Let’s assume for the purposes of this article that you are not naked. Ok, with that thought fortunately gone from our collective consciousness, I want to talk about the small stuff. People always say “don’t sweat the small stuff”, but when it comes to adventure travel there are really, honestly and absolutely only a few small things you need to have with you to travel around the world and they are all small.
This concept has much less to do with the pursuit of simplicity (although that is the next most important goal) and much more to do with priorities and stress as travelers. When I plan and pack for a trip, I am as meticulous as the next person, reviewing lists and revising equipment requirements and scope, but I don’t allow the gear to rule my experience. If everything, including the truck, was lost, would my trip be ruined, would my trip be over ? As travelers, we need much less than we think, and the requirements for comprehensive equipment really only vary depending how far we are away from help. For example, an adventure along the Silk Road can be done with next to nothing, while a crossing of the Empty Quarter would require extensive preparation and comprehensive equipment.
As many of us have experienced, our reliance on things to provide security, comfort and peace of mind evolves as we become more confident as travelers. Some achieve this on their first trip while others spend a lifetime of travel as nervous and dependent as the first time they boarded a plane. Of course, personality type cannot be discounted in this consideration, but the fact remains, we actually need very little to operate as an adventure traveler.
- Passport- Once we leave our home country (and sometimes even within it), we need a passport to travel. This is the most important and also the only absolutely necessary item we need as adventure travelers.
- Credit Card- Even though I have met backpackers that left Russia with literally no money in their pockets, I believe it is not only essential, but also ethical to travel with a means of self-sufficiency. Traveling on the hospitality of others alone is a tough pill to swallow. So, you need to have a way to pay for food, pull cash for hostels, pay for gas, etc. In the last decade, ATM availability has grown rapidly. Currently almost every country of the world has some ATM or bank withdraw availability. I have found ATMs from Honduras to Turkmenistan. Personally I use an American Express card for all travel related expenses. I buy my plane tickets with it, book hotels, make purchases, etc. It simply provides a higher level of service to the traveler than any other card, but there can be challenges at times with acceptance. In Iceland, AMEX is taken everywhere, while in Kyrgyzstan, they had never seen one.
- Smart Phone- These devices are powerful and extremely useful travel tools. If you consider the number of devices that an iPhone can replace, your list of necessary gadgets quickly fades and all that is left is the sexy little chunk of aluminum and glass that fits in your front pocket. While some might argue that the smart phone is not a “necessary” item, my experience has proven otherwise. I use my iPhone 4 as a GPS, currency converter, translator, on-line and off-line map, tour guide, 5mp camera, computer, email mailbox, alarm, e-reader, music player, HD video camera, clock, document scanner, document back-up, rolodex, internet browser and even sometimes as a phone. The challenge is to have the discipline to turn it off too….
As travelers, once we narrow down our equipment to what is most necessary, we realize how easy it is to do without or simply purchase the rest while on the road. My last trip from Spain to Mongolia (through 23 countries) was an exercise in minimalism, and it was a true pleasure. We drove a compact 4wd with no roof rack and a couple backpacks full of personal gear. We could even see out of the back window, yet we could still have eliminated more stuff. Doing a month-long trip on a KTM 950 had the same effect, with the total extent of my equipment filling two soft panniers and a top-box. Sure, additional gear and equipment can improve our comfort and make us more efficient as travelers, but the trip can also be consumed by the management of that ‘stuff’.
With each trip I further reduce my equipment and refine my equipment choices, but I am always mindful of what is most important to me. For example, my camera equipment is more important than the truck I am driving or anything else apart for the trinity above. For some others, it may be medications or some other essential item. Protect those things and always be vigilant with the rest, but don’t let your trip be ruined because your Maui Jims were stolen at the last border post. As we have gained experience, we are now using higher quality gear and much less of it. For example, our still cameras also function as video cameras and all of the lenses work on all of the bodies – we have double redundancy. My entire camera kit, laptop and peripherals fit in an F-Stop shoulder bag. The more equipment we have with us, the more time we must take out of our day to manage, maintain, service and interact with that equipment. We feel obligated to use all of it because we have been hauling it around. The additional weight affects the performance of our vehicle and the additional cost takes away from the fuel budget or splurging on that beautiful hotel in Leon.
Once we come to terms with what equipment is really important or even necessary, it changes our experience. Sure, our truck can be stolen in Delhi, but that is where the real adventure begins, where we use our iPhone to find the nearest Royal Enfield dealership and then drop down the American Express on a helmet and new 500 Bullet. In fact, it is possible that you could get up from your computer right now, grab your passport, book a flight to Mongolia from your iPhone (no visa required for US citizens), land in Ulaanbaatar, buy a Russian Niva and take off for an incredible adventure. Remember, only sweat the small stuff….