Back in the day, I once hitch-hiked around Ireland with my buddy, Mike, carrying only an MEC backpack with a tent, a sleeping bag, a thermarest sleeping pad, a stove and fuel, water bottles, two pairs of trousers -- even a pair of jeans! -- some other clothes and raingear, a big old SLR camera with a zoom lens and spare 35 mm film, and a set of bongo drums (long story -- but hey! Mike had a ukelele and I couldn't leave him unaccompanied).
Travelling as a family is certainly different. Somehow, we have ended up carrying a massive stack of books for road-schooling, two diving masks and snorkels, a pocket Scrabble game, a bag of neglected but somehow still-oh-so-essential-dad! LEGO, and a deck of playing cards for our epic euchre games in bus stations.
If only someone would have told us what to bring on a year-long trip...
Cue the Inevitable List
Most of the family travel blogs that I looked at before we left Canada started out with The Gear List: a detailed inventory of every item that they were taking along during their trip.
Usually, these were written by the gear-head Dad of the family, who is inevitably an "S" on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory and probably closet software coder. Invariably, the follow-up blog post ends with "and we ended up buying another suitcase to carry it all".
I, however, resolved not to write such a blog post for two reasons.
- It seemed like TMI for my long-suffering readers... and
- In these days of social media and because we tend to stand out wherever we travel, it also seemed a stupid idea to tell any potential, internet-savvy thieves exactly what we're carrying.
But in the interests of helping others learn from our experience, and as a middle-aging man who is stretching beyond the boundaries of his INTJ-ness, I present the following 12 Essential Family Travel Gizmos -- some high-tech, some no-tech, but all oh-so-essential...
....drum roll please....(Honey!....where are my bongo's?...)
1. iThings: Always in use, and thus, never fully charged. It's a guidebook, map, email, arcade, camera, cinema, jukebox, videocamera, library, social connection, compass....heck, the smaller one even makes phone calls. That both devices have survived this far is a miracle of LIfeproof cases and duct tape.
2. A Spidermonkey Compact Aluminum Four-Way USB Hub: Such a cool name! Spidermonkey! And it's great for hotel rooms where you have only one electrical outlet and you have multiple iThings to charge. This one also has the swappable, international heads that let you plug into the outlets in Africa, Europe and North America. Unfortunately, the charger took a nasty zap somewhere in Tanzania, and much smoke ensued. It was only by the great skills of our friend, Philip, and a local fundi in Mwanza, that it could live to charge again.
3. A Cocoon GRID-IT Organization System: Really just a mess of bungee cords strapped on to fabric-covered cardboard, but it is really super helpful for organizing the various cords and charger paraphernalia that keep everyone wired and happy (see #1). I also tuck our grids into a small, waterproof-ish-i-hope Coleman envelope that keeps the dust out.
4. Osprey Ozone Convertible Wheeled Luggage: It converts into a back pack when necessary -- i.e. cobblestone streets in Istanbul -- but its big honking wheels make towing it a pleasure. So much so that the kids often ask to pull my bag instead of theirs. I wish that we had splurged on these for everyone, because I don't think their rolling suitcases will make it through the year.
5. The Trail Wallet App: A great expenses-vs.-budget tracking iPhone App that lets you record what you're spending in five currencies at a time, and that admonishes you when you go over your daily budget. It also produces full-colour pie charts (pie charts!) and geek-out-worthy-exportable Excel spreadsheet reports to review during quiet nights in rural Tanzania. Actually, this App has probably been a trip-saver, heck a marriage-saver, as it helps balance our different ways of budgeting. (Hint: I'm only half Dutch). Available on OS, Android and smarter phones and traveling husbands near you.
6. Stuffed Animals: Vital even for big kids: Instant home. Just unpack and hug. Prone to hiding under beds when leaving a rental apartment, however. Be vigilant.
7. An AeroPress Coffee Maker: I have owned an embarrassing number of coffee makers in my time on this earth, some of them professing to be portable, and others protesting too much to work well. But I finally took my friends' Shawn and Eric's advice and bought one of these this great plastic syringe-like, reverse-Bodum, java makers. With the optional metal screen, it makes a passable cup of joe out of almost any grounds. It also helps to work your triceps...which brings us to....
8. The TRX Suspension Training System: A very portable gym made up of adjustable webbing straps and handles. You can anchor it to a tree, overhanging beam or over a locked (!) door and then use your body as the weight for resistance training. Even if you don't use it regularly, the extra 3 pounds in your luggage surely contributes to burning more calories. Stand back, I'm going to flex. (It also makes a great clothes-line in a pinch).
9. Petzel headlamps: Great for hiking out to see sunrises, reading in hotel rooms when you're kids are (supposed to be) falling asleep, and for finding your way during power-black-outs in Tanzania. Very geeky looking, however, if ever worn in visible light. Fortunately, it normally blinds any viewer who might comment.
10. Leatherman Multi-Tool: For its weight, it is very useful for emergencies like opening wine bottles and unlocking bathroom doors with children behind them. Still needs a Robertson screw-nail-driver head, but this is not so needful outside of Canada.
11. A Football (a.k.a. Soccer Ball) and pump: Instant sport: inflate and kick. Guaranteed to keep any just-9-year-old boy happy; not so much, his sister. She prefers ultimate frisbee. A football is also a great cross-cultural communication tool that Isaac has used on 4 continents now.
What would you add as essential family-travel gizmos?