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Featured Squat the Planet's Ultimate Gear Guide

Matt Derrick

StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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The following article was taken directly from my book, The Anarchist's Guide to Travel. If you enjoy it, check out the book for more information that will help to you live a nomadic lifestyle.

Gearing Up

What you take on a journey depends on two things. How you plan on getting to your destination, and how comfortable you want to be on your way there. The important thing to remember is that traveling as a lifestyle isn’t much different than planning for a hiking trip in the woods. You’re just going to be gone for a much longer period of time. In this chapter I’ll be going over a huge list of gear you might want to consider for your travels. Now, this list is going to be long; you’re not meant to take everything you see here. Personal preference will decide what gear is right for you based on how much you’re willing to carry.

The best advice I’ve heard when it comes to deciding what to take with you on a trip is to gather up everything you think you need and then cut it in half. This forces you to really think about what you need, and what’s just junk you’re probably never going to use. Lugging around fifty pounds of gear will put a serious damper on your fun, so try to take as little as you can with you.

In my opinion, most people should take no more than thirty pounds of gear with them, and ideally, if you can get that down to twenty pounds or less, you’re going to be better off than 90% of the travelers out there. Of course, if you have a bigger or smaller body frame, you’ll have to adapt accordingly. Once you’ve shoved everything in your pack, take it around town for a few hours and see how it feels. This should help you decide if your gear is appropriate, of if you need to make adjustments.

Keep in mind that certain kinds of travel require specialized gear. For example, train hopping can require some gear not necessary for other types of travel. Instead of listing every kind of gear for every kind of travel, I’ll be listing this additional gear in a separate section inside the chapter that discusses that kind of travel.

Weather

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If you're like most travelers, you're probably going to be migrating to where the weather is reasonably warm. In the United States of America, that means you'll likely be in the south during the winter, and north in the summer.

Even if you follow this migratory pattern, you should still be aware of what kinds of weather you'll be encountering. For example, if you're going to be in New Orleans in the fall, be aware that hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th. You might not encounter a hurricane, but the torrential rains of that season can hit so hard you'll be soaked even in a decent tent. Using another example, train hopping through the Mt Shasta region of the west coast gets ridiculously cold at night even in the middle of August. It always pays to do a little research to find out what weather you'll encounter in the region you're visiting during certain times of the year.

Based on this research, make sure to bring gear that will protect you from that weather. Nothing puts a damper on your travels worse than being exposed to the elements without the right gear. For the sake of simplicity, this chapter will only list the gear necessary when weather conditions are most ideal; it’s up to you to prepare for the worst.

Shopping Tips

When looking for travel gear, I tend to do most of my shopping online. This is because you can almost always find what you’re looking for at a fraction of what you would pay in a retail store. Even if you’re buying something that isn’t used, online outlets are almost always cheaper than brick and mortar stores since they don’t have the same overhead costs of maintaining those stores, the employees, etc.

Backpacks are something you usually want to try on in person before shelling out your hard earned cash, so in these situations I generally tell people to actually go to a physical store like REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated). REI is probably one of the most well known outlets for camping and sporting goods gear in the United States. There are a lot more of course, like Cabela’s, Eastern Mountain Sports, Dicks Sporting Goods, and many others. For gear that you want to try out for yourself, visit one of these stores, find something you like, and then go home and search for that product online. I recently found a backpack that fit me well at REI and when I checked the price on my cell phone it was almost eighty dollars cheaper (1/3 less) on Amazon.

If you’re reading this guide I’m assuming you’re just about as poor as I am. You really can’t afford to buy a particular piece of gear more than once, so it’s got to be the right gear, the first time, and has to last as long as possible. Doing the requisite research before buying an item online will save you a lot of buyer’s remorse. Read reviews of the product on Amazon and blogs that specialize in reviewing the kind of things you’re looking for. A simple Google search of “[item name] review” will give you more info than you’ve ever wanted to know.

Seek out the negative reviews over positive ones. Most of the time positive reviews are short and don’t have much thought put into them, while negative reviews will let you know about little known flaws in the product, or horrible customer service when it comes to returns. Pay attention to both positive and negative reviews that are long and detailed, as these will give you the best idea of what you’ll be receiving when you open that box.

When researching products, one of my favorite techniques is to search for reviews of products that are 3-5 years old. I find it especially useful to do searches for “best [product] of [year]” or “best [product] reviews [year]”. So, if you’re searching for the best tent you can afford, searching for “best ultralight tent of 2012” (i.e. five years ago) will return reviews for tents that were top of the line (and expensive) that year; but thanks to the consumerist culture of always having to have the ‘newest’ thing, the prices on these older tents will have come down significantly. There’s no rule saying the newest gear is the only gear worth having.

Also, don’t be afraid of buying certain things marked ‘refurbished’, especially when it comes to technology. For the unfamiliar, a refurbished item is something that was broken at one point, sent back to the manufacturer, they fixed it, and are now re-selling it. Consumers have an unhealthy obsession with buying only things that are new, and there’s definitely a stigma with consumers when it comes to buying something used or previously broken. This reputation is largely undeserved. As long as the item is manufacturer refurbished, (not ‘seller refurbished’) the item is going to be in almost new condition.

In order to avoid sullying a corporation’s brand name, any product resold by that manufacturer is going to be scrutinized much harder than anything coming off their assembly line. Most of the time the product you’re getting is going to be just as good if not in better condition than what you would buy off the shelf. Better yet, most refurbished items still come with the manufacturer’s warranty, which is something you won’t get from a used item. Best of all, because of the general consumer stigma surrounding the word ‘refurbished’, these items are generally going to be deeply discounted from their shelf-sold counterparts. Basically, you’re getting a brand new item (with warranty) for around 30-50% or more off the retail price.

Buying used gear can pay off in spades. Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) is the best place to buy used gear, since you’re dealing with actual people (not corporations) that are willing to take a larger margin of loss on something if they feel it’s worth it. Typical discounts can be as high as 80-90% of when looking for used camping gear, since 90% of consumers want to buy these things new from a store. The savings are not as high on tech gear, but still better than most stores (online or off) so it’s always worth taking a look. Although thrift stores are less likely to have the kinds of travel gear you're looking for, they're usually very cheap, and may have online stores in addition to the physical ones in your city.

Two other alternatives are Amazon (www.amazon.com) and eBay (www.ebay.com). Amazon has a huge third party seller market, and when these sellers put their goods up for sale, Amazon is very strict on their requirements for these sellers. Anything sold by a third party on Amazon has to be in almost the same condition as the new version of the item. Unlike eBay, Amazon will not let third party sellers sell items that are broken, or missing parts that would usually come with a brand new item (there are some exceptions, so always check the item description). The advantage here is that you know you’re getting the same item at a used price, with a basic guarantee that it will be almost the same as a new item (possibly with a little wear and tear).

Amazon also has a lot of ‘open box’ items, where the packaging has been damaged, or opened for display or some other reason. Any damage to the item itself is always mentioned (generally there’s none) and it’s usually a new item being sold at a ‘used’ item’s price. Also worth mentioning is that anything listed as “fulfillment by Amazon” in the used item listings is going to be shipped by Amazon, so their (very good) return policy applies. If the item shows up and isn’t what you expected, you can generally return it with no questions asked and at no cost to you.

eBay is basically what Craigslist would look like if it was run by multinational corporations. It should be your absolute last resort when it comes to shopping for something online. It’s become a wasteland for every kind of cheap knock off, plastic accessory, and broken item you can imagine, but without the quality control you’d come to expect in your average dollar store. Sure, you can find the occasional deal, but only if you learn to use ridiculous search schemes like “Nexus 7 2013 32gb -broken -parts -as-is -not -working” and limit your search to ‘buy it now’ (non-auction) items listed by lowest price first, and filtering out anything under $50 (to remove 1000’s of plastic accessories). As for auctions? Don’t even bother. I’ve never won an auction in eBay’s 20 year existence. Unless you enjoy waiting a week to be disappointed, just stick to items listed in the ‘buy it now’ category. Besides, auctions are for people with money to burn, and we’re not one of those people.

Last but not least, patience is key. The longer you wait to buy something, the older it gets, the lower the price goes. So think long and hard about how badly you need the item you’re looking for, and whether you can wait a few months for the price to take a nose dive. With a few rare exceptions, it will get cheaper, so the wait could be worth it.

Clothing

In regards to clothing, there’s definitely a bit of a stereotype when it comes to the punk traveler. Most commonly we have vests with patches, Carhartt canvas pants with the crotch sewn up, or dirty dresses that are some kind of weird combination of punk and ragtime you’d expect to see from the 1920’s. It’s a blend of fashion and utility born out of the necessities of the road.

As a largely anarchistic culture we often defy those stereotypes as well, so there’s plenty of travelers in our community that look just like anyone else you’d see on the street, so try not to judge.

Whether you’re punk as fuck or a little more mainstream, this section is going to go over all the clothing basics you should consider.

First, the easy stuff. Traveling around completely naked will probably not attract the kind of attention you’re looking for, so at least two sets of clothing are preferable. One for wearing, the other in case you fuck up what you’re wearing and need to change into something else. Or, for when you’ve worn that first set of clothing so long you smell like a sewer, you might want to have that second set of clothing so you can mingle with society once more.

Personally, I usually carry one set of cargo shorts, a pair of jeans, three shirts, and three pairs of boxer shorts. Throw in about four pairs of socks, and that makes up the clothing portion of my gear. It weighs around four pounds, and will easily last me up to two weeks before I get intolerably rank. Let’s take a look at a other things you might want to consider taking with you.
  • Thermals are a good thing to consider if you’re going to be heading into cold weather. They’ve come a long way over the past decade or so and there’s plenty of kinds of thermals available that are both warm, thin, and lightweight.
  • Socks. Oh god, socks. If you’ve never had the displeasure of having to wear the same pair of socks over and over again until they’re absolutely caked with layers of disgusting-ness, count yourself lucky. I’ve literally seen some gutter punks that had to wash what remained of their socks off their feet. Pretty gross.

    Buying quality socks is an investment that will pay off enormously during your travels. Avoid the standard cheap white socks and get something a little more expensive. I bought a set of Puma brand athletic socks that cost me thirty bucks for six pairs, but three years later I haven’t had to buy a new pair, so the initial cost is worth it.

  • Boxer Briefs! You’ll likely end up on long walks across town, down the highway, along the railroad tracks, etc. This can lead to a lot of chafing ‘down there’, so save yourself some grief and switch to boxer briefs. Note that I say boxer briefs, not boxer shorts. Boxer briefs are usually form-fitting (especially in the crotch area, which is essential) and extend down your leg a bit further than normal boxer shorts, which prevents the rubbing together of your inner thighs (for those that have to worry about that) and keeps chafing down to a minimum. Highly recommended for all genders.
  • The traditional bandana worn around the neck has made a comeback with train hoppers over the past two decades, and it’s a useful bit of clothing to have for any mode of travel. From cleaning up a mess, to staunching a wound, to making cowboy coffee, bandanas have a dozen uses and should be a part of anyone’s packing list.

  • A similar piece of clothing I’ve recently fallen in love with is the shemagh. A shemagh is a scarf most commonly found in the middle east and areas of the world where protecting your head and face from the sun and sandstorms is very important. It also can come down around your neck like a bandana when you don’t need it around your head. It takes a little bit of practice to learn how to wrap it around your head, but I find it fills that perfect slot of being both utilitarian and stylish.
  • Gloves are great protection against the elements and in any situation you want to protect your hands. It’s not one of those things you think about when you don’t need them, but when you do, you’ll be glad you brought them.
  • A hooded sweatshirt (aka hoodie) is a must, even for the hottest of areas. Since weather can change drastically in a short period of time, it pays to have a light hoodie in your pack so you can stay comfortable.
  • A hat will help keep your head warm when it’s cold out and also keep the sun off your head when it’s hot. Not having one (especially if you have a bald head like me) can lead to sunburns on your scalp that can be pretty painful.
  • Proper footwear is important! Find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and have decent traction for hiking and climbing. Nothing sucks worse than trying to climb up a hill in flat footwear with no tread. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to invest in a pair of boots; in fact most boots don’t breathe very well and can easily lead to foot rot.

    You’re going to be spending long portions of time on your feet, so this is another thing you don’t want to skimp on. Make the initial investment and avoid hours of agony walking down the highway in shoes that hurt to wear.
Backpacks

Choosing a backpack is a personal choice. This is because we all come in various body sizes, physical strength, and the kind of life we like to live (aka, what we don’t mind carrying with us).

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The most basic (and cheapest) setup is the classic Alice military pack. They run about 20-30 dollars, are very durable, and will hold most of your basic items, although you may have to rope your sleeping bag to the outside. The main disadvantages to this pack is that they have no back support whatsoever (unless you get one with a frame), and can be incredibly uncomfortable on your shoulders if you're carrying a lot of weight. It’s not always the best choice for those long, grueling walks to/from the train yard, or to the next town if you get kicked off a train.

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On the higher end of the spectrum would be a backpack designed for long hiking excursions such as my old Deuter ACT Lite 65+10. I bought this on Amazon for $120, and when I switched to this from an Alice pack it felt like a godsend. I could essentially carry twice as much, twice as far, and my back was no longer in a slow agony everyday. It had an internal frame (two aluminum crossbars) that can be taken out so the bag will fit in the washer or rolled up for storage.

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I’ve recently chosen a new style of backpack for my travels, and that’s the Osprey Farpoint 70. I chose this pack because it opens around the sides like a suitcase, instead of only from the top like my previous Deuter bag mentioned above. This makes it a lot easier to access things buried at the bottom, and this pack includes an incredibly handy day pack that zips on and off the main bag so I can carry it all on my back at once. I generally leave the big bag with my clothes and other misc gear at the place I’m staying, and bring the day pack with me as I go around town. The day pack holds my expensive gear like my laptop and camera so they’re never out of my sight.

There are external frames available for both Alice packs and other kinds of backpacks, but I highly recommend getting a pack with an internal frame only. The reason for this is because it's very easy to get the edges of external frames (such as older, 70’s style hiking backpacks) caught on various parts of a train, potentially leading to disaster.

For example, my first train ride was from Sacramento to Klamath Falls in 1998. Long story short, I was the last to get off the boxcar, and being scared out of my wits and having no idea how to hop off properly (we'll cover this later), I sat on the edge of the open doorway and tried to jump out, minimizing the distance between myself and the ground. Unfortunately I had chosen a hiking pack with an external frame, and it caught on the edge of the doorway. This threw me off completely and I ended up careening forward and doing three barrel rolls next to the train. I got up, bruised as hell, clothes torn, and bleeding cuts everywhere. I got rid of that pack as soon as I could.

This warning goes for loose belts and straps on your pack as well. Make sure to cut them off or tuck them in. I've had a nylon strap on my pack get caught on a passing boxcar (while walking around a train yard) and been dragged 20-30 feet before the strap broke. Not fun. Be especially wary of loose straps on more expensive backpacks. I've seen a few REI bags that were train hopping death traps.

As I mentioned in the shopping tips earlier, a backpack is one of those pieces of gear you’ll definitely want to try on in a physical camping goods store like REI, EMS, etc. Fill them up, walk around, see what feels comfortable to you. Make sure you can carry a lot of weight in it, and make sure the weight of the bag sits on your hips (with the hip belt closed around your waist) and not on your shoulders. There’s a lot to know about finding the right kind of backpack, but if the camping goods store you’re at is any good, they’ll walk you through everything you need to know. Just remember that even if they’re really nice, don’t feel pressured into paying retail. Leave that store and search online for the backpack you liked, or better yet, check and see if you can find a used one on Craigslist.

If you're going the Alice pack route, try your local army surplus store before shopping online. For some reason online retailers think Alice packs are worth a small fortune ($60+). One (of the few) advantages of Alice packs is that they are generally 'one size fits all', so you can safely order one online without having to try it on.

While it’s fine to start out with just dumping what few possessions you have into your bag, once you get tired of constantly rummaging through a bunch of loose items to find that one thing you’re looking for, you might want to consider a few ways to keep things in your pack more organized.

Organization can be as easy as storing things in a series of plastic zip-lock bags, or reusing the cloth pouches that come with the Crown Royal whiskey you bought last week. The zip-lock bags also have the bonus of keeping your items dry if you get caught in a rain storm.

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For the obsessively organized, take a look at packing cubes. They’re basically lightweight fabric boxes that store your clothes and other items into a tight little rectangle.

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Another handy (but less common) way to organize your clothes is the Hoboroll, which is basically a compression sack for your clothes. It’s also sectioned up like a pie, so you can put different kinds of clothing together (e.g. all socks in one slot, underwear in another slot, etc) for even more organization. It closes with a drawstring and the outside straps can compact all your clothing into a neat little sack not much bigger than your sleeping bag.

Another tip that works great with the hobo roll (and works without it as well) is actually rolling your clothing instead of folding it. This has been proven to not only make your clothing take up less space, it actually prevents wrinkles as well (in case you’re carrying around a ‘job interview’ shirt in your pack).

Sleeping Gear

Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes, but don’t skimp on something you’re going to be depending on every night. You should get the smallest (compressed size) and lightest weight sleeping bag you can afford. The cheapest solution I've found for the money is the TETON Sports TrailHead +20F Ultralight sleeping bag. As of this writing it's around sixty dollars. Considering that most good sleeping bags are $100-300 or more, this is a pretty awesome deal. It's not the fanciest sleeping bag, but it's completely decent for the price and it held up fairly well for me over several years.

If you can’t find that particular bag, look around for anything under three pounds, compresses to a reasonable size (around 14.5" x 6.5" x 6.5") and doesn’t cost any more than 150 dollars. You’ll still find a lot of choices in this price range. Just keep in mind that while summer bags are lighter and pack smaller, you’re going to want something that is rated to at least thirty degrees. You should always assume that the rating on a sleeping bag is ten degrees less than what it says. So, if a particular sleeping bag is rated at thirty degrees, assume you’re only going to be comfortable (i.e. not freezing) in temperatures down to forty degrees.

There’s a ridiculous amount of information on the internet about sleeping bags, from the kinds of stuffing to baffles, heat ratings, shapes, foot boxes, and just about anything else you’d want to know. Just like shopping for any other gear, do your research and go to a physical store to see what kinds of sleeping bags are right for you. Once you find something you like check online to see if it’s available somewhere cheaper.

One small tip for couples out there. Try and get sleeping bags with the zipper on the opposite side of whatever your partner is getting. If they have a sleeping bag with a zipper on the right, get one on the left. This way you can zip both bags together into one big sleeping bag. They don’t always need to be the same brand (although that helps), as long as the zippers line up. Your body heat will help keep each other warm, and it's a much more pleasant way to spend your nights under the stars.

It’s a bit of a luxury item, but you might find it worth getting a sleeping pad of some kind. There’s about a hundred different kinds and brands; some are made of foam, some are filled with air, but they’re all designed to create a barrier that keeps your body heat from being sucked away by the ground you are sleeping on. Just keep in mind the cheaper the sleeping pad, the bulkier it’s going to be; expect a cheap foam pad to take up more space than your sleeping bag, while the more expensive pads compress to the size of a large water bottle. Of course if you have access to it, sleeping on a bunch of free cardboard from the dumpster can achieve the same effect.

Hammocks ride the line between sleeping gear and shelters depending on the kind you get, but I’m going to include it here. Hammocks are generally best for using in warm climates, but it’s possible to winter camp with them as well. The biggest issue for hammocks seems to be losing body heat through the bottom of the hammock while you’re sleeping. I also find it hard to sleep in a hammock position since I toss and turn pretty frequently.

Still, there’s hammocks available that are both cheap, extremely lightweight, and compress to the size of a can of soda. So while a hammock is definitely not a requirement, there’s very little to lose by not having one in your pack. There’s definitely something to be said for being able to read a book in a swinging hammock on a pleasant sunny day.

There’s also more advanced hammocks available that cross into the ‘portable shelter’ category, like the Hennessy Hammock. These types of hammocks are most well known for having both a mosquito net built in, and an optional tarp that hangs over the hammock itself to protect the occupant from the rain. You also climb into it from the bottom instead of coming in through the top. If you’re absolutely in love with hammocks, it’s a pretty good option that will protect you from the elements and free up weight in your pack by not having to carry around a tent.

Portable Shelters

I am not a fan of bugs. To a mosquito, I imagine my blood must taste like a fine Cabernet, or like a sidewalk slam to a gutter punk. I say this because any time I sleep outside I spend most of the night swatting away these insects instead of actually sleeping. What little sleep I do get is ruined in the morning by the hundreds of welts I have across my face and body while my travel companions wake up with a full night of rest and no bites of their own to complain about.

So, enter the tent. Finally, I can get a good nights sleep without being eaten up by bugs! The main problem with tents are how much they weigh, which makes sense considering you’re hauling around a portable house on your back. Unfortunately, the weight of your tent is directly related to the size of your wallet. Once you start looking at tents that weigh three pounds or less, the price skyrockets considerably. Luckily, there are a small handful of tents available that are both reasonably priced and won’t break your back.

Two of these tents are the Eureka Solitaire, and the ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1-person tent. The Solitaire is just barely the lightest of the two, weighing in at three pounds, and costs a mere $80 USD. I’ve used this tent while hitchhiking the west coast of the United States with my girlfriend, and while it’s labeled a one-person tent, it fit the both of us fine (but very cozy). My main complaint is it isn’t a free standing tent, so if you’re camping in a spot where you can’t get the stakes through the ground, you’re basically fucked. It’s also difficult to get in and out of, especially with two people in it.

The ALPS Lynx is freestanding so you’re not as dependent on stakes as you are with the Solitaire, but it does feel a bit smaller, so I don’t think you could fit more than one person in it. It does have side doors that are easier to get in and out of though, with the only con being this tent is slightly heavier, weighing about three and a half pounds. It’s also a little more expensive, as it costs just under a hundred dollars.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are lighter tents available, but most consumer brands get extremely expensive once you get past the three-pounds-or-less mark. Fortunately, there’s been quite a boom in the world of do-it-yourself ultralight tents. This has been directly related to the demand for a lighter weight tent from folks that regularly traverse America’s longest hiking paths such as the Appalachian Trail. This demand has led to a lot of innovation in portable shelter technology that started with hikers designing their own tents, and eventually some of them starting companies that make ultralight tents to sell to everyone else.

If you have the time, skill, and a sewing machine, you can find plans for making your own ultralight tent for around a hundred dollars in materials. For the rest of us, there’s a few small companies that sell these tents for anywhere around 175 dollars and up. Almost all of these tents sacrifice the weight gained from tent poles and replace it with a hiking stick. This leads to one of their biggest drawbacks, which is that they are almost exclusively non-freestanding tents that are required to be staked into the ground. Although those sacrifices come with a bright side; the tent can weigh as little as one and a half pounds, and with an average price of 200-300 dollars you’ll be hard pressed to find anything lighter or cheaper.

While we’ve gone over a lot of options here, the question remains: do you really even need a tent? The answer is probably no. Less than 10% of travelers I’ve met carry one, although that may change if they become cheaper/lighter in the future. For most people, it’s just added weight and one more thing to worry about. There’s nothing wrong with camping under the stars without one, unless you’re a mosquito magnet like myself.

Before we move on, let’s touch on two other small things related to portable shelters. First, if you’re absolutely not concerned about the weather, and you only want to protect yourself from bugs, you could easily get a cheap mosquito net that you can hang from a tree while camping. They’re extremely cheap ($20-30), lightweight, and compress into a tiny sack.

The other item you might want to bring is a tarp. I know plenty of people that swear by it, so it’s something to consider. If you’re camping in the woods you can easily hang it up in the trees over you, or just drape it over yourselves in the well of the train you’re riding on to keep the rain from soaking you. It’s one of those things you’ll probably be glad you have when you do, and wishing you did when you don’t. Also, if you don’t have a tarp or can’t afford one, keep an eye out for construction sites or newly built houses. The Tyvek plastic they use in construction makes for great tarp material.

Knives

There are many different kinds of tools you might want to consider while traveling. When it comes to self-defense, you should try to avoid anything authorities might consider illegal. This includes batons, switch blades, butterfly knives, etc. Unfortunately what knives are legal depends on what state you’re in, and is too broad a topic for this guide. Since you’re going to be wandering from state to state, we’ll try to cover knives that are legal just about anywhere.

In general, folding knives with a four inch blade or shorter are both sufficient for self defense and won’t get you in trouble with the law. You can find cheap knives at nearly any inter-city convenience store, Walmart, or camping goods store. If you want something higher quality, consider buying a Gerber branded or equivalent knife. Any knife you buy should open easily, and lock when open so it doesn’t close onto your hand. Most of these knives are considered ‘assisted opening’ and were specifically exempted from the Switchblade Act of 2009, so they’re legal.

Remember a knife is not just a weapon, but also an essential tool. Don’t go traveling without one! Not having one sucks in just about any situation, whether you’re trying to defend yourself from some psycho or making a peanut butter sandwich.

The only places you don’t want to take a knife are airports, government buildings, and schools. If you have to fly somewhere, ditch your knife and pick up a new one at your destination. This is one reason I don’t invest in more expensive knives, since the ones you can find for 5-10 bucks are generally good enough and I don’t feel too bad when I have to give it away or throw it in a trash can at the last minute.

Before we move on, I would like to specifically debunk an odd myth floating around travel circles over the past few years. A lot of people have been telling folks new to traveling that you shouldn’t carry a knife, especially when train hopping. The working theory is that somehow if you are put in a situation in which you need to defend yourself, your attacker could take your knife from you and use it against you. I’ve seen this bizarre logic come up several times, especially when the debate involves women defending themselves on the road.

Let’s make this very clear; this logic is not only foolish, but dangerous. To my knowledge, there has never been an incident like this in the travel punk community. It is a false logic that is frankly, astoundingly stupid. A person brandishing a knife is going to make even the toughest aggressor think twice before attacking. No one likes getting stabbed, and simply showing someone you have a knife and are willing to use it is enough to defuse almost any attack.

Overall, whether it’s to use as a tool or for self defense, a good knife is an essential piece of gear. Although I will always recommend getting a knife first, another good self defense weapon is pepper spray. You can get these just about anywhere, and it comes in a palm-sized can you can clip to your key chain for easy access.

Tools

Let’s go over a quick list of tools you might want to take on your travels:
  • P-38 or P-51 army issue can opener (http://amzn.to/2FwEflE). This incredible tool is small enough to fit in your wallet and will help open cans of food in seconds. You can find these at your local army surplus store and they cost less than a dollar. It’s usefulness combined with it’s small size means there’s really no reason you shouldn’t have one. I prefer the P-51 model since it’s the same as the P-38 but a bit larger and easier to use.
  • Leatherman Multi Tool (http://amzn.to/2BOqY8q) - Probably one of the most useful tools you can own with multiple uses for just about any situation. Most multi tools include a set of pliers, a knife (or two, or three), one or two screwdrivers, and many other useful items all combined into a single collapsible tool you can hang on your belt. There’s a dozen different sizes and varieties ranging from $25-$100 so do a little research and find one that fits your needs and budget. You can also get off-brand multi tools for much cheaper, but they won’t be nearly as high a quality.
  • Spoon/Spork/Hobo Tool (http://amzn.to/2os4OBd) - Having an eating utensil is important if you want to shovel food into your mouth. What you use is up to you, but try to get something with a key chain clip or carabiner so you can attach it to your pack and not lose it.
  • Cheap Butane Lighter - Because you’re going to need to set something on fire eventually.
  • Sewing needles, dental floss, and safety pins - Try to put together this sewing kit with an extra lighter. Convenient for patching clothing. Most travelers use dental floss instead of thread since it’s a lot stronger, and melting the ends of the floss with a lighter makes a nice bead of wax on the end that will keep the floss from coming out; it’s also easier than tying a huge knot in the end of the thread.
  • Flashlight - This can be whatever form of light you prefer, although most folks these days pack a headlamp. Headlamps are worn around your head and generally run on AAA batteries. Most of them are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, so you can easily stuff it in your pocket when you don’t need it. The Energizer battery brand sells cheap versions at most grocery stores for around $10; while they are completely decent, it’s worth investing a little more ($30-60) for a higher quality light that will last longer.
  • Sharpie / Grease Pen - Useful for all kinds of things, but mostly writing on cardboard signs when hitchhiking or flying a sign. Grease pens are just higher-end sharpies that use paint for ink and are popular with graffiti artists.
  • Duct Tape - You already know what this is, but keep in mind that you don’t have to bring the whole roll. Just wrap a decent amount (4-6 feet) around a pencil and throw it in your pack for when you end up really needing it.
  • Binoculars / Monocular - I know very few people that actually travel with these, but they can be fun/useful in train yards, especially if you can find one that has night vision.
  • Wallet Chain - I’ve never lost my wallet or anything in it. Not once. I attribute this to the fact that I keep my wallet tethered to me with a chain and carabiner. Any dog chain you find in the super market will do, just keep it short so it doesn’t get stuck between park benches and the like.
  • Fire Starter - Usually comes in a rectangular brick of some kind. It’s made of magnesium and you scrape metal against it to create sparks that can start a campfire.
  • Fence cutters - Another item you won’t find traveler’s carrying that often, but can be convenient in certain situations when you need to make a whole in a fence.
  • Pocket Chain Saw - Just like it sounds. Take the chain off a chain saw and use it by hand. Fortunately camping good stores sell versions of this that fit in a portable tin, and give you handles to insert on each end to make using it easier. If you spend a lot of time camping this is incredibly useful for cutting larger tree branches down into something that’s easy to put in a campfire.
  • Universal Water Key - This is either just the handle to a spigot, or a four-pronged tool designed to let you turn on and off water spigots. Worth having if you come across handle-less spigots often, but you could probably use a multi-tool and have one less tool to carry around.
  • Compass - A reliable compass can be handy since unlike the gps in your cell phone, it doesn’t require batteries to tell you where to go.
  • Pocket Road Atlas - Essential when hitchhiking and train hopping, so you can keep track of where you’re are and where you’re headed. I like the smaller-sized atlases since they fit easily into your pocket.
  • Small First Aid Kit - I’ve been fortunate enough to never need one of these, but you might not be so lucky. It doesn’t have to be a huge kit, even a small one with just the basics can make you a hero for the day when your travel partners get themselves hurt.
  • Plastic Garbage Bag / Disposable Poncho - These are great for staying dry without spending a ton of money on expensive rain gear. Trash bags can be gotten for free, and disposable ponchos can usually be found for around a dollar. They also are pre-folded into pocket size squares for easy storage.
Stoves & Cookware

While only about a third of the travelers I know carry a cooking stove with them, it can be a handy thing to have if you’re planning on spending some time in the great outdoors. A lot of us don’t wander that far from where food can be easily obtained, so you might decide you don’t need one, which is fine. Cooking your own food though can definitely reduce your food budget costs, so I recommend taking one with you if you have the room in your pack.

beercanstove.jpeg


There’s an endless variety of camping stoves out there, using all kinds of different fuels and staging apparatuses, but the best invention ever to come into the world of hobo-ism is the DIY beer can cooking stove. You can use this for heating up food on the road, and all you need to make your own is a pocket knife and an aluminum soda can. This technique has developed into it’s own art form in recent years, so you’ll see a variety of techniques for making one online, but I still think this video from Tom Allen’s adventure cycling blog is one of the best instructional videos for beginners:


One of this stove’s biggest advantages is that you can use cheaply available alcohol found in just about any drug store. Rubbing alcohol is the most common, as you can get almost a liter for one or two dollars. Once you’ve filled it about a quarter to half way full, just ignite it with a lighter, place your pot on top, and you’re ready to cook!

In my experience, this stove seems to work better the more you use it, so the first couple of burns might be a little spotty. Cooking one or two meals a day, I was able to make a liter of rubbing alcohol last almost two weeks. Two weeks of hot meals for two dollars is a pretty good deal.

You’ll definitely want to be careful with this though, since it’s easy to accidentally kick over your stove or pot while it’s cooking. Safety first! Don’t use this in your tent, or in a highly flammable portion of your squat. I recommend finding a small piece of Tupperware that your can stove can fit into. You can use this to store the stove (so it doesn’t get your other gear smelling of alcohol) and most importantly as a way to snuff the flame out. Taking the Tupperware and placing it over the stove so that it makes a decent seal with the surface below it will cut off the oxygen supply to the flame and make it go out.

If building one of these on your own doesn’t work out, you could try getting one online. There’s a lot of people selling them on Etsy for about nine dollars, which is pretty reasonable, and some are much nicer and better made than the version I describe above:

https://www.etsy.com/search?q=alcohol%20stove


When it comes to cookware, you can definitely use an empty tin can to cook whatever you’re eating that day, but sometimes I like to have nice things, like a good cookware set. If you’re hitchhiking or train hopping or generally living in your pack, this might not be a huge priority, but if you’re van dwelling, bike touring, or traveling in a way that space isn’t quite so precious, having a good cookware set is a huge convenience you might want to consider.

My absolute favorite is the Pinnacle Backpacker by GSI (www.amzn.to/2pZOqLj). It’s a cook set that has a pot, pan, lid (with built in strainer!) two cups, two bowls, and a wash basin. The best part is that it all compacts into itself, so it only takes up the same amount of space one pot would (minus the handle).

Food

If you’ve made it this far in life you probably know how to feed yourself, so I’m not going to go too deep into this subject. Most food you’d take on a camping trip will work as long as it doesn’t spoil easily and you don’t mind hauling it around. Here’s a few food items to think about taking with you when you travel.
  • Peanut Butter - When you’re traveling poor, it’s likely you’ll be doing some dumpster diving, so peanut butter can be a wonderful thing to have with you. It’s cheap, high in protein, and spreads great on all those bagels you’ll be eating.
  • Salt / Spices - You don’t need to take the whole spice rack with you, some salt packets will do just as well. If you want to get absolutely luxurious, you can find travel-friendly containers that hold many different kinds of spices in one jar.
  • Hot Sauce - A good hot sauce will save even the worst of meals, so if you like spicy food, take along a (small) bottle for those times when the gourmet hobo meal you’ve been working on under that bridge goes to shit.
  • Instant Coffee / Tea - This stuff is great if you have a caffeine addiction like myself, or just generally enjoy a cup of joe/tea in the morning. You can find instant coffee that’s easy to pack and tea will go just about anywhere. Mate tea in particular is great for getting a buzz on the road since it’s one of the few teas available that will steep in cold water.
  • Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) - Ah, the classic MRE. Developed by the military, they’re generally high-protein, high carbohydrate meals designed to keep you alive. Despite the media stereotype of rations tasting like crap, most of these meals are actually pretty decent. They often include miniature bottles of hot sauce, candy as a desert, and a self-boiling pouch to cook the food in.

    Unfortunately, they are laughably expensive just about anywhere you find them on sale, so it’s not something you should go out of your way to add to your gear list. The reason I mention them is because while they’re completely impractical to buy, they are often easy to come by when traveling. On more than one occasion I’ve been given more MREs than I could carry by homeless shelters, churches, and just random veterans who have picked me up hitchhiking.
Technology

I’ll start off by saying most of the things in this section are not necessary by any means; you can certainly survive your travels without them. However, some of these items are worth considering even for the most anti-technology people.

For example, it’s worth having a cheap, shitty cell phone even if you have no desire to pay for cell phone service. Even a cell phone without paid service will let you dial 911 (assuming you can get a signal), so keeping one charged and turned off in your pack might save your bacon in the right circumstance.

In addition, the growing importance of the internet in our daily lives combined with cheap access devices such as tablets and smart phones make it almost foolish to not carry one around with you, even if you only turn it on to access the wifi at your local library.

Here’s a list of technology you might consider taking with you on your travels.
  • Cell Phone / Smart Phone - As mentioned before, even if you don’t use it, you should consider taking one with you in case of an emergency or simply just to access the internet on the road. They’re lightweight, small, and give you easy access to information on the road. If you can afford to pay for a data plan, even better, but if not, there’s almost always a place you can find with free wifi access, such as your local library or the McDonald’s down the street.

    If you’re interested in getting cell phone service or a data plan, it’s worth noting that there are many, many alternatives to an expensive cell phone plan. Companies like Boost Mobile, Straight Talk, Cricket, etc, are just resellers for the big companies like AT&T and Sprint. It’s the exact same service for about 1/3 the price.
  • Tablet - Although one of these will take up more space in your pack than a smart phone, they do have larger screens (which is nicer for surfing the internet) and their batteries usually last significantly longer than smart phones. It’s also fairly easy to find used tablets for sale for a hundred dollars or less.
  • A camera - Photography is a huge subject and definitely outside the scope of this book, but I will say that in this day and age most cameras are decent and reasonably priced. I probably wouldn’t invest in something too expensive (losing and breaking things are common in this lifestyle) unless you have a special interest that requires it. This is another reason why having a decent smart phone is a good idea, since most smart phones have pretty good cameras built into them.

    Years down the road you’ll thank yourself for documenting your adventure when looking back on those photos, so don’t skip this one!
  • Batteries / Battery Charger - You might need these if you have items that require them, such as a flashlight. I recommend getting rechargeable batteries since they’re better for the environment and are cheaper in the long run, since they’ll last up to a few years, saving you the need to buy new ones constantly.

    The main disadvantage is having to carry around a battery charger, which takes up more room in your pack, but I generally find the trade off to be worth it. If you buy a ‘speed charger’ you can usually recharge your batteries in as little as 2-4 hours instead of waiting all night, which is great when the only outlet in sight is in the local park or during a greyhound bus layover.
  • External Battery Pack - These are re-chargable packs of batteries that usually come in a small brick and have one or more usb ports built in. The idea is that you can recharge these packs when near an outlet, and use it to recharge your electronics later when you’re on the road.

    They come in all kinds of sizes; you can find them as small as a lipstick case (generally good enough for one cell phone recharge) to giant bricks that will recharge your phone dozens of times. The trade off is how much they weigh and how long they take to recharge (the larger packs often take overnight).
  • Laptop Computer - Now it’s pretty unlikely you’ll need this unless you’re working online, maintaining a website, or doing some other kind of related work that requires something more powerful than a tablet or smart phone.

    If that’s the case, you probably already know what you need in terms of the laptop’s specifications, so I’ll keep this brief and just say that you should try to keep it lightweight, cheap (in case you break it), and make sure you get a padded case for it.
  • Google Voice / Voice Mail - If you can’t afford cell phone service, sign up for a free Google Voice account. You’ll get your own phone number (you get to pick the area code) and you'll have a completely legitimate phone number with free voice mail included. You don't need phone service to access it, you can fetch your messages anywhere you can get internet. You can also have text transcriptions of messages emailed to you, but the transcription quality can leave a lot to be desired.
Entertainment

Travel often lends to extended periods of boredom between short bouts of excitement. Waiting under a bridge for the next train to arrive, waiting for someone to pick you up hitchhiking, waiting for that next connection at the bus station or airport… you get the idea.

To keep yourself from going crazy, it’s a good idea to bring along some kind of entertainment, even if it’s as simple as a deck of cards. Here’s a few suggestions for maintaining your sanity on the road.
  • Deck of Cards - As I just mentioned, a good old-fashioned deck of cards can help pass the hours away while waiting for the next stage of your journey. Even if you’re just playing solitaire, it beats watching the grass grow for hours on end. If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, you could try Magic the Gathering or Pokemon…
  • Notebook or Sketch book - Something to put your thoughts, notes and drawings into. Despite being a total computer geek, I still carry one of these with me, since it’s generally easier for me to plan my projects on paper before I start work on my computer.
  • Books / Ebooks / Zines - A good book is a great way to pass the time. If you’re a serious bookworm, you might consider getting an ebook/eink reader like a Kindle, Kobo, etc, that way you can take hundreds of books with you in a tiny device that can last up to a month between charges.
  • Zines (Pronounced ‘zee-ns’, not ‘z-eye-ns’) are DIY photocopied magazines that can usually be found at local infoshops, punk houses, or other activist community centers. There’s zines on just about any subject you can imagine and they have a huge community of people that are quite passionate about the format. They’re usually free or extremely cheap, so take a few for reading on your next trip.
  • Music / Podcasts / MP3 player - Music can make that long walk between towns a thousand times more pleasant, and long gone is the era of having to carry around dozens of tapes or CDs in your pack. MP3 players can be obtained for extremely cheap, are super small, will hold all but the largest music collections, and often last 12+ hours on a single charge.

    Podcasts are episodic radio episodes that you can subscribe to and automatically get new episodes downloaded to your device when they get published (and you’re connected to the internet). There’s literally 1000’s of podcasts to choose from, from music reviews to political debates. Comedy is my favorite podcast genre, and it’s a great way to keep yourself awake on long drives across the country.
  • Video Games - Now some of you are probably going to scoff at this one, but bear with me here. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that’s an avid gamer, and it’s definitely not impossible to get your fix on the road. Even if you pick up an old Gameboy Advance (about $20-$30 these days), that will give you 4-5 hours of entertainment on one charge, and fits perfectly in your pocket.

    I spent a summer train hopping up and down the west coast with a few friends and playing Advance Wars (a turn-based strategy game) since it lets you pass the Gameboy around so each person can take a turn. This led to tournaments lasting hours and was a great way to kill time while waiting for our next train.
  • Smart Phone - I bring this up again just to remind you that a lot of the above can be done on your smart phone (if you have one) and save you the effort of carrying around multiple devices. Most smart phones are designed to carry tons of music, can run emulators for most old video game consoles, and can be used to read ebooks as long as you don’t mind pointing your eyeballs at a backlit screen for hours on end. The only disadvantage is that using a smart phone for all these tasks will likely mean you’ll have to recharge your device quite often.
Musical Instruments

Musical instruments not only serve as excellent entertainment, but are also incredibly useful for making money on the road (see Busking in the Making Money chapter for more information). Throughout history wanderers have used music to inspire, bring people together, and simply get their next meal. There’s such a variety of portable instruments available that it’s definitely worth giving them their own section in this book.
  • Acoustic Guitar - One of the most common musical instruments available in the world today. It’s not very hard to learn how to play, it can play along with any other instrument, and it is fairly easy to carry around. There are even ‘backpacker’ varieties that are designed to be more compact for travelers such as yourself. If you’ve never played a musical instrument before, this is a great one to out start with.
  • Ukulele - Although it’s strings are tuned much differently than a guitar, this remains a popular instrument due to it’s diminutive size and portability. Very popular with the female crowd, although it’s certainly not limited to that gender.
  • Harmonica - Not much says ‘hobo on the road’ more than the classic harmonica. This instrument is played by blowing out and sucking air through it, and using your hands to block certain holes, creating a particular note. It has a bit of a learning curve, but goes well with just about any other instrument your fellow travelers may be carrying.
  • Violin - I don’t see nearly as many violin players as I’d like these days, but if you’re looking for a busking instrument that doesn’t have a lot of competition, this is the one to go for. Difficult to learn, but if you can master it, you can make money just about anywhere and rock out around the camp fire with your friends as well.
  • Accordion / Concertina - It is extremely rare to see this due to it’s size and excessive weight, but if you don’t mind carrying it around, you can definitely rock people’s world with a distinct and unique sound. The concertina is a smaller (and much more portable) version of an accordion, and is often referred to as a ‘squeeze box’.
  • Mouth Harp - The mouth harp is a metal device that you put in your mouth and pluck a bendy part in the middle with your finger. It gives a ‘boing’ kind of sound that goes well with the harmonica and other old-timey instruments. Try not to whack your teeth though!
  • Everything else - I could go on forever, but the above are what you’re most likely to see on the road. If you’re a passionate flute player, you could certainly take one with you. You could also strap a five gallon plastic bucket to your pack if you just want to drum all day. I’ve seen people carry around battery powered keytars (a guitar with an electric keyboard built in, instead of strings), and mini electric keyboards. There’s so many kinds of musical instruments in the world that you’re really only limited by logistics and your imagination.
Showers & Hygiene

Before we get into the following list, let me take a moment to impart some advice on staying clean. In a lot of travel punk circles, it’s become almost comically ‘cool’ to be as dirty as possible, and folks often joke about how many ‘punk points’ they’ve earned by basically smelling like shit wherever they go.

It’s disappointing that I even have to mention this, but smelling like a sewer isn’t just dumb, it’s actually bad for your health. The number one reason many travelers get staph infections, scabies, and other bugs is because they couldn’t be bothered to take a shower every once in a while. Showers, sinks, and other bodies of water are not difficult to find, especially in the United States, and I would encourage you to bathe as often as possible in your travels.

One of the most common techniques for showering on the road is to go to your local truck stop and pay for a shower there. Truck stops have this service available for truck drivers going long distances that don’t have any other place to shower. Rates range from seven to twelve dollars on average; depending on how badly you need to get clean, that may or may not be worth it to you. It’s worth noting that it’s fairly easy to sneak more than one person into a single paid shower. Keep in mind that these showers are usually limited to around fifteen minutes. This obviously halves the time you have for each person to about seven minutes a piece, so be quick!

Other places you can get access to a shower include churches, the salvation army, homeless shelters, and occasionally public showers on the beach. If you can’t find a shower and are in desperate need, try going to any bathroom and doing a ‘bird bath’. This is just a quick shower that only involves cleaning private parts and under the arms. It’s certainly better than nothing, and will save you significant discomfort when you start to chafe during a long day of walking.

As for other aspects of hygiene, here’s a quick list of suggested gear for making yourself more pleasant to be around.
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste - Hopefully you’ve been using this most of your life already, so you should be pretty familiar with this. If not, it cleans your teeth so they stay in your mouth.
  • Dental Floss - I’ll admit, I’m not really a flosser; I use it more often for sewing than getting stuff out of my teeth. I list it as a reminder to those that like to use this for their teeth.
  • Toilet Paper - I rarely carry this in my pack unless I know I’m going to be somewhere I’ll need it. Even carrying around a small amount can be useful though, especially when you need to blow your nose. You can definitely use paper napkins from a fast food joint instead, and it’ll be somewhat easier to carry.
  • Condoms / Prophylactics - I’m sure you’ll want to avoid unpleasant STIs/STDs from your fellow travelers, and you definitely don’t want to get knocked up just a few months into your travels. Practice safe sex and be prepared, since you never know when the love bug might hit.
  • Gold Bond - This is probably the brand of talcum powder you’re most likely to find in your local grocery store. In your worst, sweatiest, most chafe-ridden days, this stuff can be a godsend. Pour it on your those painfully chaffed areas and it’s an almost instant cure.
  • Chap Stick / Lip Balm - When I first arrive in extreme cold or desert environments my lips often get so painfully chapped I can’t take it anymore. This stuff is small enough that I find it worth packing to have around for those kinds of emergencies.
  • Beard Trimmer - Okay, so most of you can probably skip this, but I personally carry around a rechargeable electric trimmer for maintaining my beard. Also works great for shaving my head (I’ve been going bald for quite some time now) and giving my friends mohawks that I’m quite jealous of.
  • Wet Wipes / Baby Wipes - If you’re in a situation where bathing in a river or showering at a friend’s place isn’t possible, it pays to carry around a pack of wet wipes (often referred to as ‘baby wipes’) as you can use these to wipe down sensitive areas of your body and keep them somewhat clean until you can get a decent shower. They’re usually only a dollar or two a pack, so there’s no reason not to use them if you’re in a pinch.
  • Feminine Wipes / Pads / Tampons - All the things you need to avoid any messes on the road, and ensure you have as comfortable a trip as possible. There are many interesting alternatives to traditional products that are worth looking into, such as the Diva Cup (www.divacup.com).
Documents

One of the obstacles travelers often face is losing their documentation such as a Driver’s License, Birth Certificate, etc. So in this section we’re going to cover how to get new ones if you happen to lose them in your travels. While I don’t advocate for government documentation in any way, I do believe in being pragmatic, and I’ve found that carrying an ID while traveling usually results in smoother interactions with the authorities.

I can tell you with a certainty that you will have interactions with the authorities living this lifestyle. Not many people understand nomadic cultures, and what the police don’t understand, they will immediately find suspicious.

It’s certainly safe to hitchhike without an ID even if the cops stop you. On the flip side of the coin, you’ll land yourself in serious trouble if driving a vehicle without a driver’s license. Also, it’s virtually impossible to get some forms of assistance such as food stamps, food boxes, and other homeless services without an ID. It sucks, but that’s the world we live in.

Of course, it might be your desire to do away with all documentation entirely; you wouldn’t be the first, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. If that’s your situation, feel free to move on to the next section and refer back here if you ever do need to get your documents in order.
  • Birth Certificate - The easiest place I’ve found to get a new copy of my birth certificate is VitalCheck (www.vitalcheck.com). Prices vary, but I was able to get mine sent to me for $17. I was able to complete the entire process online and it arrived less than a week later.
  • Proof of Residency - There are many different ways to prove residency, including utility bills and paycheck stubs. If you don’t have any of these it’s extremely easy to fake residency using a generic lease agreement form. You can find these at most office supply stores (or possibly online). Just print it out, write in whatever address you like, have a friend sign as the leaser, and you as the lessee, and boom, instant proof of residency.
  • Social Security Card - You’ll have to apply for this in person at your local Social Security Office and you’ll need to know your parent’s social security numbers as well as your own when you fill out the application.
  • Identification Card / Driver’s License - Identification cards generally require the documents listed above, and possibly some kind of identifying photo like a high school yearbook photo. Driver’s licenses work similarly but sometimes require you to take/retake the test depending on your circumstances, and the rules can be different from state to state, so check your state’s requirements online.
  • Passport - If you’re a United States citizen traveling inside your home country, you’re almost never going to need a passport. It is (of course) essential if you are traveling outside the United States, even if you’re only going to Canada or Mexico. They’re not very difficult to get, but the process is a bit time consuming and costly, as it can take up to six weeks for your passport to arrive, and usually costs around $150.
Once you get your documents (or if you already have them), you should make a photocopy and store them in a safe place. You can use these in some situations to help recover your documents or to prove citizenship if you’re in a foreign country.

Shipping Stuff

So once you’re out and about in the world, you might find it necessary to get something shipped to you, whether it’s an important document, an x-mas present from your parents, or something you ordered online.

The easiest way to receive that package is to have it sent to a friend or someone you trust that lives near you. If that isn’t possible, the next best option is to get your package sent to your local post office via General Delivery. This service is available at almost every United States Post Office, and the way it works is that any package addressed like so:

Your Name
General Delivery
Post Office Address
City, State, Zip Code

Will be held for you at that post office for up to thirty days; at that time it will be returned to the sender. This is a good way to get gear sent ahead of yourself if you’re on a bike tour, or camping gear sent to the next city ahead of you when thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Keep in mind you’ll need a valid ID to retrieve your package, and this service is only offered by the United States Postal Service (USPS).

If the store you are buying from won’t ship to a general delivery address or a PO Box, UPS Stores offer the same PO Box service as the Post Office, but use the store’s delivery address combined with a suite number instead of a PO Box number. Sensitive items like identification documents and credit cards can be mailed to these addresses without the restrictions related to PO Boxes. Also, most UPS stores will accept packages on your behalf for a fee of five dollars per package. This works the same as sending general delivery to USPS, but you have to call the store in advance so they know your package is coming. They'll even accept packages from other carriers like FedEx (something USPS will definitely not do).

A very new service (and only offered in a few major cities at the moment) is Amazon Lockers. These are storage lockers that you can have items delivered to that you’ve ordered from Amazon’s website. Once the package has been delivered, you’ll get a notification email with a six digit code that you can punch into the locker to retrieve your package.

The only limitations (besides availability) is that you’re limited to items sold by Amazon and authorized FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) retailers. This means that most used goods won’t qualify for shipping to an Amazon Locker. It’s a minor point, but something to consider if you’re ordering something from Amazon.

This will mostly be of interest to van dwellers, but there are a variety of mail forwarding services available if you’re willing to pay for them. These companies generally let you have a mailbox in a state that has very low taxes (if you’re running a business) or as a way to establish residency for car insurance purposes. For example, states like South Dakota usually have very few car accidents compared to other US states, so this can mean saving yourself several hundred dollars in car insurance if you choose to establish residency there.

Some of these mail services will also open your mail, scan them into a computer, and email them to you for an additional cost, saving you the hassle of finding a place to have the mail forwarded to.

Conclusion

While it's impossible to really think of everything one could possibly need for every conceivable situation (and personal preference), I hope this guide gives you a better idea of what to bring on your next adventure.

The first version of this article was born out of the what to pack thread in the General Gear Discussion forum. It took me several weeks to go through the sixteen pages of discussion and compile it into this article (and then re-write it several years later for my book), but it would have been much more difficult without the help and suggestions of the StP community. Thank you!
 
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#3
Awesome article.
 

outskirts

I replaced my coffee with Black Magic.
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#5
Great article!

Besides carrying my usual large ruled notebooks for writing. I also carry a tiny one to log all my gear and make notes about gear use. I keep records (more like I try to) of what items I have used the most, what items I barely or never used, and which items I would have liked to have had with me. I also keep track of items which have had multiple uses. I also take in account, mode of travel, geography, and season of each trip.

This is how I manage what gear I pack. Keep in mind that I don't live on the road and just take lots of short trips. Still, keeping such a gear journal does help in the long run, and is a practice to consider.
 
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Fanatical Steward

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#6
I certainly appreciate the information that this article provides from Matt Derrick's personal experience on traveling gear. I know from past endeavors that certain "tricks" of a trade rarely find themselves in a book and often require working with more experienced individuals. This guide, along with my minimal personal experience, provides a decent start for planning potential future trips.
 
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#7
as far as clothing is concerned i go for as much FLEECE as possible - its lightweight, warm, drys quickly, and is frequently made from recycled plastic bottles.... only downside is it doesn't mix to well with open fires... oh and its not very punk looking but nowadays i put functionality ahead of fashion anyways...
 
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Fanatical Steward

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#8
@roguetrader
I think a decent level of concealment and practicality over fashion remains a wise decision on the part of travelers.
 
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#9
@Fanatical Steward i agree totally - years ago when me and most of my friends were significantly crustier i started to notice that the straight looking one of our group was also the one who got less police searches, less vehicle document checks, and generally less attention from the authorities ; ultimately he got away with more by blending in.... being a crust lord is also generally being a walking advert saying "i do drugs, i break the law, come fuck with me officer"
 
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#10
This is really well written, loved it. Thanks Matt.
 
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#12
Hi, new member! Wondering if I could get some veteran advice on equipment. I have a list of my owned and wants/needs if anyone could help edit :) To put into context I am traveling in Canada through the summer hiking/hitching and will be video documenting along the way (the tech bs on my lists) thank you for all the help !! Love this site and community :)
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