I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy getting a Kickstarter ready for the book, the travel reference manual. I’m hoping to launch it by 1 November. I’d originally planned it so that people would get their copies by Christmas. I’m backing off on that now, having discussed with the printer and looked into shipping times a little more carefully. I still hope people who want copies will get them for Christmas but there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.
I now have fifteen demo copies and I’m pretty happy with them. There was really only one printer in Europe I found that would do what I wanted – a paperback book that prints “layflat” style, so that you don’t need to hold it open with your thumb.
I was afraid that this wouldn’t work for some print-related reason I didn’t know about but it seems to work fine. I’m happy with the way the book looks otherwise and I think they did a nice job.
There are a couple final sections I’m hoping to add if I have time – a two page calendar (which is easy) and a one-page meditation guide (which is hard). Otherwise, it’s just a matter of improving and revising and I’m getting a lot of first-rate help from various places.
Here is a packing list for a five-day trip to France. A lot of this has stayed the same for years but there are a few developments that I wanted to talk about (below).
Boots (Timberland White Ledge)
Boxers (4) (2 Ibex and 2 Patagonia)
Poncho (Swiss Gear)
Shirt (T.M. Lewin)
Socks (4) (Patagonia, Smartwool, 2 generic)
Sweater (Uniqlo merino)
Tee shirts (3) (2 Icebreaker and Kaipara)
Pills (in CVS bottle)
Soap (Dove in Matador flatpak)
Monoscope in case (Muji)
Needle and thread
Swiss Army knife
Tent pegs (2)
Water filter (Sawyer)
Book (travel reference manual)
Pen (Fisher space pen)
Phones (2) (Apple) (one pictured)
Reservations and vaccinations
Sleeping bag (Brave Era)
Wallet with cash and cards
Backpack (Osprey stuff sack)
Day bag (Decathlon)
Toiletries bag (Matador)
Packing cube and little strap (Eagle Creek)
Zip pouch (Audeo)
I like this firesteel because you don’t have to look after it. If it gets wet or lies in your drawer for two years, it will still work fine when you need to get a fire going. I probably won’t need it for this trip but it’s lightweight and might come in handy.
It came with a little metal striker but I don’t use that anymore. I just use one of the extra blades on my Swiss Army knife.
Needle and thread
I’m doing a lot of sewing these days, which is very calming. I even sew up my socks, rather than throwing them away and buying new ones like I used to.
Packing cube as city bag
I’ll be taking trains and wandering around cities on this trip, in addition to hiking outdoors. In cities and trains, I like to have a separate bag for my tickets, phone, wallet, and earbuds, so that I don’t have to be constantly taking my backpack off. I have a shoulder bag that I could use but it’s kind of bulky – it’s a pain to jam into my backpack for the hiking portions.
So, instead, I have attached a little strap to an Eagle Creek packing cube and I’ll use this as my city bag. If this looks familiar to you, I’m pretty sure that this was a Gucci submission to the Milan fashion show a couple years ago.
The only place to fasten the strap was to the zipper pull. I think the chances of my phone falling out and smashing on the train tracks are about 30:70 but at least it looks good.
This list includes my first ever purchases from Patagonia: a pair of socks and a couple pairs of boxers. When I was reviewing packing lists more intensively last year, I came to the conclusion that Patagonia is some way ahead of everybody on environmentalism, which I guess is not really news to people who follow this. A lot of the start-up companies have good intentions but it takes a lot of skill and experience and money to produce clothes ecologically.
For instance, the start-ups might have some insight into some conscientious method – let’s say they figure out a way to produce shoes from plastic waste retrieved from the ocean. You might think that they will be better able to produce environmentally because they don’t already have commitments and existing contracts and revenue targets. They can start fresh and the entire project can be built from the ground up with an environmental focus. They’ll use best practices every step of the way.
But to be successful – to actually produce the shoe even before making any profit – you need to have a lot of money. You need to hire someone to physically make the shoes for one thing. It will probably be a factory and the factory will probably be in China which has great supply chains.
And so then you have to organize how to get the plastic out of the ocean and transform it into a shoe in China. And my impression is that it’s really hard to do that part of the process ecologically – there will be lots of chemical and physical waste, plus all the transportation. Every time you re-iterate the process, it will become more complicated and more harmful: the soles need to be made from petroleum after all, the factory is a big polluter in some unexpected way, the plastic retrieval method itself is surprisingly wasteful. It all adds up and pretty soon the project doesn’t look all that green after all. But at this point, you are already committed and can’t really back out or re-start – contracts, promises, employees.
Patagonia seems pretty good at this stuff after many years of boring skill-accumulation and relationship-building. Here are a couplestories from their blog, The Cleanest Line, for instance. I realize that a blog produced by a corporation is not the most reliable source but none of the other companies talk so candidly and technically about their impact.
Of course, buying used is better than Patagonia and buying nothing is best of all.
Poncho, paracord and tent pegs
My Swiss Gear poncho has grommets on the corners, so between the poncho, paracord and tent pegs, you’ve got yourself a pretty good emergency tent going. Also (and more frequently) a sun or rain protector or a picnic blanket.
Sawyer water filter
I bought this water filter because of this post on r/onebag.
I don’t use it that much – for me it’s mostly for the armchair glamour of imagining some disaster scenario where I end up needing to drink out of the toilet. Still, it’s very comforting to carry around and has been genuinely useful a couple times. It doesn’t take much space and could be a life-saver.
There are a couple other pieces of equipment that come in the box with this. One is a bag that you fill up with water and attach to the filter. That’s useful because – with this filter – water won’t flow through independently. You have to either squeeze it through with the bag or else suck it through the filter. I don’t bring the bag because I use the filter so infrequently. If I need it, I just screw it onto an ordinary water bottle or, if I’m really desperate, I can use it like a straw and suck water up from a container.
I’m discovering that the tops of bottles are pretty standardized: this filter screws onto most plastic and glass bottles that you buy in stores (at least in Europe).
The other thing they give you is a syringe to clean out (or “backwash”) the filter. Again, this is not worth the extra weight for this trip. I can clean the filter out when I get home. Or, if it gets really gunked up, I’ve found that I can clean it pretty effectively without the syringe by forcing water through it some other way – for instance, squeezing water through in the wrong direction.
Travel reference manual
I’m bringing a copy of the book I’ve been working on for this blog. I ordered some copies in what I hope will be the final form but they haven’t arrived yet, so this is an earlier wire-o version in A5. I was hoping to be all done in time for Christmas but the printing is taking longer than I expected, so we’ll see.
Washing and rewearing
What is the right amount to wash your clothes? On the one hand, washing your clothes has a big impact on the environment – maybe even more than the manufacture of the clothes in the first place. Moreover, doing laundry is a hassle, especially when you’re traveling. Not to mention that re-wearing things will help you in terms of packing and carrying. Finally, hundreds of generations before us survived okay without washing machines. Surely we wash clothes more than we really need to from a strict health perspective.
On the other hand, no one wants to be a slob. A colleague of mine who dresses really well says he does it out of thoughtfulness for the people who have to look at him all day long. I thought that was a nice way to look at it and I’ve definitely been victim and perpetrator from time to time.
The consensus on the internet seems to be that you should wash your underclothing every day at a minimum. In fact, that seems to have been the rule for a couple hundred years, at least for those who could afford to.
For other clothing, it seems like the advice is to just be reasonable – buy good fabrics, spot clean when you can, and keep an eye out. Then chuck it in the washing machine when it’s dirty.
For this five-day trip, I’m only packing three days’ worth of clothes. I’ll do a sink wash in the middle.
This is another update on the book, which I’m now calling “travel reference manual”. Now that I have some kind of digital version in circulation, I hope to run a Kickstarter campaign for a physical version – I think the goal will be around thirty backers. I’ll finish the campaign around November 30 so that, if the campaign is successful, people should get the books in time for Christmas.
There have been a few recent developments otherwise:
Most importantly, the book will include Johanniter International’s first aid guidelines – JOIN has kindly agreed to let me use them. This is great because I want the book to be an all-purpose travel emergency reference book. The first aid guidelines are kind of the keystone to this. I’m delighted.
I hired two people on Upwork to revise the Chinese and Arabic sections of the 100-word phrasebook pdf – many thanks to Weixian and Orlea. I hope to hire someone for the Hindi section soon. In addition, I forgot to include translations for the word “beer” in the phrasebook. This seemed like a grave omission, so I added it in. Now it’s a 101-word phrasebook and you can use it to say “beer” in six languages.
I dropped the Alphabets pdf. This was composed of a few different sections. I moved Morse code and the NATO alphabet over to the survival guide where I think they fit in better anyways. Braille and the foreign alphabets were always really flawed and so I dropped them. Finally, the International Phonetic Alphabet is a great resource but it really needs context and explainers. I think the book is okay without it.
As suggested by commenters, I made a couple changes to the games pdfs: (a) I added “Hotter / Colder” to children’s games and (b) I fixed the rules for “A Simple Game of 21” in drinking games.
I added a table of contents and other proofread-y type changes.
I’ve ordered a few sample copies of the book from an Italian printing service called Sprint 24. You just fill in a bunch of parameters on the website and upload a pdf. A few days later, you get the books delivered to your door ( – hopefully, they haven’t come in yet). It’s pretty expensive and I won’t do it again before the Kickstarter, so I tried hard to get the parameters right – the weight in gsm of the paper, the binding type, the trim size, etc. It turns out that it’s hard to do that stuff if you haven’t done it before, so we’ll see what the books look like in a few days.
In terms of next steps, I’ll continue to revise the pdfs. As I say, I’ll try to find more native speakers for the phrasebook. In fact, Upwork went so well that I’ll see if I can find someone to help with the history pdf too.
Reading around about self-publishing, it seems that lots of people spend money on covers and typesetting. I’m pretty sure my budget is not going to stretch to those things, so this book will definitely retain that gritty amateur feel.
And then, after all of that, it’s just a matter of persuading people to buy the book.
I’ve finished the rough draft of the book that I started at the beginning of this year. There are still a few things that I would like to include – especially a first aid guide – and plenty of improvements to make. Still, it’s pretty much what I had in mind when I started: a simple reference manual with maps, cookbook, phrasebook, survival guide, etc.
If you’d like a free digital copy of the book, please subscribe on the contacts page. I’m working to put this into a nice physical book, which I hope to launch on Kickstarter in November, so stay tuned.
My goal with these pdfs is to include materials that I think will be helpful to travelers. It seemed to me that self-defense is something that should definitely go in, even though I’m not hugely into it on a personal level. A little self-defense training is good for everybody and you never know when you’ll be in a tight spot when you’re traveling. By the end, I felt a little more secure and I was glad I spent a few hours looking at these things.
As always, what I wanted was the most minimal essentials, the barest bones. For this, I think the best discipline to follow is Krav Maga, rather than karate, or boxing, or another martial art. Krav Maga was developed by the guy who trained the Israeli army in the 1940s. As a discipline, it’s supposed to be very basic and effective, drawing the best techniques from other martial arts. At some point, I’d like to take a self-defense class or two and I think it will probably be a Krav Maga class.
Another simple and effective source is the US army’s field guide to combatives. There is also a related series of YouTube videos. I like the videos because it’s kind of hard to visualize everything just from the field manual.
The problem with the army manual and Krav Maga are that they’re geared to fights where the fighters are pretty evenly matched – that is, a couple soldiers facing off against each other. For my pdf, I wanted it to be useful for everybody, including for instance a smaller woman facing off against a larger man. There are also plenty of guides like that on the internet and, in the end, my pdf looks more like those guides than the Krav Maga guides.
In addition to the recent pdfs that I’ve published on the blog, this also includes new sections about shelter, distress signals and a few preliminary sentences of general advice. It’s 16 pages long, so shorter than the dedicated survival books, like the SAS Survival Handbook or Bushcraft 101, but longer than lots of the best internet survival guides, like The Urban Prepper’s Survival Cheat Sheet.
I’ve also skipped anything about how to find food in a survival situation, which most survival guides cover. Again, I’m a little more reluctant to wade in as an amateur here for fear of killing somebody with the wrong berries. Also, you have a while before you die of starvation and I really intend my pdf for short-term emergencies. So I think a food section was beyond the scope of this pdf anyways.
Finally, the section on distress signals doesn’t include Morse code, which it maybe should. I made this decision partly because I already included Morse code in Alphabets. My plan is to eventually lump all these pdfs together in one longer, all-purpose book and I didn’t want to duplicate Morse code in two different sections. So I guess if you find yourself shipwrecked on a deserted island with no chance of rescue except a radio beacon and my pdf survival guide, then, you know, my humblest apologies.
It’s really hard to start a fire by rubbing wood together. Most of the longer survival guides include a few methods, like the plough or the hand drill. I’ve only included the fire bow from these methods, which I think is the easiest and also the most equipment-intensive – you need soft wood, a knife, a rope or string, a bow, and a socket – plus tinder and fuel. Even with all that stuff, it’s still really difficult and my recommendation is never to get stuck in a position where you need to make fire by rubbing sticks together.
I think all the other methods are pretty straightforward – magnifying glass, battery, etc. And all the fire-setting stuff is pretty straightforward too – just common-sense stuff to try to avoid starting a forest fire.
I’ve chosen all the easy techniques that give you a broad idea of north and south, assuming that you don’t have GPS or a compass – looking at the sun or moon to find the directions, for instance.
I didn’t include a couple more complicated techniques. One is making a compass by magnetizing a needle. Another method is to use the shadow cast by a stick to track the path of the sun (or moon). The shadow method takes a while but gives you very accurate directions. I wanted to keep the techniques in my pdf really short and basic, even if they’re not 100% accurate, so I didn’t include these more complicated techniques.
As I was doing the stars, I downloaded the Night Sky app to try to familiarize myself with the constellations a little bit. I liked it very much. If you’re looking to get in touch with your primitive ancestry and commune directly with nature, this is one of the best apps out there.
Another pdf in my series of useful pdfs for travel is a little survival guide which I am working on. It’s a longer chore and so I thought I’d post it piecemeal to keep myself on track. The first item is water purification methods:
There are a few methods: water from plants, chemical treatment, solar still, filtration, etc. I’ve been researching online and trying these out in person. All my sources generally agreed with each other on these techniques, so there doesn’t seem to be too many controversies here.
1. Solar still
Solar stills turn out to be really hard work and the water you get out of them is kind of meager. Maybe it would have worked better in a hotter part of the world. It was good to do the experiment because if I ever actually need it, it will take some investment of time and work.
2. Chemical treatment
My primary source for this was the EPA guide but, again, everything I looked at was in broad agreement on dosages and method. It was all pretty straightforward but probably a good use of ten minutes to see that I had these chemicals and to test them out one time. The chemicals are iodine (2% tincture of iodine) or unscented bleach (6% or 8.25% sodium hypochlorite) or of course made-to-purpose water purification tablets. Probably it will never come up but you never know.
3. Water from plants
I didn’t include any specific guidance on what plants you can get water from and what plants will kill you. There are some general principles in other survival guides and here are a couple useful pages. I did include the method of tying a plastic bag around a branch which worked pretty well for me.
I made a few water filters at home, using the things recommended in the survival guides. As you might expect, using actual things from nature like sand and stones resulted in pretty murky water, although it got clearer the more times I ran it through the filter. Water filtered in this way should still be boiled or otherwise purified to kill off the microorganisms.
Regular readers of this blog will know that lack of knowledge has not been an impediment to my project as I just bang on with these pdfs regardless. With drinking games, however, I like to think of myself as something of an authority, having devoted a lifetime to the topic.
For this pdf, I’ve avoided all the complex drinking games and also all those drinking games where you have to reveal your innermost secrets. Those games are good too but I want this pdf to be for emergencies only: you’ve just met your new housemates and you have nothing to say. In those situations, you need something simple and effective that won’t embarrass anyone or at least not more than necessary.
This list is just five drinking games long because five is plenty. For children’s games, you need a deep arsenal but I frankly struggle to think of any occasion where I played more than one drinking game. Indeed, there have been periods where I played the same drinking game, night after night after night, for weeks.
Anyways, the games are:
Drink while you think
If you know what I mean
Simple game of 21
Many thanks to commenter TJ for some of these. I guess you could probably adapt these for playing without drinking but I definitely recommend throwing a little alcohol in there.