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Accidental Tourist

Tech's meant to make our lives easier, but it sure makes packing a pain

Chargers and batteries and cables, oh my. Paul Ash laments the tangled webs we weave when travelling with all our tech

03 June 2018 - 00:00 By paul ash

It should be a normal autumn Monday afternoon. Soft light, red leaves dropping softly from the Japanese maple, Alphonse the cat snoozing quietly in the sun.
A scene of glorious peace.
Except that it is not. Inside the flat, an enraged man is frantically stuffing a battered wheelie case with things for a 10-day trip to Europe.
It is 3pm. His flight pushes back from the gate at 6.30pm. And he has not checked in online - he rarely does because departure days remind those who witness them of the British army's evacuation of Dunkirk: at first orderly, polite starts, then chaos and screaming and fountains of water and the whistle of incoming artillery rounds.
That man is me. Once again, I am cutting it too, too fine. I have not missed a flight yet (although I did once arrive at the airport well on time but a day late), but every fly-day is leavened with self-induced panic.
The problem today - and all these days - is not the clothes. Clothes are easy: something clean for every day. Jacket. A couple of buffs. Hoodie. A hat.
The problem is the impedimenta that must be remembered, first, then packed.
Digital camera. Spare battery. Charger. Phone. Kindle - which I will never turn on once in the week I am gone. More chargers. iPad and charger and that Applebloodycable. Oh, don't have one - borrow my girl's. She'll have to make a plan, sorry.A monopod because hey, I'm gonna shoot some video and shaky handheld camera work is so 1970s porno.
A digital recorder and two microphones (because I have the ambitions and delusions of a pro field recordist). Batteries and yet another charger. Two mic cables and a furry windscreen.
The panic is building. The clock in my head ticks with a ponderous tock-tock-tock. All the tech stuff must fit in the too-small carry-on daypack. Even though I know security will foam at the mouth when the mics and cables and batteries show up on the X-ray, I persist in this madness.Alphonse sleeps on, oblivious, while I wrestle with my small demons. Should I take the stereo mic? Ja! What epic soundscapes. But the cable is 5m long, and bulky. So I unpack it. OK, only those other two mics then. And their cables.
Memory cards! It's almost funny that I always forget the memory cards. Ha-ha-ha.
The mound of stuff reduces then expands again as I pack and unpack. Tick. Tock.
Should I take the 90mm lens? Heavy. But ooh, those trams in Lisbon's narrow streets ... I dig out the lens, wrap it in a buff, pack it. The daypack's zippers are as taut as a rockstar's jeans. Bloody hell, it's like a dead horse.
Unpack the lens and while I'm putting it tenderly back into its special waterproof case, which lives under the dresser in the bedroom (I'm a squirrel, I stash stuff), my watch beeps. 4pm.Now I'm soaked in sweat. Too late to Uber. Joburg rush hour and not a single Uber driver in the world will ever "make time" when the chips are down.
There was a time, even after travel became my job, that my gear for a month-long trip was a small rucksack of clothes, a kikoi, a pair of boots, and a tiny messenger bag with a beat-up Nikon film camera, a couple of rolls of film, a spare hearing-aid battery (for the camera) and a notebook and pen.
It's funny, then, I think as we crawl by Uber to the Gautrain station, that the glittering promise of the Digital Age - to make life simple and free us from the drudgery of a slow, plodding analogue world - has us all trussed-up like Christmas turkeys.
• Do you have a funny or quirky story about your travels? Send 600 words to travelmag@sundaytimes.co.za and include a recent photograph of yourself for publication with the column...

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