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 many of them to be more important than the physical items I bring on a trip.
10 of My ‘Must Haves’ for Every Trip
1) LODGING 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 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 you’re booking with Agoda, create an account to earn cash back- it adds up.
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 you see a rate and want to lock it in, definitely do so as long as you aren’t paying anything upfront and can cancel for free if you find a better deal closer to your trip.
Most of the time though, I’m booking 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 the amenities I require (wifi, washing machine, air con, etc.). Bonus points if the host is a designated Superhost or it’s an Airbnb+ property.
Not sure if it’s the place for you? You can message the host before booking to ask questions- sometimes I do this as a measure of seeing how responsive the host is (usually a good indicator for how they’ll be during your stay).
I’ve rented entire apartments, and also stayed in private rooms as part of someone else’s home. I’ve never felt unsafe, and often enjoy chatting with hosts to learn more about the place I’m visiting.
Only once I’ve had an issue so serious I needed to escalate it to Airbnb, and they handled it immediately, re-booking me in a new place within two hours.
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.
Pro-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) FINANCIAL AIDS
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 because I have total control of money in/out of the account. Currently a fan of Revoult, they offer great currency conversion and worldwide three day card replacement (the latter is a literal lifesaver).
4) TRIP PROTECTION
I always insure my trips with World Nomads. Truthfully, I haven’t vetted other companies like Allianz because I started travelling internationally the most when I moved to Europe. World Nomads was built by travellers for travellers, so I feel like they really get top travel concerns, and have built great plans to offer support.
Once, I made the mistake of not insuring a trip so on a weekend jaunt to Paris, which ended with me spending 8+ hours in a French hospital and leaving with a very hefty bill. You never know what’s going to happen- make sure you’re covered for weather, sickness and unfortunate luck.
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, but 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 (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 X.
I keep it simple and use VSCO to edit pics. Tips for how to take great shots on an iPhone here.
SE Asia adventure aside, the only time I’ve paid to check luggage in the past 6 years was when I moved to London. These 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 fits a ton of stuff- I use it for weekend trips, as well as 2+ weeks away. I’ve been using it for two years now with zero problems
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 my Madewell leather tote or a cute side bag (weekend trips, usually). For longer trips, I opt for a more durable crossbody. Current obsession: This mini Pacsafe crossbody– it’s compact, yet roomy and looks barely used, even though I’ve been touting it daily for over two months.
8) PACKING ESSENTIALS
On almost every trip, you’ll find these things in my bag:
- Compression cubes: Partial to the Eagle Creek compression ones, but also a fan of some of the basic sets Amazon offers, like 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 / international service: Many US carriers make it easy to get international coverage throughout the world for as low as adding $9 a day to your existing plan. If your phone isn’t unlocked, this can be a good option for having service. But, if your phone IS unlocked, get a local sims 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
- One other option, a TEP wireless device may be good if you need reliable wifi and don’t have an unlocked phone. Best option, in my opinion, if you can share the device with others
- 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. Current 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 into currently: The Rich Roll Podcast, Run, Selfie, Repeat, Girls Gone WOD, Being Boss, Smart Passive Income, The Get Paid Podcast, The GaryVee Audio Experience, Freakonomics
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.
Featured image credit: Link