When it comes to packing, we tend to overthink it. Too many clothes, too many things and in the end, too much stress. It took me a while to nail it, but as I look forward to visiting my 100th country this week, my packing technique has become a well-oiled machine. Forsaking the obvious (passport, credit cards, toothbrush), all my gear is divided into the Essentials and the Specialists.
Wake-up calls are as reliable as your memories of college. Trust them at your peril. A reliable travel alarm clock ensures you never miss a flight, a meeting or an opportunity to nap for 23 minutes before the taxi arrives. Finding the right clock isn't easy. It has to be small and easy to use, needs a good volume on the alarm, must include a sleep function and have easy battery replacement. When I lose a favourite alarm clock, it's like losing a friend. My current pal: A Timex Travel Alarm Clock with a built-in flashlight, digital display and handy lock option.
I believe bags have karma. You treat them right and they always come out the conveyer belt. Backpacking, I alternate between my Tatonka Great Escape and my trusted Karrimor warhorse (more than 50 countries and counting). For my suitcase, I use a Crumpler Freestanding Edwardian, all funky form and modern flash. My daypack is a Crumpler Beer Back, which keeps my electronics (and booze) safe and cushioned. Sure, you can mock me, but a man bag is essential for any road warrior. Admittedly, Crumpler didn't have to call mine "The Maurice."
Do you know what it's like when your friend's photos always look better than yours? That happened to me all the time until I got my Panasonic DMC-ZS3. Now, I'm that guy with the small, light camera whose pictures pop off the display screen to everyone's envy. Bonus points for crisp HD video too, although the ACVHD format is a bit of a pain. The model has since been updated to the DMC-ZS7. It's not the cheapest compact camera on the market, but the photos are priceless. My digital SLR is a Panasonic GL-1.
I always travel with my Apple MacBook. I've been to about 70 countries these past six years, and it has never been lost, stolen or crashed (please, find the nearest piece of wood around you, and touch it on my behalf). My MacBook is more than just my writing tool. It's my road entertainment system, my communication tower, my photo lab, my research hub. As for my iPod, it has scored many a road trip or foreign urban walkabout - got to love the Genius function! Meanwhile, the maps, recommendation engines, translators and converter apps on my iTouch are revolutionary. I leave my phone behind, but I always have data backed up online and on a USB stick.
I always take one good pair, which is comfortable, waterproof, sturdy and able to pass as easily in a nightclub as it does on hiking trails. I've been using Keen Targhee II's since my first around-the-world expedition in 2005. They've held up remarkably well, considering I've put them through active volcanoes, frozen lakes, muddy rain forests and scorching deserts. The Travellers Rule of Clothing: Wear different clothes and stay in the same place, or wear the same clothes, but change your location daily.
I only use one belt, on and off the road. Tilley Endurables created a woven stretch men's belt that always fits, no matter what pair of trousers you wear. Lose weight, gain weight - without holes, this leather trimmed webbed stretch belt always keeps the trousers up, a triumph of practicality in men's wear. As a gift for your Dad, brothers or boyfriend, you can't go wrong.
For the traveller, a good hat is more important than Arthur Dent's towel. My last faithful travel hat turned green after I spent a night in Chernobyl. My latest is a crushable wool felt Stetson, procured from Granville Island's excellent Edie Hats. Shade from the heat, shelter from the rain and always style in a pinch.
Certain trips require that something extra, a little bit of thought to ease the hardship:
If it's too hot for a sleeping bag, or you don't quite trust the sheets you'll be sleeping on, a sleep sheet comes to the rescue. My mom stitched together two bed sheets, or you can buy one off the shelf like Mountain Equipment Co-op's excellent silk and fleece bag liners. Bring along an empty pillowcase too, which can always be stuffed with clothing if your wafer thin hotel pillow needs some help.
No power. No gadgets. Handy tip: Bring a power bar that can charge multiple devices off one power source. It saves on those adaptors, which have a knack for disappearing along with pens, chargers and lighters.
More than a camping accessory, I use a head lamp as a personal reading lamp, especially if I'm sharing accommodation with others, or crashing in someone's living room.
Unnecessary in Central America or South Asia, but absolutely vital in Eastern Europe and especially Russia. On the Trans-Siberian Railway, my bottle of Tabasco was worth its weight in gold. A few drops of hot sauce turns bland, boiled food into something worth salivating over.
SteriPen Handheld Water Purifier
Heading somewhere remote and need clean water? This lithium battery-charged pen-sized contraption uses ultraviolet light to zap microbes, cleaning out half a litre in about 48 seconds, with no pumping or chemical aftertaste. I'm going be trekking in Nepal next year, where I expect this specialist will definitely come in handy.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Catch up with Robin in the OLN/CITY-TV series Word Travels, or online at www.robinesrock.com.