Our Gear: 4 Surprising Must Haves and 4 Mistakes
Trying to find the perfect gear for your long-term digital nomad travel, urban backpacking, or lightweight minimal single carry-on travel bag, can be a challenge! After research and much planning we thought we had the perfect gear packing list… Well, six months on the road has confirmed most of our gear list. However, we’ve had some that are surprisingly handy must haves and other’s that were mistakes!
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We put a lot of time and consideration into what we’d pack in our ‘onebag’ (single carry-on travel backpack) for our yearlong trip across Europe.
Before we left home, we were pretty certain that we’d done a good job packing the best gear and supplies. We’d read blogs and forum posts with gear recommendations, we’d gone over what we thought we’d need and wouldn’t need, and we’d bought and packed multi-purpose, efficient, and light weight gear.
Our tool box is full of resources! From travel hacking to house sitting, digital nomad jobs to privacy and security, financially independent retire early (FI/RE) to entertainment, plus travel hacking (credit cards, miles, points, and rewards), and much much more…
So, after six months in Europe, we can’t help but ask, “How’d we do?”
Well, first of all, we’ve had a few moments where we look at an item and then ask “Why the heck did we pack this?” This is to be expected. It would be unrealistic to think that we’d be able to predict what we’d need and wouldn’t need, considering this is the first time we’ve undertaken a travel adventure like this.
We did a few things right and packed some items that have come in handy and have served us well. There are the obvious ones, such as basic clothing, computers, toothbrushes, and a universal travel power adapter. Then there are a few items that we packed or have picked up along the way that we never would’ve thought would be as instrumental as they’ve been.
Aside from the obvious and basics, here’s an honest review of our gear after six months on the road.
Must Pack Gear (That We Didn't Think Would be so Essential)
Antibacterial (Bacitracin) cream – The last thing we want is an infection from a small cut or abrasion. Moving from place to place, being in train stations and airports, and just living life leaves us with little cuts here and there. We took a tube of antibacterial cream and emptied a small amount of it into a sample jar from a makeup counter and carry this with us everywhere. It gets a surprising amount of use and has probably kept us from getting a nasty infection at one point or another.
Power Strip – We’re both remote consultants and use our laptops (Lenvo Thinkpad Ts Series) for work. We have one travel adapter and a power strip with three outlets and three USB plugs. The power strip came in handy before we'd even left the United States (at the Priority Pass Boston Logan Airport lounge). We don’t always find two outlets that are available, so being able to both plug our laptops in and charge our small devices into one outlet is incredibly handy.
Mini Clip-On Light – We’d considered taking a head lamp with us, since many travelers recommend this. We decided not to, since we have a flashlight on each of our phones. However, we started our travels in winter when the sun sets pretty early. So, we’ve found ourselves walking after dark on a street or path that's not well lit, quite a few times. We picked up a small LED bike light in Amsterdam that we attach to our backpack, daypack or jacket. It’s come in handy several times.
External Battery Charger/Pack – We purchased a battery pack for our phones, knowing that we’d be away from power for long periods of time, as well as putting our phones under heavy usage with GPS. We were surprised how much we use them though. We generally don’t plug our phone into the wall, we just use the battery pack. This keeps the phone mobile and still able to continue charging or be at full charge. The RAVPower 6700mAh packs we got are great, they have a 2.4A output quick charge USB port and achieve a solid balance of weight (it’s only 4.8oz), size (3.5 x 0.91 x 1.69) vs charge cycles. They charge our iPhone 5s and 6s about three to four times. For added convenience, we can charge the external battery charger on our USB power strip and conveniently the charging cable charges our Logitech MX Anywhere 2 Bluetooth wireless mouse as well.
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Gear We Left Behind and Don’t Pack Anymore
Not everything we packed was worth the space and weight it took up in our single carry-on travel backpack. After six months (or less in a few cases), many items dropped from our packing list and were sent home or donated.
Travel Towel – We thought we’d use a travel towel all the time. Other travelers talk about how a towel can come in handy for so many things, like drying off, a bandanna, a makeshift pillow, etc. However, we left ours behind after we realized two months had gone by and hadn’t used it once.
Travel Pillow – Traveling for a year means many hours on trains, planes and buses. We thought a lightweight, inflatable travel pillow would be a nicety worth carrying around. We found though, that we never took the two minutes on a plane or train to get out of our seat, take down our bag and take them out and use them. We just made do without. After three months, our travel pillows where sent back.
Mini Camera Tripod – We purchased a small, magnetic tripod. There have been many times in our vacations over the years where we’d find ourselves wishing we had a tripod to help take a better picture. So, since we wanted to take a ton of pictures on our travels around Europe, it seemed only logical to get a compact, lightweight, and magnetic, tripod. We think we used it once in three months. This isn’t because the opportunity didn’t arise, it’s really because it was never worth the effort and time to get it out and use it. While it was a great little tripod, it wasn’t worth the space and weight, versus what it afforded us so infrequently.
Consumables – We packed a full three-ounces of all of our liquids. We packed three to four months of q-tips, and floss, and we each packed our own individual toiletries. This, we now know, was silly. We can share a single toiletry bag and pack only a couple weeks’ worth of toothpaste, mouthwash, q-tips, floss, etc. When we need more, we just buy more. Read the details on the six things we buy when we arrive. Now that we don't carry a full three, or even two-ounces of liquid, we came up with a great hack for TSA approved, collapsible, lightweight liquid containers that is a must for all onebag and frequent travelers.
Don’t miss our Ultimate Gear and Packing Lists! Whether you’re traveling long-term or going on a short vacation, we'll show you how to travel with a single carry-on. We share our packing lists (his and hers!), packing tips, and our favorite gear. Plus, we discuss what we don’t carry and why!
For us, what we need and what we don’t is primarily dictated by our style of travel and by our work. This list would probably be different if we were hopping from hostel to hostel and didn’t work remotely.
If you want to see what we started out with in our pack and what we got rid of, be sure to check out our series of posts on getting rid of our stuff.