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I’ve been living on the road going on ten years. This lifestyle has involved getting rid of a lot and also making some strategic acquisitions.
Much of that time has been spent living in so many different Airbnbs that I probably couldn’t name even half of them. Albania, Egypt, Colombia, Spain, the U.S., Mexico, Ireland, Thailand, Canada; I’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money living in other people’s homes, and I’ve learned that a lot of places are very often lacking things I want or like–either because the owner hasn’t thought or cared to purchase them or because it’s not really customary in whatever country I’m in to have a particular thing in one’s home–and that it’s nice to have certain things on you that you may not have realized you wanted or needed.
The below list is a mix of things that are always handy to have while travelling (clothes pins, for instance, or a windshield phone holder for easier navigation in your rental car) and, let’s call them, nice to have while travelling (a portable French press and a bag of coffee, for instance, in places that don’t have a coffee culture).
I’m covering obvious things like “a laptop” or a “webcam.” That’s no-brainer stuff.
I’ve organized them by the category I think they belong in–food and kitchen, travel hack, comfort and sleep, navigation and getting around and practical and safety.
Not all of these will be things that you consider necessary or perhaps even have the space for. Some of them are free (like an offline version of the Google Map for wherever you’re going), and others involve a purchase.
Table of Contents
Food and kitchen
If you’re living in Airbnbs, hotels, resorts, and other short-term rentals, below are a couple of things that I think every traveller should have with them.
Portable french press
I won’t insult your intelligence with any watercooler coffee jokes, but I will say that I’m addicted enough to caffeine that I’m not willing to risk an Airbnb not having either a French press, an Italian coffee maker or (preferably) a drip coffee maker.
A lot of North Americans are surprised to find that the rest of the world doesn’t really drink drip coffee–it’s Italian coffee maker, french press or espresso–but seeing as you’re not about to be lugging a De’Longhi around with you, a french press is the most practical way to hedge your bets while travelling.
I really like the Stanley Travel Mug French Press
Insulated, BPA-free and stainless steel, pick up a pound of coffee before you travel and rest easy knowing you’ve got your morning coffee covered should your hotel, Airbnb, hostel, etc., not have real coffee and/or anything to make it with.
It’s also a good idea if you’re travelling anywhere in SE Asia. Coffee culture is still nascent in a lot of places throughout SE Asia. You can get a good coffee in most tourist areas, but locals very often still drink instant coffee full of sweetened condensed milk.
Important: avoid packing coffee in your checked bag. People hide drugs in coffee all the time (especially if you’re coming from Latin America), and airport authorities and customs will rifle through your bag (and cut off any luggage locks) without a second thought. It has happened to me, and airports are very unapologetic about it.
wine bottle opener
It’s heartbreaking to arrive home to a new Airbnb after a grocery shop with a bottle of wine only to find that there isn’t a wine bottle opener anywhere in sight.
Obviously, it’s not so much of an issue if you’re travelling in Egypt or Indonesia, but anywhere in Europe, it’s always a good idea to have a wine bottle opener in your checked bag. I’ve been surprised by the number of places that haven’t had one stocked.
Any corkscrew bottle opener will do. If you want to play it extra safe, there are TSA-approved bottle openers.
If you want to play it extra safe, don’t even chance it in your carry-on and just stick it in your checked bag.
I didn’t realize, upon my first trip to Spain, that a lot of homes and apartments–even newer ones–still use gas ovens that require you to light them manually.
I really don’t like the try-to-yank-your-hand-away-before-the-gas-ignites game, but that’s they way it is, especially in smaller towns. Given that, you’d be surprised by the number of careless owners who know you need a flame in order to cook but don’t include a pack of matches or a lighter in the drawer.
Comfort and sleep
A cliche, but every lifestyle comes with a bunch of tradeoffs.
One of the heaviest of these tradeoffs, if you’re a location-independent worker, is the inability to style your living space in the way that is most comfortable to you and having to endure the discomfort of travel itself.
Here are a few items that help make location-independent living and working more bearable.
Sheets and a pillowcase
Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and germaphobe. But when you’ve travelled as much as I have, lived in as many third-world countries as I have, and stayed in as many hotels of varying quality as I have, you’ve quite literally seen some shit.
Of course, you should always do the old bed bug check when sleeping anywhere new, but sometimes it’s not even the threat of bed bugs that keeps me up at night, but filthy linens in general.
That’s why I always travel with my own sheet and pillow case. If I decide something is simply too disgusting to sleep on, I have an alternative.
I like the Sonoro Kate microfibre queen sheet.
It’s microfiber and 1800 thread count, which feels really nice and dries fast. They’re also machine washable and dryable.
Sonoro Kate also makes a similar pillowcase:
Sandals are another one of those things that you should definitely have with you whenever you travel. .
This is especially the case if you’re staying in hostels.
I don’t stay in hostels anymore, but when I did, I was always amazed and disgusted by the number of people I saw wandering around the bathroom and even the halls barefoot. It’s like begging to get plantar warts.
I don’t have any specific sandal recommendations for this one, but for the love of your feet (and other people’s) slip some sandals into your checked bag.
Sleep mask for side sleepers
There are basically three kinds of sleepers: back-sleepers (sub-humans), stomach sleepers and side sleepers.
Most people sleep on their side, and they actually make sleep masks designed for that.
I didn’t consider a sleep mask until I started travelling full-time and it has made airplanes and airports more bearable and has kept me sane when I’ve stayed in hotels and Airbnbs that don’t do a good job of blocking out light.
I really like the Alaska Bear.
The trouble with the traditional sleep mask is that it tends to shift position as soon as you do, and I find I often wake up and it’s either off my face completely or not doing its job.
The Alaska Bear gives you 360 coverage, and I also really like it because it has soft fabric all the way around instead of an elastic band that fits behind your ears (which can get quite painful over time).
Even if I don’t or can’t sleep on an airplane or during a disgustingly long layover, just being able to block out the halogen lights adds a lot to what little sense of serenity I have while flying/travelling.
White noise installed on your phone
Another sanity saver for me over the past few years has been my white noise app.
You can download these for free, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life.
Whether I’m spending the night at some airport hotel that feels like it’s right on the runway or trying to drown out street noise in Bogota, my white noise app (which includes a bunch of different sound options–from rain to waves to, ironically, airplane noise) is an essential part of how I live and travel now.
Just make sure you have your phone plugged in while you’re using the app overnight (at least the Sleep Sounds one I use) because it will drain your battery. You might end up completely missing an alarm.
A quick-dry towel is another thing I never travel without. Whether it’s to take to the beach or to have a backup in case you get to an Airbnb or hotel and they haven’t left you any clean linens (or they have left towels, but no amount of money in the world could convince you to use them), a quick dry towel has been my saviour on more than one occasion.
This one from OlimpiaFit looks exactly like my Decathlon one (the one that everyone seems to have). I wouldn’t be surprised if it were made by the same factory that supplies Decathlon.
Reusable silicone earplugs
Another addition to my travel gear that has been invaluable over the last several years is a pair of silicone earplugs.
If you’re very sensitive to noise while sleeping, or you want a way to tune out ambient noise while you work on a plane, in an airport, a cafe, or anywhere else, then some reusable silicone earplugs like these ones from Loop are a must.
I like silicone earplugs better because they cancel noise more effectively, and they are more comfortable for sleeping (especially side sleepers). Can hardly tell they are in there.
portable/small/travel air purifier
One thing I really took for granted growing up was the air quality I enjoyed on the West Coast of Canada.
It wasn’t until I started spending significant time in places like Colombia, Egypt, and Mexico that I realized how much of an effect air quality has on your life, especially your cognition.
I think Covid really drove home for a lot of people how great air purifiers are. I know I hadn’t really given them much thought prior to, and the difference they can make is quite stark. It’s like not realizing how much of a difference polarized lenses.
I really like the H13 True HEPA Air Purifier from Fulminare.
It’s cheap, weighs under 2lbs, measures 6.3 x 6.3 x 9.13 inches, effectively covers an area of 215 Sq ft/20m², and removes 99.97% of particles as small as 0.01 microns, including smoke, pollen, pet dander, odors, PM2.5, VOCs and more.
Navigation and getting around
Some of the fun of living in and exploring new places is learning your way around and getting used to the flow of life.
Below are some of the things I think make adjusting to new places less stressful.
An offline map of where you’re going
This is another completely free thing and it doesn’t take up any physical space.
Google Maps has, for a while now, allowed you to download full GPS data for any part of the world you want. There are limits (you can’t get the entire globe), but you can select quite large areas and regions of countries that, once downloaded, are completely accessible without an internet connection.
I recently downloaded the one for Pulau Weh in Aceh, Indonesia, because I wanted to be able to explore the island by scooter, but I didn’t want to rely solely on telecom coverage.
It’s pretty easy.
- Go into your Google Maps app.
- Select your Google Profile in the top right:
- Select offline maps:
- Select Map
- And then increase or decrease the window size to focus in or out on the place you’re going–town, city, province, country, etc.
An offline language of wherever you’re going
I love to hate Google, but there’s a reason they’re on top (in addition to the anti-trust stuff, of course): they make great products.
The offline translation app is another lifesaver when the language barrier is an issue. Whether you need to ask for directions or a departure schedule, tell someone you need help, negotiate the price of something, or simply say thank you (which you should always know how to say, btw), Google’s offline translation lets you communicate without needing Wi-Fi or data.
The offline translation dictionaries are really easy to download.
- Go to your Google Translate app (or download it if you don’t have it)
- Click on your profile icon on the top right.
- Click on downloaded languages.
- Select from the list of available languages to download.
Dashboard phone holder for navigation
This is another piece of navigational gear for people who travel regularly.
Some car rental companies will either have one of these in their cars, but a lot don’t. I like having one of these on me because you never know when you’re going to want to rent a car while travelling or working remotely.
The iOttie Easy One Touch 5 Dashboard & Windshield Universal Car Mount is affordable, the suction ability is highly rated, it works on all phones, and the telescopic arm is adjustable.
It’s a lot safer (and more convenient) to be able to check your map and keep an eye on the road at the same time. No pulling over and no taking your eyes off the road.
Practical and safety
My objective with the following section is to provide you with a list of things that will help keep you both safe and efficient wherever in the world you are.
A tactical flashlight
If you’re reading the “tactical” in tactical flashlight and have no idea what I’m on about, they are basically powerful rechargeable lithium ion-battery run flashlights that, in addition to putting out a lot of lumens (the unit measurement of brightness), are also highly water resistant, have a strobe feature (for emergency and self-protection) and many of them also have semi-serrated bezels around the head (also for protection).
I’ve written a pretty comprehensive breakdown of some of the best ones out there (all from reputable manufacturers) if you’d like to have a look. I’ve been using these for years for wildlife observation and guiding at night.
A good one will run you anywhere from 50-120 dollars, but they are incredibly durable, rechargeable, and are actually great self-defence weapons. I follow the guy below on YouTube (an ex-police officer turned mma/self-defence instructor named “Icy Mike”).
He’s using a Maglite in this video, which is quite large and definitely not something you probably want eating up a bunch of your allotted checked baggage weight limit, but a much smaller tactical light works well, too.
If you can get over any (often warranted) preconceived notions about self-proclaimed self-defence gurus and their cringeworthiness, this guy offers pretty solid and practical advice (for men and women), especially if you practice MMA or any kind of martial arts, based on his real experience and he always speaks very highly of the humble flashlight as a self-defense weapon.
The strobe setting on my Olight flashlights is very disorienting, and even just a second of it in your eye leaves you wondering where you are and then with a white floater that takes a couple of seconds to dissipate (more than enough time to temporarily blind someone and make a run for it).
I was once followed by two guys on a motorbike along some backroads in rural Thailand while out looking for reptiles and amphibians for a good 15 minutes. I would stop, and they would stop, and when I started up again, they would keep following. I had my girlfriend on the back, and I was getting worried.
I handed her my flashlight and told her to start shining it at the driver’s face, and within 30 seconds, they had to pull over, at which point we sped off and got back onto the main road.
The bezel would also hurt like an MF brought down onto the bridge of someone’s nose and chip teeth if you got them in the mouth.
It’s also just a really handy little light that’s great to have in an emergency or if you’re staying anywhere you need illumination.
Travel insurance is a good idea for a number of reasons.
A growing number of countries (including the Schengen Zone if you want to stay longer than 90 days) require travel insurance in order to get a Visa.
Getting hurt or seriously ill in another country is also just a nightmare scenario for a lot of people. If you’re going to be spending a long time away from home and plan on doing things that come with serious safety risks (like renting a motorbike in Southeast Asia, for example), travel insurance just make sense.
Safety Wing is a relatively new insurance provider for location-independent workers and they offer a wide range of coverage options at very affordable price points.
Reusable grocery bag
Travelling with a reusable grocery bag is a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, you avoid single-use plastic when grocery shopping in any country you’re travelling to.
More and more countries are either doing away with single-use plastic or trying to discourage its use by charging for plastic bags at grocery stores. While places like SE Asia definitely are definitely far behind the trend, both legislatively and culturally, countries like Kenya have banned them wholesale.
The second reason I always travel with a recyclable grocery bag is in case I need to quickly remove excess weight from a checked bag. If you haven’t noticed, airlines are becoming increasingly nasty and avaricious. A checked bag can run you twice the value of the flight with some low-cost carriers.
Part of that relentless profit-seeking and customer rectum destruction is an increasingly totalitarian line on luggage overages. Automation makes it all the easier to charge you an extortionate amount of money as many self-checkins now force you to put your own bag on the scale and conveyor belt. 0.1Kg over, the belt refuses to move and you’re directed to go and pay.
Your carry-on allotment typically includes both a bag (of the approved dimensions) and a hand-held Item (a purse, a cloth grocery bag, etc.). On a recent snorkelling trip to Indonesia with Airasia, my recyclable grocery bag (which also contained my drip coffee maker) saved my ass.
A whistle is another thing I always have on me when I travel. It’s in my mini first-aid kit that’s always at the bottom of my backpack.
The classic Fox Whistle is what I’ve got, and you can’t really go wrong.
These are an especially good idea if you are doing any hiking or exploring while travelling. Whistles can and do save people’s lives who are lost in the wilderness and they can be used to scare away curious large cats (at least in the Americas).
A multi-tool is another great thing to have in your suitcase if you are constantly living in new places.
Most short-term stays and Airbnbs aren’t going to have any kind of tools on hand (to tighten a bike seat, to fix a doorknob or hinge, to put together something you’ve ordered online).
A Leatherman can quickly become your favourite piece of travel gear:
They run from under a hundred bucks to 200+, so you don’t have to go all-out unless you want to.
Disinfectant (for airplane)
Another one for the germaphobes–although I would wager anyone who has a glance at this article from the Daily Mail on just how nasty plane surfaces are would be more than a little appalled.
One of my biggest, albeit slightly neurotic, concerns before and during travel is arriving at my destination–especially to do something I’m really looking forward to like diving or trekking–only to find a day or two later that I’ve been incubating some foul respiratory disease I picked up in one of the three airplanes or three international airports I passed through on my 25-hour milk run journey.
My brother caught what was likely Covid back in early January 2020 on our way to Indonesia, when very few people in the world had heard the term. Upon hearing my brother coughing up a lung in a restaurant we were eating in on our way back home, the English-speaking Indonesian owner asked us if he had caught “that new thing from China.” Spooky.
Do yourself a favour and give your tray table, headrest, and armrest a quick spray and wipe down before settling into your flight.
Refillable water bottle
This is to limit the amount of single-use plastic you use, save yourself money and avoid drinking carcinogenic plastic from four-day-old grocery store water.
If you’re going to be staying somewhere for an extended period of time that doesn’t have potable water coming out of the tap, find out how you can order water from local providers (usually in the form of those big 20L hard-plastic bottles) and refill your own bottle when you go out, go to the gym, or just during the day.
You can either get the classic hard-bottle style like this one from QLUR. I don’t like bottles that are any less than one litre.
Or, to save space, you can get a collapsible silicone bottle like this one from Special Made
Great for tossing in a backpack and taking out when you need it.
Safety pins are super handy to have stashed away in your toiletry bag or even just in the bowels of your backpack or suitcase somewhere.
They can open the SIM card area of your cell phone, reset routers, hold curtains together that just won’t close, and, if it comes to it, act as a suture or fishing hook.
glasses repair kit
If you’re a four-eyes like me (especially if you’ve got a big head), then you definitely need to have a glasses repair kit with you. Eventually, either because your enormous, colossal cranium has stretched the arms of your glasses and loosened the screws (good going, nogzilla), you sat on them or dropped them, you will probably want to give everything a tighten.
Maybe you’ll need to replace a screw or put some soft gel pads on the bridge because they are digging into your nose.
Whatever the reason, a glasses repair kit from Hiketolight is a cheap, worthwhile investment.
Water purification tablets
Another thing that I always have with me when I travel is water purification tablets.
These ones from Potable Aqua are nice because you don’t get the nasty iodine taste or colour (or chlorine) that you get from a lot of others.
You might consider opting for a water straw in addition to or instead of the tablets. This one from Membrane Solutions is ideal if you are hiking, camping or trekking anywhere that finding potable water might be an issue.
I’ve used these on stream water in the Colombian Amazon, and they worked like a charm. If you’re spending a lot of time in places with a high risk of natural disasters (which contaminate water and destroy water delivery infrastructure), then both of the above are nice to have.
A luggage scale is always a handy thing to travel with.
This manual scale from Samsonite is cheap, small, and strong, and it’s analogue, so you don’t need to worry about batteries.
carbon monoxide detecter/smoke detector combo
This might seem like an odd one, but anyone who has spent a lot of time living in developing countries will immediately know why I’ve included it.
If you haven’t spent a lot of time in places like Latin America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe or North Africa, and you are used to electrical and gas work done by professionals, as well as functioning, widespread fire safety equipment in homes and businesses, know that that stuff is much less common everywhere else.
I saw more fires in apartments, businesses and houses in my two years living in Colombia, for example, than I did during my previous 30+ years and saw stove and gas line installations that still give me nightmares.
I think I can count on one hand the number of places (out of dozens) I’ve lived that had functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Do yourself a favour, pick up an inexpensive but potentially life-saving dual smoke and carbon monoxide detector like this one from HATHEPHS.
It weighs 6.4 ounces, is only 4.7 inches wide, can be placed with either screws or adhesive and it might save your life. The number of global carbon monoxide-related deaths is scary.
A portable charger
Portable chargers are nice to have both in transit and when you get to wherever you’re going, especially if you’re somewhere with frequent power outages.
I really like the Techsmarter Rugged 30,000 45W waterproof power bank.
- Compatibility: Most phones and standard consumer electronics
- mAh: 30,000
- Watts: 45
- Battery type: 3 Lithium Polymer (included)
This is enough mAh (milliamperes–how much “juice” a charger has to give) to be able to charge everything from your laptop to your phone quite fast.
Bear in mind that something this powerful will take a while to charge with just your standard phone charger, so consider getting a special 45W charger to get it fully juiced quicker.
And there you have it.
As I said at the outset, I don’t expect you to want or need every single thing on the list–although the free things like the offline maps and translation app are no-brainers.
Think about how you travel, your priorities, and what kinds of things you’ve wished you’d had at some point in the past, perhaps kicked yourself for not thinking of, and add it to your packing list.