I’ve been travelling for quite a long time. 106 countries so far. I’ve ridden around the world on a motorcycle. Backpacked through South East Asia. Cycled through Central America. Driven a 4×4 through Southern Africa. Island hopped through the Pacific.
I’ve camped wild in places like Mongolia and Namibia. I’ve slept in £2000-a-night overwater villas in Bora Bora and on a motorbike at the side of the road in far-eastern Russia.
I’ve flown in some of the world’s best first class seats and crossed the Caspian on an ageing Soviet rail freight ferry and got stranded off the coast of Turkmenistan with no food or water for 3 days.
I’ve been suckered by all the gadgets and gizmos in the camping shops and the online travel stores. I’ve bought highly rated products that failed within days. I’ve packed things that I’m surely going to need only to never use them.
I’ve also found some really good products that do what they do so much better than any of their competitors, and which solve the problems you really have when you’re a traveller. Wherever I’m going, for however long, these are the things that have worked their way on to my essential packing list.
These are the items I recommend as the best travel gear. Click any of the titles or images to check prices.
The best travel gear isn’t always tech.
Aircraft are filthy. As I wrote in this article about protecting yourself against infections like Coronavirus, antibacterial wipes are an absolute must have for cleaning tray tables and remote controls.
I use them on planes, trains, when I’m out and about sightseeing. I use them in hotel rooms on the TV remote (another trick is to put the remote inside a shower cap).
Because they are individually wrapped they don’t dry out and you can take just as few or as many as you need.
There are so many times you need a torch. In many parts of the world the streets are unlit at night and the pavements have great holes in them. You don’t need me to tell you all the reasons why you might need a torch.
Here’s my advice. A mini torch that you always have in your pocket or clipped onto your bag is better than the ultra-bright torch you left behind because it’s too bulky.
The mini torch you can recharge by USB is way better than the ultra bright torch with flat batteries. One of the best things about the USB standard is how much it reduces the need to pack batteries and battery chargers.
There are two secrets to getting a good nights sleep in a hotel, on a plane, on a bus, in a tent, or on a pile of gravel at the side of the road on Turkey’s Black Sea coast when your motorcycling adventure went a bit wrong (it really happened).
The first is ear plugs. They cut out all the distracting noises like doors slamming in hotels or the background drone of an aircraft.
If you’ve never used them, trust me that they are easy and comfortable. Squeeze and roll them in your fingers to compress them, then put them in your ear. The foam expands until it fits snugly.
They won’t stop you hearing alarm clock or fire alarms or someone speaking directly to you, but they will give you a great and undisturbed sleep in even the noisiest of places.
The second secret is an eye mask. Have you ever turned out the lights in a hotel room only to realise that there are 6 different red LEDs shining out from the TV and the air-con and the coffee maker, light coming under the door, and past the curtains that don’t fit?
Some people will suggest carrying post-it notes to stick over LED lights, and using the clips off coat hangers to hold curtains together, but the easiest, most effective, and most versatile option is a simple eye mask.
They work great on flights too, which is why they’re given out in the amenity kits. If you’re on a flight you can’t go around sticking post-it notes over all the lights, but you can put on an eye mask.
I used to use the eye masks from amenity kits, but now I use this one. It’s more durable, much more comfortable because of the padding and contouring, and washable.
To get onto the list of the best travel gear, a product has to be one that I use all the time, never leave behind, and never want to replace. These earphones meet those criteria.
The noise cancelling is exceptionally good, they are comfortable, the battery holds a charge more than enough for the longest flight you’ll ever do, and they are reasonably priced.
I love them.
The best travel gear in the world is no use to you if you’ve lost it or left it behind.
Dyno Tag and Find Me Tags come in various formats like stickers or clips or luggage tags. Register your details against the unique code on each tag.
If you lose something and it has a Dyno tag attached, anyone who finds it can enter the web address on the tag or just scan the QR code, and they get a webpage where they can contact you.
Ever better, as soon as they do that, Dyno Tag tells you roughly where the finder is by looking up their IP address.
Most smart phones these days will instantly link you to the webpage as soon as you point a camera at the QR code, so it’s really easy.
I have them on my phone, camera, passport, hard drive, glasses case, kindle, and drone, inside my wallet, and clipped onto all of my bags.
They’re very cheap too.
There are no guarantees, but if you are unlucky enough to lose something or leave it behind, at least you’ve given the finder an easy option to do the right thing, and lots of people do want to do the right thing. Honest.
Stick your carry-on in the overhead luggage bins. Fine. but now you can’t get to it while the seatbelt sign is on.
I use one of the may underseat bags like this one (the one I actually use is one I’ve had for a long time and it’s no longer for sale), but there are plenty to choose from.
I keep my most important stuff in it. Passport and tickets, wallet, phone, camera. I also keep all the things I might want to have easy access to during a flight. Those wet wipes. USB cables. The Bose earphones.
These little bags slide under the seat, are small enough to not get in the way even on the stingiest of economy seats, and all your important bits and pieces are right there within reach.
These bags will hook onto the handle of your carry-on case if you’re using one, and they are small enough to be accepted in addition to your carry on in the same way as laptop bags or handbags/purses.
I’ve worn out quite a few passports. Get your passport too badly damaged and some jobsworths won’t let you through immigration.
This wallet protects your passport and has slots for your frequent flyer and lounge club cards, and your boarding passes.
If you’re a photographer, get yourself a memory card holder, and choose one like this that is light and doesn’t take up any space in your carry on.
You don’t need the bulky hard cases. They just take up too much room.
According to Amazon I bought mine – the exact one shown here – in 2015, which means it’s been through about 50 countries with me.
It’s still as good as new and none of the plastic sleeves are cracked or torn.
Another must for photographers. It’s easy to back up your mobile phone photos to the cloud over the hotel wifi but not so easy to back up the RAW files from your main camera.
There are two things you need for an on-the-go backup solution. The first is this, an SSD hard drive. SSD because unlike old hard drives it’s almost impossible to break them if they get dropped.
The second part of the solution is a wireless card reader that lets you copy from memory card to SSD disk, controlled by your smartphone.
The one I use is so old it’s out of production, but there are plenty of options. There are also plenty of all-in-one wireless SSDs, but at the moment the cheaper option is an ordinary SSD and a separate wireless card reader.
Here are a few other things I always carry:
- Chromecast or Fire TV
- A USB powerbank
- Universal power adaptor
- 12V car USB socket