Stuff I Love

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What are my favorite RTW travel must-haves?

It’s a question I get a lot. So here, I’m breaking down all of my favorite travel essentials to work, photograph, video and blog my way around the world.

Luggage

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!

Read More: How to Travel Around the World with Just a Carry-On: A Girl’s Guide to Traveling Light

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.

But before we get to what I pack, let’s first cover what I pack it all in:

TUMI 19 Degree International Carry-On – 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. Yes, it’s pricey. But for me, it’s well worth spending the money for quality luggage.

The recycled polycarbonate shell is lightweight yet incredibly sturdy. The divided packing section inside is especially useful for those of us who often live out of our suitcases. And, even better, it’s expandable. That comes in handy when you over-shop on your last stop and need to check your bag on the way home.

OGIO Renegade Backpack – In addition to my beloved Tumi roller, I also travel with what the airlines would refer to as my “personal item.” Several years ago, my employer gifted me with this particular backpack and it 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.

Travel Tech

Now, on to my favorite part…the electronics!!!  I am, after all, a gadget girl at heart.

HP Elite Dragonfly Laptop – Since I work from the road almost exclusively, a reliable laptop is my most important business expense. When it comes to laptops, I tend to upgrade every 2-3 years. The most important features to me are portability & battery life and at just over 2lbs with up to 19 hours of battery life, the Dragonfly really fits the bill. I also love the touchscreen feature.

Laptop in overwater bungalow Tahiti
My “work from home” setup in Tahiti

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G – After my laptop, the second most important piece of tech I travel with is my Samsung S23 from T-Mobile. Yes, I’m a fan of Apple products, too (see below), but for my phone, I’ve stuck with Android. The S23 Ultra is sleek and the battery life is incredible. But it’s the impressive camera that really won me over. It records cinema-quality 8K video and stunning still shots. In fact, it’s virtually replaced my heavy DSLR camera and my GoPro.

On our last trip around Greece and Italy, I compared shots taken with my Nikon DSLR and the Samsung S23 Ultra throughout the trip. By the end of the trip, the Nikon was mostly sitting in our hotel room. Sure, the DSLR quality is better, but it just wasn’t worth the extra weight to lug around when I can finally get terrific high-res shots with my phone. So perhaps my trusty Nikon is finally on its way to retirement.

T-Mobile Cell Service – If you need international coverage when you travel, T-Mobile is hands down the best choice. In fact, with FREE international data in more than 100 countries, T-Mobile is the only sensible choice for true globetrotters. Most of the coverage is on slower EDGE networks overseas (think 2G or 3G equivalent instead of lightning-fast 5G) but it’s still a huge advantage to be able to use my phone around the world just as easily as I would use it at home (with the exception of a reasonable per-minute rate for actual calls). Bonus perk: Free in-flight wifi with T-Mobile plans!

iPad Pro 12.9 inch – I admit that I’m not a big Apple person, but I do love my iPad Pro and it’s good to diversify these days. You really need either an iPhone or iPad to have access to all the best apps. Plus, I always like to have a reliable back-up with me on long trips in case the worst should happen with my laptop. The iPad Pro is amazingly lightweight and, when paired with the super awesome Magic Keyboard, it may actually replace my laptop someday. But I’m just not there yet.

Surfshark VPN – A reliable VPN is also a must for international travel. My security-minded husband would say a VPN is essential for online security, yada yada yada. And I’m sure he’s right. But for me it comes down to whether I can scroll Facebook in China or watch my favorite Hulu shows seaside in Croatia. I’m a simple girl.

Nikon D5300 DSLR camera – For capturing all those great images on my travels, I have historically relied on my Nikon DSLR cameras. My current D5300 has 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.

However, after years of lugging around a high-quality DSLR, I’m slowly transitioning to traveling only with my smartphone for photos and video. Thankfully, smartphone cameras have finally advanced to where a bulky camera isn’t really needed anymore unless you’re a professional photographer.

Jenny McIver Knossos Crete Greece
Getting a few shots with my Nikon at Knossos – Crete, Greece

Photo Storage – For storing and backing up my photos while on the road, I upload them as I go to my two SanDisk Extreme Portable 2TB SSD drives (one primary, one back-up). I’m obsessed with these drives, they’re so tiny and durable. I like having the images physically backed up but I also upload them to my Dropbox account for safekeeping in the cloud. For organizing and editing all those photos, I use Adobe’s Lightroom software.

Gorillapod by Joby – For capturing all those pictures and videos with me actually in them, a tripod is essential. And nothing travels better than the Gorillapod. 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!

EPICKA All-in-One Universal Travel Power Adapter – Of course, none of these fancy electronics will work worldwide 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 like the Epicka. 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.

Packing Essentials

Osprey UltraLight Dry Sack – Another handy accessory (especially for trips to tropical locales) is a reliable dry bag. My Osprey dry bag 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 lightweight day pack when exploring a new city on a rainy day.

WETCAT Turkish Beach Towel – 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 Turkish beach towels and the WETCAT brand is my favorite. Made from 100% Turkish cotton they dry super fast and take up minimal space in my suitcase. When folded, it isn’t much bigger than a paperback and they come in dozens of colorful designs. If you have a lot of sunny beach destinations on your travel Bucket List, this is a great buy. It also doubles as a beach blanket or a scarf on a chilly flight.

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.

Favorite Travel Shoes

For a trip around the world (or any trip for that matter!) you’ll need a few pairs of insanely comfortable shoes. For carry on purposes, I limit my shoes to 3 pairs:

  1. Flip-flops or sandals – Yellow Box makes my absolute favorite flip-flops. They’re inexpensive and come in a variety of styles. I practically live in these on my RTW trips (and at home in Hawaii). They’re so comfortable I can barely tell I’m wearing them.
  2. Tennis Shoes – For hiking, travel days, or colder destinations. I a big fan of Sketchers because I hate shoe laces. My current favorite are these Sketchers Hands Free Slip Ins (no laces so they’re easy to slip on and off at airports).
  3. Dressier Shoes – Something respectable with closed toes for the times you can’t wear open toes and don’t want to wear tennis shoes. A simple, lightweight, or foldable ballet flat like the ones I’m wearing below are a great choice.
Antarctica Packing
Departing for RTW #8 with my standard carry-on (right) & Antarctica checked bag (left)

Staying Fit & Healthy on the Road

Fast, Feast, Repeat by Gin Stephens – I’m not one to give health or fitness advice (because I am supremely unqualified for that). However, when I discovered this book in 2021 it truly changed my life. My husband and I have both been hooked on intermittent fasting ever since. He mostly just tolerates it (though he admits he feels better when he sticks to it), but I honestly love everything about it. It started out as a way to drop a few pounds but two years later it’s now a lifestyle and we’ve never felt better. Even my parents are now hooked. We’ve easily incorporated it into our traveling lifestyle and it not only saves us money (one less meal per day!), we have more energy and just feel better.

Yogaia Online Yoga Studio – These online yoga classes are perfect for travelers on the go. I love yoga but I can’t commit to a single location yoga studio. They’re expensive and I’m just on the road too much. So Yogaia is the perfect solution for me. They have live classes where you can turn on your camera and actually interact with the instructor. (I’ll be honest, I don’t do those.) But the best part is that all the live classes are recorded so you can do them anytime (I do that). I love that it’s a constant supply of new classes so I never get bored. There are yoga classes for every level and also stretching and meditation classes if you’re looking for something less athletic.

Calm App – This app was recommended to me during the pandemic by a friend and co-worker. We were working for 8 weeks together inside the NBA Re-Start Bubble in Orlando. It was a stressful time. We were cut off from the outside world and working through the pandemic while being tested for Covid every other day. It really started to get to me and I wasn’t sleeping well. She was a long-time user of the Calm app and suggested I give it a try. To my surprise, it really worked! There are lots of meditation and mindfulness options but the “sleep stories” are my favorite thing.

And that’s it! All of the travel stuff I love most in one handy reference page.

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 more, check it out the book on Amazon!

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 don’t sweat the small stuff.

Just pack your carry-on bag and hit the road, folks, the world awaits…

Travel Packing Essentials