Five Things Kevin Clement Won’t Travel Without
Posted by Kevin Clement
in Of Interest
“Recently I was asked what my Top Five things might be that I won’t travel without…so here, savvy travelers, is my personal list of under-the-radar must-haves.” — Kevin Clement
An old adage advises travelers to bring half as many clothes and twice as much money as they think they will need. Generally speaking, I have found this to be useful advice (and certainly you don’t need a lot of fancy or formal clothes on an Apex trip). But for any trip to be successful, there are certain things you do need to make it go smoothly, as well as to enhance and enrich your experience.
These things vary from trip to trip, and most of them can be found on the Packing List we send out with each itinerary. But there are a few items that don’t appear on those lists, but that for me are value-adding enough that I tend to bring them along on every departure, to whatever climate, in whatever season. Recently I was asked what my Top Five of those things might be…so here, savvy travelers, is my personal list of under-the-radar must-haves.
1. Sketchbook (with pens, pencils, brushes, and paints)
I am well aware that most people don’t consider it essential to add art supplies to their packing lists…but maybe they should. Not because they (or I) expect to create Great Works of Art on a trip, but because drawing has a number of functions that are useful to anyone.
It’s a tremendous aid in learning about your surroundings—when you sketch something, you spend considerable time observing it, studying it, grokking it, in fact. You will know much more about that thing than if you had merely pointed your camera at it for 1/125th of a second. Sketching is useful in taking notes—sometimes visual notes, a diagram or a simple sketch, can convey much more than written words could. Drawing creates a far more indelible memory than a photograph can—when I look through my sketches, they bring me back to that place, that moment, that feeling, in a way that digital images cannot. And finally, when you’re stuck in an airport waiting for a delayed flight or on a ship waiting for landing conditions to change, sketching can be a wonderful and productive way to kill time.
I say, pack a sketchbook.
2. Mini binos
There has never been an Apex trip where binoculars weren’t an essential (which is not to say that everyone always brings them…only that they should). On most expeditions, I put mine on after I brush my teeth in the morning, and only take them off to brush my teeth at night.
These are full-size, top-notch, 10 x 42 stalwarts—the most important tool of my profession. But on many trips, not to sound like too much of a nerd, I bring a second pair—small, light, portable 10 x 25’s. They have the same magnification as my Big Boys, but not as wide a field of view or as much light-gathering capacity. But to look at something you’ve already spotted, in good light, they work just fine, and they are a mere fraction of the size and weight.
I tend to bring them especially on trips that feature a lot of hiking opportunities. On a long walk, they are invaluable. Not only are they just less effort to carry, but they also can go in a pouch at my belt, or even in a pocket. They don’t have to dangle from my neck, pulling down, down, down on my vertebrae with every step, and they are always ready to hand, not caught under pack straps or flipped over to the side to be out of the way. I see more things with them.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams expounds on the virtues and necessity of always having a towel with you. In fact, somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who “knows where their towel is.” His legacy is celebrated every year with Towel Day.
That’s somewhat the way I feel about carrying a Western-style bandana when I travel, an item with a multitude of varied uses. Here are a few examples:
- As a comfortable eyeshade/blindfold when you find you need to sleep on a plane, in public, or in a hotel in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
- To protect your neck and ears from sunburn when you don’t have a wide-brimmed hat—just tuck it under your baseball cap and let it hang down.
- In cold conditions, use it to de-fog your sunglasses, camera, and binos.
- When snorkeling, to shield your forehead and crown above your mask from the sun.
- Hiking on a hot day, soak it in water and tie it around your neck to cool off.
- To dry your hands after washing them in a public restroom—thus saving paper towel waste and the energy that an electric hand dryer would use.
By the way, I almost never use mine to blow my nose. It has more important functions.
4. Bamboo Silverware
Not on most people’s packing radar, I suspect. However, we all eat as we travel— on airplanes, in airport fast food joints, box lunches on buses, picnicking on food we brought from home. And almost inevitably, these quick, necessary repasts come with plastic silverware and straws, which of course get thrown away. Trash cans in airports are full of them. They get handed out in sets, and many pieces haven’t even been used. I deplore that plastic waste.
The solution is reusable bamboo silverware. I have a kit that comes in its own little pouch. I keep it tucked in a side pocket of my pack. It includes a bamboo straw, so I can reject the plastic ones so often on offer. It costs little, weighs nothing, and doesn’t set off airport metal detectors. I feel better about myself and the world when I carry it with me, and when a server hands me a bag of disposable utensils over a fast-food counter, I politely hand it back.
5. Field Guides
I love and admire a good, compact, comprehensive, well-written, well-organized, well-illustrated field guide. I have shelves full of them in my house, describing and detailing birds, plants, butterflies, reef fish, mushrooms, berries—you name it. The best ones transcend their utilitarian mission and can be considered genuine works of art. (Plug: I have seen the plates, all new, that will grace my friend Peter Harrison’s new, revamped guide to the seabirds of the world—due out end of this year—and it will simply be a beautiful book to hold in your hands and appreciate.)
What I like most about a good field guide is the connection it provides to the natural world. Shakespeare may claim that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet—but if you don’t know anything about that rose, where it grows, when it blooms, what pollinates it—not even its name—then really all you have is a sweet smell. If you want to learn more about it, you need a peg to hang that newfound knowledge on—and that’s what a field guide can provide.
Many people, like Shakespeare, prefer to merely appreciate natural objects and creatures for their surface beauty, without digging into underlying causes or life histories. But I see my job as helping people make connections with the natural world, hopefully at levels deeper than just the surface, the kind of connections that learning and knowing can provide. For that, I need a good field guide…and maybe a few other things as well.