PermaTravel in Practice: Emma’s Battle Against Entropy

In the run up to a year of travelling everything suddenly began to fall apart. Well, all of our gear at least. I have heard the same from other long-term travellers. Once one thing goes the whole tapestry begins to unravel and your life as a seemstress begins. Having no money posed a problem in this respect as we couldnt just get a new one. On top of this even when I had money I have always preferred to fix things rather than buy new. But when travelling time wasn’t a problem,  finding the materials to actually fix things with was.

We began looking in bins, and on the side of motorways (highways), which incidentally tend to be gold mines for moneyless travellers, for anything that might help us fix our things. This in itself was very revealing about modern society and waste. We found all sorts, much of it we couldn’t carry or didn’t need. We met one guy next to the PanAmericana on the city limits of Santiago, Chile, who had created a house complete with three piece suite from what had been fly-tipped.

Below is a snap shot of a few of the things I have fixed, made or found in my battle against entropy.  Everything used for the repairs or creations has been found or scavenged. Interestingly, this exercise revealed planned obselence in much of my gear. Planned obselence is essentially the designing or planning of limited shelf life within a product.

I’d like to think that what I have achieved so far can count toward some good PermaTravel.

When our toothpaste started to run out I decided to try and make our own. I used baking soda from one of the farms we worked on, wild mint and an old Carmex tin. After mixing the diced mint, baking soda and water together, I strained and then left to harden. Believe it or not it made a pretty minty (read: strange tasting) toothpaste that appeared to do the job. This definatly had nothing to do with Anthony’s tooth loss, that was definatly the scurvy. Thankfully though, we have since had donated countless tubes of toothpaste  from other farm volunteers. 

The franken-sleeves are from my continued attempt to keep my Icebreaker jumper alive. This was the most expensive piece of clothing that I bought before leaving. It was also the first to start to disintegrate. I think it will be relegated to spares quite soon.

My main camera case is quite big and contains all the camera equipment, so I decided to make a smaller one that would fit directly around the camera all the time. This was made out of the pocket of half a pair of trousers that a fellow volunteer gave me. I have been carrying the zebra print fabric with me since I left the UK….

So above are my work trousers. They were a much needed gift along with a few other goodies from Georgie and Emily, volunteers on a natural building project. What can I say, as entropy took hold of them I essentially sewed a second pair of scavenged patchwork trousers inside the original hole-ridden pair to create the above monstrosity. The strangest thing is, despite the extremely unflattering nature that I sewed into the trousers (they were pretty nice when I was given them) I had numerous people compliment them and ask where I had bought them. One person even referred to me as a stylish individual.

I lost the grill to our stove in the desert in Peru. I guiltily hand made a new one out of some old chicken wire and normal wire found on a farm we were volunteering on.

My sleeping mat has taken a real beating, but easliy fixed. Duct tape and some scavenged plastic, never forget to take duct tape.

I made the coffee strainer after the Ecuadorian Military gave us two bags of high quality coffee. When we were crossing the border between Ecuador and Peru we decided to take the mountain pass, contrary to all the warnings we had been given about there being no traffic. These warnings were valid. There was no traffic and we ended up walking many miles through the Andes to cross the border. About four miles from the border we decided to stop for the night and noticed a very enticing military base in the middle of nowhere. After talking about Ecua-volley with soldiers we won their loyalty and they allowed us to stay the night, shower and have dinner with them. After dinner and stories of our travel the sergeant took us to the stock room where he overloaded us with food and some outstanding coffee. And so, I needed to make a coffee strainer! A simple wire hoop and handle and part of an old shirt was sewed to make the ‘sock’ and cotton for the handle.

My first whittle! I spent a good hour whittling drift wood into a very unimpressive matchstick for my earring.

Socks. Not made to last. I began darning my socks about six months ago, and after hours of sewing in trimmed fabric from my t-shirt and in one case a solitary glove I found, I was pretty chuffed with myself, PermaTravel. One month later holes began to appear in the darned parts of the socks. In a few cases I re-darned the darns that now had holes. Then I just gave up all together and just got used to my toes being dirty a lot of the time. How many times should you darn a sock before you call it quits? Luckily for me Eilif and Carola, owners of a farm we worked on, and Melanie, Christophe and Carolina from Pio Pio, a project we worked on, saw my hours of labour and dirty feet and bought me socks. The best presents I have had all year. I now have a new goal in life, creating indistructable socks.

It is the same story with the sleeping bag liner. When I bought it all that I was thinking about was the feeling of silk against my skin at night like some Galaxy advert. In reality silk is not a durable material for long term travel no matter how lightweight and smooth it is advertised as. I spent many a night scared to move in case I pierced another part of the liner and exposed my sleeping bag to my dirty feet. After over a year of this ritual I made another out of one of Anthony’s dad’s bedsheets.

The pegs are self explanatory. They are cheap and bend easily. I hammer them straight. They soon bend again. We have mega pegs too so all is not lost.

I made the cases for my art supplies and sketch book out of an old postie bag (I used to be a postie) part of which I had been carrying around with me for just this. They have held up excellently and are waterproof too. A lot to be said for the quailty and durability of Royal Mail products.


Anthony’s day bag had tiny straps that caused him a bit of gyp, so I reinforced them with a scavenged thick leather strap that we picked up from the side of the road somewhere.

The bag is a slackline bag for Anthony made from the same trouser leg that the camera case was made from, the rest of the leather strap and the buckle from the postie bag.

On the city limits of Santiago, Chile, by the side of the highway I found a habidashery. I had lost my last needle and was running out of material a week before and there on the side of the road we found hundreds of buttons, meters of fabric and three industrial needles. So I made a button bag to celebrate.

And finally the real war casualities. My shorts and my hitchhiking top. I love the shorts so much that I have completely reinforced the back and front, replaced the zip twice and am working on remaking the pockets.  All I can say is they are going to make it home with me, and I think they help us get food.

I helped a friend make a pair of poi out of things we found on a farm we were working on together. String, a plastic bag full of tapioka and a sock to finish them off.

Sometimes we find things that appear to be almost new when we need them. I started looking for a new jacket to replace my franken-jacket and found the above purple number in a bin, along with the top. The sunglasses are Ray Bans I found on the side of a mountain just when I needed a pair. 


7 thoughts on “PermaTravel in Practice: Emma’s Battle Against Entropy

  1. Well the angels are certainly looking after you travellers. The Russian solders have a square of material wrapped round there feet for socks. They say they are better than a sock. That would save some darning. Some of the old ways are the best.xx

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s