While we tend to ignore most of the silly travel swag orbiting the blogosphere, that doesn't mean we don't occasionally go weak in the knees over stylish laptop sleeves, totes that compress into keychains, and tiny pirate spyglasses. To that end, IT's Katie Knorovsky was thrilled to discover fellow Drake University alumna Berit Thorkelson had launched TrustyPony, an independent travel goods blog determined to help inspire people "to get out there and explore the world...in style." Check out daily picks and a Global Eye-type photo feature. But first, Berit divulges TrustyPony's backstory as well as a few highlights of her stomping grounds: the Twin Cities.
Why did you start TrustyPony?
I've been a travel writer for over a decade now, and I'd started doing regular travel-gear roundups for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, my hometown paper's Sunday travel section. While researching gear, it struck me that there wasn't an independent, leisure travel-specific shopping blog on the web. I've always been a compulsive traveler, as well as a compulsive solution-finder, so it really made perfect sense that I fill that void. I went live with TrustyPony in July of 2007.
You mentioned on your website that you're "not about more stuff" but "about finding the right stuff." How do you determine what the right stuff is?
For the site, I'm careful not to select stuff that only I would use. Everyone travels quite differently, has different tastes, and each type of trip requires different necessities. I try to mix it up and to be selective, yet open-minded about items. I envision what style of traveler would see what I've posted and get excited about it, because it fulfills a definite need or just because it's an interesting or cool-looking version of something they'll use on a trip. You only get to bring so many things. Best to make them really count.
How can a traveler determine what the right stuff for them is, especially in a time of shrinking baggage allowances?
I’ve always felt as though less is best. I've done month-long backpacking trips overseas where I loaded up a pack with everything I "needed," then started paring down until the bag was less than half full. In the end, I still ended up overestimating and bringing a t-shirt or two I could have done without. So my best piece of advice is to pack a few days in advance, then take three or more items out. Try to select articles of clothing that mix well, so you can get lots of mileage out of each piece. And try to accumulate double-duty clothes that can go from beach to dinner, or sightseeing to the club. That sort of thing. Beyond clothes, it really depends on your trip and your style. An item that might seem unnecessary to one can end up playing an integral part in another's travels.
What are the goods that you don't leave home without?
It depends on the trip. I'm obsessed with luggage and bags, so that's where my thoughts first turn. There's my trusty Kelty backpack, which I've used for over 15 years. It's seen a couple dozen countries and is still kicking. I love my Hideo Wakamatsu three-way carry-on trolley for more urban travel. It has a padded front laptop pocket, made of black basketball rubber, both sleek and durable. And my Yak Pak Chinook bag is the perfect size to act as a purse or a tote. Plus, it's cloth and washable. And super cute. When my husband and I might be sharing the bag, though, he prefers we go with the Haversack, made of recycled bicycle tires. Unisex. Durable. For international travel, gotta carry the all-in-one universal adapters, which have inputs and outputs for different countries in one compact little device. I have a couple of those. And, of course, Moleskine notebooks for recording road thoughts. They have new artsy versions, plus city-specific styles with little maps and such. I could keep going, and going, and going...
How has TrustyPony affected your packing strategy?
I'm more aware of all the travel take-along options that are out there, which ends up making me more streamlined and prepared. When I come up with a personal packing or trip need, I go on a mission to find the best solution. So TrustyPony plus many years of travel equals a pretty solid packer. As long as I'm not throwing things together at the last minute, I'm definitely a one-bag wonder.
What are your all-time favorites of the goods featured on TrustyPony?
Ah! That's hard. Clearly, I like everything I feature. But off the top of my head, if I had the Design Within Reach fully outfitted Airstream ready and waiting in my driveway right now, I'd be a very happy girl.
And, finally: You're based in the Twin Cities. Any tips for how a traveler can glimpse authentic Minnesota while visiting the cities? And where do you take guests to show off your hometown?
I love this topic. I like to say that the most undiscovered thing about the Twin Cities is St. Paul. Minneapolis is an exciting city—the riverfront development, the restaurants, First Avenue—but if you want off the beaten path, the capital city is the way to go. There, Lowertown has a fantastic farmers' market, a regular art crawl, and the most perfect little Japanese noodle shop, Tanpopo. The Minnesota Rollergirls are based out of St. Paul. The bouts are no joke, and extremely popular. A fun and cheap evening out. St. Paul's Midway district is good if you're into thrift stores and authentic Asian hole-in-the-wall dining, plus it's home to The Turf Club, my rock-n-roll bar of choice. Cathedral Hill is a beautiful neighborhood, with the coolest Russian restaurant, Moscow on the Hill. Beef Stroganoff and a homemade vodka sampler on the back patio while being serenaded by an accordion player.... now that's an evening. Also, Garrison Keillor's great little bookstore, Common Good Books, is right across the street. These are all things I do with visitors, by the way. If they're willing to explore, I just ask them what they're into and then tailor a St. Paul experience to them. I love showing off my city.
Photo: John Noltner