[Charlie Williams is a former classical pianist turned app developer, and former Midwesterner turned expat. He now lives in London with a Canadian novelist-musician (and fellow GGG contributor), and of course they met while traveling.]
[Our universal packing list continues from yesterday with non-clothes items…]
1. Sunscreen. The number of countries where sunscreen is often unavailable (Greece!) or approaches $40/tube (Germany!) is shocking. Also when you leave from a place like England, it’s easy to forget that the sun exists at all or could possibly have the power to burn you.
2. Passport. This goes in a trouser/jacket pocket along with your wallet and phone: the three things you will repeatedly and compulsively check that you have not yet lost whenever walking around anywhere.
3. Student ID / driving license / credit cards go in the wallet. Take a minute to take out the grocery-store loyalty card, old receipts, cash from your home country, burrito-store punch card and so on. That can all go in a pile on your dresser so your wallet is nice and thin when you spend hours sitting on it on a plane.
4. Phone. A smartphone, obviously. Despite the ridiculous difficulty of finding data coverage overseas (it’s probably even worse for you poor people whose phone plans are based in the oligarchic hell that is the American mobile market) the utility of a handheld computer/camera/GPS device is compounded incredibly by the fact that while traveling you will not know the things that the internet can easily tell you, and need to stop constantly on street corners to do several searches (Google, email, AirBNB, TripAdvisor) for all sorts of basic stuff like “Where am I sleeping tonight?” “What’s good to eat near here?” “What does that sign say?” or “Why is there a statue of a giant-testicled bear outside of every store?”
5. iPad mini. In normal life I spend ridiculous amounts of time making computers do neat things that they didn’t do before. It is very hard for me to make the decision to not bring a laptop. Thankfully, we now have the iPad, which is basically a computer that is easier to carry around in a backpack and doesn’t run a C compiler. Leave this home if you are not a nerd, but know that this—yes, this very article—was written using said iPad mini on a Japanese bullet train. Jetsetting? Guilty. Awesome? Yes.
6. Charger for both: Part of the grand plan of simplicity is that these both charge off the same cable, which is USB at the electricity-goes-in-here end. USB is a traveler’s dream. In fact, it’s my opinion that now that it has been standardized, USB should be the only way a nonlethal amount of electricity is ever put into anything. You can charge your stuff off the wall, off a computer in an internet café, off the computer at your couchsurfing/AirBNB hosts’ place, or on a flight if you are lucky enough to get a newer plane. The best. Everything—cars! coffee pots!—should run on USB.
7. Headphones: noise-reducing fancy ones like these if you can spare the $300 (£300 in the UK, because—choose your own adventure—Amazon.com can’t do math or they hate Europeans). Also beware that these, despite being an amazing demonstration of sound technology, are not actually very robust and so you will need to be that person who always tucks them carefully away in their dedicated carrying case, or else be that cranky person on the plane whose headphones only cancel noise in one ear. This is the most expensive and also the most optional item on the list. Still, I would pack it. The amount that these help preserve sanity on long flights is so great that I would still bring them even if I knew they would break every… hmm, eight flights? Ten flights? They are really quite good.
8. Snacks for the plane.
9. Book (disposable).
10. The pocketknife that always makes it through security. Or not. But, you know, if I really didn’t know where I was going, I would bring this knife.
11. A small notebook (i.e. moleskine) with all travel directions written down. You will have no network connection and a dead battery, your train will have been late and you will be trying to get to your B&B at 1 a.m. You will be running to make a connection. You will have to ask sketchy people for help with directions to whom you would not want to hand an expensive mobile phone. You will be glad you wrote everything down.
12. Screenshots of all maps. The maps you drew in that notebook are crap. You still don’t have an internet connection, though. Screenshot all the maps you could ever want, so they’re in your photos instead of your web browser. Until someone comes out with a good offline Google Maps client that allows you to say “preload maps in this area and don’t clear them until I say so”, this is the best solution.
Um, OK, that’s it. Wow. That is longer than I expected, but with clever packing should still all be backpackable. In real life, of course, you’ll know where you’re going ahead of time, so you can swap out some things in order to be a bit less spartan in other areas. The main thing, of course, though, is that it’s personal. And impermanent— I’m sure in a year or two I’ll be packing some different things for wherever I’m going then.
I’m genuinely curious about what other people would bring in this situation—what would you bring? What on the list do you think is just madness to bring? To not bring? Let me know in the comments, and happy packing!