As difficult as it may seem to believe, technology is not the answer to everything. Sometimes as travellers we are faced with dilemmas that only good old-fashioned foresight or previous experience can abate. Sometimes necessity truly is the mother of invention.
The following list of fundamentals can be found around the house and don’t take up much space in the average backpack. They can however be indispensable in your wanderings and are adaptable to any location.
1. Flags of Chaos
The ethos of “bring your own bags” has yet to migrate and take hold in many other countries, often resulting in abandoned plastic bags fluttering in the wind on the branches of trees/bushes which hold them prisoner. Prior to their lives as “flags of chaos”, these plastic bags were the receptacles of all manner of purchases and objects in transit. Hence you found you always had a plastic bag in your possession at any given time.
We had brought with us a “universal” stopper/plug for hand-washing our clothes in hotel sinks. Apparently it was not as “universal” as it claimed and never fit in any of the drains we tried to use it in. At this point we discovered the convenience and effectiveness of a plastic bag used in lieu of a stopper. It’s shape-shifting quality allowed for ease of use in any and all drains and it actually worked!
2. When You’re in a Bind
The humble binder clip can be taken advantage of in a myriad of ways. It can keep that open packet of cereal, biscuits or crisps closed and fresh. If you feel the need for a money clip, this can function as your solution.
It can also be used to separate small items by clipping them to an interior pocket of your bag, thus preventing them from falling into the abyss of a backpack’s bottom. Mind you it’s probably best to keep them clipped within easy reach, as being that they’re on the small side themselves, they too can disappear into the “Black hole of Calcutta” – that is my backpack! They really are a handy, multi-purpose tool/gadget; so bring a few along, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Beyond Oral Hygiene
It never failed that no matter where we stayed there was always something to fix in hotel/hostel rooms. The bathroom however, was always the repeat offender in the realm of needy tweaks and repairs – leaky pipes/valves or worse, no running water.
A common issue was the lack of shower curtain rings. Often there was a shower curtain, it just lacked the support to function in an optimal way, or at all really. A quick fix is to “MacGyver” (fashion), some rings out of dental floss. Unfortunately, then there is nothing you can do about the lack of a surround/lip/tray to contain the water from just soaking the entire bathroom floor.
4. Where Are You Going?
We hit the road armed with 3 paper maps; one for the States, one for Mexico and the other for all of Central America. As corny as it sounds we would have been lost without them. Considering the amount of times we hitchhiked it is not surprising how dog-eared, torn and well-loved these maps now look.
When you hitchhike you have to be prepared to be flexible with your route. It is all fine and dandy the night before to pour over the map and plot your route, but truth be told, when that vehicle stops you will most likely adapt to whatever is being offered, within reason. Map in hand, you can at least show your hitch-helper your intended destination.
Sometimes maps denote attractions, be they historical or natural wonders that are on offer. Now that our adventure is over, (at least for now), our maps provide us with the memories of just how our trip unfolded. They are also an attraction in their own right, as they allow us to plan and dream of our next great escape whilst in this dormant period of drudgery.
5. Zip Your Trip
Known as zip lock bags, these handy plastic bags with a plastic “zip” can serve two purposes. The first being they can keep some of your personal effects dry if your backpack gets soaked. We kept our maps and our doodah (camera/email device) contained in zip lock bags, keeping them dry on more than one occasion.
Not only can they keep water out, (though they are by no means waterproof), they can also contain potentially leaky toiletries from mingling with your clothes and other necessities.
6. Kitted Out
It’s a good idea to bring a small first aid kit on your travels where the unexpected blister, scrape, sting or other unfortunate encounter could warrant a little attention. Just a few basics – plasters, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, alcohol swabs, burn gel, small scissors etc… You don’t have to be ready to perform surgery, just a bit of basic preparation. Splinters, thorns, blisters, bumps and jagged edges are indiscriminate the world over.
The other kit that’s handy to pack is a small sewing kit. You don’t need to be equipped to create needlepoint, a few spools of muted-coloured thread and a needle or two are all you need. Actually, if you have a needle or a safety pin in your sewing kit, they may be cross utilised if you’re in need of digging out a splinter and you forgot to pack a tweezers in your first aid kit.
No worries if you don’t have a sewing kit on hand, all towns throughout Mexico and Central America usually have at least one sastrería in the midst of their local downtown merchants. A sastrería is a tailor, who also repairs and alters clothing, and lightweight day-packs – of which we have first hand experience.
7. Moving On
This one is for all you hitchhikers or debutante hitchhikers. Having a simple yet visual sign is a massive help for any would-be hitch-helpers. They may not be going exactly where you’re heading to, but at least they know your desired general destination and it could be on their route; no-one’s a mind reader.
Let your inner artist out and keep a Sharpie handy. We recommend carrying a Sharpie Magnum, due to it’s size it gets the job done quicker. Obviously you’ll need a piece of cardboard to show off your handiwork and to clinch that lift.
Truck-stops are the perfect “in between lifts” places to be dropped off at. With all those businesses there’s no shortage of cardboard, and facilities. Often we asked the business itself for cardboard, unless the dumpster was readily accessible and we could see the perfect piece of cardboard with sign potential.
8. A Written Record
This blog wasn’t even a twinkle in our eyes when we were happily drifting from country to country between 2013 and 2014. We did however keep a pretty detailed journal of our day’s wanderings, interactions and adventures on a daily basis. There were also days where we were too busy, tired or just couldn’t be arsed inputting our journal entries, but we always played catch up and we managed to record our trip for our own posterity.
Even though it’s not been that long ago since our ramblings, it’s amazing how much of the finer details you forget. Please take this little bit of advice and jot down the highlights, low-lights and minutiae of your days as you wander. There will come a day somewhere down the line, when you’ll look through your notes/journal, and your writings will take you back to that moment in time. Whether it brings a smile to your face, a tear to your eye or a gasp of surprise at the recovered memories, I promise you, you’ll be glad you took the time to record these moments.
9. Time Travel
Alright, so this one I’m on the fence about. It’s got a bit of technology going on; it has a digital display and it runs on a battery. Our nifty travel alarm clock has gotten us up at ungodly hours on umpteen occasions for bleary-eyed first boats and buses of the day.
Our trusty timepiece also displays temperature, humidity, the moon phase, a calendar, barometric pressure and the weather forecast; all of this in a compact shell. For most folk reading this, a digital clock was technology in the 70’s and 80’s. For us this simple, if questionable technologically-categorised piece was about as high tech as it got.
10. A Mixed Bag
This last one is just a list of miscellaneous, self explanatory, useful everyday items to have in your pack.
- A Plastic Bowl and accompanying knife, fork, spoon or spork
- Bog Roll (Toilet Paper) – Can also be used to jot down a quick note if there’s no other paper handy
- Ear Plugs
- Bungee Cord
- Duct Tape
- Clothes Pegs
- Bottle Opener/Corkscrew
- Can Opener
- Loofah Gloves – They’re quick drying…and they exfoliate; luxury on the road!
- Spare Laces
- Small bag of Laundry Detergent; doubles as a shoe deodorizer if you store it in one of your shoes in transit. Just alternate shoes for uniformity.
So there you have it, our list of no tech or low tech (travel alarm clock), travel basics. As you can see many of these items can function as double agents, with just a little imagination. We’d love it if you would share with us any of your “MacGyver” (cross-utilization) ideas, and which non tech, basic essentials are in your pack.