Let’s get right to the good part: I finally found waterproof walking shoes.
My quest for waterproof walking shoes was more or less the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Aeneid, Njáls Saga and The Odyssey rendered in retail. It was not pretty. It involved a lot of returns. And yet, just at the moment I feared I was doomed to a travel life of cold, wet feet—a deus ex machine materialized in the form of a sale at Eddie Bauer. These shoes fit! They didn’t make my knees swell up! They were 50% off! (Sure, they’re kind of ugly, but let’s not dwell on that part. At least they don’t look like giant white cruise ships.)
Having triumphed at last on the waterproof shoe front, I went on to fulfill my dream of a owning a fitted backpack. For years I’ve carried a Rick Steves backpack, which is an excellent high-quality pack. Great bag notwithstanding, it is unsuitable for our travel style—involving constant walking and changing locations almost every night. The bag is not fitted to my body type and dragged on my shoulders, making me feel like I might topple over, especially when walking downhill.
Naturally, I waited for a clearance sale. When the price was low enough I snapped up this REI Flash 52 pack. The pack is sized to my measurements and is lightweight. There are tons of confusing straps—fortunately REI has instructions on how to adjust them all.
(Those white bits on the lower right-hand corner of the photo are not straps: they’re cat’s feet. My cat Janacek simply would not stay out of the picture).
Janacek is admiring the curved straps and hip belt that balance the pack more comfortably on my shoulders.
I can’t endorse this pack yet, however, having not yet given it a trial run. My biggest fear is that I won’t be allowed to use it as a carry-on. Have any of you tried bringing a 52 sized pack on an airplane?
Next up, I needed a warm, water-resistant coat. Pro-tip: buy your winter coat in June. This Woolrich coat was under $40 on Amazon.
I also wanted pants that were semi-waterproof, which I could wash in the sink at night and have more or less dry by morning. Last spring I found these pants from Columbia for less than $20 at REI. I wore them during our trip to Romania and they were perfect.
Sorry if I’m starting to sound like one of those annoying gear-obsessed travelers. I’m not, really—in fact I’ve been all over Europe on trip after trip in thrift store-bought clothes and used walking shoes from eBay. You can travel with whatever you already own (or can borrow) as long as you always pack light and wear decent walking shoes. Have a few extra bucks to spend? Take it from this budget travel veteran: focus on waterproof clothes, especially if you travel off season. Decent gear is not sexy or photogenic, but that’s an acceptable trade-off for being warm, dry and light on your traveling feet.
What are your epic travel gear finds?