Daily Archives: January 13, 2012

Take only photographs, insect repellent, heels and a laptop, leave only footprints?

In precisely one month – 13th February – we Beers will be setting foot into one of the most harsh environments known to humankind. We will be straining from every sinew yet staying loose and agile, awareness turned up to 11, breathing hard, thinking fast, processing environmental data, reacting to the melee and yet – somehow – reaching ahead. (Think Tom Cruise in future pre-cognition mode Minority Report.)  We’ll be looking out for each other, sensitised to every potential threat, feeding off body language, sounds, sights and smells. Total focus: total commitment. Take no prisoners, show no mercy. We will be pumped, hyped, drilled and zoned in. We will be ready. Our preparations for this mission? We are meditating for hours on end. We have scale models and stop watches. We are visualising the experience and riding through it in our minds: like crack sports folk before their record breaking bobsleigh run we are programming our muscles with the memories so that nothing takes our eyes off the prize.

We will be checking in to fly long haul from Heathrow Terminal 3.

Although I may (rightly) be accused of dramatising the wonders of modern air travel, there are some things to be wary of are there not?  Whilst you ponder your own mental list, I’ll share one thing I’ve become aware of in the hope of assisting your future travels. I, of course, refer to (at least) one of our party undergoing a weird transformation in termini that does not yet have a fully documented descriptive term. I don’t think it’s the kind of medical condition that would trouble our physician chums. If it’s okay with you, I’ll loosely label it as airport mode. Here’s what to look out for:

  1. A far away look in the eyes/thousand metre stare
  2. Turning on a sixpence and accelerating in an unexplained direction (oft accompanied with a militaristic “With me!”).
  3. Total loss of listening, yet fully functional hearing.
  4. Refusal to follow basic well meaning instruction (from officials and airline staff but mostly from family members).
  5. Lots and lots of rushing.

Fortunately, the rest of the party are primed to be looking for the signs of this phenomenon and know what to do. This piece we have off pat. Within seconds of airport mode onset, we roll our eyes and prepare for argument. Whilst we are rank amateurs now, we’ll surely be really good at this – arguing – by the time we have completed the trip and will be able to tell fireside/hospital bed tales about how it varies by airport/country/bus station/platform. If you listen carefully, you can hear it crying out for a dedicated study. [Cups hand to ear and raises “shh” finger to mouth. Several seconds pass…] Actually, shall we just agree there’s no known cure and leave it be, okay?

To roll back a little there is the topic of packing stuff for a big trip. What to take, what to leave behind?

At an outdoors shop – one where they actually know what they are talking about – t’other day we met a worldly wise traveller-cum-shop-assistant who intoned wise words:

“Put half of what you’ve packed back in the cupboard. Then work out your budget and double it”

He’s right of course. Yet as I sit here surveying our spare bed which is fairly groaning under the weight of things we’re taking I am beginning to wonder. Clearly, there are “non negotiables”. We can agree on them can’t we? Apparently not. So we have to get to first principles in this short space. So I’m going to claim several “Givens” here: valid passports, visas, driving licences, jabs, all relevant institutions notified or appropriately ignored.

In the (rapidly advancing) short years since I started wandering off British shores, things have changed. Where one would need wads of funny looking bank notes from the get go, one can now expect to rock up to the hole in a foreign wall and saunter off moments later with heaps of local beer tokens or simply use a card to pay for the beer directly. Today’s key component to a spot of travel is nominally 85.60 by 53.98 millimetres, brightly coloured and logo’d: it’s plastic fantastic.  Recent news has seen that the scandalous charges for doing this are to be outlawed by UK banks. Not soon enough for our family trip so we’ve had to obtain the right travel plastic.

So surely then, that’s pretty much all we need? [Slips card into shirt pocket with a theatrical wink.] Haha, you very funny. We’ll need summit t’read stoopid. [Reveal from trouser pocket a Kobo eReader.] Lighter than carrying a pile of books, doesn’t lose your page when you nod off and also carries other documents: pdf files of itineraries etcetera. (As an aside, imagine my delight at downloading a copy of HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy to an eReader. This after all was the novel that invented the notion of an eBook – the ‘guide of the title – and the interweb too. Seemed a neatly circular act with a splendid bit of technology. Shameless plug: http://calibre-ebook.com/ a splendid piece of free software to manage your eBooks. So good, it’s worth donating.)

Card? Check. eBooks? Check. Next comes the ubiquitous web: how to stay online? Whoa there fella. Stay online?! Isn’t the point of a sabbatical to get away from all this digital malarkey? Well, er, no. I am of the opinion that the connectivity piece will bring benefits.

Righteous uses for the lapdog:

  • Skyping Granny Pat
  • Blogging (instead of a travel journal)
  • Storing, posting, annotating & editing photos/video
  • Making & tracking bookings
  • Digital postcards
  • Playing mindless games when you are fed up with your fellow travellers

Some time ago I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini and it’s fit for purpose still.

Evil uses for the lapdog:

  • Facebook updates* a la “Oh we had dinner on the beach tonight under the stars…”
  • “…with Miss World,”
  • “and the Pope, which was nice although he thought the roasted swan was greasy, but I thought it was just fine.”
  • “And the locals are simply devine: they don’t seem to mind being poor at all.”
  • Playing mindless games when you should be having fun with your fellow travellers
  • Diarising every bloody grain of sand you see. (Although you’ll be the judge of that eh?)

* Facebook updates are NOT your diary people”: spread the word. Since you are still reading this then I take it you are pretty determined to find out what we’re up to and/or quite seriously at a loose end.

We don’t tweet, we won’t tweet.

We have a phone for emergencies, a pocket camera with a zoom lens and HD video trickery aboard. They say camera sales are down 40% because people are using their phone cameras. It’s certainly not because cameras are no good: our new one  – a Pentax RZ18 – cost a faintly ridiculous £110 and it’s superb. Then there are Nintendos, iPod shuffles and what not. All of these mean – natch – that we have batteries. It follows then that we have battery chargers and travel plugs. Half of my backpack is going to be digitised bricks and wire.

That said… there are no hair straighteners, no hair driers… praise be: ’tis a miracle! Mrs B is a whizz in the getting ready routine.

So what makes up the bulk of stuff burdening our spare bed? Clothes – including some headgear for us pale skinned Beers, yours truly in particular – and well, weird stuff:

  • Waterproof rucksack liner
  • travel towels
  • wet wipes
  • ponchos
  • swimming goggles
  • sun-block
  • flip flops
  • sun glasses
  • completely ridiculous wear-beneath-your-clothing travel wallet

The heels hinted at in the title are a running joke – almost a pun there people, stay sharp – and we’re limited to a pair of walking shoes and a.n.other pair each. I shall have to leave the sling backs at home and decline those invites to the ambassadors residence for dinner. Presently we are – like a house of indoor extreme hiking nerds – all wearing our new shoes around the place to ensure they fit.

(This reminds me of a friend who practised for the Antarctic by getting togged up and taking her camera gear into the local Waitrose walk-in back-room freezer. Whilst she had store management approval, the message was not entirely successfully cascaded to the shop floor. There is a Saturday-boy in Wantage whose dreams are forever traumatised by fridge yetis.)

Of course, it is easy to read yourself into never packing. There is much advice available. So imagine my reaction to receiving the Lonely Planet Best Ever Travel Tips for Christmas. Then reverse that reaction when reading it. What an excellent little book. If only it had been given as an eBook so we didn’t have to bloody carry it.

I think it is time to avoid packing now and do something meaningless instead, like writing a 1500 word blog entry until it’s too late. I mean, c’mon: were we to put loads of effort into getting all this preamble juuust so where would all the last minute panic be?

Right, now where did I put that inflatable neck pillow…..

Your mission: comment/get in touch with your “non negotatibles” for travel. What is a must have bit of kit for you when you are overseas?



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