Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Imperfect Gifts for Long-Haul Travelers

The other day I came across an article at with the click-bait title: 10 Perfect Gifts for your Favorite Long-Haul Traveler.

I was skeptical right out of the starting gate: I travel light, a declaration I repeat ad nauseam. Recently I renewed my passport, and opted for the version with more pages as I was running out of visa pages in my existing passport. I hummed and hawed at the additional bulk and weight (0.7 ounces) but eventually decided convenience outweighed the additional weight, if you excuse the pun.

I don't need much. What I need for a two-day trip is identical to what I need for a two-month trip.

But what goodies would the article reveal: essential items, or things I didn't realize I didn't need?
The list of gifts gets off to an inauspicious start: a dash cam. Nah, I won't be needing that. 
The next item is more promising: an external battery pack. I must confess I carry one these days. It is useful on a long-haul flight when the in-seat power is insufficient to charge my tablet while I'm using it. It also allows me to hold on to my four-year-old phone which now has a short battery life.
A bulky sleep mask, huge Bluetooth headphones, a heads-up windscreen display, and a radar detector are definitely not on my Santa list.
At least a Priority Pass to get into some airline clubs weighs nothing if you store the pass on your phone. But I already have airline clubs covered.
It's the final three items I find particularly unacceptable for long-haul travel:
Airhook. What could this possibly be?
I kid you not, it's an in-flight cup holder. 'Nuff said.
A "smart" carry-on suitcase. It's heavy, almost 9 pounds, which is more than half-way to Lufthansa's 17 pounds carry-on limit. I'll stick with my 3 pounds, 35-liter backpack.
The final item is a $55,000 jeep-like Land Cruiser. This idea is beneath contempt.
To be fair, finding the right gift for a long-haul traveler is not a new problem. The 17th century poet, Matsuo Bashō, bemoaned the farewell gifts he received when he left his home for his Narrow Road to the Deep North journey from Edo (today's Tokyo) to northern Honshu:
The pack straining my scrawny shoulders hurt most. I had planned to set forth with body alone, but paper clothing for night's chill, a light summer robe, raingear, some brush and ink, and those farewell gifts so hard to refuse: they were all too difficult to discard, inevitable burdens on the road.
As he traveled, he received some thoughtful gifts:
Straw sandals, presumably to replace his worn-out pair.
A poem specially written for him by his host.
Sketches of places he had visited.
Good footwear, reading materials (preferably digital), and a few pictures (preferably digital). Maybe we have something to learn from this simplicity.

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