Tired of your boring home town? Want to “see the world” like you’re the star of a Disney Channel movie? Do what I and countless others have done—go abroad for a few months, experience a new culture, then come home all like, “Um, now what?” Very exciting, yes!
To that end, I’ve compiled a few odds and ends that might make your trip abroad less annoying. You know, gear, junk, wisdom, etc.
You’ll want a proper bag is you plan to spend any amount of time traipsing about the foreign locale of your choosing. Yes, nothing screams “tourist” like a giant bag, but where else are you gonna keep your laptop, dSLR and extra bottles of water? Exactly.
I recommend two bags, actually, both from Crumpler. Crumpler is one of those fancy bag places you find in “cool” parts of town, like New York’s SoHo. If all you’re looking is to carry your laptop to a café for some pointless Web surfing and half-hearted “Wish you were here!” e-mails, you’d do well to check out something like the Golden Dig. (All their bags have cutesy names, I’m afraid.) It fits my MacBook just fine, with enough extra room to fit a can of Red Bull and, gasp, my always-on-me point-and-shoot. (When I go out with the express purpose of taking photos, however, I bring a dSLR.) The strap is wide on your shoulder, so at the end of the day it’s not digging into your tendons like Grim Death. Plus, the Crumpler logo is pretty well known out here—the countless number of people I’ve passed on the streets in Barcelona, I’ve had one recognize it. Just call me Mr. Popular.
If you need a bigger bag, I suggest the 15 Hour Delay. This has enough room for not only your laptop, but also, say, your iPod and DS (or whatever music player or your portable gaming platform of choice), dSLR (you might want to detach the lens for added comfort), etc. It’s your “my whole life is in this bag” bag.
Great, so now you have a bag or two, what else so you bring with you while you wander European city streets with that “please mug me” look on your face?
You probably have one already, but be sure to bring your laptop or netbook with you while you travel. At some point, someone, be it your employer, loved ones, dumb friends, etc. will want to know whether you’re alive or not, and what you’ve been up to. Make that easy by using your laptop to constantly let people know that, yes, you yet live! Create a Tumblr account, Twitter, Flickr, or whatever Web 2.0 service is hot this afternoon and tell your mates to check those. That way you can broadcast what’s up without having to have 20 simultaneous IM conversations. Skype is handy, too, by the way, in case Mom and Dad insist on hearing your voice.
You’re gonna want a phone, if for no other reason than emergencies. (Guess who had to call Citibank a few days ago because every ATM in town said he was overdrawn!) I was able to go to Telefonica here in Barcelona and buy one of those pre-paid deals for not a lot of money, something like €20 for a phone with removable SIM card and a few minutes of voice. Minutes can they be added on at any Telefonica store. I bought the phone, then stuck the SIM into a Nokia N76, aka a Razr with Symbian. It takes good-enough video and pretty decent photos.
If you’re abroad for any amount of time, you’ll probably want to take photos of the local landmarks. For example, I took photos of what turned out to be a strip club in Berlin the other night. We (my party and I) didn’t know it was a strip club, but we didn’t much complain when it turned into one. I do, and have in the past, suggested at the very least an entry level dSLR if you want to at least have the potential to take better than average photos. (I’m using an old Rebel.) If you don’t want to carry around something that cumbersome—a legitimate reason, I admit—then go with a point-and-shoot. To be frank, pretty much all of these point-and-shoots we talk about are so similar to each other in quality of photo taken, you really can’t go wrong. Canon, Nikon, Olympus (get one of those if you plan on taking photos from the beach because they’re water-resistant). Again, whatever type you get—dSLR or point-and-shoot—totally depends on what you feel comfortable like carrying.
The days of carrying around a giant map and looking like a jerk are over! Now you get to carry around a GPS device (or your cellphone) and look like a jerk! But seriously, having your current location in the palm of your hands while in a strange and exotic city is so fantastic. “Where the hell is Nou de la Rambla? Oh, way the F over there, cool.” It beats having to ask for directions, or unfold a map in the middle of the street at a phone booth. I’ve been using Google Maps on the N76 and it does the job. If at all possible, make sure you phone can browse the Web (BlackBerry, iPhone, fancy Nokia, etc.) because then you’re just a few clicks away from Google Maps Mobile. Even if it doesn’t have GPS, or a cell-based GPS approximation, at least you’ll be able to search around the electronic map to see where you are and where you’re going.
I would recommend against walking around with your iPod all day, not only for safety reasons, but you’ve heard your favorite playlist 1,000 times already, and you’re traveling to experience something different, right?
Other helpful advice
You’re better off getting batting advice from A-Rod than any type of advice from me, but here we are. When traveling abroad, it’s best to do some research before actually buying your airplane ticket. (I assume you already have a passport.) Find out if you need a visa to stay past a certain length, find out what type of power adapters the country uses (I bought a WORLD TRAVELER KIT! from Wal-Mart the day before leaving for like $20 and it works great), find out what the currency is and what the exchange rate is (from me, one Euro buys about $1.50, so if a beer costs €3, I know I’m actually paying $4.50), etc. Little things like that.
So yeah, common sense stuff to be sure, but they don’t call me Thomas Paine for nothing.