Robert Young Pelton has done what the rest of us should aspire to do: he’s turned a love for travel and adventure into a career. He’s the author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places (which has gone through multiple editions), as well as a journalist, documentary producer, and television personality. His specialty was producing on-the-spot situation reports from worldwide conflict zones.
Pelton was born in 1955 in Alberta, Canada, and quickly developed a taste for outdoor adventure. His early experiences were things like going on 1000 mile canoe trips, and participating in snowshoeing marathons in 50 degree subzero weather. Before finding his calling as an adventurer, he worked as a lumberjack, boundary cutter, tunneler, driller, and blaster’s assistant. In the 1990s he found what was to become his true calling: reporting from conflict zones and lawless places all over the world. The publication of The World’s Most Dangerous Places (co-written by Coskun Aral) cemented his status as the go-to journalist when it came to conflict zones.
Pelton has also managed to turn his interests into business ventures. He owns and runs “DPX Gear,” (the “DP” stands for “dangerous places”) a site that specializes in selling survival and outdoor gear. He has also written several books in the foreign travel and survival genre.
I do a lot of traveling myself, and even though I don’t visit conflict zones, I have found his books to be very useful. They have a wry sense of humor, and a quiet confidence, of a type that can only come from hard-earned experience in the real world.
What I’ve found to be most useful are his tips on travel packing and equipment. You may not need everything on this list. In fact, you won’t need most of the things on this list. But it’s nice to use this for ideas. In compiling this list, I have used Pelton’s exact words from The World’s Most Dangerous Places. Remember that this list was written in the mid-90s, so you’re not going to find anything about cell phones. Pelton does talk about laptops, but I considered that self-evident and not needed for this list.
I prefer a frameless backpack and a fanny pack. Locks and twist ties from garbage bags are good to slow down thieves. Put everything inside heavy-duty Ziploc Freezer bags and then put those inside garbage bags. Bring some spare bags also. Inside my fanny pack I like to have a small Pelican case with delicacies and expensives. I also carry a second fanny pack for toiletries. I use clear Tupperware containers to store first aid, medicine, and other small objects. Don’t scrimp on your pack, but remember it will come back smelling foul, ripped, and covered in dirt.
Even if you don’t know how to use one, you should have one. You can use them to tell time, measure maps, navigate by the stars, signal planes, shave with, and, God forbid, plot your course if you get lost. The best compasses are made by Silva and are available at any sporting goods store.
There are only two kinds you should consider buying–a small Tekna waterproof light. Get a yellow one so you can find it when you drop it. Better to get two or three, because they make great gifts. The other kind is a Petzl or REI waterproof head-mounted light. Maglights are great but are a bitch to hold onto in the mud. Don’t forget the batteries.
Cotton is about the only fabric worth wearing, and don’t get carried away with too many changes. After one week, everything will be damp, wrinkled, and smelly. For pants, the plain khaki fatigues made in Korea are your best bet. You can find them at any surplus store. Cabellas is also an excellent source. Banana Republic used to be good but these days the only thing worth getting is their correspondent’s vest. But you have to special-order that. Don’t forget.
Depending on where you’re going, pack lots of anti-diarrheals, electrolyte powder, antibiotics, insect-sting kits, antacids, antihistamines, antibiotic ointment, iodine, water purifiers, and a syringe or two.
This is for all those items you might need in an emergency. First aid kit, space blankets, Bic lighters, Swiss Army knife (get the one with the saw), whistle, Power Bars, rope, fishing line with hooks, candelbutts, Stoptrot or other electrolyte replacement product, and headache pills. Bring a sewing kit and get a surgical needle-shaped like a fishhook. Don’t forget a small first-aid manual.
Tavel Clock Calculator
I can never find the ones I like, so I buy them in the duty-free shops. The Sharp EL-470 acts as a timepiece, alarm clock, calculator, currency converter, and business card holder.
Get the kind used for fishing or in outdoor stores. They make great organizers hung over the back of your seat or hanging in your tent. Don’t wear the damn thing, as you look too much like a tourist.
Short Wave Radios
Sony makes them very small now.
Use them to snap your pack to a bus rail, bike frame, or whatever. You can hold items to your belt, hang things from trees, and even use them as belts as you lose weight.
Yellow And Black Danger Zone Tape
I use the heavy striped tape to mark my luggage, tape rips, pack boxes, and even fix my runners.
Boils, slivers, infected cuts: all may require a little field surgery.
Ziploc And Garbage Bags
Get the kind that Amurol makes in the tape form. It’s sold in a plastic snuff tin. Get the dayglo pink stuff; it drives the locals crazy to watch you blow those bubbles.
Empty Film Canisters
Take the clear kind that Fuji comes in. Take the top off, squeeze them, and they act like suction cups. Squeeze them with the tops on and they act like popguns. You can amuse little local kids for a long time with this sort of thing.
I could create peace in the world and brotherly love if I had enough Polaroid film to take pictures of every headhunter, mercenary, tribal warrior, soldier, or politician. They love it, and smiles break out all around. Think about it. How often does someone take your picture at work and then actually give you the copy right there?
It’s amazing how useless credit cards and traveler’s checks are in the desert or jungle. If you are doing deep into the dark places, bring about $1000 in US twenties, tens, and hundreds. Get new ones, wrap them in freezer bags, and hope that you won’t have to use them. Stash some of them in hiding places in your person and luggage. Some people sew their mad money into jackets (chancey) or wear them around their necks (dumb).
Good maps are difficult to get in third world countries. Spraying them with a spray fixative available in any art supply store will waterproof them.
Your passport, any tickets, credit cards, driver’s license, malaria pills, sunscreen, lip salve, spare glasses or contacts.
Letters of recommendation
These also help. If you get into a jam and need special dispensations, it doesn’t hurt to have glowing letters about you on fancy stationery. Lots of official stamps help too.
Extra Passport Photos
You will need them for visas, for newly found sweethearts, friends, and even the police need them to file reports. Easy to order extras at home, but a bitch to get when you need six of them for a visa to Laos.
Even if you never use most of the things here, you may get a good tip on one or two things. And travel knowledge is like this: it’s cumulative. Every little piece of it adds up.