Loaded up like pack mules on the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru
I can do without a lot of things when I travel, but books aren't one of them. I am a librioholic (is that a word?). Ever since I could hold a book, I've been addicted to them. I used to carry dozens around with me when I traveled, buying whatever I could wherever I found it, since interesting English language books (i.e. not romances or cheap spy novels) are few and far between when traveling, especially in non-English speaking, developing countries. I was desperate to refill my stash; my worst nightmare was (and still is) being stuck somewhere without something to read. Like some kind of wild-eyed book junkie, I scoured the shelves of hostels and used book stores and traded with other travelers every chance I got. The godsend came in the form of the e-book, a marvelous little device that can store hundreds of books, travel guides, Word and .pdf files and library books. Now I can happily relax on long plane and bus trips and extended layovers; my e-book is at the ready. And hopefully, I remembered to charge it...
Always reading something...at a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina (photo by Luis Bastardo)
Here are my Top Ten "Can't Live Without" Travel Items:
1) EReader: I actually have two of these: a Sony Reader and a Kindle (a gift from a dear friend). They each have their attributes so I use them both. The Sony allows for the download of library books, which saves me the hundreds of dollars that my addiction would have normally cost me, and is easy to navigate. The Amazon Kindle still doesn't allow library downloads, stating DRM issues (strange how all the other electronic device companies have resolved those), but is lighter, sleeker and has Internet access, including the ability to download samples of books. If you don't have/don't want to buy an EReader, you can also load Ebooks onto a laptop (as well as photos and music). See fellow travel blogger Sofia's great tips on how to travel with a laptop (and keep it working!) at As We Travel: http://www.aswetravel.com/how-to-travel-with-a-laptop-and-keep-it-working/
2) Ipod: Another wonderful electronic space saver is my Ipod. I can carry my entire music collection, audio books, travel guides, podcasts and there is even room to store photos in a pinch. The Ipod is especially helpful on long overnight bus rides where it is difficult to read due to the lack of light and bumpiness of the ride. Also great for listening to relaxing or energy boosting music when I've reached the end of my travel rope and need some inspiring music.
Making full use of my eye mask, earplugs and travel pillow on the flight from Buenos Aires to New York (photo by Luis Bastardo)
3) Plastic Folding Laundry Hanger or Line: These come in many shapes and sizes, but are usually round, square or star-shaped plastic hanging frames with clothespins attached. Alternately, you could use a retractable or flexible laundry line with separate clothes pins. These are wonderful for air drying hand washed clothes, quick drying ponchos or caps, or keeping food in the trees and away from animals when camping.
4) Something Cozy: A windproof jacket, a favorite cashmere sweater, cushy socks: always useful, cozy and welcome, not just in the great outdoors, but on chilly bus or plane rides. These items have made me feel much, much better on many occasions.
5) Backup Batteries/Memory Cards: It never fails: the photo of a lifetime always coincides with my camera battery running out of juice or the last byte of space being used up on my memory card. Having extras available and handy has helped me snap that potential National Geographic Photo of the Year many times.
Luis taking our photo in a mirrored pyramid sculpture at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. (photo by Luis Bastardo)
6) Travel Meds: The top four that I never, ever travel without are Ambein (Zolpidem), Ciprofloxacin, Benodryl (antihistamine) and Anti-Diarrhea medicine. Not everyone likes to take sleep medication, but for me, Ambien has been a lifesaver. On long tedious flights, while jet lagged, if unable to sleep because of noise, heat or being in a strange and uncomfortable bed, Ambien has helped. I have also used melatonin, tilo and chamomile in capsule form or tea, but for me, Ambien is the most effective. Cipro is a potent antibiotic that kills everything, and I mean everything. I always try to use natural medicines first for stomach ailments, but if all else fails, Cipro will work. Be cautious about taking it too often though or it will also destroy the good bacteria that your stomach needs to function well. Benodryl is good to have in emergencies, such as in the case of injuries or insect bites, anytime that I need to reduce pain and swelling quickly. Anti-diarrheal speaks for itself. I always make sure that I have at least two tablets in my daypack, since diarrhea has a nasty way of hitting you (no pun intended) when you least expect or want it (e.g. long bus rides with no working toilets).
7) An Eyemask and Earplugs: Speaking of sleep, these lightweight inexpensive little items have both saved my sanity. On South American overnight buses especially, where other passengers are texted and called through the night at increasingly elevated ring volume (South Americans don't seem keen on the "vibrate" option), or in noisy hostels filled with partying guests, they have prevented me from committing aggravated assault or worse on fellow travelers.
8) Neck Pillow: I have tried several types of these and finally settled on a microfiber, foam pellet-filled pillow that I bought in El Tigre, Argentina. It is light, comfortable, washable, dries quickly and can be squashed into a backpack easily. Others I've tried, but didn't care for, are a fuzzy but heavier pillow that I bought at an airport shop (bulky and took a long time to dry) and an inflatable pillow which always managed to spring a leak when I needed it the most.
On the beach in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil with my sarong/beach blanket (photo by Luis Bastardo)
9) Lightweight Rain Poncho: Much better than carting around an umbrella or a heavy rain jacket and will cover you entirely, including backpack, in case of a sudden downpour. Rain ponchos can be tucked into almost any pocket or small space, dry quickly and are incredibly useful when the weather changes quickly. Buy a higher end model, since the cheaper ones tend to rupture easily.
10) Sarong: This is the ultimate multi-purpose item. A sarong (or pareo) can be used as a skirt, a scarf (to cover up in places of worship or more formal buildings), a shawl (to keep warm on planes and buses), a tablecloth, a bathing suit coverup, a beach blanket, a tote and a sheet. I bought a bright yellow one and a purple one in Brazil and I'm still discovering uses for them.
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