In my job, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to travel for work, sometimes interstate and sometimes overseas. Each time I’ve taken fountain pens with me to use whilst travelling, because I find them a joy to use and much less strain on my wrist when writing. However, I always attach a stigma to travelling with fountain pens – mainly because I’m clumsy and forgetful I’m always paranoid I will drop/break my pens or lose them when I travel. My preference is also for a converter (or piston filler) pen and to use ink (from bottles, not cartridges) mainly because I want the experience to be most similar to my normal writing experience. So, my key criteria are for fountain pens for travelling are:
Sturdy – they have to be able to take any knocks and drops that I might subject them to
- Easily Replaceable, less than ~$150 – if I leave them at a hotel or airport, I want to be able to easily replace them – so no limited editions or difficult to replace Nakayas/Namikis
- Great writing experience – nothing cheap and nasty – I still want to enjoy my writing experience
- Reliable nib and ink filling experience – nothing that burps ink and skips/hard starts. I don’t have the patience to try and fix it in en route.
- Large ink capacity (preferable) – if I can avoid having to refill, then that’s great, but not essential
- Pull off cap (preferable – at least one pen) – preferable for quick notes, but not essential
1. Pilot Metropolitan
At about $20-30, this pen has a great nib, a high capacity (ish) converter and a sturdy brass pen body, this is arguably my top pick for a travel fountain pen – especially for short trips. If I lose this or drop it, it’s cheap and easy to replace (they are even at the local Officeworks (Office supply store)). Usually, if I travel with more than one pen, this is the one I keep in my handbag that goes with me everywhere for that very reason.
Runner up – Pilot Prera/Kakuno – the Pilot Prera and Kakuno are runner ups in this category. The Prera is a bit more expensive and the Kakuno is a little cheaper, but both have the same nib as the Metropolitan. I have both so if my Metropolitan is dirty or inked with something else, I will take one of these instead. Runner up status is mostly due to its plastic body over the Metropolitan’s brass body.
2. Platinum 3776
For longer trips, I need a nib that incites more excitement out of the writing experience. The Platinum 3776 is one of my top picks here because the nibs are fantastic – a poorer cousin of the Nakaya nibs – very similar experience but the nibs aren’t quite as consistent out of the box. The other bonus is the slip and seal technology which keeps the ink fresh and the cap area airtight. I feel somehow that this prevents leaks on the plane (not sure if that’s just my thinking though).
3. Faber Castell – Loom, Ondoro, Ambition
Similar to the Platinum 3776 pens, I love the feel of the Faber Castell nibs. They provide that tiny little bit of feedback that you would be familiar with if you’ve tried the Platinum, Nakaya or Jowo nibs, which I absolutely love. The lower priced “design” fountain pens (like the Loom and the basic) uses the same nib as the higher end Ondoro and Ambition versions, so there is a range to choose from if you don’t want to pay for the more expensive models. The Loom, Ondoro and Ambition versions all have pull off caps and another big plus is that they fit standard international cartridges if you need more ink during your travels.
4. Pilot Custom 74 (or 91)
The Pilot Custom 74/91 both use the same nib and (I think) are essentially the same pen, except one has a flat top and the other has a round top. I have the 74 and the great thing about this pen is the Con-70 converter ink capacity, at about 1mL. The only downside in my mind, is the nib is springy and can lay down a lot of ink as a result, which means longer drying times, especially on my beloved Tomoe River Paper.
5. Lamy Safari/Lamy Al Star
The Lamy Safari and Al Star (and for that matter Scala and Studio) also make for good travel pens. Lamy is pretty widely known and readily available in most cities that I’ve visited at least, so if you run out of ink, you can top up with cartridges if need be. It’s a little lower down on my list as the diameter is a little large on the Safari and Al Star so they don’t fit in my This is Ground Leatherback and I find the nibs to be quite inconsistent out of the box.
I love my TWSBI’s – the standard editions are easily replaceable, the nibs perform consistently and write really well and the ink capacity is huge! However, I’ve had TWSBI’s crack on me when I use them and while their customer service is good (they will replace the part for you free of charge, you just pay postage) I don’t want to have to deal with a broken pen while I’m travelling, so they are a no go for me whilst travelling.
Pilot Vanishing Point
The Pilot Vanishing Point is an obvious choice due to the convenience of the click mechanism and its reasonable price point. The only reason it typically doesn’t make my suitcase is that the filler hole is really high up on the nib, so if I need to pack ink to go with it, I need to make sure that the vial is really full and the converter has a very small capacity. Having said that you could always just use cartridges.