Travellers’ checklist in asian countries (4)

When you travel in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka or India, some things are pretty much inevitable. You’ll fall for at least one tour guide – such insight, sensitivity and wit. You’ll tip unwisely, bestow precious gifts, resolve to keep in touch – resisting the knowledge that to you they were one out of the box, but to them you were one in a million.Travellers’ checklist in asian countries (4)

You’ll succumb to at least one unwise ethnic clothing purchase, telling yourself you’re showing cultural respect. But you’ll look like another over-excited wannabe, and even sillier back home. You’ll get bored with haggling. Anyway, it isn’t that clever. Remember, when you triumphantly slash 200 rupees off the price of a pashmina or 20,000 dong off a tuk-tuk ride, you’ve saved your- self about the cost of a cup of coffee and denied a family a meal.

You’ll tire – soon, I hope – of sniggering at clumsy translations, typos and mispronunciations. It helps to recall the hash you made of Thiruvananthapuram. Okay, you’re allowed to enjoy two. Mineare Nazi goreng and lawful attorney. Yes, you’ll find the driving as scary and chaotic as predicted. But then you’ll see its subtle synchronicity, the care shown for everyone else on the road,including you as you teeter across the street. You’ll wonder how New Zealand drivers would manage here – and why, if we are so orderly and regulated, driving at home is so fraught.

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On long drives you’ll be tempted to check the guide book. Resist the urge. After all, you’ve paid a local to show you around. And if a guide suggests a “sight” that isn’t mentioned in Lonely Planet, go for it – unless it’s another jewellery factory. You’ll be impressed by the fervour of national anniver- saries. Liberation, independence and peace are celebrated with flags and parades in every village. There are disturbing history lessons, especially as it was often all about cardamom. Politics back home will seem like a spat in a playcentre.

Unless you drink only cocktails or scotch, you’ll be lucky to find your favourite tipple. There will be lager, but it’s more fun to drink local red wine. Only you won’t find wine on drinks lists, so be patient when waiters look panicked – they’re wondering why anyone would drink that stuff while they eat.

In bars, you’ll come to love badminton with your beer. Anything played with an oval ball is well down the list – way behind table tennis, boxing, volleyball and kabaddi. And any game played by Lionel Messi or Man United. When – not if – there’s a power outage, you’ll suffer an intolerable loss of Wi-Fi but romantically resort to candles. Just when you’re losing patience, you’ll hear that the supply was cut to conserve power for the stunning illumination of tonight’s religious festival. But there will always be food. That’s what those battered gas bottles are for.

Travellers’ checklist in asian countries (1)If you won’t eat anything spicy, you’ll suffer sad versions of pasta and grilled sandwiches. Foreigners in Hanoi or Kandy complaining “It was nice, but too spicy” are simply ridiculous. Just eat what the locals cook best. If you don’t like spicy food, go to the Gold Coast again. You’ll look absurd if your camera lens is longer than 5cm. And get that flash under control. Locals placing flowers before a reclining Buddha in a mountain cave ought to be able to do so in the natural gloom – and without having to resist the urge to give you a whack.

It might dawn on you that those glorious vistas were not created for your delight. Terraced tea plantations, shimmering rice paddies, fish markets, vividly painted fishing boats, women fishing waist-deep at low tide and carrying urns of water on their heads – these are all part of an exhausting daily grind. You’ll stop wondering why your driver meekly pays every “village road fee” and buys a raffle ticket “offered” by an army officer. Don’t be tempted to single-handedly resist entrenched customs. Feel reassured by politicians who vow to stamp out corruption – eventually.Travellers’ checklist in asian countries (3)

If you have a health and safety role at work, you’re in for repeated shocks. It’s not just the absence of ear protection, rails on scaffolding, tidily strung power lines – but also the fact that everything works well enough and serves a population that makes Auckland feel like a village. You’ll soon learn to run for cover when you see a stallholder refuse a sale and reach for the blue tarpaulin. There’s no such thing as a light shower of rain.

If you’re a farmer, you’re in for a lesson on intensive land use. Palm oil trees crowd airport runways, rice paddies fill gaps between houses, tea plantations spill onto the shoulders of roads. It’s not the Mackenzie Country. By perverse logic, you’ll find free and reliable in-room Wi-Fi at a tiny guest house up the Mekong River, but pay heftily for the same service when staying in four-star opulence in Kuala Lumpur (or Auckland).

You could develop an unhealthy obsession with laundry. Its cost underlines the economic gap between you and lowly paid locals. Forty cents for undies is top end. A full load could cost NZ$4. And the time it takes to get your undies back, scented and crisply folded, reflects how little sleep they get. In fact, laundry lists are full of helpful shopping information. If ladies’ shorts and trousers aren’t on the list, you shouldn’t wear them in public. The reverse doesn’t necessarily apply – otherwise you’ll be stocking up on lehenga, kebaya and safari suits, which you will regret.

Looking back, you’ll decide that many travellers who write online reviews are nuts. Otherwise excellent places are written off because the shower dripped. It doesn’t occur to them that the staff whose English they whine about speak English far better than New Zealand hospitality workers speak Hindi. And when you’re home, life will suddenly seem so dull you’ll long for a few exotic irritations.

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It’s funny how a tiny, broken piece of plastic can make your shoulders ache like crazy. Say no to misery with these tips.

    No replacement buckle in your repair kit? Use duct tape. Here’s how: If it’s a broken female side, you can often maintain the integrity of the buckle with just a few wraps around the broken spot and still get in and out of the hipbelt. If the male side is busted, you have no choice but to tape the whole thing together firmly. You’ll have to cut yourself free and retape each time you remove your pack. Alternative: If the length of the webbing allows, remove the broken buckles and just knot the webbing together.

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    Pack an aftermarket buckle (available at outdoor stores) sized to fit your particular hipbelt. They come in 1-, 1.5-, and 2-inch sizes to match different types of webbing. You can use a wider buckle on thinner webbing, but not vice versa. Get a quick-attach buckle—there are several brands on the market—because you can fasten them to webbing without sewing. Buckles with friction tabs work great for loose webbing ends; buckles with built-in slits are perfect for webbing that’s sewn closed into a loop.
  3. First, remove the old buckle. You might have to hack away at it with your knife. And you might only have to remove one side of the buckle, depending on the damage.
  4. Slide on the new buckle.

Bad: Snapped tent poles are useless at holding up your shelter. Worse: The rough, sharp end will shred your tent fabric if you don’t get it fixed ASAP. Be a hero: Always, always, always carry a tent pole repair sleeve—a simple aluminum tube sized to fit the diameter of your tent’s poles. Most tents come with one, so no excuses. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Slip the sleeve onto the pole and center it over the break. Sometimes, the pole end might be a little mangled so that the sleeve doesn’t fit over it. Use the pliers on your multitool to pinch the carnage back to round—or something remotely resembling it—then slide the sleeve on and center it over the break.
  2. Duct tape the sleeve firmly in place. That’s it. Send the broken pole back to the manufacturer for a replacement as soon as you get home. No pole sleeve? Really? Use a stick or tent stake to make a splint and duct tape it into place. Use a lot of duct tape, both for strength and to protect the tent fabric from jagged metal.

The heel is often the first thing to wear out in a hiking boot, reducing traction and affecting your stride. Here’s an easy way to eke some more miles out of your favorite footwear.

  1. Apply a piece of tape around the perimeter of the worn heel, making a retaining wall to hold liquid rubber.
  2. Stabilize the boot in an upside down position with the sole level. You can prop it up with anything—books, water bottles, whatever.
  3. Squirt a generous bead of FreeSole ( into the cavity. Use a plastic knife or Popsicle stick to feather the adhesive into the rubber, but don’t be a perfectionist because the FreeSole will level itself as it sets. Let it cure for 48 hours and you’ve got a new heel

A popped mattress is every backpacker’s nightmare. Here’s how to save your sleep.

? THE TOOLS You need Seam Grip and a good adhesive patch, like Tenacious Tape ( or Tear-Aid Type A (; don’t get Type B, which only sticks to vinyl).

  1. FIND THE HOLE. Slow leaks can be tough to spot. Inflate the pad as firmly as you can and submerge one end of it in still water—a pool, bathtub, puddle, lake, or an eddy in a creek. If no still water is available, pour water over the pad and look closely for bubbles. Fold over the other end of the pad to create added pressure, and be really patient and meticulous. You’re looking for a little stream of bubbles and sometimes it can be hard to see. Check the whole pad, as there might be more than one leak. Mark any holes with a Sharpie or piece of duct tape. (Sorry, if the seam is leaking, you’re in for a rough night’s sleep.)
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  2. CUT A ROUND PATCH THAT GENEROUSLY COVERS THE HOLE. The patch should extend about ½ inch beyond the puncture. Remove the backing and use it as a palette to mix together some Seam Grip and a few drops of water (which helps speed the curing process). Apply the mixture to the hole, then cover it with the sticky patch. Use firm, even pressure on the patch and squeeze out any air bubbles. If a bit of Seam Grip seeps out, wipe it away. Weight the patch with a heavy rock and let it set for as long as you possibly can before inflating. In other words, if you discover a puncture, get to work first thing in the morning, while your buddies are still asleep. It should be ready for inflation by bedtime.

If your boots have been exposed to excessive heat—like if you’ve ever tried to dry them next to a campfire or blasting radiator—you might eventually run into this problem: a sole delaminating from the upper. Try to catch the problem quickly and fix it right away, because one a sole starts peeling, it’s not going to stop.

? First, wipe down both surfaces with rubbing alcohol and a clean rag to remove any dirt that can get in the way of a good seal. Fill the sole cavity with FreeSole, then join the two parts, securing them with a workshop clamp or a few turns of duct tape.

? Some of the goo will inevitably ooze out of the sides. It’s no big deal (these are hiking boots, after all), but if it bothers you, wipe it away.

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Collapsible poles are versatile, but when their adjustment mechanisms fail, they end up in the trash. Yours won’t; you’re about to learn how to care for—and fix—that vulnerable part.

? Snap-lock poles are a piece of cake because the external adjuster is visible, and it can be tightened or loosened with a few turns of a screwdriver. If the plastic piece actually breaks, contact the manufacturer for a replacement.

? Internal mechanisms are trickier. They can wear out or get gunked up with grit, which causes them to lose tension and slip. Overscrewing can cause them to get out of whack, too. If you’re having problems, just pull out the bottom section until the expander plug is exposed. Give the threads a good scrubbing with a dry toothbrush to remove any grit, and inspect the plastic insert for signs of wear. You might need to replace the plug (contact the manufacturer), but chances are you can now just screw the section back on and you’re good to go.

? NOTE Don’t use soap or water on your poles, as that can lead to corrosion or rust. And you shouldn’t apply lubricants, either, which will just attract more grit.


Canister snobs, listen up: Liquid-fuel stoves are awesome. They burn hot (great for melting snow) and fix it 1 (3)perform at cold temperatures and high altitudes because you can pressurize the fuel bottle as conditions change. But, unlike canister stoves, they need cleaning and trouble-shooting. Keep the owner’s manual packed with your stove until you’ve mastered these fixes.

? PROBLEM You fire up your stove and the flame is erratic and yellow (see left). This generally means you have a clog somewhere.

? SOLUTION Depending on your stove (check the manual) you might be able to just flip it upside-down to release an internal needle that cleans out the jet. (The jet’s tiny hole converts liquid fuel into a fine, burnable mist.) Sometimes this does the trick. No dice? Move to the next step.

? Remove the jet and soak it in some white gas. Insert the cleaning needle (they usually come with the stove; if not, buy the proper maintenance kit from the company). You can also use a toothbrush bristle or a very thin wire. Fire up the stove and see if that works. Still no?

? Time to clean the fuel line. Grab the protruding end and work it in and out of the cable to scour the fuel line. Fire the stove up again. Still got a jumpy flame?

? Flush the fuel line. Remove the jet and the cleaning cable, then reattach the fuel bottle. Lightly pressurize the bottle (15 or so strokes). Place the burner over a catch pan and open the control valve until about 3 or 4 teaspoons of gas drip through the stove. This thoroughly cleans out the pipes and should resolve any lingering problem. Discard gas responsibly.


If you can sew, come over and mend our stuff. For the rest of us, here’s an easy repair technique that works on tent, bag, and apparel fabric. Bonus: It’s a permanent fix that doesn’t hinder your gear’s performance.

  1. Swab the area with an alcohol wipe to remove any dirt. This improves adhesion.
  2. Trim any loose threads.
  3. Cut a patch of Tear-Aid Type A or Tenacious Tape that’s at least ¼ inch larger than the rip on all sides.
    Round the edges to prevent peeling.
  4. Apply the patch to the inner surface and smooth it out from the center to release any air bubbles.
  5. Go the extra yard: Apply a second layer of protection. For a tear, just run a bead of Seam Grip along the patch’s edges and let it cure for 24 hours. For a hole, you can apply a second patch (on the fabric’s opposite side) that matches the first one in shape and size, so that the patches touch in the center and create a stronger bond.
  6. For holes larger than your hand, opt for professional repair. Try the manufacturer or Rainy Pass gear repair (

Good news: You don’t have to do this very often. Bad news: If you never condition leather boots, they’re not going to last. Perform this ritual once a year, or when boots look dried-out and grungy.

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  1. Remove the laces and toss them in the washer.
  2. Fill a bucket with about a half-gallon of water and a boot cleaner like Revivex Boot Cleaner Concentrate ( or a small drop of dish soap. Scrub the uppers aggressively with a toothbrush or vegetable brush. Then rinse them and air dry.
  3. Treat leather with a product like Aquaseal Leather Waterproofing and Conditioner ( Massage in a few thin coats with your fingers (A); let the boots sit for a few hours between coats.
  4. If your boots are made of all synthetic fabric or a mix of fabric and leather, get a spray- or sponge-on treatment from Nikwax ( or ReviveX ( Apply an even coat on the upper, wipe off any drips, and let sit overnight.

? Boost durability Add a toecap. Use a piece of tape to mark off the area you want to protect—about an inch or two from the tip should do it (B). Use sandpaper to scuff up the leather a bit (helps the adhesive soak in). Clean the sanded area with rubbing alcohol. Then paint the toe with Freesole, using a little foam brush. Remove the tape in about half an hour and let the boots cure overnight.