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My Travel Essentials

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All the stuff I travel with (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

I’ve spent the night in four different countries this week.

I went diving on Mexico’s coral reef, was interviewed on French-Canadian television, did laundry in Washington, D.C., and then flew to Buenos Aires for last night’s marvelous dinner at La Cabrera.

Though the life of a modern-day nomad sounds extremely fun, it is also a little hectic. Like traditional nomads, I live in the moment but I am also always thinking about what comes next. Tomorrow brings new adventures with new demands—today’s scuba gear won’t fare well on the Tokyo subway or on horseback in Patagonia.

Thus the contents of my pack change all the time. In the past, I’ve openly shared what I carried for a bus trip to Antarctica and all the gear that lives inside my Digital Nomad office-in-a-backpack. This time, I’m showing you my travel essentials—my basic travel accessories that I almost always have with me.

Now I’m a firm believer that things don’t make you a better traveler, but certain things can make life on the road a lot more comfortable. This is what I’m carrying for my current journey:

  • Passport (with extra pages). Everybody should have a passport. I ordered mine extra thick, but I still cringe every time a customs official fills up one of my pages.
  • Cash. When it comes to money, travelers have come full circle with money. Gone are the days of personalized traveler’s checks and easy-breezy global ATM cards. With bank fees as high as they are, I tend to carry more cash to cover anything my credit card won’t.
  • iPad 2/ I waited a while before I bought an iPad, but it’s great for showing other people pictures.
  • Sunglasses by Persol/ I bought these in Australia and have been traveling with them ever since. I use these everywhere, from the Arctic to the rain forest.
  • Moleskine miniature notebooks/ It’s all marketing with Moleskine, but I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t use them. When digital fails, I always rely on paper. I like the smallest ones and have them stashed in various pockets.
  • Pens/ I go through 4-5 pens per travel assignment, either because I bleed them dry or lose them. I write only with black ink and I always travel with a Sharpie. Always.
  • iPhone 4S/ I do half my work on my phone, including photography, video, and even editing and publishing this blog. The current leopard-print case is to camouflage my phone in one of my destinations to come.
  • Gillette Fusion ProGlide Razor/ I shave on the road because I have to. Beards are fine on short camping trips, but I clean up when I’m making a TV appearance, giving a lecture, meeting foreign officials, or hosting other travelers. This particular razor claims that a single cartridge lasts five weeks, which happens to be the length of my next journey.
  • Shaving cream (travel size)/ I know a lot of travelers who use hot water and soap to shave, but I just can’t do it. I’ve found this tiny 2-ounce TSA-approved bottle lasts over a month.
  • Deodorant/ Never mind the 4-ounce size is technically over TSA limits. Somehow it always gets a pass. Only once has my deodorant been confiscated and in my opinion, the confiscator probably needed it more than I did.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste/ Obvious, but important. After a 12-hour flight, I feel gritty and greasy, but something about brushing my teeth makes me feel clean all over.
  • Mouthwash/ When brushing my teeth is not an option, mouthwash saves me.
  • Shampoo, conditioners, and shower gel. My favorite brand? Molton Brown (when I can get it) or Miller Harris (which I shamelessly collect from Fairmont Hotels).
  • Mojito Compact Travel Wallet/ This little leather sheath holds all my cards and has a tiny pocket for folded cash. It’s a great way to keep my most valuable items stashed neatly. I love this thing.
  • Atlas of Remote Islands/ (by Judith Schalansky) Here’s a blatant clue about one of my upcoming destinations. I received this book last Christmas and find it one of those bookshelf classics that I love to pull out and read from time to time. I can also (meekly) boast that I have actually already traveled to half the islands in this book.
  • XShot/ This monopod extender is a very simple tool, but I use it all the time to make videos and take pictures. Also, no other object gets me stopped at airport security more than this. Under an x-ray, it looks like the barrel of a gun.
  • National Geographic Traveler Guidebooks/ Although I rarely travel with guidebooks, I like reading the National Geographic Traveler series to familiarize myself with a place and to get me thinking about what I want to see and do. I’m currently carrying this copy for my upcoming destination.
  • Hat/ I always need a new hat, no matter where I go. This is not because I’m a fashion victim but because I have a tendency to leave hats in taxis and hotel rooms.
  • Sleep mask/ Everyone asks if I can sleep on planes and the answer is yes, but only when blindfolded. I slept seven hours on my flight to Argentina because my world was blissfully dark.
  • Mophie iPhone charger/ Many of you ask how I can tweet for 12 hours nonstop. This is my secret — the Mophie portable charger doubles the time I can use my phone unplugged.
  • Lacie 500 GB Rough & Ready Hard Drive/ I use about one of these drives per assignment, filling it up with all my backup video and pictures. They are far more durable than any other hard drive out there. I know because I have dropped them from great heights and exposed them to intense heat and cold without affecting their performance.
  • The Complete National Geographic/ Traveling with the CNG is like packing your entire grandfather’s attic into your backpack. I can look up any article anytime on this 1-terrabyte hard drive. People often ask how I know some fact about some place–well, because I look it up on the CNG.
  • Hohner Harmonica/ My friend Pam encouraged me to learn how to play the harmonica so I picked this one up in Cajun country, Louisiana. I’m still learning to play, but I find that making music on the road is a good way to unwind after a busy day. I apologize to all those people who beat on the walls of my hotel room and ask me to shut up.
  • Malarone/ I’ve taken about every antimalarial invented and this is my favorite. Why am I traveling with antimalarials, you ask? Follow me and find out!
  • Hand sanitizer/ I don’t overuse the stuff, but when you’ve been petting dogs all day and then get ready to sit down for some pork tacos, it’s a good idea.

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