Saturday, June 12, 2010

Travel technology tips

Each travel destination presents a challenge in terms of the amount and content of luggage I should take. My theory is that if you cannot haul your luggage about 2 kilometres in hot sun up a slight hill then you have to much. I have had to do that many times and also carry it up three flights of narrow stairs. I am always looking for ways to minimise weight and maximise capability. Here are a few tips:

1. I've found that soft-sided suitcases are better than hard cases. People often prefer hard cases thinking they are more resistant to intrusion from theives but this risk is fairly low and hard cases are heavier and when dropped they can shatter at the point of impact.

2. Towels take up an incredible amount of room and once wet require a reasonable amount of time to dry. While you can leave a towel at home I've been in hotels that have run out of towels. A great tip is to take a human shamois, or a micro-fibre towel. These towels will fold up to next to nothing, soak up water very well and dry really quickly.

3. One of the things that takes up so much room in luggage is socks and underwear along with jumpers. A great technology is stuff-sacks. Don't go for vacuum systems as while you can compress the clothing at home once you are away you are unlikely to have access to a vacuum. A stuff sack however uses cables to compress the air out of clothing and save a significant amount of space. For Antarctica I compressed all of my Antarctic clothing into a stuff sack to save room in my luggage.

4. Look for smaller toiletries. On the trip to Arabia and East Africa I found a concentrate for shaving cream. Instead of a heavy shaving cream canister instead I had a very small bottle of shaving cream concentrate that saved lots of room and weight.

5. Jeans can also create a significant amount of weight and occupy a reasonable amount of space in your luggage. Again on the trip to Arabia and East Africa I trialled some very lightweight trekking pants that had the added bonus of being able to unzip above the knee to convert to shorts. This was useful in swapping between cooler and hotter weather and after getting the bottom of my trousers covered in mud I was able to quickly room the bottom part of the leg for cleaning along with my boots. Selecting waterproof boots was also a great idea as often times during the trek to see the gorillas my feet were immersed in water, and yet with thick socks and waterproof boots, my feet remained perfectly dry, which is important when you have to trek for a long time and do it again on subsequent days.

6. A watch might seem like a simple thing but I've finally found a good travel watch. Dual time and two alarms comes in very handy when travelling across multiple time zones and having to ensure that you are at certain places at certain times. I also make sure the watch is waterproof, which is great when are snorkelling and must be back at a certain time.

7. Cameras are also a part of my travel. A camera bag doubles as my carry-on luggage and I make sure it doesn't look like a camera bag. I have a number of camera bags and choose the most appropriate for the job. For some spots I want to be able to quickly access a camera and quickly put it away. In other cases I use a reverse access bag, which means when the bag is on my back the only way to get to the cameras is for me to take the bag off. This second bag is more resistant to petty theiving activities but means there are no quick grab shots. Irrespective of what bag I take though I make sure it doesn't stand out as a camera bag. Digital cameras are great compared to when I used to travel with film and all the issues plus I can always be sure I am getting the shot I want but I choose cameras that don't take exotic batteries so I can easily replace them if necessary. I always have plenty of spares but it's nice to know I can buy the batteries I need anywhere if I have to. Oh and apart from the SLRs I will always have a little snapshot camera that fits in my pocket for photos at dinners and places it would be too hard to use the big cameras.

8. I like to read and listen to music on my trips. MP3 players are great compared to the older compact disk player I used to travel with. MP3 players fit far more song on them, take up virtually no room and again I choose one that doesn't require exotic batteries or charging mechanisms. Books are still a reasonable amount of weight in my luggage but electronic equivalents are not quite there yet in terms of robustness and multiple uses. Try wiping with an e-book and see how fun that is. What I do nowadays though is pick books that I am happy to donate once I have read them and some places have an exchange policy - leave a book, take a book.

9. I don't generally have much trouble with a sense of direction or finding my back while out walking but a new handheld GPS is an added bonus as I can track the path I walking and then get it to instructions to get back to my origin. Again, I chose one that runs on commonly available batteries and indeed the same batteries as my camera.

10. Finally the most valuable travel technology I have - the Swiss Army knife with built in knife, fork and spoon. I have used this on so many occassions that I've lost count. The tool also has a small pair of scissors that I have also had to use on many occassions. Taking up virtually no room and weight this is a travel technology I am never without.