The Things You Carry

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 13, 2010 11

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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 your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,



  1. John May 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    A camera is number one. Next, I agree with Ed and Carlyn; take a good attitude. Let the trip reveal itself, rather than over planning and establishing heavy expectations.

  2. Nicole April 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Ya know my instant reaction was MASCARA!!! But after reading the article, I would agree FOR SURE with the camera…what was I thinking!! 🙂

  3. Nine Quiet Lessons April 14, 2010 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Cash, a passport, a survival knife if I can bring it, and sturdy boots.

    • Nine Quiet Lessons April 14, 2010 at 10:22 am - Reply

      I guess that’s a lot more than one item…

      • Nine Quiet Lessons April 14, 2010 at 10:23 am - Reply

        …but assume it’s in roughly that level of importance.

  4. B. B. April 14, 2010 at 5:48 am - Reply

    My Palm Pilot. It even has my list of camping gear.

  5. Jen D. April 14, 2010 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Cash–then buy everything I need at my destination.

  6. travis April 13, 2010 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Sadly, it usually winds up being a musical instrument tied to my back. That’s always a chore, and is rarely welcomed by airlines. AA is pretty good, though. The TSA actually requires airlines to allow passengers two bags plus and i instrument as carry on, they’re just not very forthcoming.

  7. Mike M. April 13, 2010 at 9:26 am - Reply

    a credit card

  8. Joyce S. April 13, 2010 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Great article. I would definitely bring a good camera. I missed some great pictures in Alaska because I had a mediocre camera. I have since purchased a canon slr rebel and it takes great action pictures with the sport feature. I’m still in the learning stage.

  9. Sherry K. April 13, 2010 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Hooray for Carlyn and Ed! My essential is earplugs. Being in the small segment of the population for whom sleeping drugs are not an option (they work in reverse) (and yes I have tried all the alternatives) they help me sleep in unfamiliar places.

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