Thursday, November 22, 2012

Low-Down on My Favorite Travel Gear

It's packing time again! We will be back at the airport in a few days on our trip back to the States.

After 7 months of travel, I've got a better feel for which items I couldn't live without, which ones were missing from my initial packing list, and which things I should have left at home.

I've listed the highlights below, along with links to websites (such as where you can find out more information. You should know that we're a part of the Amazon Affiliates program, which provides a small commission for any sales that come through our links. It doesn't cost you any extra; it's just a perk that provides for referring customers to their site. I'm describing these products because I like them, not because I'm trying to rack up the advertising dollars.

The 10 Most Useful Items in My Backpack
Most of these items aren't specific to long-term or international travel, but they're all compact, multi-purpose and helpful if you're trying to save on space.
  1. A mini power strip. 
    One gadget that we can't live without is our Monster Outlets to Go Powerstrip. It's a 4-outlet extension cord with a compact design (less than 5" long). When you're traveling internationally, it's really nice to be able to charge multiple items on only one outlet. Then you only have to worry about bringing one travel adapter!
    Monster Outlets to Go Powerstrip with 4-outlets and a wrap-around cord, about $9
  2. Amazon Kindle e-Reader. 
    Even though I'm not a big reader, I still love my Kindle. We have one of the lower-end models with WiFi but no keyboard. What makes this product so great? It's really light (under 6 ounces) and you can download books on the fly. This is particularly helpful when you're in a non-English-speaking country, as your book selection can be limited. Between's Kindle eBook Store and the Phoenix Digital Library, we can usually find whatever we're looking for. Make sure to download free samples if they're available; it's nice to flip through a book before you buy it!

    Kindle with WiFi and 6" display, around $70
  3. A USB memory stick. 
    A USB stick is another highly versatile device for travelers. We use our USB stick to backup photos, keep electronic copies of important documents (like scans of our passports), and transfer files between computers. If you're going to keep personal information on one, make sure your drive is encrypted or password protected.

  4. A multi-tool. 
    I have a tiny Wenger Multi-Tool that I carry with me on my travels. It's about 2.5" long and has scissors, a file, a small knife, a toothpick, and tweezers. For more heavy-duty fixes, Jim swears by his Leatherman New Wave Multitool. Just remember to pack these items in your checked luggage!
    Wenger Multi-Tool, around $20
  5. A plastic, legal-size envelope. 
    Call me old-fashioned, but I like to carry around hard copies of my boarding passes, hotel confirmation, itinerary (if I have one!), and important travel documents. I highly recommend buying a snap-closure plastic envelope for organizing and protecting your documents. I prefer a legal-sized envelope since A4 paper (used in Europe) is larger than the standard 8.5" x 11" used in the US. Also, a snap closure is neater than Velcro, which always seems to collect lint and fuzz.
    Plastic Snap Closure Envelopes, set of 12 for $24
  6. Pens and a notebook. 
    This might sound obvious, but I find that it's always useful to have a stash of pens in each of my bags. Why? Because when you're traveling, there's no shortage of forms that need to be filled out. Bring some paper too, preferably in a notebook with removable pages. When faced with a language barrier, it can be easier to give your cabbie a piece of paper with an address, ask a local to draw you a map, or have a cashier write down prices rather than rely on only verbal communication. I also like to take notes on things like must-see attractions or local delicacies.

  7. A jacket with removable layers. 
    I'm crazy about coats and jackets, but when you're traveling, it's not really practical to bring along a pea coat, a fleece, a down jacket, and a windbreaker. That's why I love my Marmot component jacket. The inner layer is snuggly and warm, while the hooded outer layer makes a great windbreaker. Wear both layers together, or zip them apart and wear each one separately. It's 3 jackets in 1! I usually bring my jacket on board the plane for use as a spare pillow or blanket (and to save room in my luggage!)
    Marmot Madison Component Jacket, available from Second Ascent for around $200

  8. A travel-friendly cardigan and skirt. 
    I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a really nice black cardigan and travel skirt by The North Face. Normally, I don't believe the hype of specially-designated travel products. However, in this case, it was important to me to find something that could be easily washed by hand (if needed) and could withstand a lot of wear. I chose black since it's easy to dress up or down. Both pieces are comfortable and conservative, which means that I don't mind wearing them multiple days a week and can wear them just about anywhere.
    The North Face Crystal Wrap, available for $65
    The North Face Abby Skirt, available for $22
  9. Stretchy tank tops in neutral colors. 
    I just love my Gap Pure Body tanks. They're stretchy, soft, and maintain their shape after many rounds of wash and wear. I like layering these tanks under t-shirts, wearing them as a nightshirt, or using them as a coverup at the beach.
    Gap Pure Body Tank, available for $14.50

  10. Too Faced's Glamour-to-Go makeup palette. 
    While I wear makeup, I am not a big makeup person. The Too Faced Glamour To Go compact palette suits me just fine. It has more eyeshadows than I need, a bronzer, blush, and several shades of lip gloss. It's incredibly convenient to have all of these items packed into one set. But be sure to pack your own makeup brushes, as they're not included!
    Too Faced Glamour to Go II, available for $15

Stuff That I've Bought Along the Way
Forgetting to pack something isn't the end of the world, as you can usually buy it at your destination. But if you're particular about style or price, keep in mind that your options might be limited during your travels. It can also be tricky to figure out your international clothing or shoe size!
  • Jeans. I resisted bringing jeans because they can be a real pain to wash on the road. But there's few pieces of clothing that are as comfortable and versatile as a great pair of jeans. Do yourself a favor and pack your favorite all-around pair.
  • Small purse or daybag. I thought it was totally impractical to bring a purse. How could I pick just one to suit every occasion? Instead, I should have put more thought into a suitable day bag to carry our wallets, camera, GPS, and other small items. I recommend that you avoid tote bags with an open top, as they offer less security against pickpockets. I like one that has an interior zippered pocket (for my most valuable items) and can be carried in front of my body.
  • Travel-friendly microphone and earpiece for my laptop. We make a lot of calls via the internet. To improve call clarity, we purchased a wired headset that's similar to the hands-free devices that are sold with cell phones.
  • More t-shirts. I only brought 2 t-shirts with me. This wasn't enough! I wanted to wear t-shirts every day! The trick is to get t-shirts that are generic, as in, they don't feature prominent labels or words on them.
Things That I Shipped Home
Packing for longer trips is an art; bringing just enough stuff to stay comfortable, but not too much to be burdened down by extra gear. The following things never made it out of my backpack, so I shipped them back to the States.
  • iPod. I really like listening to tunes while I'm strolling along snapping photos, but I haven't used it very much on this trip -- I'd rather talk to Jim! If we want to listen to music at home, we just stream it over the internet.
  • Dresses. Dresses are great because you just throw them on and get out the door, right? True, but it's harder to re-wear them multiple days in a row. I preferred having separates that I can mix-and-match.
  • Belts. Never really wore 'em. Most of my shirts were long enough to cover my belt loops, anyways.
  • Jewelry. There haven't been many occasions where it was worth the trouble to sport earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. I recommend a few cheap pairs of earrings that you can wear with many outfits (and won't be devastated if they get lost along the way).
So that's the highlights! What items are on your must-have list?

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