A writers guide to what to take on your travels.
Many people like to keep their friends and families updated when travelling by using the power of the internet. Email and Facebook are fine systems that allow travellers to pass on news of the wider world in simple bite size chunks, but these are not enough. Travellers are often away for longer periods of time and have much more to say in the forms of pictures as well as words and even film. The multimedia rich records of travel cannot easily be emailed without sending large files that clog up multiple inboxes. Neither can you attach a movie to a postcard!
Why wait until you are back to show you family your pictures and film? Why not let them experience the joy of travelling alongside you in a way that will endure?
You can! The secret is to have the right kit with you – so that you can blog your way around the world.
My own journeys around the world are chronicled here at outsidecontext.com and my family, friends and the wider web based world can and do read all about it. In order to best achieve this I knew I needed a professional travel bloggers kit. Here is what I use to keep outsidecontext.com up and functioning and how I use it.
1. A Laptop Computer. I use a Samsung Q45Red laptop in my travels.
This small 12ich model has exactly the right balance to blog on the web while travelling. It is powerful enough to run the demanding software needed to produce films and yet small enough to fit in a light backpack. While there is much debate about the carrying of a laptop versus the use of web cafés – I think that the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. My Q45 comes with a large 120GB hard drive that is brilliant for backing up my film and photo’s. I have also installed the powerful film making software known as Sony Vegas Pro 8. This software requires a certain resolution to run and the production of even small films uses much in the way of the systems RAM. I had originally started with a ASUS EEEPC, but this was simply not powerful enough. One balancing benefit of a 12inch model is that it comes with a very good keyboard and this is again vital to the production of fluid writing and not getting a hand cramp! I would much rather spend my time out in the country I am visiting; experiencing the people and the place; than stuck in an uninspiring web cafe. Also, and very simply, web cafes are only in cities and the larger towns. It can be many days or even weeks before you can get to one and by then the inspiration may be gone. With your own laptop you can blog a little or a lot. You can blog up a mountain or knee deep in snow. You can think of an idea and reach for the means to convert it to a winning article.
Other choices: ACER Aspire One. Cesca uses this laptop for her blogging and it is almost able to keep up with the Samsung with the benefit of being only 9inches in width.
2. A Very Good Camera. Our choice of travel camera is the excellent Canon 40D.
This camera is way above the standard digital snapper and more costly, but that cost is more than born out when you can produce images of such high quality. Compare the following examples:
The first image was taken on a small and simple digital camera, while the second was taken on the Canon 40DDigital SLR (DSLR). The difference is immediate. If you want to take images that excite the readers of your journal you must use a high end camera and take the time to learn to use it. Canon do several appropriate models. The 450D is the new pro’sumer entry level camera and is an excellent balance point if stuck for the finances to go higher. If you are a serious photographer then the new Canon 50Dis definitely your choice.
Among the many benefits of a high end camera are the ability to focus on a high zoom and the ability to change the lens according to the situation. So for example the following two shots were taken on the same camera:
While both of these images are taken of objects close up, the left one is highly zoomed in using a Sigmalens and the right one is zoomed out wide-angle using a Canon lens. This flexibility is one of the many ways that a DSLR is vital to good travel writing. No small digital will be able to replicate either image.
But what about situations when the bulk of a DSLR will not work? Like a party or other place where a large camera will interfere? In those situations my suggestion is to use the camera that is built into your mobile phone. Mobile phone snappers are always great for tight situations and ultra light plus you will always have your phone on you. These are designed to snap people close up and for that they excel. They however are no good when trying to take landscapes. Consider this example:
The left image was taken during bright sunshine and the poor mobile phone camera just couldn’t cope with the contrast whereas the right image is close and easy for the same mobile phone camera to capture.
Other choices: Nikon run a range of DSLR’s that rival Canons. It is simply a matter of picking a brand and learning it – there is no great quality difference.
3. A Good Camcorder. My film camera is the Canon HG10
This is a brilliant choice for the travel blogger. It has a very large 20GB hard drive built in and can store 9 hours of film before needing to be backed up. It also has been consistently reviewed as having a zoom of a more advanced camera. This is a vital ingredient to being able to make interesting footage that you can then later turn into winning films. The quality of the images is important, but keep in mind that you will be uploading only compressed footage, so I leave the camcorder on “good” quality and not high definition. Due to the nature of internet video being so highly compressed a simple setup can pay the same dividends as a much more expensive rig. I use YouTube.com to upload my final films and this is because of its wide prominence and lax requirements. I like to add music from my iTunes collection to the films I produce and many uploading sites will not let you get away with copyrighted music. YouTube is different – at least for the moment. In shooting my footage I use a number of simple aids. Firstly I try and take a wide shot, covering the whole film area, before I do any zooming or panning into close-ups. Secondly when I move the camera to a totally new location I take a short 2 second clip. Thus when I am sorting the files later I can tell which files go with which section as they are bracketed by small files at either side. I always try and brace my camera against a none moving object, but where this isn’t possible I use a tight sling to assist in reducing camera shake. If you are thinking of filming people a tripod or similar is a good idea as is an external microphone. Once the filming is over and the files transferred to your computer you will need some software to cut the raw footage into a film proper and render that in a format that is best for YouTube.com or whatever is your choice of video host. This is outside the remit of this article and I will address it another time. Suffice to say that with a proper camera the footage will not simply transfer to Windows Movie Maker!
Other choices: Panasonic also do equivalent camera’s, which are very good. However, I do recommend staying away from the Sony’s. Again this personal choice, but born out in my testing. This is an area that is undergoing a large amount of development and new types of model are coming in the near future.
4. Storage. All this digital footage and images is going to need storing while you travel.
I use a couple of portable hard drives for my storage and recommend the Freecom ToughDriveas this type are USB 2 (read much faster than USB 1) and do not require a separate power source. Moreover, this model comes with a rubberised cover that protects the system from the knocks and abuse you will no doubt inflict upon it while travelling!
Other choices: The important thing is that you purchase a storage device that is reliable. Too many digital storage keys and backup drives are not designed for longer term storage. The top makes are Crucial or Sony for keys and LaCie or Freecom for drives.
5. A Diary.
While all the items up until now have required electricity to run there is yet to be a fully solar powered laptop or camera. Laptops will run out of power, use up their batteries and sometimes simply stop working. Also a good diary is vital to remembering where you went and when, something that your mind can play tricks on you about! I use the Moleskine Pocket Weekly Notebook Soft: 18 Months,which has all sorts of features. The most useful of which is the ability to plan the journey on the maps included, and the itinerary pages. I don’t fill in the days in any great detail; it is just an aide to memory.
Other choices: A simple notebook will suffice, but do look at the Molskine’s – it was good enough for Hemingway!
6. A Good Pen. The choice of pen is something that cannot be ignored.
Your personal writing arm should be always within easy reach, be able to write on anything from fridge doors to slips of paper. It must be very reliable and not able to leak all over your equipment. To that end I recommend the Fisher Space Pen. I always have the ability to write with me and the Space Pen’s bullet shape slots into my wallet and is there whenever I need it. Its pressurised ink is able to write at any angle even upside down and will never stop working up until it is run out.
Other choices: A pen is a pen, but the PaperMate gel inks are very good.
7. A Bag (to keep every thing in comfortably.)
It is no use having all the above unless you can actually carry in on your worldwide adventures! I use the Crumpler Dark Side bag to hold all my equipment. It has a laptop sleeve in the back and a camera section in an easy to reach lower pocket. I am able to carry everything in this list using this bag no matter what the distance. The legendary Crumpler built quality is reflected in the price, but it is well worth the extra cost in that it wont break or fall apart on you no matter what!
Other choices: The Maxpedition range of bags are indestructible and very well appointed. Other specialist bag makers, such as LowePro, are good but can draw unwanted attention.
8. Reading Matter. Travelling in this world is for many reasons beyond simply getting from place to place. Travelling is about opening your mind to new experiences, but not all of those may be outside! I always take a good selection of books with me whenever travelling. These are broken down into three sections:
I) Guides. The guide of choice for Cesca, Arabella and I are the fantastic selection of books from Lonely Planet. These books contain all the information about everywhere you are going and what to do when you get there, but they also encourage you to explore outside the “bubble” (essential to good writing). The guides are on many different subjects and not just simply by country.
One other important guide book to consider is the WWOOFing book. Willing Workers On Organic Farms is a collective organisation that enables travellers to pick up some work in exchange for free room and board. This is often out in the countryside and in places outside an tour group. This is one of the very best ways to meet “real” people and not just other travellers. WWOOFing is also one of the best ways to drive your inspiration. Too many travel blogs are inside the travel “bubble” – where one persons experience is much the same as another’s. A good rule of thumb is that if more than 10 people are experiencing the view or object with you then you are in the “bubble”. WWOOFing definitely gets you out of this trap and your writing will benefit (as will your tan!)
ii) Inspiration. I have a constant need to renew my thinking and inspiration. Often seeing new vistas with a fresh mind set enables me to write more interesting prose. Therefore I always take some books on philosophy with me whenever travelling. My current ones include works from Dr. Suzuki and Alan Watts. However this is a subjective list so whatever works for you.
iii) Classics. I never leave home without at least 10 books that I have liked a lot. Classics I have loved for years and the latest books from my favourite authors. How can I carry such a load? Simple! I use audiobooks from Audible.co.uk By listening to the book rather than reading it I save massive amounts of space in my bags, but also can listen while experiencing the world around me. Nothing livens up a trek into the wilds more than a good book. Audible is an excellent choice for audiobooks as a simple subscription enables you to download up to 3 books a month.
9. Software. For me a good program should be free. It should also be light in both memory and space needed. I have many programs open at once and RAM is at a premium. The faster and lighter the better! If using Windows as your platform I recommend the following software:
Windows Live Writer Beta. This blogging platform is the choice of many who even hate Microsoft. It is a unfortunate law that Microsoft makes great applications, but terrible operating systems. Live Writer connects to almost any blogging platform and has many features not found in others. It is a light footprint on the system and not a systems hog. It also downloads your blogging theme so that you can look at an entry before posting and see how it will look live. I have used it for years and can’t recommend it enough. The beta version is very stable and has many features not found in the current release.
Paint.net. The use of high end photo software is always a toss up. Photoshop is better than anything else but it also takes years to learn properly. If you are simply presenting photos to use on the web and making the odd graphic for the page then a light program is best. Paint.net is a free program and very robust. It is also a light footprint.
Google Chrome. When checking your website, its performance and who is linking to it you will have many tabs open as standard. In other browsers each tab takes a memory chunk that is not erased (killed) when the tab is closed. Fast is the best in browsers and thus I use Google’s Chrome. Chrome is new and still in the making, but its performance is light years ahead of Firefox and when a tab is closed the RAM comes back!
FileZilla FTP. This free software is my choice for the FTP’ing of files up to my server. Not necessarily needed but being able to take a full backup of your site is important to getting a good nights sleep! If using WordPress you may also be using the excellent Automatic update plug-in. If so, the last thing you want is the site being broken during this process. Being able to FTP off the files is vital. FileZilla also self updates.
Sony Vegas Pro 8. This is the only paid application that I use. The free video creation systems are simply not as good, as powerful or as easy to use as Vegas. Professional software is a personal choice, but I would never go back to a lesser software.
Other choices: Mac users have it easy with their software. Many of the features are in the package iLife.
So there you have it. With these items stuffed in your travel bags your will be able to pro blog your way around the world! Here they all are – along with everything else – in my bags:
If you feel I have missed something vital in this list – PLEASE leave me a comment and I will incorporate your suggestions!
Check back again soon for another “Kit List”!