I do believe that having the right equipment in life makes life easier.
There is no “best” equipment. I try to find equipment that is 80% ‘good enough’ for my needs— and try to settle. This has helped me find a lot more contentment in my life, as well as less stress and frustration.
I have the problem that I’m always searching for the ‘best’ travel equipment, the ‘best’ cameras, and the ‘best’ travel clothing. Here is a list of what has best worked for me:
Currently, the Ricoh GR II is the only camera I have with me on my travels. For me, it is the perfect travel camera— it is small, has a big sensor (APS-C), fits in my front pocket, and I can charge it directly with a USB-like chord.
I think the thing that is most important for me to optimize for is weight. I want the lightest thing possible. The lighter I am, the more nimble I am, and the less fatigue I feel when traveling.
As of now, I don’t know of a lighter camera than the Ricoh GR II with the image quality. I know there are ‘better’ cameras than the Ricoh GR II — but all are heavier, bigger, or less compact.
I’ve experimented with a lot of backpacks and camera shoulder bags over the years. As of now, the ThinkTank Perception 15 is my ‘perfect’ camera backpack.
As a blogger, I always need my laptop with me. It fits my 13’’ MacBook Pro (late 2015), my camera, and is big enough to shove in my jackets, other accessories, and also Cindy’s stuff (I also carry her 13’’ MacBook Air in my backpack when we’re traveling).
The thing I love most about the ThinkTank Perception 15 is how there is a compartment on top of the backpack to put in your cameras and other valuables, to prevent it from being squashed. Not only that, but the zippers are tough, I’ve traveled it for the last 1.5 years, and nothing has broken. The black has faded a bit (looks more purple now), but it is the perfect backpack for me as of now.
I currently use the 13’’ MacBook Pro (late 2015). It has the maxed-out processor, maxed-out ram (16GB), and the middle-range 512GB hard drive.
Part of me wishes I had the 12’’ MacBook (the super light one)— but I still am glad I got the 13’’ MacBook Pro. For me, it is useful because it has an HDMI port (I often connect my laptop to external monitors or projectors when doing workshops or doing talks), because it has USB ports (still useful), and an SD card reader (very easy to import my Ricoh GR II files).
It is pretty heavy (compared to my old 11’’ MacBook air, which got stolen in Paris summer of 2015), but I like the retina screen, and the all-day battery life.
Also it is damn fast— which allows me to quickly look through my photos in Lightroom. And it has been useful for exporting videos I recorded on my GoPro in the past, as well as exporting ebooks I put together in the iBooks Author tool.
If I could buy a new laptop today, I would probably get the new 13’’ MacBook Pro (non-touchbar), or the 12’’ MacBook. But I hope to own my current laptop as long as possible, until it slows down (probably good for at least 4-5 years).
When I’m traveling, this is what has best worked for me:
I travel with 2 pairs of each, so each night I wash them in the shower, wring them, and hang-dry them (usually are dry overnight).
The secret of travel clothing is this — don’t wear any cotton (at least for your under-garments). Cotton takes forever to dry. Non-cotton synthetic materials dry super-fast.
As with ‘normal’ clothes, I am currently wearing:
- UNIQLO cotton button-up (black) – comfortable, and makes me look less of a slob
- UNIQLO men’s denim leggings joggers (black) — super stretchy, and look like somewhat normal pants
- Nike Flyknit Air Force 1 high-top (I loved my Nike Flyknit RN Motion shoes, but recently bought these in Seoul after an ingrown toenail problem)
- UNIQLO ultralight down jacket with hood (super compact, lightweight, and kept me warm in Tokyo/Seoul)
- NorthFace ‘Summit series’ jacket (works as a waterproof outside shell, owned this the last 2-3 years — good in the rain or the wind)
Also some accessories which are useful:
- ”Bedtime bliss’ Eye Mask (find it helps me sleep better in evenings — this is the best eye mask I’ve ever used, as it doesn’t add pressure to your eyes)
- ‘Mack’s’ Ear plugs (Vietnam is loud–and these brands are comfortable in the ear, and block out a ton of noise)
These are my travel ‘essentials’ as of the moment. I’m trying to reduce weight whenever possible — so I hope my future travel equipment to be even more minimalist.
For the MacBook, my favorite programs are:
- IA Writer: currently use this as my word-processor, to type up all my blog posts (even this one)
- Evernote: I have a paid subscription to this, which allows me to sync my notes from smartphone/laptop
- Dropbox: Have pro version (1TB), and keep all my photos and files synced on the cloud
- Adobe Lightroom: Still haven’t found a better program to quickly choose my favorite photos and post-process them — and use my own Eric Kim Lightroom Presets on the RAW Ricoh GR II photos (use the Monochrome 1600 preset the most).
- JPEG Mini Pro: The maker gave me a free version of it, and I love it. I optimize my large JPEG images to upload to my blog, or resize them to 2000px (wide) easily. Probably the most amazing tool for a blogger.
Less is more
When it comes to travel equipment (or anything in life) — less is more.
Things which I used to think were ‘essential’ in traveling, but weren’t — include the following:
- iPad (using a smartphone is more compact, and using a laptop is better for ‘real’ work)
- Kindle (instead of using the Kindle, I read ebooks on my smartphone with the Kindle app, or on my laptop with the Kindle app — or iBooks for .epub books on the laptop)
- Shorts (I prefer long-pants, even in hot weather)
- Noise-cancelling headphones (The Bose QC 15 are amazing— but I don’t spend enough time on planes anymore to justify them. Using ear-plugs are more compact, lighter, and easier)
- GoPro (very nice to have, but I’ve found recording on the smartphone is easier — with built-in image stabilization, and easy to upload directly to YouTube. However I might start using the GoPro again to start making more videos)
Of course technology and equipment is always changing. But the general premise is to always have less equipment than you think when it comes to traveling.
One of my favorite stories of Diogenes (Cynic philosopher) is when he saw a boy drinking water out of his hands, Diogenes took the cup out of his sack and threw it to the ground, breaking it, and saying: “Fool I have been, carrying superfluous luggage with me!”
So for me, I’m always trying to subtract superfluous luggage from myself. Superfluous luggage in terms of my travel equipment, and also superfluous emotional luggage (regrets and sadness from the past). I’m trying to adopt a more ‘ultralight’ lifestyle— which I hope helps me live a fuller and more productive life.
The smartphone is probably the ultimate tool
I think for most people, the smartphone is probably the ultimate travel tool. You can shoot all your photos on it, use Google Maps on it, write on it, read books on it, and upload and share your photos online.
But for me, I still prefer my older tools — a laptop is easier for me to write (physical keyboard) to flesh out my ideas and thoughts.
I still prefer a stand-alone camera, because it fits easier in my hands, and I prefer using it over a smartphone camera (unless I am taking snapshots of my food).
I prefer a backpack over a shoulder-bag because it is less strain on my shoulders. And I wear all black because it shows less dirt and coffee stains when I’m on the road, and I don’t have to stress out about what to wear during the day.
But as great as the smartphone is — I recommend to try to spend as little time on your phone as possible when traveling. I feel the purpose of traveling should be to disconnect from the internet, social media, and life back home — to dwell in the moment, and enjoy all the unique sights around you.
As for me, I’m still (unfortunately) a slave to my phone. But each day, I am trying to make my phone my slave. This means only using my phone when I need it (to call an Uber, use Google Maps), and to keep it off when I don’t need it (which is probably 90% of the time).
But the ultimate ‘tool’ for me is probably coffee— the only thing to motivate me to write. I would prefer a life without coffee (because I’m an utter addict, and it often interrupts my sleep patterns), but screw it— I prefer working in coffee shops, and I still like the ritual of drinking this ancient black-liquid nectar of the Gods.
And of course, Vietnam is coffee heaven (and cafe heaven).
Where am I?
As I write these words, I’m currently at a coffee shop with my family (Cindy, myself, my mom, and Cindy’s mom). We’re currently in Hue, the food capital of Vietnam. Everyone knows that Hue food is the best Vietnamese food (even the locals admit this) — because of the more complex flavors (the food is sweeter, spicier, and more flavorful). I find Hue to be nice and peaceful, love the authentic market here, and there are fewer tourists here compared with the rest of Vietnam. If you even plan on coming to Vietnam, I highly recommend Hue).
Afterwards we’re going to Hoi An (for the New Year ‘Tet’ holiday). Then our moms are going back to the states, and Cindy and I are heading back to Hanoi. Going to do my week-long Hanoi Sapa Workshop (very excited for this), then Cindy and I need to find another apartment or place to live in. We’re going to be in Hanoi until around June, when we move down to Saigon.
Cindy and I are very pleased to share that Haptic Industries is doing very well — selling a lot of ‘Street Notes’, ‘Photo Journal’, and Henri Wrist Strap and Henri Neck Strap. Thank you so much for your support— it is helping us make our living while living abroad, and while I’m teaching fewer workshops.
The wonderful thing about living in Vietnam is that the living expenses are so low (usually street food is only $1 a meal, for great food), and rent is cheap. And coffee is around 80 cents.
Yet, there is still the anxiety I feel about when I move back to the states — when living expenses will probably go up at least 10x. But still, I know that I have nothing to worry about when it comes to money — yet the fear still remains. I hope to constantly work harder to find inner-peace and tranquility when it comes to not worrying about money.
I just added a new Saigon ‘Conquer Your Fears’ Workshop (June 24-25th, 2017) — if you want to travel and visit me in Saigon, experience the amazing local culture and food, and to (of course) build your confidence in street photography.
Below is the current tentative workshop schedule for 2017:
- February 8-13: Hanoi to Sapa Travel Experience
- May 27-28: Tokyo Conquer Your Fears – TBD
- June 24-25: Saigon Conquer Your Fears Workshop
- September 20-24: Tokyo Travel Experience – TBD
Also for any questions about any upcoming workshops, returning student discounts, or student-discounts, you can contact my manager email@example.com
Thank you for always listening to my random ramblings, and keeping me company for this journey overseas. I hope to continue to share useful findings with you, and also share my life with you.
Hue, Vietnam Tuesday Jan 24, 2017 — about to order another espresso. Enjoying the slight drizzling rain, and hope to get some more great Hue food for lunch.