“What do you bring with you when you travel for over a year?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times. And it’s a good one. When you only have one bag, being a shrewd packer is a must. You can’t afford to waste space on things you don’t use, or items you might only use once or twice in a year. Obviously, near the top of my list is a certain pair of pants. Those special pants, impregnated with magic and awesomeness, kept me warm and dry when I needed it most. But there’s something else that makes the cut on my list of must-haves. A flashlight.

That might sound crazy to people who know me, so I’ll explain.

A bright, reliable, well-made flashlight is such a useful tool no matter where you travel in the world. Like a dependable friend, it is something you might take for granted; you don’t realize how important it is until you really need it. Like my handkerchief and swiss army knife (only if it has those magnificent tweezers, but we’ll leave that for another post), my flashlight is an essential tool and I bring it everywhere I go.

Once upon a time, unlike Scott, I would have gone to a dollar store and bought a cheap plastic flashlight and called it a day. But cheap things are often not reliable, a lesson I learned the hard way.

We had a particularly dark experience in India over 10 years ago, an event that emphasized the need for a small, bright, reliable light.

In 2007, Scott bought what he thought was a pretty good flashlight to bring with us on our first trip. Some sort of inexpensive, black Maglight. He had spare batteries and even an extra bulb. We seemed to use it all the time; to find something in a bag, to go to the bathroom at night, we even used it like a candle beside the bed sometimes.

Above, circled in yellow, you can see the failed Maglight on our side table in India.

 

For a few months in 2007, we lived in an Indian village called Dharamkot, in the foothills of the Himalayas, managing a Vipassana Meditation Center. The electricity supply was dodgy, as it is in many countries, and it was often very dark. The kind of dark we don’t really experience in Canada. After the sun went down, and the power wasn’t working, it was like someone had drawn a black velvet curtain over the entire region. Safe in your little hut, on a moonlit night, it was spectacular. However, if you had to get from one place to another, stumbling along blindly, it was frustrating and unnerving.

A flashlight wasn’t just convenient, it was essential. Everybody had one.

Late one night, we had to walk a volunteer home to her guesthouse. Concerned about recent attacks on women walking alone at night, we decided to accompany her home. It was a couple of kilometres away and the path wasn’t just pitch dark, it also included a very steep series of stairways built into the side of a hill. As always, Scott brought the Maglight. After dropping her off, we’d have to climb the stairs back up the hill and find our way back to the Centre in the dark.

Halfway down the stairs, though it had fresh batteries, the flashlight started to die. Scott smacked it and it started working. After a few more steps, it flickered and started fading again. Scott kept it going by smacking it every time it acted up. But once we got to the guesthouse, it just died.

For about half an hour we groped our way along in the forested, inky darkness. In the moonless night, our eyes tried vainly to adjust. Frustrated and nervous, we eventually got ourselves home by moving along inch-by-inch, testing the path ahead with our feet and swinging our hands ahead of us to avoid walking into trees. The flashlight was only a few months old. It was supposed to be a decent and reliable tool. And the moment we needed it most, it failed. 

Our home in India in 2007.
 

Not bad during the day. Very dark at night. The path down to the guesthouse in Dharamkot.

 

After that, Scott set out to find a good, reliable flashlight. He found a niche world of fanatics devoted to powerful, tough, super reliable flashlights. Machined by independent makers in small batches, these lights are often made of titanium or copper or more exotic things. The electronics in them are custom designed and built by talented engineers like Enrique Muyshondt. Scott came across one of Enrique’s first little lights and bought one. It was nothing like the usual store-bought stuff. It was thoughtfully designed for tough use. It was waterproof, and it could be abused and still keep working reliably. It didn’t use up power very fast. I fell in love with it. We used it everywhere on our last trip.

Over the years, Enrique has become a friend ours. We’ve never actually met him in person, but we share an appreciation for well-designed, well-crafted things.

Just before we left on our latest adventure, he asked us if we would like to bring along two prototypes of a new light he was making. He thought it would be the perfect size and design for taking on a long trip. He calls it the Beagle. I love mine so much I actually named it Zack.

 

Zack has become that dependable friend. Like “magic pants” dependable. This flashlight is shiny. Feels perfect in your hand, and is just the right weight. It stands up on its own and can light up a whole room or act as a dim reading light. And it never fails.

We’ve had our Beagles now for several months of hard, continuous travel. We had them on our camping trip in England and used them frequently during our time in Ukraine. They were very useful on our 45-day retreat too, which was pretty dark. We use a light to check beds for bedbugs. Only fools don’t rip apart the beds and thoroughly check everything before settling into a new hotel. And you can’t do this without a bright flashlight.

There are many things I can do without when I travel. But I would never go anywhere without my magic pants. Or a good flashlight.

 

Karen using Zack to check the hotel bed for unwanted guests.

 

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