While the clothing I pack for my destinations might change, these are the things I’ve packed regardless of where I’m going. I’ve already used all of the items below, and so far I’ve been very happy with them. Let me know if you have any questions!
For makeup and stuff I pack in my toiletry bag, check out this post.
Some of the links below are affiliate links and I’ll get a small (seriously, tiny) commission if you click one and then buy something. I’m packing all of the items below on my trip, so I legit recommend them. If that ever changes, I will update this page. Thanks for your support!
After much debate and research, I’ve opted for a carry-on sized backpack and decided against wheels. I’ll let you know if I end up kicking myself for this later, but so far this backpack as been amazing for Puerto Rico (with that fifth floor walk-up apartment) and weekend beach and lake trips. It’s very well-constructed with sturdy zippers and lots of space. I am in love with it. ***Post South America & Southeast Asia trip update: I am STILL in love with this backpack! Everybody on the road always comments on the small size and it has been no problem to bring as a carry-on for flights. I’m very happy I chose to bring a smaller pack.
I chose the Small/Medium, which is actually only 38 liters, because I’m 5’4″ and I’m the one that has to carry it. This backpack is short and wide rather than long and tall like lots of travel or camping backpacks, so it doesn’t hit me in the head while I’m walking. Seriously, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me, because I harassed people on the internet and I agonized over this purchase for a while. And if Amazon doesn’t have it in stock, check it out at REI because they have a great money back guarantee (and you can get free shipping through the link below). I visited REI many times to try on other backpacks before making this purchase.
Longchamp Le Pliage Tote – Not to be all sorority girl, but I’m gonna keep carrying this over-the-shoulder bag until it falls apart. It’s great on planes, it zips at the top, and it holds my laptop and big ass camera with room to spare. (I usually throw my purse and a sweater in there too). And it looks nice! Longchamp bags come in multiple sizes, but I prefer the biggest one. If it can hold multiple law school books and accompany me to work every day, I trust it. Almost every big city will be selling a knock-off version, but this is the real deal. They are expensive, but I’ve had mine for almost five years now and it has served me well. Still using this bag post-Asia, South America, and Europe! I always keep my valuables in here and never let it out of my sight!
I know every travel blogger raves about these, but just in case you haven’t heard, packing cubes are game changers when it comes to packing. I typically wait weeks to unpack when I get home from a trip, but with these cubes, it’s so easy to un-sort your clothes back into your closet. And don’t even get me started on actually being able to find stuff in your luggage when you arrive at your destination. So. much. better. Your clothes are now magically organized. I will never travel without them again.
Eagle Creek Clean-Dirty Pack-It Cube – This thing is the bomb. It has two sides: one for clean stuff with a breathable, see-through front, and one for dirty stuff, with a plastic coating so that if your clothes are smelly or wet, it won’t seep into the rest of your luggage. If you roll your clothes, it will fit a very surprising amount of stuff. The dividing wall moves so that you can have a full clean cube at the beginning of your trip or a full dirty cube at the end – or a mix during the in-between times. I use this one to pack larger items like pants and dresses.
Eagle Creek Pack-It Half Cubes – I have two of these smaller half cubes – one for tops and one for bathing suits, socks, and underwear. They fit perfectly with the larger Clean/Dirty cube in my backpack like a little Tetris game. I got two off of Amazon as a gift and one from REI using my co-op annual membership refund. Yeah, I’m an REI member? What?
The #1 thing I lose or break most often. The bane of my travel existence. I’ve strayed from buying the cheap ones of the side of the road now (even thought they have all the trendiest styles) because I’m afraid they offer no UV protection. And I just got LASIK eye surgery so I’m not trying to ruin these new eyes of mine!
I picked up my nicer Ralph Lauren pair while I was at home since I don’t know when I’ll be back again and there’s no use in them just sitting around there collecting dust. I’m hoping that the fact that they cost me more than $5 will make be take better care of them? Fingers crossed.
But because I don’t trust myself, I’ve picked up these two cheap back-up pairs (mirror-tint and tortoise shell) from Zero UV, a company that has lots of stylish options but doesn’t typically charge more than $10 per pair.
Nikon D3300 – This is my fancy DSLR camera that takes lovely pictures which I am still learning how to use. After much
research searching of the words “best budget DSLR for beginners,” I made this purchase, and I feel it’s been totally worth it. When it comes to putting images on the web, they are no doubt better than my iPhone photos. Like, now I’m embarrassed of my earlier blog posts with their bush league photos. I only have the kit lens, but I’ve got my eye on this one for Christmas… (ehem, mom, it’s on my Amazon wish list). I also bought this neoprene cover to protect it from bumps during transit and from myself when I forget that I’m carrying it.
Nikon 35 mm Lens – I finally graduated from the kit lens! All the YouTube videos pointed to this as the lens for travel, so here we are. My first prime lens. So far, I’m super happy with it. You really get the beautiful blurry background that a lower f-stop gives. And the landscape pictures seem clearer. The challenge is getting everything in the frame, but I’m learning.
Kindle – I’ve raved about it before, but really, it’s awesome to be able to download books wherever you have wifi at a moment’s notice. And it’s also way lighter than packing several paperbacks. Another cool feature is that you can request a sample of any e-book on Amazon to be sent to your Kindle. Then when you’re done reading the sample, you have the option to purchase the whole book or not, so you don’t have to spend the money unless you’re sure. Still so much better than hauling around books, but now I really wish I’d gotten the Kindle Paperwhite with the backlight so that I could read in the dark!
MacBook Air – Another agonizing purchase. My laptop from law school had basically become a paperweight and I knew if I wanted to blog, I’d have to get my own new computer. I borrowed Charlie’s 11″ Macbook Air for a while to test drive it before investing – it’s even lighter than this one. I needed a larger screen for blogging and editing photos, so I went with the 13″ screen and added an extra gig of RAM at the advice of my techie friends (since I’d be running Adobe Lightroom). After using a PC for my whole life, it’s taken some getting used to but I do love it. It’s sleek and light and fast! Though I’m sure I haven’t unlocked half of its full potential yet, I’m impressed. I use an old OGIO neoprene laptop sleeve to protect it, but it’s very similar to this one which is a great price.
My Passport WD 1 TB External Hard Drive – I know I should use the Cloud, but this just uploads those giant RAW photo files so much faster. My laptop only has so much space so this is great for holding all those pics. It’s also great for storing movies and TV shows to watch when your Internet isn’t good enough to stream ’em. I just purchased my second one of these, because I broke the last one – you CANNOT drop these! I’m a little disappointed that it was so easy to break, but I pray that the photos on the old drive will be recoverable. At least I’d blogged about all of those destinations already…
iPhone 6 – Duh. I will be using my phone abroad. I went to Verizon to ask about unlocking it, and they told me that all iPhones after the 5C came straight from Apple to Verizon unlocked. You just have to pop out your SIM card (by pushing a paperclip into the tiny hole on the side) and slip in a Nano SIM card from the country you’re visiting. I have the gold version with a crappy gold case on it if you’re wondering. Dear God, please don’t let me lose my phone… Still my most valuable possession even though it doesn’t hold a charge well anymore…
Random Travel Gear
Clearly Filtered Water Bottle – This was SUCH a good buy, and though they are a little expensive, mine has allowed me to drink the tap water all over Southeast Asia and any other country where ya usually can’t do that. (One exception: some islands in the Philippines where the tap water is brackish.) I can’t tell you what a life saver this was on hungover nights when I could just run to the sink to fill it up! The water doesn’t flow super freely but it has saved me so much money and trips to the store for bottled water. Plus, it’s good for the environment!
Microfiber Towel – I got the 20″ by 40″ and it works like a charm. I’ll never forget when my mom tried to get me to pack a towel before I left for Argentina. Nahhh, they’ll have towels at the hostel, I thought. Nope. They did not, and I’m pretty sure I had to dry off with the one tiny wash cloth my mom managed to convince me to bring. And sometimes they make you pay to rent them (especially in Europe)! I will not do that again. This super absorbent towel folds up really small just barely covers my body if I neede to sneak out of a hostel shower. I lost the first one in Hong Kong and I just got a new one (in gray) while I was home, thank goodness!
Inflatable Neck Pillow – I was pretty anti these travel neck pillows at first, but since you can’t always guarantee a window seat, they are pretty essential. Just before my 20 hour flight to Thailand I bought one in the Atlanta airport. It was soft, but bulky and kind of a nightmare to strap to my backpack, so this time I’m opting for an inflatable one. I’m not in love with having to manually blow it up, but I found it at TJ Maxx for $3.99, and it folds down to almost nothing.
Outlander Packable Daypack 20 L – Another heavily researched item, this little lightweight backpack is for daytime outings where I don’t wanna haul the big backpack. It also folds into its own little zipped-up pouch for packing it away. I used it a ton in Puerto Rico, and it even can fit a beach towel and my camera. The convenient, smaller front pocket I use for my phone, money, and chapstick. Plus, the company is super responsive and they offer a lifetime warranty. Around Malaysia, this bag developed a hole and the zipper inside got stuck (possibly from saltwater), but I still highly recommend them because of their amazing customer service – one email and they shipped me a brand new daypack!
Dry Bag – I got this 25 L dry bag for activities where my stuff might get wet. This is a “just in case” item – which you are typically NOT supposed to pack- but it might come in handy while hiking with my fancy camera, especially since we’re going to attempt the Inca Trail during rainy season. I used it on our booze cruise in Puerto Rico by putting all my stuff in the dry bag, which I then stuffed into my daypack and zipped up.
Master Combination Locks (2) – For locking luggage when en route (they’re TSA approved), but especially on sketchy buses and for locking lockers in hostels. I prefer the ones with 3 digits rather than the combination locks with the spinning wheel, which is really tough to get right on the first try, in the dark, in a hurry.
I got rid of the PacSafe – sent it home with mom – so I’m not linking to it anymore. (It was heavy and impractical for me to carry around, though some folks still swear by it! Just not for me.) I usually lock up my tote bag full of valuables in the hostel lockers.
I’ve got travel insurance through World Nomads that covers me if anything gets stolen. They cover unforeseen medical costs, travel cancellations, and property theft! Don’t leave home without it. Seriously, if my dengue incident or motorbike accident had been worse, I would’ve been really glad I had it.
Always an interesting question, “Carry-on only? But how many pairs of shoes are you bringing?” Well, not many. Okay, the answer is four or five (I’m also packing two pairs of sandals not listed here – for nicer occasions), some of which may end up in the trash after a lot of wear. Calm down, they’re all very flat and fit flush against the packing cubes in my backpack. My running shoes sit in the very bottom of the pack. Do shoes count as gear?
TOMS – Because I don’t want to look like a ridiculous tourist when I’m just cruising the streets. They worked for Mexico, so I’m bringin’ em. I will probably destroy them by the end of this trip. Update: I did destroy them and just bought the burlap ones!
Rainbow Flip Flops – A comfortable wardrobe staple that I cannot NOT bring, though I’m also planning to destroy these. Since, you know, they are leather and already in a state of disrepair. I do plan to buy in a cheap pair of rubber flip flops at some point. I lost these in the Philippines on my birthday, then caved and bought some real Havaianas, but they just weren’t as good and broke within 4 months! I’m now on my next pair of Rainbows. Always and forever…
Merrell Bare Access Trail-Running Shoes – Lightweight, quick-drying, grippy running shoes were what I was looking for and I believe I’ve found it in these Merrells. No they aren’t the hottest pair of shoes on the market. Yes, they are a tad goofy looking, but they are tiny and comfortable. Heavy hiking boots were not on the agenda. I found these on sale for $70 at REI where they seem to be currently out of stock, but I found a similar pair on Amazon here. Also, I must confess that I saw them on sale at TJ Maxx a few months after I bought them, which pissed me off royally because I shop there all the time and of course, they were way cheaper. ***Post South America trip update: I hiked the Inca Trail (and many other hikes) in these and was really happy with their lightweight feel. No, they’re still not super cool looking, but they’re comfortable and easy to pack.
Nike Flex 2016 Running Shoe – I bought these after I wore out the Merrells and they had to be retired. I needed shoes that would be good for hiking, walking, running, and everyday wear… that looked good and I wouldn’t feel goofy wearing out. These Nikes have been great so far. They’re super lightweight and bendy, so they’re very packable. These shoes aren’t as grippy as the Merrells, but I wore them on my five day trek in Nepal with no worries. And they actually look really trendy. Important: I did buy a half-size bigger than usual in these. (And the 2015 edition gets even better reviews.)
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about any of these items. Though I’m not super technologically advanced, I did put a lot of thought into these purchases, researched my face off, and asked a lot of questions. And I’m always on the lookout for a good deal!