Diane Emerson


My Gear

Over the years, I have learned more and more about what gear to bring with me, to keep me warm, healthy, useful, and light:

In 2010, I was reading The Penguin Gandhi Reader , and discovered that when Gandhi was in South Africa, setting up the Satyagraha nonviolent resistance movement, he ate nothing but fruit and nuts for 5 years. And he was walking an average of 20 miles a day during this time. He wrote that he never felt better than when on this diet.  I had my answer!  Fruit and nuts. They travel well, they are delicious, they don't need cooking, and they must have everything a human needs for health and strength, because there is no way anyone would walk 20 miles a day for 5 years on this diet if they didn't.

The next time I was in charge of my own food, I went to a grocery store, and had a most interesting experience. I gave myself, for the first time in my life, permission to purchase as much fruit as I wanted, of any variety, and as many nuts as I wanted, of any variety.  In doing this, I realized that I had been carrying around with me some guidance from childhood which was no longer needed. The guidance?  "Fruit and nuts are expensive. Only buy a few of the cheapest ones, if at all."   I grew up in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota in the 1950's.  Fruit and nuts were indeed expensive back then, in the frozen northland.  So all the years I was making good money, I still was careful when buying fruit and nuts, and would indulge in something as extravagant as macadamia nuts maybe once every 2 years. Imagine!

So when I gave myself permission to buy as many fruit and nuts as I wanted, I felt like the wealthiest person in the world. And when I eat them, I feel like I am indulging in a luxury.  No more filling starches of bread, pasta, potatoes for me!

I do not restrict myself to only these foods, but I always have them with me, and eat a lot of them. I no longer am concerned if I am hosted by a family who does not realize that vegetarians need protein as well as vegetables. I just pull out some lovely nuts and add them to my plate. 

Lately I realized that most nuts have nearly twice the protein in an egg, and nearly as much as hamburger!  Two typical hens eggs would be 100 grams. There are 12-13 grams of protein in two eggs, and 21-23 grams of protein in 100 grams of most nuts!   Hamburger is marginally more protein per 100 g than nuts, at 23-25 g.  It is recommended that I get 46 grams of protein a day, from all sources, but I know I have been fine on far less than that when I was in Kashmir.

In addition to nuts and fruit, I also carry with me my own knife. Right now I actually have two knives. One is an inexpensive serrated one with a plastic protective cover.

In order to pull their weight, and make them worthy to be carried in my backpack, my clothes need to multitask. My tops and pants must meet these strict criteria before they are admitted to my bag:
  1. I must be able to sleep in them, ride a bike in them, and they must look good enough that I can go to church in them. Plus:
  2. They must be lightweight
  3. They must not wrinkle noticeably
  4. They must be comfortable, and not noisy (I got rid of some lightweight pants which swished as I walked or rode my bike. Drove me nuts.)
  5. Pants must have at least one good pocket
  6. Tops must be long enough that there is no gap between my pants and top when bent over riding a bike or gardening, and have at least 3/4 sleeves so I don't get sunburned as much on my bike.
  7. Socks must be long enough that I can tuck my pants into them for riding my bike and they will stay put. Short socks result in ripped pants. Not good.
  8. All clothing must not be expensive. Used clothing is preferable.
My shoes must look good, be slip-ons so it is easy to get them off and on when entering and leaving a building or tent, and be good for bicycling and walking and hiking, and fairly lightweight.  I usually have one pair of all-rounders, and a lightweight and flat pair for church.

I have found that Indian tops generally work well for my tops, when I can find them, and for my pants I have definitely found my solution: black surgical scrubs. I buy them from Scrubs and Beyond in Rochester, Minnesota. I can buy new for as low as $10 and they meet all my criteria.

For my jacket, I am wearing a GoreTex jacket I bought during my first big travel adventure with Dominique, in 1996. It still looks great and is still waterproof.

For 3 season warmth, I have a black thermal top, which looks beautiful under my black Kashmiri wool embroidered jacket. I also carry a yellow Kashmiri hand loomed wool scarf given to me as a gift the day I volunteered at the Free Medical Clinic in Srinagar with the Healing Hands group.  And one pair of wool socks which I wear on cool nights in the tent.  If I need to spend a real winter somewhere, I won't be traveling by bicycle, so can carry a bit more for warmth if needed. 


How to Finance Your Nomadic Life

One of the most typical questions in people's minds when they know I am a nomadic volunteer, even if they don't voice it, is "How do you afford to travel continually?"

To answer this, I would ask you to add up how much money you spend every month on the following items:
  1. Rent or mortgage
  2. Furniture
  3. House or apartment maintenance
  4. Property maintenance
  5. Property taxes
  6. Utilities: electricity, water, sewer, trash removal
  7. Your car payment
  8. Car maintenance
  9. Fuel to get you around
  10. Eating out in restaurants, fast food places, street vendors
  11. Entertainment: movies, theme parks, music concerts, other entertainment
  12. New clothes, make up, jewelry
  13. Gym membership
  14. Sporting equipment and training and events
  15. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, personal car rental

Now, if you didn't have these expenses, what would your monthly living costs be?  A whole lot less, I can guarantee you.  That's me. My living costs are so low that the minimal amount of money coming in sustains me beautifully, and provides even enough extra disposable income that most months I can donate significantly to my favorite charities.  How much can I live on?  $US 500 a month would be fine, though it would mean that I would be able to travel by air only once a year, and would have to donate my time only.  Where does the $500 and more come from?  A small pension from HB Fuller, and my IRA investments I made over the years when I was working. 

But you wouldn't need to do it the way I am.  Many people can work for a while, then volunteer for a while, and work a while, traveling pretty much the whole time.  Some jobs can be done over the internet completely: translating, consulting, teaching English or other language, teaching online courses through universities like Buena Vista, creating web sites, photojournalism,  writing, selling photos. 

Some volunteer placements cover all your expenses, except travel.  All you have to do is to get yourself there. And for some volunteers, they work or do fundraising projects to raise the money to get them overseas, and from then on they are on their own.

Another option is to get yourself over the oceans by crewing on a sailing boat. This is how my friend Charles Brigham does it. Take your bike or buy one when your get across the ocean, and off you go.

Low Cost Travel Tips

AIRFARE   My biggest travel expense is airfare. Here is how I minimize this expense:
 I book my flights around 6 months out. I use STA Travel, and I also do my best to find the best deals online.  When seeking a good price online, I have learned to be flexible on the days of the week, and be flexible on the airport I fly in and out of.  This can save a lot!!  Most times my STA travel agent can find a better price for me than I can find myself. But not always. So I have them give me their best shot, and then I see if I can do better myself.

LAND TRANSPORT  I travel by bus a lot. Buses are cheap transport, and in developed countries many of them have WiFi on the buses. And toilets just like in airplanes. 

BICYCLE  But my favorite mode of transport is a bicycle with a trailer or just racks for my bags. 

Why I Bicycle

I have chosen not to own a car, and bicycle or walk as much as possible to get myself and my gear from point A to point B.  Why?
  • Great exercise. No gym fees, parking hassles, worries about how you look. Just ride
  • Feel the wind, see the clouds, hear the birds, enjoy the flowers and the trees and the quirky things people do with their houses and cars
  • Stop and photograph any where, any time
  • Eat what you want. Cycling is superb for burning fat. You rarely see overweight cyclists. I have a theory about that.  Have you noticed that swimmers seem to be pretty chunky people, generally?  and cyclists lean?  Well, my theory is that our bodies adjust themselves to our needs.  Swimmers need that extra layer of body fat to insulate themselves against the cold water.  Look at seals and penguins, for example.  They need to keep in body heat.  Cyclists, on the other hand, need to get rid of a lot of extra body heat all the time. So a layer of fat is not a good thing. Less fat is helpful to get rid of excess body heat.  So without even trying, cyclists lose body fat. That is my theory, anyway.
  • Meet and greet people. Like walking, you can nod or say hello to pedestrians as you travel. You wouldn't do it in a car, though!  And if you have an unusual bike, or a trailer, people want to talk to you. They are curious about this mode of transportation, and how a middle-aged woman gets up the hills and avoids getting hit by motorists. Several times people have stopped me to invite me to stay with them, or buy me a cup of coffee, or stop by for tea. It never happens when I drive!!
  • Save money.  No petrol, no car repair bills, no insurance, no license fees, no Warrant of Fitness.  This means I have more money to donate to my favorite causes. And the big oil companies are NOT on that list.  I am riding the same bike, and pulling the same trailer, that I bought in 2000.  I have replaced the chain once, the tires and seat twice, and the brakes maybe 4 times. That's it. On the BOB trailer, I have replaced the tire once, and had the bearings taken out and greased and replaced once. Phil Judd, owner of Hedgehog Bikes, where I bought the bike and trailer, told me recently that my steel frame Giant should last a good many years yet.
  • Inspire people to get on their bikes. If I can do it, pretty much anyone can do it.  As I say to people: "If you can bicycle around the block, you can bicycle around the world."  Just one rotation at a time.  I have a leaky heart valve, so I can't push myself hard without running out of breath. But it doesn't stop me. Just slows me down a bit. It didn't stop me riding my bike and pulling all my gear over the Italian Alps in 2001, or the French Jura Mountains in 2011.


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