With my luggage strategy sorted I still had to think about what to take (apart from clothes which are discussed on another page).
The work I had to do required a computer. These days you can get a powerful laptop computer with a big screen and all the bells and whistles but, on a previous trip with one of those in my hand luggage I had ended up with an aching arm. When I had the opportunity to get a new laptop I looked around for the smallest and lightest I could find and found a tiny Sony with a 10inch screen. I had been sceptical whether it would do the job but was surprised by how effective it was. I could use it for anything I needed and, at home with a large desktop monitor, it was as good as most “proper” computers. It saved weight by not having an internal CD or floppy drive and the battery gave up to 4 hours of useful life.
There is a small drawback if you use your laptop with a digital projector. You need a special Sony adaptor to fit the miniature monitor socket on the computer. At first I lived in a continuous state of worry about losing this vital part and Sony did not seem to offer it as a spare. Then one day I realised that it was technically just the same as an Apple adaptor that you can buy easily for £15 and now I have one at home and one in my travel kit.
To protect the computer in my luggage I found a cheap vinyl sleeve case that fitted perfectly (sold as a pencil case in Office World) but later on I was please to find that Tokyu Hands sold excellent cheap Lycra-like cushioned sleeves in a range of sizes including one exactly right for the Sony, giving a little extra protection from impact. Here’s the label:
and I think that says it all.
Next came music. For me, it can create a private space, whether I am travelling or working, that allows me to relax or concentrate. And it makes an empty hotel room “mine” as well as providing an alternative to local TV. (I like local TV. Programmes that I would find extremely boring at home become fascinating studies in social nuance and body language when you can’t understand a word).
So I carried a CD Walkman and an eclectic collection of CD’s, mostly country music and the stirring bits of opera. I also invested in a pair of Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones. These are rather bulky and hot on the ears after an hour or so but they have a singular magical property – they listen to the sounds coming into your ear from your environment (eg aircraft noise) and pump in an equal amount of exactly opposite sound that cancels out the noise you don’t want.
The results are remarkable – I tried them first on the very long noisy train journey from Glasgow to Oban in the West Highlands of Scotland, on a rather old train that lacked the double-glazed air-conditioned calm of more modern vehicles. Without the headphones the sound of the underfloor diesel engines was loud to the point of being oppressive, Listening to music was almost impossible as the background noise overwhelmed most of the lower frequencies. Switching on the noise-cancelling produced an abrupt change – the background fell to a distant rumble and I could hear the music, including quiet passages, perfectly at normal volume.
The Sennheisers are bulky to pack (a very poor design for a travel product) so if you are interested in this option you should investigate some of the newer products on the market, but they proved perfect for both music and watching in-flight movies without having to strain to hear the sound track over the aircraft engine noise.
Headphones are good for travelling but not very convenient in a hotel room and I had been looking for a decent pair of travel loudspeakers for some time (most small speakers, if they are any good, are both bulky and heavy). I eventually splashed out on a Creative Technologies “Travelsound” unit which is extremely small but produces impressive sound quality:
I also like to have a radio, especially in the UK where hotels often provide the lowest common denominator pop music channels despite having the best talk radio in the world (well I would say that, I’m a middle-aged middle-class Brit). I don’t pay very much attention to the news when travelling but BBC World Service has some interesting and quirky programming so I took a small Roberts world radio.
As a cyclist and traveller I have become obsessed over the years with the balance between bulk, weight and comfort. The British need for regular cups of tea has led me to carry a small electric kettle or a little immersion heater that will heat up a cup of water on overseas trips, although Japanese hotels usually provide you with the means to make hot drinks, plus Japan is well supplied with vending machines of all kinds so I didn’t bother about the hot drink problem on this trip.
Personal hygeine is another area where you can prune away at the kit you carry without compromising your comfort. The Muji chain stock small tubes of toothpaste, just right for a week (and Japanese hotels provide toothbrushes and paste), and I have shifted from large cans of shaving foam to tiny bottles of shaving oil, which seem to do a better job anyway. My most exciting recent achievement was to cut down one of those cassettes that carry four Gillette razor cartridges to be just the right size for one cartridge – all you need for a week. I also hoard those tiny bottles and sachets of shampoo that hotels provide as they are ideal for camping trips. Hotel shower caps are good for keeping your leather bike saddle dry when parked in the rain.
I collect useful bags and containers. I have a couple of Eagle Creek packing cubes which keep shirts and underwear under control, plus a variety of transparent zipped pencil cases that keep computer bits, bike tools and wash kit safe and tidy and a couple of A4 sized ziplock document wallets for maps and timetables.
For notes and a travel diary I have found a waterproof notepad that you can use in the rain if you wish, as long as you use a pencil, most pen ink is dissolved by water.
The real difficulty is reading material. I can get through quite a few books in a trip and there really isn’t any easy alternative to lugging a good weight of paper. I tend to trawl around the second-hand book shops before a trip, looking for something interesting in small type and thin paper. I’ve looked into e-books but I don’t find it comfortable or relaxing to read on the small screen of my PDA.
I took a very compact Canon APS camera which takes good photos but I was shocked at the expense of APS film and processing compared to 35mm. Recently we’ve bought a Fuji compact digital camera which has a huge memory and runs on good old AA batteries and that seems to solve the photography problem in a way that no previous camera has done. Having said that, I used to be an avid photographer but these days I lug a camera everywhere and rarely use it, I’d rather just enjoy being there.