A Little Advice … The Eight Travel Products I Deeply Love

Over the past four years of traveling I have carefully honed down to an exact science the very specific things I carry with me when I travel. In fact, I love some of the things I travel with so much that I merely replace them with exact duplicates when they wear down. And in other ways, I have found products and services that make my life traveling exponentially more enjoyable and they are a lovely luxury that doesn’t even take up space in my backpack.

Ana and I were the only two with cheery Christmas hats.

Last year Ana and I had to think outside the box for Christmas–almost no gifts, but we ran a Christmas 10K together, went bowling, and made Christmas cookies with other expats.

Beyond sharing the stories from my travels, this site is also a platform to share the more practical side of planning and traveling long-term. And today, that means eight things I use on my trip with a mini review of why they are worth carrying on my back day in and day out. And if your family is like mine, they may pressure you to provide a list of gifts you want for the holidays. With that in mind, this is also a holiday gift-guide in that regard. For years I never have an answer to my father’s question “what can we buy you for your travels?”

You see, one of the things I have loved about traveling is how light I feel from the ownership of stuff. At times in my life I spent far more than my means to keep pace with everyone around me (this was most noted when I lived in Los Angeles), but travel lightened me; when I left to travel, I sold everything. And now, I whittle my 52 litre backpack down to the essentials … plus a few luxuries. And that’s what this list reflects, my favorite needs, wants, and the little extras that live in my backpack or laptop.

So, with the idea of portable, useful, and simply enjoyable, here are my eight favorite possessions, and the ones I think other travelers might enjoy too.

Overland Equipment Purse

I searched for years, (three and a half years to be exact) before I found a travel purse I love. I have carried expensive bags (the AmeriBag), cheap sack-like bags from random markets around the world, regular purses, messenger bags, etc, but none of these bags ever quite kept pace with my travels. Earlier this year (May to be exact), I received a complementary Donner bag from Overland Equipment and over the past six months my conclusion is this: it’s the best bag I’ve ever carried. In fact, it’s one of the travel items I will replace exactly when it wears out (and no sign of that any time soon). My full review is on my resources page, but basically: the bag is versatile, comfortable, attractive (which is great since you don’t always get functional and pretty), and I can fit an entire outing’s worth of stuff in it (water bottle, my Panasonic camera, notebook, snack, chap-stick  and Kindle). I always carry a purse, and I know not all women travelers do this, but if you like having a bag on you, this one hit all of my positives and I couldn’t find a single draw-back.

As a gift: Amazon has a range of the Donner style bags, and the company’s website has other styles … I like their company ethos and I love the quality of the bag.

Overland Equipment Donner Bag review

Spotify PremiumSpotify review

We’ll start off right away with my favorite, completely unnecessary extra—Spotify. Spotify is a program you download to your computer and it allows you to stream music, create playlists, and discover new artists based on your choices … all without purchasing the individual songs. Spotify has a free option that works in the U.S. and has radio ads, I happily used this for many months. Then, I received a year subscription to Spotify Premium and fell even further in love because now I can stream music anywhere in the world and sync playlists to my mobile devices; I took the Spotify on an international test run on my business trip to Spain this fall, and I had flawless service.

As a gift: For travelers, you really have to upgrade to Spotify Premium, which is why a year subscription would make a killer gift for any traveler who loves music.

Panasonic Lumix Camera

I waxed poetic about my camera earlier this year, and I still consider my Panasonic Lumix micro-four thirds one of my smartest purchases to-date. I would rather ditch half the crap in my backpack than go back to a point and shoot camera. My point and shoot was great for my early travels (and if you’re going that route I recommend the Cannon S95 or S100 for full manual mode but tiny and pocketable), but my Lumix is compact, almost a full DSLR, and helped me take my photography to the next level, which was a major goal of my long-term travels.

As a gift: I now have the GF1 with a pancake lens and plan to ask my parents for the zoom lens this Christmas since they want to buy me something useful. Beyond the camera itself, a lens, bag, or add-on for cameras make great gifts for travelers. I consider this Panasonic micro four thirds the perfect travel camera for intermediate photographers and anyone going on a long-term, round the world trip.

lumix depth of field review

A photo from the review I wrote–the camera has fantastic depth of field, takes gorgeous landscape photos, and has highly saturated colors.


I tend to travel very gear-heavy on the road because I work regularly from the internet, but one of my essentials is an unlocked iPhone. I use the phone’s apps, the quick community and social sharing aspects (like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), and I buy a local SIM card on the road so that I can phone ahead for hotels and easily meet up with other travelers and locals. The device is my: music player, wifi stealer (it’s much easier to sneak a wifi signal on a smartphone/tablet than a laptop), entertainment on long bus rides, note take, and camera in a pinch.

As a gift: Factory unlocked smartphones are expensive. And though I love my iPhone, I hear that the Samsung Galaxy (Android) is a great travel phone too.

Ana and a phone, in Luang Prabang, Laos

Ana found a old-school phone abandoned on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos … the phone was decidedly not very “smart” but fun to play with and quite out-of-place. :)

Kindle E-Reader

Oh Kindle how I love thee, let me count the ways. My Kindle has changed the way I consume books. I was always a voracious reader, and now I can easily download books anywhere in the world and without adding weight to my backpack. I know some travelers combine their reading/entertainment by doing so on their smartphone/tablet, but I find the screens on e-readers are worth the small added weight because it uses e-ink technology and thus doesn’t cause eye-strain as much as screens. In fact, the e-reader is even changed my niece into an avid reader too as our travels progressed and I loaded it up with the Hunger Games trilogy—Ana was hooked and has her own Kindle now.

As a gift: I have a post coming in the next few weeks with a pro, con, and how to find free Kindle content, but suffice to say this is an easy hit if you’re looking for a reasonably priced gift for someone leaving on a trip. I have the $69 Kindle 3, but I deeply covet the new Kindle Paperwhite (priced just a bit more at $110) because you can read in the dark with the back-lit display.

TripIt Pro Travel AppTripIt review

I used the TripIt app for the first time on my recent business trip to Spain to speak at the TBEX conference and I immediately knew I had to review the app on A Little Adrift because it was SO useful. Not just “oh hey, that’s a great app,” but instead “wow, where have you been all of my life.” The TripIt app has both an online and an app interface and it helps you plan and navigate every aspect of your trip, from flights to hotel bookings and tours—all the information is integrated into a cohesive and easy to navigate interface.

As a gift: The app is free, but TripIt Pro has a few extra features ideal for frequent travelers and it would make a great gift for anyone traveling with a smartphone.

Backup Battery

This isn’t the sexiest of the items on the list, but my friend Sean gave me one of these a few years ago for Christmas and it has proven incredibly useful in giving my USB devices an extra charge on long bus rides, flights, and in countries where power is either intermittent or scarce (Myanmar had intermittent electricity and Nepal only had power eight hours out every 24 hours). My charger is tiny, fits in the same pocket where I store my headphones and is well-loved (ie. scarred and battered from so much use).

As a gift: I recommend one of these two if you’re gifting one to a traveler: the mid-priced and compact Anker Astro, or the Innergie charger, which is more expensive than one similar to the model I carry, but several prominent tech magazines gave it great ratings.

Moleskin Notebooks

I’ll end on a simple note, because a gift or purchase doesn’t have to be elaborate, or even electronic, to be super useful; I love Moleskin notebooks and having several of these in different sizes is a cornerstone of my travels now. I have several and each one has been given to me by different friends over the years, with a new one magically being given just as the other is nearly used up. These notebooks hold up incredibly well, the paper is perfectly think for jotting notes, thoughts, observations, reservations–they take down the practicalities of travel, I track my budget and expenses in it right along side my deepest musings and personal thoughts. Entire blog posts are often drafted in these handy notebooks and this would make the perfect gift for a new or established traveler.

As a gift: Consider the large sized Moleskins for someone who likes to journal, or one (or two) of the pocket-sized versions travelers can stuff in their bags and always have one on hand—they come in fun colors too!

The longboats and aqua waters of Railay Beach in the Thai islands.

I sat at a cafe on Railay Beach and wrote in my journal for hours last year in Thailand.

Happy Holidays

That wraps up the handful of my very favorite items that make it into my backpack on each trip, despite the extra weight. And there are other things I love (my backpack, my hiking boots, etc), but each one of these items have made my travels better in some identifiable way. As a traveler, every single thing I add to my backpack adds to the weight I carry on my back–so for this reason I am ruthless and meticulous about what I allow into my bag … some might even go so far as to say I have an almost anal retentive tendency to methodically pack and pare down my travel gear.

With that in mind, if it’s on this list there is a pretty good chance the traveler in your life will like one of these items too.

And if you travel and have a favorite item you think a new or established traveler might love to find under the Christmas tree, please share in the comments (and tell why you love it!)

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  • James Clark

    Welcome to the world of Tripit. I have been using it for a while now and it is an essential part of my travel planning. I love not having to go to a net cafe to print out flight confirmations anymore.

    Those bags look great as well. Too bad they don’t cater for dudes though. I’m always on the lookout for good day bags and I would like to see them make a more dudelier version of the bag.

    • ShannonOD

      James, do you want a man purse?! I think they should make better man travel bags… you guys need to carry water too! TripIt is so good, and the fact that it stores the information offline=a perfect world. I’ll be on the lookout for a dudely bag for you :)

      • James Clark

        Noooo, not a man purse, a manly man bag is what I want :p I like the courier style bags like crumpler but their shape is too odd and they don’t have convenient pockets. Thanks for looking out for me :)

  • Andi Perullo de Ledesma

    Great suggestions!!! The pics that camera takes are unreal!

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Andi! I know the DSLRs are higher quality at the end of the day, but I just love the size to image quality ratio of the micro-four-thirds cameras! :)

  • Jeremy Branham

    I love Spotify Premium. It has replaced my iPod because now I can listen to my favorite songs on my phone or computer without even being online. I think we discussed the camera thing before. I ended up going with the Sony NEX 5N (the 7 is the current one now) and love how compact it is.

    Your list is a good reminder that I need to get a back up battery!

    • ShannonOD

      I agree! I rarely use iTunes now for anything other than the apps, music all goes through my Spotify. As for the camera, we have talked about the Sony, and I am glad to know that version of the micro is excellent too. I think they all are strong because Jodi has the Olympus, you verify that the Sony is good, and the Lumix is aces. And the battery is a must! Esp if you’re streaming Spotify, that saps my iPhone quickly :)

  • SacVoyage

    fantastic post nice photos

    enjoy reading it

  • Frank Candamil

    Can you speak about activating your locally purchased SIM card? I’ve heard a variety of stories on the matter and they unfortunately seem to cancel each other out. I’ve been curious about those card ambitions but the prices can be very ridiculous in certain places in South America.

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks a great question Frank, my friends have a tech travel site and talk about SIM cards several times ( and this one on SEA in partciular:

      I have used a SIM in Laos and Thailand without any issue at all in my unlocked/jailbroken iPhone. :)

      • Frank Candamil

        Wow, I just reread my comment from last night. I really must of been out of it—hardly makes sense. My apologies. I’m actually leaving in less than two weeks and I’ve put in some long nights piecing together all final items. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to your site. Check your analytics — those one hundred 2am hits from an IP in Tampa — yeah, that’s me. Lol. All seriousness, thank you for yet another lead. I will review and get that final todo off my list.

        One last thing — totally unrelated and sort of a thank you to you. I’ve noticed that in Chrome your navigation jumps to a second like due to padding. In any case — thought I would send over a quick and easy solution. Some how I’m sure you know how to fix it. But I happen to have all my gadgets open and thought I’d send it anyway

        • ShannonOD

          Thank you for that! It wasn’t happening on my browser, and I wouldn’t have known how to fix it. :) I am so glad to hear that the site had been helpful, and that your trip is near! Shoot me an email if there is anything I can help you with before you leave!

          • Frank Candamil

            No no. Thank you! Yes, if anything comes up I’ll most definitely send you an email. And yes, I just tested again and realized that the padding issue is only on Chrome for Mac. On PC, everything is looking splendid. Sure in the grand scheme of things “Chrome browser+Mac” is the few. :)

  • Jamie Bowlby-Whiting

    What a great list! It is so easy to take far more than we need when travelling and that, “What would you like for Christmas?” question is an absolute killer. Every year I get given guide books and every year they sit unopened in my wardrobe as I prefer travelling light. I take everything on your list, except the smart phone and the back-up battery. I do get lost a lot, but sometimes that’s fun too!

    • ShannonOD

      I agree that getting lost is half the fun! Unfortunately I get lost no matter what I have with me. And if you don’t have a phone, you likely don’t new the backup power. Safe travels!! :)

  • Michael Hodson

    I gotta get that purse ;)

    In all seriousness, I loved, loved, loved my Kindle, but I have broken three now. Just reading that stuff now on my phone. I am such a bad techie.

    • ShannonOD

      I think the purse would look smashing on you Michael :) Sorry to hear about your Kindles, sheesh, that’s tough … and reading on the phone is so tiny no?! Hmm, I think we just need to get you a better case for your next one!

  • Stephen Schreck

    Great gift list, unique from a lot of backpacking gifts guides I have seen this holiday season. I agree, traveling lets you realize what you don’t need. It is a liberating feeling.

    • ShannonOD

      I tried to think outside of the typical lists, so I appreciate your feedback Stephen. Anything that is a non-essential “must have” for you? :)

  • Jim Bizily

    Capturing the moments every time you travel is one of the things you should never, ever forget. For this reason, camera has been one of the best items you must have whenever you travel. Travel light will always work best-as always. Just bring the essentials and you will definitely enjoy your time.

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks Jim, I agree! My camera is one of my prized items, and the other non-essentials just make it more comforting when I travel long-term! :)

  • Hogga

    Can’t go anywhere without my iphone

    • ShannonOD

      Agreed! One of the most multi-tasking, useful items in my bag :)

  • Abhishek Mahajan

    The travel gift list shared here in the post are really good for use.. Merry Christmas and Happy holidays……

    • ShannonOD

      Thank you! Happy holidays to you as well! :)

  • Suzzane Lobo

    Ha ha ha .. I am laughing aloud by seeing the eyes of Ana while you were nearby her. By the way.. dialing up the phone from the bank looks unique.

    • ShannonOD

      Ana is quite the character isn’t she! She made my travels a lot more fun over the past year, thanks for reading Suzanne! :)

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  • Alex

    i love reading about other traveler’s favorite products – awesome picks! i’m in the market for a new camera so the Lumix is on top of the list! great pic of Railay by the way – went there last month – WOW so glad i had a chance to experience that beauty! hope it’s ok, i featured a link to your gift list on my blog :-)

    • ShannonOD

      I appreciate you including my post in the round-up Alex! The camera is definitely worth checking out too, I love mine dearly and a couple other travel bloggers over the past year have gotten it too and seem to echo my love for it :)

  • Pauline

    As a gift: a versalette, a piece of clothing you can use in so many ways. So far I use a sarong as towel, skirt, bed sheet, scarf, head cover…

    • ShannonOD

      I agree Pauline! I really loved the idea and have met both women. Unfortunately they are no longer making any more of the versalettes, and I was waiting to buy one for a new color, so I missed out! Glad to hear you love it, and that it’s super handy :)

  • john@discoverydiscovery

    i don’t know if that makes a difference, I’m a guy. but for a gift, all i want is an awesome smartphone, with great camera and a backpack with two pair of denim.:)

    • ShannonOD

      Hah, fair point John … though I tried to vary the money levels of gifts because my dad would laugh at me if I asked him to buy me a nice camera or an iPhone. Though as you noted, I do love them …especially when paired with Spotify :)

  • Laura

    Is the bag big enough for a DSLR?

    • ShannonOD

      Only if you carry a fairly small lens, or perhaps just the camera. I carry a water bottle, my wallet, some odds and ends, and my Panasonic (just one pancake lens on it: pretty easily in the bag, so if you don’t carry full gear + a purse it could work! :) It’s a decent size inside.

  • Mandy Klose

    Such great stuff! I agree with you… here a few extra things I swear by in my travels…
    – a Microsoft surface tablet (with extra clip on keyboard) — PERFECT for travelling, everything like a normal computer word, PowerPoint as well as kindle, apps like on smartphone, but small, light, easy, great battery life, all the benefits of a normal tablet but with the keyboard it just like a computer, typing is so much easier! I have never had a phone on my travels, just used this (with Skype account to call numbers) and written down numbers and asked to borrow people’s phones when I need to call someone out of wifi reception.
    – a medium sized strong clip-it lunchbox– sooooo useful! When in your bag you can store things in it ad in use it can be used as a bowl to eat or drink from, or a storage for anything (I use it mainly for food), I take it always in my day bag and whenever I am around places with food and there is an excess I put it I my lunchbox and then have a meal later when I am hungry. Great for example, when you go out to dinner with some friends and you or they do not finish meals, put leftovers away and then you have a meal for later or the next day (a real tip in saving money)
    – duck tape — my life is two words! Can be used for just about anything from a clothesline to fixing your shoes temporarily, to strap things to you or to other people, to secure things, to hide things, omg I can’t even describe my love for duck tape!
    – a little, small, light picture book from the place where you are from, this has been so cool in countless situations, whenever you are meeting people and they are interested in where you are from you can just pull it out and give it to them to see (can get from a tourist shop in your home country), everyone who I have showed mine on New Zealand have loved it!
    – a pillow case, my favourite one from home, gives me a little bit of comfort especially when sleeping in real far out places, and can be filled with clothes to make a pillow, there is nothing worse than not having a pillow to sleep with.
    I hope this was helpful =)

    • Shannon O’Donnell

      Some great ideas here Mandy! Duck tape is always in my backpack for those very reasons you mentioned! The rest sound handy for a packing list too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, safe and happy travels.