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The Vacation Satchel: What I Brought

A short while ago I posed the question about what to bring on vacation, and what to bring it in. We got back from our trip to Florida on Saturday morning, and here’s how it turned out.

I brought:

Leuchtturm1917 Master Dots notebook – what got used. This is my main journal, and it was where I wrote everything. Carrying the book didn’t prove to be as much as a pain as I thought it might be – more on that later. I wrote about what we did, things to improve for next time, a battery wiring diagram for my father-in-law’s golf cart, a few sketches, and so on. I filled thirteen A4 pages.

Home made leather notebook – didn’t make it out of the bag. I don’t know why, but I’m just not getting into using this book.

Stories Of A Father And His Girls notebook – didn’t make it out of the bag. This was a gift from my wife, and I had great hopes of filling this one with stories of the trip, but I realize now it needs to be written in after a bit of contemplation.

Stillman and Birn Epsilon 5×8 notebook – did a very brief watercolor in it. Could have stayed at home. I brought it specifically to draw in, but I realize now that I draw to record what is happening, which needs to be in the journal.

BookFactory pocket notebook – carried it a few times, but never used it. It’s my favorite small notebook because of the table of contents, but every time I went to go use it I ended up using the journal.

Sakura Koi 12-color pocket watercolor set – used once. I think I will leave this at home in the future, at least until I know better what to do with it.

Nomadic pencil case with a variety of pencils and pens. Could have left most of it at home, along with the case. Partly because the backpack I took didn’t have room for it, and partly because I just didn’t need that many options. I ended up using my yellow Caran d’Ache 849 with a CdA blue medium cartridge, and the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil.

I ended up using a daypack that was part of a Eagle Creak solo journey  backpack combination, and while a daypack is nice I think I will be upgrading to a RedOxx Gator in the very near future.

How did it work out?

I wanted everything in one book. Every time I thought about writing in another book I felt like I was breaking the rules. I’ve had no trouble writing in other books in the past, but  I have noticed I have this feeling more often since I started using a larger book as my journal. It’s also that when looking back on the trip it’s nice to have everything together.

Wind, sand, and humidity mess with notebooks. The sand gets between the pages and makes the writing surface uneven. The wind makes holding the book open and writing in it a challenge, even with the band;  Wind is actually a good reason to have a band on a large book. The humidity made the pages wavy.

Sand actually jammed the 849’s pusher mechanism, but was cleared easily. I’d thought the 849 would be an ideal pen on the beach because the mechanism is more accessible than the Parker Jotter, but it actually jammed a few times. Not a big deal, and I never used the Jotter so I can’t say it would have been more reliable.

The thin cover of the Leuchtturm1917 was a bit of a liability. When carrying it in a briefcase with files and other similar objects the thin cover is not really a problem. But when the book is the largest thing in the back, and it’s sharing the bag with a camera, clothing, and whatever else it didn’t fair so well. As you can see it’s starting to get misshapen. If I was normally carrying this book the way I do on vacation, I’m sure it would be a pretty ratty looking mess before long. Writing at home and at work usually means writing at a table. Writing when traveling means half the time the book is in my lap, or some other less than fully supported situation. This really needs the kind of cover thickness that BookFactory and Stillman and Birn provide.

A big book was fine in the car and most other places. I’d worried that it would be harder to write in, or would be harder to get into a comfortable position, but it was just as usable as the 5×8 books I was used to carrying. The only time I felt the larger book was a problem was in the wind – those big pages were hard to hold down with my forearm and I eventually gave up, although a few binder clips would have worked ok. I just didn’t feel like digging them out of the bag. I think the thicker paper of a Stillman and Birn might be more wind resistant, but then I’d give up ruling and page numbers .

What I’ll Bring Next time:

Main notebook. It might be another Leuchtturm Master Dots, or maybe something else. I’m thinking a custom version of the BookFactory lab notebook might be on the horizon – more on that later. Regardless, I will use something large enough that I don’t hesitate making notes.

Maybe a sketchbook, with the purpose of filling it with bad sketches. I noticed that many times I hesitated to sketch because I didn’t want to fill up my journal with aborted sketch attempts. Maybe the solution is to carry a book specifically to fill in with the bad drawings one needs to make before the good ones become more frequent. Maybe I just need to get over the fear that someone will walk up to see what ‘the artist’ is drawing, only to see the pathetic graphical train wreck that is unfolding on my page 😎

A mechanical pencil, with a few spare leads. I took the Kuru Toga, but really any decent pencil would do.

A click eraser. Didn’t need anything bigger, but I wouldn’t depend on the stubby thing that comes on most mechanicals.

A ballpoint pen, with a spare – both taking the same cartridge. I think next time it will be a pair of Caran d’Ache 849’s, maybe in different colors or point sizes. Having two functioning pens is a good idea with kids, because as soon as one wants to draw, another does. If I didn’t have kids, I might bring something more refined, but when a hungry, tired kid wants to draw on a paper restaurant placemat (or glossy brochure, or whatever is available for them to write on) while waiting for dinner to come, I want to hand them something that works, won’t break, and won’t write through to the table(cloth) underneath. That’s a ballpoint.


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