Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: The joy of carry-on with 8 countries and 1 small Traffic Cone Bag

I popped up in Athens to face a phalanx of police riot shields. In LA, Stephen Spielberg's mother showed me her wall of fame to her son (it's on the way to the restroom). Then there was Occupy London ... and the $10/night Kung Fu hostel in Hong Kong with its Changi prison aesthetics and woman who refused to budge from my bunk bed … 

I just got back from doing the Damien Hirst Spot Challenge - a kind of global scavenger hunt where you had to dash around visiting all 11 galleries showing his Spot Paintings (NY-LA-London-Paris-Geneva-Rome-Athens-HK), and as a reward, receive a personally dedicated print. It was one of the maddest, funnest things I've ever done. You can follow my journey by scanning  the posts before this one and clicking "older post" until you've had a gutful.
The large Traffic Cone Bag was my get-spotted-and-get-away luggage.
So this post should really be titled, The Joy of Carry On.

I set myself up on a kind Challenge-within-a Spot Challenge:  can I do the 8-country scavenger hunt in a northern hemispherical winter, carrying just the clothes on my back, and one of my Traffic Cone Bags?

The small TCB shown in split personality mode.

Don't mind the tote in the background - that's for transient stuff like the next meal! At La Guardia Airport on the way to LA. 
Having spent years on the road as a solo fully-loaded touring cyclist and digital nomad (by fully loaded I mean carrying your life support system, not being drunk), I've learned how to travel ultralight. The key is multifunctional gear, a notion that inspired me to design my multi-purpose and seemingly popular Traffic Cone Bag.

At the eleventh hour I almost caved and took my utterly indispensible MacPac ultralight slim backpack (oh why do they insist on making the new ones a drab functional blue?) but, with a deep breath, stepped out of my apartment carrying just the large TCB - stuffed to the gills mind you,  a packable MUJI bag on my arm for carrying transient stuff like food and ... nothing else!

An ad for the TCB in Momentum Planet, a cycling magazine

Pictured at the top of this post is the complete kit. In the lower center is my large Traffic Cone Bag in city (black) mode.

All right, one small disclosure - I actually had the small Traffic Cone Bag inside the large one, functioning as an inner bag for the itty bitty stuff like camera, sunglasses etc. So if I needed to break it out as an additional bag I could, but this was never the case. The "double bagging" made for extra compartments within the overall shape. It's how I generally use my Traffic Cone Bag on a daily basis.

So for gear freaks, here is a complete inventory of the above main picture. 
Note that the items marked (*) were worn by me every day.

YELLOW CIRCLE - Left third of photo, top to bottom:

  • Black fleece headband (found on a bridge in Geneva, after I lost my Smartwool headband in LA)
  • Black wool balaclava (Smartwool)
  • *Special Spot Hat (wool, from an Ecuadorian artisan in NYC - so cool!)
  • Black wool beanie (bought in Peru)
  • Toiletries bag (Eagle Creek), important items include  hand sanitizer (Wholefoods), SPF stick (Naked Bee), Cold & Flu tincture (Integral Yoga or QuantumHerbal - ESSENTIAL and WORKS), Fish Oil tablets (Carlsson), Balm of Gilead (Australian Scent), earplugs
  • Glass water bottle (Wholefoods - in hindsight, too small and inflexible)
  • Foldable brush/mirror
  • *Blue Long Rainshell (Eastern Mountain Sports)
  • *Black wool fleece hoodie (Icebreaker 320)
  • *Cream wool neck gaiter (Smartwool)
  • *Dark blue microfibre packable blazer (Aspesi Italy- my #1 tailored but technical must-have)
  • *Black fleece gloves (New Balance)
  • *Handkerchief (x2)
  • *Quickdrying underpants (x3, Ex-Officio boyshort) in a mesh bag
  • *Traffic Cone Bag (large), with small one inside
  • Passport neck wallet with pen, passport and ID card (don't laugh - I've never fumbled for my boarding pass)
  • Spot Challenge card

RED CIRCLE - Middle third of photo, top to bottom:

  • *Black long sleeve wool t-shirt (Icebreaker 250)
  • Black long sleeve thermal zip T (CRAFT)
  • *Black cycling tank (Terry Eurohalter - ESSENTIAL)
  • *Colorful long sleeve top (Custo Vintage)
  • *Grey thermal pants (Nike)
  • Black wool leggings (Icebreaker 150)
  • *Grey wool leg warmers (DeFeet)
  • *Wool socks (x2, Smartwool PhD crew)
  • *Black tall boots (Steven)
ORANGE CIRCLE - Right third of photo, top to bottom:
  • Black wool t-shirt (Icebreaker 150)
  • Tunic dress (Animated Closet, Brooklyn)
  • Steven (Madden) calf-height leather boots (with comfy insoles added)
  • *Canon S100 camera with lanyard, charger, 3 batteries (good stills, easier to carry than my SONY DSC-HX9V which is admittedly better for video)
  • 16 gb SD cards (x4, SanDisk)
  • Wallet with credit cards, business cards (Timbuktu, a gift from Mike McGettigan at Trophy Bikes)
  • Gold ballet flats (Bloch, for airplane travel and at hostel etc)
  • Packable nylon shopping bag (Muji - for transient stuff like food)
  • Negative ionizer for plane travel (Brookstone - could be total BS but have not read reports to the contrary)
  • Earphones
  • Travel wall socket adaptor (Travelon)
  • iPhone 4S with charger
  • Printouts of Google Maps of all gallery locations
  • Printouts of all plane, train and ferry tickets
Additional items, not shown:
  • Rubber thongs/flipflops - purchased at Hong Kong hostel for shower
  • Small microfiber travel towel - purchased in Hong Kong
  • Book "Super Sad Love Story" - gifted to Annika in London because of no time to open it
  • Third pair of Ex-Officio underpants - because I'm wearing them
  • Mini umbrella - because I forgot to put it in the photo
  • Canon S100 camera - because I used it to take this wide angle shot
  • Oris windup watch, borrowed for trip- because I'm wearing it on my wrist
  • Inflatable neck pillow, which I lost somewhere in LA but didn't really need after all
  • Headlamp (Petzyl), left hanging in my bunk at Athens Hostel but later recovered
  • Small mesh bag to hold itty bitty things like sunglasses, tissues, camera charger and SD cards, and the most useful thing of all - a selection of ziploc bags
My velveteen CUSTO top was the only flash of color I needed - no  (loseable) jewelry necessary. 

The Finer Points of Packing

1. Warmth without bulk was key. The combination of 3 layer-able bottoms: Nike thermal pants, Icebreaker 150 wool leggings and DeFeet wool legwarmers allowed a permutation of 6 different pant options, depending on how cold it was. I generally wore the Nikes with the DeFeet legwarmers over the top. To sleep, I just wore the leggings. Wool tends to go a long time between washes ...

2. Black with a dash of color: the overall idea is to wear black, black, black, with a dash of outer color, negating the need for jewelry or any kind of extraneous adornment - and avoiding looking like a Ninja, especially with a black balaclava.  The spot of color was provided by my Custo Vintage Spot top and my Special Spot Hat. As a backup, funky Animated Closet tunic dress.

3. If you get wet it sucks. That justified wearing the Eastern Mountain Sports 3/4 rainshell, which provided 3 useful pockets and an overall barrier against the world - and it looks way cooler than a standard packable hiking shell! Plus a mini umbrella for sudden downpours and London drizzle.

3. The MUJI (or similar) packable nylon bag is great for toting your things to the bathroom and back, carrying transient things like food etc - I could break it out to carry my relatively bulky outerwear when going into warmer areas.

4. Pick up cool stuff along the way. Don't forget that as you file out of the plane through First Class, you'll often see discarded goodies they give to the passengers, which are way nicer than your cattle class accoutrements. I snagged an abandoned metallic mesh zippered bag from someone's seat and it was used to carry my mounting pile of receipts. I passed on the used socks, however ...

5. I cannot stress the value of my ASPESI microfiber blazer so I don't have to look like a backpacker who stepped out of a camping shop. It cost me $150 Euro but I carry it with me everywhere in life - it’s worth every cent.

6. Ziploc bags are probably the most useful thing you can ever take. Nowadays you can use washed ziploc bags from granola and other food products - the bags and zips are strong and more environmentally conscious

7. I normally take my laptop everywhere. My iPhone 4s did all the kinds of things I'd want to do on an iPad or my MacBook Pro, including write blog posts (like I am doing at this very moment) using the Blogger app. The tiny size + wonderfully tiny wall adaptor was a perfectly workable trade off. The only sucky thing was lack of free wi-fi in most of the places I went in the EU. I disabled voice and data roaming completely, for fear of getting an unexpected huge bill, but in hindsight should have activated it for emergency calls only - like calling my host to rendezvous.

My friend Colleen showed up in Athens with her Traffic Cone Bag - it's good for Island hopping! 
Tripod stand. More interested in yoga than art? See my Galfromdownunder Yoga blog.
Read about the Traffic Cone Bag

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  1. Hi,
    I have a question for you. I'm form Poland, and I write a blog too. In August I was in Sleep No More in NYC and I'd like to write about this play on my blog. I read your post about SNM and you posted photo of people in masks. Does it bother you, if I use this photo in my post? Of course I'll write it comes from your blog.

    Sorry for the mistakes but English isn't my first language :)

    1. Sure um, triangle. Simply link it to my post and say it was taken by Lynette Chiang http://chelseagallerista.com . I appreciate you reaching out and asking!

  2. And I thought I travelled light. But then, I am a good eight inches taller than you, so maybe that explains it! All of that extra lengthage....thanks for added inspiration for stressless adventuring.


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