Traveling Light: What to Use, What to Lose

 Whether you’re on a weekend roadtrip or a working holiday, valuable time is often eaten while agonising over travel decisions. A cruise or a hike? Two light jackets or one heavy one? Chicken or fish? When it comes down to it, there are a number of ways that can help you get the most out of your travel-time, ways that apply to a variety of travel scenarios. This is my personal list, learned via flashes of genius as well as discovered through sparks of stupidity (the latter being more common). It’s an ongoing, morphable list of what to use and what to lose when traveling, which will hopefully help to make you more travel-efficient and allow you to spend more time enjoying your time than wasting it.

Use: A decent camera

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice, your pictures will be your favourite souvenirs. If you’re really into your photography, consider investing in a decent SLR. Adding a zoom-lens is especially useful when traveling, from photographing wildlife  to capturing portraits of locals without harassing them. An efficient one to try is a travel lens, such as an 18-200mm, which will give you a variety of photographic options without the hassle of carrying multiple lenses. If you’re not keen on lugging around a big camera and lens, consider a sturdy point-and-shoot, such as the Sony Cybershot TX5. This is a freeze-resistant, 3m waterproof, drop proof camera that also films HD video. The pictures are great quality and you wont have to worry about damaging it on the road. Personally, I carry around both: a Nikon SLR for those ‘arty’ shots and a Sony Cybershot for the places where the Nikon could get damaged.

Venice with a Nikon SLR

Hicksy bodyboarding in Dunedin, Sony Cybershot TX5

Lose: Your Laptop

Most places have easy and cheap access to internet cafes so you shouldn’t have a problem. As well as taking up space and adding weight, having a laptop makes you an attractive target to thieves. Instead, consider a smaller more discreet Netbook, or an Ipad. Jim Karlovsky, a fellow MatadorU student, has written a great article on the wide range of travel aps available for the ipad here.

Lose: Guided Excursions

This can be down to personal tastes, but if you’re interested in traveling rather than touring, ditch the guided excursions. In my experience, they are usually overpriced and barely skim the surface of what is really out there.

Last summer I visited Cinque Terre with the family I worked for in Tuscany, and we took a guided boat tour of the 5 villages. While the villages were beautiful, we seemed to be constantly being rushed from town to town, herded on and off the boats like cattle, with little time to explore and enjoy the individual towns. I look forward to visiting Cinque Terre again someday, and having the time to explore the numerous higgledepiggledy alleyways on my own.

Use: Small, Local Businesses

Rather than opting for the large guided tours, have a wander away from the center of town and check out the smaller businesses that surround. On a recent trip to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, just about every person we spoke to urged us to go on the dolphin-sight-seeing cruise. As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of cruises, so instead we wandered along the bay until we came across 3 guys playing Frisbee in front of a boat shed. There were kayaks, boats and bikes all arranged outside the shed, as well as a ‘tinny’: a small tin boat with a 15hp motor.


One of the frisbee players introduced himself as Danbro (as in, “Hi I’m Dan, bro”) and offered to rent us his tinny. Danbro started his business when he was 13, and specializes in renting out kayaking or boating equipment and leading kayaking day trips.  As well as the tinny, he also lent us a couple of fishing rods and showed us how to bait our lines and where to go for good snapper. We set off exploring the bay, and when it started to drizzle we were free to drag the boat up onto the beach and grab a bite to eat. Midway through lunch we got a text from Danbro telling us that he’d checked the weather report and the skies would clear in 15 mins. They did, and we set off to our fishing location. Another text came in from Danbro: dolphins had been spotted near where we were anchored. Not long afterwards a pod of dolphins swam past us, about 3 meters away, no dolphin cruise required! We returned to shore having caught a decently sized snapper, which Danbro gutted and filleted for us.

There aren’t a lot of sightseeing companies that would offer this kind of personal, friendly service, and we ended up having a drink with Danbro before heading home to feast on our fresh fish dinner. It felt good supporting someone who was clearly passionate about what he was doing and wasn’t trying to rip us off.

Use: Experiences

It’s worth spending your money on experiences you will remember, try not to scrimp here. While you can survive sleeping in a tent, or living on spaghetti-sandwiches, if you don’t go for the good experiences, you’ll regret it. For example, I haven’t bought new clothes in a year and a half, but 3 months ago I visited Queenstown and did “The Awesome Foursome” combo deal: bungee, jetboating, white-water rafting and a helicopter ride for NZ$599. It was the most terrifying, exhilherating day of my life, and worth every penny. I am so glad that I didn’t opt for the cheaper, tamer options and will never forget how I felt as I plummeted into the 134m Nevis Canyon.

Lose: Overpriced Souvenirs

It is always tempting to buy a little stuffed kiwi or photo-pack of your jetboat ride, but most of the time these things get shoved in a box and forgotten. Now and then you’ll find something special that you’ll treasure, but these times are rare. Avoid filling your valuable backpack/suitcase space with tat. Instead, keep receipts, tickets and drawings. Hicksy’s journal is bursting with things like the receipt for the tin of beans we bought when we ran out of money in the Abel Tasman, and tickets to a rugby game. These are the things that will trigger the memories when you return home, not some stuffed toy.

And finally,

Use: A decent backpack

This thing is gonna have all your stuff in it! Don’t scrimp! Go for quality here, you want waterproof, sturdy material and a high-quality structure to not only protect your belongings, but your body too. The last thing anyone wants is to put out their back halfway along the Milford Track.

Lose: Any extra crap

Guys, do you really need those night-vision goggles? Girls, are you really going to have that many opportunities to wear stilettos in Cambodia? Prioritize, simplify and be brutal. While it’s great to always be prepared, it can be a pain in the butt lugging around a heap of stuff that you packed because the chance may pop up where you use it. Ask yourself, “Will I perish without it?” If the answer is no, it’s gotta go.

The list of what to use and what to lose is a subjective one, many may disagree with me. What about you? What would you use and what would you lose on your travels?

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2 thoughts on “Traveling Light: What to Use, What to Lose

  1. DodoHen says:

    great article – love it!

  2. Captain Kirk says:

    When I get to a new city, I like to take a quick touristy tour like an open air bus (London) or boat ride (Sydney, Amsterdam). This gives me the lay of the land and some historical context.

    I also like to hire a guide just for my group of friends or family. My wife and I did a cycle tour of Franschoek, near Cape Town, with a guide for the first day, and then on our own thereafter.

    At Val Thorens, France, we took a ski guide for the four of us (wife plus another couple) to show us some off-piste routes. It changed our holiday dramatically. We skied off piste constantly thereafter, and had a lot of fun – until I ended up in hospital!

    But keep me away from bus tours and ‘follow me’ guides – at all costs.

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