OUR TRAVEL GEAR
Preferred travel rucksacks
Craig and I (Gemma) have been travelling around Southeast Asia, the Americas, and Europe since 2013. Our weapon of choice for travel rucksacks is the Vango Freedom - UK only 80-litre which comes with a handy detachable 20-litre daypack. The reason I chose the Vango is because it zips open like a suitcase (I attempted to travel around Australia with a top-open rucksack, don’t do that to yourself, you cannot find anything), there is an adjustable back for tiny 5″2 me, and reasonable amount of compartments (five) the most important one being the front pocket for smelly shoes and dirty underwear. The only downside in this Vango backpack review is that the zip pulls break off easily, I replaced with cable ties.
Again, matching (not intentional), we pack for weekend trips using CabinZero backpacks. Why? They are extremely aesthetically pleasing, the most modern weekend back on the market I’d argue. The CabinZero is light, the right size for cabin carry on and promises a ten-year guarantee. They are also British (panic over, they ship internationally!) I managed to pack 5 pairs of shoes amongst weekend outfits for my trip to Liverpool in my blue CabinZero ‘Classic”. Although not what it is intended for, we’ve hiked, skied and city walked with it. CabinZero Classic and Vintage (not so keen on the brown trim) comes in three sizes – 44l, 34l, 28l and eight colours.
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Fashion day pack
I really love the style, colours and handles of the Kanken Backpack but being the cheap Scot that I am I rock a cheaper ASOS black version. My favourite thing about the bag is that it has straps to use a backpack and handles at the top for lifting like a handbag. If anyone feels like buying me a belated birthday gift I’ll have the laptop bag in grey please, ship to….
Travel document bag
I prefer to use my Happy Jackson travel wallet which is big enough to carry passports, some money, documents, and some cards.
Waterproof bag cover
This sacred item features in our packing lists and gift guides! It is lightweight, attaches to your bag and saves your electronics from being ruined and your day pack from going soggy. My heart stopped in Vietnam after a downpour in Sapa. My camera had stopped working. Cue the need for this Osprey bag cover. Easy to use, you just pull it around the bag, clip it in the middle underneath the straps and drawstring the top.
I do have three more travel luggage tips for you and they are all inexpensive. Firstly, buy a tote canvas bag. Many European countries now adopt the 5p plastic bag policy, it’s also better for the environment and we all owe the world a high five for the flights, 14-hour bus trips and taxi rides.
The second tip is to pack a light drawstring bag (you often gets these free at festivals and conferences). These bags are great for carrying wet swimwear or packed lunches as you can attach the strings to the clips on your day bag (the Vango Freedom has this option anyway). Finally, the mighty bumbag or fanny pack as you North Americans like to call it, causing us Brits mass hysteria (look it up). I like to think of myself as a stylish traveller, many would say the bumbag lets me down but it’s really useful for festivals, skiing and hikes. Big enough for your phone, small purse and lip salve. I can fit my new camera in mine!
Travel safe bags
During our career break where we travelled around the Americas and Europe for 17 months, we avoided any nasty security situations with the PacSafe net. It does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a net that keeps your belongings safe. For it work effectively, place your passport, money, electronics into a zipped day bag, put the bag into the net and pull it closed. Next wrap the cable around a non-moving object (bed frame, pipe, or similar) and clip shut. Finally secure a padlock through the clip, throwing a towel or unassuming jacket over the bag.
This is especially important for travellers who stay in multi-dorm hostels. Sure, if someone wants to steal your possessions they could cut the wire but opportunists don’t tend to be so well equipped when they live out of a rucksack. Initially, I had purchased the PacSafe portable safe (a large black bag with the net embedded inside) but returned it as it was heavy.
We now own a PacSafe camera and laptop day bag. Anti-theft travel bags should be discreet and this one certainly is that. It opens at the top and has a neat section for laptops which runs down the back. There are a number of sections for camera equipment. The Pacsafe eXomesh Slashguard stainless steel wire mesh is embedded inside, the straps are slash proof and there is a secret lock at the bottom. We don’t use this at present because we downsized our camera (see below).
The CabinZero bag has a tracking tag built in so you can trace it if stolen or forgotten about.
This year I wanted to up my visuals game and after much research splurged on the Sony A600. What a time saver. The Sony has an app so I can take an image, send it to my phone, edit with Adobe Lightroom app and then post it straight to social media. You have no idea how much time this saves me. I can work on the road. The camera itself is light, has a clear screen which can be angled and options to add lenses. I am not a photographer and never will claim to be one but I like taking photos and I’m told I have a good eye. The only downside to the A600 is that the camera cap is not attached, with the likes of me this could be easily lost so I bought this connector for cheap.
I always carry an extra charged battery for my camera, additional SD cards (I don’t override cards, storing them in case I lose versions on the computer/hard drive) and a SD card holder (they get lost if not).
I have invested in camera bags in the past but they tend to be bulky so now go for a make-up bag to store it in (professionals will be rolling their eyes).
If you buy anything before you travel long-term buy this external hard drive – WD My Passport Ultra. I am the clumsiest person you don’t know and it’s still knocking about after three years. This is where I store all of my images, videos and files and I have a lot. There’s still 200 GB of space on it. Before you go, load it up with films for watching and then swapping with others when you hit the hostels, you will want some downtime on the road (I used a second hard drive for this as I didn’t want potentially dodgy files killing my images).
I also recommend uploading your images. I use iDrive as I can set it up overnight then download them from my dashboard on the website. Customer service is top notch too. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if I lost these memories, don’t risk it.
I edit my images with Adobe Lightroom and have recently purchased the Adobe package which includes Photoshop, Premiere Pro (video) and whole host of software programmes I will never know how to use. Worth it for these three though.
Ok, the fun part! We have a new addition to the electronic family, the GoPro Hero 6 and it is love. We used to travel with a Toshiba action camera (UK only) because it was cheaper but the difference in physical quality and visual quality is night and day. The Hero 6 is easy to use, has three frames (linear, wide and very wide), can take images, film and comes with an app (Quik). Personally I prefer to edit with iMovie or Premiere Pro but the app is acceptable for quick videos which you can see here when we jumped off a bridge, together, during a tandem bungee jump in Scotland!
For this bungee we used the wrist strap. We also have the seflie stick which is great for city shots and talking to the camera. Again, the quality of the GoPro gear is far superior than what we had previous. The connections are secure and the material is sturdy without being too heavy.
Last year I moved away from the Apple phone to the OnePlus 5 which is an Android phone. It was around £600 outright and my monthly contract which offers inclusive 3G abroad is £10 per month so although there was a big payment upfront, it works out cheaper than the Galaxy 6 or iPhone. I didn’t find the move from Apple a challenge, sometimes you have to find alternative apps which is a nuisance but the device’s camera quality and options makes up for it. The size of memory (128GB) is also ridiculous, great for me who screenshots everything. Another bonus for travellers is that there are two sim card slots so you can keep your normal sim and also add an additional one. Craig still uses iPhone. I’m not sure if he will move away from Apple in his next upgrade. Regardless of them going out of fashion I still carry a selfie stick, not for picture selfies but for Facebook Lives and videos. It just saves you from having to look at my magnified face.
I recommend a mobile phone screen like this or a phone case with the screen protector built in. I lost two mobile phones to tiled flooring. Don’t be me.
I work on a Macbook air because it’s lightweight and use the hard drive to backup files since the storage is limited. I’ve been travelling with one since 2015 and it’s getting a little tired now but still functions, bearing in mind I have used it every day for hours on end. A pen drive is also handy for swapping information.
Here’s the generic must-have travel accessories we pack. with two USB sockets so you can charge your phone and other devices or be nice and share with others.
Padlocks like these TSA approved ones. Thin clips are ideal because they fit around any locker door.
Anker mobile phone capacitors. Charge them up and pop them in your day bag. Remember the cables for your phones/devices so when the battery is low you can stay connected.
Remember your bank card reader.
Eye masks for obvious reasons and flags for not. Flags or large ponchos/throws make great fort building material in hostel dorms so you can feel like you have private space in a room full of 14.
Hydration tablets were a tip off by a British doctor we met in Cuba. That rum tastes good but does not feel good the next day. Hydration tables are dropped into a pint of water, they fizz up and once consumed, lift that hazy head.
Mosquito repellent like Off is something we used to carry but after year of wearing it and still getting bitten by the pests we opted for Avon So Soft. Why? Because DEET is aggressive and burns plastic (so if using, keep it away from your sunglasses!) We lugged around the Lifesystems mosquito net for a year and never used it once. Most of your accommodation will have nets if needed in South and Central America.
First aid kits are essential, get the next level up like this which includes needles just in case you need blood taken in a foreign country. You cannot assume they have the same standards as home.
Stay stomach safe with a filtering and bottle while doing your bit for the environment. We use the DrinkSafe Travel Tap (UK only) because it is clear so better in direct sunlight (we assume) than the black Water2Go. Lifestraw is another popular make in the clean water industry. You can read our review here.
Avoid items that spill/explode like nail varnish, opt for solid shampoos, conditioners and soaps. They also take up less room. I love Lush’s ranges. You can read my full packing list for ladies here.
Do not travel without insurance and make sure you check that the policy covers high altitude hikes if going to Machu Picchu and winter sports if skiing or boarding.
We use True Traveller because it ticked those boxes, the customer service was great and it was not as expensive as its competitors. I claimed in Vancouver when I was diagnosed with ear crystals (dizziness) and attended the physiotherapy twice. True Traveller covered the GP visit as well as the physio (minus the excess).
Last year we stumbled across the JBL clip and it fast became the gift of the year for other people. This bluetooth speaker is deadly volume wise, waterproof and clips on to bags for treks and sun loungers for chilling.
Craig has been known to hike in skinny jeans – he really is the epitome of no gear but some idea. Thankfully he has taken advice and purchased some walking trousers. Preference is always trousers that zip off into shorts, he’s a hairy, sweaty man.
Always one to look his best, he rocks the Bluffworks chino for city breaks. Craig spent most of our ‘big’ trip wearing a hoody as coat or carrying around a fashion parka but has now committed to a waterproof jacket.
Travel shoes are not part of Craig’s vocabulary. He will pack a pair of Chelsea boots along with his Scarpa hiking boots (he says they feel like slippers), plimsole trainers, and Havaiana flip-flops. Obviously sunglasses are travel must for Craig, got to complete that look. Read our travel footwear guide.
I, on the other hand, am all gear and no idea. I never travel without my Marmot Precip waterproof coat. It’s thin and folds away into its own pocket. For colder trips, I also carry a North Face down jacket which I’ve had for over a decade, before it was a fashion label.
I hike in either hiking trousers or gym pants with these waterproofs over the top. New addition to my packing list is the poncho. I’m a cold person (externally) so like a poncho as it can be used a cover as well as jacket. Makes for a great picnic blanket too.
For travel shoes I hike in Salomon Eclipse trek trainers and tape up my ankles using Leukotape which was a winning tip from a Canadian hiker in Nicaragua. I like Havianas because they last and great for communal showers, post-hike evenings and sunny beach days. Black trainers (I had Puma, now Adidas) are recommended as they go with everything and still look smart.