Best accessories that I brought from home:
+ Kinesys spray-on sunscreen
I enjoyed the ease of use. A few pumps from the bottle treated my ears, face, neck, hands and feet. When sun protection was a necessary daily routine, this convenience endeared itself to me. I packed the bottle in the checked luggage to comply with the aircraft cabin 100ml fluids limit.
+ Baseball cap with LEDs in the brim
I took along a Panther Vision cap with four LEDs. I suppose any brand would do. The advantage is that the cap is like a perfectly ordinary cotton cap, which I used to keep the sun off my face. I sunburn easily. The LEDs served as a headlamp whenever I had to fumble around in the dark. This dual-purpose cap saves the bother of taking yet more gear in the form of a separate headlamp. Two of the LEDs failed early, likely due to faulty wiring, but the other two functioned all through the trip, and I was satisfied.
+ Jansport Sinder 22 daypack
This light, inexpensive daypack has two small outside zipped pockets, one inside mesh pocket, and an internal backpanel divider. The Sinder’s small size stopped me from taking idiotic quantities of stuff with me when I set out each day, and was still big enough to accommodate some groceries at the end of the day. The pockets were handy for organizing my paintbrush, pencil and eraser, and small necessities. The internal divider was good for organizing the main compartment. The main compartment’s drawstring top allowed me to carry something that sticks out, flexibility that a zipper does not easily afford.
+ Repurposed smartphone
A friend at home loaded a Cyanogen operating system onto an old smartphone that another friend no longer needed. At the airport in India I was able to buy a special tourist SIM card. Ordinarily, Indian law prohibits telecom providers from selling a SIM card to a foreigner. The exception to this ban was in the main hall of the airport where I arrived. With this legally acquired SIM card and the data plan that I was able to purchase, I had internet, including Google Maps, at my fingertips.
+ Quick dry travel underwear
I wanted to carry the minimum of clothing, so that meant washing my clothes about every two days. I was happy to have something that washes easily, dries quickly, and is anti-odour. I used Ex-Officio and was satisfied with it.
+ Super lightweight travel trousers with several zip pockets
My pair of trousers was about twenty years old, so I don’t know whether their equivalent exists these days. I did not want to deal with the nuisance of losing keys, wallet or other things and the zip pockets did their job well. These lightweight nylon trousers were easy to wash, dried quickly, and were comfortable. They had zip-off legs should I ever need swimming trunks.
+ Second-hand silk shirts
I have learned that silk shirts make ideal travel wear. They weigh very little, wash easily, dry quickly, and are comfortable over a wide range of temperatures. I have found used silk shirts at thrift stores, and that is the only way that I can justify buying them. I think that a brand new silk shirt would cost too much, and be too precious to subject to the rigours of travel. After a couple of months of daily use, the silk shirts do wear out. But then it is possible to buy nice cotton shirts en route. The cotton does not dry as quickly as silk, but it dries quickly enough.
+ Tiny compass on a lanyard
I carried a tiny Suunto compass to help me find my way. I come from 49 degrees north, and my usual direction-finding habits using the sun did not work at 10 degrees latitude, at least not to begin with. After a while, I think that I developed a sense of direction.
+ Axiom Appalachian bicycle panniers
I searched around until I found these inexpensive, simple, light, old-style panniers at a Vancouver bicycle shop. This is the old pannier design that never got any respect even thirty years ago: It is a single piece of luggage that consists of two saddle bags joined by a web of fabric that rests on the bicycle rear rack. A fabric handle on the web makes the pannier easy to carry when it is off the bicycle. The fabric is lightweight. Each side of the pannier has one medium-sized compartment and one small side pocket. Zippers close the compartments. A thin stripe of reflective material runs across the rear. Elastic shock cord and hook-and-loop (Velcro) attaches the pannier to the rack. This is about as simple as a pannier can be. This was the pannier that one bought if one could not afford anything better. However, I specifically sought out this pannier because I appreciated its virtues.
I already had traditional, high-quality panniers that I did not want to take because they are heavy, due to their large size, thick fabric, numerous pockets, double layers, reinforcements, and hardware. The high quality panniers are complex. They are also separates, difficult to carry, and fiddly to attach and remove if that includes clipping them together to form one bag for carrying by hand.
The simple Axiom Appalachian panniers were a delight to use. I knew that they were light duty, and I did not overload them or treat them roughly. Nothing failed on them, and I use them at home now after the trip.
Least useful accessories brought from home
This is based on my experiences during the time between the monsoon and the hot season. There was very little rain, and it was warm but not scorching.
– Sports Shoes i.e. Runners
There was no point. My runners stank, and even after I washed them, they were dusty and dirty again during the first day that I put them on again. My runners were just traps for dirt and perspiration. I bought some good sandals in India after seeing what Indians wear, and I was pleased. My intent was to see how the local people dressed and learn from them because I thought that they would know best.
Again, there was no point having socks. During the dry season, the dust blew in from the road and the surrounding farmland. Unless you have a personal travel goal of washing socks as a way to spend your precious time, don’t use socks.
– Too much stuff
I took more clothes and art supplies than I needed. I mailed a lot of it back home, and still had enough.
Best bought in India
+ Mosquito repellent cream
Once I used up my DEET-based spray from home, I regularly bought Odomos at pharmacies and other shops. Applying Odomos became a nightly ritual.
+ Good Knight plug-in mosquito killer
You plug the thing in and it warms up, attracting mosquitoes into the little cloud of poison vapour. You are meant to leave the room while it does its work, then return and switch it off. I did not use it all the time, but once in a while it did the trick.
I bought some good, sturdy Bata sandals that served superbly for walking around all day, cycle touring and hiking. The immense selection in the shoe stores allowed me to find just the right fit.
+ Nice, compact umbrella
It’s hardly worth taking up luggage space with an umbrella on the outbound flight, but once in Kerala it dawned on me that an umbrella would be handy. The one that I bought in Kerala, branded John’s Umbrella Mart (Alleppey), fit into my daypack and served me well on a couple of occasions. The umbrella is good quality, and I use it at home now in Canada.
+ Malayalam dictionary
Before my trip, I searched in vain for a couple of years on Amazon and so forth for a Malayalam dictionary. All I could get in Vancouver was a Lonely Planet India Phrasebook, which I bought. The phrasebook, containing 15 languages, came in handy for the basics in the three states where I travelled.
In Kerala I found proper Malayalam dictionaries in any size that I could have wished for, from big, desktop size down to pocket size. I was very happy to find DC Books’ Malayalam-English/English-Malayalam Dictionary ISBN 978-81-264-4059-7 at Prabhus Books in Thiruvananthapuram. This little dictionary went everywhere with me and I found it useful.
Before the trip, I was able to study Malayalam script thanks to the irreplaceable Wikipedia. For a couple of years, whenever I rode the bus in Vancouver, I took along my exercise book and repeatedly copied out the Malayalam alphabet. Without knowing the alphabet, I would have been unable to use the dictionary.