What's in Mat's handbag?

Thu, 20 Mar 2008 13:12:55 +0000

Shout out ta ma homies Index Somewhere in Brazil

For completeness' sake, I continue my previous photo essay with a catalogue of the things I always have by my side. Luggage - well, you lose luggage. It happens. Buy another one of everything you lost. But the contents of my handbag are a different matter. Losing the handbag implies a trip to an embassy, and possibly a flight home with my tail between my legs. This is the one that I really took my time over.

And a word to nomenclature - it's a "handbag". The word "manbag" does not deserve a place in my lexicon. It's too small to be a "satchel", which is the whole point of the thing. I need a small bag for my essential stuff that I want always to hand, and I'm not going to let a little thing like gender get in the way of practicality.


My camera. It's a little beaten up nowadays, but still works great. I take my happy snaps at 1280x1024, and even that seems excessive. I know technology has advanced greatly since I got this guy, but I can't see any reason to upgrade.

The following goes in the inner pocket for extra protection:

Passport. This is the one with my visas in. It gets me in; the emergency I-lost-my-handbag passport gets me out.

Spare credit card and debit card, in case I lose my wallet.

Immunisation card. Some countries won't let you in unless you've been immunised against yellow fever, and I don't want to forget.

A short taxi journey practically anywhere. Anything bigger would be too big to be useful in a lot of situations.

Spare SIM card with, crucially, phone numbers already on. And a spare key to my padlock. Anywhere else I put these things, I guarantee I wouldn't be able to find them when I need them.

So then back in the main section:

Umbrella. I've only ever seen these being sold in Marks & Spencer. It's tiny. Does it work? Sorta. It's better than nothing, and nothing is better than lugging around a full-size umbrella everywhere.

An entire backpack, capable of holding my handbag, coat, gloves and scarf, rolled up and taking up hardly any space in my handbag. As far as I can tell, this particular design was invented about five to ten years ago and immediately spread around the world like a plague. Whoever came up with the idea is a genius, as far as I'm concerned. A brilliant design. Just the potential for absorbing spillover from my main luggage alone makes this indispensible.

A length of nylon cord, around a meter and a half long. Yeah, I know, aren't I just the little boy scout. But for example, in one hostel the flimsy top bunk frame banged noisily against the wall anytime the person sleeping in it moved. I wrapped the cord around the pipe to dull the noise: problem solved. Mainly I use this to improvise handles on things, but it's infinitely useful. If you don't know how already, learn how to tie a bowline. A good knot is easy to tie, holds tight, and is easy to untie. Reef knots possess none of these properties.

Pen and paper. Obviously you need your own pen to make it through the bureaucracy of travelling. Having detachable bits of paper is handy for scribbling down email addresses and directions and giving to other people.

Tissues. As they say, covers a multitude of sins.

Mini compass. Solves one problem: I know which train station I just walked out of, I know which street the station is on, and I know from my map whether to walk north or south. So: which way is north? I've played and lost that lottery too many times, and I'm sick of it.

Mobile phone. Due to roaming charges, it's basically nothing more than an oversized travel alarm clock. But I went to the trouble of ordering this second-hand S55 off eBay so that, in principle at least, I would be able to use GPRS to get that one email that is absolutely essential regardless of time of day or location. Worth the EUR15 I paid.

The new toy: the Nokia N810. Not a phone, more like an ultra-compact laptop. Has wifi, bluetooth, GPS, a card reader, and USB on the go, so it's the centre of my universe. More importantly, it has a proper Linux distribution on board - perl, emacs, gcc, ssh, subversion. All the important comforts of home.

Foldable bluetooth keyboard. Because there would be little point having perl, emacs, gcc, ssh and subversion otherwise. I spent a lot of time digging into the linux kernel trying to figure out how to make the green "Fn" key work, and failed, so it's unfortunately a little crippled. But it's better than the native N810 keyboard, and probably better than trying to figure out a dozen different internet cafe keyboard layouts too.

Spare battery for the N810. Of course, the problem is always power. Bluetooth and wifi are particularly hungry. I'm hanging out for the "yoyo" dynamo hand charger from the "one laptop per child" people to come out. Or perhaps fuel cells will be the answer, although I can't imagine ever being allowed to take one on a plane. Until someone comes up with something better, a spare battery in the handbag and another in the luggage is my best strategy.

Earphones. I went for the in-ear variety as an alternative to earplugs, just to see how well it works on a plane. Probably no substitute for Ohropax though.

And note the adapter, which I happened to spot in Singapore airport and snapped up immediately. This allows you to use a decent pair of headphones and actually hear the announcements on those planes where the headphone connection was specifically designed to prevent you doing so.

And finally, various essential cables. Top to bottom: a USB extension cable that enables every other cable to be either short or long as the situation dictates; the USB power adapter for the phone; USB on-the-go cable which allows me to use the N810 as a memory stick in an internet cafe; and a USB charging cable for the N810. These allow me to use an internet cafe to charge up my electronics if necessary. I had to hack up several of my cables and resolder them to get them down to their present compact state. Which is dangerous: you never know when some over-zealous and technologically illiterate security guy will decide that it must be a bomb. So I tried to make it look neat.

With that lot by my side, I feel ready to tackle just about anything. Which is handy, because it's a scary world out there...

Shout out ta ma homies Index Somewhere in Brazil