Travel Advice #2: What To Take
Researching travel gear and technology to take on your adventure? Choosing between backpack or duffel, what type of footwear, and which travel apps should reflect where you are going and what you plan to do there. To help you succeed, I created three travel advice pages that are divided into:
- 1) Before You Go: Basics, Documents, and Medical;
- 2) What To Take: Luggage, Clothing, and Technology;
- 3) On The Road: Immersion, Philosophy, and Books.
Luggage: Backpacks, Duffels, and Daypacks
- Backpack vs Duffel
If you are hiking the Appalachian Trail you should definitely have a lightweight backpack that is designed to be worn all day for long distances. However, a duffel is more appropriate for international travel because it is lockable and designed for durability.
- Technical Backpacks
For hiking long-distance trails, I recommend Osprey brand backpacks, as they are extremely well designed to carry all your camping gear efficiently and come with a lifetime warranty. I took an ultralight 48-liter Exos for hiking the Appalachian Trail when I only needed to carry three days of food and a maximum of 30 pounds on my back. Then, I used a more robust 65-liter Atmos for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, where I needed to carry ten days of food in a bear canister. When fully loaded it weighed over 42 pounds, which made 14,000-foot peaks quite grueling, but this pack allowed me to carry the weight very efficiently.
- Duffel Bags
For adventure travel, I recommend North Face brand duffels because they are crafted from heavy-duty material, allow easy access to all your gear, and it can be locked during transit. I took a 70-liter Duffel across South America, where I planned to go on many 3-day camping trips, so I packed a 30-liter ultralight backpack in the bottom of the duffel under my camping gear. This set-up allowed me to take a bus to a National Park gateway city, pack my essential gear in the 30L backpack for the adventure, and then leave everything else in my duffel at the hostel. Alternatively, I used a smaller 50-liter Duffel for traveling across SE Asia with no camping gear, but I brought a 14″ laptop and a yoga mat.
- Lock and Cable
I strongly advise taking a high-quality three-digit combination lock to secure your duffel bag, but make sure the lock’s hook will pass through the zipper’s loops. At a hardware store, I made a 6-foot (2m) length of thin 3/32-inch (2.4mm) metal cable with a crimped loop at both ends, which I use with the lock to secure my duffle to a bed frame in a hostel, or a coconut tree on a beach.
Most backpacks have a detachable top ‘brain’ that can be used as a small daypack for going to town for groceries. However, for globetrotting, you will want a small daypack for walking around town or going on a day hike in the mountains. I used a simple 18-liter REI Daypack that is crafted from lightweight material with no extra frills; just a cinch-top bag with one internal zipper compartment, and a 2-liter water reservoir sleeve.
- 2L Reservoir Bag
I’m a huge advocate of staying hydrated and found the easiest way to drink water while hiking is to store water in a reservoir bag, which is connected by a tube to a mouthpiece that secures to the backpack’s sternum strap. I use a 2-liter Osprey Hydraulics Resevoir that has a hands-free bite valve and a magnetic connector. For more options, review this informative website that compares several different hydration systems.
Clothing: Shirts, Pants, Jackets, and Sandals
- Synthetic vs Cotton
For adventure travel in humid climates where you will be sweating, I recommend synthetic materials that are lighter, faster drying, and don’t hold odor. Natural cotton fabrics are warmer and more comfortable, but they are heavy and take longer to dry, so leave your blue jeans at home. My exception to this rule is for traveling in colder climates, where I do take a wool hat and pairs of wool socks; as you loose heat fastest from you head and feet.
- Fewer Clothes
It can be difficult to make a decision about what clothes to take and which to leave at home. I recommend that you lay out everything you want to take and then reduce that by half. Trust me, no one is going to care if you wear the same shirt for three days straight. I limit my wardrobe to include: 3 pairs of socks, 3 boxers, 3 shirts, 2 shorts, 2 pants, fleece, raincoat, sunhat, wool hat, hiking shoes, and sandals.
- Socks & Boxers
Patagonia is my brand of choice for base layer; their products are not cheap, but you honestly get what you pay for with long-lasting durability, excellent design, and all-day comfort.
- T-shirts & Sunshirts
For globe-trotting adventures, I’m a huge fan of technical T-shirts that are designed to be moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and odor-resistant. Here is a detailed hiking shirt comparison.
I also recommend taking a long-sleeve, UV-proof, button-up shirt to protect you from the sun, and for looking presentable when crossing borders. Here is a selection of brands from REI.
- Shorts & Pants
I endorse Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardware brands for their excellent design and durability. I pack one pair of shorts for hiking and one pair of shorts for swimming. I also take a pair of cargo pants for colder climates or nights on the town, as well as a pair of loose-fitting Prana Yoga Pants for my morning routine.
- Raincoat & Fleece
I love my Marmot Minimalist Raincoat for its perfect balance of waterproofing and breath-ability; I always keep it handy as I’m not fond of getting soaked. I also use a Marmot Reactor Fleece, as it is quite warm for high altitudes or overnight bus rides, and more durable than a down jacket.
- Sun Hat & Wool Hat
I wear an OR Helios Sun Hat to prevent sunburns while on the beach or walking around archeological sites; here is a sun hat review. I also take a wool hat that was knitted by a friend to keep me warm on overnight bus rides and waiting for the sunrise on top of a mountain.
- Hiking Shoes
I’m a huge fan of Salewa shoes, as they are a hybrid between a climbing shoe and a hiking shoe with laces all the way to the toe for more adjustability. I wore the robust Mountain Trainer model for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but then took the lighter Wildfire Pro model for backpacking SE Asia, where I was only doing day hikes.
I promote Xero Z-trail Sandals because they are so lightweight; almost like going barefoot. It does take some time to get used to the thinner sole, as you will feel every pebble on the road, but they will eventually make your feet and ankles much stronger.
Technology: Smartphones, Applications, and Extras
- Go Mid-tech
Just like flashing fancy jewelry, your high-tech gadgets can make you target for theft while traveling in poorer countries. To reduce your chance of being fleeced by a pickpocket, I recommend taking two (2) older iPhone 5s; the smaller phone is less of a target and just in case it gets stolen or broken you have a back-up phone ready to go.
Don’t be overly dependant on technology, as it can disconnect you from the adventure. Instead of staring at a digital map – embrace the unknown; try using your intuition to find your way or ask locals for directions. It’s great to plan your route and take pictures, but do not miss out on the actual travel experience because you are glued to your screen.
In the modern age, traveling with a smartphone is great for navigating foreign cities, translating languages, taking photos, calculating currency exchanges, doing research about your next destination, connecting by social media, and so much more.
- WiFi vs 4G
Most hostels will have WiFi access, which is fine if you are just replying to emails or posting on Facebook, yet it’s often very slow and can be problematic if you need to download anything. If you want reliable 4G data without roaming charges, you will need to get a foreign Sim card, yet some US phones will need to be ‘unlocked’ before you can use a foreign Sim card.
- Navigation Apps
I highly recommend Maps.me as an amazing offline navigation tool, which often shows hiking trails to the top of a mountain, but you first need to download the map for each country. Google Maps often has more detailed information about a city center and can give detailed driving directions, but it needs to be online to work properly.
- Translation Apps
Google Translate works great for many languages, but you first need to download the specific language translation file to work offline. However, it doesn’t work so well for the Thai language, so I have using the Talking Thai App almost daily while living in Thailand. Beyond just translating, there are also tons of free apps to help you learn a new language.
- Currency Apps
XE Currency Converter is a free app that holds ten currencies with their accurate exchange rates, which allows you to make quick calculations when exchanging one currency for another at a border crossing, yet you will usually pay a 10% fee when exchanging currencies.
- Research Apps
There is no shortage of travel research websites, but the two apps that I use the most often are TripAdvisor and TravelFish because they have accurate information and honest reviews.
- Booking Apps
The two apps that I use are Agoda and Hostelworld to select a hostel in my price range and location near my arrival transportation. I have found that the room prices are usually a tad cheaper on Agoda, but you have to pay the full amount up front. However, Hostelworld seems to have more hostel locations, and you only have to pay a 15% deposit to book the room.
- Social Media
Facebook is king for staying connected to folks back home and with new friends you meet along the way, as well as making data phone calls with their Messenger app. Line is a super-popular app in SE Asia for text messages, and I also use Skype for making data phone calls to international businesses.
- Extra Apps
Skyscanner app is great for researching airline flights as you can compare different airlines over a variety of dates. Uber and Grab are both good apps for ordering a taxi, but you do pay a surcharge for this service. SkyViewFree is personally one of my favorite apps for seeing all the planets and knowing where the sun or moon will rise above the horizon. Dropbox is another favorite free app for storing data online: JPG images, PDF documents, EPUB eBooks, etc.
- Flash Drive
I advise taking a 64GB flash drive. Many hostels have a public access computer where you can transfer images from your phone to the USB flash drive for safe storage. As needed, you can delete these pics from your phone to save the memory space for taking more amazing photos.
- Power Bank
I recommend having a power bank to keep your electronic gadgets charged for a few days away from electricity. I used a Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh Charger, which has a built-in lightning cable tip for my iPhone 5, and a micro-USB tip for my UV Pen – so no extra cables to fumble with.
- Electrical Adapter
Many foreign countries have a different prong-shape for their electrical wall outlets, I recommend getting a universal adapter that fits all outlets and has a USB port. I used a LOOP World Adapter, which can be used in more than 150 countries and can charge three devices at once with an AC socket (for my laptop) and dual USB charging ports.
- Electrical Cables
I recommend taking two (2) high-quality cables for each use: 1) USB to phone; 2) USB to micro-USB for power bank and UV pen; 3) USB to 3.5mm for iPod. Even high-quality cables will wear out over time, so it’s best to have a back-up to charge your gadgets.
- Smartphone Case
If your phone is not waterproof, you should invest in a quality waterproof case such as the Lifeproof brand cases, as sooner or later you will get soaked in an unexpected downpour.
- Waterproof Bag
I take a heavy-duty waterproof bag for my spare phone, flash drives, power bank, electric adapter, electrical cables, and anything else that can get damaged by water or corroded by humidity. I use and highly recommend the Sea2Summit brand roll-top dry sacks.
- Water Treatment
I would advise taking some type of water treatment system to protect your stomach from harmful bacteria while globetrotting, which also reduces plastic bottle waste. There are many options for different conditions, clearly reviewed in this water treatment comparison. I have used an MSR pump filter but found it needed regular maintenance and cleaning. I also like the minimalist Sawyer straw filter but found it tastes like plastic and does not work in the cold. Instead, I’m a fan of using a rechargeable (micro-USB) SteriPEN brand ultraviolet light pen to effortlessly clean water without chemicals within a wide-mouth one-liter Nalgene Bottle.
I suggest having a headlamp handy for hiking in the dark or when the power goes out. I use a minimalist Petzel Zipka with a retractable headband cord, which greatly reduces its size. It also has a red-light option, so you are not blinding your friends while eating dinner or waking everyone in the dorm room when you need to pack your duffel at 5 am.
- MP3 Player
I love the itty-bitty Apple iPod 2GB Shuffle and travel with two of them, as it allows me to listen to MP3 music while hiking or jogging without draining my phone battery.
- Kindle Reader
Optional: this black-n-white Kindle eBook Reader makes a great travel companion with a long-life battery and you can make the text larger for bumpy bus rides; however there is no shortage of quality paperback books to read while traveling.
Optional: unless you’re a Digital Nomad and need to work while traveling, I do not recommend that you take a laptop on your adventure. It is easily damaged and a target for theft, however, if you do need a laptop, you should take a waterproof case. I used an Aqua Quest Laptop Case for my 14″ notebook and had no concerns, as it is 100% waterproof with a double ziplock seal, welded seams, and a removable padded sleeve that had enough room for my power cord, mouse, and 1TB (terabyte) external hard drive within the case.
- DSLR Camera
Optional: unless you fancy yourself to be a professional photographer, I do not see the need to carry an expensive camera, as the iPhone camera works fine for me.
More Travel Magic
Lighting The Path
I developed this site to inspire you to go explore this big blue marble and discover the transformative magic of personal empowerment. Guiding your wanderlust, there are regional maps of the world that illustrate some Magical Places among the multitude of tourist traps.
To help you succeed, I created Travel Advice pages divided into:
1) Before You Go: Basics, Documents, and Medical;
2) What To Take: Luggage, Clothing, and Technology;
3) On The Road: Immersion, Philosophy, and Books.
Lighting the path, the Travel Magic eBook series shares my personal experiences and takes you away to exciting locations; joining me to go cycling across New Zealand and backpacking throughout Vietnam.