Backpacking Through Fantasyland

A very important question has been bouncing around my friends for a couple of days: if you were told that in half an hour, you were going to be whisked off to a generic, quasi-medieval fantasy land, what would you pack? We figured that half an hour is enough time to throw things in your bag that are already in your apartment, and maybe send someone out to the corner store to buy non-perishables. Too much time would make it too easy, as in, “Well, I’d go to the Leather Jerkin Emporium and buy period-looking clothes and a sword!” Given that I can barely get out the door to work in half an hour with my keys in my pocket, packing a large backpack might get…haphazard. Best to plan ahead.

We thought of three categories: survival, things to make a living with, and creature comforts. We decided we couldn’t count on getting plunked down in a city, since there is proportionally more wilderness in most of these places, although it might also be one of those fantasylands with a charmingly rustic inn every five feet. The wilderness survival gear in our apartment is pretty sad—we’re not campers or anything—but here’s what we do have, to be shared among four large backpacks and various shoulder-bags:

  • Clothes, worn in layers rather than put in the bags. Women: long skirts, hippie shirts, pea coat, boots, and something to cover our hair. Men: slacks, boots, sweaters, pea coat, a hat. Extra socks.
  • Everyone’s pocket knives and Leathermans.
  • Matches and lighters. This might be the only time I’m glad that two of my roommates smoke.
  • My lame-ass keychain compass. Better than nothing, right?
  • One cast-iron pot, a couple of forks and spoons, the big kitchen knives, a mug or two.
  • Make one of the roommates run to the store for bags of lentils and chickpeas, cans of tuna, and Neosporin and bottles of multi-vitamins. One thing we assumed was that if this was to be Fantasyland* and not medieval France, there would probably be a higher standard of medical care, administered by nice men and women wearing green, so less need to hoard medication. Some things are still good to have, though; for example, I would not want to live in a world without Aleve. I might recognize a willow tree if I saw one, but aspirin has never quite done it for me.
  • On that note, tampons. I know we’d run out, but just for the adjustment phase, you know? One thing I don’t want is to be shlepping along through the underbrush in layers of clothes, slung with bags full of cast-iron pots et cetera, and have a freaking “moontime-clout” wedgie. No way.
  • All the toothbrushes and toothpaste in the apartment, so that we blend in with the Fantasyland natives, most of whom have strangely good teeth, except for beggars and old fortune-tellers.
  • Hairbrush
  • Nit comb. (Yeah, we have one. It would be just our luck to get a Fantasyland rampant with lice.)
  • Soap, which is lighter and less messy than shampoo and can also be used for hair.
  • Ziploc bags. I don’t care if they’re shockingly non-period, I want a re-sealable way to keep things dry and airtight while we’re on the road.

All right. We’ve made it through the woods and arrive, wet, miserable, and thoroughly sick of lentils, at some sort of civilization where we want to stay. Could be a two-sheep town, could be the capital city, but either way, our needs change. We have to make a living, and given the group of people I was discussing this with, we’re looking at busking; also, there are a lot of things we can bring with us to sell.

  • Nina’s violin, my guitar and bodhrán.
  • Music books and iPods, so I can learn those last eighteen verses of “Tam Lin” before the battery dies.
  • Nina’s tiny copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. We can declaim them ourselves or sell plays to established companies of roving Players. You know the type: merry, rogueish, unnaturally friendly.
  • Just dump the whole spice shelf into the bags. It will help break up the monotony of campfire food, and if the place we’re in is anything like medieval Western Europe, we can make a lot of money selling pepper, saffron and cloves, and even be responsible for introducing Fantasyland to curry. Where did such humble travelers acquire such suspiciously rare and expensive spices? Oh, we were travelling with a larger caravan a while back. We figured they were lighter than coins to bring hiking, and now we’re changing them back into cash.
  • Ditto the tea and liquor shelves. Drinking away your sorrows – or providing the means to others – is a time-honored tradition.
  • Jewelry, the real stuff and the fake.
  • Pack of craft needles and thread, either for mending our clothes, other people’s clothes for money, or selling.
  • Make-up and a tiny mirror.
  • Tarot cards

Without technically calculating volume, we decided there was a little room in the bags for personal treasures and creature comforts: pictures of loved ones, a couple of favorite books, a bag of marshmallows and the contents of Nina’s chocolate drawer. I will also be wearing my fuzziest pair of pajama pants under all those skirts.

This list would different if we were headed for the real past, of course, but the more generic the Fantasyland, the friendlier it is. For example, if we were going to Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, we’d be totally fine and probably even get to meet the Queen; if it were George R.R. Martin’s Westeros, we’d be screwed no matter what, so we might as well make merry around a campfire until we’re slaughtered by roving bandits. The list also varies by person. Do you have a camping stove? One of those cool crank-flashlights? Are you an ex-Marine, who might prefer to hire out as a bodyguard or caravan guard rather than playing music? Have you just been waiting for those calligraphy classes to pay off? And, hell, I’m not an experienced camper, hiker, backpacker or even busker, so what do I know?

In short, what would you bring to Fantasyland?

*It took about five seconds to go from “generic fantasy land” to thoughts of Diana Wynne Jones’s excellent Tough Guide to Fantasyland, to which this dicussion might be a useful appendix.

Photo from flickr user ninahale under a Creative Commons license.


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