July 29, 2014
visualobscurity:

A young woman lighting a cigarette as she sits on a New York park bench at night. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images). Circa 1957

visualobscurity:

A young woman lighting a cigarette as she sits on a New York park bench at night. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images). Circa 1957

Travel Gear: Miscellaneous

Keep in mind, this list is from when I was traveling in the 80s and 90s, and this was before smart phones, digital cameras, laptops, e-books, mp3 players, etc…

Miscellaneous Travel Gear

Earplugs: very useful in hostels contra snorers and loud late-night comers-in. They ought to sell them at hostel check-in desks.

Mini-alarm clock: take the batteries out while you’re traveling and only put them in at night. This keeps the alarm (and it does happen!) from getting switched to  “on” accidentally and then going off in the middle of the night, causing you to have to dig madly through your pack to try to find it and a bunch of ex-sleeping travelers curse you.

Small flashlight or headlamp: goes without saying. I’d get a real one, not one of the little keychain ones, just because you may need it to walk along a trail at night, or down in a cave or something, and a watch-battery-powered one isn’t gonna get you very far.

Address book: I keep a spare one at home to be mailed if I lost mine; also, periodically I make a list of addresses of people I’ve met and mail it home, just in case I lost my journal. How responsible!

Glue-stick: I make a lot of cards or silly art things while traveling. This is useful also for gluing things into the journal. Speaking of which…

Tape! Can’t travel without tape! I carried five or so: Scotch tape for taping things into the journal; package tape for…well, packages home (though also good for things too big for Scotch tape); electrical tape and duct tape for holding the motorcycle together; and medical tape in my first-aid kit. I used the first most often, holding letters together, taping tickets and miscellany into my journal, repairing my worn-out maps, etc.

Sewing kit: you don’t need one of those tiny pre-assembled kits; just get some good needles (a lot of them in various sizes; you’ll lose them), some safety pins (lots, in various sizes. Multi-functional.), and various strong thread. Special traveler hint: dental floss makes the strongest sewing thread that you can get, next to Dacron sail thread. My pack is held together with it, literally. I also carry a thimble, because pushing needles through layers of Cordua or leather is tough.

First-aid kit: I left on my last trip thinking that I would be doing elective surgery on myself, apparently. The thing I’ve used most has been just bandages, so bring lots. I prefer the European kind that’s a 2-meter-long strip of adhesive bandage and you just cut off the length that you need! A bottle of liquid iodine is good for cuts and scrapes, and you can use it to disinfect dubious water, too (yum). I have a few sleeping pills that I’ve carried, though I’ve used maybe 15 in four years (loud hostels, nights when I’m really worked up over something or other, or when I’ve had insomnia for a couple days). Lots of pain-reliever; Advil/Tylenol/whatever. I really like the effervescent anti-cold medicines; they get rid of all they symptoms and I can enjoy life again. I don’t carry or use anti-diarrheals; I think that they make severe diarrhea worse; I prefer to take it easy and get over it naturally, if you’ve got the time on your trip to spare (i.e., not for a week-long trip, but if you’re traveling for a month or more). Clean water, bananas, rice, yogurt, and a couple days’ rest works for me. I carried a set of syringes too, thinking that if I traveled in scary-medical-facility-land I could have my own sterile gear, but I’ve never ended up in countries that underdeveloped.

I carry a metal mug that I use for hostels or camping; it’s nice to have something to drink out of that’s mine, though it’s certainly not necessary.

Plastic zip-lock baggies! Get the heavy-duty ones. I have a couple that I used in the backpack, one for art stuff and one for miscellaneous small things: string, rubber bands, ink cartridges, etc. All the stuff that would otherwise be rolling around in the bottom of the pack. Extras are good for replacements, for carrying sandwiches or lunch, washing powder, soap, wet bathing suits or smelly socks, etc.

Laundry detergent: a small bag (powder) or bottle (liquid—but put the bottle in a baggie, because it will leak) for hand washing or to put into the occasional machine. 

Food: I like carrying a single can of something like tuna or beans or ravioli (so I can eat if I’m somewhere even without a stove), and a package of mix pasta or whatever (if I’m somewhere that does have one). If you find yourself somewhere food just isn’t available (an unplanned camp, on a long train ride, in a village when everything’s closed), a can of tuna to eat is better than nothing!

Little stuff: I like having lots of pens so I don’t need to worry about trying to find a place to buy them. A few rubber bands, even a few paper clips can sometimes be useful. Make a heap of passport-sized photos of yourself for visas, student cards, ID cards, and stuff. A good length of string can be used as drying line, to hold bags together, etc. A cigarette lighter is handy, even if you don’t smoke; lighting hostel stoves or candles, for example, or sterilizing blister-puncturing needles, or melting frayed edges of plastic webbing.

Games: I left with heaps of travel-sized games, thinking I’d play them in hostels with other travelers, but ended up never playing most of them. The ones I used most were a pack of cards (good for solitaire, too) and five dice, to play Yahtzee. The latter is good because 2-6 people can play, it’s fast and doesn’t require more than the 5 dice and pen and paper to keep score.

Swiss Army Knife: “Anyone who goes more than 30 miles from home without a Swiss Army knife deserves to get lost.” I use the scissors more than anything, though there’s not a blade or function on there that I haven’t used. If you’re traveling long, you might pack a smallish piece of emery paper as a substitute whetstone, to keep your knife sharpened. For really sharp needs (picking splinters, etc.) I use my craft knife.

Pad of paper: invaluable. For making notes of train/bus times, for writing down quick thoughts to put into the journal later, for writing your address (or other people’s), for making a note of a film to see or a book to read, or just to remember something. Also useful for when you have to draw something in an effort to communicate when there’s no common language; I’ve had entire conversations that were on paper with stick figures…

Paperwork:

I carried a couple pages of mini-calendar, just so I could keep track of birthdays and stuff. I’m notoriously bad at remembering them. You can also mark national holidays or festivals on them, so you can be prepared.

I also had a small list of all my vaccinations. It came in useful once when I needed to know if I’d had a tetanus shot before or not.

Before I left, I made a nice little booklet with all my important information; the kind that otherwise would be on a million little pieces of paper. A good way to keep track of little-used PINs is to incorporate them into a dummy phone number. So I had “Jack—(303) 388-3459” written down in my phone book, when I know that “Jack” is my little-used VISA card, and the 303-388 is dummy code (my real phone number started with that, but not the last four digits).

I had people send me crossword puzzles; sometimes they’re fun to do over breakfast, and they keep up one’s language skills when not speaking a lot of English! I also got comics sent to me, and sometimes I kept them with me and re-read them for a laugh.

In my journal, I kept a list of all (more or less) of the photos that I’d taken. This helped me when I got home and developed the photos months or years later, and every photograph of a pile of rocks (ancient castle) looks like every other pile of rocks, and every palace looks like every other  palace.

Travel Gear: Mini Atlas and Maps

So, this was from when I was traveling in the pre-smart-phone era, but when I traveled, I liked carrying a little mini-atlas of the world with me. I liked being able to dream about future voyages, locate exactly where someone else is from, show people where Colorado and Denver are on the map, or just get a visual idea of scale. But then, I’m a serious cartophile. Motorcycle and route-planning aside, I can’t travel without having paper maps, both detailed ones and big-picture ones (Michelin maps are always quality, though if you’re in a country for any serious amount of time [3+ months] and you have your own transportation, a detailed road atlas is a great idea. Few of my travel experiences were as fun as tooling around on back roads in Britain and Scotland, mostly because I had incredible maps from the Road Atlas of Britain.) The “big-picture” map is for longer-term planning: where should I go this summer? How far away are all the places, and how exactly are they geographically related? Can I make some detours and see something else?  Plus, it’s cool marking down all your route in highlighter; you can see where you’ve been (all at once, not scrolling around on an iPad screen), and it makes an awesome souvenir!

We took another road, and, emerging suddenly from the woods, to my astonishment came at once upon a large open field strewed with mounds of ruins, and vast buildings on terraces, and pyramidal structures, grand and in good preservation, richly ornamented, without a bush to obstruct the view, and in picturesque effect almost equal to the ruins of Thebes. Such was the report I made to Mr. Catherwood on my return, who, lying in his hammock unwell and out of spirits, told me I was romancing: but early the next morning we were on the ground, and his comment was that the reality exceeded my description. The place of which I am now speaking was beyond all doubt once a large, populous, and highly civilized city. Who built it, why is was located away from water or any of those natural advantages which have determined the sites of cities whose histories are known, what led to its abandonment and destruction, no man can tell.
–John L. Stephens on Uxmal, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas & Yucatán (1843) 
Drawing by Frederick Catherwood of the upper west facade of the Adivino Pyramid, Uxmal (AD 800-1000).  Ca 1841.

We took another road, and, emerging suddenly from the woods, to my astonishment came at once upon a large open field strewed with mounds of ruins, and vast buildings on terraces, and pyramidal structures, grand and in good preservation, richly ornamented, without a bush to obstruct the view, and in picturesque effect almost equal to the ruins of Thebes. Such was the report I made to Mr. Catherwood on my return, who, lying in his hammock unwell and out of spirits, told me I was romancing: but early the next morning we were on the ground, and his comment was that the reality exceeded my description. The place of which I am now speaking was beyond all doubt once a large, populous, and highly civilized city. Who built it, why is was located away from water or any of those natural advantages which have determined the sites of cities whose histories are known, what led to its abandonment and destruction, no man can tell.

John L. Stephens on Uxmal, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas & Yucatán (1843)

Drawing by Frederick Catherwood of the upper west facade
of the Adivino Pyramid, Uxmal (AD 800-1000).  Ca 1841.

Brothers and sisters, never war, never war! Everything is lost with war, nothing is lost with peace. Never more war.
Garden beds, 7/28/14

Garden beds, 7/28/14

Squash and potatoes

Squash and potatoes