7 Things I Never Travel Without

10 02 2011

As an event and trip coordinator, and a frequent traveler in my personal time – both clients and friends often ask me: What should I pack?It’s the age-old traveling question, and I have often found it makes the world of difference in the quality of my trip.

To be honest, it really depends on the trip – how long is it?, where will you go?, who will you go with?, do you need fancy clothes?, how will you get there?, where will you stay?, what activities will you be doing? etc. I could go on and on about the various factors that come into play when I am deciding what to bring. (Look out for upcoming posts as I begin my quest for one-bag international travel starting with a trip to Taiwan in April.)

However, if I have to give a short answer, I always love the quip about the necessary “Big 3” my parents used when we traveled: “Tickets, passport, money. Everything else you can buy, borrow, or make do without.”

While I truly believe this motto, and have followed it to the letter before in extreme circumstances, there are several other items which make my “necessities” list on (almost) every trip these days, rounding out to a nice 10.

1. Good walking shoes & SmartWool socks

Okay, so technically this one is two things, but it’s not like you would use one without the other, right? After years of walking in many kilometres, in many conditions, all around the world, I have come to the conclusion that I absolutely LOVE SmartWool socks. They are comfortable, they don’t smell, they take YEARS to wear out, their colours hide dirt well, they look good on everyone, and they prevent blisters! To learn more about the science behind these awesome socks, they made us a pretty website!

2. Pencil and notebook

Same deal as above… paper is pretty useless unless you’re using it for fire starter in the woods (and I think open fires are illegal in most wooded places now anyways). Great for remembering details such as addresses or opening hours, for learning words of the local language (a great opener for talking to locals) and for detailing your adventures in.

3. Sunscreen

This brings us to one of my absolute all-time favourite travel stories, and perhaps the best one to illustrate my parents unique manner of raising me to be the independent, responsible and interesting human being (I hope ) that I am today.

When I was 17 years old, and full of young restlessness I used to spend hours and hours (actually who am I kidding, I still do) on airline websites, trying to find the best travel deals to my dream destinations. One night, my parents had asked me to babysit my younger brother while they went out for dinner and a show. After my brother had gone to bed, I was on the computer, chatting with some friends from Australia and skimming my usual travel sites. Suddenly, I spied an incredibly good deal for a flight to Brisbane from Vancouver… after doing about, oh… maybe 3 minutes of intense cost research and asking my friends if the weather was nice, and whether they thought I could get a job there, I had bought a plane ticket. For the next morning. To Australia.

By the time my parents got home, later that night, I was halfway through packing for my spontaneous 3 month trip down under. My Mum took one glance in my room, asked me where I was going, stared at me for a moment after my reply and then shook her head and went to bed. The next morning, around 6 a.m. she padded back through to my room in her slippers and asked if I was serious. I held up my bag in one hand and my plane ticket in the other, then cheekily asked if she could give me a ride to the airport in an hour. She thought about it for a second, nodded, and then padded to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.

An hour later, we were driving to the airport and we were chatting about mundane things when she suddenly seemed to realize that I was actually planning to spend the next three months in Australia. She turned to me abruptly and said:

“So you’re really going to Australia today?”

“Well, yes, although I won’t get there until tomorrow. I’ll call when the time difference isn’t too bad.”

“Did you pack sunscreen?”

“Uhhh… no?”

“There should be a bottle under the seat. You can take that one.”

I dug it out and tucked it into the top pocket of my bag. We drove the rest of the way to the airport in that comfortable silence that only comes from everyone feeling that all that is needed has been said. I think it officially marked the moment in my life where I felt like an adult in my parents’ eyes. And I still remember to pack sunscreen, every time.

4. Digital Camera

I have found over time that I never remember my trips as well if I don’t have pictures to spur the memories. Take pictures! Take LOTS of pictures. Take pictures of new friends, old friends, yourself with friends, yourself alone, local quirks, colourful signs, famous locations, not-so-famous-but-just-as-cool locations, your favourite dish, your favourite camel… you name it! If you’re motivated enough, you can even make yourself a scrapbook when you get home. (Just don’t force your poor friends to sit through an 800-picture slide show… really, after 50 pictures, no one cares.)

I currently own one digital SLR; the Canon Rebel T2i (EOS 550D outside the US, but I like the flashier name… no pun intended) which I love for it’s smaller grip – perfect for my female hands, and a smaller Canon Powershot from a few years ago when it had a slimmer design.

5. Universal Plug Adapter

Really? You want an explanation? Just get one. You can thank me later…

6. Goody’s Ouchless Hair Elastics

Weirdly useful… and not just for putting hair into a ponytail.

These amazingly durable, colourful bands are perfect for securing things together (bunches of pens, flowers, rolls of bills, you name it!) or for hanging things. As hair elastics go, they are very comfortable since they don’t have the traditional metal bar holding the elastic together which pulls your hair out when you remove it. They come in a great variety of colours, last forever and are super cheap and easy to find (any major drugstore will carry them). I find them so useful that I often have an extra one on my key chain or in my bag – in fact, I’m wearing one on my wrist right now!

7. MP3/USB player

Again, you can buy them in any electronics store or major drugstore – cheap, not flashy, easily concealed, good for storing digital pictures or e-versions of important documents. Wear it around your neck under your shirt on a cord necklace for easy but secure access to your music. The one I use is similar to this one. Get as much memory as you can find/afford… even your favourite songs get old after you’ve been on the same bus for 18 hours.

And of course – don’t forget your tickets, passport or money!

– Sarah Topps (2011)

Home is where the heart is…

9 02 2010

According to Planet of the Slums, by Mike Davis: Urban slum dwellers are currently the fastest growing segment of the global population. This is the statistic which inspired Jonas Bendiksen, Norwegian photojournalist, to travel around the world documenting, interestingly, the inside of slum-dwellers homes. The photo below is one of my personal favourites, with the caption below it taken from the Foreign Policy website.

[In Jakarta’s “kampongs,” the homes were smaller than in other slums Bendiksen visited. One couple, with their three teenage daughters, lives here. There is space to sit upright, but not to stand. Although the room is extraordinarily small, it’s also very tidy. “You see here the same elements as in your own house: framed family pictures, wallpaper improvised,” Bendiksen says. “No matter what economic condition people are living in, not only do we need to create shelter over our head, but to create a home.”]

I have lived in a number of interesting locations around the world – all of them luxurious compared with a single-room shelter where the ceiling is not high enough to stand up. It is certainly a sobering prospect, but it does however, allow me to raise the question which has so-often plagued me on my travels:

Where do you call home?

How does one define home? There are a number of expressions and clichés which have been used to describe this place of seemingly mythical status:

“A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

“Home is where you hang your head”

“Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved.”

“Home is the girl’s prison and the woman’s workhouse”

“Home is where the heart is.”

“Home is not where you live but where they understand you.”  ~Christian Morgenstern

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”  ~Charles Dickens

“Where thou art – that – is Home.”  ~Emily Dickinson

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
~Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”  ~John Ed Pearce

However, whenever I am asked for a specific place that I call “home”, I struggle internally, and generally end up changing my answer several times before eventually settling on something. Recently, while speaking with a friend of mine, Ms. Birgitte Witt,(whose blog can be found here) about her undergraduate thesis, this feeling was clarified for me.

Apparently I am a “third-culture kid“.

A third-culture kid, as defined by the TCKWorld website, is “[…] a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.”

Ahah! I thought to myself. This explains a lot about why I feel/act/speak the way that I do. Here are some good examples which apply to me (and possibly to you) taken from the “You know you’re a TCK if...” page.

– Your life story uses the phrase “Then we moved to…” three (or four, or five…) times.
– You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
– You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof.
– The best word for something is the word you learned first, regardless of the language.
– You think VISA is a document that’s stamped in your passport, not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
– You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs, know the difference between 110 and 220 volts, 50 and 60 cycle current, and realize that a trasnsformer isn’t always enough to make your appliances work.
– You fried a number of appliances during the learning process.
– You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball.
– You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”

And the list goes on. (It can be found here.) You too may be a TCK.

It certainly makes me feel as if, although I may not belong anywhere, I certainly belong somewhere. And that I can love all of my identities and “homes” and not be as strange as I once thought…

Post by Sarah Topps

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