Random travel items in our packs
If you go digging around in our packs, you'll find small things that we think make the trip easier. Everyone who travels will have these odds and ends that they decide are worth carrying, and you'll have your own when you go. These items will evolve and you will adapt with time and the places you travel. These selections are not recommendations, but our own personal choices. As all those cheezy TV commercials say.....your results may vary.
These cards are incredibly handy to share who we are and contact info with people we meet along the way. We will give them to someone we've met and are getting together with later, or to someone who is interested in our travels. We print them on our home printer and they are not fancy. As things evolve I will probably have nicer ones printed, but these have served us well for years.
On the cards is a photo of the two of us. I'm sure we all have business cards from someone and we wonder exactly who they were.....not being able to connect the dots and figure it out. The small photo solves this and someone will remember you. We don't include a huge amount of information. Our names, an email address, and the blog web address. If we want someone to have a cell number we will write it on the card, but we try to keep the personal information minimal, but still functional. These cards can bring new readers or keep you in touch with new friends.
Plug adapters. Left to right: Type C, Type J, Type L, Type G, Type K.
As I mentioned in my previous post about travel with electronics (Link to travel electronics blog), almost all electronics are now manufactured to work on any system from 100 to 240 volts. If you read the data tag on any device or charger, it will give this information and you can then make sure your item will work at voltages in other countries. You WILL need a plug adapter to make your American plug fit the wall socket in the country you are visiting.
The standard European plug adapter is "C", common in France, Germany, and many other European countries. For clarity, I show the front and back of the type C. This one is the most common you will encounter. Second from left is a type "J", common in Switzerland. The type "L" is common in Italy. Type G is used in the UK and Ireland and the type K is used in Denmark. Usually, the type C will work in all of the above mentioned plugs except for the type G in the UK. You can usually get a 3 pack of good quality adapters from Amazon for less than 10 dollars, leaving one for yourself, one for a travel companion, and a spare if you want to carry it.
Three way adapter
I made this three way adapter by cutting a brand new 3 way extension cord and putting a new plug on the shortened version. I'm an engineer and we figure things out and adapt them.....it's what we do. It helps adapt a grounded US plug to a standard US outlet. You plug this into the European adapter and then you have 3 outlets for your travel electronics. European outlets are not usually "doubles" like in the states, so this is quite helpful. Extension cords especially with multiple outlets are rare in Europe. You can probably find something similar factory made, but I liked the size of this one.
I carry a LED headlamp. I usually let Laurie go to bed before I do as I have a habit of snoring....or so I am told. This allows her to get to sleep before I turn in, and allows me time to write the blog. The light is handy so I can write or work on things, read, find something in my pack, or whatever I need a little light for, without disturbing my sleeping wife. It also never fails that we need a flashlight for some exploration, like the castle we explored in the Rhine Valley of Germany or the cold war spy buildings we explored in Berlin. You may also find it handy for reading on a transatlantic flight, finding something in the trunk of a rental car in a dark parking garage, or looking for something that rolled under the bed. They're small, take very little battery power, an are quite useful.
I keep a couple of zip ties in the bag, and not just out of nostalgia for my race car. They meet all the criteria.....small, light, and useful. We have used these to tie something to the outside of our packs, repair a broken camera strap, bundle something that is flopping and getting caught on other things, make a temporary pull to replace that lost tab on your jacket zipper. Their uses are infinite. Shove a couple in that packing cube that has odds and ends in it.
I used to carry a short length of paracord in my pack. It was used to lash things to my pack, a temporary clothesline, like zip ties it has a lot of uses. I had trouble with it coming unbundled and it was a little awkward. A paracord bracelet is cheap, 3 to 5 dollars, and if you need to use the paracord, you just unravel it. If not, you can use it to link things together or as a handle on something. Small, light, useful.
Compression straps are as handy as handles on a beer mug! If we pack ski clothes, they're "lofty". You can roll a pair of ski pant up and put a compression strap on them and they'll take up 1/4 the space of a pair that was only folded. We will take our laundry bag, roll it tight, then put compression straps on it and tie it to the outside of our pack like a bed roll. Straps make things more manageable and more packable. They can be bought at most hiking and outdoor stores and are not costly.
Pocket knife and/or multi-tool
Okay, this is a tricky one. Some countries are incredibly paranoid about pocket knives/multi-tools. In the UK, they're a scrappy bunch. On a recent visit to the UK I read an article where they not only have gun control and knife control, but there is a movement afoot to have glass bottle control as people are using them as weapons. Germany, on the other hand, will sell you a switchblade from a sidewalk stand in a tourist town. And Germany has less trouble with things (my perception) than the UK. Cultural differences and political discussions aside, KNOW THE LAWS ON THE COUNTRIES YOU ARE TRAVELING TO. This is YOUR responsibility. Also....NEVER in carry ons. Only checked baggage.
That being said, a pocket knife or multi-tool is very handy. I have carried the knife on the left through a dozen countries. It has cut sausage at a road side picnic in the German Alps, opened pesky clamshell packaging in Switzerland, and trimmed a paracord used to lash something to our pack in the Czech Republic. The multi-tool fixed a door knob that came off in a French hotel room and opened a beer brought back to the hotel room in the Netherlands. These are very useful tools and I personally can't imagine traveling without one or both.
I normally carry a Kershaw knife of exceptional quality (and price) made in the USA. The knife I carry in my pack abroad is a cheap foreign made knife given to me as a promotion from a vendor. The multi-tool I caught on sale at Walmart for 5 bucks. While I have always spent the extra money for quality tools, in the event I have to surrender one to be allowed on a plane or such, I prefer it to be cheap or free. Giving up a 100 dollar knife or a 75 dollar Leatherman to airport security is more pain than I could bear. So I carry these.
A cheap travel sewing kit, bought at a discount store for less than 5 dollars has big uses too. You can repair a seam separating on an article of clothing, use a needle to dig a splinter our of your hand, or use the tiny scissors to trim errant threads on clothes.
Recoiling ski lock
This is a recoiling ski lock that I have had for over 30 years. I carry it in an outside pocket of my pack for easy access. If we are on a train and I can't be near my pack, I can run the cable through a handle and lock it to the rack. While not totally secure, it keeps someone from grabbing your pack and running out the train door at a station. If it is harder to steal your stuff....thieves move on to easier pickings.
Tennessee flag pins
These are inexpensive pins of the Tennessee flag and are about the size of a dime. I carry a couple of these around and give them to people as a small gift. I don't give them away often, mainly because I forget I have them with me. But from time to time I remember and give them away. I have also left them on the gravestones of Tennessee soldiers in the cemetery at Normandy. Just a trinket.
These are TSA approved luggage locks. While not the most secure, this is another item to make a thief move along to easier pickings. They can be found at most discount stores and are a few bucks. I lock my pack, Laurie locks hers, and we have keys to both locks. If I have an extra key I will stash it somewhere as a backup.
First aid kit
An inexpensive first aid kit is around ten bucks. You want a small, packable one instead of a large one. A few band aids, some anti-bacterial ointment, asprin/ibuprofen, benadryl tabs, a few butterflies. This is incredibly handy on the road, on transit, wherever you need it. If you think it is easy to find a band aid on a train through central Germany.....it isn't.
Zip lock bags
Zip lock bags are great to have. We go to the grocery store in our travels and the zip lock bags help us keep things fresh and dry. They also give us something to put sandwiches and lunch items in so we can carry them with us. Oddly enough, zip lock bags are not easy to find in Europe. I can't say if they are difficult in other areas of the world. We bring several gallon and quart ones with us, shoved down in the bottom of our packs. We also keep a large 2 gallon one in case we have a wet item that we don't want soaking everything in our pack.
I like books. You can sit and study them and the screen saver won't kick in. I like maps too......real, paper maps. While we all use google maps, navagation software, and all matter of electronic goodies, I like to sit and study maps. It's organic. You're able to study where you're going, where you're staying, where you're at, and how they all relate to each other. Maps give you a real feel for where you are at and an understanding that electronic maps cannot.
A company called "Streetwise" made great maps. They were small, laminated card stock, and were available for most cities. Sadly, they decided to go out of business after 30 years. Another good map company is called "Borch" and has maps of most European cities. While not as small and packable as Streetwise maps, they are good maps and the scale is a bit larger and a bit more readable. They are also laminated to protect from moisture and spills as well.
Michelin is huge in Europe as well as other parts of the world. If you want to get a map of an entire country's road systems, Michelin maps are the best. They are usually quite detailed with a lot of information. If you're driving in Europe, you need one of these maps. Michelin also has a fantastic travel planning website called www.viamichelin.com which not only shows route navigation, but will also compute costs for the travel. Their city maps are kind of vague and don't go into a lot of detail. You want to get a detailed city map when you visit a city. And park your car....there are much better ways to get around in cities.
Packable, reusable shopping bag
This was an impulse purchase somewhere. I cannot recall where. It is a cloth shopping bag with built in handles which packs into a small sack that is about the size of a racquetball. We have used it for everything. We have carried a few groceries on a train, brought folded laundry home from the laundromat, used it to carry a few items that are too big to shove in your pockets. We bought it before our first Europe trip. Items we thought we would use have been taken out of our travel kit through the years, but this one remains.
Buy a cheap cloth laundry bag at a discount store. Make sure it has a drawstring. You can throw it in a corner when you stay someplace and collect your dirty clothes in it. You can roll it up like a bed roll between laundry visit and strap it to the outside of your pack with compression straps. It keeps your dirty, smelly clothes from contaminating your clean clothes. When you need to do laundry, throw it over your shoulder and go to the laundromat. When you're done, put your clothes in it and haul them back to where you are staying. At the end of the trip, when you put your pack in the pack duffle mentioned in the last post, you throw your laundry bag in the duffle with it.
The laundry bag is rolled (this is pre compression straps. It's smaller now.) and strapped to the bottom of my main pack.
These are a collection of things we have found that work for us. They may or may not work for you, but are merely suggestions. If you have things that you like, respond in the comments and give suggestions! Another thing I will point out is that we don't EACH carry these things. We usually only carry one of these items, with the exception of plugs. You don't need two laundry bags, two sewing kits, two pocket knives, and such. If one person in your travel group has a certain item, you're in good shape. You can also distribute them so no one person is carrying everything.
Those are the tips for this post. I don't know what I'll write about next post......I'll figure that out before next time. As for now, we're counting down for our next trip and putting together our plans. Good reading.....and good journeys. Let's travel!