A warning to family and friends, this post is a deep dive into packing for minimalist traveling. You might find it rather dry. If you are still interested and have not read Finding the right bag for Travel, and The Evolution of a Packing List, you might want to click these links and read them first.
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Over the years, there has always been a section of my packing lists called “Kitchen”. When I was going to sea, this part of the list could be quite long, with the items having to be taken aboard the ship in a standard banker’s box. In the days when I worked for a company (Maersk) that gave their officers private rooms, with private baths, containing the bare minimum furnishings required by contract, I had to carry a lot of gear to be comfortable for the five months I would be on board. My usual load was; two banker’s boxes of paperback books, a banker’s box of special food, a bankers box of VCR tapes, a banker’s box of kitchen equipment, a huge backpack of clothes and work gear, a huge duffel bag of winter clothes, a small TV, a VCR, and potted plants. Needless to say, it took a lot of trips from the dock to haul all that stuff up to my room.
Once I started working for companies that provided better amenities for their crews, I carried far ess gear and did not carry my coffee kit, though I still carried a few kitchen items for dinning in my stateroom on food brought from ashore or liberated from galley stores. I carried about the same amount of gear when I was as a marine surveyor, though I added the coffee kit back in, with the addition of a cutting board, a knife, and a cork screw since you could not always be sure that the hotel the client put you up at would have decent coffee, and a good cup of coffee following, your wine, cheese, and crackers was a nice way to end a hard day in the field.
Even my reduced gear was very different from today, when I am keeping my total gear down to what I can carry around cobblestone streets, looking for my AirBnb. Though my kitchen gear is much reduced from my seagoing days, when I carried all the equipment for making martinis, including half-sized martini glasses, I still carry a few essential things.
I have to stop here and talk about the AeroPress. Back in 2010, I was watching some morning show, when one of the hosts was doing a demonstration of the AeroPress. Up until then I had been making coffee in a french press at home and when I traveled. I loved the coffee it make, but I didn’t like cleaning it or worrying about it breaking in my luggage. The talking heads on TV made the AeroPress sound like a very interesting product, so I went onto Amazon and ordered one. I didn’t have it for very long before I realized that if it broke I was going to be very irritated until a new one arrived. I figured, why take a chance; I ordered a second one just to have a back up. The funny thing was that soon after a bought the second one, I subscribed to a mail coffee service, Tonx, now known as Blue Bottle. I had not noticed that I was to get an AeroPress for being a new subscriber So I ended up with three.
For the past eight years I have used the original one several times a day. It was a lot more durable than I thought it was going to be. The second one I kept in my seabag, and the third in my surveyors bag. Before starting this trip I changed out the most worn one for one of the newer ones.
After acquiring my three AeroPresses, my coffee kit consisted of:
A full AeroPress Kit
Two glass coffee cups
A Ceramic Burr Grinder
A bag of Molika’i Coffee
The AeroPress Kit contained a few things I really never used, but I carried them just in case. I carried way too many filters. It didn’t cross my mind that if I ran out of filters I could just get some regular coffee filters and cut them into rounds with the scissors I always carried back when I checked bags. I always carried my own cups, since so often hotels only give you paper cups for your coffee. A paper cup would be crushed by the press. Pressing the coffee without putting weight on the cup is something I never got the hang of. Since I ways traveled with my favorite Hawaiian bean coffee, I carried a very small ceramic burr grinder. I always grind my coffee by hand. It seems to me that power grinding makes the coffee tastes sort of burnt.
This kit was fine when I was carrying two checked bags and two carry-ons, but I knew if I wanted to travel with my kit as a minimalist, I would have to trim it down a bit. The first thing I did was replace the packages of coffee filters with two stainless Steel, washable, and reusable filters. That also got rid of the coffee filter holder. I sawed the handle off the coffee measure and ditched the funnel. I had never really found any use for the funnel outside of occasionally using it in my kitchen to put things neatly into jars.
I replaced the glass cups with a 600ml and a 375ml Titanium Camping Cup. Besides looking to keep my gear as light as possible, it was also important to find things that would pack compactly. The smaller of the two cups fit inside the larger one when the handles were folded. I bought two different reusable filters. I have found that the DISC filter pictured below performs better than the S Filter. I packed the S filter in the kit as a backup.
I when I bought my burr grinder, I couldn’t decide between two. I ordered them both figuring that I would return the one I didn’t like. I liked them both. I used the Hario Grinder at home and used the Porlex as I traveled. When I was packing for this trip, I weighed everything that went into my bag. I found that handle for the Hario was much lighter than the handle for the Porlex. So I packed the body of the Porlex, because, though it was slightly heavier than the body of the Hario, it was far more compact.
I added an item to my kit, which other travelers often cited as a must-have piece of gear, though I had never had any use for one since college; a pigtail heater. At the academy, when we were not allowed to have appliances in our rooms on the training ship, these little heaters were a godsend, for making instant coffee, tea, and Cup-o-soup. I really didn’t think I was going to need one, but I had such fond memories of them I got one. You need to make sure that you buy one that can be used with the electricity in the country you are traveling in. I would recommend the Lewis N. Clark Portable Travel Immersion Heater 120/240V. Some of reviews say that it takes a long time to heat up, but it seemed to me, that there was a break-in period, after which it heated the water more quickly. Make sure you never have the heater plugged in unless it is in water above the coil.
The reason I bought two Titanium cups was so that I could use one as a vessel to heat water and one to press the coffee into. In retrospect I probably only needed one, now that I use the inverted brew method with the AeroPress. I was worried that the Titanium cups would be too hot while I was heating the water, and might damage surfaces in hotel rooms. I bought a set of silicone coasters, and packed two of them to insulate the bottom of the cups from the surfaces. While I was looking for the coasters, I found silicone lip guards that were made to protect your lips when you drink from a metal coffee cup.
Since I wasn’t carrying a separate kitchen kit, I added a few extras to my coffee kit:
a bottle opener multi tool, a Titanium Spork, a quick read thermometer to make sure my coffee water was the right temp, and a TSA approved cork puller. My original kit had a set of heavy plasticware, which would make it easily through the TSA, but I was surprised at how much they weighted. The Spork did the job of the plasticware, for an exceptionally low weight. The thermometer, I had to file the point off, just to make sure that the TSA wouldn’t take it. By nesting the cups and placing the grinder, its handle, the corkscrew, and all the little bits in side the inter cup; and slipping the pigtail heater into the barrel of the AeroPress, I was able to fit the whole kit into a small eBags packing cube.
I had my travel bags packed before even before my condo in Honolulu was put on the market. Over the months while the place was on the market, I entertained myself by packing and repacking my bags. The zipper cube that held the kitchen gear was taken in and out of my backpack several times. It was still heavy, weighing it at two pounds (0.9 Kilos), even after I had trimmed it down so far. Finally I assured myself that if it got to be too much I would leave it with a friend in Houston, before flying out.
When I got to my motel in Petaluma, California, I was shocked that the room had no coffee maker. It was then that I decided that the coffee kit was going with me. I was still undecided about taking the burr grinder, but ultimately I couldn’t part with it, though I wasn’t using it. As I traveled across the US and down to Ecuador, I only used ground coffee. I did leave a few things in Houston, which I will talk about in a future post about what not to take, and what I wish I had taken.
When I arrived at my AirBnb in Cuenca, my host had a bag of ground coffee waiting for me. I was beginning to think that I should have left the grinder behind, not being sure if I could find bean coffee locally. After that bag of coffee was finished, I was overjoyed to find bean coffee at the SuperMaxi. It had been a long day between shopping and getting used to the city, and I woke up the next morning still tired and dying for a cup of coffee. I filled the little grinder with just enough beans to make a pressing with the AeroPress, only to find that, thought the handle from the Porlex grinder fit the Hario grinder just fine, I hadn’t tried the Hario handle on the Porlex grinder, thinking that they were the same.
I quickly determined that the ornamental plastic cap on the shaft end of the handle was keeping the handle from going down low enough on the grinder shaft to engage it. The shaft on the other grinder must have stuck up further. I really wanted my coffee, so I went to work with the only tool I could find, a serrated knife. I cut the neck of the cap as much as I could, then levered it off from the handle using the bowl of a spoon as my lever. I managed to get the cap off without cutting myself, so I was happy to settle down and enjoy my coffee, from freshly ground beans.