My time spent back in Texas was dominated by trying to replace my electronic arsenal, piece by piece. This was even more frustrating considering that when it comes to electronics, the old adage “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to” seems to ring true in every case. The new laptop has a less optimal screen and cheaper plastic. The new iphones are gigantic, weighting down my pants pocket. And the ipod, once a phenomenal music storage workhorse designed to fit in the tiniest of places now exists primarily as a full phone-sized gaming device. One by one, I tried to replace my tried and true tools, only to learn “new and improved” is in the eyes of the beholder. Why can’t they leave well enough alone? Well, one reason is because we live in a disposable culture brainwashed by marketing.
But slowly but surely, as I watched daily for the big brown truck coming down the driveway, I got assimilated back into a life driven by technology. As I replaced my items, I did so with the plan for more travel in mind. A smaller, lighter weight, less expensive laptop. An unlocked iphone that is GSM ready. And I had to take to ebay for a used model of the smaller ipod.
I also took this opportunity to revamp my current travel kit. My old duffle bag on wheels was starting to split. My oversized laptop bag was heavy and bulky. And I needed some way to keep my valuables at hand without having to wear my backpack backwards.
I am returning to my backpacking roots. While the current trend seems to be leaning more toward hard sided, four wheeled, upright rolling luggage (i.e. the “Away” brand,) for me, a backpack is more practical. I tend to stay in less expensive guest houses or pensions without an elevator. I use public transportation almost exclusively, which typically involves multiple levels of stairs. And I tend to go places with less than ideal sidewalks. But also, since I travel solo, I feel more secure with my bags as close as possible. I have only two hands, so the back and shoulders need to help with the load. Besides, it’s not really any different than going to the Main Street Gym and leg pressing a hundred lbs. 😉
I also replaced the old bulky, three level backpack bag with a more streamlined, slimmer model with a built-in padded laptop sleeve. And added a cross-body bag just big enough to hold my walk-about essentials, money, keys, camera, phone, and a small bottle of water. It goes across the shoulder, keeping valuables in front. Not only is this version more secure, but many museums now require the bag to be worn in front, so this is more comfortable.
I am also going 100% packing cubes this trip. To show that bad situations can have a positive outcome, last fall during my “No Zen in Sedona” stay, I met youtubers Tim and Fin while boondocked in the cul de sac. They fund their travels through their TRIPPED Amazon store. They gifted me a set of compression cubes; two large, two small, a shoe bag, and a laundry bag. I tried a hybrid solution when I went to Ecuador, and it seemed to work well, so this next trip, I’m going all cubed. I like having everything compartmentalized and color coordinated so I know which cube to reach for when I need a certain item. They also double as good pillows for additional support when those in the guesthouse or hostel are lacking. I managed to compress six short sleeved shirts, two long sleeved shirts, two pair of pants, two pair of shorts, nine pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, a swimsuit, sarong, a pair of Chacos, flipflops, two bandanas, a hat, and toiletries into a 40cu carry-on. Not bad.
While I said I was not going to keep talking about the theft that happened to me in Quito, fact is, there is rarely a day that some aspect of that traumatic event doesn’t cross my mind. So my plan in replacing my gear and planning my next trip has been to do everything I can think of to be prepared….then forget about it. The hope is that securing my items and being more cautious will become a habit of “good hygiene,” rather than fear-based thinking. I will follow what’s known in the military as “The Seven P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”
Here are my “Seven P’s of Travel Planning”
1.) Placement — Place “emergency cash” in several diversified locations. A Ziploc baggie ducttaped beneath the suitcase lining is one I have used in the past. Or beneath the inner soles of my shoes. Or inside a pair of socks. The key is not to have too much in one location. Spread it around!
2.) Photocopy, Produce PDF, and Print – Photocopy your passport and credit cards, front and back. It’s not enough to keep on your hard drive, as the laptop can be the victim. Scan and leave a copy with loved ones. (Also helpful to have the non-toll free number listed on the back of credit cards to phone collect in case of loss or theft.) Keep a printed copy of your passport as ID inside your luggage.
3.) Phone – Call your bank and your credit card companies to place a “Travel Alert” on your ATM card and accounts with destination country and dates of travel.
4.) Padlock – Add one or two padlocks to your gear bag. Yes, I know it would take mere seconds to cut through these small locks. Best one can hope for is to slow them down. Most criminals are opportunistic, so the idea here is to make your own valuables less of an opportunity than the next target.
5.) Password Protect – Place passcode and add tracking tools to cell phones. Yes, I know these can be hacked, but again, the idea is to slow them down until you can change the passwords on your accounts.
6.) Purge vs Preserve – Remove all emails from your inbox that could potentially lead to secure information, or location of accounts, stored passwords, etc. Make sure you back up all documents, music, photos, etc. onto an external hard drive before you leave. (While I thought I had done a full back up of files, I lost a lot of documents I had saved to the desktop.)
7.) And my final “P” is for Portugal! Next stop, Lisbon!