A few people have asked me questions about my just-completed jaunt to Jordan, so I thought I’d post a few answers. If you’re planning an overseas trip or pilgrimage, you might find these ideas useful. Or not. (Your mileage may vary.) They worked for me. So here goes:
1. Shoes. You don’t need a graduate degree to know that any tour involves a lot of standing, walking, hiking, climbing, trudging, trekking, skipping, and jogging (not for exercise, but to catch up with the bus that is pulling out without you.) For this trip, I wanted something lightweight with great arch support, ventilation and no laces (to make it easier to get through airport security and pull them on and off on the long flight.) I decided on these:
These are ventilator mocs from Merrell. I’ve been wearing Merrells for years; in fact, I bought a pair of their lace-up hiking sneakers for a pilgrimage we took to Italy back in 2004. These little suckers were perfect for the rocky, sandy terrain of Jordan (and, as I discovered, the red sand of Petra washed off them easily in my hotel bidet…but that’s another story.) I ordered them on Amazon for, I think, $79.
2. Vest. I didn’t want to have to lug around a backpack, and liked the idea of a travel vest with pockets. I got one years ago as a souvenir on another vacation, and never really used it—until last week. Not only did it provide me with oodles of pockets (prompting one reader to ask after viewing my breakfast photos, “Do you have donuts in those pockets”?), but it also offered a welcome extra layer of warmth for the 45-degree mornings in Amman. Travelsmith offers this nifty number, with 15 pockets, for $79 (on sale now for $59). I don’t think they can guarantee you will look as dashing as the guy in the picture, but again: your mileage may vary.
3. Camera. My requirements were simple: something reasonably small (maybe even small enough to fit into one of the pockets of that vest), that could take great pictures without a lot of fuss (AUTO is my friend), that would do well in low light, that would take decent video, and that would offer enough resolution and “oomph” to be publishable not only online but, if need be, in print, for CNEWA’s acclaimed quarterly magazine, ONE. I also wanted zoom. Not a lot. But something that could capture the threatening look of an angry Jordanian camel from a safe distance.
After a lot of Googling and trying out cameras at B&H Photo in Manhattan, I settled on the Canon PowerShot G1 Mark II:
The list price is steep—over $700—but I traded in some old equipment and paid about $500. ((Tip: get an extra battery!). The results, I think, speak for themselves, with very good clarity and color, and excellent shallow depth-of-field performance. (Check out my posts and pictures here.) Two things set the Canon apart. First, this little baby offers a HUGE sensor, nearly the size of one found in a DSLR, in a compact package; and it has a zippy, bright lens that drinks in light. It has lots of bells and whistles, too, and a 5x zoom that nearly doubles when you add in digital zoom. (N.B. I opted not to get a DSLR because I didn’t want to fiddle with changing lenses around a lot of sand, and I didn’t want to haul around a massive kit. This was an excellent compromise.) Caveat: it’s built like a tank (which is good) and weighs about the same as one (which is bad). But I didn’t find it burdensome. I invested $12 in this OP/TECH sling strap (available on Amazon) and it was perfect.
4. Packable backpack. I thought it would be a good idea to bring some kind of carryall, in case I found a stuffed camel or hookah that I just had to bring home as a souvenir. This fit the bill—again, ordered on Amazon:
This $20 nylon bag from HikPro folded up into a tiny pouch that fit into one of those vest pockets. But unfolded, it could carry a sweatshirt, my iPad, notebook, passport, map and two water bottles. I used it a couple of days for shopping excursions and it was a perfect lightweight traveling companion.
5. Backpack with wheels. For my main luggage, I brought a medium-sized 25-inch Travelpro Maxlite with spinner wheels—it was a good size for 10 days. But to bring on the plane as my carryon, I used an old Jansport backpack with wheels. I’ve had it for years, and it’s starting to show its age, but it’s got lots of compartments and was great for transporting my 13-inch MacBook laptop, my iPad Air, my Kindle, my camera, plus all the electronic gadgets and plugs that support all that stuff. It essentially served as my portable office.
If you have a lot of that sort of stuff to move around, you might want to invest in something like this: a $10 travel case available from Amazon Basics, which can organize all your chords, plugs, memory cards and batteries:
So there you have it: my “travel essentials.”
In my next life, I want to be Rick Steves (who, by the way, offers his own very good packing list, if you’re looking for other ideas.)