Practically every nomad has their list of gear they won’t leave home without. I never got around to making one, but I guess, after over three years spent travelling to more than 24 countries while working remotely and living entirely out my bag with stuff like this, it’s time to tell you what I like!
I’ve got some weird recommendations, too. Here you go!
(Full disclosure: The links included are Amazon Affiliate links, so it’ll use a cooking to identify that you came from my site and if you buy anything during your visit, even stuff not listed here, I’ll get an affiliate commission. So I appreciate if you do that! Thanks.)
Backpack: Lowepro Viewpoint
First, carry on. I take two bags, which is only rarely a problem (cough, I’m looking at you, Wizz Air). One is my trusty messenger-type bag, and the other is for electronics.
So, what I liked about this bag were the storage options. I’d had a PacSafe backpack, but it was not comfortable for my back – I’m fat and 5’6, it seemed designed for tall men – and, worse, the organization didn’t exist, so every time I was going through airport security, I’d have to screw around with taking things out, repacking them. The one time I was nearly late for a flight, this was a nightmare.
Not with the Lowepro. It has this cool side pocket with a slide-out camera case that has adjustable dividers, so if you’re a drone user or whatever, you can modify it. Plus, there’s extra room in there, so I slide my journal, some lose papers and my mini-tripod in there. Then, there’s the top compartment, which is the perfect size for my cable organizers, some odds and ends, and my wallet. At the back, I can put my laptop, my Kindle, and some magazines.
It always looks sharp, and there are the technical straps on the front that I put to good use, and a drink compartment on the left side.
Indispensable: Add-a-Bag Strap
Every traveller needs this. It has a metal ring and an adjustable strap. Many “add-a-bag straps” are just a strap, so this ring makes all the difference. I click it onto the back of my backpack and then I can use the strip for things like carrying a bag of groceries, tucking my jacket into when I’m too hot or I’m overpacked and something needs to get out of my bag. It saved my ass when Wizz wanted to charge me 65 euros for my small messenger bag/purse, since they claimed it was an “extra bag” atop my carry-on. So, I emptied it, then rolled up my messenger bag and stuck it into my click-strap until I boarded. Problem solved, $100 CAD saved. I’d pay a little extra to be sure of quality construction, if I were you, because you don’t want to lose your sweater or coat.
Security: A Bag Lock
Lots of people use the little padlocks to lock their luggage up, but I’ve been travelling for three years and have never once locked my zippers up. Something about that says STEAL MY SHIT, if you ask me, and they’ve already proven that baggage handlers can open bags despite those locks, so why bother? Instead, I’ve got a retractable cable lock, and I keep that with me for when I’m travelling on trains or in heavy public transit. I’ll usually have to abandon my big duffle at the train storage rack and then I’m sat somewhere halfway down the train — hard to keep an eye on things, and people get off at every stop, right? So I will just use my lock to chain my bag to the metal rack it’s sitting on. Most of the time, theft is a matter of easy access. Make it a little less easy and you’ll be fine. You can see my lock on my backpack in the above photo. It’s this PacSafe one.
Never Know: Nite Ize S-Biner Micro Lock
The best $5 you can spend! I’m an avid photographer, but I use a mirrorless camera, which means losing my camera lens cap is a special order, usually. So, I’ve used my S-Biner clipped onto my camera as a hook, and then I customized a lens cap system using hardcore paracord, a drill, and a lighter. I just drilled through the cap, fed the cord in, then used a lighter to light and melt the end of the string on the bottom side of the cap. With an oiled spoon, I pressed it down, and poof. It hardens, is practically indestructible, and I don’t need to futz with remembering where I put my lens cap. The S-Biner locks but also opens, so I can swap out my lens caps when I change lenses.
Save Yourself: Sugru Putty
This stuff is AWESOME. You need some in your bag, just in case. I’ve used it to repair cords and replace the handle on a zipper, and other little fixes. My power cord for my Surface Pro was detaching at the plug two years ago and I put some Sugru on it and it’s only now starting to crumble off, so I’ll just replace it again. But the cord’s $130 to buy, so that’s a great save, eh? Having some Sugru in your bag is just smart. It’s electrically insulated and bonds to plastic, rubber, wood, glass, fabric, and metal. You get 30 minutes to work with it and it takes 24 hours to cure.
Useful Junk: Generic ID Lanyard
Any time you get a nametag at a conference, you get one of these lanyards. They’re really useful, if you’re creative. I keep mine in my pull-handle-side top pocket on my duffle bag so it’s easily accessed on travel days. I’ve only used it for about three months. Once, I looped it around my bag handle and clicked the clasp around my straw hat label, so I wouldn’t have to wear or hold it all day. Shown here, I used it to secure my bag against a bus pole so I wouldn’t have back strain from handling the bag for 30 stops before the airport.
Gotta Have It: Cable Organizer
I use the Butterfox cable organizer, which is a zip-shut case shaped like a binder, but it’s unfortunately apparently no longer available, which sucks, because that thing takes a beating! This one looks cool, too, very similar in variety and amount of straps for affixing cables and gadgets, but where it differs is that it’ll accept a tablet in its sleeve, too, so that’s handy. I can’t stress how having cables/gadgets organized like this is a huge relief when it comes to packing up and getting ready for a whole new place. I always know if I’m missing anything, which is probably why I’m never missing anything.
Backup Battery Pack
I’ve got an EC Technology three-port backup battery charger that has been abused non-stop since November 2016. I use it daily. It’s got 16000 mAh, which translates to 3-4 complete charges for my iPhone 6. I used to think having just a “full recharge” backup was enough, but then I got caught on a train trip to Edinburgh when a gas line burst and half the trains in the central UK were rerouted, and my four-hour trip became nine hours of hell. Got to town completely frazzled and had no juice left to see where my hostel bed was. Cue me sitting in a pub over a steak-and-ale pie with a Guinness while I waited for the battery to recharge. I’ll likely never have that situation again with a charger like this. I’d like to upgrade to this 26800-mAh charger, actually.
Day Bag: Pacsafe Metrosafe II
Any PacSafe bag tends to be a load off your mind. It’s anti-theft, so there are all kinds of thoughtful touches aimed at protecting you and your goods. My Metrosafe bag is in between a messenger bag and a purse. It’s big enough to fit my Surface Pro computer, my backup charger, my camera and my wallet, so I’m good to go for short urban trips.
But what makes it so different? Like all PacSafe bags, it has wire mesh sewn between fabric layers so the front isn’t slash-able by thieves. Same with the strap, which has hardcore metal wires running through the length of it. The strap is attached at one end but clasps on at the other, which is great when you take a seat on a café sidewalk or in an airport and want to protect your bag – I just attach my strap around the seat back or table leg, and then the clasp has a little lock to click so someone can’t just simply open it and wander off. Granted, you just twist to open it, but it’s enough of a delay that it’s a deterrent. Thieves work fast and delays are a problem. That’s why the zippers have little hooks they can click into, too, so you know your bag won’t be easily opened covertly. Then there’s an RFID pocket for ID and passport. I feel much more safe with a PacSafe bag when I’m on public transit anywhere around the world.
For the first eight or so months of travelling, I had packing cubes but didn’t feel like they helped much. Then I bought more, and now I would cut you if you tried to take my packing cubes away from me, because I know how much sanity they bring me. I originally had six, but now I have 12.
I’m really looking forward to being in Penticton next summer for housesitting and tearing my bag apart to start from scratch – new duffle bag, new packing cubes. The cubes I have now are mostly green and some orange, and I hate that. Next time, they’ll all be a different colour, like these, so I know that blue has t-shirts and green has underpants and red has vitamins, so when I arrive at midnight and feel like stabbing people, it’s easy for me to pull out exactly which bag I need and then collapse in bed. Good packing bags should have a mesh top so you know what’s in it, despite the colour, but so that customs people can see too, when they’re inspecting. Plus, it’s nice to let them air out.
The reality is, there are so many stupid AirBNB hosts who don’t think about personal convenience. I cannot tell you how many bathrooms are out there without enough counter space or shelving for storing my personal toiletries while I stay someplace. As a result, I started looking for the ideal beauty organizer. Not one of those stupid bags you just chuck everything in – do you know how annoying that gets after six months on the road? Very.
No, what you need is a nylon organizer with at least two, preferably three compartments, one of which is plastic-sealed, the others that are mesh, but all close with a zipper, not buttons. I keep things like manicure equipment – chuck the case for the manicure stuff because it’s dead weight. Just put it in a compartment. In there also goes other little things like Band-Aids and small ointments and tweezers.
Another compartment gets first aid stuff and sealed ointment tubes and razors. The plastic-sealed compartment is anything liquid or those stupid flip-top toothpast tubes that are the bane to long-term travellers, so the plastic will contain leakage.
Finally, it needs a hardcore hook at the top of the organizer. Mine is like a coathanger. This means I can hang it off anything from a nail to a towel rack or a doorknob, and access anything I like.
My first year had all my beauty stuff and first aid in a packing cube. Switching to one of these after 18 months was heavenly. Now, it doesn’t matter how much shelf space there is – I can hang my thingie and I’m good to go.
But don’t get one that zips up into a nice, pretty square bag; get one that closes with adjustable straps or extendable hooks, because what if you can’t find travel size toothpaste? What if you’ve had to buy some prescriptions? Your bag won’t always close easily, so make sure it’s adjustable.
I’m still using my UE Mini Boom speaker, but I’d love to upgrade to their latest versions, which are shockproof and waterproof. Now and then I’m in a place when I can blast my music and it’s wonderful. The portability means being able to really enjoy that patio, or move it around when cleaning. UE’s “Boom” line is still considered to have some of the best overall sound in a portable speaker, so be sure you’re not buying a product that isn’t going to SOUND great as well as be convenient. The top brands are UE, JBL, and Bose, but UE’s been pioneering the tough stuff since day one. I’ve included the Boom 2 link, which is nearly ¾ of a pound lighter than the Mega Boom. Keep weight in mind as you ratchet up gadgets for travel! They add up fast.
I have a lot of gear, but I can get by with two, maybe three plugs. My cord allows for four things to get plugged in. I had to use it a lot more in Mexico, so there are months it doesn’t even emerge, but when it does, it’s a life-saver. But tech has changed since then, so I’ll be getting one with USB plugs included (like this) for the next time I’m in Canada. It’s important to make sure it’s got surge protection, because many places in Asia, etc, have ungrounded outlets and power surges are common.
Six-Foot Extension Cord
I’ve had to use this in at least five residences now, when tables or desks are across the room from the nearest outlet. Yeah, I’m thinking “What the hell were YOU thinking,” but at least it saves me and I can work. I had to take an Uber to a megastore in Merida, Mexico, when I first needed one and I still remember the 44-block bike-powered tuktuk ride home. So, now and then I set up the cord and I’m transplanted to a 38-degree night when a Mexican dude pedaled his ass off for 44 blocks to take me home. I paid him twice what he asked for, because, man, what work. Every time I think I won’t need it again, I do. I just packed it away from Sofia, Bulgaria, in once of the most-thoughtfully arranged apartments I’ve stayed in, but the outlet was two feet further than my cord reached. You can get a surge/extension thing included in one product, if you like.
Because I use a Microsoft Surface Pro as a computer, I can remove the screen and use a full-size keyboard with it for what are often long workdays. My Suptek stand is so much better than the one I had been using for the first three years of my travels, and while it’s a little heavy to tote with me, it’s what I need to keep my head straight and neck in good shape. I sit with my screen at nearly eye-level on kitchen tables, thanks to this stand, and if chilling at night with some Netflix, it’s great for that too. I consider this an indispensable part of my kit.
Meat Thermometer & Corkscrew
I actually travel with a kitchen kit because I’m so tired of places that don’t have things I consider fundamental basics, like a spatula. But if you’re trying to keep it simple, I suggest two things you gotta have are a corkscrew, because wine. Most places will have a corkscrew, but they can often be terrible. I just had a two-night place in Italy where the corkscrew didn’t work. UNTHINKABLE. I highly recommend a quality waiter’s corkscrew, or whatever kind you feel most comfortable with. As for a meat thermometer, you may roll your eyes at my nerdiness, but I cook with different ovens every month and I don’t have the luxury of a learning curve. If it’s that rare time I’m roasting chicken, then I want that chicken to be lovely and perfectly cooked. With an instant-read meat thermometer, that’s a possibility. I recommend a pen-style meat thermometer as they are often thinner and lighter than the folding variety.
A Different Travel Pillow
Yeah, yeah, you’ve got your travel pillow and you like it, okay, super. I’ve been through several kinds of travel pillows now and hated them all. I needed to get it right for my flight to Asia, where I would be flying for about 20 hours, and I’m thankful I did! I use one that’s a pump-up variety, so I’m not having to blow into it, because gross, considering how much I travel with it. And it has funky bumps that help to keep my head up. I see people always using travel pillows around the back of their neck, which is weird to me. This one can do that, sure, but it also can be put at the front, under my chin, with the bumpy supports facing down so it stays mounted against my chest. I find this lets me rest with my head against the seat, but prevents my head from falling forward or to the side. Perfect! Here’s a great kit for Canadians on Amazon.ca, with an eyemask that sounds similar to the one I use. And here’s one for Americans.
Puffy Eye Mask
A molded, puffy or “3-D” eye mask (did you see my eyes roll when I put “3-D” like all the ads have, as if this is some amazing technology?) is a life-saver for me. I’ve never been the kind of person who could handle eye masks because I have long eyelashes and it drove me nuts for anything to be against them. The puffy masks protrude to cup your eyes, and do a great job of what you want – keeping the light out. I can sleep with varying levels of light, so I don’t really care too much if a room has blackout blinds or whatever. But when the light goes on and off, I lose my mind. I stayed in a great guest house in Morocco, but their lack of interior daylight meant they’d installed frosted windows along the top of my room, so daylight would reach the hallway during days. But at night, it meant anyone turning on the lights flooded my room. Up until this time, I never carried an eye mask. Now, I never go without one available for those rare times it’s needed.
Travel Door Lock
I rent apartments, seldom just rooms, so most of them come with great door locks abroad. But if you’re renting rooms, you’d be surprised how many don’t have a lock. If you’re worried about your personal safety, you might want to take one with you. Consider a wedge for under the door or a disabler for the knob. Both of these only work if the door opens into the room, and only when you’re inside the room. Now they make wedges with alarms, which are a handy thought, but I found my wedge didn’t work the one time I wanted it to, when I was in a drunk Scotsman’s AirBNB bedroom. These are disablers, but I’m not sure they would work universally, so be aware that things designed for North America may not always be useful in, say, Thailand or Italy. But, like insurance, sometimes it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
5-Inch Sink Stopper
You might think, “You’re WEIRD, Steff,” but if you plan to visit many places in Asia or Africa, you’ll be grateful you’ve got one in your bag. You’ll be relaxing in your somewhat posh hotel room or AirBNB and you’ll get a whiff of… what is that, is that sewage? Yes! Yes, it is! That’s what it is. For whatever the reason, plumbing systems in these places will often empty the sewage into the same out-drain as the shower. So, up from the shower or the bathtub drain will come nasty odors that could last all night. But YOU, you have a 5” flat rubber sink-stopper, so you know exactly how to get a stink-free room – just put that cover down until you have a shower, and then cover it back up again after it. You’ll be 90-100% free of sewage stench, I promise. This saved me in Capadoccia, Turkey. Lest you think 1 stopper is enough, I needed two for my bathroom in Turkey, so maybe consider a two-pack if you have that option. (Something like this.)
External Drive for iPhone/iPad
I shoot a lot of video and it clutters my phone up fast, so when I can offload my content into this handy USB drive, it allows me to quickly free up my phone.
Memory Card Case
A shock-proof, waterproof memory card case gives me a lot of peace of mind as I rack up the images from around the world. I’m backing them up on external drives and in the cloud, but who knows, right? And for $10, why not?
Aeropress Coffee Maker
This thing is indestructible. I prefer a moka pot’s coffee, but Aeropress is indestructible, provides a great cup of coffee, and you never need a stove, just a kettle. Even if you have a stove, I’m not sure you want to be firing up the gas burner when it’s a humid 40 degrees Celsius out. Face it, coffee has become a luxury drink in much of the world. In many places in Thailand and elsewhere, I could get a street meal for cheaper than a coffee. This $40 contraption is good for over 1,000 cups of coffee. It’s been in my bag for around 70 flights and shows no sign or wear or tear after three years of use. Aeropress is my morning ride-or-die in most coutries in the world. And get yourself two, not one, but two fine mesh filters so you can chuck out the stupid paper filters and enjoy the oily, inky drink God intended. Be warned, they can rust fast, and I’ve had a housecleaner throw mine out, so I never travel without a spare filter now.