the pen is mightier than the sword – especially when traveling


The old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword may be true in international diplomacy, but it is especially true when traveling. As I pondered kicking off the new flyingnorthblog category “gear” in the newly launched site, I scanned my brain for the many times when traveling that a particular gadget or piece of gear was the difference between smooth sailing and stormy seas.

With the advent of portable wifi devices such as smartphones and netbooks, given there is a wifi signal, connectivity and staying in contact with one’s friends, family, and work, and checking travel-related information such as the weather and flight status is easier than ever. The many gadgets created for experience-specific purposes, such as for camping, have created the possibility for the semblance of comfort in otherwise challenging locations [i.e. camping on the ground in the Serengeti with no water because during the middle of the night an elephant knocked down the water tower – a personal true story].

While all of the gear and gadgetry that came to mind is definitely helpful, when I parsed it down, next to a toothbrush of course, the most important piece of travel gear that one can carry is one of the most basic – a simple pen.

Why? To start with, most countries require landing cards, customs declarations or tourist cards completed before someone can enter or exit their territory. Without a pen, especially if you are traveling alone, this process becomes one of beg, borrow and steal – and you may find yourself in an area in which pens are not flowing like water like they are in the U.S. You would be surprised at how elusive a simple pen can be when on the road in, let’s say, Central Asia.

Further, a writing utensil is particularly useful when getting directions, marking locations on a map, or figuring out currency conversions if you are not the kind of financial nerd that can do this on the fly in whatever side of your brain does that sort of thing. If you are really the anal retentive type and happen to have extra pens left over, school children in most places on the globe will welcome a big gift of a small pen. In this way, the pen can also be used as a means of saying thanks to the locals for allowing you to visit their country.

I cannot underscore enough how important it is to carry a pen when traveling. In fact I usually carry two – one in my small day pack [OK it’s a man purse] and one in my main bag.

So, my first official piece of gear advice to you is – take a pen, every time.