An Interview with an Ultralight, Minimalist, Cross-Country Bikepacker

Today, I am extra excited to present to you my first interview with a real-life Active Minimalist, Sarah. Not long after she obtained her PhD, she packed her bags, put what few possessions she had into storage, and biked solo(!) for three-thousand miles from California to Florida.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The magnitude of her 55-day journey and inspiring stories touched me so deeply I just couldn’t resist asking her if she’d allow me to feature her story on this blog. I felt like a million bucks when she accepted!

A few weeks ago on a lovely Friday afternoon, I was doing as most office bees do – happily wrapping up work for the week, excitedly anticipating the sunny spring weekend in which I – in true minimalist fashion – planned absolutely nothing, which happens so rarely that I cannot remember the last time I didn’t have an obligation of some sort. In between emails and reports and phone calls, I fantasized about the books I would read, the food I would cook, the friends I would catch up with, and so on. Then, in the early afternoon shortly after lunch, a message popped up on my phone. She mentioned that she was in town and asked if I was interested in playing board games.

I hadn’t seen Sarah at all since she graduated and gleefully whisked her tiny self off to California, so I was super psyched that she was going to be in town during the one weekend I was available to host her. Back when she was still in the area, we often got together with friends to play board games and hang out. After a few back-and-forth texts, I found out that she was arriving the next day and would only be around for the weekend and didn’t yet have a place to stay, so I offered her my couch and an extra blanket. She spent the days catching up with other friends in the area, and I was lucky enough to hear about her most memorable moments and thoughts about her remarkable journey. As it turned out, she was on her way back to California and staggering Amtrak train trips. She burst through the front door with a glowing smile and I had never seen her happier. At that moment, I didn’t even know that she had been on the road for so long.

Credit goes to MMM for the interview format.

Trip Overview

Me: Thank you so much for letting me interview you! I am so lucky to have such cool people in my life. So, how did you decide that you wanted to take this journey?

Sarah: It was just a fun thing I wanted to do.

Me (aside): Ahh, spontaneity – one of the joys of a minimalist lifestyle. The freedom to pack your bags and journey wherever your heart desires – that is bliss.

Me: And that is the only reason you need! How did you decide the route? How many miles did you bike and how long did it take?

Sarah: I started in San Diego near UCSD, biked to the coast, and then mostly followed the Southern Tier route which ends in St. Augustine. It was about 3000 miles and took about 55 days. I started on March 1st and got to Jacksonville on April 26th.

If you’re ever interested in bike touring, I can recommend two websites – the Adventure Cycling Association which has lots of route maps and indicates where all the rest stops, campsites, grocery stores, bike shops, motels, convenience stores – and Warmshowers, the biker hosting website which also has an app.

There are also lots of bike touring blogs out there.

Me: About how many miles did you bike each day? Did you ever stop or did you bike straight from start to finish?

Sarah: I didn’t train for this, so it was difficult at first.  The first day, I only went 15 miles – it was all uphill and into a headwind. But I did get faster – about 2/3 through, there was one hill I went on, when I crested the hill, that I felt the weightless feeling.

I averaged about 50 miles a day – more miles in flat states and fewer in the mountainy ones. The most I biked in one day was 104 miles. I had forgotten my Kindle at the last place I slept.

And I got faster – the second day, I only went 15 miles! It was all uphill and into a headwind. I remember one moment when I was going up a large hill, and when I crested the hill, I got that weightless feeling – the kind you get when you’re on a roller coaster – and that’s how I knew I had gotten faster.

I did take breaks – I also took a couple days off.

Me (aside)The awesomeness of discovering how your body just adapts to the demands you place on it is a superb confidence booster. We talk about working out as though it was some annoying thing we have to do – but really, it’s just a celebration of the body’s miraculous capability of doing amazing things.

Gear

Me: (eyeing her bike – there was a rack in the back with 2 panniers…and that was about it): Is that really all you brought?!

Sarah: Yep (proudly pointing at her things) – that’s my entire life! I saw a lot of other bikers on the same route and I always had the least amount of stuff. Usually people had bags in the front of their bikes and along the frame. People like to pack a lot of stuff.

Me: Haha yes – people like to be prepared, and no one wants to be stranded in the middle of rural America. What clothing did you bring?

Sarah: 2 pairs of bike shorts, 1 pair of bike pants, 2 pairs of normal shorts, 1 pair of jeans, though I would have brought something else because jeans are heavy and not very comfortable to sleep in. A few shirts…1 biking jersey, but mostly t-shirts. A few tank tops. I didn’t bring gloves…that surprised people. A hat.

Me: What about sunglasses?

Sarah: I had safety glasses.

Me (aside): Sarah didn’t wear biking shoes – made sense – she then only needed one pair of shoes. She was also riding a normal commuter bike. Almost everyone else had clippy shoes. Also, if I were to do a trip like this, I would most certainly bring sunglasses to avoid damaging my eyes!

Me: Is your phone the only thing you brought? Did you also bring a backpack? How did you pack your things?

Sarah: Yes. I did also have my backpack. I had my phone and toilet paper in here.

Usually, I’d strap my sleeping bag to the top. When it rained, I wrapped it with a black garbage bag.

(pointing at the right pannier) In here, I had clothes and supplies.

(pointing at the left pannier): Food went in here.

Me (aside): She brought so little stuff that there was really no need to balance the weight.

Me: How and where did you sleep? Did you usually get up early?

Sarah: I mostly camped in my 20 degree sleeping bag and single-person tent (North Face Stormbreak tent). I didn’t bring all the guylines and stakes so the tent was only about 3 pounds. I usually woke up before sunrise, ate breakfast in my tent, went to the bathroom, and then got on the road. I often liked to get on the road before the sun rose so I could finish biking before the hottest part of the day.

Me: Did you bring any bike supplies?

Sarah: A pump, one extra tube (if I got a flat I would buy one at the next town), tire levers, a patch kit, a multitool, chain lube, and extra screws for my rack. It’s a good thing I had those screws because one screw did fall out.

Me: Did you get any flats?

Sarah: Yes – 2 flats – both in Texas. There were a lot of thorns – goathead thorns – and random debris like tire bits. It was like going through a minefield. Texas is very wide so it ends up being a third of the trip, so it’s not surprising.

Me (aside): I’d categorize Sarah’s setup unquestionably in the ultralight category. Ultralight is often thrown around as a marketing term in the outdoor gear industry and there aren’t any well defined “weight limits” for lightweight vs ultralight. But looking at her gear, I consider Sarah’s setup to be ultralight-minimalist. She didn’t splurge on anything very expensive and only brought what she really needed. She didn’t even bring a sleeping pad! She told me her puffy jacket was enough and that she didn’t feel the rocks underneath. I’m sure being young helped too.

Me: Let’s talk about food. Did you bring a stove? What did you eat?

Sarah: I ate normal food – vegetables, fruit. I mostly ate food that didn’t need cooking – trail mix, peanut butter, protein bars, avocado, cheese/salami/tortilla to go with the tortilla. I stopped at grocery stores a lot and also fast food places and restaurants. I averaged about 2 tacos a day. Sometimes 14, sometimes 0, but averaged 2.

Food tastes better when you’re biking, somehow! There was one day when I ate a liter and a half of ice cream. It was hard at first for my body to get used to, because – no exaggeration – I needed three times the amount of food I normally ate, which is only 1000-some calories. I was burning about 3000 calories a day.

That reminds me – there was one time when I saw these berries on the side of the road, so at the next convenience store I asked what type of berries they were. And they were blackberries! So the next time I saw them, I spent like 2 hours picking them. It was like winning the lottery.

Me: Did you drink anything besides water?

Sarah: I only drank water, but it was important, especially in the desert, to have enough water, so sometimes I strapped a gallon of water to my rack with a bungee cord.

Me (aside): She did make a full list of her things:

  • Shoes
  • 2 1-liter Nalgene bottles
  • 1 Camelbak bottle
  • Hat
  • Red and blue bags for clothes that double as pillows
  • Light jacket
  • Soft shell rain jacket (doubles as sleeping mat)
  • 20F sleeping bag
  • 1 person tent
  • Dish towel
  • Clothes (2 bike shorts and 1 bike pants, 2 normal shorts, 1 normal pants – jeans, ~6 tops, couple handfuls of socks/underwear)
  • Bag of food w/a few sandwich bags and a plastic spoon
  • Helmet with mirror
  • Safety glasses
  • Daypack
  • Kindle
  • Pen/paper
  • Wallet/extra cash
  • Smartphone/headphones
  • Extra batteries
  • Headlamp
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, pads, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, comb, shampoo/conditioner, soap, razor, tweezers, nail clippers, scissors, hair ties)
  • Bungee cords/panniers on back wheel rack
  • Bike tools (pump, tire levers, extra tube, patch kit, multitool, chain lube, zipties)
  • Trash bags
  • Reflectors
  • Sunscreen
  • Bike lock

Trip Details

Me: What kinds of people did you meet? Did you ever feel alone?

Sarah: Mostly retired people, and they were from all around the world. They usually tried to figure out what I’m doing. Everyone asked my age. Then they’d ask if I was alone. Then they’d ask if I was afraid of this, this, and this. They were always telling me what I needed to be scared of.

People are very, very nice. They offered to drive me to the next town, the next campsite, the grocery store. They would invite me to sit with them at their campsites and share stories by the campfire. There were a couple bikers that I met at the beginning of the trip, and then didn’t see them for about 1,000 miles, and then I saw them again.

It’s promising to see people in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, even a woman in her 90’s – still staying active and getting out there. I heard a lot about the legendary 90-year old biker. She would stop anywhere – even at the bottom of a big hill after losing all her momentum – and stop, just to take a photo. People would fondly tell stories about her, including one where they saw her bike lying on the side of the road, and, worrying that she was hurt, looked all around for her…and she had simply gone to lay down in a big field of flowers with a big smile on her face!

My goal is to be a cool old person.

I never really felt lonely. You meet a lot of people along the way – at rest stops, at campsites. I met new friends – people I would stay in touch with. Plus, I had my communication machine smartphone with me.

Me: Were there a lot of people doing the same route?

Sarah: Yes – a few hundred per year do this route.

Me: Were you ever scared?

Sarah: Not really. The people I encountered – when they caught onto what I was doing, they were like, “you’re alone? Aren’t you scared?” and proceeded to tell me all the things I should be scared of – the standard three.

I always felt safe at campsites.

There were a couple times when I was afraid that I was going to get run over…people not paying attention. The only time I was scared was when I got bitten by a dog. I got chased by dogs all the time but this one was waiting for me, and then as I passed, it ran up next to me and attacked.

There was one stretch near the sand dunes where there the road would go up and down, but you couldn’t see what was on the other side of the hill, and there was no shoulder. When I saw a car, I stopped and pulled over.

Me (aside): Fear is something that I struggle with more than I like to admit. We talk about biking being dangerous, and if you constantly put yourself in careless situations, it can be. Sarah assured me that people she met were very, very nice. I was tempted to do the finger wag of disapproval myself! Bad things can happen anywhere, wherever you are, even close to home, or even at home. All you can really be is as vigilant as you can and exercise good judgment. Bikepacking has its risks, as does careening down a highway at 70+ mph during rush hour.

Me: Did you have a favorite state?

Sarah: Arizona. I really like the rocky landscape – moreso than trees.

Me: What about least favorite?

Sarah: Louisiana…but not just because of the dog. The people, the love of guns. They had margarita drive-thru’s there! I once saw one that was attached to an ammunition store and a post office.

Me: What was your favorite day?

Sarah: It’s really hard to pick just one – there were so many good days! The prettiest day was when I visited the Tonto Forest in Arizona by the salt river. I also like the first day – the first day was nice because I got to see a couple friends in SD that I hadn’t seen in 5 years. I also took a short ferry on the day I made it to Florida and there were birds that followed the boat’s draft, occasionally diving into the water to catch fish.

Me: It was your birthday recently right? Happy belated! Did you do anything special on your birthday?

Sarah: Yes – I ate a lot of ice cream, went to a really cool aviation museum, and saw an air show. The planes flew super close!

Me: Did you take any days off?

Sarah: I took two days off – one after getting bitten by the dog, and once in Tallahassee. It was going to rain that day.

Me (aside): Pretty amazing – she had all the time in the world, yet she only felt compelled to take a couple days off. 

Me: Did you get a lot of sunburns?

Sarah: I got a light one and a few inches on my back because I missed a spot. Putting on sunscreen was part of my routine – I usually put it on in the morning. I became a connoisseur of sunscreen because I went through 4 bottles of sunscreen! I recommend Neutrogena’s SPF 70 sunscreen that comes in the yellow bottle which doesn’t smell as bad and isn’t as icky as other sunscreens.

I never had to reapply it throughout the day – they always tell you to reapply it on the back of the bottles, but not because the sunscreen degrades – sunscreen technology is advanced enough that that doesn’t really happen – it’s because people don’t apply enough and everywhere the first time. Also, some people sweat like crazy, but I do not.

Me (aside): I guess I get to stop stressing about reapplying sunscreen!

Me: What would you do differently next time?

Sarah: I would not bring jeans. They’re heavy and not comfortable to sleep in. I probably also wouldn’t bring my u-lock. Most people had cable locks.

Next time, I’d also like to bike tour with somebody. Being by yourself gives you freedom – but it’d be nice to be able to share gear and have someone to talk to.

Me: Are you looking forward to being back home? What do you miss?

Sarah: Yes. I miss my computer. I miss having a bathroom I can use at any time. I even miss cooking! I always thought of cooking as a chore, but I miss it!

Me (aside): Sarah has always been a minimalist in just about every way, but she didn’t realize there was a word for it. Back when she was still working on her PhD, she had explained to me why she liked Soylent, and her explanation told me right then and there that we were on the same wavelength, though I am not such a fan of Soylent. 

When she left, she left some bananas and a small bottle of Nutella on my counter with a note telling me that bananas and Nutella were an excellent alternative to energy gels. I told her that I would love to accompany her on her travels, but that 2 months was more vacation time than I had available to me at the current moment, and our trip would need to be shorter than that (unless I staggered it in December-January).

It’s easy to be swept up into the dreary monotony of routine and spend off-hours vegging on the couch or some picturesque beach. For many people, adventuring doesn’t really come to mind when we think about vacation and decompressing.

Sometimes, we look at people like Sarah and cast our net of judgment on them. She’s crazy! Who would ever do a thing like that? Think about what could have happened! How…cavalier! But the truth is, we need people like that. We need people to show us what we’re capable of. We need people to try crazy things. Otherwise, Everest would never have been climbed, planes would never have been invented, skydiving wouldn’t be a thing, and how on earth would we ever have gotten to the moon?

We need more people like Sarah to show us that there is more to our lives than routines, that we might as well be bold, explore the world, and show everyone else just how beautiful the world can be if we give it a chance.

The Advent of Women’s Techwear

via Pixabay

Techwear is clothing that uses technical fabrics and features to emphasize “movement, comfort, and presentability.” Let’s not confuse techwear with athleisure – athleisure clothing is simply athletic clothing worn in casual settings. This is a phenomenon that has only recently come to fruition, and I only discovered there was such a term for it when I began building my cycling wardrobe. Indeed, any outdoor sport or activity requiring special fabrics and features in attire and gear utilize techwear principles when designing products, but only recently have they also begun to consider aesthetics (a good example of this is ugly travel clothing). Numerous small companies are popping up and they cater mainly to the outdoor sport crowd, like backpackers and cyclists. Unfortunately, this also means they often only carry menswear or have a limited stock of women’s clothing. With stores carrying hearty stock of women’s clothing, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more techwear companies out there that cater to women.

The Ridiculousness of High Maintenance Clothing & Accessories

I once worked for a company where I was told that skirts and dresses are considered more formal than pants and that high heels are basically required for formal occasions.  Huh. We need to require women to wear unquestionably uncomfortable attire that is proven to be bad for the posture? My working career is only 5 years, but I’ve noticed a shift to more casual offices, and I really appreciate that shift, because it reduces the time I need to spend getting ready in the morning and taking care of my clothes. Of course, there are always going to be some people who still find that a formal outfit is going to earn them more points in the business world (and it has even been proven), particularly if you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, but I think that dressing well will not make up for a lack of a professional demeanor or business acumen.

The idea of dressing up or owning lots of formal clothes and accessories used to excite me, but I’ve started to see it as just another chore. There is nothing practical about formalwear. Suits have to be fitted to your ever-changing body, dry-cleaned, ironed, stored a certain way, and have to travel in a suit bag. Floaty blouses are often made with overly delicate fabrics and need to be hand-washed and often don’t travel well, as they wrinkle when packed in a suitcase. High heels are hard to travel with as they are a very particular shape and tend to be heavy and uncomfortable. Stilettos can’t be worn on anything other than hard ground. Excessive jewelry weighs you down and has to be carefully stored and taken care of (and comes with a need to buy specialty storage, cleaner, etc.). The more expensive the pieces are, the more obsessed you may become about keeping them pristine, and companies have latched onto this need by selling “specially formulated” cleaning solutions: example 1example 2, and example 3. Corporate offices are still hubs of Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and J Crew catalog personas, arms full of dry cleaning and cubicles full of spare heels.

I was very relieved after getting rid of all my high maintenance clothing – almost everything I own can be machine washed – but that doesn’t mean I am by any means cheap. I’ve splurged considerably when building my wardrobe, because I care about a lot when it comes to clothing. I want to be able to wear the same dress to a fancy dinner and on my bike (thanks to Nuu-Muu, I can now achieve this). I want to be able to machine-wash all my clothes, pack them all down small, and wear them in multiple settings. I want clothes that last, don’t cost several thousand dollars, and don’t quickly go out of fashion.

Blending Aesthetics & Practicality

via Pixabay

Typical brand name designers take into account two things: aesthetics and durability, while techwear takes it one step further and adds an element of movement and ease of maintenance into their pieces. Their models are not just pretty faces and skinny bodies – they also tend to be athletic. “Fashion” focuses entirely on aesthetics and trends. It’s really an art form – meant to evoke a reaction or tell a story, perhaps, or meant to impress others with social standing. But unless your hobby is spending a lot of time experimenting with your outer appearance or trying to impress other people with your stuff, I find that stuffing your closet with tons of clothing, expensive or not, causes more stress than having only your favorite clothes.

The problem is, “practical” clothing also tends to be synonymous with boring, ugly, and just generally unflattering. A great example is “travel shirts” that are boxy and come in pastel colors only, despite being easily washed and packable. This is where techwear comes in to save the day. If we must wear suits, why don’t we make suits that not only fit well, but also can be machine-washed, packable, and lightweight? Why do jeans need to be heavy and take forever to dry? Why do we need to wear pants that require a belt? Why do athletic clothes need to only come in clashing neons and plastered with logos? Lots of major retailers have already picked up on this, but it is pretty rare to see it put into practice so far.

Techwear for Women?

People who know me well also know my obsession with Lululemon. I’ve been following Lululemon for 4 years now, and my first piece was a $42 (now $48) black Free-to-Be bra which I still use and wear every week.  Yesterday, my beloved Lululemon Heart Opener tank ripped to shreds while practicing an aerial silks triple star drop, and it is the only piece of Lululemon that has actually worn beyond repair. It lasted over three years of weekly use. Lululemon has a team of great designers, though their releases tend to be hits or misses. They regularly release thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories that intersect fashion and practicality. Uniqlo is another great example of a company that has begun to intersect all of my expectations for clothing, and the bonus is that they are also affordable. They point out features that make something worth buying instead of creating a “persona” for a brand.

Unfortunately, most of the brands that have started to do this, like I mentioned before, only create menswear. Even Outlier has stated that there hasn’t been strong enough market for women’s techwear and discontinued their women’s line as a result. I often wonder if it’s because women don’t know that techwear exists, or that men still dominate the landscape as far as outdoor adventures go, so there is no incentive to cater to women. But I’m confident that as we move forward, more women will catch on.

Obscure Brands that make Women’s Techwear

I have only purchased a couple jackets from Aether and have no experience with the other brands below, but feel free to browse to get an idea of what is out there.

Aether Apparel

Nau

Triple Aught Design

For further reading, look no further than this 5-part series by Dressed Down.

Let’s Talk Shoes: Minimalist Shoes, Barefoot Shoes, and Decluttering Footwear

photo-1456613820599-bfe244172af5

Growing up, my go-to footwear was always a comfortably padded pair of athletic sneakers. I wore them despite not being athletic at the time. I wore my first pair of heels when I went to my high school prom, and I was hooked on the way I felt while wearing them – confident, sexy, and feminine. Prom was the beginning of my 180 degree transformation from t-shirt and jeans teenager to frilly dresses and high heels young woman in college. I still had a few pairs of Skechers Mary Janes for daily wear, but I obsessed over high heels and purchased an unthinkable number of them from Aldo and Nine West. I didn’t even necessarily wear them – I had them all lined up in my closet and just looking at the shiny, polished leather made me feel happy. I would sometimes strut around my dorm room in them and practice walking in heels while looking in the mirror, trying to look poised and confident.

I flipped a 180 again after graduating college and I began obsessing over flats. It wasn’t until I purchased my first pair of Tieks in 2012 that my obsession came to fruition (thanks, Facebook ad). Tieks marked the end of my search for a comfortable ballet flat, and I still wear Tieks today, but I have largely pared down my collection. After beginning to wear Tieks on a daily basis, I inadvertently discovered that my feet did not need “arch support.” I have high arches, but because I had been wearing Tieks for so long, the muscles in my feet gradually developed to support my body. Think about it – decades ago, children ran and played outside in the dirt barefoot, only wearing shoes for formal events like Sunday church. Now that modern society grows up wearing “supportive” shoes, we’ve adapted to our feet needing a sort of “brace” to feel comfortable walking, and we are no longer used to developing foot muscle. Shoe companies come up with all sorts of ways to sell us the concept that our feet are unable to support our bodies, especially when we are active, so they come up with thousands of models of shoes to convince us that we need a certain type of shoe for every activity we perform.

While high impact activity like running on pavement and HIIT training still give supportive shoes with padded soles a place in our closets, I find that we still have more to gain by wearing barefoot shoes or minimalist shoes on a daily basis. Not only do they allow your feet a chance to develop muscle, they are also usually more lightweight and flexible, giving them the added bonus of being travel friendly. With the strength of your own feet, your shoes are enablers rather than crutches – they protect your feet, but your feet support themselves.

My closet contained about 40 pairs of shoes when I first began decluttering my shoe collection. For transparency, today, my shoe collection consists of the following (will be updated as needed):

1 pair of running shoes for pavement running or stair running (Nike Flyknit Lunar 3)
1 pair of cycling shoes (Giro Riela II)
1 pair of cross fit shoes for HIIT-style workouts involving heavy lateral work (Inov-8 F-Lite 240)
1 pair of trail running shoes (Salomon Speedcross 3)
1 pair of minimalist trail running shoes (Merrell Vapor Glove 2) <– these are my lightest pair, at 4 oz per shoe
1 pair of classic pumps (Ann Taylor Perfect Pumps in patent black) <– discontinued
4 pairs of foldable flats (Tieks – neutral pink, copper, yellow, and blue)
2 pairs of flip flops (the <$5 variety) for showering in public places like gyms or going to the beach
1 pair of minimalist boots (Vivobarefoot Gobi Hi-tops)
1 pair of rain boots (Hunter Classic tall) for clamming and muddy hikes

Total: 14 pairs of shoes

One could argue that my collection is not really “minimalist” judging by the sheer number of shoes and the fact that I have 4 pairs of Tieks. However, I am not trying to only own the “essential” for keeping myself comfortably alive – all my footwear serves a purpose that facilitates an active lifestyle. There is some truth in the claim that having the right gear will motivate you to #optoutside. But I can justify why I have each pair and I know when I would use each and every one of them.

Perhaps I will pare down my 4 Tieks to 2 pairs, and then 12 will be my magic number. Perhaps I don’t really need rain boots because I use them about once or twice a year (I keep them in wet ‘n’ rainy Seattle). The bottom line is – I am fully aware of what I own and after owning too many shoes, I have become very careful about what I add to my collection. I’m sure my collection will morph over time, but one thing is certain – I will not let any of my shoes go unused and unloved.

Ultralight Travel Notes: Coconut Oil

Greetings from Seoul!

I am an ultralight traveler, which means I only travel with a single bag. When I travel, I typically bring a single backpack that does not exceed 25L. Traveling light is less about traveling with few things and more about traveling with efficiency. And here, I present to you one  of my favorite magic potions: coconut oil.

Coconut oil with pink moleskine

Coconut oil has a million different uses, from personal care to powering automobiles. When I travel, I use it as:

  1. Body lotion
  2. Eye moisturizer
  3. Eye makeup remover
  4. Hair conditioner
  5. Cooking oil

Just a tiny vat of it, for all those uses, and a little goes a long way! At room temperature, the oil is solid, which means it is mess-free, although if you plan to take it with you to a hotter climate, you’ll need a leakproof container. If you’ve never used coconut oil before, it does have a scent to it that may be off-putting to some, but I personally love the nutty aroma.

Raw coconut

What magical potions do you carry on your travels?