Gearing Up: A Packing List for a Month in Argentina

by Keith Savage · 49 comments


A Packing List for Argentina

I’ve had this topic stewing since well before I left for Argentina, but I decided to take the trip and analyze the packing list afterward to provide details on what worked well, what didn’t, what was lacking, and what was just adding to the strain on my endoskeleton.

When I prepare for a trip, whether I’m flying to San Francisco for the weekend or Europe for six weeks, I try to fit everything into the same two bags. This means that while I’m not exactly a disciple of the one bag travel philosophy (or Rolf Potts’ no baggage challenge) I’m also not pulling a baggage train behind me. Because I pack 80% of the same items each time I travel, it was easy for me to achieve two logistical goals I had for this trip:

  1. Check no baggage on flights, to avoid fees and the potential for lost baggage, and
  2. Travel light, for flexibility and agility during travel.

Success starts with choosing the right luggage.

The Bags

Early last year I did a lot of research into the kind of bags I wanted. My existing luggage had served me well for almost a decade, but it had seen better days and it wouldn’t suit my travel goals well. Ultimately, I purchased two bags from Tom Bihn: the Aeronaut (45 L), for the bulk of my things, and the Smart Alec (26 L) with Brain Cell, for my laptop and other electronics. You can read more about my take on these bags in April’s State of the Savage, but the idea is that the Aeronaut serves as my main piece of luggage and carry-on bag and the Smart Alec functions as a daypack and personal item on flights.

These bags are roomy, durable, and passed muster as within prescribed size limits on every flight I’ve taken. I highly recommend that you take a look at Tom Bihn’s bags if you’re in the market. The Smart Alec did struggle a bit to fit under airplane seats, but it accomplished the job of holding all of my electronics (see below) with room to spare. These bags were a great investment.

The Threads

When people saw my list of clothes to pack, they either burst into laughter or looked at me as if I’d recently had a lobotomy. Here’s what I brought:

  • 3 pairs of Ex-Officio boxers
  • 3 pairs of North Face no-show ankle socks
  • 1 pair of Sleep shorts
  • 2 pairs of lightweight convertible pants
  • 1 pair of Kuhl jeans
  • 3 short-sleeve tees
  • 2 long-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 2 short-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 1 long-sleeve zip-up fleece (not shown)
  • 1 pair of cross-trainer shoes (not shown)
  • 1 pair of flip-flops
  • 1 pair of low-rise sneakers

Minus the outfit I wore on the flight to Argentina, all of my clothes fit in those three packing cubes. Overall, this system worked well. I never felt like I was missing a clothing item and everything held up under pressure. The main pitfall here was that I only brought three pairs of underwear and socks. While they were tech items that dried quickly, it meant I was doing laundry every other day and that got tiresome. They don’t take up much room, and for future trips I’m resolving to bring a whopping five pairs of each.

Remember that I packed for summer in Argentina – summer clothing takes up less space. I’ve yet to see how this system works in colder destinations that require heavier clothing. The small brown package in the picture above contains my microfiber bath towel and a pillowcase.

The Gear

I’m enamored with electronics and it shows in my packing list. I bought an iPhone 4 in advance of the trip so I could use it as my new phone here in the States and as a glorified iPod Touch while abroad. Here’s the gear I packed:

  • 15″ MacBook Pro unibody (w/ power cable & extender) (laptop not shown)
  • Tom Bihn Snakecharmer case
  • 500 GB external hard drive (w/ USB cable)
  • iPhone 4 (w/ USB cable)
  • Blackberry Curve 8900 (w/ charger)
  • Canon Powershot SX210IS (w/ case & strap, battery recharger, and USB cable)
  • Xshot camera extender
  • Earphones (not shown)
  • 4x Argentina-ready outlet adapters
  • 1 GB USB thumbdrive
  • iKlear travel size screen wipes

I used the Tom Bihn Snakecharmer to hold all of the cords, adapters, plugs, and drives, and stuffed it into the bottom of my Smart Alec. I chose not to jailbreak the iPhone and instead brought my old Blackberry Curve 8900 to use as a local phone in Argentina. AT&T kindly allowed me to unlock the Blackberry, and once I got to Buenos Aires I bought a local SIM card and popped it into the phone (big thanks to Marcello of Wandering Trader for all of the help).

The Canon Powershot SX210IS delivers good pictures and video, though I did notice some graininess on the photos and video. I’m far from an expert user of this camera so I probably need to spend more time learning the ins and outs of this point-and-shoot. I used the Xshot far less than I thought I would, mainly because I shot less video of myself than I had originally envisioned. The video can be incredible bouncy, too, when the camera’s mounted on the Xshot. I need to consider whether I’ll bring the Xshot on future trips.

Finally, I brought two sets of outlet adapters but only used the plugs with the slanting prongs. I didn’t even see the other style of outlet in Buenos Aires or Salta.

The Odds & Ends

The remainder of my gear constitutes toiletries, laundry supplies, medicines, reading material and other sundry goods.

  • Toiletry bag
  • Medicine bag
  • Laundry bag (w/ clothesline, sink stopper, detergent, febreeze, and plastic garbage bag for dirty clothes)
  • Daypack mini-bag (w/ earplugs, chapstick, kleenex, saline, and other flight necessities)
  • Moleskine and pens/pencils (not shown)
  • Books
  • Snacks
  • Umbrella
  • Flashlight
  • Watch
  • Wallet
  • Glasses (not shown)
  • Security pouch
  • Luggage locks
  • Passport
  • Copies of critical documents
  • Business cards (w/ case and extras)

These items take up quite a bit of space, but almost all were useful. I brought several different kinds of locks but didn’t end up using any of them. Had I stayed in hostels this might be a different story. The Clif bars really fill you up in a pinch.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’m very pleased with how the packing turned out. I didn’t have any situations where I wished I’d brought something and hadn’t, nor did I have to make compromises on things I wanted to bring along. However, other than my shortage of underwear and socks, books posed the biggest issue. They’re heavy and take up a lot of room. Luckily, I received a new Kindle from three really nice fans (thanks Sarah, Alex, and Laura) for Christmas, and I’m really excited to bring it on my next trip!

Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about my packing list!

Original photo by ken mccown via Flickr under Creative Commons


ErinNo Gravatar December 30, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Travelling carry- on is definitely the way to go. I am just writing a post about our tips on how to do it and have updated our packing list here: http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/what-do-you-pack-when-you-are-leaving-forever-our-packing-list/

It is quite similar to yours although we have even less clothes and no phone but I do have a big SLR camera.

We have just ordered a Kindle which is going to make a big difference. Books are just so heavy. Let’s hope it makes it to Colombia!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 4:15 PM

I somehow missed your post back in March – loved it (also the first time I’ve seen either of you on video!). Fewer clothes?? Wow, you guys are troopers. How has it been?

You will love the Kindle. It took me all of five minutes to fall head-over-heels in love with it.

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KrisNo Gravatar December 30, 2010 at 4:26 PM

Ditto on the books Erin, such a tough choice, and often the biggest extra weight for me too. Sounds like I’ll have to get with the times and go the Kindle! We’ve also been downloading e-books and printing them out really small for long rides – little bit lighter than books if you’re addicted to the feel of reading paper. Great blog as per Keith.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 4:57 PM

I’d given almost zero attention to e-readers until my brother asked for one for Christmas. I then did a quick bit of research and the Kindle really tickled my gear itch. It just made a lot of sense. The best part? There are literally thousands of FREE e-books available through Amazon, mostly the classics which have had their copyrights lapse.

Check out this link for those free e-books: http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html/ref=hp_200127470_k3land_free?node=2245146011

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Olov LindgrenNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 2:57 PM

How is it to read on? Been thinking about ditching my iPad for a Kindle instead. It’s almost 500 grams lighter and the free 3G coverage seems great. Decisions decisions..

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 11:03 PM

It’s fantastic to read on. The e-ink is unbelievably…well, book-like. When I first saw the image and text on the Kindle, I thought it was a decal I needed to peel off the screen.

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Globetrooper ToddNo Gravatar December 30, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Hey Keith, nice detailed post. Did airport staff ever weigh your luggage? We were caught in Lima when someone decided to weigh our bags. We’ve never been caught before Lima. Even though we always fit within size restrictions, we always breach weight. I didn’t think it would be so hard to get under 7kg, but with a MacBook and sleeping bag, there’s no hope.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 4:59 PM

My Aeronaut (carry-on bag) was weighed only once: on my flight from Salta to Buenos Aires. They slapped a big “approved” sticker on it, so it must have been under weight. What happened once they caught you in Lima? Were you forced to check the bag?

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EugeniaNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 12:13 AM

This list is very helpful! Thanks for sharing it.

I’ve recently bought the same camera and I also noticed this graininess you mention. I’m not very experienced but I’m still trying to figure out how to solve that! Please let me know if you find out first.

Also, I’m thinking about buying a Kindle and stop carrying heavy books! Which one do you have? I’ve seen two or three Kindle version in Amazon site.

Those packing cubes are great. It’s a pity I haven’t found them in Argentina yet :(

I wish you a very happy New Year!
Best
Eugenia

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:02 PM

About the camera, will do. You do the same for me if you figure it out first :)

I have the newest version of the Kindle with free 3G anywhere in the world and wifi. It’s a thing of beauty. You could probably order those cubes from Eagle Creek’s web site, though the cost of shipping might be prohibitive.

Happy new year to you too, Eugenia!

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EugeniaNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 2:19 PM

Hi Keith,

You are right about order the cubes from the web site, I’ll check shipping costs?

Are you sure that 3G can be used anywhere in the world? Did you use it here in Argentina?

Best
Eugenia

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 3:12 PM

I didn’t receive the Kindle until Christmas, so I didn’t have a chance to use it in Argentina. I just checked Amazon’s site and they say the Kindle has Global 3G coverage. Take a look at this page: http://amzn.to/hjadwZ

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EricaNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 4:31 AM

I would love to see your packing if you were a girl. <3 Even as a low maintenance one I can't imagine packing that light. Although, with a 40L I guess I will have to learn eventually.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:04 PM

My wife struggles a bit to pack light. I think it’s a prerequisite for comfortable and flexible travel. Good luck!

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markNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 6:58 AM

Nice and comprehensive, curious about one thing, cellphones. I kind of like the idea of not having one as a pure break from it all. A bit old schoolish but I can’t imagine sitting at my favorite ridge looking at the Himalayas in Nepal and the cell phone rings…!

Yes, you could turn it off at that point but its the principal..any my own thoughts and have a great time!
A felow traveler soon to hit the road in ’11
Mark

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:07 PM

Hey Mark, despite carrying two cellphones, I was in no danger of anyone calling me. The iPhone was kept in airplane mode with 3G, cell networks, and data roaming turned off. In that configuration, it’s nothing more than an iPod Touch.

Only two or three people had my Blackberry’s Argentine phone number, and one of those people was my wife. She only called me on that number when we couldn’t Skype. I suggest you bring one for the convenience. You can always turn it off before you crest the mountain.

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BeckyNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Very fun to read today as I’m (trial) packing for Egypt this weekend. My setup is very similar, though I sometimes check my carry-on size suitcase so I don’t have to deal with it during layovers.

Weight has definitely been my biggest problem for packing, rather than volume. When I flew to Scandinavia, they had strict weight restrictions for carry-on bags. Plus I feel like I need to be able to carry everything for a while in a pinch. But it’s tough these days with electronics — especially camera equipment.

My e-reader has been the best thing to ever happen to my travels. At the end of my month in Ireland, I had a veritable library in the back of my rental car. Plus I find lots of people still ask me about it, so it’s a great conversation starter.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Hey Becky! When do you head to Egypt? Are you going with a group or have you constructed the trip yourself?

Good point about weight – I think that will be a problem for me in the future, too. Do you have a DSLR?

Very cool to hear more positive stories about e-readers. I love it, though the one major downside is that not every book I want is available on the Kindle. In time this will probably be a non-issue.

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BeckyNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 11:19 AM

I leave a week from Tuesday! I’m not going with a group — it’s my own itinerary. But I do have a 4 day Nile cruise in the middle which will be pretty structured.

I do have a DSLR. Even worse, I use a superzoom lens (18-200mm), which itself is 1.2 lbs — but at least I don’t have to try to switch lenses really fast to catch something. Like everything with packing, it’s all about the trade-offs.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 11:05 PM

How would you describe your expertise with the DSLR? Are you the type to just pick it up and shoot or have you scoured the manual and taken courses on shooting with it?

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BeckyNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 11:50 PM

I’d say one little notch above point-and-shoot. I’m pretty comfortable with the exposure-related settings now, but I’ve kept things basic so far. I read a few books and had a friend give me a few lessons. I also use a cheat sheet that I made.

I thought Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography book was pretty good. Covered the camera basics, plus some interesting thoughts on travel photography. And it has pretty pictures.

Chuck ClaytonNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 10:41 AM

Great packing strategy. I like the way everything is clearly shown and described. Organization is the key as that will save time, money and frustration (finding things). It is fascinating to find out how little we really need when you get down to it!

Best,

Chuck

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:09 PM

And I wasn’t even trying that hard to pack light. If I really wanted to go barebones, I could’ve left a pair of shoes, the guidebook, the Xshot, the iPhone (though it would hurt), and maybe a shirt or two.

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markNo Gravatar December 31, 2010 at 5:48 PM

Yep, gotta have music thats for sure….and don’t get me wrong, I loves the gadgets too!

I’m gearing up for a big one in ’11 including India and Nepal, and like your style of packing and for sure taking notes… What if you can’t charge your iphone? I was thinking of buying a AA or AAA operated MP3 as batteries are everywhere and portable, electricity is not, when you are deep in country, which I’m planning on doing..what MP3 woul you recommend that takes batteries?
cheers, Mark

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Are you bringing a laptop? I only charged my iPhone through my laptop and I didn’t run into any situations where an outlet wasn’t available. Granted, it sounds like you might be further off the beaten the track. If you’re off in the wild for an extended period of time it might make sense to bring battery-operated devices.

I’ve been using an iPod for the last 3.5 years, and before that I used Creative’s products. I suggest simply browsing through Amazon and reading customer reviews.

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LauraNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 1:51 PM

Thanks for the detailed packing summary! I usually carry-on too; it’s just so much easier. Plus, baggage claim takes about an hour at my home airport, and that’s a miserable wait. I noticed you brought an umbrella. I always thought the airlines/TSA wouldn’t let you take an umbrella in a carryon. I actually had a friend get hers confiscated in the Punta Cana airport (going back to the US), and never bring one myself. I guess you didn’t have any trouble, so maybe I’ll consider that in the future. You may want to bring a cheap one just in case they don’t let you take it on the next trip :)

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM

I did bring a mini umbrella tucked away in my Aeronaut and didn’t have any troubles getting through security. I’ve never heard umbrellas are prohibited, but thanks for the heads-up!

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Michael HodsonNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 9:51 PM

I supposed I need to do one of these packing posts before my 5 months in the Middle East coming up. I definitely pack less clothes that you did, and probably slightly less electronics (no phone), but like the Neverending Voyage, I have a big SLR and a 2nd lens. For some odd reason, I really do love these packing list posts. LOL.

need to check out your day pack. Don’t like my current one.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2011 at 11:12 PM

I would be interested in reading your packing list. How often are you doing laundry on your current trip? One reason I like the Smart Alec pack is that it’s very unassuming. It doesn’t broadcast that it could be holding an expensive laptop (at least to my eyes), and I think that’s worth something.

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FayeNo Gravatar January 3, 2011 at 10:28 AM

I don’t think I could ever pack that lightly! travel organization products like packing squares and packing envelopes help me out, but I’ll always be a heavy packer :)

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KirstenNo Gravatar January 3, 2011 at 2:00 PM

I won’t be spending a month in Argentina but I am hoping to spend 1-2 weeks there in May. This is helpful info Keith!!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 3, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Glad to help. That’s awesome that you’ll be in Argentina! Where are you going specifically?

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KirstenNo Gravatar April 19, 2011 at 12:07 PM

I’m going as a guest at Andi Perullo’s wedding with Abby Tegnelia!

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JaimeNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 12:44 AM

Keith thanks for doing a packing list post. I love packing list post & plan on doing one before I leave. It is just so interesting to see what everyone takes with them, what ends up working for them and what doesnt.

I do have one question: were you able to take your 45L bag on as carry on?

The backpack I purchased is 40L and am wondering if I can make it a carryon too???

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 2:31 PM

Hi Jaime – yes, the Aeronaut is designed specifically to meet all major airlines carry-on requirements. I had absolutely no problems using it as a carry-on. The main concerns should be the shape of the bag and the weight. The weight can really ruin your plans, so be sure to look up the weight limits for bags ahead of time.

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JaimeNo Gravatar January 4, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Awesome thank you very much!!! Looks like my 40L shouldn’t be a prob then. I look into the weight before leaving.

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Erica at ExOfficioNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Thanks for including our underwear in your packing list. Glad to hear that they worked out nicely for you, except for having to do laundry due only bringing 3 pairs. I’m with you on packing more. (Just don’t tell my coworkers ;) )

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 7:40 PM

Doesn’t ExOfficio promote only taking one pair?? Man, that would be hellish laundry duty. The boxers are great, though.

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Erica at ExOfficioNo Gravatar January 13, 2011 at 1:01 PM

You are correct. It makes for some eye-catching marketing. But how many pairs you pack depends on your own personal hygiene and how much laundry is too much laundry. There are ExOfficio underwear enthusiasts who will only take 1 pair and only wash them every four days with some creative turning around and inside out. Personally, I couldn’t do that.

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SusanNo Gravatar January 13, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Agree with you on the underwear issue – I have the same argument with my kayaking colleagues. My point of view is (1) I like clean undies (2) I hate continually having undies in various stages of “dry” in my tent (though the ExOfficios are quite wonderful for that!) and (3) really – HOW much room does an extra pair or two of undies take up, anyhow???
Nice article!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 13, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Agreed. ExOfficio boxers take up almost no room since you can squish them down and roll them so tightly.

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MicahNo Gravatar January 15, 2011 at 9:11 AM

Hi Keith! Thanks for turning me on to Tom Bihn bags – had never heard of them before. Just went through a big soul searching journey as I looked for the right pack for my 1+ year RTW adventure. Just blogged about it here: http://bit.ly/iaPZMU Thanks for the tips!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 15, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Glad to help. The Tom Bihn bags aren’t your typical “backpacks,” but they definitely fit my needs perfectly. It’d be interesting to read an account of a year-long RTW backpacker using TB bags, to see how it goes.

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MicahNo Gravatar January 15, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Yeah – I’ve got my main pack now but I’ll be living in Taiwan for at least 3 months leading a somewhat normal life (studying Chinese) and will need an everyday bag for books, etc. as well as a solid daypack when I head out on the road. Will let you know if I head in that direction.

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DinaNo Gravatar January 15, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Nice packing list. We are a fan of traveling light too. Nice to see familiar items, like the packing cubes from Eagle Creek and the travel towel.

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