The 8 Tools Our Travel Writer Never Leaves Home Without
Contributing editor Patrick Symmes has traveled the world with these essentials, including guidebooks, earplugs, and decoy wallets
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Patrick Symmes specializes in reporting from hot spots: He’s filed stories from Afghanistan, Venezuela, Timbuktu, Yemen, and Argentina. More recently, the Outside contributing editor spent three weeks reporting for the New York Times Magazine about the death squads of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. We asked Symmes for a list of the stuff he always keeps at his side.
Patagonia Headway MLC Duffel ($342)
I never check a bag if I can help it; waiting for it slows you down when you land, or it never arrives at all. Like the name says, this is the maximum legal carry-on, and it doesn’t waste much space, so you can cram it full. You can carry it with the backpack straps or, if you want to look classy arriving at your hotel, sling it over your shoulder with a single strap. Mine is yellow, so it’s harder to forget in the back of a taxi.
Bill’s Khakis ($155)
These are made in Connecticut and modeled after the original World War II service khakis. They’re lightweight and great for hot weather, and they’ll hold up to repeated wearing if you can’t get your laundry done for a few days. I wore a pair day in and day out for four years, and my mother still asked me if they were new.
Aerostitch Money Belt ($16)
Sometimes I’ll bring a decoy wallet with me if I’m going someplace where mugging is common. I fill it with some mail-offer credit cards—the kind with “YOUR NAME HERE” stamped into them—and some obsolete Bolivian pesos. In Venezuela a few years ago, someone actually robbed me and took the decoy wallet. I had $500 stashed in this money belt so I could taxi home.
Sleeping is the only useful thing to do on an airplane. Wax earplugs block out more sound, but I go with the foam kind because they are cheap and easy.
Logitech Keys to Go Keyboard ($43)
Owning an iPad means I no longer have to carry around a nine-pound laptop and pile of books. I pair it with this rechargeable, spill-resistant keyboard, which weighs less than seven ounces. For backup, I also take photos of my handwritten notes and email the photos to myself. I once had my notebook confiscated in Yemen but was able to recover my notes this way.
My Trail Co Men’s Down Light Jacket ($99)
Nothing delivers instant warmth in a small package better than a down jacket. My preferred version packs down to the size of two fists and weighs just 12 ounces. I bring it everywhere except the tropics.
DeLorme InReach Satellite Communicator ($300)
I got this after a solo fishing trip on the Deschutes River, in central Oregon, when I was hiking a trail and ran into a half-dozen rattlesnakes. The emergency locator beacon gives me peace of mind if something were to happen in a remote location. I wish I’d had it on various trips to Afghanistan and Africa, where cell service was spotty. It’ll be a staple in my reporting kit going forward.
Insight Guidebooks ($15)
The farther afield you go, the more fun it is, and the more you have to worry about battery life or lack of Wi-Fi. That’s why I still like paper guidebooks—the kind you can pull out in the pouring rain or a sketchy neighborhood. Lonely Planet is great, too, but I like Insight Guides for the historical and cultural background. I’m taking this one with me to Argentina.