The Things We Carry

I’m in the process of developing a pre-message — a user-warning of sorts — for my gear page here on the Go Bag website.

It’s tricky sometimes, being a minimalist and still promoting goods that you believe in and find useful. In the words of my good friend Joshua Fields Millburn, “When you’re a minimalist, everything you do is steeped in irony.” It’s difficult to throw your support behind any type of consumption without a great deal of explanation and stipulation.

This is actually what crippled an earlier effort of mine to write and publish reviews for things that I thought were valuable. Six years ago I started a brand called Flashpack, a term that, at the time, meant traveling with technology. You carried a backpack, perhaps, but you also carried camera gear, a laptop, charging cables, that kind of thing. This term has become somewhat redundant today, since even the most nature-centric, solitude-seeking of us typically have mobile phones or other devices on hand, for security, entertainment, or whatever else.

Some products I own and services I use — purchases I’ve made — have added immense value to my life. These are companies I happily promote to anyone who asks, to anyone who has similar needs and wants, and I think it’s marvelous that we live in a time where we have access to so much. So many options. And so many things that can fulfill so many incredibly specific desires.

Unfortunately, we’re also in an age of unprecedented consumption.

I don’t believe that consumption is inherently wrong, but I am cognizant of the compulsion to consume that’s become the norm rather than the exception.

In order to be a real camper, a real outdoorsman, you need this tent, this water bottle, this GPS geocaching equipment, this whatever. In order to express yourself, to represent as a creative person, you need clothing from this brand, a watch from this company, handmade shoes from this artisanal family collective, the right coffee, the right computer, the right toe-socks.

We’re defined and categorized by the operating system on our phones as much as our preferred political party, religious affiliation, or country of origin.

That’s weird. That’s not okay.

These borders, these definitions, are inventions of marketing. They’re mechanisms that generate desire, that create want, sometimes need, for objects that we’re perfectly capable of living without. Over time these messages make us believe that we’re not enough as we are. That, without these things, these very specific things with the right logos and packaging and Instagrammed model shots, we’re less than we actually are.

Marketing messages establish an ‘us’ and ‘them’ so that we’ll feel compelled to choose a side, hopefully the one paying for the marketing, and continue to buy their products out of loyalty rather than calm, logical assessment.

I’ll write more about this in the coming months, but for now, in regards to how I discuss products and services here on the Go Bag site and on the show itself, I’ll say this:

I will be reviewing things, and they will primarily be goods that I make use of in my travels. I will let you know 1. if I’ve received a product or service for free or at a discount from the maker, 2. what I actually think about it (no pulling of punches just because I’ve been given free stuff), and 3. why you might find it valuable.

If I don’t find a product valuable but think that someone with different needs would, I’ll mention that, but I won’t promote things just to promote them. I’ll also do my best to put the product into context: who are the people behind it? What does their brand stand for, if anything?

There may be affiliate codes in the links I use sometimes, which are a wonderful way for a project like this to make money without having to bombard the audience with annoying advertisements. Affiliate codes give me a percentage of the sticker-cost of a purchase (usually something like 4% on Amazon, often more than that through an independent company), but do not raise the price for the buyer. In some cases, using the proper coupon code or link will actually lower the cost for the buyer while still giving me a small cut of the sale price.

Finally, I’ll always make clear that you needn’t buy anything to enjoy life, to travel, and to do the things I do.

Go Bag is about showing my audience how accessible travel, and all the adventures that come with it, can be. I’m packing light and encourage you to do the same. Some of the things I buy, the gadgets or clothing or bags or whatever, will add something to my experience, perhaps make my bag more streamlined, or give me additional capabilities in regards to the media I capture.

But it’s important to remember that if I was traveling with nothing, just me and enough clothing to not be arrested, and a train, plane, or bus ticket in my hand, I’d still have a blast. And you can too. I don’t want anyone to think they need to buy a bunch of stuff to be a proper traveler, or to enjoy life. The things we carry don’t define us, the things we do define us.

You are good enough already, as you are. Anything you buy merely supplements that, and if any brand ever tries to overwhelm or replace you, to put you in a box, they’re not worth your time.

Focus on the experiences you have and the people you meet, and your travels will be valuable. Anything you choose to add beyond that is just icing on the cake.