cait +tiff

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C / forgotten essentials


I read up on Kathmandu before I came. I looked at all the books, and the internets and the Weather Channel. I read blogs, talked to friends, and straight up did my homework on this place.

However, there are a few things I wish I had brought with me, and that I recommend everyone bringing with them for travel in Nepal. A lot of them are hygiene based. It’s dusty and polluted like you would not believe here, and simple things, like not having dirt on your face, kinda matter.

Leather Jacket


I have been spending a lot of time on motorcycles and its certainly the most fun way to get around. Driving up in the mountains yesterday got a little breezy and my one long sleeve shirt didn’t really cut it. Also worth noting, anything you wear on the road, becomes the color of the road. Don’t wear white, like I did.

Face Wipeswipes.jpg

I found some of these here, in a generic brand, and they are so needed. It’s a blast whizzing through the little alleys in KTM, but those little alleys are filled with about 500 years of dust, pollution and cooking smoke.

Hand Sanitizer


My friend Lin has me hooked on this stuff from Dr Bronners, but I picked up the cheap version here with all the horrible chemicals. Sometimes you have the make the choice between cancer-inducing toxins and Giardia. Spending a lot of time in markets and exchanging cash for all the pretty things means nasty hands. You just can’t eat buffalo momos with nasty hands.

Simple Tote



I always have one with me in the Penh and forgot to stash in my favorite Salt and Sundry tote that has been with me everywhere.

Chap Stickchap-stick.jpgI have a lip balm I use before bed that smells nice and makes me feel fancy, but it doesn’t last more than a few minutes outside here. My favorite is still good old Chap Stick, with SPF. The sun is fierce here, even if it’s not so hot.

Off to trade all my money for fabric and dumplings.



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C / in-flight uniform


I wear the same thing every time I jump oceans. It’s a giant t-shirt, leggings, comfy kicks and a scarf that doubles as a blanket. I can’t usually sleep on planes, so in order to make my chances of rest as high as possible, I need to be crazy comfortable. I like to get close to pajamas, but try to avoid looking like Paris Hilton in 2004. Because I am heading back to the states in the winter, I am adding a blazer like the one below, but mine is cooler because its from Colorblind, only available in Cambodia. Also adding in super snuggly butter socks, because I freeze on airplanes, and if my feet are cold, my life is over. Happy travels this season. x


1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6


Cover photo via LifeHack



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T / perpetual hyphenate


Just a tiny glimpse of the chaos that’s being thrown into my bag. Travel tip: charcoal pills in tummy-risky countries are a must.

When I announced to friends this week that I’d be flying off to Myanmar for the rest of July and most of August, the general reaction was “I thought you had kissed public health goodbye?”  My response to that question has been, well if someone is going to pay me to go somewhere really cool, then why not?  So when an old boss asked me if I could be in Yangon, stat, my response was an unwavering YES!

Seven (slightly stressful) days after that fateful email, I’ve got an Airbnb waiting for me, a smattering of pals who moved there from Phnom Penh that I can’t wait to see, so many tips from Cait, and this wonderful lady (in the most beautiful of coinky dinkies) is holding a Disappearing Brew Bar at Port Autonomy in Yangon this weekend!

Plus, I hear that Burmese creatives are the coolest.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”

On one hand, it’s like that quote from The Godfather.  Paid work from a very large international body has its benefits.  And if it’s going to satisfy a part of me that spent seven years invested in a topic, and take me to cool places that I can share with you here, I’ll say yes to that.  I don’t mind staying hyphenated because it somehow opens up so many more opportunities.  But there are some key rules that I’m following: only if it feels right.

And I can’t wait to pop my Myanmar cherry.

Photo by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


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T / the things i’m bringing

headerSo tomorrow I’m going away. Again.  I decided to sequester all of our travel to the hot season for the first half of 2015. That’s right, you’ve heard us moan about it before: that time of year when it’s absolutely intolerable and a sense of dread overcomes you at the thought of leaving an air conditioned space.  I’ve already knocked off a getaway and a trip back home.  Now it’s time to head in the other direction and over to the old world.  Over two weeks and some change, I’ll be in London (5 days), Copenhagen (3 days), the south of Spain (7 days) and Frankfurt (2 days).  A little crazy right?  And that involves some wayward weather and baggage limits on European domestic airlines.  I’ll also be carrying a treasure trove of gifts for pals, some of whom I haven’t seen for four years! With this conundrum in mind, I thought I’d share some of my baggage and tricks for a gift heavy suitcase with a sprinkle of a minimalist wardrobe.

Host(ess) Gifts:

There are no hotels nor Airbnbs this trip.  I am bunking it down with some of my bestest pals and my partner’s family in all four countries I’m visiting.  How lucky am I?  I’m so grateful for all the friendship from these guys (I’ve known a couple of these beauties since I was 18!), and so excited for all the wine we’ll be drinking and stories that will be shared. And I love sharing little bits of Cambodia with my pals.  So I thought I’d share some of these fantastic and tasty items that are making it into my baggage.


L’Irresistible is the brand of the social enterprise, Action Cambodge Handicap, a French NGO that assists young Cambodians with mental and physical disabilities to find gainful employment.  To help generate income, they make the most amazing sweet things with local ingredients!  Among my faves to bring home are their suite of jams.  I’ve got eight jars of pineapple coconut, mango, banana, and pineapple passion jams that are so easy to pack and share with everyone I’ll be staying with!

A big chunk of my pals are major foodies.  Cooking, eating, food porn, whatever.  So bringing back at least one kilogram of Kampot pepper to sprinkle on all of them is a must.  These little peppercorns pack a bigger punch than your usual little nodule.  And they were once the preferred pepper of choice on all French tables.  There’s a noticeable difference in flavour and I like to make sure all my foodie friends have a grinder full of this.

CocoKhmer is yet another little social enterprise in Cambodia that is onto seriously huge things.  Working with vulnerable communities, founder (and fellow Torontonian!) Rob Esposito has created systems for income generation and production of hand-pressed coconut oil and related products that also support local farms.  I swear by CocoKhmer’s line of body scrubs, lip balms and firey Naga Balm for sore muscles.  And friends with newborns are in love with the fragrance of CocoKhmer’s delicate Baby Balm.

Scarves! Well duh. I am constantly picking these up in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and wherever else I may land in southeast Asia.  Pure silk shawls and 100% cotton kromas that come in every single colour and pattern imaginable make for perfect gifts.

My Tiny Closet:

You’ve heard of the term, right? Coined by stylist and photographer Caroline Rector out of a desire to simplify and make things unfancy (listen to her journey to this realization here), the capsule wardrobe has since exploded in the blogosphere with professionals like stylist Jen Pinkston taking on the challenge.  I’ve been telling myself to do this for the past year, and this 17 day period sounds like the perfect time to experiment.  I’ve decided to bring 12 items – including tops, bottoms, shoes and outerwear (and excluding underwear and workout clothes) to bring with me to four cities and two climates.  This will be an obvious challenge for me because I like my patterns and my colour, while the capsule wardrobe is typically built on solid colours and clean lines.  So I thought I’d share some of the ways I’m infusing crazy patterns and colour into this trip’s tiny wardrobe!

Tops-GridMy big obsession right now are patterned spaghetti strap tops like this one from & Stories.  They are perfect for layering and are so easy to pair with solid bottoms.  Last week, I found some old cotton saris I had grabbed while in Goa, and some less natural textiles that don’t breath so well in this heat (ie. polyester) in my growing collection of fabric and decided to bring them to the tailor for some quickie cute tops.  And then I remembered about all that beautiful kitenge that Alissa had brought me back from Tanzania. So it was inevitable that another shirtdress was born; perfect for brunches and wandering in hip galleries, and layered with a wool cardigan for night time casual cocktails!

Bottoms-GridFor bottoms, I decided to go for simple and comfortable. In addition to the obligatory pair of black skinny denim, I’m packing these simple cotton and beyond comfortable army-esque pants (and here) from J. Crew. I love that they are both mid wasted, but can go down for a cute drop-crotch look, get cinched up to look a tiny bit more polished, or rolled up to show off fancy feet.  And I’m still obsessed with my pencil cut Kampot Skirt from Tonlé.  This will be perfect for a fancy date night in any of those four cities.

BagsAnd of course to carry it all in, I’ll only be bringing two bags with me.  My two trusty sidekicks wherever I am are always this white leather clutch I purchased at ARTillery from a local designer some years ago (similar here), and this leather tote bag (inspired by this) which fits my life and that I had custom made for me in Hoi An.  Both are simple, made with sturdy leather, and pretty much go with any pattern or colour you can throw at them.

To finish it all off, I’ll be packing this for rain, and these for comfy wandering

PS – Speaking of limited wardrobes, check out this awesome capsule wardrobe all the way in Cape Town! 30 days / 30 outfits / 10 key items / 3 different ways #stylistsiki

PPS – Great minds clearly think alike.  Head over to Cup of Jo to check out her best gifts for hosts and Bri Emery has also just shared her packing guide for Europe (where I discovered our love for the same footwear).

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.  And we are not liable for any retail therapy rampage that might happen after consumption of this post.



guest post / the (minimal) things jen brings

Cait+Tiff are nowhere to be found, there is clearly a bounty on their heads. Good thing they have friends to takeover for a few days.


I stayed at the same emergency evacuation center as these children after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013. This was my first visit seeing them back in their neighborhood in January 2014. Photo Credit: Laura Pohl

Jen is our amazing photographer friend.  She heads to tough places and manages to stay bright and colourful despite all the difficult things she might be around! Thanks Jen for giving us a breakdown of what you carry and how you carry it when you’re abroad for work and play!

Before I pack, I think through what I’m going to shoot. If there’s any possibility that I’ll shoot video, I’ll throw my tripod in my suitcase. If not, I know my shooting style well enough to realize that I hate using tripods and will never, ever pull one out if I’m not shooting video.

Jen's-gear-and-what-she-does-with-itI love gear, but I also love my neck and being as pain-free as possible. I’ve had neck problems since I was in junior high (if only those would have been the worst of my issues in middle school!), so taking care of my body and keeping heavy weight off my neck and shoulders is my top priority. I always bring a bag that fits well, especially if I have more than 30 minutes of hiking anywhere on the itinerary. Sometimes it can be 3-4 hours. I need a bag that displaces the weight from my shoulders to my hips, and since I’m 5’10” it was really hard to find. It’s not fashionable, but I’m so thankful for my F-stop gear Loka. Finally something that carries my gear as comfortably as a very nice backpack intended for long treks.


Vacation is all about shooting what I love and not worrying about client requests back in the home office. I travel with one body and a 24-105 lens. I might bring a flash and remote triggers if I’m feeling fancy or going to an urban area where I want to play with light. But if I’m out in nature, it’s my workhorse 24-105 lens, the camera body, and cheap pop-open reflector/ filter. I’ve used prime lenses in the past, but right now I’m loving the freedom that comes from not worrying about switching lenses.

The most important thing is to get out and shoot what you love and try new ideas. I just went on a fantastic camper van vacation in New Zealand and shot a bunch of landscape pictures. I realized it isn’t my thing. I will not wake up early to catch the golden hour at sunrise unless I have to for work – I love my sleep too much, and I can get plenty of golden hour light at sunset, thank you very much. I find joy photographing people, animals and man-made spaces, and it was good to solidify my first loves by taking hundreds and hundreds of landscape photos that, although technically correct, were lacking the creative spark I’ve seen from great landscape photographers. Noted.

I also want to list a few non-gadgety things that keep me sane photographing in the tropics.

* A crushable, packable sunhat. Must have a brim that flips up and stays up if I have a flash on the camera. Right now I’m loving this one.

* Quick-dry pants – I’m so embarrassed to write this on a blog with a fashionable audience around the world. Please be nice anyway when we meet in person. Somehow I manage to get sopping wet or muddy once or twice on each of my trips; I get caught in a downpour, fall trying to cross a river on a downed log, or end up laying down right on a pile of cow poop trying to get the perfect shot (yes, this happened). Having pants that dry overnight is critical. But don’t get the kind with zip off legs. A) they look even more ridiculous than regular quick-dry pants B) you will WRECK your knees kneeling on the zippers if you’re photographing from a low perspective, and C) you will never, ever actually zip the legs off – hello, mosquitoes – and you look silly for no reason.

The moment everyone realizes I am covered in cow poop. This wasn’t even my most embarrassing moment on this particular trip to Bangladesh – that story involves an epic fall and a fractured wrist.

The moment everyone realizes I am covered in cow poop. This wasn’t even my most embarrassing moment on this particular trip to Bangladesh – that story involves an epic fall and a fractured wrist.

* Sunsleeves – Another nerdy thing, but I don’t wear them to keep my skin lovely when I’m old. That’s already a lost cause. I do it because sunburns hurt, and I’m much nicer to be around when I’m not nursing a wicked burn from the previous day.

* Insect repellent – Natural mosquito remedies usually don’t work in dense tropical vegetation and I’m doing my best to avoid dengue, so yes, I’m slathering my skin with chemicals. Deet works best, but it also eats away at plastic. That’s disturbing on many levels, but a big one is MY CAMERA BODY IS MADE OF PLASTIC. Not a good combination. Instead, I use a picaridin-based repellent. It works almost as well as DEET and doesn’t erode the handgrip on my camera.


Visiting a girls school in rural Pakistan where prior to this particular intervention, girls had to quit school after grades 1 or 2 (if they even enrolled in the first place).

* The biggest smile I can muster. In Asia, smiles go a long way to building relationships. Fortunately I don’t have to try too hard to keep the smile on my face during a long, hot day shooting – I have the best job in the world, and I can’t believe that I get to spend time with some of the most wonderful and kind people you can imagine.

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C / clutch idea


On the plane ride into Phnom Penh yesterday morning, I realized that I am genius. This inflated sense of ego came from a severe lack of sleep and one simple idea.

I travel a lot and I use the same carryon on every trip. It’s the perfect size and I love it, but I tend to lose my passport/ticket/keys/phone/money and everything else important as soon as I chuck it in there. Now, I understand that there are specific bags made for this specific problem. In fact, there are entire companies based on organizational travel gear. However, I will probably not buy one of those extremely well-designed bags because I don’t like how they look and I am vain enough to let that impact my travel experience.

Instead, I have an easy solution: pack a clutch in my carryon.


I usually put a clutch in my checked baggage for nights out. But because I had an uncharacteristically big Monday night, I scrambled to pack late at night and threw the clutch into my carryon with everything still in it. It was the kind of packing job that my mom would shake her head it. However, when I arrived at the Bangkok airport at 6am on Tuesday morning, everything had its place and there was no sweaty, stressed-out shuffle through my bag as I checked in and breezed through security.

As it turns out, me + a few cocktails: logistical mastermind! I should write down all of my three-drink ideas!

Better not.


All photos by Caitlin Decker

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T / field gear


This week I’m in the field.  The field.  That term is thrown around so much by those development folk.  For me, it means going to the real Cambodia.  When I first moved here, a friend mentioned to me that “Cambodia’s 20 minutes outside of Phnom Penh.”  And he’s absolutely right.  I find it refreshing to get out of this emerging little Asian city that comes with all the congestion of development and into the countryside.  But this also means that I need to bring some gear with me to keep me afloat, a little more sane and all the gears running so I can get the work done.  Here are some of the bits and pieces I definitely have along with me this week (and a big bottle of hand sanitizer of course).

1. Mountain Equipment Co-op Pika Daypack

Like any true Canadian, I’ve got one of these little guys.  And they’re so incredibly helpful to carry everything I need while conducting research in the field.  They may be small, but they’re another one of those Mary Poppins bags.  I’ve had this one for the last few years and it’s still going strong.  I love the throwback model that MEC’s got up now too.

2. Electrolytes (similar here)

It gets really hot. Like seriously WTF, how can this really happen? hot.  And eventually, you’ve sweated out everything and not only do you need water, but also sugar and some minerals to fight against that dehydration drunkenness that will ensue.  Oh right, a pesky stomach bug might hit you too.  So I like to keep these little packets of electrolyte replacement powder that they sell at pharmacies all over Asia on hand.  And they come in snazzy new flavours too (hello JELLO strawberry).

3. Cotton scarves (similar here)

For two things.  In no particular order: sopping up sweat (see above) and making that no frills field outfit look a little hipper.  Friends are also always asking why the heck I’m wearing a scarf if it’s so goddamn hot.  Well not only is it sopping up that sweat, the moisture is going to keep the back of your neck a little cooler.  This I learned from some Sri Lankan and Filipino colleagues and I feel like they know.

4. Books, books and more books (a, b, c)

There’s a lot of downtime during field work.  In most cases, I’ll be attempting to take notes while a colleague facilitates a focus group discussion in a village.  But eventually, there’s only so much I can do.  So I always make sure I have a book on hand. Preferably a physical one so I don’t distract anyone by waving a very conspicuous e-reader around.

5. Sunscreen 

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been blessed with a complexion that doesn’t lend itself to burning (not bragging!).  But I am very aware of protecting my skin from evil UV rays.  And since my mom stowed this in my bags when I first left Canada, I haven’t been able to stop using LaRoche Posay’s incredibly light and moisturizing SPF 30 sunscreen which is perfect for facial coverage and applicable everywhere else!

6. Granola Bars

This goes into the same boat as the electrolytes.  You don’t want to see me get hangry.  Nor do you want to see me go into a hypoglycemic stupor. These guys keep me in check between meals.

7. J. Crew Popover Tops

I can’t even begin to describe how much I love these shirts.  They are so freaking light. They make me look like I have a modicum of professionalism.  I also feel like they somehow give me some cred, or I’m channeling Dr. Ellie Sattler or something like that.

8. Moleskine Notebook

Field notes!  Always so many field notes! I pretty much have to document everything.  And everything goes into these perfectly sized and ruled Moleskines.  Plus they take a good beating.

9. ANKER External Battery

I rely on my iPhone for pretty much everything from coordination to data collection.  I need it to be fully powered at every point in a day when I’m out the field.  This external battery saves my life and my work.  All you do is charge it up before heading out, and it provides enough power to charge an iPhone six times over!  You also look pretty good when you save the day for a boss or two.

10. Canon EOS Rebel

Clunky they are, those DSLRs, but I’m a fan of this guy.  I’m often needing to document research while I’m collecting data, so this line of cameras come in handy for taking high quality shots.  Not too bad for vacation photos either.

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C+T / the things we bring


Photo Credit: Unknown via Pinterest

There is a lot of flying.  At least nowadays since we’ve outmoded the bus.  The annual trips back home which swallow up 24 hours or more.  (Yes, an entire day of our lives on a plane or spent in a layover).  Or the short jumps within Asia (always with a layover).  In any case, we like to have some essentials with us to keep us a little saner and decent.

Cait :

I pack too much, always. My beach suitcase is just as big as my snow suitcase and I am fully aware that it makes no sense. It’s probably my inner girl scout that keeps me overly prepared (what if there is no hot sauce? I should bring three…), but I’m not sorry about it. I am the one with a bag of cookies in her rolly bag, you are going to want me around.

As for my carry on, I try to scale it back a bit so I don’t get back problems and look like a crazy lady (too late). Heavy carry ons suck the most but no matter where I am going, I have a few items that are always within reach.


1. Ole Henriksen Cleansing Cloths

These little wipes are great, and while they will set you back a few more dollars than the standard baby-wipe option, they leave you feeling clean and less like you have been sitting in an flying cable car full of other peoples’ sweat and old breath.

2. Bumble & Bumble Invisible Oil Travel Kit

Shampoo in hotels is basically water and dish soap as far as I can tell. The last thing I want to think about when I am sailing or climbing or eating is my hair. I bring a long a set of high-quality hair condiments when I take off, mostly because I am lazy and don’t want to deal with my hair, and because it smells awesome.

3. Caudalíe Hand and Nail Cream

Airplanes destroy my hands because I worry too much about the spread of disease and I wash them 16 times each flight. It’s dry at 30,000 feet and my paws get rough without some help. I like this cream because it smells like heaven and people love it when you smell good, and also because it calms down the hand situation and lets me re-focus on the new teen adventure drama I have only seen 4 times.

4. Madewell Snuggly Scarf

This specific scarf is not called that, but it should be. The requirements for the perfect plane scarf are three fold. 1) It must be giant, like a twin sheet. 2) super cozy 3) not to thick, because it must be able to serve as a beach blanket, sarong, shirt, large male diaper, pillow and scarf.

5. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream

No matter where you are, get up in that SPF. This is a great one, and never feels heavy or greasy, but do let it sink it a bit before getting in the water or you look like the guy who works in the pit of despair.

Tiff :

I am the total opposite of Cait when it comes to packing.  Things tend to get rationed in my checked baggage since I know I get a little crazy when it comes to shopping in new and far flung locales.  But that carry-on bag of mine is packed with a bunch of stuff I like to have close with me for security issues (read: expensive technological accoutrements I don’t wish to lose).  Thus I wind up looking like Quasimodo.  Computers notwithstanding, I do like to have with me a few essentials to keep me comfortable when I’m traveling.

tiff-brings1. Lo & Sons OG Bag.

This bag absolutely keeps me so incredibly sane.  Little compartments for everything from my passport, to all those various chargers I carry, an extra pair of shoes perhaps to boot.  I’ve been carrying it on every single flight I’ve been on for the past two years and it can take a beating.  Plus it fits perfectly under seat. I call it my Mary Poppin’s bag.

2. Kiehl’s Moisturizers and Lip Balm

Everything gets so dry when flying agh!  Since university, I’ve been a member of the Kiehl’s cult.  So when I’m traveling, an absolute must is a tube of their Lip Balm 1 (in fact, you can probably find this in all of my bags) and a small bottle of Ultra Facial Moisturizer in SPF 30.  I’m not great at putting on sunscreen since I’ve been blessed with a complexion that’s not akin to burning.  So I feel like this particular moisturizer gets me at least a modicum of sun protection.  After one nasty visit home versus dry cold winter winds that turned my face into a roughshod desert, I said never again. Thanks to a a super friendly Kiehl’s staffer, I loaded up on their Ultra Facial Moisturizer with Intense Hydration.  And last but not least are their samples!  Kiehl’s samples are the best for traveling. Particularly their Ultra Facial Cleanser.

3. Lemlem Scarf

Cotton scarves, whatever the brand, are my ultimate accessory when traveling.  And always a nice luxurious cotton or merino blend like this Lemlem Kulkulu scarf.  They are great for sopping up sweat in tropical locations, keeping warm under mighty air conditioners and covering up if I happen to find myself in a mosque or sacred place.

4. The Outfit. Lululemon Scuba Hoodie, Uniqlo Leggings, Tonlé Sina T-Shirt Dress

I basically look like the spectrum between ground of going to (read: excited and clean), and coming back (read: exhausted and sweaty) from a yoga class when I’m traveling.  Comfort is my absolute first priority.  And I don’t care what those fashion police say about black leggings. So long as I cover my butt with a tunic or Tonlé T-shirt dress, I’m cool.  And to cap it all off – the Lululemon Scuba Hoodie. Say what you will about the company, that hoodie is durable (it lasts years) and is the perfect thing to keep me warm when the cabin temperatures drop.

5. Tiek Ballet Flats and travel socks

When I’m in the terminal, I like these Tiek flats to look a little cleaner and polished.  Plus if I’m running from gate to gate, their non-slip soles prevent any butt first tumbles from happening.  And when I’m on the plane, travel socks to keep my extremities from freezing off are pretty useful too.  I’m a cheapo and I usually keep the ones that I’ve gotten (thank you Cathay Pacific!).  Or maybe I’ll bring a pair of Roots wool camping socks with me.  In any case, my toes are nice and snuggly.