Photo by flavouz. Cover image by Magalai Veldhuis
Bad gadgets are universally bad, however, the “most useful” plaudit is a contentious one: everyone has their favourite. A penknife you can use to remove stones from horses’ hooves or an MP3 player with a back catalogue of eighties disco classics; I can’t say they won’t find a use by somebody somewhere. The following are my humble suggestions.
A sarong is not just for girl travellers. Trust me. If the idea of a large, extremely lightweight towel that dries in minutes costing next to nothing sounds like a mythical travel accessory, you’ve yet to discover the benefits of a sarong. And no, it needn’t be brightly coloured and flowery; mine is rainforest green with turtles on it. How manly can you get?
2. Combination Lock
If you keep valuables in the pocket of a small rucksack, you can discourage the wandering hands of a pickpocket by locking the zips together. A lock and key will do the job, but it’s far too easy to lose the key (the logical conclusion being a date between the redundant lock and a hacksaw). A combination lock set with a memorable code is the answer. Just remember to change the code before you travel, I can assure you thieves will guess “0000” pretty quickly.
There are some sounds you really don’t want to hear while travelling: the rasping snores of a fellow passenger on a long haul flight; an all-night sex marathon in a hostel with paper-thin walls; cockerels at 4 am; Bollywood films at full volume on an overnight bus journey. Take a few pairs of earplugs and your auditory equipment will be saved from abuse and corruption.
4. Money Belt
At times you will be carrying more cash than you wish to. The only place to keep this is somewhere inaccessible to pickpockets. This usually means touching bare flesh and below the waist. If a thief is scrabbling around your nether regions, you’ll know. Rather than stuff everything into your underwear, a money belt is the practical approach to storing valuables on your person. Don’t ever be tempted to wear the belt outside your clothes (looking stupid would be the least of your worries).
5. Duvet Cover
This may seem an odd thing to take travelling and is not a suggestion to remake the bed linen upon checking into your room. This is invaluable if you need to sleep in a public place – Indian sleeper trains in particular – and want to have a cocoon where you can snooze, hide valuables and use as a physical barrier to the outside world. Whereas a sleeping bag would be impractical in a hot country, a thin duvet cover is perfect.
6. World Band Radio
No matter how much fun you are having on an extended trip away from home, you will inevitably feel homesick at least once. One way of keeping this in check is with a world band radio. The friendly voice of a world service announcer telling you how things are back home will help you through your melancholy until your next bungee jump or white water rafting trip.
“Oh how I wish I’d brought binoculars” wasn’t what I thought I’d be saying on my last trip, until I was in a national park using the maximum zoom on my compact camera trying to see the vague shape of a tiger. Modern binoculars take up little space and you’ll be able to say “Oh, how glad I am to have brought my lovely binoculars. Is that rhino charging straight towards us?”
A good multi-tool will make life on the road a great deal easier. Aside from the equine-related stone-remover (which I can’t say I’ve ever used), the possibilities are endless. Not all beer bottles come with twist-off caps – the bottle opener attachment will save the heartache of sitting down to an al-fresco brew at sunset only to be thwarted by the cap. Sawing the top off a coconut to drink the milk inside will always appeal to your inner hunter-gatherer.
A little obvious, perhaps, but highly recommended. If you ever need to find your way to an outdoor toilet in the pitch dark, this is very difficult without a flashlight. Hazardous even. When your primary urge is to urinate, stumbling through the undergrowth of a rural village without seeing what you are stepping on is a recipe for disaster. As is doing all of the above while inebriated, but I’d rather not expand on that.
10. Photos From Home
It’s surprising the number of times local people ask to see photos of your family. There is an innate curiosity in everyone and people you meet want to know about a different way of life as much as you do. It doesn’t matter if you have a picture of your wedding day, your three year old nephew or Uncle Frank’s 60th birthday party, have some to hand just in case. A cultural exchange goes both ways.
I would never presume to call this list “the top ten greatest travel items of all time” as everyone will have their preferred can’t-leave-home-without something. I have also knowingly omitted life-saving items such as insect repellent, mosquito nets and water purifiers as these are essential rather than simply useful. These ten represent the things I find enhance my travels – whether I am drunkenly peeing in the dark or blocking out the coital cacophony of my fellow backpackers.
Check out Stephen’s round-up of: The 5 Worst Travel Gadgets.