Howdy! I’m Dave. Over the last decade I’ve traveled to over 110 countries while working towards becoming financially independent by 35. Check out my trip journals, guides, travel tips, lifestyle hacks, and join me as I explore the world. Follow me using the Social Media buttons below for more photos and regularly updated content!
Wildly, after all of my travels, I still had not been to New York City. I had seen a lot of New York on TV and in the movies, but I always pictured it as a big and busy city that I would not enjoy. After submitting my draft dissertation to my supervisor, and watching the snow begin to fly in Calgary, I decided it was time for me to head South for warmer temperatures. It was late-April 2012, I was on holidays, and it shouldn’t have been snowing! I made a quick post on Facebook to see if anyone in the US who would be willing to host me for a for a few days and my friend Sarah quickly responded suggesting New York. I figured it was as good of a time as any to finally take a bite out of the Big Apple!
After a quick call to Air Canada’s Aeroplan center I had flights to New York booked for the next evening. The best part is, the flight only cost me $30 because I was using a credit from a flight that I had previously been unable to use. After a few rounds of beers with friends in Calgary the previous time I had been home, I decided it would be a good idea to join my buddy on his trip to Vegas for a bachelor’s party. While still at the bar, I pulled out my phone and made the flight reservations for the next day. Then, as I was packing, I realized my passport was still in Ottawa for a visa and I had to cancel the trip. Lesson learned – no more booking flights at bars!!!
Because of the last minute travel arrangements, I had to lay-over in Ottawa and sleep on a bench in the airport for 6 hours. This was not an overly pleasant experience, but hey, The Baldpacker can manage such frugalities. Yes, I just spoke about myself in the third person; deal with it. It helped that I put back a couple of Caesars in the Maple Leaf Lounge before boarding the flight and sat next to a crazy old fella from the Yukon who had been building schools around the world his whole life. He spoke Russian and had spent time working all over the world so he was full of great expat stories. After 4 failed marriages he seemed to just want to ‘live it up’ and he treated me to a few rounds of Jack Daniels on the flight to Ottawa so that he’d have a drinking buddy. It was perfect seat selection on my part (blind luck) as he provided much needed entertainment once the media system on the plane failed to function (an unfortunately common problem on Air Canada flights).
The flight into Newark from Ottawa was also fantastic. It was a small plane with some Maverick for a pilot who seemed to enjoy pushing the commercial airliner to its limit. I imagine he does several return short-hauls each day and the Red Bull Air Race maneuvers he was executing were the only way to make his monotonous route more interesting. It was great for all of us passengers as well, as we got fantastic views of the city as well as a free rollercoaster ride!
The train from Newark to Manhattan was easy to navigate and only cost $12.50. I was immediately impressed by how clean everything was and how friendly people were. Much different than I expected. A good start to the trip!
It was fantastic to see Sarah again. I had originally met her in Portugal several years prior and had surfed her couch in Ottawa in 2011 while I was in the city getting a visa for Yemen. She’s the type of person who knows how to work hard and party hard, which jives very well with my own philosphy on life. Sarah managed to receive a job offer from one of the top law firms in the world, which has an office on the waterfront in the financial district of Manhattan, so she moved to New York in the fall of 2011.
I arrived in New York on a Saturday and Sarah was luckily able to take the day off work and show me around a bit. It was a beautiful April morning and Sarah could see in my red eyes that I needed a caffeine kick before hitting the town. Luckily, New York is developing a proper coffee culture and Sarah took me to one of her favourite spots for a ‘pour-over’ coffee. It was one of the best cups of java I’ve had in a while, and it gave me the kick I needed to make the most of my first day in New York.
After waiting in line for a trendy West Village cafe / restaurant called Buvette to open for their noon brunch, we both enjoyed steamed eggs with savoury toppings, and then made our way to Central Park. I have always seen and heard of Cental Park in the movies and on TV, but I was still blown away by just how big and central it truly is. On our way to the park we saw a busker who had brought out his baby grand piano to Washington Square Park for the day! It was pretty amazing to see a busker on a baby grand piano, outside, in April, and is something I would only expect to see in a city like New York!
Being late April, the trees were in blossom and Central Park was absolutely beautiful. Sarah impressed me by climbing one of the massive trees in the park, but she did have to call on me for help to get down. What a city slicker!
Sarah and I also made a celebrity sighting of Zach Galifianakis in Central Park. I think he’s a pretty funny actor and he was doing a rollerskate skit in front of cameras in the park, though neither Sarah nor I could figure out the comedy in it. I managed to snap this photo as Zach almost biffed on to the pavement due to the plastic runner on his rollerblades breaking. Sarah convinced me that this was not a true ‘celebrity sighting’ since there were cameras filming Zach and we probably wouldn’t have had a clue who he was had the cameras and fans not been around him. I’ll agree that seeing a celebrity doing a sketch in the park is not as cool as seeing Tony Danza jogging his chihuahua or something, but as a guy who really doesn’t care much about celebrities, it was neat to see an actor my first day in town.
After enjoying a few hours of walking around, climbing trees, watching buskers, and enjoying free music performances, it was time to make our way towards Madison Square Garden for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When I was in the Calgary airport awaiting the boarding announcement for my flight, I figured I’d see if any tickets were available for Ranger’s playoff games while I was in New York. It just so happened that Ticketmaster had 2 seats available in the 12th row for a total of $465 Canadian. A steal of a deal for playoff hockey for a Canadian like me. Those same seats in Calgary for the playoffs would have cost at least twice that! Unfortunately, they began boarding the flight just as I started booking the tickets so I was in a real bind. As I waited for the ‘Verified by Visa’ transaction to process, they paged my name saying it was last call for the flight. I hollered that I was on my way and the second the transaction was complete I closed up my laptop and scrambled aboard. It was well worth the effort as there’s nothing better after a hot sun-filled day in Central Park than NHL playoff hockey in Madison Square Garden!
Sarah and I decided we didn’t have time to go to her place and change before the game, so we hit a patio for a couple pre-game beers! My feet were also beginning to hurt from all of the walking so I also picked up some flip-flops (my favourite travel walking attire), which came in very handy for my next few days of city walking!
After the beers, the only thing standing between us and the game were the crowds of Times Square. As we pushed through the throngs of people, including the naked cowboy, Sarah informed me that Times Square had been named after the New York Times newpaper when their office moved to a high-rise in the area in 1904. The crowds, lights, and video screens reminded me very much of Tokyo, but I didn’t have much time to appreciate it all as it was nearing puck drop!
We made it to Madison Square Garden just in time for the game, collected our tickets, grabbed a couple Bud Lights (ugh) and found our seats! The seats were much better than I expected and Madison Square Garden is a beautiful hockey arena. They were giving out free Ranger’s souvenir towels to the fans so there was a nice wave of spinning white towels throughout the Garden all night. The crowd was very respectful throughout the Canadian national anthem, but I did miss the usual horn toots during the final verses of Oh Canada! as I’d normally hear back home. After puck drop, things quickly heated up and a scrum broke out in the far corner. After a rough first game, the coaches put their grinders on the ice to start the game and it quickly turned into a melee with the refs dishing out 2 game misconducts within the first 2 minutes of play. The crowd quite enjoyed watching Dubinsky power bomb the Gatorade dispenser on his way to the locker room, and the scrum and misconducts set the tone for the rest of the first period. After the scrappy first period and tentatively played second, things got going in the third and we finally got to see some great playoff hockey. The crowds were not as loud as they would have been in Canada and I had to laugh at some of the fans calling for penalties on clean hits, which are a normal part of the game, but they were a solid fan base overall. We were lucky enough to be seated next to one of the most die-hard hockey fans I’ve ever met. He was a really nice guy with a dog named Ranger (after the Rangers!), which he showed us photos of, in a Rangers uniform. Now that’s devotion to your team! He also met his wife at a Rangers game and the two of them plan most of their travels around away games – a great way to see North America I suppose.
Having a hardcore Rangers fan seated next to us also helped me understand more about the many NY Rangers hockey traditions. My favourite tradition was the yelling of ‘Potvin Sucks’ mid-way through the game. Apparently, back in 1979, Daniel Potvin of the NY Islanders laid a hard check on Ranger’s center Ulf Nilsson and broke his ankle. Nilsson has said it was a clean check, but the crowd holds on to their hatred for Potvin for the incident to this day, yelling ‘Potvin Sucks’ after a catchy whistle tune is blown from the nose bleeds. Apparently the chant can also be heard at Knicks and Yankees games on occasion. Love it!
The other tradition we were told about is ‘Dancing Larry’. Larry is an unofficial mascot of the New York Rangers and has been a season ticket holder since 1988. During the third period when the Rangers are tied or leading, Larry puts on a crazy dance routine to pump up the crowd. It was pretty funny to watch and the crowd did get into it. Apparently the crowd used to chant ‘Homo Larry’ during the dance, but in the spirit of modern day political correctness, Homo Larry has become Dancing Larry.
During the game I discovered that the Madison Square Garden also offered a beer garden of sorts, with a dozen decent beers on tap for slightly more than the Bud and Bud Light offered at most vendor stands. I tried a couple of the local beers, including the Brooklyn Brewery Lager and Sixpoint Sweet Action. The best part was the beer mugs had a hole in the handle allowing for a pretzel stick. Nice work Madison Square Garden!
The third period provided some very entertaining hockey, but the most memorable part of the game was when some meat head kept standing up in front of us drawing calls of ‘down in front’ and ‘sit down’. That’s when it finally happened…a scrawny kid sitting behind us yelled for Mr. Meat Head to “go back to the Jersey Shore.” Perfect execution! I was thinking about yelling the same thing, but am not one to start trouble in a foreign town. Of course, this comment set Mr. Meat Head off in a fit of roid rage, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and Mr. Meat Head sat down so everyone could get back to the game.
During the game I had a hard time deciding who to cheer for – the home town Rangers or the Canadian Senators – so I stayed impartial and just cheered for good hockey. After the third period ended with a 2-2 tie, the game headed to overtime. At this point, I figured I’d join the home crowd and cheer for a Rangers win as it’s always nice to leave a stadium with a crowd high on victory. Sadly, Ottawa poached a quick goal in the first few minutes of the first overtime period and the game was over. The crowd was down as we exited the stadium, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the MSG experience and my first day in New York.
Beer to Germans is like rice to Asians – it’s a dietary staple. Germans are third in the world in per capita beer consumption, slightly behind the Czechs and the Irish.
From 1516 to 1988, German beer was brewed in adherence with the Reinheitsgebot, or “German Beer Purity Law”. The law stated that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. Beers not exclusively made with barley-malts, such as wheat beer, had to be top-fermented. Since 1993, the production of beer has been governed by the Provisional German Beer Law which allows a greater range of ingredients and additives.
Weißbier, or Weissbier (“white beer”), also known as Weizenbier (“wheat beer”), is a Bavarian specialty beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. By German law, Weissbiers brewed in Germany must be top-fermented.Specialized strains of yeast are used which produce overtones of banana and clove as by-products of fermentation.
Weissbier is so called because it was, at the time of its inception, paler in color than Munich brown beer. It is well-known throughout Germany, though better known as Weizen (literally, “wheat”) outside Bavaria.
Kölsch is a local beer specialty brewed in Cologne, Germany. It is a clear beer with a bright straw-yellow hue, and it has a prominent, but not extreme, hoppiness. It is less bitter than the standard German pale lager. Kölsch is strictly defined by the Kölsch Konvention, an agreement between the members of the Cologne Brewery Association. The beer is pale, hoppy, clear, top-fermenting beer with an original gravity of between 11 and 16 degrees
Kölsch stands in direct competition to Altbier, which is generally produced in Düsseldorf. The difference between the Altbier and Kölsch is slight, with Altbier being fermented at slightly higher temperatures than Kölsch and using dark malt, harder water and far more bittering hops, resulting in a nuttier, firmer and drier taste. The rivalry between Cologne and Düsseldorf was bitter in the past, and is often expressed by the preference of either Altbier or Kölsch . Ordering the wrong kind of beer in the wrong city has resulted in abuse and even violence in the past, but today usually all that will happen is a couple of jokes about being an immigrant or foreigner. There is a deal between the breweries that no Kölsch will be sold with any of the extra titles that are popularly used with other German beers, like “Premium”, “Special”, “Extra High Quality”. Kölsch waiters (Köbes) in traditional pubs are encouraged to speak the local dialect of “Kölsch” as well as to use rough, unrefined language, including crude jokes with customers (I experienced this in the Fruh brewery / restaurant in Cologne).Köbes in traditionally styled pubs will continue to exchange empty Kölsch glasses with new ones until customers leave their glass half full or place the beermat upon the glass to signal that they no longer wish to be served.
Hell is the German adjective for “light,” and Helles is a noun used to describe “a light one.” The light designation does not refer to the beer’s caloric or alcoholic strength, which is a substantial 4.7 to 5.4 percent by volume, but instead to its colour.
Pilsener (also known as Pils) is a pale lager with a light body and prominent hop character. This style accounts for nearly 2/3rds of the German beer market. It takes its name from the city of Pilsen, Bohemia, which is in the Czech Republic, where it has been developed since 1842, when a bottom-fermented beer was first produced. Until the mid-1840s, most Bohemian beers were top-fermented. The taste and standards of quality often varied widely, and in 1838, consumers dumped whole barrels to show their dissatisfaction. The officials of Pilsen founded a city-owned brewery in 1839, called Bürger Brauerei (Citizens’ Brewery – now Plzeňský Prazdroj), brewing beer using the Bavarian style.Bavarian brewers began experiments with the storage of beer in cool caves using bottom-fermenting yeasts, which improved the beer’s clarity and shelf-life. A modern pilsner has a very light, clear colour from pale to golden yellow, and a distinct hop aroma and flavour. Czech pilsners tend to have a lighter flavour, while German ones can be more bitter or earthy in flavour.
Altbier means old beer, and it refers to the pre-lager brewing method of using a warm top-fermenting yeast. Over time, Alt yeast adjusted to lower temperatures, and the Alt brewers would store or lager the beer after fermentation leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than is the norm for some other top-fermented beers. The Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law) of 1516 did not affect brewers of the Rhineland so the brewing traditions in the area developed differently. For example, brewing during the summer was illegal in Bavaria, but the cooler climate of the Rhineland allowed Alt brewers to brew year long and to experiment with storing fermented beer in cool caves and cellars. Alt is a dark, lagered, top-fermented beer that has some of the lean dryness of a lager but with fruity notes. Altbier is usually brewed in the Dusseldorf area – see the Kölsch post about the rivalry between Cologne & Dusseldorf over their beer preferences.
Märzen has its origins in Bavaria, probably before the 16th century. A Bavarian brewing ordinance decreed in 1539 that beer may be brewed only between 29 September and 23 April due to the increased danger of fire during the warm and dry summer months. Historically, the beer was kept in the cellar until late in the summer, and remaining bottles were served at the Oktoberfest, making Märzen a popular Oktoberfest beer in modern times. In order to last so long, either the original gravity and alcohol were increased or the hopping was strengthened.The style is characterized by a medium to full body, a malty flavour and a clean dry finish. In Germany, Märzen covers beers which vary in colour from pale (Helles Märzen), through amber to dark brown (Dunkles Märzen). Other names commonly used for Märzen include Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier.
I have not tried many German Dark beers, but varieties such as Schwarzbier, Dunkles, Dunkler Bock and Rauchbier are available, though not as commonly as the Wheat Beers and Pale Beers discussed above.
Keller Bier – 5.3% ABV – This beer is a deep orange / copper colour, with a slightly hazy body. The aroma is malty and nutty, with herbal hoppy notes. The flavour is quite bready, with a nutty malt and earthy hop flavour. There is a slight bitterness and a dry finish, but this is a very tasty Kellerbier that I would certainly buy again.
Altbier – 4.8% ABV – The beer is a clear dark amber with light red highlights. It smells of malt, roast, and a bit of metal. Flavor is quite mild with malt, roast, and dark bread, but I did taste a bit of metal on the finish. This is a pretty good Alt, and could be a session beer, but due to the metal smell and taste often found in alts, it probably wouldn’t be my first choice.
Kolsch – 4.8% ABV – This Kolsch is bright gold and perfectly transparent, making it look delicious for a summer day. The beer has a fresh aroma, with hops (lemon, wet grass), and with a hint of tart grape. The beer tastes of light malt, with a bit of grain and biscuit. There are some fruity and hoppy notes, but these are very light. There is also very little bitterness. One of my favourite examples of Kolsch and my beer of choice at Carnival! I also enjoyed their restaurant / brewery in Cologne, where I had the most delicious example of Fruh.
Pils – 4.8% ABV – I’m not a huge Pils guy, but did enjoy this one. The smell is clean with some herbal hops mixed in – I tend to dislike the skunky aroma of pils, but I could detect very little with this beer. The taste is of flavourful hops, but it is well balanced with a malty sweetness. Though I’m not a big Pils guy, I would reach for this one again.
Dunkel Lager – 4.8% ABV – This beer is brown with at thin head. It smells of cloves, gingerbread, and perhaps a hint of coffee and caramel. The taste is quite good, with flavours of chocolate, caramel, and espresso. This is not a session beer, but a good taster on a fall evening, especially from their stubby bottles.
Hefeweizen – 5% ABV – The beer is a burnt orange or copper color, with a slight cloud to it. The aroma is quite light, with a scent of bananas, citrus, and honey. I love the taste of this beer. It’s smooth, and light, with a banana taste throughout and a nice creamy finish that leaves your taste buds ready for more. My #2 German beer, I could drink it as a session beer, or as a treat out on the patio.
Pilsner – 4.9% ABV – I’ve read great reviews about this beer, but to me it was as skunky and flavourful as a Heineken. I’ll have to try it again another time, but given my preference for Kolsch and Weißbier over Pils, that may not happen any time soon.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This was a pretty good Hefeweizen, but still not as good as Paulaner or Franziskaner in my opinion. The beer smelled of wheat malt, bread, applesauce, and a light yeastiness. The malt was quite dominant in both smell and taste, with the taste also presenting light banana, lemon and clove flavours. I found this beer more malty than other Hefeweisens, and therefore a little heavier. It still had that great creamy smoothness of most Hefeweisens, but I’d still reach for a Franzikaner or Paulaner before buying another Kapuziner.
Dunkel Lager – 5.1% ABV – This beer is a typical dark wheat beer, but is smoother and tastier than others I’ve tried. It tastes of caramel, and molasses. This is certainly not a session beer, but one of my favourite Dunkels.
Kellerbier – 5.4% ABV – This beer had a light grainy sweetness with notes of pears and cherries on the nose, and a bread /grain flavour accompanied by light fruit and yeast. This is a rich, tasty, kellerbier!.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – A decent example of a Hefeweizen, the aroma is pleasantly of wheat malt, along with banana, yeast, and light vanilla, orange peel, and clove scents. The taste opens with sweetish wheat malt, and then gives way to malt and banana esters. On some sips, I could also detect the taste of cloves, bubblegum, and mild hops. The aftertaste is of sweet bananas and yeast, which I enjoy, but not to the same extent as the Paulaner reviewed below.
Hefeweizen – 5.5% ABV – First off, I love this beer. It’s widely available, and freakin’ delicious. Perhaps I’m a bit slanted because I loved the Paulaner tent in Oktoberfest so much, but I think anyone would recognize this as a great brew. The beer is a nice cloudy amber color and smells of wheat and lemon. The taste is smooth and fruity, with hints of banana and clove, along with a solid malt backbone. I find this beer incredibly smooth, even though it is moderately carbonated. I could drink this as a session beer, or as a nice treat on a hot summer’s day. My #1 German Beer!
Dunkelweizen – 5.30% ABV – Though not as amazing as the Paulaner Hefeweizen reviewed above, this is also a tasty brew. It has a nice medium brown color with a cream coloured head. The beer smells of ripe sweet fruit and yeasty bread. It tastes of dark bread and banana, with hints of citrus, earth and herbs. The taste is sweet and light, but because of the bread flavour comes across as a heavier beer. Not a session beer in my mind, but a nice brew to enjoy in hot or cold weather.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This beer smells of wheat and banana, and tastes of sweet wheat malt with a fruity yeast character and a dry finish. There are also taste notes of banana, cloves, bubblegum, and spice. Mouthfeel is thick and smooth, but seems a little flat. This is a good beer, but given all of the amazing Hefeweizens availabl in Germany, this would not be my first choice.
Hefeweizen – 5% ABV – This beer has the aroma of wheat, banana, light fruit and clove, which seems typical for Hefeweizens. The taste is of wheat with light malt, and citrus flavours. The finish is a bit dry compared to other Hefeweizens I tried, with light citrus, hops and clove. The wheat dominated a bit for me so this wouldn’t be one of my favourites; I like the fruitier Hefeweizens.
Hefeweizen – 5.4% ABV – This is the #1 rated German Beer on BeerAdvocate.com, and the Weihenstephan Brewery can trace its roots at the abbey to the year 768, making it potentially the oldest working brewery in the world. The beer pours a cloudy gold color with fluffy off-white head that lingers and laces extremely well. The aroma is consistent of other hefeweizens, with clove, banana, and great floral aroma. The flavour of the beer is of bread and wheat, but with a subtle hint of all the flavours from the nose. I certainly think this is an amazing hefeweizen, but still prefer Paulaner and Franziskaner myself. If you want less of the banana and clove flavour than offered in those brands, perhaps this is the beer for you!
Travel electronics are a very difficult thing to decide whether to carry or not. On one hand, they allow for you to communicate with your friends and family back home, work or keep up with the news, and provide entertainment when the weather is poor, you’re tired, or stuck on a long bus, train or flight. On the other hand, electronics can be a hassle – weighing down your pack, giving you an excuse to stay within the comforts of home and not fully embrace the culture you’re in, and potentially stressing you out over the potential for damage or theft.
Personally, for the long-term travel that I do, I tend to carry more electronics than most people might as the benefits far outweigh the negatives for me. Yet, given my other packing sacrifices, I am still able to carry a smaller backpack than most people.
There is a reason that the Kindle is my first listed item. I believe an e-reader is a MUST HAVE for anyone on the road. I resisted purchasing one for quite some time, but have realized that this is potentially the greatest travel item ever invented. Once upon a time, I would carry 2-3 books with me in my backpack, often weighing 5-10 pounds and susceptible to damage from wet towels or a leaky bottle. When on the road, I often like to have a travel guide, a non-fiction ‘educational’ book, and a fictional fun read. Now, these can all be condensed into a small, lightweight device. I am now able to carry hundreds of travel guides, language books, and free-reading fiction / non-fiction books and switch between each title without having to dig through my bag. Before purchasing a Kindle, I had been concerned about the battery life, and potential theft ordamage that comes with an e-reader. These days, e-readers are available for under $100, the batteries last for over a month, and they are easy to hide or secure. The one accessory many people choose to buy is a protective case with a light. I have not bought one, as I would just as soon pay $100 for a replacement Kindle as a $60 case, but the light is handy for night time reading (I use a headlamp). To help organize your books, I’d highly recommend the free software package Calibre.
A laptop is likely the most debatable item on this list. Most hostels have computers available for use, either for free or a minimal charge, and there are many alternatives such as netbooks, tablets, or smart phones. To me, it all comes down to your requirements. I personally use my laptop for photo processing, work, blogging, e-mail, stock trading, surfing the web and the occasional movie. When I compare the size of my 14″ Laptop, to a netbook or tablet, the added versatility is well worth the few extra ounces of weight. Of course, tablets and netbooks are often quicker and easier to use, and may be preferable for some. This is really a judgement call, and will vary for each person. I prefer devices with USB ports for charging accessory devices, such as e-readers, mp3 players, and speakers, but it is also possible to buy travel adapters that have a USB port for this purpose.
Laptops, Netbooks, and Tablets will probably be the most expensive device you carry so you’ll have to consider how you’re going to secure it. Many hostels have lockers which allow for safe keeping. In other places, I have just kept my laptop at the bottom of my bag and never had a problem. I have met people who have intentionally ‘distressed’ their electronics to make them look cheaper so that they won’t be targeted by thieves. For example, an American Engineer I met in Manila had wrapped her brand new, top-of-the-line, netbook in duct tape. It looked like a piece of crap, which was the whole point. At home people may accessorize their goods to be as flashy and expensive looking as possible, but on the road, it may be worth taking the opposite approach. After all, you’re bringing these things for functionality, not to impress the Flashpackers.
I believe an mp3 player is another must-have travel accessory. I carry an old 60GB iPod video, and an iPod shuffle for the occasional workout. I briefly had an iPod touch, but managed to lose it in Koh Chang, Thailand, while going for a late night skinny dip with a hot blonde German gal. Why is it always the blondes…!? Note to self: do not leave valuables on a beach in Thailand late at night! In any event, an iPod touch can provide your music needs, allow basic e-mail and web functionality, as well as function as cell phones provided you have a Skype account set up.
After the entertainment system did not work on one of my Singapore Airlines flights, I received a $200 voucher for the inflight duty free catalog. I stumbled across a set of USB chargeable speakers in the catalog, and they have proven to be an excellent addition to my travel arsenal. From chill out tunes on the beach to classic rock in the dorm room, these little woofers provide a decent punch and can turn any hostel room into party central with the flick of a switch.
I hate wearing watches, but do tend to carry a waterproof Timex with 3 time-zone capability on the road. I’ll usually set it with the time zone of my hometown, the time zone of where I work, and the time zone of where I am. This helps me quickly confirm when it’s appropriate to be contacting people. On the alarm side, I usually get by with my watch but sometimes I’ll bring a collapsible travel alarm as well. Many phones and .mp3 players can also function as alarm clocks, so this is once again a personal choice.
I do not usually travel with a cell phone, but they can be very handy. I find it’s often too much of a hassle, or too expensive, to get set-up with a SIM in many countries, but this does not mean it’s not possible. Depending on your home plan, you may be able to extend the coverage for a low fee, or just use texts, but you’ll want to ensure there are no fees for roaming. On some occasions, I have carried a cheap, generic, unlocked phone and been able to pick up a cheap SIM on arrival. This is quite easy to do in Thailand, Vietnam, and many parts of Africa. It all depends on what your communication requirements are, whether you have friends in the country to contact, and how you plan to arrange accommodation. There are also “global SIMs” available, but I am yet to find one that fits my needs at a suitable cost.
UPDATE: I now travel with a Google Nexus 4. Although I still do not often buy SIM cards, I find having a smartphone very helpful for navigation. I try to either download the TripAdvisor Apps for a city or download an Offline Google Map as it is a great way to get around a city, even without wifi or data.
I highly recommend buying a multi-use travel adapter. The one I carry works for charging all of my electronics, including laptop and camera batteries, as well as USB devices such as my Kindle and iPod. The only plug that these adapters usually do not work with are the large South African three round style plugs. It’s worth ensuring that there is a hole for the negative pin of North American plugs as otherwise your camera charger or laptop may not plug-in correctly. I met a girl in Japan who had ripped the negative pin off the cord of her brand new $1500 MacBook Pro just to make it fit in a $20 travel adapter! Not a cost worth incurring.