Pre Departure Preparations and Packing Options

Fortunately, I have clever and insightful friends.  Either that, or I am just very stupid, so it only takes marginal levels of intelligence to outwit or impress me.   Sometimes simple solutions are the best ones.

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So the story is this.

I’ve been stressing for some time now about what to take with me to Cambodia.  I want to pack as light as possible.  This is partly because of weight limitations (though they are pretty generous) but mainly because lugging stuff you don’t need around in a hot climate is a really, really bad idea. It gets in the way, it might be lost or stolen, it’s just unwanted stuff that GETS IN THE WAY!

Because I went to Vietnam to teach a couple of years ago I have a reasonable idea of what to take to Cambodia this time.  Less is best.  However, I also know some things are hard to come by.  Sunblock without skin whitening addititives; clothes to accommodate a more erm ‘generously proportioned’ physique, technical shoes for my wide hobbit feet, that kind of thing. Most things though, you can get.  This time I’ll be in a capital city (Phnom Penh) for goodness sake, most things are getable, though prices may be unexpected in both directions.

The main advice for travel packing is I think, lay out everything you want to take, then decide which 50% of your stuff you can leave behind, and try and conjure up twice the money you think you’ll need as whatever you take, you’ll wish you had deeper pockets at some point.  Keeping in mind the first bit of the equation, I have been quite set on taking just one backpack with me.  Most of it will be filled wtih papers to do with my teaching post in Phnom Penh and toiletries, if previous experience is anything to go by.  Clothes don’t take up too much space.  I’ve added in some ‘must have’ items including a range of insect repelling hot weather travel socks.  No really, I’m paranoid about being bitten.  Not only do I not want to get Malaria or Dengue Fever or indeed Japanese Encephalitis, but also I react really badly to bites.  I will be defiantly wearing socks and sandals and challenge me if you dare.  I have actually done an entire blog post about the relative merits of different socks, and even then I had to edit myself down quite significantly!

There are various packing lists availalbe from other travelers, from Intrepid (who I will be doing a tour with before joining my project in Phnom Penh) and CWF who I will be working with – annoyingly they also have a dress code, which adds to my miscellaneous necessary baggage.  Other general advice reminds us that:

Cambodia authorities have issued an official code of conduct for visitors to Angkor Wat and other religious sites regarding dress code, visitors should not wear skirts or shorts above the knee or tops that reveal bare shoulders; visitors not following the dress code are liable to be refused admission to the sites. Please ensure you pack clothing that follow these guidelines.

I’ve been pondering what to take for ages, and making quite brutal decisions about what should stay and would should go.  And it isn’t about taking only ‘what brings me joy’ as de-cluttering gurus would have us do, it is far more about anticipating what I’ll really find difficult to manage without.  One early sacrifice, was all my running gear.  I do sort of run – albeit I am more Hobbit than Hare) and was thinking about joining the Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers when I got there.  Then again, it seemed a bit drinking heavy (Strapline is ‘drinkers with a running problem’ and that’s really not my scene – body a temple and all that).  Also, it’ll be so hot, I’ll be busy with a new job, it’s more stuff to carry.. upshot was, no running gear this time out.

Until… well, until a MIRACLE happened, and I got lucky with a ballot place for the London Marathon 2017!  These are as rare as hens’ teeth and/or dragons’ teeth, which, in case you’ve never been required to source them so you don’t know, are VERY RARE INDEED.  There is no way I can pass over this opportunity. It is a game changer.  I’m now going to have to train in Cambodia.  This is going to be a whole new area of challenge.  As well as stressing over new city, new job, new food, new accommodation etc, I’m going to need to fit in all that training.  Given the humidity and heat I’ll probably have to do a lot of training indoors, but if I do get the opportunity to run outside I’ll need trail shoes, I’ll also need suitable technical clothing that is culturally appropriate.  I’ll need to think about hydration so that’s a backpack of some sort.  Suddenly, my kit list has expanded enormously.  I won’t be able to get decent shoes for my hobbit feet in Phnom Penh – anyway I have perfectly good road and trail shoes to take with me.  The dilemma though is how on earth am I going to fit it all into my one backpack?

I lamented my dilemma with my regular running buddy.  What should I do?  What could I leave behind?  How will I train?  She heard me out with considerable patience, and then said ‘I don’t see why you can’t just take another bag with you?’  Initially, I scoffed at this idea.  Have you ever been backpacking?  Do you not realise it is madness to hoik so much stuff around with you in hot climes?  Later on I thought about it a bit more.  I am going for 4 months.  I will travel a bit for 2 weeks at the beginning, but I check into a respectable Phnom Penh hotel on arrival, and return to the same hotel 2 weeks later to be collected from it by my hosts at CWF.  In fact, as long as I’m under the weight limit for the airlines, I could indeed take along a second piece of luggage and just leave what isn’t needed immediately in the hotel for a couple for weeks.  This means all my teaching papers and books, extra sports clothes, spare toiletries and medical kit that sort of stuff wont need to be carried round with me at all.  I can be incredibly dim.  Why hadn’t this very obvious solutione ever independently come to me? It’s not such a long shot, and you know what, it might just!

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I rang the travel agent to check luggage requirements.  For British Airways, you can only check in one item of hold luggage (max 23kg) but you can also have a cabin bag of up to 7kg dimensions 56cm x 44cm x 25 cm.  The second leg of my flight has lesser allowances, but still a very doable 20kg for the hold and 5 kg cabin bag, plus a ‘handbag’ of some sort.  25kg is a hell of a lot, more than I can probably carry myself, and, as luck would have it, I already have a wheeled cheap and cheerful cabin luggage case so it may be this is problem solved!  I can take my running gear, I will be able to train and, best of all, I wont have to drag all that stuff round Cambodia with me before I start.  Yay.

So, now my hope is I travel with these two luggage items, my cheap and cheerful fake kipling cabin case and my Osprey backpack – I can’t remember what litre capacity it is,b ut it isn’t huge.  It’s very comfy to wear, but not all that capacious and having just one compartment turned out to be quite annoying in Vietnam.  I’m already seeing advantages in being able to split my load so to speak.

In other pre-departure news, I bet you are fascinated in the minuteia of my life two more nice things have happened:

Firstly, Learn4life got in touch re my application ages ago for a job in Siem Reap. They said:

I am so much admired of your work experiences and your qualifications, you are very qualified and such a very great sources to help Cambodian students. To be honest, Cambodia needs someone like you in order to help build Cambodian education system again.

We do need an expert like you.

I read through your resume, and they look so professional. Thank you for coming to help Cambodia education.

If you don’t mind, may i forward your resume to this international school?

Now, granted, their enthusiasm is slightly marred by the fact that they didn’t remember to come back to me to offer me a job earlier in the year once their current volunteers had departed, but on the other hand it is genuinely humbling to be reminded that I am going to a country where hopefully I will have something useful to offer.  I know that it is just an accident of birth rather than any innate skill of mine that makes me  potentially valuable as a resource in Cambodia.  Even so, it is encouraging to be reminded that whatever my misgivings, I do have the potential to do that cliched thing of ‘making a difference’ on my travels.  I felt it in Vietnam and it was a real perspective giver.  It made me really care about doing a good job, and I hope that commitment and enthusiasm will carry me through this time too, when being a stranger in a strange land the going gets tough.  It also suggests the very real possibility that this might not just be a temporary episode in  my life, but rather the springboard to a whole new trajectory.
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I wonder if I will end up moving to Cambodia?  The thought of feeling professionally valued is intoxicating, I feel so lost and crushed in the UK.  Fresh start?  Well, we’ll see.  I mustn’t put too much hope on the transformative potential of a couple of months, but I do want to embark on this adventure with an open mind.  Certainly a job in an international school would be more sustainable that a backpacking existence.  Things like health cover coming as standard.  We shall see.  In fact the school they wanted to pass my details on to is a primary school, and for the secondary school they require a subject specialism, which I don’t have, but hey ho, it’s just an idea, and they have universities in Cambodia too.  I might step out and see what I find…  I’ll come back for the London Marathon of course, and to set things straight in the UK, but then, well…. who knows.  Never say never…
The second thing that happened that made me feel a flood of warmth about how fantastically nice people can be, was the story about my local garage and what I’m going to do about my car.  The issue is, I’m away for 4 months over winter, and my car will be standing idle.  Whilst I’m away, the MOT falls due, and I’m worried about the legality of leaving it parked up.  Anyway, long story short, I rang my garage.  Not only have they reassured me it’ll be fine to bring it in for an MOT when I’m back as long as it’s off road and booked in before.  What’s more, as I’m local.  They’ll nip round to mine to disconnect the car battery and park it up so that hopefully it can just start up OK when work needs to be done (though they’ll pick it up for me anyway to service).  Aren’t they just brilliant!  This is the same Sheffield garage who took me out for a drive in my new-to-me automatic that was jerking a lot on the hills just to check it was OK and at NO CHARGE.  They are just really, really decent guys.  It’s not like I can even recommend new customers to them by way of thanks as they have more work than they can cope with anyway, I just think they take a pride in what they do.   Isn’t that great.  They also said (top tip) if it is on flat ground, leave it parked in neutral without the handbrake on to avoid it seizing up.  It is safe with automatics apparently, though I will find a couple of bricks just in case!

So, what with the nice welcome from a school in Cambodia, the nice man at the garage, the lovely members of my local running club who have been incredibly supportive (also a bit incredulous too, but I am as well) of my London Marathon luck, and living where I do with the Peak District on my doorstep today I feel unusually blessed.  All is right with the world.

Don’t worry, I’m probably still just a bit London Marathon Lottery happy today.  This current out of character cheeriness will soon wear off, and my normal cycnicism will be restored and usual service will be resumed before you even noticed I have been off-message.  In the meantime though, let’s seize the moment, and enjoy the view.  Thanks Mr Carman it’s one of yours!

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