August 18, 2008

Useful things

I'm short on time this week, so instead of a story I offer you a list.

Here are some items I rarely travel without. They're useful, light, and some of them can multitask in a pinch:

1. Running clothes: Even if you're not an athlete, consider building your travel wardrobe from clothes you find in a store's "Activewear" section. Think fabrics like Lycra, Spandex, Cool-Max and nylon. I bring a few key pieces and let them work around the clock. I sleep, exercise and sightsee in them and dress them up with scarves or jewelry for evening duty. They're light, you can roll them into balls or stuff them in a backpack, they don't wrinkle, and they dry quickly when you wash them. I pack mostly black, so I don't have to worry about the coffee and mustard stains I inevitably decorate myself with.

2. Power Bars: You can live on these things. They're packed with nutrition, they're small and flat, and they don't break or melt (although they can get pretty bendy when you're carrying them around hot places like India or Uganda...).

3. Rubber door stop: The best security device you can get for a buck. Stick one under your hotel room door when you lock yourself in for the night.

4. Ziploc bags: Too many uses to list. One of my favorites is for spiriting foods like cereal or peanut butter and bagel sandwiches away from the free breakfast bars in hotels and motels. If you're in Europe, free breakfast usually includes a selection of meats and cheeses, so you can zip yourself up few ham and havarti sandwiches to consume later.

5. Duct tape: You don't need a whole roll, just a few feet rolled around a pencil, wooden clothespin or piece of cardboard. A zillion uses. Use your imagination. You can even fashion a clothesline from the stuff if you roll it thin, like a cigarette.

6. A bar of Fels Naptha soap: You can wash clothes, dishes, even yourself with it. And you don't have to worry about liquid spills.

7. A small battery-powered fan: Indispensable for cooling the air if you're in a budget hotel without air conditioning. Also great for creating white noise and drowning out sounds that would otherwise keep you from sleeping. Bring extra batteries, and look for a fan that has an optional AC adapter.

8. Eyeshades and earplugs: I use them on planes, trains and in airports and hotel rooms. I may look like a geek, but I'm always well-rested.