Posts Tagged customs

Packing List Reflection

Early in our 30/40 World Tour, I posted a list of what I packed.  Since our return, one of my readers asked how well those items worked for me as I traveled.  Did I use all of it?  Was anything missing?

Overall, I think we did a good job of packing useful items.  We brought versatile clothing that got used over and over despite the variable climates.  Since we didn’t hang around the same people for more than a couple of days, no one knew that we had such limited outfit choices!

Electronics

Netbook in New Plymouth

Ms. HalfEmpty using her netbook at the art gallery café in New Plymouth, New Zealand

Our electronics served us well.  The netbook was a great size to tote around and jump on the internet when we had access.  Of course, you know that we used our digital camera throughout the trip, as evidenced on this blog.

The all-in-one travel adapter that we bought at the airport was amazing.  That one compact adapter worked in every country we visited.  Plus, the USB port was perfect for charging the iPod.

We didn’t realize we would need a USB charger, but it came in handy.  Since we used our Mac at home to load the iPod, the Windows netbook wanted to reformat the iPod each time we plugged it in.  Charging with the travel adapter was a much better option and prevented inadvertent data loss.

Thankfully, we did not experience a netbook crash or theft, so we didn’t really need our external hard drive.  But I was glad we had an extra copy of all our photos, just in case.

The audio splitter was great when we were standing in airport lines.  Mr. HalfFull and I passed the time listening to an audiobook or podcast together.  You might ask why we didn’t each use our own iPod.  The answer is that we found it fun to have this shared experience.  It’s like watching a movie or play with someone; you vibe off their reactions and can discuss it together afterward.

I can still remember Mr.HalfFull and I laying on a hammock together on a small Fijian island listening to The Art of Mindful Living.  At one point in the recording, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the sun overhead and the rustling of the trees before he ends the meditation with a gong.  We were completely in the moment underneath the sway of the palm trees, experiencing the gentle swing of the hammock.  Maybe we weren’t as hopeless as originally suspected after our meditation class.

Paper

The passports and tickets were essential since we didn’t travel with a printer.  I actually ended up having to boot up my netbook at certain customs counters to prove that we had plans to leave the country.

The only paper I started out needing, but grew out of was my checkbook register.  Yep, I went spreadsheet digital!

Wallet

Our International Student Identification Cards (ISIC) were invaluable!  We used them to get all sorts of discounts throughout the trip.

Clothes

Ms. HalfEmpty @ Sofitel

The extent of Ms. HalfEmpty’s ability to “dress up” at Restaurant V at Sofitel in Fiji

I think we did pretty well with clothes.  Everything served multiple purposes and was reused throughout the trip.  My dress and scarf allowed me to dress up a bit, however, we did have a few instances when we felt a bit underdressed.

This gave Mr. HalfFull the opportunity to get closer to my uncle, who he’s never met, by borrowing his shoes and a button-down shirt!  But I don’t really think it would have been practical for Mr. HalfFull to have packed those items; dress shoes are heavy and button-down shirts wrinkle.

I also felt underdressed with my shoe selection at times.  But if I could only have two pairs of shoes, I picked the right ones.  Sporty sandals weren’t the ideal dressy compliment, but the crisscross design helped provide a little elegance.

Luggage

Palisades Park

Duffel bags also double as pillows at nap time

Our duffel bags were great!  It was easy to see the stuff inside when unzipped, plus we could clip wet stuff or shoes easily on the outside.  But it was also useful to have a small day pack for the airplane and daily outings.

Toiletries

Towels are generally big bulky items.  I didn’t think we would need towels on our trip, but some of our pre-trip information was incorrect and neither of our small Fijian islands provided towels.  So our towel in pouch purchase was perfect!

Our list of toiletry items looks ridiculously long, but many of the items were thrown in because we already had them and they met our size requirements.  I ended up loving the Crabtree & Evelyn grapefruit scented shower mousse.  I don’t think I ever would have purchased such a thing, but it was a gift.  It always smelled so fresh and the pump produced a perfect lather without a loofah or washcloth (items I did not have).  Plus, it was an enclosed container which was easier to transport than a wet bar of soap.

maxi liner

Fun facts on maxi pad liners purchased in New Zealand

We didn’t end up finishing all of the toiletries we brought, but there were others (like deodorant, hair gel, feminine products, and SPF face lotion) that we had to replenish during the trip.  The one downside of transferring your liquids into smaller reusable bottles is that you still have to carry those empty little bottles back if you want to keep them, which is the point of reuse.  It’s a lot less eco-friendly, but more space-friendly, to buy travel size bottles and chuck them when empty.

I rarely wore makeup on the trip, but I was glad I had my little samples for nights out on the town.

Other

I wanted to do sink laundry often since I only had 3 pairs of underwear.  So I wish we had brought more laundry detergent, as it’s rather difficult to buy in small quantities.  We ended up buying a whole box in Sydney, filling our little travel bottles, and leaving the rest for the next occupant.  I’m not sure if there is a good solution for this since we didn’t want to carry around the extra weight.

Ms. HalfEmpty eats breakfast

Ms. HalfEmpty eats cereal by headlamp

The headlamps were critical!  I’ve never used one before and thought they were only for spelunkers.  I didn’t understand why I would need anything other than a flashlight.  But the headlamp was invaluable for walking to the bathrooms in the dark while carrying a towel and toiletries.  Plus, who wants to hold a flashlight when you are in the stall?  It also made toothbrushing much easier.  Headlamps are hands-free lights for people who need to get stuff done!

The only thing we really didn’t use was the metal cage and lock.  The original plan was to use the cage to enclose the duffel bags and secure them to a permanent fixture when left unattended in our various rooms.  But we always ended up in private rooms because I’m not much for roughing it.  We did try to use the contraption once, but it seemed like more trouble than it was worth.  The metal cage was quite heavy and is probably the only thing I wish we hadn’t brought in retrospect.

Verdict

I think we did a great job packing.  Aside from one heavy, bulky item, we used everything in our bags.  No half empty judgements here!

  • Do you usually pack too much or exactly what you need?
  • What are your essential items?
  • Do you pack to be prepared for any occasion from casual to elegant?
  • How do you do laundry when you travel?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Dubai Whirlwind

Yoga in the Desert

Mr. HalfFull and I arrived in Dubai at 4:25 AM for the start of our 36-hour whirlwind tour of the United Arab Emirates.

You may be wondering why we spent less than 2 days in Dubai.  Valid question.

Travel Plans

We wanted to minimize airport layovers during the 30/40 World Tour.  But sometimes there are no direct flights.  Usually, we were able to make week-long layovers in a separate country, as we did in Fiji and New Caledonia.  But sometimes it just didn’t work out.

International flights only entered and departed Mauritius on Wednesdays, so that was a limiting factor.  The original plan was to fly from Mauritius to Munich to visit my cousins, and the best flight was via Air Emirates with a layover in Dubai.

We really had no intention of visiting the desert in the middle of the summer.  But my mom’s cousin, Sir Expat, a British gentleman (in the most chivalrous sense of the word) living in Dubai was willing to host us!  He has lived there for years, speaks Arabic, and has a car and an extra bedroom.  What more could we ask for?

We figured we could handle 104° temperatures for 36 hours and booked the layover.  It turned out to be a great decision!

Dubai Airport

Ms. HalfEmpty at the baggage claim in the Dubai airport

Airport

We experienced one of our best flights on Air Emirates and arrived in Dubai very early in the morning.  The UAE customs agent was perhaps the least friendly we encountered.  He didn’t seem to think traveling around the world was a valid reason to visit Dubai.  Perhaps it was because we were spending such little time in his country.  But after some stern looks, he stamped our passports.

The airport was expansive and modern with cultural touches.  For example, there were huge rugs with cushions and trunks in various locations like baggage claim.

Please don’t blow up the picture and look at my sleepy expression after our red-eye flight.  I kept wanting to cuddle up on those cushions while waiting for my luggage.  But after the encounter with the customs agent, I thought it was probably best to wait for an invitation before sullying a ceremonial area.

Despite being before 5 AM, Sir Expat was waiting for us at the airport to shuttle us back to his flat.  As we stepped outside the heavily air-conditioned airport, the blast of heat hit me.  The sun wasn’t even up and we were in a covered parking garage.  What had I gotten myself into?

Sir Expat asked if we wanted to drive with the top down.  Ordinarily, this would have been a rare treat.  But it just seemed too hot.  How does anyone drive with their top down in Dubai???  I guess they can only do it in the dark before 5 AM in the summer.

Driving Tour

Driving in Dubai

Driving toward Atlantis, The Palm Resort

Thankfully, Sir Expat invited us to nap for a few hours before setting out to see the city.  The city is filled with skyscrapers and lush manicured lawns surrounded by desert sand.  It is decidedly non-environmental.  But it’s an architect’s dream.

One of the trends in the UAE is land reclamation.  Basically, they create more land by filling in the sea.  But they don’t just dump the rock and sand in a circle or rectangle.  Of course not!  This is Dubai.  They do things big.

No Boat Parking

It seems like they are really big on rules in Dubai!  (In case you can’t make it out, those are a bunch of boats around the No Parking For Boats sign.)

Dubai is home to the Palm Islands, where each man-made island is in the shape of a palm tree — a tree trunk with a crown of fronds surrounded by a separate crescent-shaped island.  The original plan was to create 10 islands, but the real estate bust hit and they only completed 3.

Sir Expat drove us to the first palm island — Palm Jumeirah.  The trunk is populated with apartment buildings, while the fronds are filled with private villas.  We drove through an underwater tunnel to reach the crescent island that surrounds the palm and is home to Atlantis, The Palm Resort.

Armadillo Subway Station

View of the subway station on the left nicknamed “The Armadillo” because of its color, shape, and scale-like exterior

The next artificial island project in progress is World Islands, which will be a map of the world in the ocean.  How crazy is that?  We were able to see some of the progress looking down from the top of Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world.  But I wasn’t really able to make out any specific country.  Pretty soon, I guess you will be able to say that you live in Japan — Japan Island off the coast of Dubai!

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Mr. HalfFull and Sir Expat marvel at the architecture in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Next on the tour, Sir Expat shuttled us to Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a traditional Arabian souk with wind towers and lantern lit hallways.  It’s filled with boutique shops and restaurants throughout the beautifully adorned hallways.  We sat down to enjoy iced coffee and a snack before proceeding on our 36-hour whirlwind tour.  Plus, it provided a great view of another architectural icon — Burj al Arab.

Burj al Arab

Sir Expat found the perfect photo-op location to capture Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull with the Burj al Arab

Remember how I told you about the heat? It’s so hot that it’s illegal to labor outside between noon and 3 PM. Sounds a bit like Spanish siesta time, but I’m not sure that’s the custom. I’ll tell you more about my Spanish siestas when I update you on our trip to Spain in a post to come.

Dubai Creek

Ms. HalfEmpty along Dubai Creek with the sacks of goods and crazy painted boats

Sir Expat also took us for a drive along Dubai Creek where we were able to see the import/export business. We saw fleets of decrepit multicolored boats that didn’t look especially seaworthy. But apparently, these ships travel back and forth from Dubai to India carting all sorts of goods including refrigerators, car parts, and sacks of unknown goods. It was crazy to see stacks of all these items along the shore. I was only out there for a few minutes before I was too hot to move — and I wasn’t even lifting goods!

Shopping Mall

Dubai International Mall

Look at the tile work on the ceiling of the mall!

Since it’s so hot in Dubai, malls are a favorite hangout. These malls are magnificent…if you like that sort of thing. I don’t really find malls to be exceptional havens of culture, but when in Dubai, do as the Emiratis.

Dubai International Mall (Spain section)

Ms. HalfEmpty and Sir Expat walk around inside the mall designed to look like Spain at night

We visited a couple impressive malls over our 36 hours. One had each section decorated in the style of a different part of the world – China, India, Persia, Egypt, Spain, etc. It was almost like a museum. We saw ships, elephants, and impressive tile mosaic work. Don’t worry, the mall has stores and restaurants too. I even saw appropriate Muslim swimwear for women.

Mulism Swimwear

Ms. HalfEmpty finds swimwear for Muslim women

Matt wanted to hold my hand in the mall.  Ordinarily, this would not have been an issue, but Dubai has fairly strict PDA rules.  In fact, Sir Expat told us about a recent case where a British couple was jailed for kissing in a restaurant.  I only had 36 hours; I couldn’t end up in jail!  When Mr. HalfFull tried to be funny and touch my booty in the mall, I just about lost it. Why is he such a rule flaunter?

Desert Safari

What trip to Dubai would be complete without a desert safari? Sir Expat booked us on a tour at the hotel next door. He knows about everything!

Mr. HalfFull, Sir Expat and I piled into a Land Cruiser with our driver, Ahmed, for the drive out to the dunes. First there was a stop at the gas station so we could caravan to the dunes with the rest of the fleet of Land Cruisers. Little did we know how important it would be to have those other cars with us.

Sand Dune Driving

Roller coaster ride through the sand dunes

Before driving on the dunes, each SUV pulled over to let air out of the tires for optimal sand driving conditions. Of course, I sat in the front seat to truly experience the thrill of the drive. It was a bit like a roller coaster, but without the safety features. At any time, this SUV could flip over. I’m not sure my already battered neck appreciated the ride, but how could we not do it?

Climbing up the Sand Dune

Sir Expat lends a hand to Ms. HalfEmpty as she ascends a sand dune. It was a workout!

Remember how I told you that my mom would have freaked out on the narrow, curvy roads along cliffs in Australia? I’m not sure she would have survived the sand dunes. She’s the type of person who would grab the “oh sh!t” handle in a car on a normal drive and use her pretend passenger brake pedal. But even I was grabbing the “oh sh!t” handle on the sand dunes. I’m not sure I would have been able to stay in my seat otherwise!

Sand Dune Jumping

Mr. HalfFull gets mad air

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned how being in a fleet of vehicles turned out to be a good thing. Our driver had only been driving the dunes for 6 months. One of the keys to driving on the dunes is never, I repeat NEVER, drive along the top ridge of the dune.  Or you will get stuck!  Like we did.

Our Land Cruiser was straddling the top of the sand dune with the undercarriage resting on the sand and the wheels touching nothing.  Ahmed tried several times to move, but we were stuck.  Fortunately, another vehicle from our group was nearby.  We all hopped out while they towed our Land Cruiser (in case it tipped over).  The first time, the belt came loose.  But eventually, our wheels were back on the sand.

Dining Bedouin Style

Sir Expat and Mr. HalfFull dine Bedouin-style at a low table in the desert

We drove further into the desert until we reached the camp.  There, Mr. HalfFull and I rode a camel together.  It was pretty much what I expected until it was over and the camel made an abrupt drop down.  Perhaps they should have told us to hold on.  But this was more about adventure than safety.

The camp was also our dinner location at low tables surrounding a stage.  Apparently, the camel knew where the food was too.  After we all got through the appetizer line and the camel rides were over, the camel decided he would enter the walls of the camp and help himself to a few hors d’oeuvres as well!

Henna Tattoo

Ms. HalfEmpty shows off her “poop finger” tattoo

I also got a henna tattoo in the camp.  My original idea was to get my name in Arabic, but the woman doing the tattoos didn’t know Arabic.  Instead, she had her own style of tattoo swirls.  It all looked fine and dandy until she got to the end of my finger close to my nail.  Instead of a nice elegant line, there was a blob of paint.  For the rest of the trip, Matt called it “poop finger.”  Of course, “poop finger” was the darkest and therefore, the last part of the tattoo to wear off.

Burj Kalifa

Burj Kalifa

Mr. HalfEmpty and Ms. HalfFull pose outside the Burj Kalifa

Sir Expat made us a reservation to go to the top of the Burj Kalifa on our final day.  Yes, it’s the same building of the Tom Cruise stunt in Mission:  Impossible — Ghost Protocol.  We only went on the inside of the building, Tom was on the outside.  Minor difference.

Gold Machine

Mr. HalfFull discovers the gold vending machine at the top of the Burj Kalifa

Have you ever seen a gold vending machine?  We encountered one at the top of the Burj Kalifa.  It only takes cash and this one contained gold nuggets in the shape of the building.  So it’s a souvenir AND and an investment!  No, we didn’t actually buy gold to cart around in our duffels.

The entrance to the Burj Kalifa is actually in a sprawling shopping mall.  So after our building tour, we walked around our second mall of the trip.  This one had a wing of super high-end stores, an aquarium, and a skating rink!  One of the most interesting things for me to witness was women in full veils, with nothing showing but their eyes, eating in restaurants.  I’m not sure I would even want to eat out if I was so encumbered.

Apparently, we also exported Kim Kardashian to this Dubai mall.  There was a larger-than-life poster announcing her appearance at the grand opening of a new milkshake shop in the mall.  Aren’t they lucky!

Kim Kardashian at the Mall

Ms. HalfEmpty poses next to Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, La Toya Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Pamela Anderson, and the larger-than-life Kim Kardashian in the mall

After our final mall adventure it was time to grab our bags and head to the airport for our afternoon flight.  Dubai reminded me a bit of Vegas.  Both are deserts filled with skyscrapers and the craziest things.  When considering if they should build the next outlandish feature, they probably ask why not rather than why.

  • Excluding airport-only layovers, what’s the shortest amount of time you’ve spent in a country? 
  • Have you found customs agents to be generally friendly or gruff?  Did the length of your stay matter?
  • Have you visited super hot climates?  How did you fare?
  • What crazy things have you seen in a shopping mall?
  • Have you ever required a tow out of an unusual place?
  • What atypical item have you acquired from a vending machine?
  • What American “exports” have you been surprised to see overseas?
  • How do you feel about turning a desert into a lush, green oasis with air-conditioned skyscrapers?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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