Live and learn, so goes the old adage.
It’s been through trial and error, and listening to the advice of others, I’ve learned what works best for me to pack for any trip. The items in my current travel repertoire represent a lot of mistakes, but also great finds I’m excited to share to help others enjoy every trip to the max.
These resources are what I rely on to make the most of my adventures. I know the term ‘must have’ implies a physical item, but truthfully, I wouldn’t be able to travel as much as I do without some of these tools and technologies. I consider some of them to be more important than the physical items I bring on a trip.
10 of My ‘Must Haves’ for Every Trip
1) ACCOMODATION TOOLS
It’s rare I’ll stay in a hotel while traveling. I’ve been known to make exceptions when a hotel is really the only or best option (e.g., Disney World), or there’s a great deal to be found.
Booking.com is my go-to for those times I need to book a hotel around the world, and Agoda is particularly great for SE Asia. If booking with Agoda, create an account to earn cash back.
On both sites, I track rates over the course of several weeks (manual searches in Incognito mode) to ensure I score the best deals. If I see a rate and want to lock it in, I do so as long as I can cancel for free if I find a better deal closer to my trip.
On a strict budget? Hostel World, Couchsurfing, and Trusted Housesitters (requires annual membership) are all sites I’ve used, or used via a friend to reap the savings from.
Most of the time, I book lodging through Airbnb. I only book on Airbnb if the apartment has dozens of positive reviews, is central to where I need to be, and has the amenities I require (wifi, washing machine, etc.). Bonus points if the host is a designated Superhost or it’s an Airbnb+ property.
I’ve rented entire apartments, and also stayed in private rooms as part of someone else’s home. I’ve never felt unsafe, and enjoy chatting with hosts to learn more about the place I’m visiting.
2) FLIGHT TRACKERS
I’ve written about how I find and book cheap flights.
Google.com/flights and Skyscanner are my go-to’s for searching flight routes. Once I have a destination or route in mind, I use Hopper to predict future price drops, and always sign up for an email alert from Hipmunk to ensure I don’t miss out on savings.
I also search in Google’s Incognito mode– once the airlines know you’re looking, prices go up.
Tip: If you don’t live in the states, set your Hipmunk settings to USD to ensure you’re able to utilize the email alert feature.
3) SAVING FOR TRAVEL
I use tools like Digit or Revolut’s ‘vault’ feature to help auto-save for trips. Both of the aforementioned tools work by rounding up your purchases to the nearest dollar- makes saving effortless.
When travelling, it’s rare I use my debit card for purchases (to help prevent fraud). Instead, I use an online bank card to withdraw money from atms or pay for small purchases. Currently a fan of Revoult, they offer great currency conversion and worldwide three day card replacement.
4) TRIP PROTECTION
I used insure my trips with World Nomads, but recently switched to Safety Wing. I haven’t been able to use the typical travel insurance players in the US like Allianz or Amex because their requirements for coverage are too black and white- no flexibility.
Once, I made the mistake of not insuring a weekend jaunt to Paris, which ended with me spending over eight hours in a French hospital and leaving with a hefty bill. You never know what’s going to happen- make sure you’re covered for weather, sickness and unfortunate luck.
I’ve always said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you haven’t saved enough to travel.
5) CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
These are 12 apps I like to have when traveling, but my true ‘can’t live withouts’ are:
- Custom Google Maps (read more about how to make one here- these are essential, I make one for every trip)
- XE Currency (quick currency exchanges)
- Google Translate (type text or scan a photo to easily translate, you can also download languages ahead of time so they’re available if you don’t have wifi)
- WhatsApp (essential for international check-ins with family and friends)
- Foursquare/Yelp (the best for finding quick restaurant/coffee/drink recos on the go)
- Uber or Grab / Go Jek (SE Asia) for calling cars or motorbikes on demand
- Skype: Critical for international travel, short or extended. Skype has saved me so many times when I’ve needed to call a credit card company, my bank or anyone else back in the US or UK
6) PHOTO APPS
I only shoot on my iPhone – currently working with an XR. I use tele and wide angle lenses from Moment to help add dimension to my photos.
I keep it simple and use VSCO to edit pics. For IG Stories, I often use Unfold to lay out my favourite pics from a trip. And, occasionally, I use the Retouch app to remove something in a shot.
SE Asia adventure aside, the only time I’ve paid to check luggage in the past 6 years was when I moved to London. My secrets to packing light help ensure I carry-on every time.
Suitcase: For whatever reason, I destroy luggage. Seriously- split zippers, tears in the lining, broken wheels, you name it. This American Tourister carry-on can take a beating, fits every airline’s baggage restrictions (even budget carriers), and holds a ton of stuff. I use it for weekend trips, as well as 2+ weeks away
Large Backpack: If I’m backpacking for longer than a few days, Osprey is my brand of choice. Currently working my way through Asia with a 55L Fairview and I LOVE it. It fits SO much, and I love how it has a front zip for easy access and a detachable daypack
Crossbody/Purse: Trip pending, I’ll bring a leather tote or a side bag. For longer trips, I opt for a more durable crossbody. Traveling SE Asia, my current obsession is this mini Pacsafe crossbody.
8) PACKING ESSENTIALS
On almost every trip, you’ll find these things in my bag:
- Compression cubes: In love with the Gonex compression cubes– they squish down to hold so much, and a fan of these slim ones for organising bits and bobs
- World adapter: Something most people don’t think about until they’re packing, but critical to remember. I usually bring two in case I lose one or need to charge multiple things at once
- USB wall port charger: Enables you to charge everything at once, total lifesaver if you’re trying to charge phones, headphones, Fitbits and back-up chargers
- Back-up battery: I travel with two of these, which ensures I’m never stressing about my phone/other tech dying
- TEP wireless device: If your phone isn’t unlocked, this can be a good option for having service. But, if your phone IS unlocked, get a local sim wherever you go! So much cheaper, and in my experience, the service is usually more stable. Is having wifi essential to traveling abroad? No, but it does make so many things a lot easier
- Comfortable shoes: I’ll never be someone who packs cute shoes and expects to walk +15-20k steps in them each day. You’ll always find functional and comfortable sneakers in my bag. Tired and true favourites: all black Nikes, Allbirds, Birkenstocks
- Ear plugs: I bought a bundle of plugs off Amazon a long time ago and am still working my way through that stash. Great for flights, noisy busy/train rides or hotels with street noise
If you travel solo as much as I do, then you know what it’s like to pass time on countless plane/train rides alone. If I don’t have my laptop, I’m reading on my Kindle or listening to one of my favorite podcasts.
Podcasts I’m currently digging: The Goop Podcast, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, Pod Save America, Be There in 5, Work in Progress, The Daily, The Slowdown, The GaryVee Audio Experience, The Rich Roll Podcast, This is Joy & Claire, This American Life, Run Selfie Repeat, No Ego, CMO Moves.
10) MISC. PERSONAL CARE ITEMS
Regardless of where I’m going and for how long, you’ll find these things in my bag: sunscreen, face wipes, hand sanitiser, a hydrating face mask, Emergen C packets (placebo effect or not, they work for me), and lip balm.