THOUGH IT’S OFTEN certainly fun to set off into the distance with nothing but a tunafish sandwich and boundless optimism (rather like Calvin and Hobbes) sometimes a bit forethought makes life much easier.
A notebook and writing utensil – A notebook is an indispensable thing to have. You can write down what time you have to be somewhere. You can remind yourself to buy eggs. You can write down the phone number of the attractive stranger with the cool hat who sat across from you on public transit. You can draw a map that will get you to the nearest post office. You can try to write a poem about taxis that look like sharks.
You can write yourself reminders to not be so neurotic, because though everything seems hectic and precarious right now, it will all likely work out. You can really write down anything you want, and you’ll probably feel better for having done so, and you’ll almost certainly quite like reading it later.
String – String is a very old tool. String is also versatile and darned useful. You can tie things together, replace your shoelaces, hold up your pants when your belt breaks, make a leash for a puppy, and play cat’s cradle (I can’t, but maybe you can). It’s a very easy thing to have around.
You can buy thin strong cord at any outdoor goods or climbing store for something like twenty cents a meter, roll it up, and put it in your pocket, just in case. Then, when string is needed, you can pull it out of your pocket, save the day, and instantly gain the reputation of being a sensible and resourceful person.
A pair of wool socks – I fully acknowledge that wool socks are not necessary in all climes- if you find yourself in, say, the Maldives or the Bahamas, you might not want to wear wool socks. However, I myself am from a rather cold climate, so I cannot overstate the importance of wool socks. Wool socks are a warm hug for your feet. Wool socks are pure comfort on a cold day. Wool socks are your mother telling you everything is going to be okay.
When I worked backcountry jobs, I would wear the same pair of pants without washing them for months on end but would go to great lengths to make sure I had two pairs of warm clean wool socks when I got out of bed every morning.
A book – A book resolves all sorts of suboptimal situations – long visa lines, the bus that isn’t coming, the bad weather day in base camp, the person you don’t want to talk to. If it’s a good book, it might also make you consider things you haven’t considered before or feel happy or feel sad or feel something else entirely. When you finish it, you can make friends by asking people you meet if they’d like to trade books with you. Books are great.
A means of legitimate identification – I struggle with this one. I rarely drive, so I don’t carry a driver’s license, and therefore I have found myself on several occasions trying to convince an impassive stranger to accept my Prague tramcard as proof of identity. Said tramcard features a smiling photo of me at age twelve, bowl cut and all, and said photo is crudely cut out of somewhere else and then laminated onto the card because the Prague Metropolitan Transit Authority really just can’t be bothered.
Needless to say, it usually doesn’t work, and in light of this I’ve started carrying around legitimate ID. Sometimes, your travels and life situations in general run more smoothly if you have a means of convincing people that you are who you say you are.
Sturdy, well-made footwear – I currently only wear one pair of shoes. They cost almost two hundred dollars, which is more than I will willingly spend on just about anything, but I wear them every day and have done so for the past year and will hopefully continue doing so for the next several years. They are sturdy and waterproof and leather and unobtrusive-looking, and I put them on every time I leave my house.
I feel the importance of good footwear cannot be underestimated, especially if you are going on adventures. You want to be able to go great distances in comfort with dry feet. Therefore, invest in a good pair of shoes.
A water container – The human body is mostly water. Most people don’t drink enough water. Water containers are easy to procure and even easier to carry around. The options are many: Old plastic Coke bottle, jam jar, fancy water bottle you bought at a place that sells fancy water bottles, etcetera. The choice is clear.
The Last Chance Box – I believe the Czech Boy Scouts came up with this one. The idea is that you take a small sealable box (eg. a tea tin) and you fill it with things that might come in handy.
A non-exhaustive list: buttons and thread, a toothbrush with the handle sawed off, a pencil stub, a poem, loose change, a bus ticket, a calling card, a teabag, safety pins, packets of sugar, a pair of dice, band-aids, alcohol swabs, spare contact lenses, a razor blade, spare allen keys, a plastic bag, contraception, a pocketknife. I myself have never been a Boy Scout and anyway am not nearly organized enough to have a Last Chance Box, but the idea is a good one.
Sunscreen – There is no reason not to wear sunscreen. Sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s harmful rays and prevents you from getting skin cancer, takes fifteen seconds to apply, and you can buy it at any drugstore. For me it’s always fallen under the category of things that are boring but good for you, but the pros (not getting skin cancer, protecting one’s skin) outweigh the burden of taking time to put on sunscreen. Anyway, it all depends on how you look at it.
A former boss once made sunscreen sound revolutionary and powerful and dramatic and cool with the following monologue: “Imagine UV rays. They are coming through the cosmos super fast and from super far away and their source is an inconceivably big ball of fire in outer space, and then they’re stopped by a mysterious blob of white goo.” This changed my perspective on sunscreen forever.
A yoyo – You don’t really need to carry around a yoyo, but why wouldn’t you?