We get asked so frequently about the things we use to make traveling full-time easier that we figured our readers would find a post dedicated to the subject useful.
Most of the time everyday clothing and products are perfectly adequate for the kind of traveling we do. We don’t, for example, wear convertible cargo pants or Columbia travel clothes that so many other travelers favor. Blue jeans and t-shirts work as well for us on the road as they do at home.
Occasionally, though, full-time travelers encounter special problems. And special problems call for special solutions. These are the products and services we’ve come to rely on to help solve some of those challenges.
Patagonia’s “Down Sweater” Jacket packs down to a ball about the size of a grapefruit
One of the most challenging aspects of traveling 365 days per year is packing clothing suitable for four seasons into one small bag. Bulky cold weather clothing is particularly problematic. That’s why I decided to invest in a high quality goose down jacket. And it is an investment. The Patagonia Down Sweater is an expensive coat. But with 800 fill-power goose down it is the warmest and lightest coat you’ll find anywhere that can pack down to the size of a long-sleeve shirt. When layered on top of a micro-fleece, I found the Down Sweater warm enough to survive sub-freezing temperatures.
Patagonia’s Down Sweater also comes in women’s sizes and styles.
Most travel blogs tell women to leave their hair dryers at home. That may be good advice if you’re traveling to the tropics for a couple of weeks. But if you’re living on the road or generally don’t like walking around with a wet head, a portable hair dryer comes in handy. And the BaByliss Pro checks all the boxes. It’s dual voltage so you can use it anywhere in the world without a converter. It’s surprisingly powerful for a small appliance, and yet its wattage is low enough that you won’t worry about leaving a trail of burnt out fuses and annoyed inn keepers everywhere you go.
Nearly every photo on this blog was taken with one of three cameras. I first started shooting with a big DSLR camera (Nikon D3300) and eventually migrated to one of the smaller interchangeable lens systems (Sony a6000). After drowning my Sony in the reflecting pool at the Louvre, I decided to try an even smaller camera and purchased the Lumix DMC-ZS40. That is what I’m shooing with today.
The Lumix is a pocket sized camera with some big features. It has many of the manual controls of a larger camera, can shoot in RAW format, takes some spectacular photos and packs an outrageously large zoom lens (720MM equivalent) into its tiny body. To read more about the Lumix DMC-ZS40 see my full review: What is the Best Camera for Travelers, an Update.
This is probably the most versatile and important piece of software I use while on the road. If you’re planning on traveling for any length of time and don’t know about Virtual Private Networks (or VPNs) now is a good time to become acquainted.
A VPN, in a nutshell, encrypts your internet traffic. This is super handy for protecting sensitive information like bank account passwords when accessing the internet through untrusted connections like hotel and coffee shop wifi.
VPN software like HMA Pro can also disguise your physical location, which is useful in a variety of scenarios. We use ours to do everything from stream U.S. television shows while out of the country to scoring better deals on rental cars. By encrypting our internet traffic we were even able to make Skype calls while in Belize, where the local phone monopoly routinely blocks such internet traffic.
Speaking of making calls, Skype has been our only dedicated phone company since leaving the U.S. more or less permanently in 2014. It’s perfect for international travelers like us because with one plan we can make calls back to the U.S. from anywhere in the world at a crazy low price of just $2.99 per month. All we need is a wifi connection on our smart phone and we can call back to the States and talk as long as we want, as often as we want, all month long for about the cost of a cup of coffee.
We also found Skype’s international rates to be highly competitive. When we spent a half hour on the phone to France (while calling from the U.K.) trying to resolve a traffic violation the call cost us all of 52 cents. The price of our traffic ticket is still undetermined.
If you want your photos to look their best you have to edit them at least a little. And for that, you need photo-editing software. There are all kinds of options out there that range from really simple and free to really complicated and expensive. The right balance between those extremes for me is Adobe’s Lightroom.
Because I carry my laptop everywhere in the world, I worry about it going missing along with my tax returns and all the other sensitive information contained on my hard drive. I found Folder Lock an easy to use and low-cost software for encrypting my important files that I store both on my computer and in “the cloud.” For more see our article about How to Protect Your Identity, Accounts and Information While Traveling.
We consider Google Maps to be the single best piece of travel software on the planet. But it’s really only as good as its internet connection. When you’re offline, as we often are when in new countries without a local data plan, Google’s offline mapping features are really pretty terrible. More importantly, Google’s offline maps aren’t even available in some important locations like Thailand.
For that reason we’ve come to rely on CityMaps2Go. It worked so well during our four month tour of South East Asia that we stopped getting local SIM cards for our phone. We just didn’t need the data connection when we were out and about because CityMaps2Go works so well.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is our go-to travel reward card. The thing that makes Chase Sapphire Preferred unique is that the “Ultimate Reward” Points we earn with this card are transferable to a dozen different frequent flyer and hotel programs. That gives us a huge amount of flexibility to use our points to pay for a flight we actually want. Other benefits include no foreign currency transaction fees and bonus point awards for travel and dining spending.
By just using our card normally last year we earned enough points for two round-trip tickets to Europe.
We use Fidelity’s Cash Management Account to avoid ATM withdrawal fees while traveling. Fidelity doesn’t charge fees for withdrawals and even reimburses you for the fees other banks charge. Since we switched to this card Fidelity has reimbursed us hundreds of dollars in ATM fees charged by other banks.
We also save huge by using ATMs to get foreign currency rather than converting at exchange windows. On our most recent trip we checked to see how much we’d be charged by exchanging $500 to euros at the airport. The exchange rate offered at the airport was so bad it would have cost us $75 more to get the same amount of euros versus withdrawing money from the cash machine.
Even perpetual travelers like us need a fixed address. Everything from where we vote to who issues our driver’s licences is determined by our home address. And because we don’t live in any one physical location, we need a legally valid substitute. Escapees is a Texas mail forwarding company that provides that service. While Escapees originally started as a club for RVers, you don’t need to own an RV to join. You can read more about their service and why we think it’s essential in our article How to Become a Global Citizen.
We don’t always want to stay in a hotel room when we travel. Sometimes we prefer a more local experience. Other times we want some of the conveniences and comforts that only an apartment can provide. On those occasions we turn to Airbnb.com. We’ve tried many of Airbnb’s competitors but have always found that Airbnb has the biggest inventory, the easiest interface to find the right accommodations, and the most reliable system for connecting guests and hosts.
New users can still get $25 off their first Airbnb rental by signing up through our referral link.
Free lodging is hard to beat. And with listings in 130 countries, TrustedHouseSitters is the site we turn to when we’re looking for low-cost, longer term accommodations that also come with some furry friends to care for in the bargain.