I spend a lot of time doing things that have the potential to leave a serious mark. If you do, too, you have no business wandering around without a purpose-built first-aid kit. You will certainly end up using it, and it’ll save you and your companions much unnecessary misery.
Here’s what I carry myself. All of this fits in a quart-sized freezer bag, which snuggles into about half of my helmet by volume. I hope it smoothes your path as it has smoothed mine.
This little dropper bottle makes two and a half gallons of electrolyte water, which turns the tap water in your Platypus into a sports drink. I use the higher-end Elete brand because I can't taste it in my water.
I know, I know. I hate the flavor of iodine disinfectant, too…but you need to pack a means to purify water on an emergency basis, and tabs are the smallest and lightest. (This will also sterilize the water you’ll need for item #16.)
I only carry the large rectangles and the hourglass-shaped finger bandages; both, waterproof.
Because who lets themselves be caught without wet wipes in the back country? Nobody smart.
Because first-aid scissors suck for everything that matters--like chopping young branches to use for splints. (Keep it sharp.)
I keep mine in a pill bag marked with the data of the drug that’s inside (dose and date).
When something has gone seriously wrong, you’ll need to take detailed notes for the help that eventually arrives (or you drag yourself out to). You’ll learn what needs to be noted when you do your Wilderness First Responder course—a subject I wrote about at some length for Dropzone.com.
Paper and pen are also useful for notes left at camp, for tirades left on windshields and for chasing down campfire hookups after the fact. Essential, n’est-ce pas?
Bad water? Dirty ice? Questionable pre-mission street food? Dangerously high desert temperatures? Have a few packets of these in your first aid kit to get you through it.
I can’t seem to find these in the States! It’s a footlong bandage that trims down to the length you need to cover a wound and adheres there, eliminating the need to carry gauze and tape. I found mine in a pharmacy in Slovakia, but I’ve seen them throughout the EU. (The link is to a Canadian pharmacy.) These are great for covering long, nasty scratches.
Even if you were at the top of your class at the WFR course, your memory will fade. Print out these cards and have them laminated for your kit.
Neosporin, bacitracin, bactroban (as shown here)…whatever you prefer. Check the expiration date reasonably regularly and remember that some people are allergic to Neosporin.
Because keeping a line of defense between yourself and fluid-transmitted pathogens is only important when it’s important, but then it’s the most important thing ever.
Because blisters can f the f off, and if you’re doing any serious hiking, you’re going to use ‘em.
A.K.A. “steri-strips,” A.K.A. “butterfly strips.” There are some ouchies for which adhesive bandages just don’t cut it. Be ready for those.
Never been stuck at the launch or the exit point or the basecamp in the freezing-ass cold? Lucky you. When you eventually are, you’ll be glad you have this.
If you or your adventure buddy have sustained a “dirty” injury (the kind with rocks and dirt ground into it, y’know), you’ll need to flush out the injury with about a liter of clean water. (That’s the other reason you’re carrying iodine tablets, y’know.) The irrigation syringe has a curved plastic business end that helps you direct the flow of water to wash the crap out of the wound before it sets and has to be painfully scrubbed out later.
The 17th item in my kit doesn’t appear in this image because it was being used at the time: self-adhesive athletic wrap. I prefer the kind that tears by hand, and I don’t bother with wraps that require the little metal hooks to stay attached. I keep at least one full roll in my kit, because running out the end of a roll when you really need just a little bit more is a shitty thing.
Y'know that thing I mentioned about getting a Wilderness First Responder certification? If you do dangerous stuff for fun--and don't we all--it's well worth your time to take a few days someplace pretty and emerge knowing how to help yourself and the athletes around you. (Yosemite--where I earned mine--is nice. So is Puget Sound.) You might well save a life someday.
At the end of the day, it's what you carry in your skull as much as what you carry in your kit that will save the day, so pack correctly.
Breaking up a long-haul flight into more manageable pieces is actually better for your body. A good layover allows you to get stagnant blood recirculating, stretch out and hydrate. If you play your cards right, it can even net you a bonus adventure.
It’s really easy to pick a flight based on price alone. Like: really easy. It’s tempting to let the difference of a handful of dollars can tip your decision-making--and land you in a world of bleary, sleeping-across-the-metal-airport-seat-dividers hurt.
I’m not going to advise you to make it rain, here. Don’t, like, splash out on the five-digit, first-class, climate-controlled individual superpod with a personal butler. That said, hear this: you won’t regret spending a few more dollars, if it means you arrive in comfort and style. And how about arriving in comfort and style that’s disproportionate-in-your-favor to what you spent? Now we’re talking.
When you’re planning a long journey, look for flights with an overnight layover in a city you’ve never been.* It’s kinda like speed-dating for travel, in that you get a quick taste of a place you might otherwise never see. I’ve had great luck with this method, as it introduced me to Riga and Seoul, among other cities that were question-marks to me before I dipped my toes in for a day or so. Be open-minded about where fate's suggestion lands you--part of the fun is setting out into the unknown and un-previously-lusted-after.
Pro tip: Hipmunk is great for this.
Look forward to your long layover time as a golden opportunity to gorge on the content you haven't had several uninterrupted hours to get to yet--but make sure you have access to them offline. Download the movies you've been meaning to watch; Instapaper the 20-page articles you've been meaning to read; sync to your reader the books you've had on your list for ages. It's astonishing how much material you can get through. (We trucked through five episodes of The Expanse at the otherwise-existentially depressing Addis Ababa airport last week, for example, making lemonade of the biggest lemon in the air travel game.)
If your layover is just a few hours long, plan to sneak a workout in there. It’d be great if airport lounges got with the program and started regularly incorporating fitness centers, but while that’s a pipe dream, look to the communities right outside the airport ring road.
On a recent four-hour jaunt at the Vienna airport, for example, I was able to walk right across the street from the terminal into the stunning, brand-new Fit Fabrik Flughafen. After a great yoga practice, a run on the treadmill and a stint in the sauna, I was more than prepared for the rest of the journey.
...and not just for awkward too-shy-for-mile-high hookups, either. Most airport hotels offer deals for rooms used just during the daytime, usually by jet-lag averse travelers who want a hotel gym, a nap and a shower with their WiFi and waiting. Sniff around if that appeals to you.
Especially if you’re a location independent professional in need of the space, internet and strong coffee to blow through a backlog of travel-tardy tasks, you can’t keep living without lounges, dear reader. Seriously. A loungeless layover is like a wingless bald eagle.
I’ve been a Priority Pass member for years now--and they’re worth their weight in gold on long travel days when I don't have premier airline lounge access. Traveling in the upper cabins will get you in to those, and my friend Chris Guillebeau has some great tips to get there. Eventually, you won't let a spend dollar go by without making it work for your travel goals.
The moral of the story? A layover can be just what you need to level up your next adventure...and the next time you’re faced with a big gap between flights, perhaps you’ll see the magic twanging around in there.
*Check the visa requirements, natch.
Want a pretty-much-free co-working space with bottomless coffee? Thanks be to Sweden, it's here for you.
I was one of two digital nomads, bombing across Europe--uncharacteristically, in an actual vehicle--from the tippy-top of Scotland all the way to the heart of Slovakia. Challenge: our SIM cards were only functional for practical purposes in the UK and at our final destination, but we weren't spending sufficient time in any intermediate country to bother getting connected there.
And we had deadlines. Looming deadlines. Wi-fi was hard to come by, as was a comfortable place to squeeze in a couple hours' work. Things were getting a little, um, stressful.
Then, suddenly, the blue-and-yellow bulk of an IKEA sign blocked out the sun for a moment as we were driving along.
"Why don't we just stop there?," my companion asked.
Oh my god, I thought. Why did I not think of that before?!
I've long been a breathless fan of clever IKEA hacking in the context of hacksaws and drill sets. After all, in a conceptual sense, lifestyle design is all about taking readily available, workhorse components and customizing them to suit your precise set of needs...but I'd never thought about what IKEA-hacking might mean for me as a fast-moving digital nomad. As it turns out: it's about as satisfying as finding yet another brilliant way to use that same damn coffee table, and it's a hell of a lot better than spending half of every day fighting with wonky hotel internet.
Evil, you say? Hold your horses a minute.
The necessity of IKEA underlines the differences between the needs of a tourist and the needs of someone who is making a living on the road. Should a tourist go from big-box store to big-box store to upload their Instagram selfies and check Facebook? I'll be the first to lob a hearty hell-no at that--but if you're a digital nomad, purism gets you in trouble. Fast. Your billables are the only thing standing between you and game-over, and you've got to make sure you have a reliable means to get 'em done.
In mom-and-pop venues, you might spend a disproportionate amount of your desperately needed working time to get parked, seated, plugged in, connected to the internet and served. At any given IKEA, that ain't the case. The WiFI works. The food is standard. When you walk in, you don't have to speak a word of the local language to navigate the space and get what you need.
At less than a Euro per coffee--and around a fiver for a satisfying lunch--you won't be spending the money you're making, even if you're a fresh-launched noob.
If you don't have mobile data and you don't have a local map, finding anything off the main roadway is a ballache. To find an IKEA, all you need to know is what highway it's next to and the very-general stretch of road it's on--the enormous signage does the rest. Whew.
You can almost always find a nice spot to spread out. The staff doesn't hover. The music isn't cranked up. This sets the IKEA solution apart somewhat from the other evil-overlord-with-free-Wifi standbys (McDonalds and Starbucks, of course).
In countries where everything closes after 5pm and on Sundays, this can be a lifesaver.
Of 370 IKEA stores in 47 countries, the highest concentration is in continental Europe. It looks like it could work in some places in the States, too, but I haven't tried it. Here's the official map:
One week and six IKEAs later, we had made it across eight countries with our sanity and client relationships intact.
I won't be in the mood to so much as smell another meatball for a while, but I'll happily wave a little Swedish flag in gratitude to the soulless corporate behemoth that facilitated those workdays.
Tack så mycket, IKEA. Tack så mycket.
IKEA Bratislava photo credit: Annette O'Neil
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