What’s in my bag?
It’s a question I’ve gotten a lot over the years so I decided it was time to unzip and let my alert readers in on my essential packing list to work, photograph, video and blog your way around the world for a month.
On whirlwind RTW trips like mine, it goes without saying that traveling light is key. When you’re hopping on a flight to a new country every few days, the last thing you want to be doing is schlepping a ton of luggage. Carry-on is where it’s at. To check a bag is to admit defeat!
How do you pack for a month on the road in a carry-on bag? One word: laundry. Pack the essentials and wash as needed. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned after 10 trips around the world – I never wish I had brought more, but I often wish I’d brought less.
Carry-on Princess that I am, the most important item is a good sturdy carry-on bag that meets international size guidelines (19”) – which are not as liberal as domestic US (22”). My favorite luggage is made by Tumi and my current bag obsession is from their Tegra Lite line.
This hard-sided, lightweight bag has 4 multi-directional wheels on the bottom that allow it to roll alongside you as well as behind. The divided packing section inside is especially useful for those of us who often live out of our suitcases.
My “Personal Item”
In addition to my beloved Vapor bag, I also travel with what the TSA would refer to as my “personal item” – my trusty ESPN backpack (a gift from my employer which has turned out to be the best backpack I’ve ever owned). Lots of little pockets make it great for holding all of my gadgets and their various chargers and accessories. While you can’t actually own the ESPN version, the backpack itself is the Ogio Renegade and the non-logoed version is widely available.
Now, on to my favorite part…the electronics!!! I am, after all, a gadget girl at heart.
First and foremost, my laptop – the Asus Zen Book Ultra Slim 14″ Laptop. When it comes to laptops, I tend to change every 2 years or so. The most important features to me are portability & battery life and at just under 2lbs with up to 9 hours of battery life, the Asus fits the bill. I also love the touchscreen feature and the ability to detach the keyboard completely and use it as a tablet.
Though they advertise 9 hours, I can usually get 5+ hours out of it on a long flight which is pretty good for the price point. Since I work from the road almost exclusively, a reliable laptop is my most important business expense and at $1199 the Asus has proven an affordable and reliable choice.
Second most important is my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G from T-Mobile. Yes, I’m a fan of Apple products, too (see below), but for my phone, I’ve stuck with Android. The S21 Ultra is sleek and the battery life is incredible but it’s the sleek new camera that really won me over. It records cinema-quality 8K video and stunning still shots.
On my recent trip around Greece and Italy, I compared shots taken with my Nikon DSLR and the Samsung S21 Ultra throughout the trip. And I have to say, by the end of the trip, the Nikon was mostly sitting in our hotel room. Yes, the quality was a little better, but it just wasn’t worth the extra weight to lug around when I can finally get truly terrific high-res shots with my phone. So perhaps the Nikon is finally on its way out of my bag! We’ll see.
If you need international coverage when you travel, your only true options are AT&T or T-Mobile. I’ve been with T-Mobile for more than a decade and that loyalty paid off in a big way in late 2014 when they introduced FREE international data in more than 100 countries. Most of the coverage is on slower EDGE networks overseas (think 2G or 3G equivalent instead of lightning-fast 4G or 5G) but I still think this is a huge advance and a welcome change for international travelers like me who’ve been terrified to connect their phone to anything but wifi overseas.
I’ve now used the free international data in dozens of countries and it’s so nice to use my phone around the world just as easily as I would use it at home (with the exception of a reasonable $.20/minute for actual calls). Just remember, you must be on T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan to take advantage of free international data.
Of course, all work and no play makes Jenny a dull girl – so on to the fun stuff!
Camera, lenses and photo storage
For capturing all those great images on my travels, I rely on my Nikon D5300 DSLR camera with an upgraded 18-140mm VR lens kit. I also have a 55-300mm zoom lens but I find the 18-140 is versatile enough to cover most of my needs. I absolutely love this camera and while I am certainly no professional photographer, the D5300 has been known to make me look like one.
I carry a variety of memory cards ranging from 16G to 32G. For storing and backing up my photos while on the road, I upload them as I go to my 2 Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim 2TB travel drives (one primary, one back-up). And for organizing and editing all those photos, I use Adobe’s Lightroom software.
Once I’ve downloaded, edited and backed-up all my photos, I upload them into a gallery on my SmugMug site.
For video, I carry the new Go Pro Hero 9 Black Edition. To be honest, I’ve not been the best at capturing video on my previous trips, I’m always more focused on photography. But with the fun, lightweight GoPro, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf in the video world. It’s hard not to love these versatile, waterproof, tiny little cameras that pack a big punch when it comes to video quality.
But for me, the GoPro isn’t perfect for every situation (plus it’s just ONE more thing to carry around!). However, combined with the video camera on my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (which is ideal for close-up shooting) the two are a perfect pair. Since I’ve gotten the S21 though, I find I’m shooting a lot more video with it than the GoPro. But when it comes to action or underwater video, you really can’t beat the GoPro.
Yes, I carry a tripod, too!
For capturing all those pictures and videos with me actually in them, a tripod is essential. Nothing travels better than the Gorillapod by Joby. It’s lightweight yet sturdy enough to support a DSLR, available in 4 sizes (I have two) and has flexible, bendable legs that adjust to any surface. A dream come true for the solo traveler!
And for my latest and greatest toy…my husband recently surprised me with an upgrade from my trusty iPad Air to a shiny new Ipad Pro 12.9 inch. If you’ve read this far you know that I’m not a big Apple person (nothing wrong with their products, I’ve just always found my PC better for business purposes), though I do love my iPod like everyone else in the world. But these days you really need either an iPhone or iPad to have access to all the best apps, some of which are exclusive to the Apple world.
Plus, I always like to have a reliable back-up with me on long trips in case the worst should happen with my laptop.
And I have to say, I have fallen in love with my new iPad Pro, it’s amazingly lightweight and it does lots of things I haven’t even figured out yet! Plus, I also added the super awesome Magic Keyboard to it, and (fingers crossed) I’m hoping I can actually replace my laptop with it someday soon.
Of course, none of these fancy electronics will work world-wide without a reliable universal power adapter. When it comes to travel adapters, I’m not a fan of the kind with multiple moving parts that can easily get lost leaving you unable to plug in on an entire continent. Instead, I prefer a simple, all-in-one adapter.
I’ve tried them all over the years and my current fav is the Epicka All-in-One Universal Power Adapter. Not only does it work in more than 150 countries, but it also has 4 very handy USB ports on the side which make it exceptionally functional for charging my phone, laptop, and iPad all at the same time.
Another handy accessory (especially for trips to tropical locales) is a reliable dry bag. Mine is the Osprey UltraLight Dry Sack and it keeps all those essential electronics dry on a day at the beach or a splashy inter-island speedboat trip. It’s also useful as a day pack when exploring a new city on a rainy day.
My GoBreezie Towel – A new find! One of the things I never used to travel with was a beach towel. It was just too much of a pain to fit into my small suitcase. I would always buy a cheap one on the road somewhere when I needed it and then leave it behind. I mean who wants beach sand in their luggage?
But I recently discovered GoBreezie towels. Made from a soft, versatile microfiber, they are literally sandless beach towels! They dry quickly and come in an adorable coordinating carrying case that makes it easy to throw into my suitcase. When folded, it isn’t much bigger than a paperback and they come in dozens of colorful, geometric designs. Mine is the “Across the Sea” design (pictured here).
The Perfect Travel Dress
Yes, among all those gadgets, I do make a little room for clothes. I won’t bore you with all the fashion details but there is one item I never leave home without.
In the past few years, I have become obsessed with Columbia’s PFG Freezer dresses (I have no idea why they call them that). I bought one on a whim a few years ago while my husband was looking at shirts in the Columbia Store and it quickly became my favorite thing to wear.
These days I own a dozen, at least, and I practically live in them (it helps that I live between Florida and Hawaii).
The stretchy fabric is wrinkle free and they take up next to no space in a suitcase so they’re ideal for travel. They also come in 100+ styles from solid black to fun aloha patterns and they’re easy to dress up or dress down.
Looking for more packing advice?
I break down my comprehensive RTW packing list (including clothing items) in my book, The Grown-Up’s Guide to Globetrotting, so if you’re interested in reading further, check it out!
One thing I have learned in 10 trips around the world is there are very few things that can’t be replaced along the way if the need arises so I don’t sweat the small stuff.
So pack your carry-on bag, folks, the world awaits…