With more than half of my year spent traveling and away from San Francisco, I’ve learned to live with less. In fact, it’s always a shock when I come home and find that I own things I’ve completely forgot about and don’t need on a day to day basis. There is beauty in simplicity and so when it comes to acquiring new items, I try to find things that are essential when I’m on the road and that I would also regularly use at home. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few of my favorite travel gear over the years (some are newer acquisitions) that I almost absolutely need when I’m traveling (and I think you could use as well). Disagree and I’ll snap you with a wet towel (see #9: travel towel).
Must Have Travel Gear
1. Midori Travel Journal. I know most people share their travels on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchats, but there’s still something nice about writing down more than just what you want to filter out and share with your “friends.” I’ve kept a journal for as long as I’ve traveled and having gone through my Moleskine years, I’ve now found what is my favorite travel journal (and probably the best travel journal out there).
The Midori travel journey is a beautifully simple piece of leather with an elastic cord that holds a journal. When you’re done with one book, you can just swap it out and the leather will only age with time. The scratches and patina on mine is in itself a string that connects all my travels together. I cannot express how much I love this thing. I swap out the book (it comes in lined, grid, and blanks) and use it to take notes, make lists or anything else that comes to mind both when I’m at home and on the road. It also comes in a smaller size and has some nice add-ons like a plastic pouch that allows me to keep some loose items safe in the journal. Seriously, I f*cking love this thing.
2. Cable Lock. Essential. I have like 5 of these guys and always take a few with me when I travel. It’s the cable part of the lock that’s useful. It fits through most locker holes and bags and since its TSA compliant, you can lock up your bags when you check it in. There’s not much else I can wax on about how useful a lock is, but I’ll say one that is one I’ve had for at least 7 years now and I haven’t switched to a different one yet. I use it everyday at the gym when I’m home as well. I also keep a short braided cable that pairs perfect with these locks when I need to secure my bag or luggage down to something to keep the opportunistic thieves from just walking away with my bag while I’m sleeping on a train or something.
3. Sony RX100 IV. As a photographer, I’m constantly thinking about which camera and lenses to bring with me. It changes depending on where I go and what I plan to shoot. As a professional, I always want to make sure I have the best quality to work from, so it was a surprise to me how often I turned to a small point and shoot camera over the last few months of my trip. I’ll mention off the bat that this is a $1000 point and shoot camera. That’s not cheap, but it’s worth every single penny (there’s the 3rd generation that’s cheaper and has similar features). Without getting too technical (I’ll save that for a separate post about all my favorite camera gear), this small, pocketable camera has a sensor that’s bigger than most that’s found in a similar sized camera.
This means, it can capture high quality photos with a lot of detail. It also has a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens that covers the most frequently used range of most photographers, meaning its wide enough for landscapes and can zoom in for some decent portraits. The f/1.8-2.8 aperture means it can capture more light and along with some decent low-noise ISO settings, I’m able to take clear pictures even at night. For videographers, it shoots up to up to 4K quality and has some fast frame rates for high speed capture/slow motion. With my Nauticam underwater housing, I can take some great shots underwater in a package that is so much smaller than any of my DSLR/Mirrorless options. Is this the only camera I travel with? No. I also take along a bigger Sony A7II that allows me to interchange lenses. But I found that for a lot of shots, I was perfectly happy with the output from this camera. Likewise, for a lot of my video shots, the built in stabilization on this allowed me to do a lot of quick hand held shots that I otherwise I wouldn’t feel comfortable shooting with a bigger camera. I’m talking hanging out of a rickshaw rushing through some insane India traffic. What this means is that for 90-90% of the travelers out there, this would be more camera than you would need and you could probably just leave that bigger DSLR at home. If you are still using your Nikon or Canon D-whatever that you bought at Best Buy with the lens that came with the camera, you are the perfect candidate for this. If you are happy with the photos from your iPhone or Galaxy, then maybe you don’t need this, but if you want something high quality in a package that is small and portable, look no further. Oh, and it even has a selfie mode.
4. Ex-Officio Travel Underwear. What is travel underwear and how is it different from normal underwear? To answer that question, I’ll ask you a simple question first. Have you ever had to hand wash your delicates while squatting on a rock in the river? If the answer is yes, then you’ll know that there’s probably not a dryer hiding behind those trees in the jungle for you to use. These Ex-Officio underwear are made of some awesome synthetic blend that allows for quick drying and moisture/odor wicking. That also means that if you happen to not be able to change your underwear for a couple of days, you’ll still be able to have friends. They are also extremely comfortable. So comfortable that I’ve bought a lot more of these and just wear them as my normal underwear even at home. If you want to buy me a coffee or churro, I’ll be happy to sit down and tell you about all the times where I was eternally grateful for having a pair of these on, instead of a normal pair of tighty whities. For men, I prefer the Ex-Officio Boxer Briefs version. In a pinch, I wouldn’t mind dropping trough and jumping in a hot tub with these on and I like to look a little more dignified wandering half awake to the shared bathroom in a hostel when I don’t have pants on. For women, I probably shouldn’t advise you on your underwear choice, but if I had to pick something that is functional and still looks good, I’d go with the Ex-Officio Mesh Hipkini. Look, there’s also a string bikini version and some with laces if that’s your thing. And that’s all I have to say on that subject.
5. Herschel Supply Co. Duffel Bag. Why a duffel you say? Because sometimes, it’s nice to look cool. And sometimes I don’t need a 60L backpack. I experimented with during my last three months of travel through parts of Asia and while driving a rickshaw across India and I loved it. It’s spacious enough to hold everything I needed and allowed me to wear a smaller daypack that carried my cameras and valuables. I wished this one had a few more pockets and compartments at time, but simplicity is nice too. With these useful packing cubes, I was able to separate and retrieve my clothes pretty quickly and as well as get to some of my other items. There’s also a separate compartment that I can store my dirty clothes or a pair of dirty shoes. I went with the blue and tan version in case you want to copy me. They are also great for a quick trip out of town when you don’t need to pack everything in your wardrobe to take with you.
6. North Face Thermoball Down Jacket. I live in San Francisco, so it’s a requirement to own a down jacket. They are so damn light and warm that it’s one of my favorite jackets to wear. I actually went with the Quince instead of the Thermoball and wished I went to the latter every time it rains. That’s the only downside of most down jackets. The Thermoball is a synthetic version of down that manages to get almost the same level of warmth while being more water resistant. For my travels, even in warmer climates, I will always have this in my bag, since it folds onto itself and zips up neatly into a little package that takes up very little space. Temperatures can drop at the most random times and overnight buses, especially, can get very cold. The best part about this is just how damn light it feels on you and the fit is great, so you don’t look like a giant puffy snowman.
7. Portable Power Pack. The rise of the power packs, like robots, was inevitable. For most people, you can hardly get through the day now without having to top off your phone with a charge. It’s sad. On the road, you end up needing power the most when you don’t have it. I’m talking about Instagram, Happn, Whatsapp on those long train rides from nowhere to nowhere. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices on the go, and sometimes even when I’m sleeping and there’s no outlet next to me. Even at home, I keep one of these things and a spare cable in my bag. If you have the space to spare, and its not asking for me, get the Anker 20000 mAh PowerCore pack. This will charge your phone a shit load of times (6 times I think for the 6s), has a high output capacity, so it charges fast and can charge more power hungry items like an iPad. If you want something smaller than you can easily slip in your pocket or a purse or a man-purse/murse, grab the Anker 3350 mAh PowerCore+ Mini.
8. Belkin Mini Surge Protector/Outlet. I sometimes miss my early days of travel where I had nothing to charge. Like absolutely nothing at all. And then I had to charge my camera batteries. And then my phone. And then my Kindle. And then even my portable power packs that I carry around to charge my camera, phone and kindle. In some ways, I’d like to travel unburdened like that again, but let’s be honest, some of these things are quite useful nowadays. I now have a habit of checking into a hotel or hostel or a monastery (if that’s where I’m spending the night), and immediately looking to see how many outlets there are in the room. Don’t judge me, I know many of you travelers do the same. I’ve shared a room with someone only to realize that’s there one outlet in the entire room. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes we are diplomatic about it, and sometimes it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that is our friendship. This is why you don’t leave home without one of these 3 plug outlets. This one even has two spots for USB plugs, so you can charge 5 devices at once and save your friendship.
9. Eagle Creek Travel Towel. “A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly, it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”
If that doesn’t convince you why you need a travel towel, then we’re just lost. I’ve lost a grand total of 2 travel towels across 50 countries and the distress it has caused me until I was able to purchase another one was, let’s say, distressful. It packs up small, so is also great for weekend trips, camping trips, and I’ll repeat what the HHGTTG just said above; you can wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat. Who doesn’t enjoy snapping a wet towel at someone’s behind?
But mind you, choosing a travel towel, nay, the perfect travel towel is not easy and I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking, but the Eagle Creek Travel Towel (either a medium or a large will do) marries together two things that I deem are essential. 1) it has to be portable 2) it has to feel damn good on your skin. You can definitely go for some of the microlight ones that folds up thinner than tissue, but try drying yourself off and you’ll curse the day like you did when your mom donated that Disney Sing-A-Along VHS to Goodwill. And that’s all I’ll have to say on that subject.