Must-Have Travel Gear
A backpack specifically designed for traveling. Forget your fancy suitcases, cute (and matching) luggage, and random assortment of difficult-to-carry bags; instead, invest in a nice, high-quality, and relatively large and light backpack (yes, a backpack—one you can easily pop onto your back and carry with you through crowded airports, train stations, subways, etc. without trouble. And, as a bonus, a traveling backpack can also be used for treks and short trips!). A good traveling backpack carries at least 65 liters (though do your homework to see what’s right for you); is made with high-quality materials; has a chest and waist strap (to help keep weight of your shoulders and lower back); has room and a porthole for a water hydration unit (which reminds me, you need a “bladder” for your backpack, especially if you plan on taking long hikes, are heading to a higher-altitude climate, or like to drink a lot of water); and is covered with convenient and necessary pockets and features (based on your needs). It’s also useful to find a backpack that is waterproof.
A camera. I once bought a fancy Nikon camera and brought it to Mexico so that I could take high-quality, beautiful pictures. Then I felt like a rich idiot lugging it around and popping it out to take pictures in places where a huge Nikon camera was completely inappropriate. Since then, I’ve been traveling with a small, digital, point and shoot camera that has editing software. I can now take great pictures without the weight and intrusiveness of a large camera. Unless you feel particularly attached to a large camera, I highly recommend a small and simple but high quality one.
A smaller backpack or larger purse that is good for day trips. When you don’t want to schlep your larger travel backpack around, it’s convenient to have a smaller daypack or larger purse. Most people can get away with a 20-25 liter backpack for a day trip (though again, do your research so that you know what is best for you). Use your daypack or large purse for carrying food, water (again, you might find a daypack that will hold a bladder), layers of clothing, money, a camera, and anything else you might need for a long day of walking around and exploring. In my humble opinion, it is wise to find a daypack that has a hip and chest strap so that you carry your weight in an ergonomically healthy way throughout the day.
A small purse or wallet that sits close to your body. In my opinion, foreign countries are not the place to walk around carrying a fancy purse or a big bag that doesn’t strap to your body. No matter the location, tourists are often times victims of theft. When I travel, I like to have a small purse or bag that straps across my body and snuggles closely to my side. There are plenty of these bags made for men and women. Men: be careful not to keep your money, ids, and credit cards in your back pockets; back pockets are very easy to pick-pocket (which I don’t know from experience—I am a writer, not a pick-pocketer).
A money belt. Money belts often times look like a fancy version of a medical bandage, which, I suppose, is exactly how they should look. They’re meant to disappear and be relatively unnoticeable, so they are typically made of flesh-colored fabrics. They typically strap onto your body at the waist or along your side, and provide a relatively safe storage spot for things you absolutely can’t lose, such as your passport, larger sums of money, and other bare necessities. Some people wear their money belts all the time, no matter where they are or what they’re doing; I, however, wear mine when traveling to and from airports and locations, and remove it when I’m situated in a safe and trustworthy place. Use your best sense to determine when and where to use your money belt.
Comfortable, versatile, fashionable (if you’re into that sort of thing), and easily-packable clothes. Yes, it is difficult (and sometimes expensive) to find clothing that fits this bill. However, it is worth the effort and expense to find clothes that travel well, even if it takes you several years or trips to put together a solid traveling wardrobe. Think about buying clothes that are lightweight, wrinkle-free, versatile (useful for a day hike or a day of walking around a city, for example), easily packable (it is beneficial, for example, to find clothes that fold nicely, don’t require a lot of careful care, and can be easily squished to make more space), and appropriate (please don’t travel to Saudi Arabia with a backpack full of tank-tops and short shorts or t-shirts that say potentially offensive things, for example). Find clothing that can travel to multiple countries and is relatively easy to schlep around and enjoyable to wear (over and over again—keep in mind that you might be limited in the amount of clothes you can bring).
Comfortable and stylish shoes. This is a must. Find some sneakers, boots, and/or sandals that are comfortable, breathable, and fashionable. You want style, versatility, and comfort. And, by the way, if you have to do without one of these things, do without style. Yes, you want to look stylin’ in a foreign country; however, blisters, pain, and other foot problems are never stylish or enjoyable. Bring shoes that allow you to thoroughly enjoy your adventure.
A small lap-top. This isn’t a must. But, if you have to have a laptop, and you’re not attached to a larger one, I highly recommend buying an inexpensive, lightweight, traveling laptop. I travel with a small laptop that cost me $200. It’s easier to carry around (when I have to—though I have to say that I normally travel to foreign countries without a laptop) and if it’s stolen or broken I won’t feel as sad. Remember to also bring thumb-drives so that you can transfer your pictures, computer work, etc. to a back-up file. You don’t want to end up without pictures or digital journals if something happens to your camera or computer.
An open-mind, a toothbrush, your passport, and some money. Keep in mind that no matter what you pack, you can have a wonderful and amazing adventure no matter where you are in the world. Every time I leave the house to embark on a big trip, I remind myself that all I really need is an open-mind, my passport, and my money. I can even do without the toothbrush…for a while. If you can’t afford the top travel gear or end up traveling with inconvenient baggage, clothing, shoes, or anything else, remember that ultimately everything will be fine. The experience and memories are yours to keep, no matter what!