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Take just the basics when you travel (especially when they're this cool)

Heavy packing is needed for a two week raft journey down the Alsek River in Canada's North.

Bruce Kirkby/Bruce Kirkby

Regular readers won't be surprised to learn that I'm not overly fussy about what's in my luggage. I tend to get by with whatever I have. I take less than I think I'll need, and buy what I'm missing on the road. This is especially true in exotic locations where a sweater doubles as a great souvenir back home.

While I'm a "basics" traveller, there are fundamental differences between what I pack for a business trip, a budget backpacking venture, a resort holiday and a major wilderness expedition. Anything that eases the rigours of business travel is good. The more "home-like" each day is, the better.

But too many treats from home can weigh a traveller down, creating a cocoon that limits the opportunity for spontaneous and unexpected interaction. I see people who bring everything to their tent or their room in a resort – their favourite pillow, music, movies, books – and then never venture beyond the front zipper or door. Why did they bother to go to Kathmandu? Suck it up and get outside!

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Here are the items I can't go without, depending on the type of trip:


Travel Roller

I make an effort to exercise every day, and 10 minutes on one of these portable foam rollers – which break down inter-cellular adhesions in muscles, as well as deliver a whooping self-massage – leave me feeling as refreshed as an hour-long professional massage. Also, a quick roll is magically rejuvenating after a long flight, or before hopping into bed.

Mac Air

At last, a computer that easily fits on a tray table (with no worry of being hit by the chair back in front of you). It turns on almost instantly and weighs little more than a paperback. No single item has revolutionized my travel as much as this tiny computer, allowing me to be productive from takeoff to landing even on cross-Canada flights. (I wrote this column in the air between Calgary and Winnipeg.) Every minute saved aloft is one I can spend with my family at home.


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If you are going to carry the Mac Air abroad, consider protecting it in the uber-stylish BookBook, a hardback case disguised as a leather-bound vintage book. I appreciate the fact my laptop remains incognito, and I know the BookBook must be cool because every single security agent comments on it.


Blunnies are comfy, and don't set the security alarm off. They are easy to slip in and out of even in a cramped airline seat. Black ones are dressy enough for a conference and rugged enough to hike in.


Rite in the Rain pad

I keep my journals in this field technician's standby, a rather unremarkable yellow spiral pad containing all-weather paper that sheds water and allows me to take notes in any condition. The pads are immune to tropical humidity, river splashes and spilled beer.

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Yes, those mildly grotesque fluorescent jobbies that you roll up and jam in. They make long flights pass in comfort, and turn the noisiest hotel room into a cocoon. I always have a pair within reach.

The right travel mug

I like coffee – a lot. On rafting and canoe trips, I'll often bring a full mug aboard in the morning. And on hikes, I'll carry my steaming cup for the first hour. If your mug doesn't have a wide base, it is guaranteed that someone will kick it over while you are packing, which can lead to dire consequences (such as unpacking the stove and brewing another pot).

Lowepro Toploader Zoom and chest harness

Decades of photography have taught me one thing: If your camera isn't handy, you won't use it. So I keep mine on my chest. Always. Pain in the butt? At times. Miss a shot? Never. You might prefer something smaller – say a point and shoot pouch that clips to your belt – but be warned: Put your camera in your backpack and nine times out of 10 you'll decide against stopping to take it out.

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About the Author

Bruce Kirkby has spent more than two decades exploring the most remote corners of the planet. His journeys have taken him through the heart of Arabia by camel, down the Blue Nile on raft and across Iceland by foot. The author of two bestselling books, Mr. Kirkby is the recipient of three National Magazine Awards. More

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