Is a minimalist technophile an oxymoron?

Those of you who know me know that I am a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. For those of you who don’t know me: I’m a bit of a gadget and gear junkie. To be fair, I don’t have an iPhone, so I guess I can’t be that much of a technophile. But we do have lots of video game systems, an HDTV, DVR and a storage space full of bikes and camping equipment, skis and snowboards, golf clubs and golf shoes, and so on and so forth. I’ll readily admit, I do like having all of my own gear to go camping or skiing or golfing on a whim (and avoid rental expenses), or to host Super Bowl parties or Rock Band parties.

But probably a bigger reason why I have all of these things is that I’m a sucker for a good deal. Pretty much all of these things I’ve gotten at a steep discount to retail price. This is great when its something we’re looking for at the time we need it. It is, however, less useful when its something we don’t really need at a time we won’t really use it. I’ve been working on curtailing these kinds of purchases the past few years, since like Theresa says, everything we get will have to be packed up and stored so there’s no sense in getting things we won’t use. They’ll just take up space. But there’s one particular event that’s my greatest weakness: the REI super clearance sale.

For those who don’t live in an area with one, REI is an outdoor gear outfitter based out of the northwest, though they have stores all around the country. It’s a great store with all sorts of gear at decent prices and sales people who – gasp! – actually are knowledgeable about what they are selling. Whenever we are in Seattle we try to go to the flagship store downtown – it’s amazing. But twice a year, it gets better: they mark their regular clearance items down another 50% in their super clearance sale. Now, in the past, I’ve gone way overboard and bought multiple jackets, bags, etc. But this year we narrowed the focus to just things we would need for our trip. Yet still I sit here tonight after picking up our order with my floor covered in gear from REI. Actually having something to shop for rather than just casually looking for good deals may be even worse for my deal seeking habits. We got a set of titanium camping cookware to match the camping stove we also ordered. We bought three backpacking bags trying to find the perfect one for our trip. I bought two soft shells and a pair of pants that don’t fit. Though I think we found a winner with the thin yet warm travel blanket for $8 (to solve Theresa’s trouble shaking the “chillies”).

Anyway, the larger point I’m trying to make with this is that I’m planning on spending a full year on the road with just what I can carry on my back. If I want to get to the finish line without a permanent hunch, I’m going to need to be very selective and minimalist with what I take. This is not something I am used to, or particularly good at, doing. Sure, I’m good at taking relatively few clothes, shoes, and toiletries. We rarely have to check luggage for trips under a week. But everywhere I go I seem to take my laptop, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, iPod, a couple of magazines, etc etc. And its exactly those things I’m going to have to eliminate or seriously pare down. Plus, the open ended nature of the trip is going to lend itself to all kinds of convincing … “I just might need that warm fleece plus the soft shell” or “Why not one extra pair of pants, they could come in handy.” So I’m going to have to be really honest and really critical of how much I will use something. But thankfully, I have Theresa, who’s very good at eliminating excess in many ways. I have a feeling I’ll lean on her a lot through the packing stage (or at least acquiesce when she berates my desire to take something frivolous). I’m gonna say it right now though, one place I will not skimp will be underwear. I’m gonna have enough of those, by god.

Gadgets Galore

Joyce’s advice got me going about all the cool travel gadgets I’ve been seeing while looking around, though I have to say, the foundation/sunscreen combo does not make my list. Those who know me know that I’m quite the gadget geek, and while traveling is when a truly useful product shines. So I thought I would post about some of those things that I think are particularly interesting and/or neat products. These are some of the things I plan to have with me next year:

GorillapodWith our camera, we didn’t know what to do about low light conditions or flash-free zones. Enter gorillapod. Nope, it won’t be a full size tripod, but it’s just small and light enough to fit with the rest of our small belongings. Plus it gets bonus points for being an impromptu drying rack just by turning it upside down (or coat hanger!).

SporkIt’s a fork, spoon and knife all in one! So you never have to hunt for or use dirty utensils. And it comes in multiple colors! I want red, Theresa wants green, but luckily, they come in a 4 pack, with one of each color.

Insta-water purification from a tiny pen. It uses UV light to kill off all the bacterial and parasitic trouble that you can find in unsafe water. Supposedly works a treat, though it is expensive. But it’s worth it to avoid the nasty taste those iodine tablets leave behind.

Renewable Flashlight
It always seems that flashlight batteries die whenever you need them most. Using some cool simple electromagnetic physics, you shake the flashlight for three minutes, and presto, it works for half an hour (or something like that). Just a cool idea, and in the right (or wrong?) situation it’s a life saver.

Packing Cubes
With everything living in one bag, it’s going to be important to keep it organized so I can find whatever I’m looking for at a given moment. As I am not the most organized person out there, keeping things in individual packing cubes will help immensely to keep things sorted out.

Flip & Tumble Bag

I’m not gonna lie, I like this because it folds up into a ball. I love having something to play with. In all honesty, though, it would be a miracle if one of these actually made the whole trip without disappearing. It surely will accidentally find a river or become a stray dog’s chew toy at some point.

Credits: Most of the pictures came from REI, and I read about the bag and steripen at Practical Gear Traveler.