Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Calum’s Guide to Round the World Packing

Being away from home for 12 months will be an odd experience. One of the oddest things will be carrying all my worldly possessions around on my back. However, while I may be resigned to looking like a snail, I don’t want to move like one. So packing selectively has become an obsession of late.

I had a look at the Lonely Planet recommended packing list for round-the-world travellers. And then I threw it away. While I could see some sense in it’s preoccupation with health, safety, cleanliness and avoiding indecent exposure, any book that suggests you can survive in a foreign environment without a jar of peanut butter is not to be trusted.

Coming at it from a different angle, I wondered whether I should perhaps try to draw up a list of the things that are most important to me now and see how many of those I could squeeze into my bag.

Obviously I’ll miss family and friends. But being quite sharp, I quickly realised that there is an obvious problem with trying to fit your family and friends into your rucksack – whom to choose??? With a limit of 70 litres, I think I would struggle to fit in anyone other than my nephew, Rowan, and niece, Colette. And I don’t think Kirsty and Gordon would appreciate being without them for such a long period of time. So family are out – I will have to rely on taking some photos with me instead.

The old proverb says that you can choose your friends. But that doesn’t help you fit them in a rucksack. If you are to prevent the size problem popping up again you would clearly have to draw the limit at one (or possibly even half of one). And while ‘choosing’ might get the thumbs up on proverbial grounds, in practise it raised a number of troubling questions. Firstly, I worried that many of them might insist on bringing a spouse. And then I could think of a few friend-specific problems on top of that. Stuart would require a few dozen guide books, Graeme would need to bring his extensive prog-rock tape collection… not to mention a number of friends who would find it difficult to survive long periods in the dark without alcohol. And there would be nothing worse than hiking up a Peruvian mountain to find that someone has drunk your carry-out, from the inside so to speak. Again photos will have to do.

Other favourite things seemed on first inspection much more do-able. A bottle of nice red wine and some cheese. But then I would need crackers, margarine and of course a knive to do the necessaries. My reading of the news at the moment is that planes can be diverted if a 90 year old granny is overheard mentioning that she has a spoon in her suitcase never mind a knive, while I think even margarine is now banned from hand luggage. And you can probably cause a nasty abrasion with the rough edge of a broken cracker.

Hobbies and pastimes were even more hopeless – amongst other cumbersome items, I own a piano, a telescope and a snowboard. It’s not much fun lifting any of those on their own, nevermind as part of a sack-load of stuff.

The last most important thing I could think of was my bed. As my rucksack was already on top of the bed when I thought of this, and the bed was patently visible on all sides of the rucksack, even I was able to tell straight away that this wasn’t a goer. At this point, I went back to the lonely-planet list in despair. It did at least have a section on ‘sleeping systems’. Unfortunately, without even mentioning duvets, mattresses or pillows, this section went on for several pages describing various types of sleeping bag and cheerfully weighing up the pros and cons of millimetre thick foam mats versus ultra-thin inflatable ‘therma-rests’. Just depressing. Aside from anything else, the one single thing that I had been able to decide on and pack was inflatable and it seemed overkill to add another one. I wouldn’t be seen dead on a pacific island without my beach-ball.

So reluctantly I went back to the lonely-planet list again and, for the record, here’s what’s in the bag.

You could have a rather interesting game of trying to identify each item. If anyone can tell, using logic alone, the one item I’ll be taking that definitely isn’t in the picture, they will win a jar of peanut butter.

One other item is absolutely essential. The Point It guide to universal communication. Until they really do invent a multi-lingual translating fish that you can stick in your ear, this thing has to be the handiest travel invention since the toilet roll.

It’s an ickle little book! And all the pages have things on them like this! Just point… and go!

…and when you want a roast chicken, served on a dinner plate by a man wearing a smart shirt and jacket, you don’t even need to open the book.


Graeme said...

Is it one of the following -
a) Rush's classic 2112 (on tape) from 1976? (this would be in my bag!)
b) Buzz for the PS2? (in the hopes of staying with people who have a PS2)
c) A PS2? (in the hopes that your univeral adaptor will work in Belize)
d) Another pair of pants? (you can never have too many)
e) A parachute? (an escape route to be used if US air marshalls don't do their jobs...)
f) Your beloved teddy bear? (don't deny you've still got him)
g) A pot plant? (for giving to your Belizean hosts)

Calum said...

In respect of your guesses:
a) I wouldn't recommend taking the version on tape. Even with Belize's development issues, the tape recorder became locally extinct circa 1997.
b and c) When I arrive with my host family, I'll be looking under the tv straight away
d) I wouldn't have thought any were necessary. I'm sure the phrase 'going commando' has some connection with living and working in a tropical jungle climate.
e) that reminds me of a joke that also includes Mother Teresa and John Lennon...
f) boo-boo will be arriving once the junta has been successful
g) I'd like to say you were getting closer but...

Tom H-C said...


Tom H-C said...

Apologies about the previous message - wasn't sure I could remember by username and password...

I am slightly confused as to why you want to take less round the world than for a week-end in the Highlands but have assumed this is due to learning from experience :).

As for the missing item, I;ll ignore the obvious one of hte camera and plump for the video i-pod? I think I might have a bit of an advantage in this I'm guess it's not in the picture as it's being repaired after you destroyed the item on trip up North.

I should also say that I am hugely impressed with the progress that you are making and using the extra week would hardly be unreasonable given the two week injury...

Do let us know if you need a walking companion in that last week.

Calum said...

Tom. Smooth or crunchy?
Twas the camera. Ipod also not in the picture as you say. Sadly it never recovered from the monsoon and has gone to a better place - the AXA insurance claims department.

PS Surely I've made you suffer enough - how about lunch instead?

Sturt said...

Damn. I was going to say the camera...honestly! and walking sticks/i-pod/MONEY. And the big book of Scottish jokes. At least, you have to take something relating to your homeland as you will encounter countless humans with absolutely no knowledge of Scotland, or at best think of it as a snow covered lump in the Kingdom of England. Be prepared.I'd recommend a Lion Rampant, compacts very easily and can double as a Dick Whittingtonesque pouch, a useful sling when your parachute fails and you break your arm, or even a makeshift hammock for your alleged teddy. Failing that, I am assured that you can indeed purchase a Tunnocks Caramel wafer somewhere in the general vacinity of South/Central America.

Chris said...

I notice you are only packing 2 pairs of socks - should make for some interesting aromas at your host families place!.

Chris said...

I;m sure when you produce the Tunncocks caramel wafers all will be forgiven!!

Calum said...

I'm afraid Tunnocks caramel wafer ís a Belizian euphamism for something that could be found in the John.
I have explained to my Belizian contacts that you mean well, but given the recent 'pipe-laying' incident, I'm afraid relations between the Belizian foreign office and the Irish ex-pats association of Australia have now reached a new low.
My diplomatic mission to Sydney in February is now taking on a greater urgency. Please ensure that my visit is accorded with full regalia, and erm plenty of booze.