Packs and Gear
After a long time travelling, one begins to truly understand and appreciate the importance of good gear. Without it, your life will become extremely difficult, if not downright miserable.
I understood the concept, but had never had the opportunity to put it to the test. Spending three months on the road, living entirely out of a backpack, I quickly realised where I was going wrong, what items worked, and what didn't. It was basic trial and error.... in my case mostly error.
My first real backpack was a good one. Dark blue, internal frame, waxed canvas. Padded hip belt, chest (sternum) strap and a bare bones set-up and design.
Back then (in the 1980's), packs were simpler. People didn't seem to need to have hundreds of straps all over their packs to hang things on, and no one was clipping coffee cups or water bottles to anything. Carabiners were an unknown item outside of professional circles, and the constant need to drink water had not been discovered yet.
My pack had two compartments: a top section that opened with a flap, and a smaller zippered section below.
First learning: Weight will ruin all the fun.
By the time I got to Paris (about a week into my trip), I knew I had a major problem. My pack was simply too heavy. I was walking a lot, and with every step that pack got heavier and more uncomfortable.
It was also extremely hot: London had been cold, but " the continent" was already sweltering, and it was only June.
Desperate but determined, in Paris I ditched my first items: a pair of jeans, a thick sweater, and two long sleeve shirts. It not only saved a lot of space in my pack, it also lightened the load.
By the time I hit Amsterdam my next item was ready to be given away: a leather wine bag.
I had read about these being excellent for water storage. Well, maybe. And they sure have that "looks cool" factor. But they are big, and bulky, and heavy. But much worse: they make your water taste like old leather, and seem to heat up faster than can be explained. I was happy to be rid of it.
Second learning: a Swiss Army knife is a most excellent tool.
By the time I reached Switzerland I was craving a Swiss Army Knife.
I had watched with admiration (and a great deal of envy) as other travellers effortlessly sliced cheese, cut bread, opened wine bottles and did a range of other things with this remarkable little tool. I simply had to get one.
Walking around Bern, the quiet and pretty capital of Switzerland, I stumbled upon a tiny shop selling the iconic knives. The owner showed me a simple model, and immediately offered a discount. I bought it right away.
I carried that knife daily for over ten years, until it was sadly lost. I have had its replacement ever since.... the very same model.
That Swiss Army knife was a game changer for me, and started my fascination with these wonderful little objects.
Many years later I read an article in the Warsaw Voice newspaper that really shocked me: the author was actually questioning whether anyone ever actually really used a Swiss Army knife.
Mine has been used for everything imaginable. Perhaps its most significant use was making some badly needed repairs to our house in Japan after a rather strong earthquake.
When the shaking stopped, none of the doors would open or close. I fixed them all with that original Swiss knife.
But that's another story.....