I filled my car to the brim when I left on this trip. I’ve used almost everything, and many of these things have allowed me to travel very cheaply (tent, cooler, camp stove, box of food) and also experience things in a very rich way (surfboard, hiking boots, backpacking gear, tripod). Some things are for comfort (car phone charger, pillow, loose leaf tea, many, many books, stamp making tools), others are for safety (first aid kit). Some things I thought I would never use when I was travelling down the coast (down sleeping bag, fleece jacket), some things I was very happy to have in the mountains (down sleeping bag, fleece jacket). Some things I wish dearly that I had brought (longboard, climbing gear). But when it comes down to it I have four absolute favourites.
One: A dress. One, with patterns or something that hides how many times you may have actually worn it. One that is made of something light and airy like cotton, that stays cool and dries fast, essential for when you get caught in rain or have to throw it over your swimsuit after jumping in the ocean. I know, it sounds silly. But I have three of them and I love them dearly. A dress will help you make it through the summer heat in the city, it will make you blend in with all the city folk, it will allow you to dash from the beach back to your car without googley eyes following you, it will get you invited to dinners, it will allow you to sneak into fancy hot springs and hotels and use their reading room for the evening, it will allow you to rub elbows with harvard scholars. It’s simple, when you’re wearing a dress no one expects that you sleep in a tent and live out of your car, and even if they do discover this, you all of a sudden become more interesting.
Two: Cracker bread. I’m talking old school rye crackers. The kind my dear friend calls hamster cakes because they are quite cardboard like and remind her of critter food. There are two brands, Wasa and Ryvita. Ryvita is undoubtably superior, but much more elusive, so the sourdough variety of Wasa is growing on me. I’ve been hooked on cracker bread for a long time, but have become even more devout on this trip. You see, I’m a bit of a bread snob. I like my bread fresh and unsliced, and I like it whole grain. Turns out its quite difficult to find good hearty bread here in the states, especially when you’re on the move. The one time I discovered such bread I also discovered that I couldn’t eat a whole loaf by myself before it went mouldy in this swampy heat. So I turned to cracker bread. Practical because it lasts forever, can be packed in on a backpacking trip, and is a mere $2.50 a pack. What I soon discovered was that cracker bread can be eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, and that it can make you feel quite classy. No longer are you eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches, now you are eating an open faced nut butter cracker topped with sliced bananas. Gone are the days of salami and cheese buns, now you’re dining on an open faced rye crisp with aged cheddar and dry wine salami. Then came hummus. Hummus and peppers, hummus and cucumbers. Then I really started rummaging through my dry food box and discovered tuna and pesto as a topping. Then I discovered goat cheese as a topping. Goat cheese and pear, goat cheese and dried apricots, goat cheese and cranberries, goat cheese and tomatoes, goat cheese and greens. Sautéed wild mushrooms, carmelized onions, fire grilled eggplant, zucchini and peppers, grilled peaches, baked apples and plums.Then there’s crackers as a soup topping. Really the possibilities are endless. These days, one or two of my meals are cracker bread based, and I eat two to three crackers per meal. By the end of this trip I estimate I will have consumed 10 packs of cracker bread. I smell sponsorship.
Three: Postcards. When you’re travelling alone there are many times that you just have to buck up and go to a place by yourself because either you go in with your head high, or you completely miss out on seeing or experiencing something that you probably really want to do. Some examples are sitting down for a craft beer at a local brewery, dining out for some real southern food, or going to see some live bluegrass music at a pub. I’ve discovered a way to make this less awkward. Postcards. Hanging your head over a few postcards while you do these things gives you something to do so you don’t have to awkwardly sit by yourself. It doesn’t say “I’m busy” or “leave me alone” like reading a book, writing in a journal, or listening to music might. It says “I’m a traveller”, “I’m not from around here”, “I’m sitting by myself because I just got in to town”. It says “I have stories to tell”, ” I have friends and family back home” and “I am on an adventure”. People are naturally curious, and often these postcards draw people in. Sometimes it means that the chef will come dine with you and let you sample pretty much anything on the menu, sometimes you will get a spare room offered to you, sometimes you just write a postcard and enjoy good music and alone time. Regardless, the end result has never failed to be of value.
Four: A case of good beer. I think this is what the boy scouts were thinking about when they came up with the motto “Be prepared”. No, this case of beer is not for lonely nights by myself in the woods. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s for those impromptu campfire, party, or dinner invitations. It’s nice to have something to share when someone gifts you an invite. Local is best, and an IPA always impresses.