Category Archives: World Travel

Alarm clock, swiss army knife, pills

Essential Travel Gear – Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival #20

Travel gear is a huge topic and a huge industry. A look at the web will bring you literally hundreds of packing lists from hundreds of different world travelers. Many of them say that you have to bring this gadget, bring that many pairs of travel socks, or don’t forget to get this new solar powered gizmo dowoppity.

But let’s face it. If you travel enough what you learn is that there is no single packing list that will work for any two travelers or two destinations. The gear you bring with you on your travels is as personal as the photos you put in your albums. However, one thing is definitely certain – every seasoned traveler has two lists.

1) The things you don’t leave home without
2) The things you wish you could travel with but don’t have yet

Lonely Planet Blogsherpa

This week’s Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival brings you some of the most loved and most desired travel gear from some of the planets most intrepid travelers.

Personally, since I’m starting this off, through the years I’ve been on the road, I’ve realized that the less I can carry, the better off I am. My most essential piece of equipment is my bag. I don’t carry a backpack and I don’t pull a wheelie bag. Leather Shoulder Bag TravelerI have a leather shoulder bag with hardy buckles and a zippered canvas interior. It’s small enough to be a carry on, big enough to carry what I need, and light enough to sling on my back while I sight see in Rome or ride a camel across the Sahara. My bag is custom made and suits me perfectly. Someday, I may get them made and share them with the world. One thing is for sure, everywhere I go women say to me “Wow, great bag” The men say “Looks like that bag has seen some miles” It has and is seeing more all the time. Stainless Coffee PressAs to what goes in the bag, I usually have my netbook, power cord, two changes of clothes, two extra pairs of socks and underwear, a Sigg waterbottle, a notebook and a couple of pens, whatever I’m reading, toothbrush, razor, toothpaste, documents, and depending on where I’m going a pair of rubber slippers. The other thing I usually have is my stainless steel coffee cup with screw on lid. I found a French press that fits it perfectly (same diameter) and use it to make coffee, tea, drink wine on trains, make soup in, or heat water on a fire.

Rope, magnifying Glass, can openerThree very different essentials come from David at Quillcards Blog. What’s essential to him? Binoculars, Magnifying Glass, and Piece of Rope!

Three Great Pieces Of Gear
From all the things I have taken on my travels, I would say the best of all are mini binoculars, a magnifying glass, and a length of rope.

Binoculars
Seeing just about anything through binoculars – from animals and birds to just plain and simple crowds of people – makes carrying the weight of them definitely worth it.

And what you are looking at doesn’t have to be far away. Something that you may not have thought of is that looking though binoculars at an exotic bird that is just 20 feet away can turn a great experience into a phenomenal one.

Magnifying Glass
Picture a lazy afternoon somewhere on your travels. You spy a piece of crystalline stone on the ground or a recently expired insect on the window sill. That is where a magnifying glass comes into its own and a whole new world opens up.

I have a soft spot for this particular magnifying glass – the one in the photograph above. It is Russian, and I bought it in a street market in Tallin in Estonia shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

That was the time when everything from military-grade night vision binoculars to periscopes were on sale in markets across Eastern Europe.

Rope
A piece of rope two or three millimetre thick and long enough to tie down a pack or hang up a pair of jeans. That is something that always goes in my pack.

As you can see, I have bought several lengths over the years…

pacsafe bag with secure strapMeanwhile, after four years on the road, Trans-Americas Journey is still moving and celebrate by sharing some of their favorite gear. Among them is another bag that kicks ass!

Pacsafe MetroPacsafe anti-theft “securse”

Karen’s Pacsafe Metro 200 shoulder bag is a nylon bag reinforced with lockable zippers and an unslashable wire-filled strap. It’s certainly secure (that’s why she calls it her “securse”). It’s also durable, easy to wipe clean and it holds a ton including:

1 bottle of hand sanitizer
our Samsung SAGA smart world phone in a snug sleeve which protects the screen
multiple pens and notebooks
1 Lonely Planet pocket guide to Spanish (yes, we still cheat)
wallet
our car alarm keyfob and keys to the truck
2 packs of chewing gum
1 Canon S95 digital camera
1 mini tripod (found along the way)
1 Tide Stain Stick (indispensable)
2 different lip balms
Trans-Americas Journey business cards and stickers (yes, we have stickers)
breath mints
2 packets of pocket-size tissues
1 dispenser of Visine dry-eye relief drops
1 in-country cell phone
1 tough-as-nails SureFire E1L Outdoorsman mini flashlight
3 packs of matches
1 mini Totes umbrella (also found along the way)
4 individually packed Ya! bug repellent wipes
1 Canary Wireless Digital Hotspot Wi-Fi Finder
assorted toothpicks
1 sewing kit
2 mini emery boards
pocket-size dental floss dispensers (kindly supplied by our friend Dr. Dave Goldberg of Gentle Dental in Massachusetts)

camera gearCamden at The Brink of Something Else takes a look at some of the gear he wishes he had in A Budding Photographer’s Wishlist

Right now, my collection of photography equipment totals one item: my Canon Digital point-and-shoot IXUS 95IS, 10 megapixels, 3X zoom. Not exactly the stuff National Geographic prizewinners are made of.

It’s served me well over the years, survived quite a few bumps and scrapes, and will continue to be my first choice for boozy nights out and boat rides (at least until I finally shell out for a decent waterproof for dive trips). But it’s time to start thinking about a DSLR, and all the expensive but oh-so-cool accessories that it demands.

Good sense must be maintained, however, and credit cards not maxed-out; although spending money on substandard equipment that will need replacing in a matter of years isn’t a smart move either. I thus present my budding photographer’s wishlist, a solid start on a budget of US$2,000.

Alarm clock, swiss army knife, pillsJennifer at The Turkish Life shares not only the gear that she takes but the gear she has decided to leave behind. I think we all miss having our swiss army knives.

Out quickly went the money belt, the portable locks, the ugly “travel towel,” and, eventually, the dozens of rolls of film. A mini Ziploc bag of assorted meds still makes the cut, as does the flip-open alarm clock that’s been digitally ticking since 1998. (It now stays at home on trips to places where my cell phone will work.) So does my Swiss army knife, though it’s seen most of its travel action slicing bread and cheese for make-shift meals.

the Kindle 11Renee King at A View to a Thrill offers an inspiring review of the Amazon Kindle 3 and has made me resolve that I’m going to get one, which surprises me to no end.

As a writer, reading is fundamental. I couldn’t recall the last time that I had read anything with more pages than a magazine. As a traveler, it’s important to have an escape from the real world and there ‘s nothing better at accomplishing that than immersing yourself in a good read. So, I resolved to take a stand; to get back to the basics. I had to do something dramatic, something that would force me to follow through on my goal. My solution was the Amazon Kindle 3! I had been a fan of the Kindle since its first incarnation as a white, much larger and more expensive electronic reader.

Immersion coil, backpacking gearMeanwhile, Jason and his family at Alpaca Suitcase offer inspiration in the form of a simple cup.

Living out of backpacks and staying predominantly in inexpensive hostels can be wearying at times. With all your belongings in a single backpack there are times that you crave a quiet, civilized moment. That is when we break out our favorite travel gadget: the immersion heater. It’s basically a metal coil connected by wire to a wall plug, but it has transformative properties. It can transform even the most dreary of situations and cheer them up a bit. Just stick the coil into some water, plug it in and in less than a minute you have a boiling cup of water. Add some tea and sugar and you have civilization.

wrist ID chipFinally, on a literal ending note, but hopefully none of ours or yours anytime soon, Natalia at No Beaten Path introduces us to the Road ID, a hightech way to make sure that if the worst happens, those who need to be contacted, will be.

It is, essentially, a wristband on which is a metal disc. On the front you can have whatever you want engraved (though the site suggests the best information) and on the back is a serial number and a PIN. You register your details on a website, and if you are found, the emergency services can either call a phone number (and there are a range of countries that you can list for your phone number) and have very sophisticated voice recognition software read out your details, or they can go on a website to look up who you are, who to contact, and whatever else you add – in my case I put my blood type.

Participants in the Lonely Planet BlogSherpa program host periodic “blog carnivals” on various travel-related themes. The last one, hosted by Orange Polkadot looked at toasting customs around the globe, the next one will be hosted by No Beaten Path

Fortress in Nis, Serbia

Nis Fortress – 2000 Year Old Fortifications

Before I leave Serbia (actaully, I already have) I want to give a quick impression of Nis which is the first stop from Sofia, Bulgaria when you enter Serbia by bus and in my case, was also the last stop before I left for Skopje, Macedonia (also by bus).

Fortress in NisAs the bus pulled into Nis the first time, I was surprised and pleased to see that there were Vietnamese Pho restaurants, when I came back to Nis and went to get some Pho, what I found was that it’s a type of Serbian restaurant. So, don’t go looking for Vietnamese food in Serbia!

It is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans, and has from ancient times been considered a gateway between the East and the West. The Paleo-Balkan Thracians were formed in the Iron Age, of which the Triballians dwelled in this region with a Celtic invasion in 279 BC that resulted in the forming of the Scordisci tribe.

Fortress in Nis, SerbiaI stayed at a pretty decent little hostel in Nis. One thing I learned while I was in Serbia was that hostel and hotel owners are required to write reports on their guests each day and then encrypt them and send them to the police. The obsession with spying in Serbia comes from being guilty of spying on each other. I had one Serbian friend tell me that in his opinion more than half of all Serbs were police informants! In general, Serbs go through life either under surveillance or thinking they are under surveillance and when it comes down to it, there isn’t much difference. This bit of information helps to explain why many Serbs automatically assume any American or Brit is probably a spy…because apparently half of all Serbs are!

Anyway, back to the hostel. I will be writing about some of the hostels I’ve stayed at and recommend in the coming months (including this one).

The owner suggested that in addition to visiting the Tower of Skulls and the Red Cross Concentration Camp that I also pay a visit ot the Nis Fortress. I took a stroll around the fortress and got a few nice pictures but the most beautiful thing there was the Turkish Mosque which was obviously out of commission since Serbia in my experience is not exactly Muslim friendly.

Nis River in SerbiaNiš is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor and the founder of Constantinople, now Istanbul.

I didn’t visit the log cabin Constantine was born in or see the cherry tree he cut down as a boy. Niš is also the possible location of Nysa, a mythical place in Greek mythology where the young god Dionysus was raised but I didn’t go out to the clubs with the French guy who stayed at the hostel, probably because he said “You should come with me, Serbian girls give you sex just because they like your passport.” I imagined how my wife would view me going out after that and decided to pass on the opportunity. Instead, I went out and ate a traditional Nis meal of ribs and cold potatoes. Not really the same thing, but I think the wife will be happy to know it.

During the day there were plenty of young people in the park who seemed to be ditching school and a few old timers walking around with canes, presumable to protect themselves from the idle youngsters.

As usual, wikipedia does a nice job of presenting the historical background of the Nis Fortress.

Niš Fortress is a fortress in the city of Niš, Serbia. It is a complex and very important cultural and historical monument. It rises on the right bank of the Nišava River, and is over two millennia old.

The extant fortification is of Turkish origin, dating from the first decades of the 18th century (1719–1723). It is well-known as one of the most significant and best preserved monuments of this kind in the mid-Balkans. The Fortress was erected on the site of earlier fortifications – the ancient Roman, Byzantine, and later yet Mediaeval forts.

Turkish Mosque in Nis Serbia

The mosque is inside the Nis Fortress

The Fortress has a polygonal ground plan, eight bastion terraces and four massive gates. It stretches over 22 ha of land. The rampart walls are 2,100 m long, 8 m high and 3 m thick on the average. The building stone, brought from the nearby quarries, was hewn into rather evenly-shaped blocks. The inside ofhe rampart wall was additionally fortified by a wooden construction, santra?, and an additional bulwark, trpanac. On the outside, the Fortress was surrounded by a wide moat, whose northern part has been preserved to our days. Beside the massive stone rampart walls, the southern Stambol gate and the western Belgrade gate are pretty well preserved. Partly preserved are the water gates, while there are only remains of the northern Vidin gate and the south-east Jagodina gate. With a complete reconstruction of all the gates, Niš Fortress would once again become, architecturally and functionally, a closed fortification system. Far into the fortress, there is a weather station, that provides forecasts for the city of Niš.

statues of shoppers in Macedonia - Skopje

Skopje, Macedonia

The bus trip from Nis to Skopje was something that just really needed to happen. Serbia and I were like peanut butter and tunafish, we just didn’t go together at all.

view from the bus to SkopjeI was feeling pretty exhausted and emotionally depleted leaving Serbia and I was hoping that Macedonia would be a breath of fresh air. As we left Serbia I felt that same lifting of consciousness that comes whenever I leave the USA, it was like the eyes of the world were suddenly no longer looking right at me.

The modern Skopje MallIt wasn’t the only change. The landscape changed fairly dramatically as well. From the sort of rolling hills and fields of Serbia, there was suddenly a bit more contour to the land and while I still had the sense that this was the Mediterranean, it was different. When we passed the first mosque, I felt my spirits lift. al-hamdililah! The first town the bus pulled into was a shock too, far from being the lily white blondeness of Serbia, this was a definite brown town. The bus depot area was filled with dark Roma gypsies. The contrast was sharp and sudden. It was like going from Utah to Mazatlan. The town looked poor and the people, while they didn’t look overly cheerful like Pacific Islanders, they looked normal. Hard life for some, easier for others.

Skopje Family LoveI was reminded quite a bit of Morocco as the bus wound its way toward Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, I was feeling very good about coming to this place. Skopje seemed to be an economic success story with plenty of new building, a big park and pool, and thankfully, much less of the crappy tagging I’d seen too much of recently.

As usual, I’d looked online and saw there were some hostels in Skopje, so I didn’t go any further and do things that a normal person would like find out where they were, see if they were open, or anything else. I don’t recommend doing things this way.

Skopje StatuesSo, I arrived in Skopje, walked out of the bus station and looked for a sign saying hostel. I saw one and I walked off in the direction it pointed. Soon, I was wandering around what looked like a bad neighborhood and no sign of a hostel. Seeing a very pretty woman, I stopped her in the street and asked if she knew where the hostel on the sign was. She spoke great English and said that although she didn’t know where the hostel was, I should come with her so she could model the sexy underwear she’d just bought…oh wait…no, that was the little fantasy I had.

Instead, she told me she didn’t know where the hostel was but pointed me to the Hosteling International where they wanted $30 per night! I passed on that and decided to wander around Skopje pricing hotels. I’ll write about that in a later post along with a review of where I ended up staying.

Saviour of SkopjeSo, I had a nice wander around Skopje. It’s one reason I travel with only one light bag because I can do things just as if I don’t have a bag at all, mostly. I’ve gone on hikes with all my luggage, walked long, long distances, and even gone to amusement parks with everything I travel with.

Skopje was cool but expensive. The prices were about what I remembered from Paris. The coffee was about $6 at the first cafe I stopped at. Skopje was filled with upscale stores like Prada, Gucci, and plenty of cafe/bars named after all the cities of the world. Barcelona Cafe, Madrid Cafe, Baghdad Cafe, Buenes Aires Cafe and so on.

statues of shoppers in Macedonia - SkopjeOn a more interesting note, Skopje was filled with tons of bizarre statues and some incredible architecture, some of it built right around the old world architecture as this city becomes ultra-modern. When I looked around, it was astounding how many of the buildings are new! The reason? An earthquake in 1963 leveled 75% of the standing structures and everything after that was built to be ultra-modern. The initial project was to make Skopje the model of the entire socialist world. According to wikipedia ‘The plan was drawn by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who also designed the new railway station. The plan was never fully carried out.”

I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of interesting sites in Skopje, but there is plenty to look at. The odd statues, the old town across the bridge, the Kale Fortress, and the interesting architecture. The heart of Skopje is Macedonia Square. If you search enough and care enough you can find the place where Mother Theresa was born. The house is gone, but the place is still there.

Skopje is surrounded with incredible things to do and Macedonia seems an amazing country. The cost surprise, I’m told is unique to Skopje, mainly because it is the capital city and as the nearest city to Kosovo and Prishtina that isn’t Serbian, it has benefited greatly from UN and NGO influxes of capital. The downside is that most of the bureaucrats and NGO staff are on bloated expense accounts which have opened the door to price racketeering and made Skopje a very high end city.

I was in a hurry to get to Morocco so I could give flowers to my wife on Valentines Day or I would have probably really enjoyed Macedonia. As it is, I can tell you that the wine is great and at about a Euro per bottle, an exceptional value.