At the beginning of my trip, I wrote a blog post about every item that I was bringing with me. Now, after 80 days in Africa, I want to take a look at the Top Five items that I’ve brought, judging by how much I’ve used them and how important they have been in what otherwise would have been sticky situations.
5. Emergency Sewing Kit – Traveling can sometimes be a test of upkeep. Tiny little niggling misfortunes creep up day after day: a hole in my backpack, a tear in my shoulder bag, a rip in my shorts, dirt all over my clothes, and on and on and on. There are a ton of miniature items of maintenance that you have to attend to day after day and fix before they become big, unsolvable problems. The ability to have a needle and thread at my disposal whenever I need it, the moment a tear comes up, has been an incredible stroke of good planning. You wouldn’t believe how many jagged metal edges exist on the undersides of seats of minibuses, and how pushy the operators can be at shoving you into one, throwing your bag around, and forcing things into spaces that can’t fit them, all with the aim of “going faster”, when in reality, getting them stuck and ripping fabric takes more time for them and more repair time for me. It’s a pain, but the fact that I can repair my things myself is a comfort, and a good way to pass the time on slower days.
4. Duct Tape – I’ve used it to put on heels to prevent blisters, to close holes in shady mosquito nets, to patch up my shoelaces the time that guy tried to (and succeeded) cut them off my pack, to strengthen the mended holes in both my shoulder bag and backpack, and more. The inside of the duct tape roll also makes a perfect holding place for a rolled up belt, and saves you just a little bit, but a good amount, of space in your pack.
3. Stuff Sacks – By stuff sacks I don’t mean the $20, synthetic mesh kind you can probably buy at Patagonia to show how rugged and outdoorsy you are, but any old bag you have lying around the house. A Crown Royal drawstring bag works perfectly, as does anything that clasps at the top. Instead of having to dig through my pack to find that one last pair of clean underwear or the bottle of doxycycline pills, I can just identify the bag that I know it’s in, open it, and extract the needed item. By this point in the trip I can even do it blind – without unpacking, by reaching under the items in my bag and finding the item by feel. Incredible time-saver.
2. Headlamp – Many hostels, campsites, and even guest houses we’ve stayed at have had either no electricity, sparse electricity, or good electricity, but for some reason, the power had been cut and would come back on “in one hour or so”, which means, of course, sometime around 3 AM. The ability to have a light to search through your pack, determine areas of un-level ground so you don’t trip and fall into lord-knows-what, or figure out what you’re doing in the bathroom has been a life-saver. So simple, yet so effective. Even though moths fly into your face when you put it on your head, the convenience of not tip-toeing through the dark has been worth it.
1. Emergency Toilet Paper – Wow, I can’t even begin to tell you how few bathrooms contain toilet paper and just assume that you will either bring your own or become an olfactory menace. This
easy-to-overlook item has saved both of us a number of times, and has also been useful to absorb blood and stop bleeding when one of us has cut a toe or a finger while out on the street. It may not look like much on the surface, but its practical application has been
immeasurable. Thanks again to my dad for teaching me about this best travel item years and years ago.
Note that none of the above items is a piece of clothing. This is because clothing, while important, is the single most overpacked item on any trip, and the easiest thing to cut down on if you really know what you’re doing. I’ve actually lost BOTH my fleeces and a hat so far on this trip, and I’ve moved on and found ways to keep going without losing stride. But if I were to lose any of the items up above, I’d have to replace it immediately, to keep up the comfort and rhythm I’ve established on my trip.