A camera is essential.
Essential because humans are visual animals, and because some things are better shown then explained. Also because I always see things I want to photograph.
That said, I’m setting up my new camera now. I got one for my birthday (in September I admit with a guilty smirk). Last time I got a new camera it was an early birthday present before I went off to spend a semester in London. The first time I plugged it in was in a bed & breakfast in Brussels. My luggage hadn’t arrived (British Airways was having a particularly bad week, I later found out), but I had my carry-on and my new camera.
That camera has since died, probably from over use — I carried it everywhere with me for four years and I got some excellent photos out of it. I didn’t have a case to put it in as it resided in my purse, so gradually the buttons wore down, and the setting wheel refused to turn, but I only stopped using it when the screen stopped showing what i was taking pictures of. I realized I was just deluding myself at that point.
That camera was a Kodak Easyshare DX7440, which they don’t make anymore or I would’ve bought another. My new camera is a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC H10. For anyone who is keeping track.