Binoculars and cameras were popular adventure essentials for most people polled. ©John T. Andrews

Spirit Airlines will become the first carrier in U.S. history to charge fliers for putting carry-on bags into its overhead storage bins when it institutes its new fee schedule on August 1, 2010. If this new plan succeeds, other airlines are sure to follow with their own set of fees for using an overhead storage bin during their flights.

With this recent tendency by the airline companies to keep increasing our flying costs by making us pay for every piece of luggage we bring with us, travelers are learning to get savvy—and very economical—about the things they take with them. The number of items on your packing list of “essentials” has probably shrunk with every excursion you take. Most of us, however, still have one or two frivolous items that we’d never consider leaving home without.

What must come

In his book The Things They Carried (1990), author Tim O’Brien talks about the gear and accessories that his Vietnam War-era comrades-in-arms chose to haul with them while marching through the villages and jungles of Indochina. Burdened with packs weighted down by artillery, ammunition and flak jackets, it’s revealing to see what the soldiers felt they had to add to their loads. For some, it was photos of loved ones; for others, a chess set or a checkerboard. Some G.I.s didn’t march without a pen and supply of paper, or Black Flag insecticide. While a tour of duty in the military could never be considered a “travel experience of a lifetime,” these soldiers were, indeed, on an adventure.

A pair of sunglasses received a vote as a “must-take” item. ©John T. Andrews

I recently polled some fellow travelers of mine on what things they would never consider leaving home without while packing for an adventure. Sandra, Kit, Marilyn, Helen, Muriel and Pat all listed their cameras as the one item that was absolutely essential. Joan and Sandy replied with “binoculars.” Ben spoke of hiking boots, Dorothy voted for sunglasses, Mareda said sunscreen and Marilyn mentioned an alarm clock. John said he always carried a credit card; and Mary, a small notebook.

Follow the fat, yellow line

While I’d have to agree that I wouldn’t want to do without any of the things they listed when I’m traveling, I would add another, small essential: my neon-yellow Magic Marker.

During an adventure, if I take the time each evening to draw on a folding paper map the course of my day’s journey with my marker, that fat, yellow line will later become a vehicle of transport for me, after I’ve returned home. Tracing my finger along that bright ink road months later gives me the physical sensation of moving and wandering all over again, the way that no still-shot from a camera can.

What people choose to carry with them is revealing of their character. ©John T. Andrews

My marker adds very little weight to my backpack, probably to the chagrin of the airlines. But two of my fellow travelers outdid even my small, felt-tipped wonder for economy of size and weight with their response to the question of what is essential when going on a trip: Carlyn and Ed answered with “a spirit of adventure.”

I wonder if the airlines will ever find a way to charge us for that.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,