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Travel gear we can’t live without This

Tom Bihn Travel Tray

I’ve got a Tom Bihn collapsible bag that’s always on my nightstand holding my phone, passport, a small flashlight, and glasses in case of a middle-of-the-night emergency. Late night in London one year, during Super Bowl Sunday back in America, I was evacuated during a small fire. I remember thinking ‘What are the odds I thought it through enough to be prepared for such a situation and it actually happened’. It’s gone everywhere with me ever since. It’s great to know the essentials are always there to grab and go.

REI Co-op Rhyolite Rain Jacket

At REI one day, I was eyeballing a cheaper jacket at the shop and asked the salesperson what he thought about the quality. He told me something that was either an outdoor truism or a clever sales tactic: ‘Don’t think about a rain jacket like a piece of clothing. Think about it as equipment that’ll protect and last a long time’. I caved and got the higher-end jacket and never looked back.

This thing has kept me dry from ocean spray and Hamakua Coast rain on the Big Island of Hawaii, and offered defense against crosswise sleet in British Columbia. It’s great for anyone heading to mild-to-hot climates where rain is likely. It’s perfect for active travellers because it’s lightweight and can be jammed into a backpack for long hikes.

Enormous scarf

I’ve got this huge cream linen scarf that I take on every trip – it’s really thin so it packs down easily, but it can expand out into a blanket. I’ve found it so invaluable that I now own the same scarf in a variety of colours and patterns! I’ve sunbathed on it in Cadiz when I forgot to pack a beach towel, wrapped it around my head, nose and mouth when camel trekking in the Sahara desert, used it to cover my shoulders for temple visits across Southeast Asia, and used it as a cosy blanket for long overnight bus trips in Vietnam. I picked my scarf up from Accessorize, a fashion accessories brand in the UK, but they can be found in shops and markets around the world.

North Face Refractor travel bag

This is a great all-in-one-bag for the short, 3 to 4-day trips I often have to take. It worked particularly well on a trip I took to Key West, where I had to take a tiny plane to the island and move quickly and efficiently through Miami’s labyrinth of an airport to make a tight connection. For longer trips, this is always my carry-on bag. It feels like a backpack but with the easy packing benefits of a traditional suitcase, thanks to the clamshell design. A dedicated laptop compartment makes this bag perfect for work or holiday trips.

Eagle Creek Packing Cubes

My fellow travel editors introduced me to the miracles that are packing cubes – it’s incredible how much of a difference they make when you are prepping for a trip. They not only save space, but they also keep you organized (no more messy bags two days into your trip!). As a former chronic over-packer, these things have changed my travel life – I’ve traveled all over the Caribbean with this gear (Dominican Republic, Curacao, Puerto Rico, Cuba) and I haven’t had to check a bag in over a year! I particularly like the Eagle Creek cubes because they have strong zippers and a nice shape that easily fits into a small duffel bag.

SIGG Water Bottle

It took me a long time to fork out for a SIGG but I have discovered now that it pays to get the real deal. It’s light when empty. It keeps cold water properly cold for ages, and the cap screws in perfectly, which is good when you’re just generally not that perfect (no more lakes in the bottom of my bag!). I got my first SIGG at a travel store but, since I’m as vague as I am klutzy, I lost it after a year. I grabbed my next one online (where you’ll find more design variety) immediately.

Michelin North America Road Atlas (2004)

I can get my phone to navigate me to a parking spot 3,000 miles away at this point, but I still insist on taking this battered old spiral-bound atlas from 2004 on every road trip I take. Its strange configuration is part of the charm – all pages are at the same scale, disregard state borders, and take you on a snaking journey across the country as you flip through the book. It’s gotten me across every state in the lower 48.  But the real reason I cherish it is the collection of familiar creases, rips, torn-out sections and hand-scrawled notes throughout the pages reminding me of old adventures, spontaneous camping trips, and near-miss refueling stops. Print maps are still great for practical reasons like scoping out the big picture when your GPS is spoon-feeding you step-by-step directions, or for providing essential backup for when the tech breaks down. I feel lost if I don’t see one lying around in the car.