Sunday, 28 March 2010
The Amazing Race 16, Episode 7
Épernay (France) - Mahé (Seychelles) - La Digue (Seychelles) - St. Pierre (Seychelles) - Praslin (Seychelles)
Last week on The Amazing Race 16, Steve and Allison were saved from elimination after a fender-bender because they had taken Steve's wife's advice to bring some duct tape with them, just in case, and were able to use it to make a temporary repair and render their car drivable again.
This week they lost whatever advantage they might have gained from their choices of what to bring with them: they left their backpacks behind at one of the challenges, and arrived at the finish line of the episode on a tropical beach barefoot, in bathing suits, with only their document pouches, passports, and whatever money they had left over from the allowances given the racers at the start of each leg.
It's rare (if not unknown) for travellers to leave all their luggage behind. But checked airline luggage sometimes gets lost and more often gets pilfered (typically by thieves working in cahoots with baggage handlers and/or "security" screeners), luggage and items of all sorts get stolen from hotel rooms and left-luggage facilities, and smaller bags and purses are vulnerable to snatch-thieves almost anywhere.
It's one thing to put items of purely monetary value such as cameras and electronic devices in a daypack, purse, or shoulder bag, but that's actually the first thing a snatch thief will grab, and the first thing after your wallet and cell phone a robber will demand.
Never, ever, carry your passport in a wallet, pocket, external waist belt, or any hand luggage small enough for a thief to run away with. Except when you are actually swimming or bathing, follow Steve and Allison's example: keep at least your passport and a little emergency cash (a US$100 bill, and a few smaller notes to get you to somewhere you can change money), and if possible your other most important documents such as credit and ATM cards, on your person somewhere inside your clothes in a hidden internal pocket, money pouch, money belt, or the like. When you are packing, imagine that you come back to your room to finds that all your luggage is gone. Think through what you would do, and what you would need most. That's what should be your highest priority to have with you, hidden but on your person, at all times.
You may be able to persuade a robber that your passport is "back at the hotel", but they won't believe that you have absolutely no wallet, money, credit cards, or purse. If you don't want them to pat you down and find your hidden passport and stash, or worse, be prepared with a "decoy wallet" to hand over, reluctantly but without resistance, with a plausible amount of local currency and some worthless or low-value but official-looking plastic: a library card, frequent flyer cards, a low-value prepaid debit card that has a VISA, MasterCard, or AmEx logo and is indistinguishable from a credit or ATM card on all but the closest inspection, maybe an expired driver's license.
Last week's column prompted a variety of interesting suggestions (thanks to all who contributed) for what to bring with you on a big trip, as well as anecdotes about how they proved useful. You can read the full comments if you go here and scroll down. Here are some of your fellow travellers'' recommendations:
- Two readers said they always carry duct tape for emergency repairs. Another suggested an alternative I prefer: self-adhesive waterproof polyester fabric tape or patching cloth. It's lighter than duct tape but also waterproof, and leaves much less goopy residue behind if you eventually remove it to make a permanent repair. Perhaps the best is what's sold as "insignia cloth" for registration numbers on boat sails, and for sail and fabric kite repairs. Look for it at marine supply or kite stores. ("Spinnaker cloth" is similar but lighter duty.) Easier to find is the similar self-adhesive fabric patching material sold by outdoor stores for parka, tent, backpack, and luggage repairs, which is what I usually carry.
- In a similar vein of repair materials, another reader says they always carry dental floss for use as a sort of heavy-duty thread or lightweight cord to tie things together. It's very strong for its weight. "Parachute cord" is somewhat heavier, but more useful as e.g. clothesline or shoelaces. One reader actually reported making repairs with shoelaces. I wouldn't carry extra shoelaces just for that purpose, though -- they are readily available almost anywhere if you need them. Alternatives more useful for some things and less useful for others include heavy-duty button or carpet thread and fine metal wire.
- Two readers said they always carry a small swiss army knife. Another carries "med tech scissors", by which I think they mean what are also known as "EMT shears" or "bandage shears". I carry a Leatherman multi-tool that's a bit heavier than most swiss army knives but includes pliers that I've often found ind invaluable, as well as including small scissors. I also carry ultra-fine-point medical grade tweezers, mainly for pulling splinters and removing bits of dirt and debris from scrapes and wounds. There's a trade-off: You can't count on being allowed to carry any of these items in carry-on baggage, so bringing any of them means planning to check at least one bag whenever you fly. But I always check a bag anyway, and think others should too, as I discussed (with the support, somewhat to my surprise, of the commenters to date) in yesterday's article, "The most dangerous things on airplanes? Bags falling from the overhead bins."
- One reader always carries extra ziploc bags, a habit I learned from my partner and travelling companion (although unlike her I don't put everything in ziploc bags). In addition to bags, for packing things away in my luggage, I also bring some materials for packing things up to mail or bring home: a small roll of box sealing tape (you can usually find some sort of carton or envelope, but it's often flimsy, and sturdy packing tape is sometimes unobtainable), and a cardboard tube the length of my pack that enables me to roll up prints, posters, maps, and artwork and get them home without folding and in suitable condition for framing.
- Other gadgets mentioned by readers that I also carry include a simple magnetic compass (I just ordered a couple of these to keep in different pieces of luggage) a waterproof LED flashlight or headlamp, a luggage lock (combination, so you don't have to worry about losing the key), and a strong lightweight cable (for use with the lock to secure your bag, especially to luggage racks on long-distance buses and trains. A compass is crucial for finding your way when you have a map or directions but there are no signs showing which way is north (or you can't understand them) and people you ask don't know which way is north (or you can't communicate the question, although that should be possible with a diagram regardless of language). One reader mentioned clothespins. I use small safety pins instead, which are much smaller and lighter and can also be used to hold together clothes that are torn or have missing buttons.