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  1. #1
    Senior Member yeamac's Avatar
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    Why do so many tourists mail pounds of their gear home?

    On journal after journal of tourists crossing the USA on crazyguyonabike, I am surprised at the number of tourists who mail back pounds of stuff mid-tour they decide they don't need. They never detail exactly what they are sending back, but just say "I sent home 7 pounds of gear I decided I didn't need."

    I have not toured so am trying not to criticize before I walk a mile in their shoes (or is it ride a metric on their bike?), but I would think before embarking on the tour of a lifetime such as crossing the USA I would figure out exactly what I needed ahead of time and what I don't need. A few shakedown tours should sort this out. Am I just being naive? I don't want to be in a position to mail back pounds of stuff on my first tour!

  2. #2
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    Many reasons.

    The most common is lack of sufficient knowlege about what is necessary or reasonable. Quite surprisingly (to me and you), many many people embark on a long tour without any shorter shakedown tours carrying exactly what they will take on the long tour. How often do you read that the first two blocks of the tour is the first time somebody every rode with all the gear on board? And already they can tell that this isn't working well.

    On the other hand, because it is typically easy to send stuff home, why not? Why not just take everything you think you might need and then send home the stuff you never use? It saves a lot of planning.

    Of course, there are other more practical reasons to send stuff home, such as you bought stuff along the way, or the weather ahead is different than the weather behind.

    I try to go fully prepared with proven gear, but that's because I'm pretty anal. Not everybody is, and that's just fine. Some people are planners, and some not. The ones in the latter camp might say that we planners take all the fun and happenstance out of the trip.

    I believe the most common thing people send home is clothes. You don't need as many clothes as you might think. People also send home some of the spare parts and tools that, over time, seem unlikely to ever be needed.
    Last edited by John Nelson; 07-28-09 at 04:18 PM.

  3. #3
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    You can't always tell what you need until you set out. Making a list at home is really different than being on the road. Before you set out, it's pretty easy to envision all kinds of what-if-i-need-that situations, and it's also pretty normal to be a little anxious beforehand. That can easily add up to bringing some stuff that it turns out you're not using.

    Once you are riding, you realize that the chance of needing some items is so low you're willing to take the risk, as a trade off to carrying less stuff.

    I've sent stuff home. I sent stuff home from week 2 of my 3rd tour, after I already had about 5 months of touring experience. I've also bought extra stuff. I've seen others do the same.

    Besides, unless you are touring overseas, what's the big deal? It only costs a few $ to mail stuff home. It seems like you are considering it a failure to not know exactly what you need beforehand, but it's not.
    ...

  4. #4
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    I would figure out exactly what I needed ahead of time and what I don't need.
    A similar situation is thru-hiking the Appalacian Trail. Go visit the start of the trail in March / April when most people get started. You would be SHOCKED at the things you see (person using a pull behind suitcase as their pack, guy with 120lbs of canned goods, etc., etc.). A large quantity of people quit before reaching the starting point (which is the peak of Springer mountain).

  5. #5
    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    Chances are if you do a longer tour, especially without the requisite experience, you'll do the same thing.

    If you haven't toured much, the impulse is to assume you will need X Y and Z, and it will likely turn out that you don't need everything you thought you did.

    Besides, it's a snap to ship something that you don't need back home. In comparison, it's much worse if you leave without something critical, and need it sent to you....

  6. #6
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Nelson View Post

    Of course, there are other more practical reasons to send stuff home, such as you bought stuff along the way, or the weather ahead is different than the weather behind.
    This is one of the main reasons I send stuff home. Being from Colorado, I'm used to cool to cold mornings all year long (today it was 53F ) so I end up carrying stuff for Colorado mornings. If you go to other parts of the nation...the lower bits...mornings aren't as cool so the cold weather stuff goes home. I also send home letters, books, stuff I may have bought, etc.
    Stuart Black
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  7. #7
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    There are a lot of reasons. The weather may be different than you expect. The terrain may be different. You may rethink what your minimum standards for comfort are. You may decide to cook less or just more simply than you thought you might.

    I know that in 2007 we started the Trans America with a lot of outdoor and camping experience, but none of it bike touring. We packed reasonably, if anything more lightly than most folks do. But still as we settled into the trip we adapted our style and decided to travel lighter. We sent stuff home at least three times, but some of it was because we didn't need the same stuff in Kansas as we did in the Rockies. Even after 9 or 10 weeks on the road I still lightened the load when we hit the Appalachians, since I found them much tougher than the Cascades or Rockies.

    Even if you get everything on your packing list exactly right, on a long tour the conditions will change with the geography and season and it may make sense to even plan to send stuff to or from home as you approach or leave the mountains.

    Then there are things that you might want sent to you from home. Maybe stuff that you already own or stuff that just isn't available where you are.

    Also we mailed stuff ahead to ourselves. We were given 20 pounds of dried and freeze dried food in Wyoming. We certainly did not want to carry it all, so we mailed 4 boxes ahead to different post offices on our route. We had them forwarded as needed to keep from picking them up before we needed them or to keep from having the 30 days that they will hold them run out.

    You might decide that in the plains you can splurge and carry something heavy in Kansas and have it sent to you only to send it back when you are in the mountains again.

    The postal service is a great tool to use. There is no reason not to take advantage of it.
    Last edited by staehpj1; 07-28-09 at 04:57 PM.

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    I mailed stuff home on my first longer tour. I'm an amateur photographer. I took a couple of heavy medium format cameras (and a few pounds of film and accessories) thinking that I'd enjoy the opportunity to shoot some of the great scenic vistas where I'd be riding. I found once I got settled into a daily riding routine, I didn't really want to keep stopping and spending the time it takes to unpack the cameras and set up the shot, especially when I was tired and sweaty. I was content to make a snapshot with a small digital camera and move on.

    It was merely a case of thinking I'd want to do something and finding out that I really didn't when the time came. I've tuned my packing list to match my needs and interests through successive tours. Live and learn. Experience is the best teacher.

  9. #9
    Crazyguyonabike
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    I always find that after a tour I know *exactly* what I need and what I don't need, but then over time I forget what's really necessary, and next trip end up taking too much again - this is even though I have a packing list from the previous trip! I think it's just that "little" things that seem to weigh next to nothing and look very useful (in theory) just end up being thrown in the box at the post office because touring brings you back down to earth really quickly. It's funny how lugging a bunch of stuff up a bunch of hills focuses your mind and clarifies your priorities...

    Neil

  10. #10
    Senior Member yeamac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xyzzy834 View Post
    I've tuned my packing list to match my needs and interests through successive tours. Live and learn. Experience is the best teacher.
    So in other words, my first tour I might as well pack the stamps and packing material?

    Thanks for all the helpful replies. I'm definitely more of a minimalist when it comes to packing on trips but am sure I have quite a few things to learn about cycle touring.

  11. #11
    mev
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    Over time I've developed and tuned my packing lists. However, I find if I get the bike fully packed a week or so before departure - I have a tendency to worry slightly and end up adding one or two things to the list. Once on the road, I learn again and send those same things not on the packing list back home.

    The other reasons I've sent things home on longer tours has been: (a) send back maps I don't need anymore (b) send back books I haven't been able to give away (c) send back data backups on zip/CD/etc for my laptop of photos, web pages, etc (d) when transitioning countries/climates/areas send back things not needed e.g. Russia -> Thailand meant no camping gear, and similar with a New Zealand -> India transition where I also sent home my camping gear (e) send back souvenirs, though that is somewhat rare.

  12. #12
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeamac View Post
    So in other words, my first tour I might as well pack the stamps and packing material?
    No need to pack them, the post office has boxes, tape, and stamps. BTW flat rate boxes are often a good deal.

  13. #13
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Yeah I forgot about books and maps. The full set of Trans America maps weighs enough to bother sending maps home as you finish with them.

    I think it is a good idea to plan ahead and have someone at home who can receive packages or send you stuff from home. Still it is a bad idea to just take extra stuff because "I can always send it home". Better to try to take the minimum.

  14. #14
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    The most versatile and lightest item to carry on a tour: credit card.
    We've done 3-day tour by the Grand Canyon with total of 22 lbs of gear.
    Oh, that was for 2-of-us as we ride a tandem.
    Do-able.

  15. #15
    nun
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    Plenty of good answers, but I'll offer up another. People send stuff back because they put too much carrying volume on their bikes. They look at examples of touring bikes with 4x panniers and a handlebar bag and copy that set up. Now they have loads of volume to fill and end up taking stuff like chairs (just and example of what I consider unnecessary stuff). It takes experience and will power to leave those panniers half empty. On short tours extra weight isn't such an issue and any hardship is quickly forgotten once at hoem, but on a 2 month cross country tour the extra weight becomes an anchor.

  16. #16
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nun View Post
    People send stuff back because they put too much carrying volume on their bikes.
    Maybe, but it hard to imagine that folks base their list on what fits in their panniers. I know that is not a factor for me. I plan the packing list and gather the gear before I pack it. I don't add stuff because my panniers are only half full, but maybe some do.

    I think the problem is the mind set of taking "x" might be handy and "y" sounds like a good idea. A better mindset is "can I get along without any of the stuff I am carrying or can I replace anything with something lighter".

    I find that as time goes on I carry less and less and my panniers get emptier. I strive to find a few items to leave home or replace with lighter items each trip. At some point I will hit the minimum I am comfortable with, but I am not there yet. I have a feeling that about 20 pounds including the panniers themselves might be a sweet spot for me, but I am not there yet, maybe next trip or the one after.

  17. #17
    nun
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    Nature abhors a vacuum and a bicycle tourist abhors a half empty pannier. I think folks will stuff an extra sweater in the space and also tend to take bulky cooking kits, books etc. Too many clothes is a classic cause of care packages. I agree that 20lbs is the sweat spot between comfort and just too spartan. I crept over than with the advent of the netbook. I've found that I'm now carrying almost 5lbs of electronics when you include all the power supplies and cords. But with the iPhone now having landscape keyboard in email and the ability to email multiple photos I'll be leaving the net book and camera at home next trip.

  18. #18
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    When I started touring the Scout's motto "be prepared" was ingrained in my mind. This mind set has one envisioning way too many scenarios solved by pulling something from a pannier. After lugging these “scenario solvers” for a few hundred miles you realize how improbable these situations are. Once you start shedding items you learn that riding with less is simpler and more enjoyable.

    I can tell you that if you get home, unpack your panniers, and discover an unused item that you’ve carried for thousands of miles – you will kick yourself.

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    As we sit in our nice comfortable environments, consider the following:
    - you can wear the same jersey unwashed for several days if you swish it in a creek now and then.
    - deodorant is unnecessary.
    - shaving cream is $2 and those cheapo, battery-operated razors pretty much suck.
    - you can camp in snow in shorts, if you have a really good hat.
    - if you have a pan a plate is unnecessary.

    I list this handful of examples because they sound kind of crazy now, but make perfect sense out on the trail

  20. #20
    The Rock Cycle eofelis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    No need to pack them, the post office has boxes, tape, and stamps. BTW flat rate boxes are often a good deal.
    We used a couple of $10 flat rate boxes to send some items home from a tour we did last summer. We just stuffed them full.

    The post office says you can put up to 70lbs in a flat rate box. A couple of years ago I shipped a bunch of granitic and igneous rock samples in a medium sized flat rate box. I had the box chock full and it only weighed 27lbs. I'm not sure what material in those dimensions would weigh 70lbs.
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  21. #21
    Neil_B
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    I mailed stuff twice. Here's what I sent, and why:

    - spare pair of shorts - I found I didn't need three for a two week tour.
    - spare t shirt - I'd purchased one on tour, and I didn't need it.
    - lighting system - I don't ride at night, and I had the lights for tunnels I was riding through the first part of the tour. Once they were done, I didn't need them.
    - books I wasn't reading. I had bad luck this trip with reading material.
    - baseball cap I bought on tour.
    - maps I didn't need.

  22. #22
    Senior Member MNBikeguy's Avatar
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    Scenario 1 - Overpack panniers / realize you brought useless stuff / mail it home

    Scenario 2 - Purchase trip memorabilia / mail it home / realize you bought useless stuff / pack in storage

    Same situation, different order....
    "I thought of that while riding my bike."
    - Albert Einstein on the theory of relativity

  23. #23
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Shakedown tours ... plural ... are definitely beneficial, and I don't understand tourists who don't do them. Makes no sense at all.

    But even so, you might still bring something you end up not using at all and decide to mail it home.

    The bulk of what I've mailed home, however, has been things like: brochures, maps, photographs, souvenirs, etc. The weight of those things really adds up.

  24. #24
    Cycled on all continents JohnyW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yeamac View Post
    On journal after journal of tourists crossing the USA on crazyguyonabike, I am surprised at the number of tourists who mail back pounds of stuff mid-tour they decide they don't need. They never detail exactly what they are sending back, but just say "I sent home 7 pounds of gear I decided I didn't need."

    I have not toured so am trying not to criticize before I walk a mile in their shoes (or is it ride a metric on their bike?), but I would think before embarking on the tour of a lifetime such as crossing the USA I would figure out exactly what I needed ahead of time and what I don't need. A few shakedown tours should sort this out. Am I just being naive? I don't want to be in a position to mail back pounds of stuff on my first tour!
    the only things I would sent home: guide books, souvenirs, information I got from the tourist offices, warm cloths when the winter is over
    I carry a lot, once I made a statistic what I didn't used (spare parts and tools), what I rarely used (was it worth? - yes it was) and what I used quite often.

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  25. #25
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Shakedown tours ... plural ... are definitely beneficial, and I don't understand tourists who don't do them. Makes no sense at all.
    We did the TA with no shakedown tours and had no regrets. Bike touring isn't that much different than other forms of self supported camping like canoe, kayak, or backpack camping. So yeah shake down tours may be a good idea, but skipping them isn't really that bad of a move if you are used to packing fairly light for one of those other disciplines. Bike touring is more forgiving that the other forms of travel i mentioned in that you can easily buy stuff, send stuff home, or have stuff sent to you from home. When canoing, kayaking, or backpacking there is much less ability to adjust as you go and therefore more need to get it right the first time.

    It may seen strange, but quite a few of the folks we met on the TA were doing it as their first tour and none of them seemed to regret the decision.

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