What’s in my bag?

So let’s say you’re a serious traveller, visiting out of the way places, experiencing new experiences, exploring new… places to explore. Here’s the question: what kind of stuff do you physically carry with you, on a day to day basis.

The Setup

If one is to go out in the world, one must be prepared.

Having just returned from a ten month, ten country RTW trip (me, my wife, and my eight year old daughter), I appreciate the state of mind that preparation offers. Or rather, I appreciate not being caught surprised, or without something essential that might have saved the day. Sometimes, life is about the little things, and when you’re eight thousand kilometers from home, little things count.

04 Manpurse ArticleMe and my European carry-all.

The game I’ll play today is What’s in your bag?  The premise is simple: what are the essentials that one might consider carrying with them, everywhere you go? Imagine the improbable… what would you do in a foreign country if you were separated from family, or your belongings at a hostel or hotel? What if disaster strikes, and you have only what you have on your person, and little else?

OK, on second reading that seems a bit extreme. How about, more simply, what do you carry with you to make your travelling escapades more fun, safe, and memorable?

I was inspired to consider the truly essential by Clara Benson’s (@ClaraBenson) account of a bag-less first date, in which she and her travelling companion set off on a three week, baggage-free jaunt through eight countries.

Please note: baggage free is not purse free.

I’m coming to the table with something that is sometimes referred to as a European carry-all (but go ahead and call it a murse; my masculinity remains intact). In fact, I’d be willing to accept many such dings (I didn’t) for the simple reason that the thing was just so damned practical. Three and a half billion women can’t be wrong. Can they?

So here it is, a full grain cow leather man-purse, hand made in Greece, purchased in Santorini for about fifty euros.

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The Essentials

Deciding what’s essential is quite the Travel Blog meme; there are many “Top Ten” lists of essential this or that. Mine’s quite personal, and your mileage will vary, but it will get you to thinking. Could I travel the world with just this stuff?

Probably not. I couldn’t get on the plane with my Swiss army knife, for instance. But 25 essentials they remain, and they accompanied me pretty much everywhere, whether on foot, boat, plane, or motorcycle.

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BandannaNext to a towel, bandannas are simply the most massively useful thing any traveller could carry. In hot climes, a damp wrap around your neck or head takes the edge off. Plus they can be used for cleaning, gathering stuff, wiping, an emergency bandage, and so on. It’s not the fashion statement my girls particularly approve of, but it’s pretty natty when needs be.

Calling Cards – Before heading out, I had a couple hundred full colour calling cards  (can’t call them business cards) printed up. On the one side, a photo of us three and our contact information, and on the other, a sample work of my photography. If you like taking “people pictures” they’re a nice trade and and a good icebreaker. And of course, it makes it easy to stay in touch with all those people you meet along the way.

Lanyard – You’ve got keys – to your hostel locker, hotel room, motorcycle, your luggage… I hate losing keys, and the safest place I’ve found is right around my neck. This is the one clever item I’ve never seen on anyone else’s list, so I consider it proprietary. But go ahead and use it yourself, but when you start seeing it on other people’s lists, you’ll know where it came from.

Notebook/Pen/Pencil – For the note-taker and documentarian in all of us. I like the original Moleskin, with the pockets for luggage chits, postage stamps, and various other papery slips you accumulate along the way.

Passport – In most countries, you are required to carry your passport with you while out and about. And in many countries, depending on where you lay your head, on your person is safer than under your pillow. So it comes with my person, more often than not. True story, however: in 14 years of travelling, to 36 countries, I’ve only once been stopped and asked for it. And that was for crossing the train tracks illegally in Rome. I won’t be doing that again, you can trust me.

Reading/Sun Glasses – I need both, and there’s not enough room on my head for both at the same time. So I carry a hard and soft case, and in the bag they go when not in use. Must be nice not to need reading glasses.

Smartphone/Ear Buds/Power Pack/Cables – No one carries a Lonely Planet anymore. All of my editions are electronic, and stored on the device. So are my reading materials, offline maps, music, and other time wasters. Extra power (and the means to recharge it all) is quite useful when on a 12 hour cruise down the Mekong River. I chose my phone specifically for the camera as well, and have taken some of my best photos with it. It’s not meant to replace my other two cameras, but it could if you were truly a minimalist about such things.

Swiss Army Knife – Almost as massively useful as a towel, and it can open wine bottles too! Not that you ever want to open wine bottles in Istanbul (just sayin’).

Personal Stuffs (toothbrush/paste/floss/sewing needle/Tylenol/lip balm/sanitizer/bandaids) – About the fourth worst thing I can think of hitting me in the tropics is a headache. That and chapped lips, and stinky breath. Everything else is fairly self explanatory, except for the floss which, when accompanied by the sewing needle, allows you to make instant repairs of a lot of stuff. An old Scouting trick.

Wallet – A surefire way to lose your wallet is to carry it in your pants pocket. I kept mine (and my passport) secure in a double zippered compartment, far from sticky fingers and sharp razors. 36 countries and not one a lost or stolen wallet. I did however, once, leave a fairly nice camera on a park bench…

Here’s what it all looks like, fully assembled.

03 Manpurse ArticleNo word of a lie; this thing lived over my shoulder. Snatch proof, slash proof, and organized. How I like to live my life, generally speaking.



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