Being Prepared

I was a Girl Guide once, briefly, but I don’t think that’s where I learned that it’s wise to travel well supplied. It just seems to come naturally to me to fear the worst and so carry enough on one’s person to meet any eventuality. So, even when just going out to a formal dinner, I will typically be carrying a hefty handbag with me and, if I’m away from Cambridge for a day or longer my rucksack will be bulging. People frequently comment on this: gosh that looks heavy they say. It may be because I look fragile and as if I might crumble under the weight, but I don’t think so.

Part of the trouble stems from the fact that women’s clothes rarely come equipped with a reasonable supply of useful pockets. Too often what may look like pockets in a jacket turn out to be mere illusions, simply flaps to fool you into thinking you will be able to stuff your wallet, your phone and your keys somewhere handy, as any man’s jacket would permit. But no, women are supposed to worry about the ‘line’ of their clothes and an unsightly bulge around the waistline would never do. Consequently, no deep pockets are provided and hence the need for a bulky handbag.

Mine is full of more than just the wallet, phone and keys of course. I always assume that something is likely to go awry and so come prepared with a small medicine chest of painkillers for that headache a long, tedious committee meeting can induce; and pills to stop a migraine attack in its tracks as soon as the aura hits (and sunglasses to reduce the risk of one starting). Then I also tend to have travel sickness pills because it’s more trouble than it’s worth to take them in and out (and I’d forget and never have them when needed if I removed them). A pack of tissues is also useful, since cycling tends to lead to a runny nose, and a tube of Strepsils to soothe the onset of a sore throat. I probably also have a supply of antihistamine’s in case a cat leaps onto my lap and sets my eyes streaming and my nose dripping. You’d think I was a hypochondriac judging by the number of pills I habitually have about my person, wouldn’t you!

Then I have the keys to my elderly mother’s house permanently in my bag, in case of an urgent summons; the last time that happened it was due to an overflowing cold water tank rather than a health issue, but I still need ready access. I also have a bicycle light, of course, since I’m based in Cambridge. Only one as the rear one is permanently attached but the front one needs to be removed and carried around. Occasionally I find it flashing quietly in my bag when it’s been accidentally pressed, something that is definitely bad for battery life. There is the fob for the college car park too, even though I practically never use it. A notebook, rather dog-eared but helpful for that urgent need to jot something down, plus accompanying assorted-colour pens. Before airlines got so neurotic about knives I used to have a Swiss army knife too, but it got confiscated and I didn’t replace it. It was useful to have the associated corkscrew permanently to hand though….Back in the days long past when drinking at lunchtime was still acceptable, I can remember impressing some industrialists by producing it at a meal when the wine was on the table but the waiter was late. Finally, while I’ve been lecturing this term I’ve been carrying around the remote/laser pointer for my laptop too, although that normally lives in my travelling rucksack.

So let’s see what else that rucksack’s contents are, intended for the overnight stay. Naturally, it is a rucksack designed for a cyclist, although I prefer to cycle with it in my bike basket rather than over my shoulders as I’m sure that’s better for my back. And I make sure I have as large a basket as I can find to accommodate this (it can even, upon occasion, take a suitcase, although I rarely feel I need to be so respectable as to use one of those and it is so much less convenient). Of course I have two charge leads, so I can charge both iPhone and iPad on a night away from home; a charger for my laptop which is always an awkward-shaped thing to squeeze in; and a USB mouse so that if I’m on a train and I have access to a table I don’t have to use the built-in trackpad which can be very irritating when the train bumps and jolts about. There are yet more pens in various pockets of the rucksack (including a highlighter) and emergency supplies of Elastoplast, a sewing kit, safety pins and small post-it notes. You’d be surprised how often I use all of these on my travels. There’s often a small packet of biscuits, courtesy of the last hotel I stayed in, and some herbal teabags and decaffeinated coffee for the hotel rooms which aren’t well supplied, plus a water bottle. Then there’ll be a polythene bag or two in case things get wet as I cycle to the station (and sometimes I’ve remembered to stash my waterproof trousers away in one of the pockets too). And all of that is before I include my toothbrush, hairbrush, contact lens solutions and other necessities for a night away.

Perhaps, now I think about it, it isn’t so surprising the rucksack looks rather heavy. At least an iPad is now generally sufficient to replace both the old-fashioned mound of paperwork for a committee meeting and the traditional A4 notebook to record interesting snippets from conference talks. But in general I will have both iPad and laptop since touch-typing on an iPad – for instance to write blogposts and deal with emails – is beyond me, although I’m pretty nifty on a proper keyboard.

So, if you see me looking weighed down, now you’ll know why. I’m prepared. For anything. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, I’m ready to handle it all.


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9 Responses to Being Prepared

  1. Andy Morse says:

    I have different bags (hand baggage) and different clothing for different journeys … from a day trip in London to a field working visit to a remote corner of Africa … and all in-between.

    I have different combinations of bags and cases for longer trips too — they are expensive too — cheap work supplied computer bags killed my shoulder, and on one the strap broke in the middle of a dash through CDG; so I now pay and shudder at the costs and I assume not tax deductible due to ‘solely and exclusively’ clauses …. but at least I get comfort and robustness …

    I have not even got to the insides …

  2. Mark Field says:

    My backpack is similarly heavy for the same reasons. There are some minor variations such as decent earbuds for the iPhone so that I can listen to something if I no longer wish to read something or write.
    I think the one thing to add to your list is a smartphone with the apps to help you deal with travel. I have all the various airlines apps that I frequently use and hotel chains and rental car companies, plus other travel options (e.g. buses, unfortunately trains are something of a rarity here in California ). This has saved me on quite a few occasions where travel plans have been disrupted, if a flight gets cancelled I join the end of the very long line to get rebooked and I can frequently abandon the line if the app can rebook me. A similar point is trying to get a hotel room if flights are cancelled due to bad weather.
    It is also worth remembering that you can type in e.g. coffee or bank atm into google maps to get locations in towns you don’t know.
    The other thing to have is a good selection of music and podcasts (for me that is ‘the infinite monkey cage’ and ‘in our time’) …

    • My phone is certainly a smartphone and the Rail Times app in frequent use for when trains go awry, as so often they do. Invaluable I agree (and its music; you’re right that I forgot to mention earphones!)

  3. cromercrox says:

    My mother’s late aunt – a formidable matriarch in our family – advised that one should never leave home without three specific items, viz and to whit (1) a pen-knife (2) a piece of string, and (3) a piece of lavatory paper. I am not sure how she’d have fared in today’s general ban on air travel with item 1.

    Many years ago Mrs Crox and I went to see comedienne Victoria Wood doing her live stand-up show. What had us both in stitches was an extended routine about the contents of her handbag, at the very bottom of which was her ’emergency tampon’. If she were mugged, she said, she’d reach into her bag, grab the tampon, shove it up her assailant’s nose, whereupon he’d instantly die of toxic shock.

    • cromercrox says:

      While I am here, I learned a lot about packing when I was invited to go on a short palaeontological field trip to the Lake Turkana region in northern Kenya in 1998.

      The lesson was, mainly, how much you can live without. I took a rucksack full of stuff – which remained more or less unpacked in a tent for two and a half weeks.

      Most of the people who live there subsist on virtually nothing.

      There is no electricity, so you can’t charge things up (iPods, smartphones and convenient solar chargers hadn’t been invented then.)

      You need hardly more than a change of clothes, because you can wash your clothes in Lake Turkana (keeping an eye out for crocodiles) and they dry almost instantly.

      As it’s more or less on the equator, the Sun pops up promptly at 6 a.m. – you have a quick breakfast and off you go into the field. It sets equally promptly at 6 p.m. after which it is TOTALLY dark, so you can’t read anyway. Switching on a torch instantly attracts most of the moths in East Africa.

      When you leave, you donate all the clothes you aren’t actually wearing to the locals, who have nothing, and whose clothes come from market stalls whenever they visit a town, which is hardly ever.

      I’ve applied the lessons I learned in Kenya to packing for almost everything else. Lay out what you think you’ll need on a bed, then halve it. Halve it again. Even then, the result will almost certainly be too much.

      But good boots are essential.

      And a hat.

  4. Pamela Welsh says:

    Hello Athene! I’m commenting on this post, but what I actually wanted to do was comment on the post about commenting on blogposts.

    I saw in the feed that you close your blogs to comments after about a month. Can I suggest that you lengthen it to two months, or maybe even three? I know that you might get a bit of spam in this time. But in my experience (as humble as it is), people don’t really read blogs like this any more, particularly via Twitter.

    As I said, I can only speak from personal experience here. I was an early Twitter adopter, back in 2009, and think it is a truly wonderful way to share ideas and experiences. But because I’ve been around a while, I follow A LOT of interesting people. Most of them are wonderfully insightful and I feel I really learn something from their posts and links. Some relate to my professional life, some are political and some are educational (like this one) But trying to keep up with everything while holding down a demanding full-time job and a busy social life is nearly impossible.

    I use the ‘favourite’ tool on Twitter as a bookmark, to keep tabs on all those interesting things that I want to read. I try to catch up with them in date order, but at the minute, I’m about six weeks behind. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I might miss out on important information by being a bit behind the curve. Obviously if it is clearly time-sensitive then I’ll read it instantly.

    But I wonder if you lengthened the amount of time you allow for comments, you might see an increase? Just a thought.

    Meanwhile, I’ll try to comment on as many as I can!

    • We’ve had to close comments on Occam’s Typewriter overall after a month because the spam was killing our band width. If spambots didn’t exist I’d be delighted to keep comments open longer but we’ve had real problems across the site.

  5. Alyson Stibbard says:

    Such a familiar tale. My husband carries everything in his pockets whereas, at the sight of my backpack, people routinely ask, “Are you going camping?”.

    Clearly I’m not the best person to give advice on this subject, but have you thought of investing in a lightweight bluetooth keyboard to use with your iPad? Some iPad cases actually come with them built. Either way, you might then be able to leave the laptop at home.

  6. Barbara Webb says:

    The lack of useful pockets in female clothing – even loose-fitting overcoats – is a major bugbear of mine. When my husband travels he keeps passport, wallet etc. in the almost invisible inside pockets that are standard on all men’s jackets and coats; I don’t want to carry mine in an obvious purse/handbag/backpack; nor to wear something like my waterproof hiking jacket (the only one which came with inside pockets) when attending official meetings in nice hotels in nice cities. I’ve actually resorted to sewing new pockets into the lining of some of my jackets! Maybe there’s the opportunity for a new business there…but it annoys me that I even have to waste time thinking about it when men don’t.

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