All of the travel gear discussed below has been personally used while traveling (30+ days and counting). This is not an exhaustive list of my gear – it’s only what I’ve found to be useful and/or a good value for the money.
Disclosure: By clicking on some of the links below and purchasing an item, I do earn a commission from Amazon which helps cover the hosting costs for the blog.
There’s a lot to consider when purchasing a backpack – weight, fit, size, material, access, frame, etc. Rather than giving you an amateur’s view on these, I’d recommend reading this blog post from Nomadic Matt. I found it very helpful when trying to decide which pack to buy. You can also Google “how to pick a backpack” and you’ll get a lot of other options – I like the one on REI’s website as well.
My Choice: Osprey Atmos 65
I’m using the Osprey Atmos 65, courtesy of my great co-workers at LinkedIn (it was a going away present when I left). I chose it based on reviews online, but primarily by feel. I went to REI, had them load 40 pounds of weighted bags in it, and then I wandered around the store for 90 minutes, going up/down stairs, bending over to pick things up, etc. They are happy to do this for you, and I strongly recommend it.
The backpack is very well constructed, easily balanced, and far more comfortable than I thought it would be given I’ve packed ~30 pounds of gear in it. Things I like:
1. Access panel at the top and bottom of the pack
2. External pockets – both the size and location makes it easy to access things quickly
3. The frame – it holds the pack away from your back and lets air circulate between it and your shirt. Very important if you’re going anywhere warm or humid.
Sleeping in hostels isn’t easy whether you’re new to it or a veteran. You never know who you’re sharing a room with, whether it’s a party or quiet hostel, proximity to the common rooms, etc. I’ve found it very easy to sleep almost everywhere I’ve stayed by using these two products:
1. Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Contoured Sleep Mask – a simple black sleep mask that contours to your face for comfort. It does a great job blocking out light.
2. Hearos Ultimate Softness Series Foam Earplugs – soft foam earplugs that block out ~95% of the normal noise (snoring, people coming in late, etc.)
Using one or the other, it usually took me a little while to fall asleep or I might get woken up. Using both, I never had a problem falling asleep quickly and didn’t wake up (even when I was sharing a room with five 18yr olds from Dublin that were in Galway to drink…)
My original plan was to just stack up my folded clothes and gear in the backpack and access things as I needed to. This would have been a terrible mistake. A friend got me these packing cubes and I highly recommend them. They’ve minimized the amount of time I spend packing/re-packing/accessing the pack as well as making it easy to differentiate between what’s clean and what’s dirty:
An additional suggestion would be to pick up a few in different colors. I’ve optimized my pack to the point where I look in the top and know exactly what is in each cube based on size and color (yes, this is a bit OCD, but it saves 5-10 minutes a day).
I also picked up an REI Stuff Sack. It’s made of nylon and I use it as a laundry bag for dirty clothes. It seems like a small thing, but this is one of the better gear choices I made. With only a week’s worth of clothing, it all fits into the bag, and it makes it easy to either drop off at a laundry to have it cleaned or to do it yourself (vs. carrying the clothes loosely).
I picked up two security-related pieces of gear for the trip:
The first are indispensable. I use them to secure the bottom access port of my backpack, to secure one of the eagle creek packing cubes that has a my backup ID and credit cards, and to lock the pack itself when I’m traveling by bus or plane.
The second I haven’t really used at all. I’d recommend it from the perspective that it’s solidly made and works as expected, but I don’t think it’s something you really need. I got it with the intention of being able to lock my pack to the bunk beds in a hostel, but I haven’t been in any situation where I felt it was necessary.
I came to Ireland with an umbrella but no jacket. Big mistake. Here’s what I picked up:
1. REI Compact Travel Umbrella – with the unpredictable weather in Ireland, I’m very happy with this as the nylon cord from the handle easily loops around a belt. I may look like an idiot with an umbrella hanging off my belt, but I never got wet…
2. Sprayway Compact II Jacket – a lightweight, breathable, Goretex coat that has worked well both as rain gear and when it’s a bit chilly. On the expensive side, but I bought this in Dublin after a few days of rain and it was the best option in the outdoors store I went to.
I got made fun of a little for buying a wallet that features both velcro and a chain (because I’m an adult and it’s not 1997). However, I’ve found the PacSafe wallet I purchased to be awesome for two reasons:
1. It’s got a zippered pocket on the outside. In the US I would have never used this, but overseas where they use coins instead of bills for 1/2 pound/euro, I’m finding it to be a must-have. Everything you buy in cash results in a large handful of coins being given as change…
2. It’s got a couple of internal zippered pockets which are great for storing alternate currencies. I’ve got US dollars, Euros, and British Pounds in my wallet right now, and keeping them separated is easy.
As far as the chain goes, it’s really short and can’t be seen for the most part if you’re wearing a t-shirt or button-down that isn’t tucked in. Thus far, I haven’t been to any place where pickpocketing is an issue, but later in the trip I’m hitting a few places where people recommend having a more secure wallet. While nothing will stop a determined pick-pocket, making the chain visible is an immediate turn off for them – they’ll look for easier prey.
I’ve got a few more things I’ll put up in the future.