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Vacationing With Pliers

Question: What gear is essential for a frugal traveler? 

Matt\r\n Gross: Good socks, good socks are very important. Probably as \r\nimportant, maybe more important than good shoes. A very lightweight, \r\nwaterproof shell that you can put on over whatever you’ve got, something\r\n that hopefully weighs less than 8 ounces and can be rolled up and \r\ncompressed and stowed in the corner of a suitcase or a bag. Little, \r\ncollapsible bags are great things to have for shopping for groceries, or\r\n whatever, something that compresses up like that, and then unfolds into\r\n this big bag. Those are things that you just need to have all the time \r\nwherever you go. A pair of pliers is a really good thing. 

Technology-wise,\r\n an unlocked cell phone, that’s probably the most important thing, \r\nwhether you have a computer or not, doesn’t really matter, that’s up to \r\nyou. I carry a computer because I’m working.  I wish could leave it at \r\nhome. Oh, man, to take a trip without a computer and a power supply and \r\nall the little doodads and wires, oh, man, that would be so nice! Do \r\npeople do that? Do people travel without all that stuff? They must! 

Question:\r\n What are the pliers for? 

Matt Gross: They’re for \r\nanything that might happen. A pair of pliers will help you pull \r\nsomething out of a campfire. I like to bring those little, little cans \r\nof Spanish clams and white beans, or octopus and garlic sauce that you \r\ncan just pull open. They’re great to bring on a camping trip, because \r\nyou just open them up, put it near the campfire and it starts to bubble \r\nand then you can eat it, you have warm octopus out in the middle of the \r\nwoods. But you need a pair of pliers to like pull it back out. I used a \r\npair of pliers to help fix the battery leads on someone’s car in \r\nnorthern Cyprus one day, out in the middle of nowhere, otherwise we \r\nwould’ve been stuck. Pliers are great! Pliers are, they’re like fingers,\r\n but they’re made of metal and they have more leverage. And they don’t \r\nburn so easily. 

Question: What’s a cheap alternative \r\nto souvenirs? 

Matt Gross: I don’t go out of my way to\r\n look for souvenirs. I don’t need these little physical reminders of \r\nwhere I went on a trip; I have good memories, usually. But every once in\r\n a while, I find something that calls out to me as an unusual symbol of \r\nwhere I was. 

When I was in Cambodia several years ago, I visited\r\n a rubber plantation and just wound up with a little seed for a rubber \r\ntree in my possession. And I don’t know why I held onto it, I didn’t \r\neven really remember holding onto it, but it just kind of stayed with me\r\n and around me and on my desk and among my things without ever totally \r\ngetting lost and I just like it, it’s this reminder that these huge \r\nrubber plantations come from these little seeds and everything that we \r\nsee that’s made of rubber these days, actually has its origin in this \r\nstrange, little, sort of brown zebra-striped seed that I have. So, those\r\n are nice. 

I look for, I save currency. I save currency just \r\nbecause there’s always some left over, so I have a big bag of notes from\r\n countries I visited, and they’re kind of interesting to go through \r\nevery once in a while. I’m really looking forward to when my daughter’s \r\nold enough to kind of understand the idea of money and I’ll be able to \r\nlook at these bills and say, “Oh, this is, who is that person on that \r\nbill from Hungary?” Or, who, you know, “Why is Gandhi on every single \r\nbill in India? And not just some of them, but I think he’s on like, he’s\r\n on all of them.” 

The other thing I like to get whenever I can \r\nis lithographs and etchings and various prints at like flea markets and \r\nthings like that. Partly because if they’re small, they’re sort of \r\neasier to transport, but also, I like multiples, I like the idea that \r\nsome little print I get in Venice of three chickens scratching on the \r\nground is one of like 40 that were produced and somewhere out there, \r\nthere’s 39 other people somewhere in the world who have this little \r\nthing that I found at a flea market in Venice. And who knows? Maybe I’ll\r\n wind up invited over to someone’s house somewhere in Slovakia or \r\nMorocco or something like that and I’ll look on the wall and I’ll say, \r\n"I know those three little chickens! I have those three little chickens,\r\n too." Those are sort of exciting moments, when you spot something like \r\nthat. 

Recorded on April 15, 2010

The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler columnist on what gear you shouldn't leave home without.

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