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The Five Things

October 31, 2011

Recently I was skimming a forum on and I found one asking people to list the 5 things they absolutely cannot travel without. First lets get something out of the way: An open mind and a sense of adventure don’t count. There are things you need in order to harvest the fruits of a good journey. Also, money and a passport are not going to be listed because they’re not really negociable. Anyway what follows is my contribution to that thread.

My two and a half cents are this:

The more you can get the limitations of your equipment and clothes out of your way, the more you can see and learn. Of course you need your clothes and it may not work for your style of travel to use the old one shirt on, one shirt off method of travelling with only two t-shirts but you could still do a trip that way.

If I wanted to be hardcore and only take five things in addition to the clothes on my back I could see myself in a pinch traveling with only these items:

1. Comfortable walking shoes
– I typically use Eccos and I have a goofy brown pair that I always buy that are fairly water resistant without looking it. The goal is to walk anywhere and feel as little as possible like you’ve walked all day.
I can get away with wearing them in the cityat a fancy dinner at night and also hiking with them without ever looking too out of place. Rule number 1 is blend in! I am 6 ft 2 and caucasian and I get away with blending in in SE Asia just by being discrete and not looking like a tourist… I know I’m not fooling anyone but at least I don’t scream tourist when people see me and so it lets me pass on the impression that I’m not necessarily out of place and don’t not belong there.

2. A Distraction
– I need to do something to fill those long hours between destinations and nothing like a good book to do the trick. It’s even better if what I’m reading tells me something about where I am and connects me to the place. I love reading the history sections of the Lonely Planet when I’m bored. It’s great to learn more about the destination because it creates a deeper connection and enriches the experience. If I didn’t have too many choices I’d look for something long and entertaining. I use my ipod mostly for noise cancellation and not entertainment because it doesn’t distract my mind on a long bus ride. If I could carry more I’d enjoy something to watch movies on like an iPad or a notebook but on a spartan regimen I’d grab a paperback.

3. Clock or watch, must have alarm
– I always have this on a cell phone but one time I had to buy a cheap digital watch because I can’t properly plan anything if I can’t control when I wake up! I sleep like a log and I love to sleep. Travelling can mean early mornings and the continuity of the trip can depend on catching that flight or bus. You can’t do anything if you can’t set the time! I don’t need a working phone because I can plan out with people in advance when and where to meet and just be on time but I can’t function without a clock!

4. ATM card and/or Credit card
– Ideally both but if you had to pick it’s probably better to use a credit card that you can draw cash advances from. You can always pay it off from your bank account electronically from an internet cafe. I bring cash as a last minute backup but only an emergency amount. I’d rather withdraw from ATMs any day than exchange money!
I usually keep this in a money belt which would be on this list except that I can see doing without one relying instead on extra caution. Obviously money and a passport are needed to do any kind of overseas trip but here I’m addressing the way in which you access funds.

5. Something to record the moment with
– as a photography junkie I have to have the right camera on me. Sometimes it’s a compact and sometimes its the biggest DSLR I can find. Film or digital doesnt matter I just like to keep it practical but I’ve realized that the important thing is to register the memories. I usually carry a journal and if I couldn’t carry my camera I’d rely more heavily on writing what I’ve seen down. I’m very visual and can remember most of the details of the adventure and retell them using my photographs.
I suppose if all I had was a device that records smells it would be enough to jog my memory but you need something to bring you back there years later. The whole trip was for naught if you forget everything about it later.

Keep Adventuring!

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