Abraham Lincoln once said that given 6 hours and an axe to cut down a tree, he would spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe.
We’re only as good and productive as our tools enable to us to be. And given the fact that we try to stay as light on our feet as possible, we are quite picky with the tools that we choose to lug around from destination to destination. Here are the tools that we think are imperative for us to live life on the road.
It’s important to note that this isn’t all we travel with, just the ones worth mentioning we couldn’t live without!
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- Compression/packing cubes: These handy little fabric zipped cubes are great for organizing your clothes in your suitcase. The compression ones specifically can save you quite a bit of space if you make good use of them, just remember that they won’t take away from the weight you’re bringing on board ;)
Compression Cubes Doing What They’re Good At!
- HikePro Foldable Daypack: We like having a smaller backpack that we can take for a walk out about the town, to bring some sunscreen or water, or to stash anything we might buy. This used to be a drawstring bag for us, but we quickly wanted to upgrade. This HikePro is the real MVP! It can fold up into a little pocket, has multiple sections and even a wallet pocket, is water resistant (though don’t expect to be caught in a rain storm and for your items to stay dry), and is extremely light and comfortable on your back. A must for city travelers!
- Rain jacket: Weighing in at almost nothing and a lifesaver at times, finding a good rain jacket is imperative so that you don’t miss out on adventures in any weather. I personally carry around an Eddie Bauer one that folds into itself to save on space as well.
- AllBirds: It’s no surprise that this wool-based shoe company took off like wildfire. The shoes are unbelievably comfortable for everyday city walking, light running, or even some basic hiking. And, they’re machine washable.
- Outdoor sandals: Shoes are one of the things you want to be picky about when traveling as you can only wear one pair at a time, and they are quite heavy. Sandals, however, should probably be one of the few pairs you do bring with you. They are great for outdoor nature hikes, daily walking in a hot climate, or beach days.
- Rainboots: These rainboots are somewhat fashionable, pretty light and easy to slip on. Michelle adores hers and wears them often, and at $12 dollars they are a steal. Where would you be without your wellies?
- Baseball cap: Michelle uses hers all the time. A good way to avoid having to always put sunscreen on, a simple baseball cap can be a lifesaver. Also with a quick pony tail it can be worn in the water to give that extra coverage. Warning, depending on the cap you pick and where you are it may make you stand out as a tourist.
- Prana Men’s Brion Shorts: Recommended to me by a friend who does extreme outdoor travel, these pants are my go to for everyday of any summer we find ourselves in. The material is soft, dries easily, and makes it an easy choice for a regular outfit.
- AmazonBasics 28” suitcase: Before we left for our trip, this was one of our most important purchases. It was, after all, going to be our ‘house’ for all intents and purposes, storing all of our posessions. We had decided to only get 1 large suitcase between the 2 of us which allows one person to always have their hands free, and pay less for baggage even when we use budget airlines. We opted to get the 28” orange AmazonBasics suitcase and haven’t looked back. It is a bit heavy, coming in at around 16 lbs, but again, we see this as a necessary sacrifice for something that is going to house the entirety of our belongings during this trip. And it’s bright orange so you can spot it from a mile away in baggage claim and know it’s yours.
Money - What’s in your wallet?
- Travel credit card of choice: Chase Sapphire Reserve. Before going on a long oversea adventure, it’s important to pick a travel credit card that suits your needs. For us, we knew we were going to be spending a lot of money on travel (Airbnb, Uber’s, and flights fall into this category), we enjoy eating out every so often, and we wanted to maximize the points we get and trade those in for more travel. For us, the Chase Sapphire Reserve made the most sense, even with its annual fee (most of which gets reimbursed for travel at the beginning of every year). A nice benefit: We get a Priority Pass for airport lounges when traveling. Using this, we try to show up a bit earlier than usual at airports so we have some time to enjoy the lounge and munch on the free snacks and drinks there. Bonus: This card is made of titanium and feels heavy, which means we always get funny comments when we’re checking out!
The Titanium Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
- Charles Schwab bank account & debit card: While we are able to use a credit card almost everywhere we go, we always take out cash the first opportunity we get when we arrive in a new place - it’s better to be safe and prepared, than sorry and not be able to pay for something. The Charles Schwab debit card will rebate any ATM fees you’ll come across internationally. I used to wince whenever I saw the ATM fee listed and try to convince myself it’s simply the ‘cost of doing business’, but not anymore! At the end of every month, we get a reimbusement from Schwab for all the ATM fees we paid for that month.
- Adapter cube: Adapters, like translators and currency conversion booths, are a fact of life for travelers. This adapter cube has served its purpose like no other. It can plug into just about any outlet (except for South African ones, but there are European outlets there as well) and even provides 4 built-in USB ports on it so you don’t need a USB wall outlet. We just leave our phone cables plugged into it most of the time, even when on the road.
- AirPods: When Apple announced their AirPods, I was definitely impressed with the amount of technology crammed into the tiny and beautiful package (besides being impressed with their vision of the future), but I didn’t think I would want a pair. My family bought me a pair as a parting gift before we left, and they’ve been absolutely amazing for everyday use. I use it for work, phone calls, working out, listening to music/audiobooks/Podcasts, you name it. The buds stay in your ears even when jogging. I’ve had no complaints with the microphones. My only complaint for battery life is when I’m working all day and have many back to back meetings. But even then, I can use a single bud while charging the other, and then switch, ensuring constant usage.
- Speaker: For those Friday and Saturday nights when you want to turn it up just a bit louder and start busting a move, you’ll want a nice, portable Bluetooth speaker. We chose one that is also water proof so we can bring it with us to pools and beaches.
- Kindle: Pretty much all the books you’d ever want, in 1 tiny package. Need we say more? Oh, and be sure to not leave it in the seat pockets on flights like we did!
- Roku: Life as a digital nomad isn’t all beaches and Instagram worthy pictures, contrary to popular belief. We watch TV and binge Bake Off just like the rest of you! We brought the Roku we had at our apartment when we left and it’s worked out great. We’re able to plug it in at just about every Airbnb we’ve been to and it has all of our ‘channels’ hooked up, logged in, and ready to go!
- VPN software of choice - Private Internet Access: VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks) are a sort of proxy for internet connections. While it is mostly a techy tool, I would recommend having something like this as an option when on the road. This has a few uses where it can come in handy. First of which is when you’re connecting to a public Wi-Fi network that you don’t trust, such as a coffee shop or airport. Simply turn on the VPN and you can rest assured your data will be safe. We’ve also come across certain sites that we need to access that won’t let you visit them if you’re outside of the US, like banks or utility web sites. With a VPN you can proxy through the US and then access whatever you need! Pro Tip: you can also use this to view Netflix shows only available in certain countries.
- Foursquare app: We were recommended to use the Foursquare app by an expat in Belgrade and it has been fantastic for coming across hidden places that we wouldn’t have thought to visit otherwise. This is also good for keeping track of places you’ve been and enjoyed.
- Google Maps app: This might be obvious to some, but we use Google Maps everywhere we go. Some great built-in features:
- Label your current address as ‘Home’ for easy access to directions.
- Use the ‘Offline Maps’ section to download maps of your local city before you arrive.
- Uber: Yes, they had a very bad 2017 and are still trying to recover their public image. When we’re in the US, we try to use Lyft. But Uber has a much larger international presence and is sometimes safer and cheaper than local cabs. Uber tuktuk can be a real lifesaver so you don’t have to negotiate with every driver that tries to overcharge. Some areas don’t take card but they still do a set price before hand.
- Nike Run Culb & Nike Training Club apps: These 2 apps are key to how we’ve been staying healthy while on the road (another post about this to come soon!). More than simply offering different workouts to do (both guided runs and even home workouts with no equipment), it also tracks everything which helps you stay motivated, and it gamifies your working out with achievements. Michelle and I have become regular users and big fans.
Screenshots from the Nike Apps, I’ve been working hard the past few months!
- Apple Pay or Google Pay: A lot of Europe uses ‘contact-less’ payment solutions. While the US is still catching up, Apple Pay or Google Pay will allow quick access to payments, and let you avoid awkward wallet-fumbling and signing for receipts.
- Airbnb: Even before this Gear Guide, we must’ve mentioned Airbnb at least a dozen times. It’s no secret that the once-startup has made life so much easier for digital nomads and travelers all over the world. Michelle and I joke that our monthly expenses haven’t changed all that much, we now simply pay rent to Airbnb instead of a single land lord! Also, if you become a ‘loyal customer’, when contacting Airbnb support, they’ll be extra helpful and usually side with you and help you out of a dispute with a host.
Some of the previous Airbnb’s We’ve Stayed At
- Google Fi phone service: I’m not a huge fan of Google as a company - or business model - and much prefer to use different services or self-host. However, even I have to admit that Google Fi has made our lives 1000 times easier when on the road. We have unlimited international data. That’s all you really need to know (though of course texts and calls are included as well - though we still mostly use WhatsApp or Messenger). No messing around with local SIM cards, different phone numbers, yuch! One phone bill for the 2 of us every month, and we’ve had pretty steady coverage just about everywhere we’ve been (except for Italy for some reason??). I consider myself a privacy nut, but as a digital nomad, Google Fi is too cheap and too convenient to not use.
- Fire sleeve: We all need to be able to have our passports, ID’s, spare cash and the like with us. I sleep at night and go out during the day feeling slightly safer knowing that our valuables are safe. And no, we haven’t tested out if this is actually fireproof, but we’ll settle for the positive reviews on Amazon!
- Passport wallet: With both of us walking through the airport, we like having a passport wallet that one of us, usually Michelle, is in charge of. All the things in one place.
- Brita water bottles: Another part of staying healthy is hydrating properly, whether during travel or in between. These water bottles are great as they are a constant reminder to drink water. I have it on my bedstand every night (especially for weekend mornings after a night out), and I take it with me to work everyday. Priceless.
- SharkLock eco zip bags: While we enjoy eating out, we also cook quite a bit at home (I mean Michelle cooks quite a bit at home). We were on the market for travel zip lock bags, mostly to store our leftovers, but also for whatever other use we may come across. These SharkLock zip bags work great and we’ve used them pretty consistently since we got them. They are also freezer, microwave, and dishwasher safe, so you can use them for just about anything! Pro tip: The main trick to cleaning them is to turn them inside out.
- Quick Key Release Key Chain Accessory: Those that know me well know I’m all about efficiency. I found myself constantly needing to switch out keys on the road. For each Airbnb we’re in there’s at least 1 key, possibly 2 including 1 for a building door (though the best Airbnb’s only have key codes!). Also, some Airbnb’s only give the 2 of us 1 key to share which makes it tricky for logistics. Either way, after ordering this little gadget it’s much easier to be constantly swapping out keys without grinding down my fingernail into different keyrings.
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