Monday, 11 October 2010

Packing essentials

It’s just over a week until the next trip, and my mind is fixed on packing, one of those double-edged jobs – it’s exciting as it heralds the beginning of a new adventure, but when you actually have to do it, it’s one of the worst tasks of travelling (mostly because as you pack you realise that you will be repeating exactly the same job every day or two for the length of the trip…).

Anyway, the frustrations of packing aside, over the past few years I’d built up a collection of items that have become essentials – either because they have made life easier for me, or because they have aided in capturing the wonderful (and not so wonderful) moments as they happen.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve bundled together all your clothes, have bought all the ‘mini’ versions of essential toiletries, have a sturdy bag and the ‘every eventually covered’ hiking shoes and flip flops combo (the grand total amount of footwear I ever travel with!). What else could you cram into the rucksack that makes travel complete?

Well, there are obviously lots of things, each depending on individual choice, but here are my top 10 gadgets/items for making life easier and more fun on the road:

- Packing cubes. These little objects from heaven are a very recent discovery for me, but will be accompanying us on all our trips in the future. I was a bit sceptical at first, reasoning that with some regular tight packing, there was no way that they would actually save enough space to be a good investment. On a whim I saw some on sale and thought they were worth a look (if only to satisfy my smug assertion), and when put to the test, we realised that they did, in fact, live up to their promise. Granted, it’s not a huge amount of space saved, but the added compression, plus their useful way of dividing up different types of clothing make a winning combination. In South America, after finishing with our winter clothes, we tucked them all into a couple of the cubes and didn’t have to touch them again, which made the daily re-pack easier and quicker.

- Netbook. For me, blogging and uploading my photos helps me to reflect and put into words my emotions and experiences when away. I have a notoriously poor memory, particularly when it comes to the names of towns and accommodation, and jotting things down has always been an important part of travelling for me. Being able to immediately label my photos and record adventures online seemed a natural transition, and I have the added security that should anything happen to my camera or computer, everything is backed up remotely. Despite being by nature a ‘holiday-means-no-technology-don’t-show-me-emails’ type of person, I’ve come to grudgingly (at first) admit that having the netbook with me has actually encouraged me to take the time to record thoughts and share experiences with my nearest and dearest while they are still fresh (and I can still remember them fully!). I don’t carry a mobile phone when away, so this is my big concession to modern communication.

- Camera. If I could only take one thing away with me (apart from my passport!), I think it would be my camera. I can spend days in the same set of clothing, go without most luxuries, but my camera is always with me and is a crucial visual memory which allows me to re-live experiences again and again. Although I’m not the world’s greatest photographer by a long shot, taking pictures always makes me happy and I hope to improve in the future.

- Spare camera batteries and memory cards. See above for the explanation – there’s nothing worse than running out of memory in an area where a card can’t be purchased easily and having to make the tough decision about what to delete to make space (I’ve been there – it’s horrible).

- Universal adapter. This one is common sense really, but I’ve managed to forget it a couple of times and find that when you really need one, there’s never one to be found… essential for all electrical items, it’s worth getting a half-decent one to ensure that all those can’t-be-without gadgets continue to work wherever you are.

- A washing line. This might seem a bit of a silly one, but in fact it’s been a real life saver on many trips. Not only is it good for the obvious – hanging up those bits and bobs washed hastily in the sink when you realise you really can’t wear that top for yet another day, but also as a way of securing bags that little bit more, a cord for fastening items to the front of bags when space gets tight after a major souvenir shop, an emergency tie cord to replace broken zips/string/handles – really indispensable without taking up hardly any space.

- Universal plug. Again, seems a minor worry, but when you’re faced with yet another room without a plug for the sink/bath, forcing huge wads of tissue/flannels/whatever else you can find into the hole and miserably watching it leak within seconds, a universal plug makes things that little bit easier. Cheap and easily tucked away into a small space, they are wonderful little things!

- Pens. Lots and lots of pens. The type of thing that always seems to fall down the black hole of doom whenever you need one; I tend to take upwards of 10 pens with me at all times. Excessive? Possibly. Being the most popular person around when it’s time to fill in the visa form? Definitely.

- Sealable waterproof bags. Be they plastic, or more eco-friendly alternatives, small-ish bags can hold still-damp clothes, electrical equipment when travelling in the rain, leaky bottles of shampoo/shower gel, important documents and countless other bits and pieces. I always carry a few different sizes, and always end up using them all.

- A cheap, water-resistant watch. This might not make much sense at first, but hear me out: firstly, it’s a security risk wearing a more expensive time piece, particularly if it’s a loved one. Secondly: A good one is bound to get damaged at the first sight of an adventurous activity. If it’s an ultra snazzy, can take anything watch, it was probably expensive, leading back to the first point. Thirdly: when haggling at a market/shop, the most common thing I’ve been offered is an exchange – what I want for my watch. Why watches? Who knows. Maybe because they’re visible. Fact is, it crops up often as possible payment. At the end of a trip, when that final souvenir is screaming for me to buy it, an exchange for my inexpensive watch seems like a pretty good deal to me.

(all pics google images)

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