11 Must-pack Items, According to Full-time Travel Writers
As a travel journalist, I often feel I've hit the career jackpot. I travel as often as my passport allows — 28 countries and counting! — and I’m able to tell the stories of the cultures and wonders I see along the way. Most of my life is spent migrating from plane to train to hotel to apartment, on repeat. Transitioning through makeshift homes, managing deadlines across timezones, and attempting to appear more professional than jet-lagged for interviews and reviews means I have to be strategic about my calendar — and, perhaps even more so, about packing.
While I’d love for my entire previous New York City wardrobe to fit in my backpack, lightweight, makeshift staples and smart technology pieces reign on my priority list. As anyone who travels full-time or even part-time will tell you, airline baggage fees add up when you’re in constant flux, making what you choose to lug around fall into two strict categories: necessary or excessive.
If you’re heading out on a long trek overseas or considering a digital nomad lifestyle, take it from these seasoned travel writers who have earned enough miles to know what’s essential for travel.
Naot ‘Bounty’ Sandal
Last August, I set out on a yearlong trip around the world via Remote Year. Knowing I would only have one checked bag, one carry-on, and one backpack to my name made downsizing from my four-year apartment in the East Village a multi-week process. While I knew the platform wedges or stilettos I wore for nights out in NYC would be cumbersome on cobblestones in Lisbon or the jagged sidewalks of Malaysia, I also wanted one pair of nicer shoes for dancing and more professional occasions. Enter: this do-it-all Naot heel I’m so glad I packed. They’re super-comfortable and look equally appropriate with a cute jumper as they do with a fitted skirt and blouse. So far, they’ve made it through a drum circle in Argentina, a five-story club in Prague, and several meetings with hotel executives in Japan.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $169
Powercube by Allocacoc
Much like you shouldn’t hop in a meter-less cab abroad, seasoned globetrotters know not to trust every promise an airline or a hostel makes. While WiFi and outlets might be advertised, sometimes the circumstances are less than tech-friendly when you arrive. For JB Macatulad of Will Fly for Food, having a way to keep electronics charged is a necessity on the road. He usually travels with his wife, Renée, and the two collectively share two smartphones, two power banks, two pocket WiFi devices, a DSLR, an action camera, a gimbal, a drone, and its controller. It's safe to say they need more than one single outlet — that’s why they don’t leave home without the PowerCube.
“The basic unit comes with four sockets and two USB ports but you can purchase additional PowerCubes and link them together to provide even more sockets,” he said. “I've had to stay up late on trips just waiting for devices to finish charging so I can plug in the next one. Thankfully, I don't have to do that anymore with the PowerCube. It's a huge time-saver and something I can't travel without.”
To buy: amazon.com, from $19
The Sea to Summit Travel Clothesline
Apart from the United States, there are very few countries where the dryer is a household staple. Regardless if you’re spending a few weeks in Europe or trekking your way through South America, most apartment rentals will include a washer and offer the Great Outdoors as your drying method. That’s why Lia Garcia of Practical Wanderlust brings this tiny, lightweight clothesline with her wherever she roams.
“Traveling with wet clothes is difficult and irritating. Stick your wet bathing suits in a plastic laundry bag and you'll soon end up with a suitcase full of moldy clothes. But hang them up with this little clothesline and your wet clothes will dry incredibly quickly — much faster than in the damp bathroom you've probably been using! We use this clothesline frequently during our travels, whether we're doing laundry on the go, washing our clothes in the sink or shower, or just hitting the beach every day.”
To buy: rei.com, $10
Though tap water in most U.S. and European cities is safe to guzzle down, many regions of the world don’t offer the same convenience. That’s why it’s better to be safe than sorry when on vacation, since there’s nothing worse than a contamination-induced sickness to hold you back from touring museums or learning to surf. Garcia always brings this rechargeable, portable purifier to ensure she’s drinking clean water and decreasing her consumption of plastic waste by purchasing bottled water.
“This device emits a bright light which kills all the nasty stuff in tap water that could make you sick. Fill up a water bottle anywhere you like and within two minutes, you'll have clean, safe drinking water — without that nasty aftertaste some chemical purifiers can leave behind,” she explains. “We've saved enough money on water bottles over the course of our travels for this device to pay for itself, and we've saved a lot of plastic water bottles from the trash.”
To buy: amazon.com, $80 (originally $100)
Skyroam Solis Personal Hotspot
Though the traveling journalist lifestyle sounds glamorous — and at times, it can be — freelance travel writer Aly Walansky explains that going off the grid doesn’t mean she has the opportunity to also be offline for days at a time. No matter what country she’s currently exploring, meeting deadlines is still a major part of her day-to-day responsibilities, making access to the web imperative. That’s why she never leaves American soil without this mobile hotspot.
“It lets you attach multiple devices — phone, iPad, computer, whatever — to one hotspot, and costs around $8 a day for WiFi with no roaming charges. I never have to buy hotel or airport WiFi, and I can throw it in my purse and have constant access to my email and my social media, without having to buy an international plan on my phone. I've been preaching [about] it to all my friends for over a year now,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $150
Flip & Tumble 24-7 Reusable Shopping Bag
When you’re getting lost in the medina of Morocco or sampling every last spice at the 100-year-old market in Budapest, you might come away carrying countless plastic bags that may (or may not) make it back to your temporary homestead. That’s why freelance travel writer and social media director Kate Winick comes prepared on trips with a reusable bag.
“Whether I'm surprised with unusually good shopping at a local market, a spontaneous trip to the beach, a grocery store run to stock an Airbnb, and once — in a pinch — a teething baby in need of something to chew, this tiny crushable tote has never failed me. It's super sturdy and guarantees you all the on-the-go carrying power you need even if you're trading in your giant everyday bag for a smaller, vacation-mode model,” she explains.
To buy: amazon.com, $13
Anker Portable Charger
Outlets are scarce when walking through the ancient streets of Europe or safariing your way through South Africa, so you'll need a backpack-friendly power bank to ensure your battery is always ready to go. After all, you can’t miss a stellar Instagram shot or, you know, use Maps to navigate back to your Airbnb when you’re in the red. LGBT travel blogger Meg Cale turns to Anker for its trusty portable chargers.
“Our phones are great for entertainment during flights, but they also act as a safety device in case of emergency, a translator in foreign countries, a currency converter, a GPS, and provide access to our itineraries and reservation numbers. Having a high-quality power bank on hand can save the day when a phone dies and there are no outlets available or no time to sit and wait for our devices to charge,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $50
PacSafe Portable Safe
The risks of any job vary but for travel writers who venture to remote places, having street smarts is part of the role. However, unfortunate and dangerous incidents can occur — something writer Anna Davies knows all too well. While on vacation with her two-year-old in Costa Rica last winter, the apartment they rented for a month was broken into while they were away. No one was physically harmed, but she lost two laptops and a tablet, and had to head home a week early because of it. Her takeaway from the experience was to invest in on-the-go security via this portable safe.
“I never leave my room without locking my things up, and this bag is super lightweight and easy to pack, but very secure — you attach it to an anchor point, like around the base of the sink, and there's no way to cut it loose. It makes me feel more secure, and since I like to stay a bit off-the-grid in rentals that may not have safes on the property, it's just a smart way to secure my belongings,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, from $62 (originally $90)
Oliver Thomas ‘Not A Trainwreck’ Train Case
By now, you’ve probably figured out the best way to make it through security with the right type of slip-on shoes and the easiest pocket to stow your laptop in. But what about a secure place for your jewelry, your toiletries, and your makeup? Though there are countless options on Amazon, Winick said the only case that’s proven trustworthy through turbulence is this appropriately named find from Oliver Thomas.
“I love the compartment-style storage with dedicated spaces for makeup brushes that I can open up without disturbing the rest of my toiletries. The huge main compartment fits everything I need, and the case itself is water-resistant, easy to wipe clean, and customizable with their signature patches,” she said.
To buy: theoliverthomas.com, $55
For nine years, travel photographer Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere was a bonafide digital nomad, exploring the world sans-home. Though he had plenty of long flights to read on, he struggled to find English-language books in the countries he toured through. And when he did happen upon one, he found them to be overly expensive and cumbersome to lug around. Enter: the Kindle.
“The Kindle solved all of my book problems with a vengeance. I once downloaded the entire ‘Game of Thrones’ series from the deck of a ship as I pulled away from Cape Town on an 18-day trip. I never leave home without it,” he said.
To buy: amazon.com, $130
Bestek Universal Travel Converter
In a single month, a blogger can find him or herself waking up in Indonesia, flying to Malaysia, and then moving to Thailand the next week. As big as the world is, cheap flights in Asia and inexpensive trains in Eastern Europe make getting around that much more accessible. The only issue is figuring out which adaptor belongs to your current IP address. Travel writer Sarah Funk’s solution is this universal adaptor and converter, which features three plugs and four USB ports.
“In addition to all of the methods of charging it has available, it also comes with adaptors that can be used all over the world. This has come in handy during long days of travel when I am on a layover in a country that has different outlets than the one I am traveling to. No matter where I am, this travel adaptor and converter can always be used,” she said.
To buy: amazon.com, starting at $40