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Monitor Photographers' Tips for Traveling Light

YOU'RE going abroad for four weeks - France, maybe, or Ecuador or Japan. But you must be able to carry all your bags yourself, and two-thirds of your luggage is camera gear and film - 100 rolls of it that must be hand-carried to avoid X-rays. What do you pack?

Monitor photographers have had plenty of practice answering that question. Here's some of their advice on how to travel light.

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``Walking down the aisle of the plane used to be the hardest part of the trip,'' says Melanie Stetson Freeman, a staffer for eight years. Luggage carts that strap onto your bags are handy in airports, she says, but rarely can they negotiate plane interiors. Then she found ``Rover,'' as she calls it: an expandable carry-on bag on wheels. Her camera bag has backpack straps. She also checks one bag.

For a recent trip to the jungles of Ecuador, she checked with people on the scene first. ``They told us to bring knee-high boots,'' she says, ``and - sure enough - we were in mud that was up to our knees.'' She always takes a flat drain-stopper, a small flashlight, a canteen and (plastic) jar of peanut butter (if the water, food, or both is suspect), a Swiss Army knife with a can opener, a table knife and spoon, a needle and thread, eye shades and ear plugs for sleeping, an alarm clock, and a rain poncho.

She may also take baby wipes. ``If you're really stuck, and there's no water,'' she explains, ``you can take a bath with them.'' If she doesn't have much room, she'll bring 20 or so moist towelettes instead.

Depending on the weather, she'll bring long underwear, sun screen, bug repellent, a hat, gloves. Her husband urged her to take a small hammock once, but she never used it. She likes Ecco Shaker ankle boots, running shoes, or hiking sandals. She brings a minimum of clothing and washes in Woolite.

NORM MATHENY travels lighter than most people can even imagine. With a daypack and a camera bag he has been on every continent (twice to Antarctica) in his 32 years with the paper. He cuts the handle off his toothbrush so it will fit in a teeny-weeny toiletries bag. He once read on the back of a shaving-cream can that ``for a really close shave,'' you should put a layer of hand soap on your face and then apply the cream. Aha! Mr. Matheny thought. He tried hand soap alone and never packed shaving cream again.

``I do things the Scotch way,'' Matheny says. In his change purse he keeps two subway tokens and the smallest, flattest Swiss Army knife made. He uses the plastic wallet that travelers' checks come in for his cash. He squishes a foldable brimmed hat - he bought the last one at a yard sale - into his back pocket. He unwinds a roll of all-purpose gaffer's tape and folds it into a three-inch-long flat packet.

His secret: Mentally reviewing every condition he will encounter on a trip. He analyzes what he needs - How presentable will I have to look? Will I be outdoors a lot? - then piles it all on the bed. Anything that won't fit in his bag goes on the floor. He packs one spare set of clothes (shirt, pants, underwear), a nylon windbreaker, a turtleneck (if it's cool), a small umbrella, a shirt-pocket-size shortwave radio, a spare watch, an alarm clock with extra battery taped to it, six granola bars, and a drain-stopper. Think layers, he says: He once shot for two days in the snow in Berlin without a winter coat. (Antarctica was another story.) His luxuries: a novel and spare shoes.

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``In Kuwait, my shoes melted off my feet,'' he explains. He broke every needle in his tiny sewing kit trying to re-attach the sole - the last time he'll wear that brand of shoe. Now he likes Dexter walking shoes and black Reeboks.

Matheny does laundry every night using hotel hand soap. He packs two plastic hangers (wire ones in the room may leave rust stains) and a clothesline. He demonstrates how he folds a wet shirt in a towel and presses it against a door frame with his shoulder to squeeze out the water. In the heating season, even wet blue jeans dry in an hour or so, he says. And if they don't dry, he just wears them damp.

He doesn't remember what he did before drip-dry.

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