travel tips

Proof that we are NOT Crazy!

Two years ago when we started telling our friends and family that we were selling everything we owned, quitting our jobs, and that we were moving to the Middle East, I’m sure lots of people thought we were crazy!  We weren’t though, we were just looking for an adventure and new travel opportunities.

Last summer, when we were back in Minnesota, and were sharing the news that Rachel was pregnant and that our son was going to be born in Kuwait, I’m sure lots of people thought we were crazy!  We weren’t though, because we knew that we had a great doctor and hospital here in Kuwait.

We’ve taken some crazy trips, been in a few sticky situations, and have been lost numerous times in foreign countries, but no . . . . we’re not crazy.

Ok, ok, maybe we ARE a little crazy sometimes, but this week we made a very mature decision that proves that we aren’t always CRAZY!

We were supposed to fly out to Istanbul, Turkey today for a week vacation for Spring Break, however earlier this week we made the decision to cancel our vacation.  (insert sad music here)

Turkey has been in the news a lot lately, and unfortunately . . . . not for good reasons.  There is a bit of unrest in the country right now, which is very unfortunate, because it is such a beautiful country with great people.  I was there last November and had a wonderful trip!

Due to the recent unrest in the country, the United States Department of State issued a Travel Warning for Turkey on March 17th.  It’s always been our rule of thumb, that we wouldn’t travel to a country that had a current Travel Warning.  We figure that the government knows more than we do, so we just listen to their advice.

According to their website, they issue a Travel Warning when:

“we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. We want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all. Travel Warnings remain in place until the situation changes.”

I’m sure we would have been safe if we had gone to Istanbul, but now that we have Hayden in our lives, we know that we should just take it easy and follow the advice of the professionals.

So there it is folks, we aren’t entirely CRAZY!  We like traveling and love the adventures that come along with it, but we also know that sometimes it’s just best to reconsider your travel plans.  So instead of a trip to Istanbul for Spring Break, we are going to enjoy a little “stay-cation” here in Kuwait!

You can visit the U.S. Department of State’s website to view a complete listing of Travel Alerts and Warnings here.

 

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Excuse Me United Airlines, I Think That’s My Bag!

When I travel, I usually always carry-on one pack, my Eagle River pack.  I always fill it with my technology, any important documents, and a couple changes of clothes (just in case the airline loses my checked baggage).

However last June when we were flying back to the United States for the summer, I decided to just check my carry-on bag for the last leg from Newark, New Jersey to Minneapolis, Minnesota, because I was sick of carrying it around. We were able to squeeze all of our important items into Rachel’s carry on and stuff my carry on with all of the clothes.  As soon as we boarded the United Airlines plane, I quickly ordered a cold beer!  As you probably know by now, Kuwait is a dry country, so I was super pumped to have one!

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As I was enjoying my beer, I was watching a couple of Baggage Handlers loading luggage onto the plane next us.  I was watching as they would monotonously grab a bag, scan the tag, then chuck it on the conveyor belt, and watch it disappear into the belly of the plane.  I was enjoying the entertainment, when I noticed something different in the pattern.  They scanned a bag, looked at, then set it on the fender of the conveyor machine.  I was starring at the bag, when all of a sudden I realized, THAT’S MY BAG!

The Baggage Handlers finished loading the plane, and just walked away.  In the meantime, the final passengers were boarding our flight, and we were about to leave in any minute!

I immediately pressed the Flight Attendant call button . . . .

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Me: “Excuse me ma’m, I’m sorry to bother you, but one of my bags is on the conveyor machine by the plane next to us.”

Flight Attendant: (Looking out the window) “Are you sure?”

Me: “I am 99% sure!  I have a very distinct bag.  Could you have somebody check?  I would hate to leave my bag in New Jersey.”

Flight Attendant: “Ok, ok, I’ll have someone check.”

*In the meantime, the two baggage handlers are hiding under the terminal, with their faces buried in their phones.  All of the passengers are now loaded onto our flight, they are about to close the door!  Then the United Airlines Gate Agent comes onto our flight and comes over to me.

Gate Agent: “Sir, is there a problem?”

Me: “Yes, one of my bags is sitting on that conveyor machine, on the wrong plane.”

Gate Agent: (With a look of disbelief on his face) Oooooook, I’ll look into it.”

He leaves the plane, and I can now see him out my window walking towards my bag.  I’m a bit nervous at this point and my fingers are crossed that it IS my bag, because I’d hate to cause a big deal over nothing!

Then I see him check the tag, grab it, and walk towards our plane. It indeed WAS my bag!

In the meantime, the two baggage handlers are still hiding under the terminal, with their faces buried in their phones.  They think they are hiding, but I can clearly see them.

Moments later the Flight Attendant walks back over to me:

Flight Attendant: “Sir, thank you for letting me know about your bag.  The baggage handlers were just about to put it on our plane.”

Me: “Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!” “Thank you for your help!.”

Seriously, about 1 minute later the door to our plane closes, and they start to push our plane back from the gate.

So my advice to you: Always look out the windows once you are seated on your plane.  You never know if you’ll see your luggage being loaded onto the WRONG flight!

How to Pack When You’re Moving Overseas

We have officially done the big trek from Minnesota to Kuwait two summers in a row.  Last summer we needed to move all the necessities that Mitch and I needed, and this summer we moved all the necessities that Baby J is going to need.  Since the apartment we moved into was fully furnished, we were able to move with just the luggage we brought with us on the airplane. All of our other belongings were either stored or sold before we left.  We did quite a bit of brainstorming about the best way to get our things to the other side of the world and landed on using the same system two summers in a row, and it worked fantastically!

Last summer we moved to Kuwait with 6 checked bags and 2 carry ons.  We only owned our carry on backpacks (that we love!), and one large suitcase a piece.  That left us thinking, we need to purchase another 4 large suitcases!  That idea seemed crazy, when else would we ever need that many suitcases? And the cost of purchasing them was just too much for us to swallow.  Enter in the perfect solution: Home Depot storage totes!

We were able to purchase these HDX 27-gallon storage totes for $8.99 a piece, and they are the exact maximum measurements that our airline would allow.  Not only was the price right on these totes, but they also have locking lids, hold a ton of stuff, and are super heavy duty!

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Now those of you who know Mitch, know that he is Captain Safety and would definitely not just throw our belongings into a tote without securing them.  One of the benefits of these totes, is that they have holes around the edges, so that you can lock the lid on with a zip tie.

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Mitch did some research to verify that TSA allows passengers to secure their luggage with zip ties.  However, if they have to inspect them, they could and would just cut them off.  So just in case, Mitch taped this note with extra zip ties to the inside lid of each tote, so that the TSA Agent would re-secure our tote, before sending it on its way:

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So far we have crossed the Atlantic twice using this packing method and all of our totes and belongings have made it safe and sound to our desert home, without TSA cutting any of our zip ties off of our luggage.

packing Another benefit of traveling with plastic totes: we can use them here in Kuwait to store Baby J’s clothes that he won’t be able to fit into for quite a while, or other junk that we don’t use often.  The totes stack up nicely and store easily.

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If you are interested in purchasing the same totes that we’ve used, you can find them at any Home Depot store or online here.

VIP Treatment at the Cairo Airport

Earlier this winter when we decided to go to Egypt for a long weekend, our buddy Adam (who traveled with us) was telling some friends of his that we were heading to Egypt.  As he was talking to his friends about Egypt he soon found out that they used to live there, and still had some great connections in Cairo. They were so excited that we were visiting their home country and offered to help us plan our trip to Cairo!  We were all pretty excited to have some help from people who knew the country so well.  They asked for copies of our passports and flight itineraries, then assured us that everything would be taken care of.  We were so surprised and grateful for their help!  A couple of weeks before our trip, they told us that they would have a driver for us at the Cairo airport, and that everything was taken care of for us . . . . . . . we all thought hmmmmmm . . . . . . I wonder what that means?!?

We all just figured that we would be looking for a guy at the airport holding a clipboard with our name, and that he would give us a ride to our hotel.  We were super excited about it, but then this happened . . . . . .

When we landed in Cairo, I was a bit disappointed when there wasn’t a gate available for the plane to pull into.  Instead, the plane had to park on the runway, and we would be shuttled to the terminal in those cramped busses, like cattle going to the slaughterhouse.  Rachel and I got off the plane first, with our friends Adam & Lauren a few rows back.  We were approaching the bottom of the rickety staircase from the plane, about ready to head towards the bus, when we noticed 3 huge dudes, in black suits and aviator sunglasses standing with their arms crossed, looking all tough.  One of the guys was holding a sign that said, “Adam XXX and friends.”  I thought to myself, holy crap I know Adam XXX and that means I’m one of the “and friends!”  We introduced ourselves to the guys, as they quickly grabbed our bags from us.  Adam and Lauren were soon to follow, and were just as surprised as us, to be greeted on the runway at a major international airport!

Once we were all together, the three dudes led us AWAY from the packed busses and the crowds, towards two luxury cars parked on the runway next to the plane.  These weren’t just two  regular cars, they were brand new Jaguars!  Adam and I kind of looked at each other like, “WTF, are these for us?!?!”  We were correct, they were!  Rachel and I hopped into the back seat of one car and Adam and Lauren had their own.  The next thing we know, the driver is hauling ass across the tarmac!

I’m sure the grin on my face was from ear-to-ear. I kept whispering to Rachel, “this is so awesome!”  I didn’t want to talk to loud, so the driver knew that this is how I “always” travel.  We were able to sneak a quick selfie in:

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After a high speed ride around the tarmac, we pulled into a special VIP entrance at the terminal.

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When we walked in, we were the only passengers inside this special area, and it was so fancy and nice inside!  There was a little security checkpoint inside and when we tried putting our bags on the conveyor belt, the worker started laughing at us and told us, “no, no, no.”  We walked through the metal detector (as it was beeping like crazy) and were ushered through to this super fancy terminal area. They even laid out the red carpet for us!

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Then they led us into our own private waiting room!  The room even had a butler, who brought us complimentary food and drinks!

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After we got cozy in our own private hang out area, a worker took all 4 of our passports and said he would be back soon.  He ran off with them and headed to Immigration/Customs to get our visas for us.  We just sat there giggling, enjoying the moment, living the life of the rich and famous!

After about 20 minutes our guy returned with our passports and we were all set to leave the airport.  He walked us through towards an exit, where another driver and a tour guide were waiting for us.  We soon found out that they were “assigned” to us for the next four days!  They would do anything we wanted, at anytime, and take us anywhere.  They had a four day itinerary jam packed with things to do.  All of this was arranged by my buddy Adam’s friend, who’s main focus was to show us a good time and to make sure we enjoyed their home country!

All weekend in Egypt, we just chuckled about the whole experience.  We wondered if we would have the same VIP treatment when we departed Cairo, but we didn’t want to get our hopes up.

The day we left Cairo, my fingers were still crossed that we would get to ride in Jaguars.  When we pulled into the airport, we quickly realized that our driver wasn’t going to the Main Terminal.  I held my breath, and sure enough, we had arrived at the special VIP entrance at the airport!

We were greeted by a butler and led back to our special private waiting room.  We didn’t have to check any of our bags, stand in long lines, check-in, or deal with any of the other hassles of airports.  A worker grabbed our passports and told us he would be back with our boarding passes soon.

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As we were enjoying our morning in the lap of luxury, we soon realized that our plane was departing in 45 minutes, and our guy still hadn’t returned with our passports or boarding passes!  We were getting a little nervous so we double checked the status with another worker, and they said, “no problem, have a seat” as they pointed us back to our room.  Next thing you know . . . . . 30 minutes until departure . . . . . . 15 minutes until departure . . . . .

About 10 minutes before our plane was scheduled to depart, our butler returned without any sense of urgency with our passports and boarding passes.  We were practically freaking out and thought for sure that we were going to miss our flight.  However thankfully, they had two cars waiting for us outside to escort us directly to the plane on the runway again!

After our high speed cruise across the tarmac, we approached the plane and could see all of the other passengers getting off the crowded bus and boarding.  The driver pulled right up to the staircase, but wouldn’t let us out of the car until all of the passengers were on the plane.  As we got out of the car you could just tell that everyone was starring out their window thinking, “are these people rich celebrities or something?”

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Perhaps we gave it away though when we walked past all of the First Class seats on the plane, and cuddled into Coach with all of the other middle class people!

Until this trip, I had no idea that services like this even existed!  It is something that none of us will probably ever experience again, but it sure was fun and makes for some fun stories!

Sneak Peek: Our Adventures in Jordan

We had a blast last week during our Spring Break trip to Jordan.  It was a week jam packed of adventures, memories, and laughter that we will never forget.  Here is a little insight into our trip: When we proposed the idea to my parents of taking a trip to Jordan, I think one of the first things they said was, “where is Jordan?”  Many people, especially Westerners, haven’t even heard of it before.  If you look closely at the map, it is a little country tucked in between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  It was never really high on our list of “Countries To See,”  until we moved here to the Middle East.  So many of our friends here have been, and highly recommended it!

Map courtesy of google.com

Here is a little bit of a closer view.  The capital of Jordan is Amman, in the northern part of the country.  A majority of the population lives along the west side of the country, from Amman south towards the Red Sea.

Map courtesy of google.com

Jordan is a Muslim country, however it is not as conservative as Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.  Also, unlike their neighbors, Jordan has no significant petroleum resources of its own, so it is not as wealthy as some of the other Middle Eastern countries.  Their country relies heavily on tourism, which has taken a major hit the last few years because of what we call the “CNN Effect.”  Everyone in North America who turns on their favorite cable TV news channel, will hear nothing but negative things about the Middle East and the instability because of the emergence of ISIS.  I will be clear, not one time did I ever feel unsafe in Jordan!  It is a beautiful country and everyone was so friendly!

Map courtesy of google.com

Based on our research, we decided that renting a car was going to be our best bet for our trip.  We had so many places that we wanted to visit, and relying on public transportation and timelines was not going to work for us.  We read online that the driving in Jordan can be scary, however I would consider it super calm based on what we encounter on a daily basis in Kuwait! Below is a map of the route we took.  We flew into the capital city of Amman, then headed south towards the Dead Sea.  After one night there, we continued south along the Israeli border to the resort town of Aqaba, located on the Red Sea.  We spent two nights there, before we started our trek north to the Wadi Rum Desert for two nights of camping.  We then headed to Jordan’s crown jewel . . . . . Petra!  We spent two nights in this ancient city exploring one of the 7 wonders of the world, before we headed back to Amman to fly out.

Map courtesy of google.com

Our first stop in Jordan was at the Dead Sea.  Here are a couple of fun facts about the Dead Sea, courtesy of wikipedia.com:

  • The surface and shores of the Dead Sea are 1,407 feet BELOW sea level, making it Earth’s lowest elevation on land.
  • It is 997 feet deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world.
  • In 2011 the salinity was measured at 34.2%, making it one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water.  It is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean.
  • Its high levels of salinity make for a harsh environment in which plants and animals cannot flourish, hence its name: the Dead Sea.

The cool thing about the high levels of salt, is that you float on the surface!  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a sinker, I cannot swim nor float!  So I thought it was super cool when I walked in, and just started bobbing on the surface of the water.  Here is a picture of me standing like a pencil, and just floating there without any effort.  It was a super cool experience, that I recommend to everyone.

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Me standing upright, FLOATING in the Dead Sea.

Before we headed to our next destination, we stopped at the site along the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by John 2,000 years ago.  For so many years it was a lost site, until recently it was discovered, authenticated, and now visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world.

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Rachel and I at the baptism site of Jesus.

After our time around the area of the Dead Sea, we headed south to Aqaba.  We drove along the Israeli border for about 3 hours until we reached our destination.  Aqaba is located on the point of the “right fork” of the Red Sea.  We stayed in a beautiful resort area called Tala Bay.  I highly recommend this place!  We rented a condo on the beach, and had  a relaxing couple of days.

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After a few relaxing days at the beach, it was time to kick our vacation into high gear.  We headed north to the Wadi Rum Desert, where we witnessed some of the most incredible views I have ever seen!  It is a fairly flat desert with red sand, and gigantic rock formations scattered around hundreds of square miles.  We spent a day and a half cruising around the desert and hiking through some slot canyons, to a natural water spring, and to the top of a few arches.  We had a great time camping in the desert and playing in one of the coolest “sand boxes” in the world!

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A picture I snapped during one of our hikes. It is a good view of how flat the desert ground is, yet huge mountains protruding from the ground.

The last stop on our adventure through Jordan was at Petra, which is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.  We spent two nights there and a day and a half hiking and exploring this ancient city, that dates back to as early as 300 BC.  The first day there, we did the Petra by Night tour, where you could hike the path in, which was lit by hundreds of candle luminaries.  The next day, we spent about 8 hours hiking around and visiting the tombs, caves, and of course the infamous Treasury and Monastery.  Petra was my favorite part of the trip!  It is absolutely incredible how they were able to carve such magnificent structures into the sides of mountains.  It is estimated that approximately 20,000 people lived in this ancient city at one time. Petra This is just a quick peek into our Jordanian adventures.  We have lots of photos and memories that we will share with everyone soon.  I definitely recommend everyone to add Jordan to your list of “Countries to Visit.”

Say What’s Up on WhatsApp!

Like many people around the world . . . . . I would be lost without my iPhone!  It goes with me everywhere!  To work, out to dinner, for a walk down the beach, and even into the bathroom. (admit it people, we all do it!!!)

I like the iPhone, because it is literally like a Swiss Army Knife.  It has so many tools, that I use all of the time.  It is especially helpful when you move to a new country like Kuwait, because you find yourself using it for much more than just making phone calls and sending text messages.  I find myself using it for things like capturing pictures of something crazy I see on the side of the road, or converting the price of an object from Kuwaiti Dinar to American Dollars, calling our family back home on FaceTime, converting the daily temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit, and even using the GPS on the map app to find your way around.

However my favorite thing about my iPhone is the app called WhatsApp! It is an app that allows you to send text messages to anyone around the world for free!  You can use it if you are connected to wifi or off your data plan.  You can send pictures, send group messages, and now you can even send voice recorded messages.

It is free to download, and you can find it in the App Store.  Just search “WhatsApp Messenger.”  Here’s what the icon looks like:

 

Once you have it downloaded, your contact list is based off of the contacts you already have in your phone. You just have to add the Country Code to it. Here is the list of International Country Codes.  In the U.S. it is +1 and in Kuwait it is +965.

Download it today and send us an email at themightaswellers@gmail.com and we will send you our Kuwaiti cell phone numbers.  Then we will be able to send text messages back and forth for free!  I figure it is probably best if you email us, rather than posting our phone numbers on here for the entire world to see!

The only downside to WhatsApp is that you have to be sure to put your phone on silent every night.  Otherwise when your buddies are watching the big football game in the U.S. and start trash talking you over text messages, it doesn’t wake you up at 3am because of the time change!

Don’t forget . . . .  send us an email at themightaswellers@gmail.com so we can connect on WhatsApp!

Recommendations on a Travel Pack

My in-laws are coming to Kuwait!  Whooo hoo!  Their tickets are all booked and they will be touching down in Kuwait City at the beginning of April.  We are going to spend a few days in Kuwait showing them where we live/work/hang out and then the four of us will be heading to Jordan together to explore Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea.   We are going to embark on a great Middle Eastern Road Trip.  I can’t wait!

Since we will be moving from one location to another on this trip, and will be spending time in the desert where there aren’t roads much less sidewalks to roll your suitcase along it makes more sense to travel with a backpack.

After we booked Kraig and Jody’s plane ticket’s to head to the desert one of the first questions Jody asked was; “What kind of suitcase do I need”  So the following is my advice. This post is truly intended for my Mother-in-law, however it is super awesome if this info is helpful for you as well.

First of all, get a backpack, carrying a wheelie bag for extended periods of time sucks, like really sucks.  The only time you are going to wish you had wheels is at the airport after that you will be super happy that you are hands free.

Mitch and I each have a backpack that we each LOVE.

I have the Tortuga and Mitch has an Eagle Creek backpack.

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Rachel’s Bag

 

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Mitch’s Bag

 

 

Things we both look for in a bag

  • Front Loading: no one wants to take everything out of their bag to find the pair of socks at the bottom of their bag, NO ONE.  Get a front loader, a bag that opens up like a typical backpack rather than a hiking pack.
  • Price Point: We use our luggage a lot but we still don’t want to spend a small fortune on our bags.  Both of our bags are under the $200 price point.  Mine just barely made the cut at $199 and Mitch’s was $150
  • Carry on Size: In my opinion checking bags is the pits, it is too expensive and waiting for your bag once you arrive at your destination stinks.  Sometimes I can’t avoid checking bags: like when we moved to the other side of the world but having the option to carry on is great.

Things I look for in a bag

  • Easy Access Pockets: I think every couple must settle into traveling roles, every person has aspects of the vacation that they are in charge of.  For Mitch and I, he is in charge of the logistics.  Things that involve maps, bus schedules, or researching if it is Monsoon season are totally  his thing.  Finding unique lodging, activities to do, and taking care of the passports and boarding passes is my job.  External backpack pockets were a must for me so I could have our passports and boarding passes easily available and I could be crazily checking to make sure I still had them without having to take my pack on and off.  The Tortuga has the perfect pockets for the job.
  • Hip belt: I may look like a dork wearing it but the amount of pressure that is taken off my shoulders and back by having a bag that has a hip belt is awesome.
  • Dedicated Spot for Technology: We typically travel with a computer, iPad, and a nook.  I knew I wanted a specific, padded location to keep my devices in.
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Sweet looking Hip Belt with space for boarding passes and passports.

 

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Dedicated space for computer.

 

Things Mitch Looks for in a bag

  • Security: If we have a safety captain in our marriage it is definitely Mitch.  He is the one who remembers to lock the door at night, who thinks to put important documents in a safe, and picks up my wallet off of the deodorant shelf when I have left it there at Target.  So it makes sense that he is concerned about the security of his backpack while we travel.  His backpack is designed in a way that the zippers and spaces that open are tucked against his body when his backpack is on.  The part that is facing outward toward the world is a solid piece with no access to anything that is inside the bag.
  • Minimalist: While I love the external pockets and things that are on my bag, Mitch is more of a minimalist bag kind of guy.  He doesn’t like all those pockets and wanted a bag that was pretty simple and sleek.
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No hip belt or external pockets for Mitch, just the way he likes it!

 

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Outward facing side of Mitch’s bag.

 

 

We both searched quite a bit and read quite a few reviews before we chose our bags and neither of us have regretted the packs we are carrying at all.

So there you go Jody, options on backpacks you could bring on our great Middle Eastern Adventure.  Can’t wait to see you, only a few more months!

*Pictures from here and here.