Self-sufficiency – the watchword of the nWD traveller, along with night-bus, streatery and discombobulation. The road is tough on gear (hence the practice of taking only my oldest, shabbiest stuff) so one should always have the necessities on hand for running repairs. After all, one spends a disproportionate amount of time waiting (for transport, on transport, on transport to be repaired having broken down one hour into a 12 hour journey), time which can be put to good use with a sewing kit.
My personal kit comprises: a reel of black cotton; a reel of white cotton; a set of needles; a large button; a small button; safety pins. All of this fits neatly inside a compact film canister which lives in my mini equipment cell which in turn lives in the profound depths of my pack. If one wanted to get fancy one could include coloured thread, a thimble and maybe one of those ridiculous needle-threaders (is it really that difficult?). There should be scissors in your first aid kit so no need to double up there.
I suppose, if you couldn’t scrounge the individual components, you could purchase a purpose-built travel sewing kit. I believe airlines have been known to include such things in their business and first class welcome packs, although I’ve never been lucky/rich enough to find out. The same goes for expensive hotel rooms.
I’ve mended many things on the road, from trousers and t-shirts to my pack and sleeping bag. Heavier-duty items may require assistance from the handy cobblers that litter third-world pavements, usually as numerous as the charity muggers here in Australia. They will whip your footwear into shape in minutes for a pittance and a smile. On our memorable trip through Africa I had my sandals repaired at least once in every country throughout the length of the continent. It seemed like each week the poor things would start to come apart in a subtly different way, and the ingenuity of the various elves I contracted was a pleasure to behold. I’m amazed they lasted so long, at least until Tanzania where I ditched them for a pair of bespoke Maasai clunkers made from old tyres. Now those bastards never wear out.
If pickpockets are a threat, try sewing up your pockets. It’s the only way to block the nimble fingers of trained street-children from Rome to Mumbai. Speaking of Mumbai, I was once relieved of cash there in quite a different way – by a smooth-talking French junkie. He must have spotted me for a 1st time, 2nd rate 3rd world-er and approached me with a hard-luck story about being robbed, beaten and jailed by the police. He claimed his brother was wiring him some money but he just needed a few hundred rupees to rent a room until that came through. He was quite convincing, even throwing in a detail about having co-written the Indonesia chapter of Lonely Planet’s SE Asia guidebook – a nice touch, and one which impressed my naïve mind.
I was by no means won over, I may have lacked experience but I was born a cynic, but I agreed to loan him 300Rp. It was only about $5 but a significant amount out of my budget, and equal in value to five night’s accommodation. He said he’s send the cash on to a post office in Goa, my next stop. I didn’t really believe that part but still I was surprised when I saw him the following day – lying on a scrap of cardboard in the gutter, smacked up to the eyeballs. That was the moment I waved goodbye to my innocence and never trusted any beggar again, local or traveller. Maybe I should have sewn up my ears.