While most travel essentials lists out there tend to be generic and not particularly helpful, we’re sharing the specific gear or items that have served us well over the years.
We’ve been there and done that.
Indeed, we have a section of our garage where we have travel gear that has been collecting dust that we thought we needed at the time.
So we can appreciate how costly buying up a lot of equipment can be.
As a result, we’re doing things differently in this list.
We’re only highlighting what we’ve noticed that we bring on just about every one of our waterfalling trips both home and abroad.
These travel essentials not only prepared us for the great outdoors, but they also benefited us in both urban and rural environments near home as well as abroad.
Since our travels have now spanned two decades, clearly, there was something essential about these items time and time again.
Want to see what they are and why? Read on and find out!
Sturdy Hiking Boots
I’ve rolled an ankle, slipped, fell, and accidentally kicked a rock or tree limb a few too many times. Therefore, we can’t understate how important a good pair of boots can be.
Your feet are probably one of the most important parts of your body on a trip (let alone a hike).
As a result, you really need to prevent injury to them, and that’s where having a sturdy shoe with ankle support and traction serves this purpose.
I wrote an article about the footwear we’ve been using on our waterfall hikes, but hiking boots are pretty much compulsory footwear except when we encounter high water. Then, we’d have to consider bringing backup water shoes or at least sandals.
I also tend to wear boots with Gore-tex so I can get through creeks and streams without soaking my socks (which happens more often than you think).
Such excess moisture is a recipe for blisters as well as fungal overgrowth.
For example, on a trip in Australia, Julie and I witnessed how a pleasant outing can turn into an ordeal with one misstep or fall.
One person broke her ankle and had to sit there for hours until medics arrived at the remote location.
On some hikes where we were alone in the bush, we can easily envision how an injury like that could quickly degenerate into a survival situation.
Bottom line is to not take your mobility for granted, and good hiking boots or day-hiking shoes certainly helped to prevent injuries.
Now you may ask, how would I pack something this heavy for trips abroad?
Well, our trick is to wear them onto the plane instead of packing them (since we know they’re bulky and heavy).
We tend to leave the boots unlaced and tucked beneath our feet while wearing them when trying to get through security.
That way, we can easily slip them off and put them back on without taking the time to unlace them and re-lace them.
However, we did have to be mindful when the laces would come loose, especially around escalators.
GPS Vehicle Navigation
Waterfalling generally means that we have to go to remote places. Thus, we have to drive almost everywhere we go. However, not everywhere has cell phone reception.
Furthermore, GoogleMaps or Apple Maps still either lacks or contains misinformation for such off-the-beaten-path places.
Therefore, reverting to the tried-and-true old school mapping tools like Mapsource or third-party Garmin Mapsource mapping products has saved me where the lazier and more convenient resources have failed. I wrote an article about why we still use our portable car navigation device on our road-trips though I’m also using Gaia GPS to log our drives as well as a backup navigation device.
In any case, I still use these tools for pre-trip research, mapping out where we’re going, and then uploading the waypoints (as well as routes) to a unit like the Garmin Nuvi to enable navigation.
That said, there are downsides to going about this old-school methodology.
For example, most vendors don’t seem to update the maps very frequently. Even if they do get updated, I’ve had to go through a lengthy and somewhat painful exercise to push those updates onto the units through Garmin Express.
This is why I feel GoogleMaps will eventually replace proprietary or third-party maps, but it’s still not there yet.
In some cases, I’ve had to pay additional money to get the latest maps like in Australia and Japan.
Plus, I even had to buy a separate GPS unit in the case of Taiwan, which doesn’t have exclusive maps or SD cards that would work with my existing GPS unit.
Nevertheless, I still find the Garmin Nuvi unit and Mapsource / Basecamp software combination as an indispensable trip planning, real-time navigating, and trip logging tool.
The SD cards are useful for adding maps that don’t come standard with my purchased unit(s) (or has too little space in its internal memory) as well as storing your own waypoints and routes.
Chemical Protection: Sunscreen, Lip Balm, and Insect Repellant
However, regardless of who brings what, I appreciate that she does have these things handy in the field.
After all, I have the sun spots and moles on my skin to make me keenly aware of the potential for skin cancer from sun exposure.
Moreover, I’ve had painful moments where my cracked lips had split open. This made it painful to smile, eat, or even brush my teeth.
Julie’s very sensitive about the chemicals used in products so she pays very close attention to the ingredients list.
Therefore, she tends to favors the cleaner products like Badger and California Baby for sun protection.
Meanwhile, she favors Burt’s Bees for lip protection.
Lastly, I always keep 100% DEET with me even though the chemical itself may have some bad side effects.
I just never know when I’ll encounter mosquitoes, sand flies, midges, tse tse flies, ticks, or just about any other biting insect that can carry and transmit diseases (especially in the jungles as well as the swamps).
Indeed, we take this tradeoff between the threats of chemicals versus illness by insect bite very seriously. So this was one of the rare situations where we would tolerate the chemical risk given the infrequency that we’d use them.
Typically, REI carries the 100% DEET that is quite effective against biting insects until they get washed off by sweat or in a shower.
Physical Sun Protection: Hat and Sunglasses
Broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses provide us with a non-chemical means of sun protection from skin cancer and cataracts. So we consider these things as one of the more common-sense travel essentials.
When we combine this with chemical means of sun protection (i.e. sunscreen), then we’ve drastically minimized the consequences of sun exposure even further.
The hats that we prefer tend to have back-of-the-neck protection, which outdoor outfitters like REI would typically carry.
Such protection can get a little hot at times, but at least we wouldn’t need sunscreen on the back of our necks.
Even with the hat, we’ve learned that we still need to apply sunscreen due to incident sunlight bouncing off bright or reflective surfaces and striking parts of the body not sheltered by the hat.
Anyways, regarding sunglasses (or “sunnies” as they say in Australia), we prefer the protective ones that filter out the ultraviolet radiation while also providing polarization to cut out the glare in what we see.
I find this especially useful while driving when I need to see and react to everything.
Socks are also a very underappreciated aspect of hiking as well as travel abroad.
We don’t just bring any pair of socks, we swear by wool socks as one of our travel essentials.
Because they wick moisture away from the feet thereby minimizing the likelihood of blisters (even if we’re hiking in hot weather).
They also keep the feet warm in cold environments like at 30,000ft in an airplane or in the mountains where the weather and temperatures can change rapidly.
Now since I love wearing sports sandals abroad while being too lazy to remove the wool socks, I have noticed my feet have cracked due to the moisture wicking property.
So that’s definitely something to keep in mind when the boots are removed and yet you still wish to walk a lot, especially while sightseeing abroad.
It might be a good idea to remove the wool socks when walking around in sandals so your feet don’t dry up to the point of cracking.
Reusable Water Bottle
Some may consider water bottles (as opposed to bottled water) as more of an optional item.
Nevertheless, we definitely carry these around everywhere we go.
We’ve done this for ethical reasons as they limit our use of plastics. After all, we’ve seen in our travels plastic bottle litter around waterfalls as well as at beaches, oceans, and roadsides.
Most plastics that comprise the ubiquitous bottled water typically take hundreds of years to break down.
When they finally do break down, they release cancerous chemicals that wind up in our food and water supply.
Furthermore, in addition to ethical reasons, we also carry water bottles from a health standpoint.
After all, the same plastics that cause environmental contamination also leaches into the drinking water itself (especially in warm temperatures)!
Thus, we can easily imagine how directly ingesting these contaminants would go right into our body, which may not cope with such chemicals very well.
With an increasing number of places (like shops and public parks) having filtered water dispensers to fill up our water bottles for free, we’ve managed to save money by not needing to buy bottled water.
Speaking of plastic contamination, in the past, we used to have very lightweight and nearly “bomb-proof” Nalgene bottles.
However, we’ve learned that anytime you’re dealing with plastics, you have to deal with chemicals.
With the Biphenol A (also known as BPA) scandal, we’ve steered clear of even re-usable plastic bottles, and we’ve favored stainless steel bottles.
While stainless steel bottles tend to dent, we’ve found that thermal sleeves help keep the water thermally insulated as well as lessen the blow of impact if they drop.
Even though the thermal sleeve doesn’t guarantee that we would completely avoid the annoying dent or two, given the choice, I tend to favor health over such annoyances.
Finally, we do recognize that water bottles may not guard us against pathogens in the water, especially in developing or economically-depressed countries.
Believe me, I’ve had enough diarrhea and vomiting because of this.
So, we’d have to rely on the vilified bottled water under such circumstances.
Nevertheless, we would still use our re-usable bottles to dump the bottled water into.
That would at least minimize the chemical leaching that would take place if the bottled water sat out in the heat for too long.
Waterproof Gear: Rain Poncho and Waterproof Pants
I always leave rain gear items in my day pack even when left in storage awaiting the next outing or trip.
The reason why I consider them as travel essentials is because you never know what Mother Nature throws at you.
For example, we’ve encountered a pop-up thunderstorm in the middle of a hike.
We’ve also experienced a sudden downpour from a squall from a clearing storm.
Then, we’ve had situations where we just had to endure a storm for better or for worse.
Since they’re already lightweight to begin with, I also tend to include Julie’s and Tahia’s rain gear along with my own in my day pack just in case.
Moreover, our rain gear has helped us stay dry even if we didn’t find ourselves in a storm.
Indeed, sometimes the waterfalls threw up enough mist that most of our clothes as well as the sensitive electronics (e.g. camera and phone) would get ruined without a poncho.
The only downside to the waterproof gear is that since they’re usually made of Gore-tex or non-breathable plastic materials.
Therefore, I’ve gotten wet from my own perspiration from the inside out.
So that’s definitely something to keep an eye on when you find that it’s starting to get hot while donning these items.
Personally, I consider a good day pack as one of travel essentials because it holds the very things that I need when I need them out in the field.
Sometimes I’ve had stuff in my pack that I left there for emergencies, and they’d conveniently pop up when such emergencies arise.
Well-designed day packs also have sturdy straps as well as a hip belt to alleviate the weight on the shoulders.
I also look for side pockets big enough to carry a 32 ounce re-usable bottle on either side of my pack for on-the-go hydration.
After all, I wouldn’t want to stop a hike just to retrieve a water bottle or anything else I’d need to access repeatedly.
Inside the day pack, I look for compartments convenient for smaller travel essentials like sunscreen, bug repellant, and sunglasses.
Of course, the day pack needs to have compartments for some larger necessities like rain gear (e.g. waterproof pants and rain ponchos).
Although my day pack doesn’t have a frame, I think that might be overkill when I don’t go overnight backpacking or hostel backpacking.
While I like how frames can shift the weight distribution to burden the hips and leg muscles (the strongest muscles in the body), they would add to the weight as well as bulk (not good as a travel essentials item).
Nevertheless, a good day pack helps me stay prepared for waterfalling excursions regardless of the conditions or my forgetful state of mind.
Outdoor Clothing: Cargo Pants, Hiking Shirt, and Jacket
One of the most critical items on this travel essentials list comes down to what you wear.
After all, your clothing needs the flexibility to handle the extremes of Mother Nature while remaining light and comfortable.
Otherwise, you could find yourself having an overstuffed luggage full of clothes that are too specific for too many occasions.
When it comes to outdoor clothing, we look for the following attributes…
- multiple zippered and velcro pockets (so nothing falls out)
- detachable legs (for relief from hot weather)
That said, the quick-drying property requires the use of synthetic materials.
Such materials tend to build up static charge when washed or moving about in low humidity.
Nonetheless, I think the benefits far outweigh this inconvenience.
Regarding our pants, we prefer the type of cargo pants they sell at REI or other outdoor specialty shops.
These pants have what I look for – zippered pockets, zippered pant leg, quick-drying, and durability.
Heck, I swear that the pants themselves last longer than the zippers, velcro, and pockets.
After all, we typically use our hiking pants for at least 10 years or more!
As far as the outdoor shirts are concerned, I generally keep both long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts.
In fact, I would still wear long-sleeved shirts to avoid insect bites even when it’s hot and steamy. They also help with sun protection, especially in places with intense sun exposure.
In addition, the breast pockets on the long-sleeved shirts let me access a notepad and pen easily. You just never know when you need to write something down
He would typically simulate such simulations for at least seven straight days with no food, no water, no shelter, etc. and do this all while filming himself.
If such shirts suit a guy who can get through survival situations, then it must be good for less dire situations.
Finally, the jacket is another critical article of clothing to overcome the extremes of Mother Nature.
I’ve found that my Scottish jacket was actually designed to be used by motorcyclists who would have to ride in wet and rainy conditions.
Given the UK’s wet climate, the jacket had better work in wet weather whether you ride or hike.
In addition to its water resistance and pockets to keep small items dry, I can also wear them in the city without looking like a slob.
Survival Situation Essentials
You never know when calamity strikes.
But when it does, it definitely helps to overcome such mishaps with some basic tools.
Indeed, first-aid, night lighting, and a Swiss Army Knife, just to name a few, are absolute travel essentials.
After all, you wouldn’t want a little mishap like an injury or being out after dark to degenerate into a survival situation!
Indeed, I’ve had nosebleeds, gashed an arm from a sharp limb or broken branch, or gotten cut by sharp rocks.
And having a first aid kit allowed us to prevent infection by cleaning and closing wounds.
Heck, I even had to extract a tick from my thigh with tweezers on a couple of occasions.
Julie’s kit typically includes a handful of spare bandages, rubbing alcohol, gauze, and the aforementioned tweezers.
For those instances when it got dark while still on the trail, we needed our lightsource (e.g. flashlight or headlamp) to light the way through darkness.
Indeed, I’ve been caught out in the dark on a couple of occasions – once unintentionally and another intentionally.
A headlamp and a flashlight helped my Mom and I hike parts of the John Muir Trail in Yosemite while caught in the dark.
They also helped Julie and I hike through nearly pitch darkness on a lava field in pursuit of flowing lava on the Big Island.
Needless to say, a torch (as they say in some parts of the world) were very necessary under such circumstances.
I tend to prefer a headlamp for hands free lighting, but I also keep a compact flashlight in my day pack just in case as well.
Finally, the well-known Swiss Army Knife is a multi-purpose tool that always comes in handy when we least expect it.
Heck, we’ve used it to cut up fruit, file or clip a nail, uncork a bottle, or even cut paper or cardboard.
The only catch with bringing this around was that it won’t get through airport security.
That meant we either had to remember to put it in our checked luggage or else risk getting it confiscated.
We’ve lost one of our better ones for exactly that reason.
Note Taking and Blogging Tools
The next travel essentials have to do with blogging in our travels. After all, we still have to record what we do out in the field since we can’t commit everything to memory.
Among our blogging tools, I always bring the low-tech but trusty pen and notepad.
I also bring a compact laptop with portable hard drive and global travel converter.
That converter helps to support the electronics regardless of which country we’re in.
Regarding the notepad and pen, I use this to capture thoughts that I otherwise can’t capture by camera in that moment.
Having such moments captured on paper also helps me relive my exact thoughts as they happened.
I can even jot down phone numbers, emails, confirmation numbers, or other details that come up.
If you think our website has pretty accurate and detailed information, this is a big reason why.
Of course, I do wish that voice transcription apps on phones gets to the point where I can talk at normal speed on a whim.
But until that happens, I will not ditch the good ‘ol pen and pad.
As for the laptop, I still find the flexibility of using one to type up notes, journals, or offload and manage pictures as an essential attribute.
While it may be vogue to just rely on mobile phones and maybe tablets to a lesser degree, I remain unconvinced that they replace the trusty laptop.
Besides, often times I prefer to browse the interwebs on a WiFi connection with a laptop rather than on the limited screen size of mobile phones and tablets.
Generally, I look for thin laptops that are portable yet allow me to run Adobe Bridge for photo organization. I’ve been using an ASUS Zenbook Laptop with a WD 1TB Passport, and this combo has been lasting me between 4-5 years.
When I wrote this article, the Zenbook laptop was on its last legs (I’ve noticed Zenbooks are very fragile).
So I’ve since bought a replacement Dell XPS laptop that I hope is sturdier and reliable than the Asus.
Note to self, you definitely don’t want to wait until a catastrophe in the middle of a trip to buy a new laptop (which caused me to buy a real crappy French laptop in the middle of a trip)!
Finally, whenever electronics are involved, I always keep in my day pack a global travel converter.
Well over a decade ago, we bought one of these all-in-one multi-country electrical converters as an emergency measure since we didn’t have the right plugs during a trip.
Since that time, I’ve always kept it in my backpack everywhere we go. It has been a life-saver when we’ve gone overseas and forgotten to bring a local plug or two.
Before we end this article about our travel essentials, I want to mention a few more items that didn’t make our list.
While you may not consider these items as “essential” for travel, I’ve found that either Julie or I would bring these things on just about every one of our trips.
Professional or Semi-Pro (DSLR or Mirrorless) Camera and accessories
One can argue that your trip is only as good as the memories you associate with them.
However, without the pictures to document your experiences, those memories fade with time.
And the better the pictures’ quality, the better the memories can be, especially those you’d likely share.
As a result, I always bring along a Semi-professional Camera.
Even though it significantly adds bulk and weight while having a tendency to very easily, they do take pictures better and faster.
More recently, we bought a mirrorless DSLR Camera from Sony to save a little bit on the weight and bulk.
However, I still keep my DSLR, which I’ve now primarily used for wildlife photography since I still have a fast telephoto lens for it while my mirrorless does most of the work on landscape shots.
In any case, carrying around a DSLR or mirrorless also means that I put need to put it in a good camera bag for protection.
In addition to protection, the bag would also house other essential accessories like spare batteries, spare memories, additional filter lenses, and a lens cloth/sponge.
Mobile Phone with sim card
Julie and I have found it far more convenient and even essential to stay connected with mobile coverage abroad.
In order to manage subscription and roaming costs, we tend to buy a sim card with a short-term plan (typically 30 days with 10GB).
That would allow us to send and receive text messages with accommodation owners (especially in case of emergency).
We could also do internet research in real-time as things come up. For example, we could read TripAdvisor reviews, check trading hours (i.e. store or business hours), and even map out distances for places we didn’t pre-plan for.
In our travels, we’ve had a difficult time trying to find clean, non-processed foods.
Therefore, Julie swears by having snacks on trips abroad.
She always brings dried goods like Larabars, trail mixes, broccoli chips, banana chips, and sometimes jerkies.
Given that she has some severe food sensitivities, she finds these self-picked snacks especially useful on long transit days (e.g. long-haul flights or long-distance drives).
Julie typically buys and brings these snacks herself so she has more control over her nutrition.
When Tahia gets hungry and needs something to keep her from becoming a terrible nuisance, Julie can use these snacks to keep our daughter satisfied.
You may be wondering why I would consider a handheld GPS as important.
Well, even without an embedded map in the unit, I can still look at the trip log tracks. That would let me know if and where I might have veered off track.
Believe it or not, this happens more than you think, especially during those times we’ve lost the trail.
I also use the data from the handheld GPS to superpose against my topographic maps when I return home from a trip. This lets me truly see where I’ve been, especially in places lacking cell phone reception.
Such logs also helps me immensely with maintaining the accuracy of the blog.
Furthermore, it makes me aware of mistakes we made during the trip. For example, we might have missed out on particular sites (albeit after-the-fact). We might even spot mistakes in some of the maps (especially in GoogleMaps).
Of course, I’d wish I would’ve caught such mistakes without having to go back and do the trip again. But often times life doesn’t work that way!
What did you think of our list? Anything you think we missed, or that you’ve found particularly helpful for your own travels?
Let us know and keep the conversation going by commenting down below…