As someone who loves to travel, and travels with a lot of gear, I’m always on the hunt for a few products that will:
a) make my trip easier
b) make my bags lighter
I don’t know that I have the most refined system out there for traveling light or with the best setup, but I do get asked for recommendations and advice on travel gear often enough that I figured it was worth a blog post. By no means comprehensive, here’s a list of the things that make life on the road a little bit easier for me. None of the links below are affiliate links and I don’t gain anything from making these recommendations.
This is a recent acquisition that Bill (my other half) discovered and I really love it. Not only does it serve as our wall charger, but it also serves as a portable charger for when we can’t be near the wall. I own another Anker power bank and it has really held up against long-term use. Having this in my bag means I don’t have to carry both a wall charger and a portable charger, and the fact that I can charge two devices makes it even better. Coupled with my Anker lightning cable, it makes charging a breeze in hotel rooms, which for some inexplicable reason, have only recently started to make their bedside setup usable for travelers who keep their phones nearby.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most organized person in the world. The truth of the matter is that I have never been and I never will be. That said, I do appreciate being a little organized, and especially so when I’m living out of a suitcase. When these were first recommended to me, I thought it seemed silly, but I’ve come to appreciate how nice it is to open my suitcase and have everything in its right place in the cube.
Excuse the poor quality of my phone photo to the left. This is all the clothing I took with me for two weeks in rural Ghana. Normally I might put different items in different bags, but minimal clothing means less decision fatigue and more room for gear (if needed).
There are a few different kinds of sizes and options, but that’s just personal preference. These don’t compress, but I’ve moved away from compression bags because I just pack less these days. I use a compression-style bag for my dirty laundry, as it keeps it compact while also keeping things separate from the clean digs.
As long as I’m on my eBags kick, I might as well tell you how much I love my lay-flat toiletry kit from them. I don’t take too much with me in the toiletry department, but even if I did, I feel like this would have plenty of room. For example, if I’m in the field, I’m not worried about my makeup, but there are projects where I’ll be in the field and I’ll also be expected to attend a dinner or function where I’ll want to look more put together. This lay-flat bag is long enough for my makeup brushes, skin care, toiletries, medications, and my small first aid kit. It has enough room for my comb/brush and I like the expandable pouch on the side. The built-in hook hangs nicely pretty much anywhere once you’ve arrived at your destination. In short, it works for weekend trips and it was the perfect organizer when I spent two weeks in rural Africa, too. Best of all, it can sit right on top without the bulk of the more traditional bags.
BONUS: I never pay full price at eBags because I love online shopping with eBates. You get cash back on things you buy, and it’s legit – I’ve received hundreds back from them over the years. This is my referral code if you want to check it out. I think I get a cash kickback and you do, too.
As a lifelong believer that access to clean, safe drinking water should be a right and not a privilege, I live that belief even when I travel. That means that I bring with me a water filtration system I trust in lieu of drinking bottled water. I loathe bottled water because it creates a ridiculous amount of plastic waste in our world, and much of that waste ends up in our water supply and oceans. I equally loathe the privileged whining about taste of water being a reason for bottled water consumption. I could go on and on (and on) about it, but instead, let me tell you about why I love the Lifestraw product line from Vestergaard.
First, it’s important to note that in many developing countries, access to clean water is limited at best. Second, it’s equally as important to note that in many places, developing or otherwise, sanitation services are virtually non-existent. There is no weekly trash pickup. There is no recycling service. Most of the trash is brought to the huge in-ground pit next to the house and burned (for all to inhale).
With this in mind, along with my own health, I bring a water filter with me. I always keep a Lifestraw in my backpack. At only 9″ long and 1″ in diameter, it’s small enough that I never really notice it. It’s fantastic for camping or general travel, as it removed 99.9999999% of waterborne bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, as well as 99.999% of waterborne protozoa, including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. You can filter about 1000 gallons with this straw before you need to replace it. We used mine in Ghana when a hike unexpectedly outlasted our clean water supply and it worked like a charm. None of us got sick and I was happy to be able to leave this one behind with the crew for their future use.
At our base, I had with me the Lifestraw Mission filter. This holds 5 liters of water and removes 99.9999% of viruses in addition to the bacteria and protozoa mentioned above. It lasts for roughly 4,755 gallons of water and it is great to have on hand in case of a domestic water line break (which happens more than you’d think where I live). I keep this full and it makes brushing my teeth and refilling my water bottle simple. Further, it is small and takes up practically zero space in my suitcase. Not only is my water safe to drink, but I am not contributing to an overwhelming issue of waste in developing countries (and non-developing countries alike).
This was another thing Bill introduced me to. Man, does it make life easier. External hard drives are great to have in general, especially when you are working with one-of-a-kind photos and video. You don’t want to store those HUGE files on your laptop, but sometimes an external drive is super slow to work from. A portable solid state drive is the best of both worlds. It’s not only a great way to backup your work, but it’s AWESOME to work from. Super fast, and about 1/3 the size of my iPhone.
As a bonus, I use these 3M Dual Lock strips on the back of my laptop. It easily holds my external drives to the back of my laptop so I don’t have to worry about my drive ever slipping off a desk or a tray table in the plane. It locks it to my computer. Just put one strip on your hard drive and one on the top of your laptop near your USB port. Easy peasy.
The Kühl Mova Pant was one of my favorite discoveries of 2017. I know what you’re thinking, “Annalise, it’s a pair of pants,” but hear me out. I have an hourglass shape. EVERY pair of pants I buy needs to be altered. I’m a size four at the waist and a size 10/12 at the hips. Buying pants off the rack is nearly impossible for me (and many other women).
I love these because they are the perfect airplane companion. They feel like a comfy yoga pant or pajama, but look much better. They move, they don’t pinch and they don’t wrinkle up. They are easy to sleep in, they hold their structure well, and they breathe. They have a couple of pockets that make life easy and they look good walking off the plane.
I brought with me only two pairs of pants for two weeks in Africa. I wore my Mova pants and the Kühl Splash Roll-up pants and they were both incredible. The durability is fantastic and I’m grateful that I can buy them off-the-rack with no further adjustments needed.
Libraries are awesome. Period. Almost every library has some sort of access to Overdrive. Here, you can download countless ebooks and audiobooks right to your Kindle, iPad, or another device. For free. As part of holding a library card. While I still bring my iPad mini with me, I could probably get away with just having everything sent to my laptop. But I like my Mini for watching downloaded episodes and movies when I don’t have wifi, as well as for playing my favorite strategy game apps. Plus, it’s way easier to smuggle under the covers than a whole laptop. In-flight entertainment often has some pretty great options. But if you’re on a long-haul flight or if you’re on the same airline for the third or fourth time that month, those options get very slim very fast. Take this gem of an example from my Turkish Airlines flight in August, Murder She Baked: Just Desserts, starring Alison Sweeney. Nobody wants to watch that. Nobody.
This one is for the photographers in the bunch, most of whom have probably already read about this bag numerous times. Bill gave me this bag for my birthday and my only regret is not buying it sooner. Finding a camera backpack that you love, it turns out, is not as easy as one might think. Over the years, I’ve painstakingly researched bags and while I’m still not sure the perfect camera bag for everyone completely exists, I think this is darn close.
My biggest issue is that I want space to carry a refillable water bottle and a travel tripod. You would not believe how many camera backpacks have the CRAPPIEST tripod solutions. They have these tiny little pouches for the feet to sit and these flimsy security straps that come loose. Or, if one part of the bag is well-designed, it lacks in other important areas. It always felt like a trade-off, until I got my Peak Design Backpack. I can carry all my camera gear, my tripod, my water bottle, my laptop, and the accessories I need for each.
As the name suggests, it’s great for every day, when I’m heading into the office, too. The internal dividers are easy to customize. Photographers, what’s especially nice about them is that they aren’t the clunky weird “customizable” dividers circa 1992 that come in every other bag. These are actually light, easy to use, and don’t take up unnecessary space. Plus, the bag itself is weather resistant/waterproof and I need that, too. Lastly, it just looks great. It’s sleek and simple and doesn’t scream “Hi there, I’m loaded with tens of thousands of dollars worth of camera gear!”
I’m the type of person who almost always will choose function over form, but this is both. I receive compliments on this bag wherever I go. Gold stars all around.
Other Tips for Making Travel Easier
Outside of gear, there have been a few changes to the way I pack that make a world of difference. The biggest change is just packing less overall. On my recent trip to Ghana, I had just three shirts and two pairs of pants for about 16 days of travel. You can wash things almost anywhere if need be. I only packed four pairs of socks and four pairs of underwear.
When I was in Ghana, fellow photographer Lacey taught me a cool trick for washing my clothes – wear them into the shower! That’s right, just walk into the shower with your clothes on, get them wet, and soap them up. Then rinse with them on and do a final rinse of them after you take them off. This made it SO much easier to wash my clothes.
Bring a doorstop. My friend Kate gave me this sage piece of advice and I’ll always use it going forward. A simple rubber doorstop is another safeguard for traveling solo as a female traveler. Most hotels have latches and locks, but sometimes they’re sketchy and this was just an added layer of security. It’s small, takes up only a few inches in my bag, and provides a whole lot of piece of mind.
Bring a Ziploc bag for the remote. I don’t watch a lot of television via the television in my hotel room, but an extra plastic bag can come in handy for so many things – including as a make-shift remote cover. I try not to be overly germophobic (yay, immunity!), but those things are nasty.