This summer many thousands of under-30 graduate and undergraduate kids will trek around Europe (or someplace other than home) with just a pack full of clothes and a train ticket. For decades, this soul-searching, culture-seeking pilgrimage has been a right of passage for youth, documented (and sometimes exaggerated) everywhere, from TV to Hollywood films. Thankfully over the decades, technology has advanced just as seemingly travel comfort has declined. I like my outdoor adventures but I like comfy chillin’ too, so I set out to discover what I think are a few must-have travel products for today's youthful tramping travelers.
Every time I go through security, rushing to stuff my quart-sized liquid zippered baggy back into my bag, I end up arriving at my destination with an exploded bag of goop. Sea to Summit’s TPU Clear Zip Top Pouch (www.seatosummit.com) is a quart-size, clear, soft carrying case, guaranteed not to explode. On top of that, it is the perfect size for a space-saving toiletry kit, and includes bottles for your favorite lotions and cleansers.
After trying recently with standard earplugs to block out the noise of a German toddler who repeatedly counted to 10 -- in bad English -- on an overnight plane ride. I was longing for some Yurbuds (www.yurbuds.com). With their pain-free shape and a guarantee not to fall out, they prevent an earache – or 1-2-3-4...-induced headache -- even when worn for an eight-hour flight.
The most versatile must-have in any travel kit is a pillow. Cocoon has long made stuffable pillows. Its down travel pillow is super comfy but doesn't compress enough for many travelers, and the synthetic pillow doesn't have as much support, but compresses a ton. “People asked me whether I could make a comfortable and stuffable pillow,” said Sue Morrison, general manager of Cocoon. “I said I wanted to win the lottery without buying a ticket, too. We started looking at blowup bladders, but I didn't want to make a cheap balloon-like thing.” The finished product, a poly-fill pillow with a bladder in the core even impresses some skeptical backpackers. The Cocoon Hyperlight, at 2.4 ounces nearly floats mid-air it’s so light. And if you like the fuzzy feel under your cheek, the Ultralight adds fleece to one side for only another 1.3 ounces. The days when youth trekking on the Euro rail could be identified by a big pillow strapped to the outside of their bag are long gone.
I always seem to forget how much I use my car and bike for transport until I travel and use only foot power to get around. Blistered and sore feet make for a sore attitude and that can ruin any trip. Thankfully, shoes nowadays provide great support with style, so they can go from hiking to barhopping as quickly as you can get a turn in the hostel shower. The Merrell Solo (www.merrell.com) is a tribute to its original multisport lightweight shoe, providing great comfort and support for daytime treks. The best part is that even with its retro style, the Solo is a super technical shoe. Then there’s the women-specific Teva Churn (www.teva.com) takes a lightweight approach to travel with its quick-drying mesh design perfect for river rock hopping -- or exploring the underground catacombs of Paris. Once dry from the adventure, the Churn’s heel folds down, resulting in a comfy slipper like feel. These shoes not only eliminate blisters, but are slick enough to eliminate the need for a second pair of club shoes.
Seeking adventure, I have certainly been guilty of party crashing, barhopping, and discothequeing. Maybe not everyone goes for the wedding crasher adventure, but to hit the discos in style, Prana (www.prana.com) has the Quinn Dress for girls and the Crinum Jean for guys along with many anti-wrinkle quick drying items for the rest of the trip. The classic little black dress and part-Coolmax jeans ensure that you will dance the night away and still travel light and comfy.
Whenever I travel, I bring a bandana and a towel -- a bandana mainly because my dad always said to – and I always listen to my dad. Not that I could ever see a cotton bandana drying after using it for a towel, or using one as a towel after you blow your nose with it, so it mainly hung on my bag until moments when I wanted to look like a 60’s headband-clad rebel. Cocoon’s CoolMax Travel Blanket may just be the new school bandana. As the name infers, it is quick drying, big enough to use as a beach blanket, carrying case or towel, and stuffable enough to sit in your day pack. Now in black, can be used as a cute sarong cover up (did I really just call it “cute?”). It is also available with InsectShield – take that bandana!
After a good time has been had -- and a new drinking song has been learned -- it is important to rock your bleary-eyed hangover in style. Ryder’s makes a pair of appropriately named Shiner sunglasses (www.ryderseyewear.com) that give you plenty of coverage from the next morning’s nausea-inducing glare. At $39 you also won’t need to take out a separate travel insurance plan either.
To avoid missing a morning thanks to your good time, bring some NUUN (www.nuun.com) along to pop into a water bottle. Since NUUN is electrolytes in tablet form, it travels easily and all the commuters on the train won't look at you too funny since many vitamins are sold in effervescent form across the pond. The potent and tasty electrolyte formula will have your headache gone so quickly that you'll forget how much it hurt to stay out dancing all night.
Last year, after viewing pictures from my latest backpacking trip, I grew tired of seeing pictures of me, my friend or both of us with one of our outstretched arms clearly holding up the camera. Along comes the Original Gorilla Pod by Joby (www.joby.com), a flexible tripod for point-and-shoot cameras with Gumby-like legs that wrap around anything from a tree branch to bike handlebars with only 1.6 ounces of added weight. In the hands of youth, the ensuing footage might just be dangerous. I see an America's Funniest Home Video coming out of this one!
Too soon is the time when your trip comes to a close with either one of two reactions:
>> Where did all my stuff go? In that case, there is nothing any new gear or technology can do to help you.
>> Where do I put all my new stuff? Now you have to find a place for all those nifty things you've acquired (that dirndl beer maid dress from Munich was a definite necessity…right….). You can’t fit them all in one carry-on backpack anymore but this too can be remedied. The Hideaway Duffel by Kiva Designs (www.kivadesigns.com) weighs less than a pound and unfolds into a 2,420-cubic-inch bag so you don't need to throw all your dirty clothes onto the fire to make room for the dirndl and beer steins. If you check your backpack and are hoping the airport King Kongs who throw around the luggage and feed it to conveyer belts won’t destroy it, try Osprey’s Airporter LZ zippered backpack case (www.ospreypacks.com). It weighs just under a pound and will fit even a full-sized expedition pack. So after you slip in your pack, there is still room for more goodies.
Next time you see confused-looking college kids standing in the phrasebook section of the local bookstore, point them in the right direction – the nearby outdoor store -- so they have the right gear for getting to and from their great adventure too.
--Lorin Paley, SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team/2009 Telemark World Junior Champion
The SNEWS® Youth Team has been made possible in part by the generous support of Vibram, with additional support from Confluence Watersports: