Whilst we are less than a month into our full time travel safari, very quickly we’ve come to appreciate some of things we are glad we never left home without. Here is a quick summary of our top 10 essentials, along with some notable mentions that have also proven themselves invaluable so far:
I’m a late Apple adopter but it’s fair to say I’ve fallen hard. The 13 inch Macbook Air laptops that we’ve chosen to accompany us on this journey are not only a treat to look at, but they are light, slim, fast and oh so functional. After using the Windows environment for so many years it’s taking a while to get used to the Apple operating system, but it’s been an enjoyable learning experience. They’re not cheap but worth every penny in our opinion.
See above regarding my new found love for all things Apple. Sure, they know how to lock you in to the Apple world, but given the benefits of being able to seamlessly sync everything between Macbook and iPhone using features like Airdrop and Handoff, it’s a world I’m happy to be part of. In addition to being slim and fast, the iPhone 6 also has a great camera that, whilst it’ll never replace a full interchangeable lens camera, allows you to on occasion leave the bulky DSLR at home – especially if you’re going somewhere where an expensive camera might attract undesirable attention. The Maps app is also a great feature – as long as you have previously loaded the relevant city maps when within Wi-Fi range, then the in-built GPS will continue to show your location when out and about without requiring Wi-Fi or 3G coverage. This is perfect if you’re only visiting a place for a few days and don’t want to have the hassle of getting a local SIM card or are conscious of racking up expensive roaming charges on your mobile plan back home. Again, they’re not a cheap item, and iPhones are a popular target with pickpockets in countries where imported electronics are heavily taxed, but I wouldn’t leave home (or hotel) without mine now.
3) JBL Charge
This little beast is our new favourite friend. Its primary purpose is as a portable Bluetooth speaker, a function it performs more than adequately. It’s perfect when you want to listen to some tunes, perhaps over a few lazy vinos or cervezas, and the speakers of your phone or laptop just don’t quite cut it. It’s small, portable, easy to use, packs great sound for its size and comes with its own soft protective case. But the great added bonus is that it doubles as a powerbank for your mobile devices – allowing you to recharge your phone, camera or tablet on the go – perfect if you’re out on a long day exploring or on a long bus ride and the battery icon on your smartphone inevitably starts flashing at you!
Regular travel can be hugely disruptive on sleep patterns – unfamiliar beds, changing timezones, new and unfamiliar noises, overindulging a little too much – all reasons why a good nights sleep is worth its weight in gold. With my fellow travelling partner being a light sleeper at the best of times, a simple set of earplugs and an eye mask to help block out some of the light and noise are an absolute godsend – for both of us! The sky is the limit when it comes to some of the offerings out there – see this futurist sleep mask – but a basic set such as this will do the trick.
Absolutely essential. Unless you like playing Russian Roulette, investing in decent travel insurance could be the best decision you ever make. In addition to standard theft, cancellation and medical expenses coverage, many travel insurance policies will also cover you for costs of returning home in the case of serious illness of an immediate family member. Of course the list of things they don’t cover is longer than the list of things they do, so make sure you read the fine print. Many of the major credit card companies offer basic travel insurance as part of your credit card package so that is definitely worth investigating, but for long term open-ended travel the global benchmark is without doubt World Nomads – check them out here.
A last minute purchase the day we left Auckland, this backpack has turned out to be a little gem. Small enough that it folds inside its own front pocket so you can zip it up and chuck it in your suitcase for long haul journeys, but the perfect size to carry around a camera, a jumper and a bottle of water out on day trips.
Seriously, how did people travel for long periods before Airbnb came along? The basic concept itself is not new but the Airbnb platform has revolutionised (and seriously divided!) the global accommodation industry. One of the best features is the ability to rent accommodation that has its own kitchen and laundry so that when you’re travelling for long periods you can actually relax for a few days, cook your own food and wash your clothes without having to pay through the nose for hotel equivalents. The local interaction is a massive bonus as well - our hosts in Buenos Aires took us out for gelato and cerveza as soon as we arrived and then gave us a comprehensive run down of the immediate area – try getting that sort of service from a hotel, unless you’ve booked the presidential suite! As with any travel arrangements, you should do your research – check out the neighbourhood, read other guests reviews etc – but there is no way we could keep our costs down and our sanity up if it wasn’t for Airbnb.
Another great piece of software that we use religiously for planning our flights. It's not the only one of its kind out there, but it's certainly our favourite. Simple yet effective – it quickly gives you the ability to see various flight options and prices between your points of interest – you can also view across a week or a month to see when the best prices are available, or if better prices are available from a nearby airport. And it’s free. Genius.
Let’s face it – banks are the devil. Every opportunity they get they will gladly take a cut of your hard earned dinero. Especially when it comes to foreign currency transactions. Prepaid travel money cards have become a popular option, and while most of the card providers don’t charge transaction fees they’ve already taken a chunk of your money on the exchange rate they give you when you loaded money on to the card. You are also limited in the currencies you can load up. Alternatively, if you aim to primarily use your credit card you'll then be getting an exchange rate closer to the official bank rates and aren't limited on currencies, but VISA, Amex and Mastercard will all charge at least a 3% transaction fee, and they’re no good when cold hard cash is required. This is where our Citibank Plus Everyday account comes into play. In addition to free international in-store transactions, this account offers fee-free withdrawals at all Citibank ATM’s around the world, which being a large global bank gives them around 7000 of their own ATM’s across nearly 40 countries. It’s not a perfect solution as there are obviously some gaps in their coverage and their internet banking is fairly primitive but it’s about as good as it’s going to get without being able to set up a bank account in every country you intend to visit. Look out for more detailed analysis on the best travel money options in a later post.
In an effort to not be a total Apple sellout, we’ve retained our exposure to the Microsoft environment through their Office 365 software. This is an annual subscription version of the standard Office package that features the old favourites like Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. Paying an annual fee (currently AU$119 per year for the Office 365 Home Package) obviously works out more expensive than buying the software outright but the benefit of the subscription is that you get on-going software updates free of charge and the ability to share the software with a total of 5 users, with each user then able to install across their PC or Mac, their tablet AND their smartphone. The package also comes with 60 free Skype minutes per month to landlines (perfect for calling the family back home who still actually have a landline!). But one of the best features in our opinion is the 1TB (yes, 1TB = 1000GB) of free cloud storage using Microsoft OneDrive. This is absolutely invaluable for us as it allows us to backup all our key information, our photos, music, movies etc, secure in the knowledge that if anything were to happen to any of our equipment (touch wood it never does!!) we would be able to recover it all from OneDrive.
Lastpass. Struggling to remember the thousand different passwords that your online life requires? Using the same password for different websites even though you know you shouldn’t? Enter Lastpass – a secure online password manager that will safely store all those passwords for you – and can even assist with generating new random passwords for all your various logins to reduce the likelihood of someone cracking your genius “Password1, Password2” code. A basic account is free but you can upgrade to the Premium plan for $1 per month which gives you the ability to sync across your various devices. Has saved me hours of time already.
Buffered VPN. Having a good VPN (Virtual Private Network) serves two main purposes – firstly you can use it to protect your internet traffic when accessing unsecure public Wi-Fi networks (in places like airports and cafes) and secondly to help with homesickness by accessing on-demand video content from your home country (or any other country for that matter). Public Wi-Fi offerings are fraught with risk as this article shows, so the first function is particularly important for travellers. Buffered VPN is our choice and it sits about mid range in terms of price and offering, but there are plenty of alternate options out there so feel free to do your own research – most will give a free trial or a money back period if you’re not happy with the initial service.
Matador Pocket Blanket from PocketCarry. A great little travel blanket – folds down small enough to fit in your pocket but opens up large enough for two to sit comfortably. We've already put this bad boy to use multiple times for a lazy afternoon picnic in the park and it will be ideal for when we hit the beach(es) in coming weeks and months.
Travel accessories have changed immeasurably since the last time I embarked on long term travel, way back in 2007. Half of the things on this list didn't even exist back then! Our society has become adept at not only solving needs, but creating solutions for problems that we never even knew we had. Ultimately, the most important thing is to not lose focus on the travel experience itself - but with the right tools you can now travel more safely, securely, conveniently and comfortably than ever before.
If you have any must-have items that you simply can't leave home without, then feel free to drop us a line or leave us as comment as we'd love to hear about them!
Disclaimer - All opinions are our own and not representative of or endorsed by the suppliers of these products. Some of the above products contain affiliate links so that if you purchase the items directly from those links then we potentially receive a small commission. However all of these products we genuinely own and use ourselves, and our recommendations are based on our own personal experiences.