Probably one of the most asked questions is…so what do I pack? I wish I was the expert and be all, end all of travel and packing. But as with everything you learn as you go and things are always changing. So here is the list of things to hopefully help you. If you have suggestions, changes, or questions feel free to ask me too! We can all learn here together. I’ve been putting together lists for friends for a while and travel partners so this is not the first time I’ve put out travel lists.
Bags come in every shape and size. You have to ask yourself if you want a backpack or a rolling suitcase. Shopping for a suitcase can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have it be.
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Are you traveling for business or pleasure?
- Are you traveling places with good streets, sidewalks?
- Are you moving from place to place quickly?
- How’s your back?
- How long are you traveling?
- Will you have a car or public transportation?
There are a lot of bags for business travel. I keep changing what I want far too often it seems. I can recommend most things from Eagle Creek these days as I’ve been checking out a few friends’ bags. I currently use the Samsonite Lift 25. I love the weight of the bag! But overall I’ve become a bit less enamored with Samsonite, but I use this bag and I can recommend it. Having a lightweight back will be huge when you realize that you want to bring home a lot of stuff and you want the bag itself to not take up a big portion of that weight.
There are a lot of backpacks. Some people just try to go pick a bag and then choose the size that has the number of liters they want. Don’t do that!
Bags are sized based on your torso, so find a bag that is your torso size that also has the internal storage requirements you need. So what should you do? Honestly, the best thing you should do is go to a store such as REI or Eastern Mountain Sports or whatever is your local backpacking store and try on different bags and find one that meets your needs. There are a lot of great bags from the likes of Kelty, Gregory, Osprey, and each is going to fit differently and have a different carry.
Remember that, most of the weight should be on your hips and not on your back! Save your back, it will thank you in the long run.
Currently, for long trips, I use the Gregory Palisades and I love it.
For some shorter trips, I have the Osprey Porter that is not as nice in the straps but they tuck in and its really lightweight. Its not great for lots of walking with the bag, however, so some short trips where you are just moving it between transportation options or cities it works well.
Be sure to check out my page on how to shop for a travel backpack
Perhaps even more important than the above two items is your daypack. I always have it on me, all the time. It carries important things with me (camera, snacks, documents, etc). Anything of high value I tend to keep with me at all times, so for me having a daypack that can carry it all well is really important. Additionally, if you have a camera make sure that you find one that you love.
I currently use the Four Wheel Jive by Eastern Mountain Sports. I like it a lot, it was the first one that came closest to exactly what I want. I’m able to fit my camera plus a lot of extras in there too.
If you don’t like backpacks you might want to consider cross-body or messenger bags. Sarah has a great post on finding the best crossbody bag.
Securing your Bag:
If you are going to be traveling through hostels, there will be a time when you will want to secure your bag. I’ve done it many ways. Having a bike lock was great in the past, but it doesn’t help as much as some of the newer options.
PacSafe also has some great options for security your bag a lot more in total but there is also the added weight it brings. Consider that before you purchase, but also consider what you’ll have in your main bag. If you just have clothes, it might not be worth security it at all.. If you plan to carry more valuable things, then I would go with the PacSafe option.
Inside Packing Job:
Also, Consider getting a few waterproof bags like these from Seal Line. They are great for putting valuables in when the weather gets bad. I’ve also used them for my toiletries that are liquid. Things will explode at some point in your travels, make sure it doesn’t ruin anything. Outdoor Research has great waterproof bags too but I’ve been using the Seal Line ones for years and love them. These are especially great for outdoor activities, especially water-based like travel by canoe or kayak.
But make sure when you are packing, pack the heavy stuff near the bottom of your back and the lighter at the top. Your shoulders will be happier this way and it will be easier to carry. They used to say that if you put the bag down it should be able to stand up straight on its own. Also, make sure the heavier items are closer to your back too, so you don’t tip over!
When in Rain:
You know weather happens and you should be prepared for it. In my early days of backpacking, I went with the standard heavy duty garbage bag that I fit over my bag. Just cut out the spaces for the straps! It works well and a good low-cost option.
If you want something a bit more form fitting. I have the one from Sea to Summit but there are plenty out there if you want to look around for better prices. I like this one as the quality was really good and it has a little bag for it too which makes it easy to manage.
They say the key to happiness in travel is to pack half the amount of clothes and take twice as much money. I can’t say that isn’t bad advice. But if you are going to take half as many clothes, make sure you have the right clothing!
I always pack a few lightweight, packable pants. I love these pants from REI which I am known to wear often, even just around town. They have some great side pockets that don’t really show and work very well for stowing a pocket camera or some other valuables.
For travel, I also sometimes carry these convertible pants from Columbia. REI also has a set of convertible pants that I use as well. The convertible pants may not be the most “fashion forward”, but they are great when you are traveling light and don’t want to pack pants and shorts. Whatever you end up getting make sure they are breathable!
There are lots of underwear out there, but get ones that are fast drying, wicking, and well don’t smell quickly. I love these from ExOfficio and use them all the time when traveling and they are easy to clean. They make both men and women’s varieties.
Just like above. Get lightweight and wicking. Make sure you have enough to travel and clean. I hate dirty, smelly socks, so I’m pretty against wearing them too often as they just don’t feel good when they are not clean.
If you want the best, you can’t go wrong with something from Smartwool, but they are pricey. They make great socks for skiing, hiking, well almost anything. I’ll also travel with these Champion socks too, which are far cheaper. They are not as good, but they do the job well.
Like above, get some good quality synthetic material. Or go with some good wool. But with tops its harder as it depends on the situation of where you are traveling. Sometimes having a nice dressy option is good depending on where in the world you’ll be.
Depends on the season too. But honestly having a good windbreaker is always useful. Often I find the worse part is the wind, and even in cold weather, I can be warm with a light jacket that blocks out the wind. I currently use this Marmot Jacket which I love but have had a few others including some from North Face, etc. Buy something that fits and is lightweight and you’ll be very happy.
Don’t, Don’t, Don’t pack too many shoes. Do you really want to carry them around? Have a pair of lightweight, sturdy, waterproof shoes and you will be happy. Make sure they are waterproof although that won’t help you if water goes over the top. You don’t want to be miserable walking around, though! I have these from North Face and they work well.
A pair of flip flops is great too. Even just for using the bathroom in some sketchy hostel or hotel. Get something cheap from target or Wal-Mart or your local shop. If you love flip flops go ahead and splurge. But honestly, you will be happier and healthier walking around town in a nice pair of sturdy shoes.
Be sure to break them in before you go on travel, though! Or you’ll need some moleskin for your blisters!
Other Useful Items
I always carry around a flashlight of some sort on my travels. Strangely I have found lots of use for it from rolling blackouts in Kosovo to spending the night in Wadi Rum and needing to use the bathroom. I used to carry around a flashlight but it was a pain and I lost them a lot or left them home (for the big ones). These days I carry this one from Petzl and it has done me well.
You can make one yourself. I did this on my first backpacking trip and it worked out well. Make sure to get a big enough sheet so when you sew it in half that you still fit in there well (but not too big!). Alternatively, you can buy ready-made silk sleep sheets out on the market. These work well too but are of course more expensive.
A water bottle and perhaps a water purifier: These days I’ve upgraded to a SteriPen although depending on where you go, you might also want to think about a filter if you find yourself out in nature. You can always go with old tried and true iodine tablets as well.
Travel towels are the way to go. One of my buddies brought a full sized regular cotton towel from home and I don’t think it was ever dry the entire trip. It started to smell pretty quick too. Travel towels are great in that they are light and pack very well. I’d recommend either this one from MSR or this other from Sea to Summit.
These days it seems travelers are a walking Electronics store. Hostels and Hotels should charge for electricity given how much power we are drawing now. But travel with devices makes things a lot easier, or at least can. I travel with a lot of specialized electronics so perhaps some of my advice will help you along the way too.
Get yourself a smartphone. They are great for travel and these days finding SIMS in most countries is easy and cheap. Some countries require way too much paperwork, BUT there are great phone apps like Viber, Skype, etc that are wonderful for calling home when you have wifi. Make sure it is unlocked which is a big problem for a lot of folks in the USA and perhaps Canada as well.
I currently have the iPhone 6 and I really do like it. I have an unlocked version and pair it with my TMobile Plan (which is amazing for international travelers). Although most that you can buy are refurbished. I’ve tried the 7plus and I would buy this if my phone stopped working but probably will wait on the replacement.
I seem to switch back and forth between Android and iPhone often. For Android, though I love the Google Pixel Phones. Get it directly from Google as the prices on Amazon are just resellers trying to rip you off.
These days GPS devices are not as useful with smartphones and nearly everything else having GPS. However, running your GPS all the time will drain your battery quick, and having this can be useful. I still travel with my Garmin eTrex although the older model is discontinued but has been replaced by a newer one. If you do go, it helps to make use of OpenStreet Maps for some great open source maps. You can even export them to several formats including Garmin. Additionally, if you use GPS Babel to create tracks for Google Earth and other programs. Once you have the data downloaded and converted there are several software packages that are great to use to sync with your camera to geotag (if your camera doesn’t have GPS).
These GPS tracks are also great for keeping track of where you’ve been and where you are going. I’ve also found that OpenStreet Maps has better maps than google maps for a lot of out of the way places.
There are a few options in terms of getting a computer for travel. Figure out what you plan to use it for and how much processing power you need. These days it seems that a minimum of 8gigs of RAM is standard or at least should be. I tend to lean towards a higher number here as it will last you longer in years. First, figure out if you want to get windows or mac. Sure there is also Linux, but in that instance just buy a windows laptop and reimage it to Linux.
Then think about what you want to do with it. Are you editing a lot of photos/videos? You might want to look at a discrete graphics card. Or at the very least additional RAM.
Is portability paramount? Find something that shaves off those extra ounces. There are options for both Windows and Mac. You will have to give up some performance, however.
But, honestly, the best laptop is the one you are willing to carry. So be honest with what your plans are. If you are just doing mostly just emails, documents, with the occasional photos, then you don’t really need a high-performance set. But if HD Video processing is a part of your business, those extra processing cycles will come in handy.
Mac or PC is the constant battle in computers. I do like the Macs but overall I’ve been a bit disappointed with the latest upgrades. The touchbar is a bit of a gimmick I feel. If you want a mac and need power, however, I recommend the
If you want a mac and need power, however, I recommend the 15” MacBook Pro. Why? I like the extra screen real estate, more memory, and the additional discrete graphics card. In my opinion, it will last longer in terms of being viable with the added power.
If you want more portability perhaps consider the 13″ MacBook Pro. Or for really light get the 13″ MacBook Air. But note that it’s not really as strong in processing for some intensive video and photos and the added power I think is worth the slight add in weight.
P.S. If you want to modify the default options, you need to special order it from Apple.com. It will require shipping and it seems that some of the options can delay delivery for a few weeks. Also note that RAM in MacBook Pros are soldered into the board, so you need to decide how much RAM you want when you are purchasing it because it cannot be upgraded.
Are you wanting to switch, but think you can’t? Look at the price of your investment into Windows software and see if you can get some of your licenses converted (or if they work for both). Also, you can run Windows using Bootcamp or by running Parallels on your Mac, so there is an option if you still need to run more software. But adding windows to the box will require some added hard drive space or in the case of parallels, some RAM utilization for the Virtual Machine so plan accordingly.
I’ve been running Windows machines since I got my first computer in 1992 with Windows 3.1. Anyone remember dos shell? Ok so with windows machines there are a TON of options to choose from. If I had to pick a good box these days I would say look into the Asus Zenbooks. For raw power laptops, I’m really impressed with the builds out of MSI these days.
Ok, I’m a bit huge into cameras and that is an understatement. Most of the major manufacturers make great stuff so it’s hard to go wrong. If I had to make one recommendation I would say go to a store, take a look at the different cameras, and handle them. See how it fits in your hands, the ergonomics, etc. I’ve shot with both Canon and Nikon and I prefer Nikon simply because I like their ergonomics better. It’s what works for me, and maybe it won’t work for you.
There are several options in cameras. You can stick with your mobile option, which to be honest is getting better every year. There are compact cameras, ultra zooms, DSLRS, mirrorless…geez it seems there are no end to options. In my opinion, avoid ultra zooms. I find they have the mix of the downside of compacts and the downside of DSLRS without the advantages. Sure you can get a “big zoom” for a low price, but at what cost? You can’t change lenses and it doesn’t fit easily in your pocket. If you want low cost and portable, get a compact or stick with your mobile. If you want to grow with a good camera system, get something that you can grow with.
For someone who shoots Nikon, I prefer the Canon compact cameras. I currently have the Sony RX100iii which has been discontinued and replaced by the Sony RX100iv. I love it for its high-quality sensor and lens. The new version V adds in 4K video, better autofocus, a faster lens, and quite a few other features. Although you can get the older version for about several hundred less. It is not a cheap camera, however.
Honestly, I can only go on the advice of friends who shoot with mirror-less. I have been thinking of switching, but right now I’m pretty invested into my DSLR. A lot of my friends have switched to the Sony NEX system. Remember whatever you pick you are investing in a system. The disappointing part about Sony is that they seem to keep switching their models so often (or rather their mounts) so it feels like you need to buy a new system way too often. I would wait until the dust settles here before investing if your money is tight (and who’s isn’t?).
Ok here is probably one of the most contentious categories of cameras. Is it Nikon or Canon? Or maybe Panasonic, Sony, etc? Who cares…really… Get something that works for you. Go, get it in your hands and shoot. Perhaps consider picking a camera system that your friends shoot with so you can share lenses and accessories.
But if you want to know what I currently shoot here it is:
Nikon D500: I purchased this camera last summer and have loved it. It was the upgrade to my D300 that I’ve been waiting for! Really one of my new favorite Nikon cameras. Great durability and performance for the price. For a good lower cost option consider the Nikon D7200. For full-frame, you might want to look at the Nikon D810 or the D750 which are both amazing options (although the D810 could probably use a refresh soon).
If I shot Canon I would certainly go with the amazing Canon 5D Mark IV. My friends swear by the line and one of them recently got this wonder and loves it. It’s an amazing machine.
My main lenses are:
Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8: This is my main go to lens. I love it, it is super sharp and just beautiful. it is also pretty solid and can take some abuse (which you would expect from a pro level lens. It is not cheap but I was lucky to buy it before the lens prices jumped a few years ago. Once you shoot with this lens it gets hard to shoot with something inferior. They also now have a newer version with VR. Although it is a bit more costly too.
It weighs a lot though so occasionally when I’m trying to travel light I’ll go with the 18-200mm super zoom. But honestly, more often than not I suck up the extra weight.
Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8: They make this for both the Canon and Nikon and I love the Nikon version. If you have a crop sensor like I do, this is the way to go. It does a fairly good job controlling distortion, but of course there always will be some. It is a bit too plastic so be careful with it if you are traveling rough. But for value for a wide angle it is the way to go. If I had a Full Frame camera I would go with the gorgeous (but expensive and heavy) Nikon 14-24mm F/2.8. My friend has this and I have shot with it and there is no comparison.
Nikon 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6: This is really good for a telephoto. Sure its not as sharp as the 70-200mm F/4 or F/2.8 but the cost to weight it does a great job. I carry it around with me often too. I’m told it works well on full frames too but have not had the chance to test that myself.
Nikon 50mm F/1.4: I Like the extra stop and the bit of a stronger build. But for best value get the much cheaper Nikon 50mm F/1.8. It is the “plastic fantastic” and it does a great job for a lot less and only 1 stop less.
People always ask me what’s the point? But then I show them some of my night photographs and they start to understand why they need tripods. What’s the point of all this wonderful equipment if you get a terrible support structure? One of my favorite posts is from bythom on this subject.
So what should you get? Well here’s the thing, if you have really expensive equipment, do not support it with cheap stuff. That’s pretty simple I think. If your camera is $5000, can you really expect a $50 tripod to suffice? Please…
Get something that works. If you are getting heavy equipment, get the right tripod and get a good ball-head. Why a ball head? Honestly it makes it easy to adjust and if things are easy you will use them. Just like Thom in his article I would recommending getting the end solution now. I wish I had listened…but I will still tell you what I had previously if that option doesn’t work for you.
So for low end (for low end cameras) I would recommend a nice set of low end manfrotto legs and a manfrotto head. This is what I had before my equipment starting getting heavier. You’ll start noticing failures when your equipment’s weight goes up.
So the end solution?
When you reach the limitations of the above equipment, you’ll want to upgrade. Or if you just want to get the final solution now. Well here’s what I’m currently using. I have the Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball-head (which I love, they also have a BH-50 which I may one day upgrade to). Get the LR model which I find to be very quick to use and make sure to get the L plates for your camera body as well.
I also currently have the Gitzo 2540LLVL which has the right height, weight, and also a leveling base (for easy leveling). It’s pricey but buy it once and done. Although also Really Right Stuff makes tripod legs now (they didn’t went I was in the market), so that might be worth looking at too.
GPS for Cameras:
Some of these have them built in. I know for some of the Nikons you can get the new D5300 with GPS built in. However for other models that take an option GPS you can get the Nikon version or I’ve found great luck with the one from Solmeta. The reason I picked them was that they can both use the camera’s battery and they have an internal battery of their own (to save on your battery).
With all the data going back and forth you need to really think about storage. I always travel with multiple compact flash cards for my cameras from Sandisk, Lexar, or Hoodman. But beyond that I always have two HD with me that both have a copy of the photos and other important data for on the road. Pick one of the big brands. A good option is a rugged Lacie Drives. For a cheaper option I’ve also used the Western Digital MyPassport. Make sure to pick a size that works for the amount of data you generate. Also pick two of the same model, so when a cable or something else goes missing you have a automatic backup.
Also think about your home storage. I have a [amazon asin=B00LB0E9B4&text=Synology NAS] for my storage back home at a family member’s house.
More coming soon! I’m updating as I’m converting information from different spreadsheets and emails I have into this online forum. What other information are you looking for? I probably have it so I will be happy to update if you have any questions too.
P.S. Some of these links are affiliate links. They help me offset the costs of hosting this website. Yup, this is not my full time job and web hosting fees are expensive BUT if you click on a link you will not pay any extra for anything but I might make a few dollars. Links are to things I recommend so even if you don’t go through the link I would still recommend any of the items. But if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help me out along the way too?