A Little Advice … The Eight Travel Products I Deeply Love

Over the past seven 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 my gear so much that I merely replace it with exact duplicates when it wears down. And in other ways, I have found products and services that make traveling exponentially more enjoyable, and they are a lovely luxury that doesn’t even take up space in my backpack.

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, but also a list of the mini-pleasures I stuff into my bag or digital life. This list reflects, my favorite needs, wants, and the little extras that live in my backpack or laptop. 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.

The Perfect Travel Purse

I searched for years, before I found a travel purse I love. I have carried expensive bags, cheap sack-like bags from random markets around the world, regular purses, messenger bags — none of these bags ever quite kept pace with my travels. I started my yearlong RTW trip with an AmeriBag. This worked well and was easy on my back. It’s very easy to wash and had a decent amount of space. Later, however, I wanted something a bit more stylish and that I could easily pull in front of me in crowds. I found a few contenders, including the Baggallini Travel bag which is great for perhaps travel through Europe. One purse came out as a clear leader for it’s combination of size, functionality, and number of pockets. The Travelon Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bag is my choice for long-term travelers who will be moving a lot and in developing countries too. Why:

  • The best cross-body purse for travelers. It can be hard to find the right fit, size and comfort, but his one is well-designed and perfect for stylish yet comfortable and convenient travels! Sturdy features, the material is strong and the strap is wide and solid.
  • Great convenience factors; there are a range of pockets in various areas so you can easily store and find things. I like the back zippered pocket to hold my tickets and passport for quick access.
  • Good looking and versatile; works in a range of situations from sightseeing to dinner.
  • A great size; this purse fits an outing’s worth of stuff in it: water bottle, sunglasses, mirrorless camera, notebook, snack, chap-stick and Kindle.
  • Anti-theft features; I usually travel with a carabiner to secure my purse strap, and this one has it built it. So handy! It also has locking zippers and slash-proof fabric.

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 hits all of my positives.

Picking one out: Amazon has a range of gorgeous colors. I like the black Travelon, but the purple one is pretty cute too.

And if you’re really keen for an understated addition, carry a secret pocket in your scarf with this neat travel scarf and go super light-weight. The huge range of colors is fun.

If you’re keen on other fashionable travel gifts, I have a full gift-guide here!

Gorgeous Travel-Themed Jewelry

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.

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.

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

Travel Themed Jewelry and Gift Ideas!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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  • 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 :)

      • 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 :)

  • 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

  • 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. :)

      • 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!

          • 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!! :)

  • 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? :)

  • 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 :)

  • 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! :)

  • 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! :)

  • Pingback: Gifts for Travelers: Holiday Blogger Guides()

  • 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 :)

  • 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 =)

    • 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.

    • Sue Sturos

      Microsoft surface pro 3 is what someone just recommended to me with all my traveling I do and it also hooks up to a zyto compass, which I haul around with me. Which the kindle doesn’t have the capibility for that. I was looking for something lightweight and also functional without hauling another laptop! Thanks for the tips on what to do with it.

  • Sue Sturos

    I came off the link for the purse recommendation somewhere…and fell in love with your blog post. Cannot wait to read your other posts. I would add in essential oils. I carry them with me when I travel and have been so thankful. I carry the mini bottles filled from my larger ones and can share what I do on my blog with you when I get it done. I have lavender for sleep and skin issues (bug bites, cuts, scrapes & burns), Purification for hotel rooms & bad smelling rooms, Digize and/or Peppermint for aiding in food poisoning or stomach issues, headaches, aches and pains and more.

    • Hi Sue, so glad you like the site and that you found it useful! And essential oils is a great recommendation — I don’t carry very many with me, but Tea Tree Oil is one that I always have in my bag and it has come in handy countless times. Thanks! :)

      • Sue Sturos

        Call me if you would like to learn more for simple tips on the basic oils to use on trips. You will wonder how you ever did without them. I have used them countless times when I am unfamiliar with the hospitals and over the counter remedies in a different country. My husband had an interesting time when he ended up in the docs office, after food poisoning, in Japan. He learned the hard way to carry the oils. :)) Poor guy! :(He said he will not be without the basic kit I made for him. You have an awesome day, Shannon!

        • I am always open to new knowledge if you have an easy list of the ones you always carry with you!

          • Sue Sturos

            I sure do, here is the list:

            1) Thieves
            2) Digize
            3) Lavender
            4) Peppermint
            5) Frankincense
            6) Stress Away
            7) Lemon
            8) Copaiba
            9) Peace & Calming
            10) Purification
            and of course YL’s awesome Sleepessence capsules for sleeping at night, naturally. If you want to learn more on them, I do personal consults on why, each of them and how I do it for each trip. 763.3seven0.224six I had to spell for them silly crawlers that like to randomly call me. Only 14+ years of experience, with the oils.

          • Thank you, thank you for the list of oils! My best friend studied oils and introduced me to Thieves, which is incredible. I really appreciate you taking the time to share them and I will definitely contact you in the future if I decide to delve deeper into them. Safe and happy travels! :)

          • Sue Sturos

            You are so welcome! :) Yes, I love that whole line of Thieves products. So happy you liked it. No issue here, if your best friend is still doing them, by all means head on over to the person. But if you need someone, I am willing to lend a hand. So glad you enjoyed the list.

  • B Heistein

    Awesome site Shannon with loads of helpful info! I’m looking at going to South America next month if all goes according to plan and the whole thing seems a bit daunting if I must say. At least I’ll have everything I need :-). Would you reckon it’s safe enough to just take Malaria tablets and I have my Yellow fever vaccination. That is if I closely watch what I eat and drink and lather myself with repellent and sleep with a mosquito net? I’ve been to Morocco and Egypt and Turkey and all of them recommended a few different vaccinations but I never had any and did not have any issues.

    • Congrats on the upcoming trip! I know how overwhelming it can be to get everything aligned and ready. I am glad to hear that the resources on the site have been helpful! For the vaccinations, that’s a really tough call. If you don’t have your childhood vaccinations like Hep A, measles, polio etc, then I would highly recommend that you get them. The thing is, vaccination rates outside of the U.S. are much lower, so although you can go years without contact stateside, if you’re traveling in poor areas then it’s impossible to prevent contact with many of them, and poor sanitation heightens the rise. Hospitals are also scarce, so something like tetanus is far more serious if you’re in a remote part of the Amazon. If you’re just talking about the odd-ball ones, there are several that I’ve opted out of, like rabies and Japanese encephalitis, but ultimately I’ve always found the precaution worth it. Despite being cautious, I nearly died in Laos from a diarrheal illness (dysentery), and it was terrifying to be in a country without any healthcare system. No hospitals, no way to get an IV, just 15 hours of boat to bus to tuk-tuk to get to Thailand. Best of luck! ~S

      • B Heistein

        Thank you for taking the time to write back. :-) Geez! Glad you made it outta there then. Was that from eating something do you think? All these health websites warn against eating from the local markets and that even though that is the kind of food i’d rather have. Always looks and smells yummy. Did you eat much from there or mainly in restaurants? Thanks again! Bernardine

        • I am fairly certain it was from eating fresh fruit that wasn’t properly washed. As a vegetarian, I sometimes risk things that I know are less safe but I eat them because I lack other options that are safer (like well-cooked meat on a stick or something like that). Often times street food is far safer than a restaurant. The turnover time is faster. They often specialize in a single dish and buy the ingredients fresh every day (as opposed to restaurants that keep a lot of ingredients on hand for weeks). Plus, you can watch them prepare it in front of you. There are easy ways to eat safely, like going to places with a queue, watching how they handle money, and eating at the proper local mealtimes. I give a full rundown how to safely eating streetfood here: and Jodi wrote a fantastic post about it here: Definitely don’t avoid street food when you’re on the road! :)

          • B Heistein

            Thanks for that again Shannon. I’m still in two minds about getting ALL the vaccines they recommend as I’m sure it’s also a money making racket like a lot of things so it’s hard to know for definite. I have my Yellow Fever one and have Malaria tablets and getting the strongest repellent for clothes, net and myself which I will be sure to apply every two hours but still need to decide on the rest of the vaccines. GP is no help either cause they just do their job and say that you need all of them. :-)