Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin

Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin

Our Portable Culture Portrait blog series features TOM BIHN Forum members, the bags they carry, and what items they carry in their bags. It’s inspired by our Portable Culture tagline. This edition features Forum member bchaplin.

What’s the most useful item that you carry?

My Pocket Pouch. I need my work ID to get into the building, and I am somewhat legendary for having lost it as many times as I have. (In my defense, I’ve worked there for quite a long time.) Now that I keep the pocket pouch clipped to my carry bag, my work ID and transit card have a permanent home. The transit pass can be read via RFID and never has to be removed, and the work ID gets put back at the end of each day, which has become a habit now.

What’s your most treasured item?

Probably my tiny Fjord Travel Tray, because TB released that color only for a limited time and I just loved it. The small size of the Travel Tray is just right for my eyeglasses when I sleep in airBNBs or someone’s crowded guest room. I also use it for whatever other odds and ends I’ve collected during the day. Even if there are only a few inches of space on a nightstand, there is almost always someplace that fits it. I also find the color familiar and reassuring when I’m in a strange place; a little piece of home for me.

Which item do you use more often than you thought you would?

My clear-sided pouch. I think it may have been sold as part of a kit for knitters; I’m not sure. It holds my instant coffee perfectly. I really depend on this to get me going in the morning, particularly when I’m someplace that doesn’t have any local brew with the same strength. One of my worst travel moments was when I had stored the coffee in a nondescript white sack that blended in with everything else, and it slipped into the back of a wardrobe of a hotel room and was lost for a few days. So now I’m more careful about how I pack the really important stuff 🙂 This pouch is great because whatever is inside of it is highly visible. I’ve also used it for vitamins and meds, for the same reason.

TOM BIHN Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin and her Co-Pilot

Pictured is my Co-Pilot. I have it in a few colors. One of the other variants is actually a vintage steel/uv one that has the “portable culture” label on it. This black one is usually what I take to work. It holds a lot or a little and it’s not too heavy. The train gets very crowded, and the slim profile keeps it manageable.

Inside is
* my Side Kick, which is shown separately with all its contents
* bundle of keys
* some Tic Tacs
* general-purpose political button
* a lemon-flavored Luna bar that has seen better days
* pocket pouch with work ID and transit card
* iPad, notebook and study materials (which I only carry once a week, for a class)
* my inhaler, which I’m only using temporarily. In happier times the middle front pocket of the Co-Pilot can fit a water bottle or umbrella instead, or it gets left empty

TOM BIHN Portable Culture Portrait: bchaplin and her Sidekick

Here is my Nordic Side Kick, a very kind gift from someone I met on the forums! This usually goes inside of a larger bag, but I carry it on its own sometimes. Typical contents:
* a wallet which stays clipped to one of the inside O-rings
* sound-masking Bose headphones
* a little notebook (Leuchtturm, my favorite)
* two pens
* Badger lip balm
* hand sanitizer
* Four Sevens MINI flashlight
* cash
* microfiber cloth, for glasses and phone
* Tylenol in a GoTubb
* a Tile tracker
* forgot to include in the photograph: portable charger

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I work in a school at Harvard that specializes in public health. About ten years ago, I joined a team engaged in a large-scale effort to improve HIV care and treatment facilities in Nigeria, which was a very exciting departure from being in a laboratory all day. I started traveling more, to West Africa and occasionally beyond. Though in all honesty the “traveling” part of that had its own steep learning curve for me. In 2010, when a tiny roller with my most essential stuff was taken from me in Boston and checked through–to my horror–all the way to Lagos, on a multi-leg trip, I suddenly appreciated the merits of carrying a small soft-sided bag too small to confiscate even when overhead space is tight. I think it was right about that time that I discovered the Tom Bihn company.

Even after a few years of optimizing, I’m sort of an average packer. What I find fascinating about the forums is reading posts from people who manage to easily fit all their things into 20 liter bags the size of the Synapse; it’s a lot of fun to see how they do it! I find that I need about 40 liters to be comfortable, so I’ll never be one of those super-minimalist travelers unless it is by dire necessity. Nevertheless, the forum is a great source of tips and information, and it’s taught me a lot about paring down.

The last decade or so of travel has given me more insight into other cultures than I would have gotten through any other means. When I first went to Nigeria, for instance, the actual experience was dramatically different than what I’d pictured; never mind that I’d grilled all my colleagues for information beforehand. And seeing it for myself started a sort of positive feedback loop, because once I had a more accurate mental image of that place, the people, and the way things worked, the books and news I read became more meaningful and informative, and it made me want to read and learn more. Of course, even now, I know I’m only seeing a small slice of life of a very complex and multifaceted country. I’m usually meeting doctors and laboratory technicians, hardly a representative subset of people. But regardless, I feel that traveling introduces me to a new reality in a way that no amount of reading on its own can do.

Around the same time I began going to Africa, a member of my family relocated to Brazil, and most of the rest of my close family are spread around the East Coast of the U.S., so I end up doing a few trips a year trying to visit everyone. One of the perks of working at a university is the generous amount of leave time! Once I got used to the idea that it was pretty easy and safe to travel to different countries, I started exploring as much as I could on my vacation time. Usually it’s one new country a year, but I look forward to it.

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