Here is a list of some useful things that I brought with me on my travels. None of them are indispensable, but they have made my life much easier.
International electric socket adapter
This little hermaphrodite will fit into almost any international electric wall socket and almost any appliance in the world will fit into it. I say “almost” because the big ol’ South African three-point plugs and sockets are not catered for – they seem to be unique in the world.
It enables me to stride into any place in the world and be sure that I will be able to charge my laptop, mobile phone and camera battery.
I had a debate with myself before I went travelling on whether to take a laptop with me.
Pros: I can lie in bed or sit in a bar with a cold one within easy reach while I am compiling blog entries. I am lying in bed in a hostel in La Paz right now as I am writing this. In places with wireless, I can do my online stuff in my own time and at my own pace, as opposed to having to go to a cyber café or waiting in line for the only functioning PC in a backpacker’s hostel, and then having other people breathing down my neck, waiting for me to finish.
Cons: There is the risk of having the thing stolen or robbed from me. Extra weight. Having to charge it regularly. There is a chance that I would spend too much time online and miss out on the real traveller’s world right here on my doorstep.
I had decided to bring a laptop after all, but a small one. And I haven’t regretted it for one moment. I bought my Acer Aspire One for the equivalent of about USD450 in Kenya. It weighs less than a kilogram, has a 160GB hard drive, wireless, and a built-in camera card reader. The touch-pad is a bit finicky at times, so you need to learn how to stroke her just right.
An advantage that I had not anticipated, is that it makes you instant friends with people who need to transfer their pics from their camera cards to somewhere else, or who would like to have a look at their pics on a computer screen. And sometimes you get to keep their very nice pics on your C-drive!
(Sorry, but WordPress’s pic uploader refuses to do this one.)
I had thought this was a uniquely South African invention, but then I encountered them in New Zealand as well. I brought two with me. They are lightweight and can be used to eat almost anything on the go. (However, I still prefer to use my hands whenever it is possible.)
Lonely Planet – South America on a shoestring
A wonderful book for getting ideas for things to do and places to stay and eat and drink. It also helps with planning transport between towns and cities in terms of what is available and more or less how long a journey will take. I know there is a danger that you might spend all your time with your nose in the guidebook and discover nothing for yourself, but I haven’t succumbed to that.
Another good thing about this tome is that when people see you with it, they will hopefully realise that you are a hard-core, long-term traveller and not just someone who is zipping in and out of one country for three weeks!
Swiss Army knife
Just yesterday morning I fixed a broken shower tap with it. Need I say more?
When I travelled in Costa Rica in March 2008 I had a Canon digital SLR with me. It took great pictures, but was a liability when I did adventure stuff such as going mountain-biking, hiking in the rainforest or white-water rafting. So I got myself an Olympus μ 850 SW digital point-and-shoot. It is waterproof up to 3 metres and the manufacturers claim that you can drop it from a height of 1.5 metres without damaging it. I haven’t put the second claim to the test, but it has survived a white-water rafting expedition in Tasmania and have withstood quite a few knocks during my travels. And I really don’t need more than the 8 Megapixels that it has.
I have to confess that it did pick up a bit of damp on the inside of the lens when I swam in a volcanic hot-water spring in the Bolivian desert. But I guess it was not designed to be used in water with a temperature of more than 35 degrees Celsius! But I opened it up (with my Swiss Army knife) and the damp soon evaporated.
This piece of cloth from East Africa comes in handy as a picnic blanket, a tablecloth, a makeshift laundry-bag and a mobile changing-booth.
I have used these two pieces of quick-dry, stretchable and breathable cloth as neck-warmers, head-warmers, to keep dust out of my mouth, ears and nose, to tie a dangling water-bottle down when I am hiking, and as sweatbands.
Other stuff that I haven’t really used yet
I also have a lightweight hammock, made of parachute material, and a plastic poncho that can be used as a raincoat, a groundsheet or a makeshift tent. The climate has not allowed or necessitated their use yet, so the jury is still out on whether it was a good idea to bring them along.