After a brief summer hiatus, we finally come to the conclusion of our Essential Travel Gear series! In our last two posts we’ve covered essential travel gear for keeping your money safe and the best electronics to take for world travel. Now it’s time to talk about the little things that make a big difference in the long run. When it comes to staying healthy and keeping clean, a few little pieces of gear can make all the difference. Let’s take a look inside our bags...

Massage Ball/Lacrosse Ball

This might win the award for least expected, most amazing/useful gift received on our travels. When we first started out on our trip, we dropped by Columbus to visit our friends Nat & Rayn. We had a great time visiting food trucks and eating delicious meringues. Nat is a massage therapist and before we left he gave me a simple lacrosse ball. He said I could use it to work out knots on the road. OMG, was he right! This little ball has been our constant companion – you can roll your feet on it at the end of a hard day for instant relief, or put your back to a wall with the ball there to massage out knots in your lower or upper back. Calves cramping after a long day of walking? Rub the ball along the line where the shin meets the muscle and feel the aches melt away. Costing nearly nothing, this is a must have for any travelers! Thanks Nat!

Resistance Bands  

PictureThose pesky lats
As we traveled, yoga was our primary method for staying fit. After all, with yoga you only need a small space on the floor or ground to get a full body workout. But there are a couple muscle groups that even the most intense yoga workout leaves relatively untouched - mainly the biceps and the latissimus dorsi (back muscles). Typically you need equipment only found in a gym to work those muscles, which isn't available when hopping around the globe! By doing push-ups on the floor of your hotel, you can keep your pecs (chest) and triceps (the back of your arms) healthy and toned while traveling. But there is no easy way to work out your back and biceps. This is where the bands come in. To work both lats and biceps at one time, find a tree or a sturdy radiator in your room and wrap the band around it. Then grab each end, bend your knees slightly, and pull the band towards you. You want your elbows to scrape along your ribs and to pull your hands back to your ribs. This “rowing” motion will work both your biceps and your lats. 

Jeff demonstrating proper rowing technique using a coconut tree in Koh Lanta
Alternatively, you can stand on the band and do bicep curls like the picture on the right. Simply spread your legs further apart to work the biceps more (though this movement will not work your back like the above movement). By doing this and push-ups regularly you would never know I hadn’t been to a gym in over two years! Resistance bands come in different lengths and levels of tension, but the ones we used are made by Fitness Gear (click here for the link). We particularly liked these resistance tubes because you don't need the handles, which are unnecessary when trying to pack ultra-lite. Just build up your wrist strength and grab the ends (like the in the picture above) without handles. I used the "heavy" band and Neda used the "light" band – they easily fit around the circumference of our Porter packs.  

 Washing Line

When you’ve only got two days in a place to explore, I guarantee that you’re not going to want to sit and do laundry while time passes by. And if you are traveling ultralite, it often doesn’t make sense to pay to get a whole load done. So you end up washing a lot of shirts and underwear in the sink with a bar of soap. But what to do about drying? That is where a clothes line ends up making life a lot easier. Just a simple piece of thin rope can do, but I like a design like this GoTravel Pegless Washing Line. It has hooks on either end as well as suction cups that can attach to the hooks, giving you maximum versatility. We could put the hooks around an outside balcony and dry our clothes or if no balcony, suction the ends to the bathroom tiles. It’s a tiny, but very useful thing for long-term travelers especially!

Vibram Five Fingers

I mentioned these shoes in a previous post, but they deserve one more glance. The Vibram Five Fingers are quite popular now as a “minimalist” running shoe. The sole is so thin that it is almost like walking barefoot, and supporters say that it strengthens muscles in your feet that regular shoes don’t and encourages correct form in walking and running. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that they weigh nearly nothing. Neda’s model was the Bikila Shoe, weighing in at 7.5oz and Jeff’s the Komodo Sport (pictured), which at nearly double the size, still weigh in at  only 14.5oz! Compare that to an average athletic shoe and you are saving 1.5-2.5 pounds of weight!

PictureThe Five Fingers at the top of
Gunung Berinchang, Malaysia
The shoes really shine in their versatility. Forget about heavy hiking boots – we used these to climb the highest peaks of New Zealand and trek through the thickly wooded jungles of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. We used them as water shoes for snorkeling (though they don’t recommend that) and of course as shoes for morning runs. Want to do yoga outside? These are a great solution. And when you think about all the things you can do with that extra 2lbs of weight, they really are a no-brainer for travelers. We loved our five fingers!

Straightening Iron

From trekking through jungles to navigating through the humidity of India, it is hard to keep your hair looking good! One of Neda's favorite little tools was this mini straightening iron. It is so powerful, that she was able to straighten all of her hair with it and smooth the frizziness away! She knew she made the right choice, when she found out that fellow traveler and hair stylist, Shea, also wouldn't travel without her mini BaByliss PRO Nano. This tool is so small that it just fits on the side of the pack and doesn't take up any extra space or adds any weight. It is also dual voltage to be used worldwide with the appropriate adapters. 

That wraps up our series on essential travel gear for trotting the globe. Hope that this gear helps you on our journey and have a great trip!
My Mom and I drove out of her suburban development amidst torrential rainfall this morning. Despite the traffic and poor weather, we had a destination from which we would not be deterred. As we started driving she said to me:
"You've traveled around the world, but it's here at home you'll see the greatest miracle of them all."
She was right.
Summer Fields was born at 10:59am this morning and I have riding a wave of joy ever since. I've seen the morning sun beam onto the alabaster brilliance of the Taj Mahal, literally flown through the jungles of Laos, meditated in the holiest places of Japan, and climbed mountains in New Zealand that jut out of the earth as if they were the chess pieces of God. And while all these experiences have impressed upon my soul a true appreciation of natural beauty as well as a deep humility before my fellow man, they are like pale shadows compared to the joy that bloomed in my heart when I saw my newest niece for the first time.   
PictureMiranda, my little slice of cuteness
I have felt an incredible connection to my other baby niece Miranda since we came home and have been caring for her during the week. She has already taught me so much about selfless giving, smiling just for the helluva it, and cherishing the moments that fly away so fast. But we didn't get home in time to catch her birth and so I didn't get to have the experience I had with Summer today. The experience of a life just beginning, full of unlimited potential, and surrounded by love. I can't wait to continue to be a part of her life as I am a part of Miranda's & Summer's big sister Ella. To share in her triumphs and her oops's and to see her learn from both.  

Mom & Dad gaze at their creation in awe
Aunt Sam & Grandma Fields with Baby Summer
Ella meets Summer for the first time with Gaga Lyn
Today was truly a great day. While we were traveling our eyes were continually opened to new cultures, new languages, new foods, and new friendships. It was such a wonderful experience to feel like a baby again in the arms of the world. And then to come home and look into the eyes of one who is just awakening to this world - its joy and sorrows, causes deep feelings to arise. It makes me look anew at being careful stewards of this place we call home and the people who live within it so that our children can be cradled the same way I have been. It is both joy and responsibility rolled into one, feelings I didn't used to equate with one another! It is a commitment to love more fiercely than ever so the warmth of that love may spill out on others when they are feeling cold. The warmth of Summer.