Let this be a round up of sorts. I've been traveling solo since 2013 and I've made purchasing mistake after purchasing mistake. I've learned the expensive way. I only share tried and true items that actually enhance my travels because honestly less is more. If you are going team carry-on in 2023, here are some of my must-have travel products (including the ones that have helped me downsize).
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Must-have Travel Bags
I've had this backpack since the start of my second career break/long-term travel stint. After the fatal error of traveling around the world for two plus years with a top loading backpack, I knew I needed to make a switch and I was happy to find this Osprey bag. It is small enough to be considered a carry-on on many US airlines (usually it is too heavy to make the cabin bag cutoff (often 5-7kg) on some international airlines). My favorite feature is that I can see EVERYTHING inside my bag. That's why I personally ditch the packing cubes and fold everything Marie Kondo style.
I recently embraced and committed to the hands-free lifestyle of a fanny pack! I feel so much safer having all of my valuables and documents on my person at all times during transit. I especially love the Travelon brand due to their anti-theft features from RFID blocking to hidden zippers and buckles and slash-proof straps.
So this isn't the exact purse I used because the one I used for YEARS is no longer available. I'm currently on team fanny pack, but if I were in the market for another travel purse, this would be the one. Travelon is my go-to brand for anti-theft travel bags!
It took me years of travel before I added this to my packing list. You always end up on some sort of excursion where the things you want to protect most end up wet. Think kayaking, paddleboarding, innocently walking when it decides to downpour...I feel so much better knowing I have a dry bag on hand that I can stick any electronics or documents in.
If you don't want to be one of those backpack in the front and backpack in the back backpackers...don't! I used to be and I prefer not to stick out in that manner anymore. I also recognize that a day bag is SUPER useful to carry around on a day to day basis. This thing packs up teeny tiny so I just stick it in my big back. I unfold it for day hikes and excursions and it fits everything I need. The water resistance is an added bonus.
I travel carry-on only whenever possible. This is easier to accomplish with some airlines and nearly impossible with others. With your standard US airline, I bring my backpack linked above as my carry-on, this bag as my personal item to house my laptop and miscellaneous items I need to keep handy (like glasses, a toothbrush, a notebook or journal), and then my fanny pack also linked above for things like my wallet and passport. Many people use small backpack as a personal item, but as I mentioned, my double backpack days are gone and I'd much rather carry a shoulder tote! It doubles as a grocery bag too.
Must-have Travel Toiletries
Hear me out on this one. Yes, this is a reusable Q-tip (for cleaning your ears). And I can see how that may seem a tad gross. I've been there. Then I think back to my long-term trips and my ratty ziploc bags filled with Q-tips...how the bags would rip...how the humidity would seep in...how the Q-tips always felt damp. That's a tad gross too, no?
So I figured I'd try one of these things. There's a learning curve. Initially it's uncomfortable. The tips are soft and absorbent like a cotton swab. There is a twisting technique you need to use to adequately clean your ears. But once you get the hang of it, the product makes sense. There is no need to be so wasteful with one-time-use cotton swabs.
This is a game changer and not just for travelers. I'm not going to get into too many gory details, but know it takes practice. Then it is the most life-changing gift you can give yourself. I remember traveling with boxes and boxes of tampons in the event that the countries I was visiting don't have them (that happens!) This is not only a space saver, it is a money saver, and an environment saver. Win-win-win. I've tried a few brands and Lena is my personal favorite, but every body is different!
Liquid toiletries are the bane of every long-term traveler's existence. My advice was always to wait until you reach your destination and then buy full-size toiletries! It is less wasteful than the tiny bottles. And that is great advice, but what happens if you need to take a flight at some point before you finish the giant bottles? You don't want to pay to check a bag just because of your shampoo! This is why I think shampoo and conditioner bars are a total gamechanger. I've personally used the brand Lush (I even went to such lengths as to exit the airport in Singapore and travel to the Lush store in order to restock mid-trip...desperate measures) but I've linked the brand that I'll be trying next that is available on Amazon.
Must-have Travel Gadgets
Travel Action Camera
With TikTok and Instagram reels being more prevalent than ever, you're gonna want to capture your travels on video. Now there are situations where your iPhone just isn't going to cut it because you must protect it from the elements! Enter and action cam. I personally have used an older model GoPro in the past which is great, but I now have my eye on either the GoPro Max or Insta360 because I love small, lightweight, and simple.
Honestly I have been hesitant about traveling with tripods in the past. They didn't pack well and I had nowhere to stick them during the day when I was out exploring. Instead I'd just set up my phone on a rock or something. This tripod is a gamechanger because it is so compact and sleek plus it has a bluetooth remote. Everything about it makes my life easier so I am a fan!
Mosquitos are a fact of travel. And if you are like me, you may attract them more than the average person (because you're too dang sweet!) Despite whatever bug spray cocktail you spritz all over your body, the inevitable happens, bites galore. I feel ya. That is why I love this simple tool. Keep it in your fanny pack. As soon as you notice you've been bitten, apply suction directly to the bite. If you get to it quickly enough, you can even prevent the welt from forming! And if you don't notice till the next day, it totally helps with itch relief.
I love having my collapsible cup and bowl on hand during my travels. There is so much waste in the world when it comes to single-use, non-recyclable materials, so I like to do my part as much as possible and sometimes it starts with something as simple as dishes.
Hydration is imperative when you travel, but it is also important to have the right tool for the job!
Vapur is my go-to for any ordinary trip and for my day to day. It is the lightest water bottle I've ever own and completely foldable and packable when empty. Just make sure the cap is on tightly (don't ask me why I know to make that warning).
Lifestraw will always be my recommendation when you're in the great outdoors and need to filter water. This could also apply in cities/countries where tap water isn't potable.
It's no lie that I use a microphone to improve sound quality on many of my videos and this one is so tiny! It folds up small but has a super long cord so I don't need to be up-close and personal with my phone if I don't want to. While it isn't perfect, the price is right!
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