Travel Gear: 7 Essentials For A Life Of Location Independence

A quick note: Next week I’ll be releasing an in-depth guide teaching you how to travel the world and work online (like I’ve been doing for the past five years). More about that at the end of this article.

First Off: What Not To Bring

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery

When it comes to packing for your new life of location independence, the 80/20 rule applies: aim to pack the 20% of your belongings that you will use 80% of the time while on the road.

This means that you should resist packing for every occasion. Don’t bring dress shoes or high heels if you’re going to be spending most of your time in the great outdoors. Don’t bring a big coat if you’ll be primarily in tropical areas. Don’t bring a massive towel just because you think you might end up at a beach once or twice in the next six months.

I’ve been through all sorts of climates and situations on my travels, and I’ve gotten by just fine with very little clothing. Once, after spending several months in sunny Thailand, I traveled up through China, South Korea and Japan in the dead of winter. It was cold, so I layered up with what I already had, and bought a wooly hat and scarf. Once I arrived in Brazil the next year, I knew I wouldn’t need a hat and scarf again for several months. So rather than carry them around with me until they became useful again, I ditched them.

Of course, if you travel back and forth to a home base regularly, you won’t need to ditch items and buy them anew again. That would be wasteful. But if it’s long-term travel you’re interested in, you’re going to have to be a bit ruthless this way. Be willing to ditch or donate items you have no immediate use for, and buy them again when you do. The alternative is to carry around way too much stuff.

The Top 7 Items To Bring With You On Your Travels

1. A Good Backpack

When it comes to buying luggage, forget about brands and instead spend some time browsing through to see what bags have the best reviews. Buy a well-priced pack that the majority of owners have rated as four or five stars.

I recommend buying an actual backpack rather than wheeled luggage. You want something you can throw over your shoulders so you have your hands free while on the move and which won’t slow you down on rugged terrain.

If you’re worried about all that weight on your back, the trick is to not buy a huge backpack in the first place. I’ve traveled the world with a 42-liter pack (my big bag), plus a 33-liter pack (my small bag). I use the small bag for when I’m out and about, day-to-day, as it doesn’t make me look like a backpacker.

Full up, I’m able to comfortably carry both those packs around for an hour or more before my shoulders start to ache. If you’re going to be on the move quite a bit, I recommend you aim for similar. If you buy a big backpack, trust me, you will fill every square inch of it with stuff. So don’t even give yourself that option. Buy a smaller pack and you’ll be forced to limit your possessions. This is a very good thing.

2. A Long-Sleeve Thermal Shirt

Such a shirt is seriously a life-saver, and I highly recommend getting one even if you only plan on visiting warm climates. It can come in really handy while camping or trekking, but mostly I needed it to stay warm on overnight bus trips, especially in Latin America, where bus companies seem to be on a mission to freeze their passengers to death.

In cold climates, just throw on one of these shirts under a light jacket, add a wooly hat , scarf and gloves to the mix, and you’re good to go.

You can find these shirts easy enough at most outdoor clothing stores, or look for the best-rated on Amazon. You’ll want to find one that:

  • is thin and lightweight;
  • has reflective material on the inside;
  • is moisture wicking (so sweating won’t be a problem);
  • is a snug fit.

3. A Smartphone

I use an iPhone, but that’s probably overkill. There are plenty of good smartphones available nowadays for a reasonable price. Here’s the functionality you’ll want most:

  • A decent camera for photos and videos (I use my iPhone for all my photos and videos).
  • A good maps app.[1. A maps app isn’t much good to you if you arrive in a new place and don’t have a local SIM card or wifi access. So a good trick with the Google Maps app is to load up the map of the place you’re going to the day before you get there, when you do have access to a network. The mapping data will stay saved in your phone for several days and you can view it even when offline.]
  • The ability to swap out the SIM card (so you can buy and use a local one wherever you are).
  • A decent cover/case.
  • The ability to play music/podcasts (so you don’t die of boredom on long bus/plane/boat trips).
  • A good pair of headphones or earbuds to listen to the aforementioned music/podcasts.

4. A Sturdy Laptop

If you plan to work while you travel, bring a nice, light laptop. (If you’re not hung up on brands, you can get a good one quite cheap nowadays.) Otherwise, save the weight and expense and just make do with a smartphone.

One piece of software I highly recommend is Prey. You can install and use it free on pretty much any computer or smartphone, and it will help you recover the device if it is lost or stolen.

5. Moisture Wicking Underwear

As mentioned, it helps to travel light, and one way to cut down on weight is to only pack just a few pairs of underwear. For most of my travels, I’ve made do with no more than three pairs of underwear at a time.

No wait, I’m not disgusting, I promise.

The trick is to buy moisture wicking underwear, like ExOfficio. This kind of underwear doesn’t hold moisture and therefore stays fresher longer. You can wear the same pair for days at a time and not have any undesirable odor arising from your nether regions.

If you’re stuck for time and can’t order specialty moisture wicking underwear online or can’t find it in stores, look for underwear made from synthetic fibers (like polyester) in a department store. That’s almost as good.

6. A Kindle

If you like to read, I highly recommend you ditch the fifteenth-century paper technology and buy a Kindle for your travels. You’ll have an almost infinite selection of books to choose from on there, you won’t have to carry around heavy chunks of dead tree all the time, and you don’t have to worry about offloading a book once you’re done with it.

Buying a travel guidebook on Kindle also gives you the advantage of not looking like a lost tourist when you pull it out in public, seeing as how nobody can tell what you’re reading. (The downside though is that all those pretty pictures in the guidebook won’t show up so nice on most Kindle devices.)

One accessory I recommend you get for your Kindle is a good case. I dropped my first Kindle in Nepal and broke it. Not a happy time in my life :'(

7. A Hand Towel

This is what you will use to dry yourself after a bath or shower.

Sounds crazy, but hear me out.

You don’t want to bring a big towel with you as it will eat up too much space in your backpack and it takes too long too dry. Nor do you want to bring one of those so-called “travel towels” that claim to do just as good a job as a real towel despite being only a couple of millimeters thick. I had one of those for a while and got rid of it because it sucked.

What’s worked best of all for me on the road is a simple hand towel.

Now, obviously, a hand towel isn’t going to do you any good on the beach, and it won’t hide your sexy bits very well if you’re at a spa or something (trust me, I tried this in Japan and it didn’t work out too good). But you can always borrow or rent a towel for those occasions.

The hand towel is what you will use day-to-day after a bath or shower. And for that purpose, it’s your best option for staying dry on the fly.

Was this list helpful?

If so, two things:

1) Please go ahead and share this list on social media. Your friends might find it helpful, too.

2) You may want to check out the guide I’m releasing next week, called Travel The World + Work Online. It’s all about how to live a long-term travel lifestyle while working on the internet, like I’ve been doing for the past five years.

Make sure you’re signed up to my mailing list below so I can give you a heads up about the guide as soon as it’s released. I’ll be sending information about an early-bird discount to everyone on there.

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  1. One thing I would add is make sure your backpack can count as carry on luggage for flights to help avoid checked luggage fees with airlines as these can add up!

  2. Hi Niall,

    All super good advice.

    On the take a good maps app point: Google Maps offline seriously sucks (no search, no or limited zooming,etc. That may change by the end of the year). I’ve been using and it’s absolutely great. All you have to do is download the map of the country(ies) you’re going to (using a wifi connection at a hostel for example) and you’re good to go without internet access afterwards.
    It works entirely offline. You can search for street addresses and places, and it has navigation capabilities. If you turn on the GPS on your phone (no need to have a local simcard or an internet connection for GPS) you can even see where you’re at and a dot mark your location on the map as you move (great when you’re in a taxi or in a bus and you’re not so sure where you are).
    Also, it is built on OpenStreetMap which is a great alternative to Google Maps. It’s a free, open source, collaborative map of the world and if so incline one can even add/update places or streets (not through but online).
    I don’t often recommend apps as I don’t use a whole lot of them, but is a really impressive offline map app.
    Note: I do not work nor am I affiliated in any way with A friend recommended it in Ecuador a few months ago and I’ve used many many times since.

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