no wireless web streaming--and they considered the price, $350, to be way too high. Literary types, on the other hand, dismissed the Reader in a rather haughtier manner. They saw it not only as a poor substitute for a book, but as a threat to the hallowed tradition of "the book," another broadside from the over-stimulated, attention-deprived, caffeinated present on the deep-thinking and ever-threatened literary tradition.

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England, Gear, STUNTS

Soggy Olde England

English rain produces some spectacular countryside

At the risk sounding a little too Canadian, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about one of my favorite subjects: the weather. For more than two months, I had a run of weather that all but defies credibility. It rained once. What I mean to say is that it rained on my head once. It happened in Hawaii, at Hanauma Bay, when a freak tropical spray came down, refreshing, warm and sweet to the taste. I didn't mind it one bit, although it set the locals into a panic. It has rained other times during this trip, but not once while I was outside. It rained while I was driving across I-80, it rained while on board the Crystal Symphony--but only during the night, or very briefly while were cabin-bound with Greta--and it rained in Siberia while I was on the Trans-Mongolian Railway. Every time I stepped outside, however--this is the part that defies credibility--the rain had stopped.

Then I got to England.

Continue reading "Soggy Olde England" »

Food and Drink, Gear, Italy, STUNTS

Getting Respect From the Florentine Hordes

Ciao, baby!

Things started going wrong for Florence about a thousand years ago, when a very important man named Hugo--a margrave, no less--decided he wanted to live in Florence instead of the then capital, Lucca, a decision which brought on a period known as The Golden Age of Florentine Art. Half a millennium later, A guy named Lorenzo di Medici started running the show and throwing serious money at local artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci (best known for his thrilling novel, "The Da Vinci Code") and Botticelli. Pretty soon, all the talk was about Florence: The architecture! The paintings! The sculptures! The ravioli!

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Gear, Mongolia, STUNTS

My Sorry Attempt at Fly Fishing in Mongolia

Any of you horses fly fish?

I have a regretful episode to tell you about that took place on my honeymoon. It was a 10-day tour of Tuscany, and we were staying at a remote and once-abandoned Tuscan village that had been renovated into a charming little resort. Since it was autumn, the place was abandoned again, and we had it all to ourselves. One afternoon, Laura and I took a walk down into the valley. As we sauntered under hardwood canopies, holding hands, finding new adjective-laden ways to describe our love--something my wife can do for hours--I regretted not having a truffle-sniffing pig or dog along.

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Boxers vs. Briefs

Roseanne:  Finally, a good a question. Thank you for asking. I wear boxers. 100% cotton. I had a silk pair once, but the dryer was hard on them, and at that point in my life I lacked the maturity to hang dry. I packed eight pairs, all told. Twelve would have been better. Believe me. As far as Mongolians, heres what my guide tells me: Mainly boxers.

China, Gear, STUNTS

My sleeping bag

Readyforbed_80daysMountainbiker: The sleeping bag you asked about is a Feathered Friends Hummingbird. Grandfather Han was right to appreciate its quality: it's the nicest sleeping bag I've ever experienced.

Cruising the Pacific, Gear, STUNTS

Swapping Stories, Burning Fuel

Fabulously retro controls on the bridge

If I had the money, the first thing I would do upon getting to Hong Kong is buy the biggest, fattest, most ridiculously enormous SUV available and drive it up and down the city's streets--idling whenever the mood strikes, cranking the air conditioning with the windows open--just to appreciate the superb fuel economy. When it comes to fossil fuels, this ship has quite a thirst. It doesn't run on gas or diesel fuel. It burns what's known as heavy fuel oil, a petroleum product that, when cold, is hard enough to walk on. (This is the stuff Kim Jong-Il is always running out of. This and Cognac.)

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Cruising the Pacific, Gear, STUNTS

The Captain: A Model of Scandinavian Cool

The captain politely turns down Greta's offer to steer the ship

It was a dark and stormy morning. The boat was heaving worse than ever, and I got up well before sun rise, opened the curtains and was met by an angry sea: frothy white caps, a howling wind picking up seawater and blasting it at the side of the ship, and a driving rain.

I couldn't sleep, so I grabbed my Sony Reader, which I loaded with books before leaving, and went up to the Lido Deck for coffee, convinced I was the only soul stirring on the boat. I arrived to find a collection of elderly gentleman already there, reading and drinking coffee. I settled down with a latte, a smoked salmon sandwich and my book and thought about the considerable pleasures of rising early.

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Cruising the Pacific, Gear, Spa Life, STUNTS

Day 9: Rough Seas, Smooth Skin

Rough seas for the 80 Days or Bust blogger
Neptune mixes it up

Tracker1312, thanks to your instructions on how to read my GPS, I can now tell you that I am at: N28 48.505 by W133 36.604, or so my Garmin tells me. Whether this constitutes genuine knowledge on my part is a matter of debate. Fortunately, all I have to do is press the "page" button and a map appears, showing me as a little pink triangle somewhere between LA and Hawaii, pointed west. There is nothing like a nice colorful drawing to appeal to the simpleminded.

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Gear, Preparation, STUNTS, Video

The Gear

Editor's Note:  Before Mark set off on his trip around the world, he provided Conde Nast Traveler with a shopping list of items that he would need to stay blogging.  The list included: a MacBook Pro and an Internet card for connectivity, a digital camera, a Palm Treo 680, an 80-gig iPod (pre-loaded with Shakira*), and enough batteries and adaptors to power a small village.  We gladly obliged with the caveat that Mark blog as often as possible.  So far, so good.

Below, Mark offers a tour of his gear bag.

*We're kidding about Shakira. 

Food and Drink, Gear, STUNTS, United States

Day 2: Endless Nebraska

Day 2: Endless Nebraska
Illustration by Graham Roumieu

We pulled out of Chicago yesterday morning a little later than we should  have. Rush hour was in full swing, which wasn't such a bad thing, because Chicago has to have one of the finest looking downtowns in America. The buildings are stately, yet beautiful, and it all seems to have been laid out coherently--not as haphazard as New York City.  In all, we saw a lot more of downtown Chicago than we should have because our trip computer, who had been reliable up until this point, got pretty confused. She had us driving in circles, turning right down one way streets, and told us to pull onto highway on-ramps that were a hundred feet above our head.

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Gear, STUNTS, United States

Day 2: Thoughts of John Wayne in Iowa

I am writing from I-80, just west of Des Moines, Iowa. Half an hour back, the traffic was all stopped on the eastbound side, and there was a guy in jeans trying to coral a big pig off the paved shoulder, but the pig seemed to like it just fine where he was. About 300 yards further down the road, we passed a school bus filled with convicts.  The theme of the day, it would seem, is forcible confinement.

I am sending this to you thanks to a miracle of technology known as the Novatel Merlin XU870 ExpressCard. I popped it in my MacBook Pro expecting there to be some long and drawn out installation process that would result, two hours later, in a drained  battery and a guy on the phone from Bangladesh telling me I had a hardware problem. Instead, it just started working. I am reading the latest wire headlines--a real shame about that verdict, Scooter--while following a Pegler Sysco semi.

We just passed Desoto, Iowa, birthplace of John Wayne. My mother can't stand John Wayne Movies, though I've never seen one all the way through. If it came down to a gunfight, though, I'm pretty sure Clint Eastwood could take him.

About the journey, Gear, STUNTS

What a Long Strange Trip it's Going to Be

Packing up for my 80 Days or Bust journey
Hopefully I won't have to dip into the Imodium too much

I am less than a week away from leaving on a trip around the world, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep the following vision from running through my head: I am in outer Mongolia being pursued by a pack of wild dogs, all of whom are frothing at the mouth. As I scramble across the uneven frozen terrain, the pack gains on me. It's raining and the grey light of day is getting weak.

Two months ago, I visited a travel clinic so that I could be inoculated against some of the diseases that still rage across various parts of the globe like scarlet fever, polio, pertussis (something I'd never heard of, but involves a lot of coughing), hepatitis, the measles, what have you. I received seven shots, and I am just now able to lift each arm above the shoulder again. But there was one shot I did not get, because it cost $500: rabies. The doctor asked me about my route, and eventually narrowed his inquiry to this: Will you be hiking in rural Asia? I said that I would. He went on to inform me that there are a lot of stray dogs in Asia, and that rabies is a much bigger problem there than it is here. Then he told me the price. "Do you know anyone who'd ever gotten rabies in Asia?" I asked. He said no, so I politely declined the shot. I was on my way back to the car, not more than 30 feet from the clinic, when the wild-dogs-in-Mongolia visions began.

Continue reading "What a Long Strange Trip it's Going to Be" »

About this blog
The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

Twitter: CNTraveler
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