When it comes to packing, we tend to overthink it. Too many clothes, too many things, and in the end, too much stress. It took me a few continents to nail it, but my packing technique has become a well-oiled machine. Forsaking the obvious (passport, credit cards, toothbrush), all my gear is divided into the Essentials, and the Specialists.
The Alarm Clock
Wake-up calls are as reliable as your memories of college. Trust them at your peril. A reliable travel alarm clock ensures you never miss a flight, a meeting, or an opportunity to nap for 23 minutes before the taxi arrives. Finding the right alarm clock isn’t easy. It’s got to be small, easy to use, a good volume on the alarm, sleep function, and easy battery replacement. When I lose a favourite alarm clock, it’s like losing a friend. My longtime companion: A Timex Travel Alarm Clock with a built in flashlight, digital display, and handy lock option.
I believe bags have karma. You treat them right, and they always come out the conveyer belt. Backpacking, I currently alternate between my Tatonka Great Escape and my trusted Karrimor warhorse (over 60 countries and counting!) For my suitcase, I go with wheeled duffels, which say: “I travel hard, but not too hard!” I used a Crumpler Freestanding Edwardian for a few years but was disappointed that it broke a couple times - too much flash, not enough form. Far more reliable has been a Pathfinder, which is approaching 30 countries without a tear. My daypack is an aptly-named Eddie Bauer Adventurer, which has a convenient side-zip to quickly access my laptop (particularly handy at airports).
Do you know what it’s like when your friend’s photos always look better than your own? That happened to me all the time, until years ago I tried a Panasonic DMC-ZS3. It felt great to be that guy with the small, light camera whose pictures pop off the display screen to everyone’s envy. Bonus points for crisp HD video too. Years later I'm using the updated DMC-ZS15 (the latest model is a ZS20). The stills are good but it struggles with the light somewhat. I took a DSLR Canon Rebel on a recent canoe trip and barely used it. Too heavy and cumbersome for a good adventure. Remember: it's easy to take incredible pictures when you visit incredible places.
I always travel with my Macbook. Over 100 countries, and my laptop has never been lost, stolen or crashed (please, find the nearest piece of wood around you, and touch it on my behalf). My latest Macbook Pro is more than just my writing tool. It’s my Road Entertainment System, my Communication Tower, my Photo Lab, my Research Hub. My old iPod road warrior soundtracked a million foreign walkabouts , but has since been replaced with my iPhone. A couple USB sticks tend to come in handy on the road. If I'm staying in hotels with access to daily chargers, I'll usually bring my iPad as well, along with a Kindle.
I always take one good pair, which is comfortable, waterproof, sturdy, and able to pass as easily in a nightclub as it does on hiking trails. I’ve been using Keen Targhee II’s since my first round the world expedition in 2005. They’ve held up remarkably well, considering I’ve put them through active volcanoes, frozen lakes, muddy rainforests and scorching deserts. The Travellers Rule of Clothing: Wear different clothes and stay in the same place, or wear the same clothes, but change your location daily.
I only use one belt, on and off the road. Tilley Endurables created a woven stretch men’s belt that always fits, no matter what pair of trousers you wear. Lose weight, gain weight – without holes, this leather trimmed webbed stretch belt always keeps the trousers up, a triumph of practicality in menswear. Unfortunately it looks like they no longer sell it. My belt has lasted me five years and counting.
For the traveller, a good hat is more important than Arthur Dent’s Towel. My last faithful travel hat turned green after I spent a night in Chernobyl. My current go-to is a crushable wool felt Stetson Explorer, procured from Vancouver's Edie Hats. Shade from the heat, shelter from the rain, and always style in a pinch. For wilderness expeditions, I typically use my black Baileys Trinidad. Every time I grab my hat off my cannonball hat stand, I feel like Indiana Jones embarking on a new adventure.
Certain trips require that something extra, a little bit of thought to ease the hardship:
If it’s too hot for a sleeping bag, or you don’t quite trust the sheets you’ll be sleeping on, a sleep sheet comes to the rescue. My mom stitched together two bed sheets, or you can buy silk and fleece bag liners off the shelf. Bring along an empty pillowcase too, which can always be stuffed with clothing if your wafer thin hotel pillow needs some help.
No power. No gadgets. Handy tip: Bring a power bar that can charge multiple devices off one power source. It saves on those adaptors, which have a knack for disappearing along with pens, chargers and lighters.
More than a camping accessory, I use a head lamp as a personal reading lamp, especially if I’m sharing accommodation with others, or crashing in someone’s living room.
Unnecessary in Central America or South Asia, but absolutely vital in Eastern Europe, and especially Russia. On the Trans-Siberia Railway, my bottle of Tabasco was worth its weight in gold. A few drops of hot sauce turns bland, boiled food into something worth salivating over.
Never travelled without my lucky Boywonder charm. Bring a water bottle if you're going to need it. My wallet is made out of incredibly endurable stingray hide. I like to tell myself the stingray lived a long and fruitful life before dying peacefully surrounded by friends and family. Headphones, sunglasses, business cards, and occasionally, a kangaroo scrotum bottle opener. One never knows when you need a good conversation piece.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.