Civilization In A Cup

Living out of backpacks and staying predominantly in inexpensive hostels can be wearying at times. With all your belongings in a single backpack there are times that you crave a quiet, civilized moment. That is when we break out our favorite travel gadget: the immersion heater. It’s basically a metal coil connected by wire to a wall plug, but it has transformative properties. It can transform even the most dreary of situations and cheer them up a bit. Just stick the coil into some water, plug it in and in less than a minute you have a boiling cup of water. Add some tea and sugar and you have civilization.

After recently travelling all day to get to Bodrum, Turkey, we found ourselves tired and hungry in an empty hotel in a residential neighborhood at 9:30 at night with no restaurants open. We whipped out the immersion heater and made Cup-a-Noodles soup for the kids to satisfy their hunger pangs and brewed some tea for my wife and I to feel civilized and relax after a long day. Credit for us having the immersion heater must go to my wife who has long extolled the virtues of this travelling appliance. She carried it with her twenty years ago when she did her 2-year around-the-world backpacking adventure. When she packed it in her bag for this trip I thought “there’s a waste of space,” but I have been proven wrong countless times.

The Istanbul-Kayseri train was clean, modern, spacious and comfortable and our cabin came with a small refrigerator but the train didn’t have a dining car. Whenever we needed a cup of tea for the long 19 hour journey, we unplugged the refrigerator and plugged in the immersion heater for our boiling water. We don’t typically carry tea mugs with us because we usually find some kind of vessel to use. On this train, we found two very thin plastic cups – the kind that you’d think would melt with hot water in them – and they worked fine. While on the road we’ve used many different vessels for tea cups: clear-glass drinking glasses, melamine and ceramic mugs and for awhile we even carried 4 small, hard-plastic jello molds that also doubled as mini cereal bowls. Besides tea and Cup-a-Noodles, we’ve also made hot chocolate and instant soups.

The immersion heater allows us our moment of civilization on our own schedule. On our Piraeus-Santorini ferry, the restaurant closed about 2 hours before we arrived at port. I went and purchased some drinking water and acquired two flimsy plastic cups then dug in the bag for the immersion heater. I asked my wife “Would you like a cup of tea?” She smiled and nodded, understanding that this was code for “Would you like to feel civilized?” I plugged it into the wall socket behind our chairs, and had two cups of tea ready within a minute. Now that’s civilized.

This post was part of Vago's Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Carnival Essential Travel Tools at Vagobond.


  1. My wife bought ours and we have used it a lot on our travels - I think it is the same model as the one you feature - and I have completely revised my opinion of gadgets like these.

    Previously I looked upon them with disdain. Not any more.

  2. Sounds like a great gadget for the travel gift guide I wrote for Diablo magazine and the Contra Costa Times newspaper. Wish I'd learned of this sooner.

  3. I am so glad you wrote about this device. My husband was just talking about this at dinner last week, and I had never heard of it. I only knew of the electric tea kettles. Worse, I continued to tell him that I am sure such a "dangerous" sounding device would never be sold in the USA. Maybe if I offer him a cup of tea made with one, I won't have to "eat" my words!