Archives for category: Travel

I travel a lot and I’m kind of .. obsessive. Herewith therefore, my very favourite travel products, time-tested and iterated-upon over the past decade. Note: Yeah, I am shaking my head as I press publish here. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I am not alone: lots of people are just as weirdly fussy about this stuff as I am. Nonetheless, I reserve the right to come back and caveat stuff here if I end up being publicly shamed ;)


Scottevest travel vest with many pockets. OMG I love my Scottevest. It has 17 internal zippered pockets including ones perfectly sized for passports and ID cards, plus built-in channels for holding earbud cabling. I carry in it anything and everthing that I might need for flying: travel documents, pens, disinfecting wipes, nasal sanitizer swabs, Purell, eye drops, a tiny flashlight, lip balm, various adapters and cables, Sudafed, Benadryl, painkillers, zinc lozenges, tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, a notebook, mini-kit for repairing things, kleenex, stain removal pen, and immigration/residency documents. I wear it to and from the airport, and leave it in my suitcase otherwise.

Drawbacks. None. Zero!

Variants. There are other versions of this vest out there (like this Tilley one or this from Magellan’s) but I’ve never tried them. The built-in cabling solution is unique to Scottevest AFAIK, and that alone would keep me with that company. Annoyingly, women seem to be underserved in this category by everyone, with nowhere near the amount of product variety that men get.


Clear vinyl zippered bags from MMF Industries. I use these to collect together small things in my luggage (e.g. power cables, toiletries) so they don’t get lost. These are great — transparent, washable including in a dishwasher, and completely indestructible.

Drawbacks. None, except I wish they came in additional sizes.

Variants. A lot of people recommend just using ziplocs but I find even the thicker ‘freezer’ ones rip too easily. Mesh bags and translucent bags don’t offer enough visibility into their contents, and many offer zero protection against leakage. This bag from the Container Store doesn’t pack neatly and over time the brittle plastic creases and cracks. This Tom Binh bag has fabric sides so isn’t easily washable/wipeable. This translucent bag and this canvas bag from Arsenal are super-durable but neither is transparent and I found them a little bulky. If I need something waterproof I use these clear bags from Alosak, but they’re not as durable as the MMF one: after a few trips, they often tear under the seal.


Tiny clear plastic flip-top bottles from Muji. I have used a thousand variants of travel bottles/jars/tubes/whatever and these are the best — they’re great for carrying small amounts of stuff like cleanser, moisturizer and hair product. They don’t leak or drip. Squeezeable so you can get out all the contents. Translucent which means you can see when it’s time to refill.

Drawbacks. Mouth is slightly too narrow which means you need to use a pipette for non-liquids, or be extremely patient.

Variants. For smaller amounts or thicker products, these wee containers from Muji hold only 10g and are pretty much indestructible. For larger capacity, these Nalgene bottles from the Container Store are durable and reasonably leak-proof. These tiny ziploc bags are great for collecting together and mildly protecting small quantities of dry items like Sudafed, adaptors, USB sticks, change, buttons, stickers or jewelery, and this vitamins/medication case is rugged and compact. GoToobs are really popular but I found they leaked, and they were an awkward shape for packing. This set of stacking pill containers is also awkward for packing and breaks if you drop it, this Muji pill box is cheap-feeling and flimsy, these small Nalgene jars annoy me by having lids larger than the part you fill with product, and although these small round pill boxes from the Container Store are pretty good, they’re a hard plastic and do sometimes crack if dropped.


Packing cubes from eBags. Frequent travellers are split on packing cubes — some find them useful, while others think they waste space and weight. I like that they offer mild protection and keep my stuff organized, and a couple of times I’ve been grateful that they made repacking super-easy after my luggage got rummaged through by airport security. (Airport security people never actually open the cubes: I don’t know why.) I use them for clothes and non-fragile equipment/gear, particularly if it’s awkwardly-shaped. I pack clothes by outfit, which is great especially for red-eyes because I can pull out a single cube to change quickly at the hotel or airport.

Drawbacks. None.

Variants. I’ve tried a number of variants but they all had drawbacks. I colour-code by type-of-content, which means Rick Steves cubes and Tumi cubes, which only come in black, won’t work for me. You can’t colour-code with Ziplocs either, plus they rip too easily. I find the Eagle Creek cubes too heavy and the prominent branding bugs me. Travel folders cause wrinkles and are fiddly for repacking, and they’re best for people who are carrying multiples of things like button-downs, which I am not. Compression bags cause wrinkles and can be a hassle to repack: they’re not worth it unless you’re super space-constrained. Travel shoe bags really only fit flat shoes not heels or boots, and are usually too bulky/rigid to be useful: I try to avoid carrying extra shoes but when I need to, I just wrap them in soft bulky clothing and bury them in the centre of the suitcase.


Portable battery pack from Anker. At 20000mAh, this is the highest-capacity general-use portable battery pack I know of, and when I did the math in July 2013 it had the best charge:weight ratio on Amazon. It charges my phone and tablets multiple times before needing to be plugged in — I’ve never yet fully drained it. It lives in my suitcase: I bring it with me on day trips and long flights when I won’t have access to power, and use it sometimes in hotels or public spaces when I can’t easily access an outlet. It’s beautifully designed and built.

Drawbacks. Too big and heavy to drag around every day. Supports many laptops, but not mine.

Variants. This 13000mAh charger from Powergen is pretty good, although I like Anker’s build quality, form factor and aesthetics better. I find the Anker fits better in my bags than this boxier 12000mAh charger from New Trent, plus I’ve had multiple New Trent products stop working for me after only a year or so. This 4500mAh charger from Anker is light and small: it’s good as a backup for giving my phone a single charge and I carry it with me everywhere, but I’m not thrilled with the hideaway cable which seems fragile.


Travel adapter from Tripshell. These are well-built and durable, with no attachments to lose. I carry two or three in my suitcase and various charging kits.

Drawbacks. Because they disappear against dark backdrops, I’ve left a few behind in hotel rooms and meeting rooms. (There’s a dark red and a white version but they’re not much better.) I would love if somebody made these in a fluorescent.

Variants. There’s a Kensington adapter that’s practically identical to the Tripshell. The square all-in-one adapters always feel flimsy to me, plus they are slightly bulkier. Adapters with multiple components are too fiddly, and I lose the components.


Four-outlet power strip from Monster. I love this power strip. It’s super-useful in hotels with limited or not-very-accessible outlets, and I’ve used it frequently on planes and in airports and event venues as well. It’s compact and durable, has widely spaced outlets that let you plug in multiple adapters, the plug is flat which means it fits into tight spaces, and when you plug it in it lights up to show it’s drawing charge.

Drawbacks. Would be great if it had a swivel feature.

Variants. I’ve used a bunch of variants but this is the best. This Belkin power strip works great at home, but is too bulky for travel. This USB wall charger from ARCTIC offers similar functionality to the Monster one, but has multiple parts that can get lost and is an awkward fit in tight spaces. This Belkin travel charger offers three outlets plus USB plus surge protection but again, the form factor limits its usefulness in tight spaces. The same is true for this wall charger from Anker, which only supports USB.

(I’m in Haifa this week at Wikimania, which is what prompted this post.)

There are two kinds of travellers — people who wing it, and compulsive hyper-rational utilitarian minimalists, like me. This blog post will bore or horrify the former group, but I hope it’ll be useful for the latter :-)

I travel with a small carry-on rollerboard, and yet I have what I need for pretty much any situation. That’s because I iterate — every time I have a problem on a trip, I refine how I pack so it never happens again.

And I have made a lot of mistakes. Running out of Sudafed once cost me half an afternoon in Amsterdam, where only one pharmacy is open on Sundays, and, by the way, pseudoephedrine is illegal anyway. Over the years I have forgotten and needed to hunt down all kinds of things, often in countries where I don’t speak the language. Out of sheer absent-mindedness, I have bought laptop power cables and phone batteries on no fewer than five continents.

But now I am pretty much optimized. Here’s what I do.

Use case #1: On the plane

On the plane, I’m space-constrained and weight-constrained, I’m either working or killing time, and my needs are totally predictable.

I always wear the same jacket with zippered pockets, with my passport and boarding pass in the left and my phone on the right. I never think about them because I know where they are.

My laptop and e-reader live in brightly-coloured neoprene sleeves, so I don’t leave them behind. A zippered pouch holds my earphones, plus a travel-sized power cable for my laptop, plus a phone charger. On night flights, I bring a tiny flexible-neck USB-powered light so I don’t irritate the people beside me by using the overheads.

I carry a ziploc bag that holds alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, antiseptic ointment, paper napkins, pseudoephedrine, benedryl, ibuprofen, lip balm, a toothbrush and paste, mouthwash and a plastic spork. Most of that was recommended by Dan Pink, who gives excellent advice about how to keep from getting sick and jet-lagged on long flights.

The one thing I will never fly without is pseudoephedrine, because it’s illegal or restricted in many countries. If I get sick travelling and don’t have pseudoephrenine for my flights, I end up deaf and miserable for days afterwards. (Hello Lima, Nijmegen, Buenos Aires and Bangalore!) I’ve tried plenty of substitutes, and pseudoephedrine is the only thing that actually works.

If the box says PE, you know it does not work

Use case #2: Charging stuff

The first thing I do when I get settled in a hotel is plug everything in.

I carry this style of travel adaptor, because it’s self-contained with no parts to break or lose. The ones I own are black but I’d rather have them in a bright colour so I would notice when I am leaving them behind.

I carry the Monster outlets-to-go powerstrip, which is recommended by Larry Brilliant on Kevin Kelly’s wonderful Cool Tools blog. I have the four-outlet version as well as the three-outlet version: the latter is smaller and I’ve never missed having a fourth outlet. And I use these converters to connect the powerstrip to the travel adaptor. This set-up gives me the ability to simultaneously charge three devices from one outlet, which is useful in hotel rooms and has made me lots of friends in conference centres and airports.

All my mobile devices are micro-USB, but I carry a bunch of adaptors anyway: they don’t take up much space and have been useful when I’ve accidentally brought an old mini-USB charger or needed to charge my phone from my laptop.

All my electronic accessories. Neatly bound because cable mess sucks :-)

Use case #3: In the hotel, getting washed and dressed

Clothing: I don’t pack anything that’s bulky or needs ironing or dry-cleaning — I mainly pack unstructured clothes (like knits) in solid neutral colours, and I roll them so they’re compact and don’t wrinkle. I don’t pack like things together –all socks or all T-shirts– instead, I put complete outfits into ziploc bags sorted by date.

Toiletries: I carry a lot of different items, so I aim to keep the amount of each super-small. I buy micro-travel-size items from places like Minimus, and when I can’t get something in a small size, I decant from bigger containers into small leakproof plastic bottles like these from The Container Store. And because leakproof is more aspirational than actual, I pack those bottles into self-sealing waterproof bags. And then I pack those bags, perhaps somewhat freakishly, into a single zippered mesh pouch.

Leakproof bottles in leakproof bags :-)

Use case #4: Out of the hotel, working

I normally just need my laptop and phone, plus chargers. But because my Droid Pro only gets about eight hours out of its extended battery, I also carry an external battery pack which can fully charge my phone at least two or three times before needing a charge itself. It’s a little bulky to carry around, but better than not having connectivity.

Use case #5: Something goes wrong

I’ve got scans of my passport and credit/debit/ID cards online, plus the helpline numbers. I haven’t needed any of this yet, but when I do it’ll be there.

And, I keep a pouch tucked in a corner of my suitcase that holds stuff I won’t normally need, but will be grateful to have if I do. It includes a mini first-aid kit, laundry soap, tiny amounts of painkillers and other medications, a couple of granola bars, a manicure kit, some pressure point tools for stiffness and pain following long flights or long sessions on my laptop, miniature basics –mostly from Muji— like glue and tape and pens, plus a multitool and a few duplicate essentials like phone batteries and chargers. I add something new every now and then, but mostly I don’t touch it or think about it: it just lives in my suitcase.

That’s what I do. If you’ve got more or better hacks for ridiculously-efficient travel, please share them in the comments :-)