The wool blanket. Need I say more? Well I will because it’s by far one of my favorite items in my pack. It enables me to do many more things than your typical blanket while also being much easier to maintain and keep clean. The benefits of wool are endless if you can get over the scratchy feel of it. (Which I have a few tricks to help with that as well). It provides you with much more than just the warmth of a blanket and in dire times it can prove to be quite the life saver.
The obvious uses for the wool blanket are for sleeping and warmth. This can be achieved with a number of items but the wool blanket offers you so much more. I remember a time when I was hitchhiking out of mid Texas and it started to get late. Real late. I had no place to stay and had some extra spending cash so I decided I’d book my first hotel on the trip to clean up and get a good nights rest. Well as I was walking along the hotel strip every hotel I tried to go to was booked solid. Every single one.
I ventured on with Ace, stopping at a few food stands along the way to regain some fuel. It grew to early morning and still no luck. I tried at least 20-30 different hotels in this shady-ish area. Finally! I found one with vacancy. The problem was however they didn’t allow dogs. I decided I had to sleep. Instead, I ventured on. I noticed Ace getting extremely tired as we were coming upon a giant commercial complex. I wasn’t sure what was on the other side and a lame ass security guard was already staring me down as we poked along.
Even after getting around the corner he continued to stalk us but once we got on the other side it was pretty much wilderness with a few more hotels in the area. With one last ditch effort I tried the remaining but no luck was to be found. This is when I threw in the towel and looked for the next best option. As I wiggled my way into the forest behind the hotel it got pretty dirty so I looked for another spot. I found a nice quiet area behind a huge dumpster on the back side of the parking lot. It had a huge wall encasing the dumpster with trees and a fence behind it.
There wasn’t a view from the hotel and it was a quiet little clean spot. The problem however was it covered with small sticks. This was no problem for the wool blanket! I won’t say I got a good nights rest but it kept me from having an even worse night. It was a true life saver in a dire time of need. As Ace and I cuddled up for the night we stayed toasty warm and enjoyed the tranquility of life behind the dumpster.
I thought to myself what a cop would even say if they caught me. I had money for a room, but no room was available. What’s a man to do? Pull out his wool blanket and have a good sleep! Unfortunately there was a car dealership on the other side of the fence and they came into work quite early. They didn’t spot us but we woke up and continued our journey.
This is one example of when the wool blanket saved me for a truly terrible night. With a regular blanket just sitting there would have been awful after 10 minutes. When you add in the other benefits of the wool blanket like staying warm when wet and the ability to self clean itself in the rain offers the traveler a good advantage compared to a regular blanket. The don’t tend to hold nasty smells either like other blankets can.
There are a few down sides to the wool blanket though. It is a bit bulky and heavy. There is really no way around that. I roll mine up super tight and tight it to the bottom of my backpack and it works out really well. When I sit down it gives my butt a nice cushion too. I decided it was well worth the cargo space and weight for me and truly love the ability to get down and dirty with this blanket, throw it out in the rain, and it’s like brand new!
Putting it in the rain is one way to help remove some of the scratch from your blanket but if you have a washer and dryer another good way to do this is by washing it with soft t shirt materials. Many fabrics give off tiny strands and material and the wool blanket seems to actually velcro these tiny fibers. Between washing it down and this process it seems to really soften it up. (It could be in my head but it certainly seems to work).
I have experimented with this idea quite a bit lately and I was surprised to find out how valuable it really was. Many people have the headlamps, which work great but eventually lose their batteries or charge. Again, many flashlights are the same. They all require a charge or new batteries in the most inconvenient moments.
On my own travels I have used flashlights in their traditional role to see things at night, but also as a beacon, a signal, and other random things like this. Each night it would be used to unpack my bag, get cook and sleep gear out, and set up for the night. Night after night it would slowly drain my batteries. I tried carrying rechargeable batteries with a small solar panel and that worked pretty good, but was extremely heavy. I tried crank handle lights and those worked pretty good for a while, but eventually crapped out from moisture or were too expensive to make it worth it.
I’ve lost waterproof headlamps to moisture as well when the rubber grip breaks off that protects the internals. I’ve ran out of battery juice in the worst times. I literally tried several ways to solve this problem of having light when I needed it while maintaining a light pack. No matter how I tried to do it, I was always left with a lot of weight, or something that didn’t work when I needed it too.
Recently I started used cheap solar garden lights for my quail and chickens to keep them laying eggs almost year round. In my smaller quail cages I simply bent the wire and locked one on the top of the cage. Bugs come in all night and they eat for free while having a bit of comfort and safety from the light itself. All at the same time it provides some extra light to keep them laying.
This is when it dawned on me how useful these little lights are. I stuck one on my pack and tried it out. When out hitch hiking or traveling all day this little puppy gets fulled charged. Then, as soon as the sun is going down it clicks on right when I need it. Whether I be on the side of the road looking for a ride or searching through my pack to set up for the night. The light was perfect. I put a little wire on it so I can hang it from my pack, a tree, or anywhere else I need.
For me, it was like a portable free lantern and it completely solved my problem. The funny thing was it was only 20 pesos! In my life I’ve probably spent $100-300 USD searching for a light to fill this role. From battery packs and solar panels to cranking flashlights and headlamps. This simple 20 peso light solved my problem.
Not only did it solve my problem but it worked better than any of the other options. It was working and I didn’t have to do anything. It was light weight, cheap, waterproof, and if need be it could be taken apart and used for many other applications. Often times we are consumed by materialism in search of the best product, when the best product is often times a product not made for the application we use it for.
Many people in society take the holidays rather hard. Whether they have no family, or a shitty family, they tend to beat themselves up over the holidays because they don’t have anyone to “celebrate” with. The reality is though these celebrations are rather fake at surface value and even the time spent with family during these times is quite fake and superficial.
Everyone pretends to be doing great, living up life, telling others of all the great things they are doing. Sort of like a giant ego fest where everyone is competing when they should be supporting each other. The holidays becomes who has the best relationship, family, or degree rather than actually helping each other and building each other up.
The holidays themselves like Christmas and New Years are invented. Christmas has nothing to do with the Bible or Jesus Christ yet 95% of the world believes so. Christmas is nothing more than another pagan celebration disguised as Biblical family tradition. Even your die hard atheist will celebrate Christmas because at the core of it, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ.
New Years is another made up event. I find it strange so many people have forgotten WHO invented our calendar system. Do you really think it’s a coincidence that the Vatican created the calendar and also collects the taxes? How can you collect taxes if there are no months, if there are no years, if there are no cycles and dates to collect on. Days, weeks, and months have no effect on the average person EXCEPT for when paying duties to the government, which is a corporation owned by the Vatican.
So for me, not celebrating these silly holidays is something I would do even if I were surrounded by good people. Getting together with friends and having a BBQ and drinking a few beers is something I like to do regularly and there is no need to even entertain these silly holidays let alone bring depression and anxiety into your life.
That doesn’t mean I live a life of anger and hate like the Grinch. This year I enjoyed 30 minutes of fireworks from a roof top in Mexico. My dog and I chilled out, smoked a joint, and just enjoyed the show. The entire city was lit up with home made firework shows. A 360 degree view of lights and action. I was a part of the celebration without being involved. I could enjoy and take the good out of it and leave all the rest of the media propaganda bullshit where it should be.
I didn’t feel bad, or depressed; I actually felt free and alive. That I could do anything I wanted in life and that in this moment the only thing there was to do was enjoy the fireworks. When confronted with these situations the only thing you can do is enjoy the moment. Beating yourself up over not having family or anyone to spend that “holiday” with when it can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Instead of having to come up with excuses as to why I wouldn’t be attending, instead of having to defend my decision, instead of having to explain, I simply enjoyed. I enjoyed myself and my time in another country during the holidays. I ordered so much good food and enjoyed simply watching the city I lived in celebrate. I didn’t have to think about anything depressing or sad because I was too busy enjoying the moment I was living in.
The definition of a traveler doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the type of traveling I like to do. I have never slept in a hotel and in a lot of cases I slept outside or close to it. I have lived in many places for as little as a month to as long as a year. I have raised animals, worked in internet cafes, and other random things that require a unique mindset on the fly. This also requires a unique tool set. I decided to make a list of the tools that have made it from the beginning and others I have picked up along the way after realizing how useful they would have been.
Food and Food Preparations
This is a rather generic category. There are many many many ways of starting fire, preparing food, and pots to cook in. Although heavy, one of the coolest stoves I have used is the BioLite. I highly recommend some sort camp cook kit and a few different ways to cook food and create fire. When it comes to food and fire you always want at least 2 ways of doing so. It could be raining, it could be snowing, it could be windy, ect. Have a plan in place for as many situations you can come up with.
Often times I find myself in situations where it would be quite easy to find my own food. Whether that be through fishing, trapping, or picking fruits or berries. I carry two types of fishing setups as well as some tackle box type things as well. The fishing pole is telescopic and extremely lightweight. It’s hardly noticeable and could be used as a potential weapon if need be. I have not created it yet but plan on making my own slingshot as well. This provides a lot of options for obtaining food with little to no investment and perhaps even lunch for a week. For me this is what the adventures all about.
Sleep and Comfort
Many people use lightweight tents, modern hammocks, or some new crazy tent hammock design. (Which are actually really cool). I would never carry all that and I could never find comfort in those modern hammocks. Once I arrived in Mexico for the first time and experienced my first old school hand made hammock I will never look back. It has earned a life time place in my pack and will be used for the rest of my life. I even sewed up a custom mosquito net to fit over my hammock. In Latin America most houses come with hammock rings built in so it makes for easy accommodation with new friends or random people you meet along the way. Another great thing is it can be used between trees just the same as a regular hammock. The best thing is it’s extremely comfortable and I never have back pain. If you live near Mexico or ever vacation there don’t hesitate to pick up one of these hammocks. The nice big ones run about 600-900 pesos. Other than the mosquito net and hammock I don’t need much else to get a great comfortable nights rest anywhere. A small emergency poncho is also a good thing to have somewhere in your pack just in case.
Clothing and Shoes
I have no set style of clothing. I usually just pick things up along the way and wear them out. Then go get some new stuff. I typically have one pair of cold weather clothes and about a weeks worth of warm clothes. I don’t wear underwear anymore and I rarely wear socks except for as slippers on cold mornings. I also no longer travel in cold climates so this is more of a warm weather list. The only thing I really have fell in love with is the Feivue shoes. (If you are ever in Latin America bring me a pair, it’s really hard to ship shoes in.) The roads are crazy in Latin America and having a grounded shoe makes walking so much easier. I also have a belt with a hidden pocket on the inside and that works great as another storage space or a place to hide things. Other than that it’s all basic.
Hygiene and Health
I carry a few items for hygiene and health that you may not have ever heard about. The basics as soap and toothbrushes are obvious but other things like Petro Carbo First Aid Salve and the JR Watkins Foot Repair Salve. They also make a menthol type cough salve that works great. They work amazing and their title says it all. One is a fix all natural first aid salve and the other is for repairing your feet after a long or wet day on the road. I also carry a baking soda tooth powder instead of toothpaste. It lasts much longer, has no strange chemicals, and is much more light weight.
Tools and Maintenance
Inside of my cook kit I keep many random tools that are small and pretty random for my use. I carry many knives from self defense to cooking and fishing type blades. Even a small machete inside a leather pouch. I also carry a foldable saw for cutting wood and branches. I recently acquired a manual hand drill because drilling holes is extremely difficult without any sort of tool. It’s a bit heavy but worth the weight. One tool that has never left my side is the Leatherman Wave. I’m not sure if it’s the best multi tool but I love it. Any sort of multi tool is a must have. I have used it countless times for the screw driver to the pliers and knife. It is extremely useful and lightweight for the tools you get. I also carry a small knife sharpener for quick sharpening on the fly. With those basic tools I can pretty much build anything from cages to tables or even a house. One thing every man should know how to do is sew. I have a sewing kit that has been used more times than I can even count. From mosquito nets to fixing clothing it is a skill measured in gold. I even created my own adventure traveler waist band from an old elastic waist band holster. It now holds my self defense blade, a every day use blade, a fire starter, and a flash light. I can wear it with any type of clothing and it was created to be used with gym shorts style clothing.
I have used a few different style of bags and by far my favorite is the Osprey (I don’t remember the name, the green one). I like a small sized bags because it keeps me from collecting random crap I don’t need. It also makes for a much more enjoyable travel as I can go do anything anytime even with my pack. It’s easy to move and it’s a great workout. This is another reason to keep your pack weight down and a way to do that is with a smaller bag. I see many travelers along the way with huge bags and I always wonder what they keep in there. Traveling with a dog and myself his gear took up a lot of my pack and even then the small bag was fine. Perhaps I have become more minimalist than I realize. I use the green Osprey and love it.
This is by far my most useful tool when traveling. Learning new hobbies and skills is how you refine this tool so that you don’t have to carry as many items. Using one item for many things is a great feeling and removing dead weight from your bag is quite liberating. It means you have obtained enough skill or ability to do something without that tool. Learning new recipes and cook styles that can be used create a better living standard as well. The mindset is by far the most critical in all of this. Being able to adapt (not evolve) to a situation allows you to not only have more fun and enjoy your travels but it also is much cheaper! Learning how to do many of these things can be free and learning how to do it for free means you don’t need to spend money on that item. If you can build a bed in 30 minutes in many environments perhaps you wouldn’t need any sleep gear. If you can build your own tools from nature than perhaps you don’t need as many knives and saws as I do. These are just a couple examples of how your knowledge is far more important than the tools you carry.
After traveling all over Mexico and living in a few different places I learned quite a lot along the way. Some of these tips are common sense and others are things you would never think of coming from the USA. The media sells Mexico as a cartel ridden danger zone but the reality is, it’s very safe. It’s more a “show” of force rather than a real gun battle in the streets. Being in some of the most “dangerous” parts of Mexico I really never had a single problem. Actually the opposite, shady looking guys on the side of the highway outside Matamoros gave me a huge container of chicken and a large cola.
Here are 7 tips for traveling in Mexico:
1) Never carry a lot of money in your wallet. If you do happen to get robbed or need to bribe an officer you don’t want them to know how much money you really have. Look like the stupid tourist, pull out your near empty wallet with a few hundred pesos and let them snatch what you have. Keep your valuable cards and cash tucked away in a safe place or another pocket.
2) Never use your phone in a public area without being aware of your surroundings. Losing your phone isn’t the end of the world but it can wreck a good vacation losing all your travel info and GPS. If you are using your phone out in public not paying attention it’s easy for anyone to run by and snatch it.
3) Always make eye contact and greet people that pass you within 2 arms length. It’s very common to greet everyone here and making eye contact and a greeting helps thwart any could be robbery. Most times they light up with a smile and reply with a hardy BUEN DIA!
4) Never walk behind or near a sleeping street dog. The dogs in Mexico have a culture of their own. They travel and eat on their own schedule and often times offer a friendly face. Sometimes they’ll follow you to OXXO in hopes of a treat. They meet up on street corners at random times of the day. I have seen 10-15 randomly on one corner just sniffing and wagging tails. Never seen a dog fight. However, there are exceptions. Always be ready and I do not recommend wearing flip flops for this reason. I have had to use my foot as a weapon and shield a couple times. One, a crazy dog got lose. Second time, I was actually thinking about writing this article and thought this was a good tip. On that same walk home I did exactly that while lost in thought. Two dogs jumped up and starting coming at me. Normally they are friendly but I startled them real bad. Hence this rule!
5) Don’t be afraid to be yourself and practice your crappy Spanish skills. Most people here are genuinely friendly and welcoming. They are glad to help and usually don’t expect much if anything in return. The people here have a general curiosity about your story and enjoy good conversation. Instead of hitting up the hostels and Dominoes; venture out and meet some locals and try the local foods. It’s all good!
6) Take advantage of quality bus transportation. ADO and other bus companies offer great travel prices to go anywhere in Mexico. No ID, no passports, nothing is required and it’s very cheap! You stop in random places and people will get on and offer snacks and drink from the jungle. You can take full advantage of your trip to Mexico by using these buses to get around anywhere rather quickly and affordably.
7) Haggling is a key skill when purchasing tourist packages or boat tours or anything like this. You can usually get away with 75%-90% off the price but don’t over due it. These people are hard working and make great products. Tours are authentic and fun. I purchased a hammock several months ago that was hand made and very nice quality. I ended up paying full price but didn’t mind because of the quality and I knew it was hand made. I sleep in it every night and foresee myself having it for a long time. Haggle firmly but be fair! You’re dollar goes a lot farther here and they are much more hard working and humble; don’t be afraid to support them or be the stupid gringo over paying. It’s okay. 🙂
Mexico itself offers a wide variety of amazing destinations from jungle ruins to beaches. Bacalar is another hidden gem located in Mexico. Words do no justice to the beauty Mexico can offer as well as the opportunity to have a lot of fun and grow as a person. The people of Latin America are amazing!
The cliche thing to do now-a-days is travel. To book a cheap flight somewhere, fly there, spend a week or two or maybe even a month. Then fly home. This however is not what I would consider traveling. Perhaps a short vacation but traveling requires a bit more of an investment. A bit more time. Traveling is something you do when you’re not sure of the exact destination but you’re going for the adventure itself. You might need to fly over the ocean or something to save 3 months boat travel but maybe hitch hiking, taking a bus, or renting a car would be a bit more of an adventure. Most people work an entire year and take this one to two week vacation and call it traveling.
Now, there is nothing wrong with taking a vacation. Vacations are great. You recharge your battery, get away from work, and maybe even a tan. What I am proposing however is that you are missing out by going on vacations, rather than traveling. Instead of just recharging your battery to go back to another year of work why not save up for a few years and go on a year long vacation. Why not travel for several months at a time with no destination? It can sound scary. Quitting your job, moving your things into storage, or having someone watch the house but in reality there are other jobs out there. You can always find another employer especially with the experience of traveling abroad!
The benefits of traveling over a simple vacation are endless, from personal growth, confidence, and opening your eyes to the realities of the world outside what the media tells you. Most people are very sheltered on their cliche vacations hiding behind the illusion of fancy hotels and beach front condos. How much can you really grow looking at the ocean from the 35th floor of a luxury hotel? How much can you really grow flying over three countries to get there? How much can you really learn about yourself sitting in an airplane seat staring at the clouds? See the reality is people have been sold this silly idea of vacations. It’s expensive, short, and the same every year. For the amount you spent to stay at a luxury hotel in Miami or Key West you could have hitch hiked to Panama and lived there for six months. Which one is going to bring new experiences? Which one is going to teach you about life and yourself? Which one is going to be riddled with adventures and meeting new people?
I can’t tell you the number of experiences and people I have met in my travels. Looking back on the vacations and family vacations I took this still happened but in such a low number. The percentages are hardly comparable. I’ve met hundreds and thousands of new people throughout my travels. With new stories, ideas, and perceptions of the world around them. From family ideals and philosophy to hobbies and learning new skills. When you take the time to travel you meet the local farmer, the local hammock maker, the tortilla seller, you hear their stories, their adventures. Along the way you find private beaches and lagoons that you never would have found as a tourist. You meet locals, enjoy local foods, and get to know real people living real lives. Are you going to get this experience at Senor Frogs? Are you going to get that sort of knowledge on a cruise ship?
Another aspect of traveling is the therapeutic aw’ness of it all. Having the time to enjoy new environments and explore the things you wish you had the time to explore when you were on a short week long vacation. Not having to worry about a business meeting or getting to work on time with the right shirt on only to deal with some rude disrespectful costumer. The reality is some of the most peaceful moments in my life have been sitting in the grass, leaning up against my backpack, scratching my dogs belly as we waited for a ride. On a cool summer night I could have laid their for hours, watching the sun go down and thinking to myself, “well I don’t mind if I do”. As I take a short nap.
The reality is traveling offers so much more to the soul of anyone doing it. The peace and joy associated with all of it. People offering food to me or my dog. Offering us rides or even a place to stay. All in the name of good conversation. None of these people would have been in my life if I simply flew to my destination. None of these experiences would flow through my memory if I had just taken another vacation, another year of working 9-5, and another year of daily boredom at what my life had become. Traveling will change your perspective on life forever. It will change how you see people, and yourself. You’ll learn more about yourself the first night out there than 18 years of public school and college.
When it comes down to it the only thing that stops you from traveling over a vacation, is your mindset. Traveling is by far much cheaper. From hitch hiking, tents in campgrounds to campers and couch surfing, there are ways to travel extremely cheap. You could probably spend an entire month in Mexico for the price of one night at a luxury hotel. These are realities. It’s not the money, it’s not the time, it’s not your job, it’s only your mind set.