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Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide for Frequent Traveler Gear

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In 2015, I kicked off the new year in Portugal, spent a spring weekend in Portland, and headed to 3 conferences for work in Boston, Seattle, and Bangkok. I also attended 3 weddings — all of which were on the east coast (I’m in California) — spent 2 weeks traveling in Asia after the Bangkok conference, and skirted off to Joshua Tree for a short trip over Thanksgiving.

Living a bi-coastal life (both my partner’s family and mine are back east), while being a travel industry professional with insatiable wanderlust means that I travel a lot. I’m also not alone. From business travelers to individuals who’ve moved far from home, many of us fall into the “frequent traveler” category (3+ trips per year).

We need travel gear that can withstand these frequent trips. Our gear has to be sturdy, versatile, carry-on only, and easy to move around with. Prepared for the constants of travel (e.g. bad airport food and hotel coffee),  with strong dislike of wasted travel time, we want credit cards, memberships, and apps that help us benefit from our trips.

To help this demographic create the perfect pack, scroll on for our comprehensive buying guide for frequent traveler gear:

Table of Contents

Bags

As a frequent traveler, you need a bag that’s sturdy enough to withstand the miles and versatile enough to work well in any situation. Sometimes, this means spending a little more to get better quality, but there are also some very good affordable options as well.

Tortuga’s original backpack ($199) and the smaller Tortuga Air ($174) fit in this affordable category. In total transparency, I actually use the Osprey Talon 22 ($100) for most of my travels, but have tested all of Tortuga’s line of bags out. From my experience, both the Tortuga and the Tortuga Air are versatile enough to use on business trips and vacations alike, but also sturdy enough to follow you around the world on a 200-day trip.Briggs & Riley

Briggs & Riley Domestic Carry on ($499) / Explore Expandable Commuter Upright ($300)

Larry Olmsted, a contributor at Forbes Magazine, is a frequent traveler who has been on the road several times per month for the past 20 years. In his opinion, the Briggs & Riley line of suitcases are some of the few pieces of luggage that fully meet his standards of versatility and sturdiness.

Briggs & Riley comes highly reviewed from their users and has a wide variety of luggage styles and prices for you to choose from.

SDR Traveller ($985)

SDR TravellerTortuga’s product designer, Patrick, recommends the SDR Traveller for virtually any trip. “It’s insanely expensive, but incredibly lightweight and built for extreme conditions… but minimal enough to be at home in any situation.”

It’s incredibly lightweight and built for extreme conditions… but minimal enough to be at home in any situation.

In fact, it folds down to the size of a sweater when it’s not in use — which makes it ultra easy to stash in your closet or dresser drawer (rather than having to trek down to the basement every time you head out on a trip!)

Timbuk2 TSA-Friendly Messenger Bag ($100 – $150)

If you prefer to travel with a messenger bag, Timbuk2’s line comes well reviewed. A sturdy, durable, and well organized bag, it’s, “A great carry on size even for those super budget airlines where they nickel and dime you for everything,” says Tortuga columnist, Laura.

Timbuk2Timbuk2 also has some smaller versions of their messenger bags that work well as daypacks — especially if you need a personal item that you can carry easily with a backpack carry on.

Oh, and did we mention that you can customize your Timbuk2 bags? Great news for the fashion conscious out there.

Etekcity Luggage Scale ($10)

Okay, not a bag, but definitely a must have. Avoid luggage fees by weighing your luggage beforehand with a simple and affordable luggage scale like the Etekcity Luggage Scale.

Daypacks

Personally, I really love Tortuga’s Daypack ($54) — especially when I’m packing light enough that I don’t want to have a second piece of luggage with me on the plane but need a smaller bag during my travels.

Baggu Duck Bag ($26)

For business trips or mostly urban destinations, though, I really prefer the Baggu Duck Bag. Made of sturdy canvas, it can fit my laptop, and is equally appropriate for a day at the beach, or a conference. Not to mention, it’s pretty darn affordable.

Packing CubesPacking Cubes

Tortuga ($50 for a set of 3) + Eagle Creek Packing Cubes ($23)

In addition to Tortuga’s packing cubes ($50), our frequent travelers also recommend Eagle Creek’s line of packing cubes ($23 for a 3-piece set). Both brands have sturdily made packing cubes to help you keep your bag organized.

However, quite a few frequent travelers fall into the “no packing cubes” camp — including myself. Relying on a bag that has lots of pockets (like Tortuga) to keep stuff organized is my preference. One exception is with small items like undies and socks. For that, I use small Muslin Sacks from the Container Store ($2). It’s technically a gift bag but, hey, it works.

Electronic Gear

For frequent travelers, it’s great to have accessories that will help you in any location and on any trip — rather than just one corner of the globe. From converters to phones, below are frequent traveler essentials:

Converter: Apple’s World Traveler Kit ($34)

Apple’s World Traveler Kit is a great option for Mac users. “It converts voltage for you, so you don’t have to think about it,” says Taylor Coil. You can also easily bring just one of the converters, rather than the whole set, for single-destination trips.

ConvertersConverter: Lenmar 5-Piece International Converter Set ($10)

A more affordable option is the Lenmar 5-piece set. Although it doesn’t convert voltage for you like Apple’s World Traveler kit, the converters are durable — I’ve had the same set for over 10 years now — and tiny.

Phone: Your Normal Phone — Unlocked

There was an almost unanimous consensus among the frequent travelers I talked to that using your normal phone while abroad is the way to go. While some providers, like Verizon, sell phones that are already unlocked for international usage, others, like AT&T, will require that you request they unlock the phone before you can do so. T-Mobile has instant compatibility in any country.

Once you arrive in your destination, simply pick up a SIM card and a tourist phone plan at the airport.

AnkerPortable Charger: Anker PowerCore 20100 ($40)

Being able to charge your devices on the go with a battery cell is essential for frequent travels.

It has enough power to charge your devices several times over when fully charged.

Though a little heavy, the Anker PowerCore 20100, “Holds a ton of juice, and continues to demonstrate reliability after being put through some rough conditions.” It has enough power to charge your devices several times over when fully charged.

Kindle Paperwhite ($100)

For books and e-readers, the Kindle paperwhite came in as a top option for frequent travelers. For those who prefer to limit the number of electronics they travel with, though, the free Kindle app on iPhone is another option to consider — especially for short, local trips where you may or may not even have enough time to read.

In-Flight Accessories

Eye maskBedtime Bliss Eye Mask ($13)

Eye masks are an essential for any trip to help frequent travelers catch up on some zzz’s on the plane, or sleep in and battle jet lag.

Though I tend to just stick with whichever free eye mask I was given on a recent trip, the Wire Cutter recommends the Bedtime Bliss Eye Mask.

Headphones ($20 – $450)

Comfortable, noise-canceling headphones are an accessory that most frequent travelers wouldn’t dare sit through a flight without. For headphones, there are several recommendations to choose from:

  • Bang and Olufsen Beoplay H7 ($450): Expensive, but beautiful and comfortable with great sound. They also fold flat making them easy to travel with.
  • Bose in-ear noise cancelling headphones ($300): They’re small enough for travel and the noise canceling is your best friend in a noisy city.
  • Yurbuds ($20 – 50):  With lock-in technology, they don’t fall out, and are good for running.
  • SOL Republic Relays ($32): These earbuds have buttons. They’re good for music, phone calls, and the gym since they don’t fall out.
  • Sony MDR-7506 ($100): Full-sized headphones that are great quality and pack down small.

EO Hand Sanitizing Spray ($5)

SmartwoolFor keeping clean on the run, flight attendant Charity Yoro recommends EO Hand Sanitizing Spray. “It doesn’t dry out your hands like normal hand sanitizer, which really sucks on a plane.”

Wool Socks ($20 – 30)

Wool socks are much more effective at keeping your feet warm on long flights than regular cotton socks. Smartwool’s line of socks come in a variety of patterns, dry pretty quickly considering their weight, and last. I only use mine on flights or camping trips, but probably buy a pair every couple of years.

Visconti Soft Leather Case ($27)

The Visconti soft leather passport case will help keep your passport from wear and tear during frequent travels, and has pockets to keep track of other important documents like immigration papers, boarding papers, or your yellow fever card.

Cabeau Evolution Pillow ($40)

I’ve found that what works for some in the travel pillow department, doesn’t always work for all. Inflatable travel pillows are wonderfully compact but not always the most comfortable.

The flat back makes it infinitely more comfortable than other options.

The Cabeau Evolution pillow lies soundly in the middle. It’s made of memory foam but squishes down to the palm of your hand. Also, “the flat back makes it infinitely more comfortable than other options,” says Taylor.

Reusable water bottle

Reusable Water Bottle

As a frequent traveler, having to pay for bottled water is the worst. We recommend the Vapur water bottle ($14), which is both sturdy and can collapse when not in use. Another option is the Grayl water bottle ($60 – 80), which will both contain and purify your water.

Men’s Clothing

There is some debate over whether frequent travelers should invest in travel specific clothes, go with what’s already in the closet, or build a capsule wardrobe. Whichever camp you fall into, these are some of the best choices out there for men’s travel clothing:

Outlier Slim Dungarees + Futureworks ($140 – 198)

The Outlier Slim Dungarees and Outlier Futureworks pants frequently make it on our list of travel clothing favorites. They’re both lightweight and durable, whereas the Futureworks looks a bit more professional — a big plus for the frequent business traveler.

Mission Workshop’s Signal 5-Pocket ($225)

Mission Workshop’s line of clothing is meant to be breathable, durable, and “Help you cover the most ground possible”. It’s my partner’s favorite pair of pants for both travel and everyday use. They look equally nice dressed up or dressed down, and can withstand a lot of roughhousing (e.g. mountain biking). And, oh yeah, they’re girlfriend approved!

ShortsMyles Apparel Everyday Shorts ($58)

For a pair of shorts that work equally well in an active or casual situation, the Myles Apparel Everyday Shorts come well recommended by Tortuga’s own Fred Perrotta.

Uniqlo’s Line of Clothing

From the Merino Crew Neck to the Ultra Light Down Jacket, and plenty of items in between (jeggings for men, anyone?) Uniqlo’s clothing has long been a favorite among our group of travelers for being affordable, comfortable, and versatile. They also tend to be very basic in design and easy to mix and match with other items.

Sperry Boat Shoes

Finding the “perfect pair of travel shoes” is a hard one — even for the most frequent of travelers. The Sperry Boat Shoes, however, come close. They work in casual and classy situations and are easy to slip off at airports. The only downside is that you’d probably want to bring a separate pair of shoes for jogging, hiking, or other outdoors activities.

Women’s Clothing

The more I travel, the more I try to rely on what I already have in my closet. I tend to keep all of what I wear in a single color pallet (blue, grey, black, white) and as a result find it really easy to grab a set of clothes that I can easily mix and match on the road. Most of our women’s clothing picks for frequent travelers are also items you’d find in our normal closets. That said, there are a few pieces of clothing that are good to have on hand for their trips.

H&M Tops ($10 – 15)

A couple of basic t-shirts and tank tops are a must have for frequent travelers. I like to have a simple white and black v-neck on hand at all times. H&M sells some decent, yet affordable, options. As Taylor Coil says, “They’re surprisingly durable and look good with everything from mini skirts to jeans.”

The only downside is that I do tend to replace them semi-frequently (once a year at least).

LululemonNike Fleece-Lined Leggings ($95)

A good pair of leggings will be able to double as pants on your travels. Nike’s Fleece-lined leggings do this and are also warm enough to use as a layer under your jeans if things get cold. Lululemon leggings ($98) are another great alternative.

Zara Jeggings ($40)

Jeggings are a traveler’s best friend. Though jeans can be bulky and hard to hand wash, jeggings are lighter and just as durable. The only downside is that they aren’t always as warm in cold-weather destinations.

They come in multiple styles (high-waisted and low-waisted) and colors for you to choose from as well.

Zara makes an affordable and surprisingly jean-looking jegging. They come in multiple styles (high-waisted and low-waisted) and colors for you to choose from as well.

Shoes

For cool to cold destinations, a good pair of ankle boots are a must-bring. Angela Rollins, a Tortuga Concierge, opts for the Cobb Hill Bethany boot. “They zip up in the back, so they’re super easy to take off… good rubber sole too, they never slip.” Personally, I love Aldo’s line of boots and have found some great basic black boots on Asos (though both pairs I’ve bought are of lesser quality and wear through easily).

Blanket scarfOtherwise, a pair of basic black flats or sandals will be versatile enough for most trips — and a closet essential regardless of how often you travel.

Infinity, or Blanket Scarf

Large infinity or blanket scarves are priceless for being in buses, planes, or any high-AC environment. Wrap it around your neck as a part of your outfit, or unwind it and use it as a blanket. I’d recommend checking your favorite brand (like Zara, Anthropologie, or Forever21) in the fall to snag a great deal.

For more clothing recommendations, I’d also suggest looking at the Ultimate Gear Guide for Short-term Travelers. All of Laura’s clothing suggestions also work well for frequent travelers.

Toiletries

Frequent travelers, don’t waste your money (or time) buying travel sized toiletries for each trip you leave on.

Containers

pil caseInvest in some reusable containers that you can easily fill with your normal products. Alternatively, you could reuse the bottles you get from that one time you purchased travel sized shampoo, or conditioner. GoToob’s reusable silicon containers ($15 for a set of 3) are by far the favorite of Tortuga’s family of frequent travelers.

Gotubb and, “Contact cases are also great for small amounts of lotion, sunscreen, makeup, etc,” says frequent traveler Laura Lopoch.

If you’re looking for a good toiletry bag to keep everything organized in, The Wirecutter recommends Eagle Creek’s Packit Slim Kit ($38). Just be warned, “The bag is so well organized, that it’s easy to overstuff it and not allow it to close” says one reviewer.

Got pills? The Lewis-n-Clark Delux Organizer ($10) is great for long and short trips alike. Simply remove one of the pouches for quick trips.

Toiletries & Skin Care

Alba 3-in-1Maintaining self care on the road can be tough, but it’s important. Just like managing a great travel wardrobe, makeup on the road is best when minimal. Travel can also take a toll on your skin, making it even more important to take good care of your skin.

For skincare, Vasanti Brighten Up! ($34), an exfoliator and cleanser, is Taylor Coil’s go-to. While in-transit (especially on planes), Alba’s 3-in-1 face wipes ($8) are good to pack to use between washes.

A travel fav throughout the blog is Dr. Bronner’s, which can be used as shampoo, soap, and “detergent” for hand-washing clothes. (In a pinch, you could also use a bar of soap.)

Fitness: Workout Gear for Frequent Travelers

Frequent travel, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in conference rooms, eating in airports, and sleeping on planes, makes it hard to stay fit. However, there are some great, packable workout items that you can toss in your bag. Choose one that you feel comfortable using as part of your on-the-road workout routine:

Jump Rope ($18)

The PowerMax Beginner Speed Rope ($18) was recommended as the best budget jump rope by Gear Patrol. It’s simple, lightweight, and easy to bring with you anywhere. Now all you need is a good routine!

Travel Yoga Mat ($40 – 60)

For travel yoga mats, David of Do Yoga With Me recommends choosing between the Gaiam SOL Bhakti 1mm Ultra-Light Yoga Mat ($40), Jade Travel Yoga Mat ($62), the Manduka eKO Lite 3mm ($46), and the Manduka eKO SuperLite Insight Travel Yoga Mat ($40). Giam’s mat is the most lightweight, whereas the others will provide better padding.

Running shoesLightweight Running Shoes ($90)

According to Well Well Well, the Nike Free 4.0 FlyKnit (Women’s / Mens; $90) are some of the most packable running shoes out there. They were designed to “fit like a sock,” which translates to “packs down small” as well. In addition to packing down well, they also gotten great reviews in terms of comfort and quality.

Portable Kettle Bells ($40 – 73)

For anyone who’d like to bring weights, without the weight, on their next trip the portable kettle bells do the trick. Pack them down empty and, then, when you’re at your destination fill them up with sand or water to use as weights.

“Virtual” Items: Apps, Memberships, and Credit Cards

In this final section, we’ll be going over a few non-physical items for frequent travelers to buy, download, or sign up for. These virtual items will especially help frequent travelers save time and money — things that can quickly add up while on the road.

Best Time & Money-Saving Travel Apps

  1. EvernoteEvernote: Keep track of addresses, phone numbers, or that great restaurant recommendation your friend of a friend texted you.
  2. MiFlight: Gives you estimates on the security line wait at airports around the world. Most reliable in high-trafficked airports.
  3. TripitPro: In addition to organizing your travel reservations (hotels, flights, etc.) for you, it also gives real-time updates on gate changes and delays.
  4. Airline apps: If your airline has an app, download it. Some, like United, will even let you bypass the check-in counter entirely by letting you download a virtual boarding pass through their app, and send you a notification if there’s a gate change or delay.
  5. Award wallet: Keep track of your frequent flyer miles, hotel rewards, etc.
  6. The Points Guy: I haven’t tried it yet, but I will. This app will help you figure out which credit card to maximize your rewards and travel.
  7. Waze: Find out how long it’ll take for you to get to the airport before hailing a cab… just in case it looks like it’ll take 30 minutes more (or less!) than you expected. You can also use Google Maps for this.

Bonus: Google Maps (Android | iPhone). Use it to create a map on your desktop or phone for every trip, then save it locally to your phone. It’s also handy to pass on to friends or reference later if you want to look up where that great Italian pizza spot was.

Best Frequent Flier Program

Although you should absolutely have a frequent flyer number for every airline you fly on, it’s better to consolidate your points on a few. For example, instead of signing up for a separate frequent flyer number on an Eva Airline flight, consolidate your points into your United program.

That said, some of the best frequent flyer programs to be a member of include:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards: On this program, you have the ability to earn a companion pass — by far the favorite rewards program among the Tortuganauts.
  • United MileagePlus: United’s upgrades for mid-tier status is good, but what I really like is the number of partner airlines in the Star Alliance that I’m open to flying with.
  • AAdvantage: The Points Guy says, “In term’s of upgrades [it’s] hard to beat.”

Best Credit Card for Travelers

Credit cardChase Sapphire has by far the best recommendations — from NerdWallet to The Points Guy and (seemingly) everyone who works at Tortuga, it’s the best travel rewards credit card out there. It has 0 international fees and 50,000 bonus points when you sign up. The only con is that the annual fee of $95 is on the high side.

CapitalOne also has 0 international fees on all its credit cards. The CapitalOne Venture card gets you 40,000 bonus points on sign up and has an annual fee of $65. I also love how easy it is to redeem rewards via their app.

Lastly, Amex is helpful to have because of their cheap insurance, but isn’t as widely accepted (both at home and abroad) and shouldn’t be the only credit card in your wallet.

TSA Global Entry ($100 for five years)

If you travel frequently, it’s worth the $100 fee to get your TSA Global Entry. It’ll give you access to express lanes in security and customs (within the U.S. at least) and save you a lot of time — especially if you call JFK your home airport (yikes). Just make sure you don’t make the rookie mistake I did by signing up for TSA Pre-Check. They both cost about the same, and TSA Pre-Check is included in the TSA Global Entry program as a bundle.

Costco ($55 – 110 per year)

Yes, a Costco membership can actually help you save money while traveling — not just on groceries. Get access to cheaper gas (throughout the U.S. at least), free bathrooms, and discounts on car rentals.

TL;DR

The key to building out a great line of gear as a frequent traveler is to invest in good quality, versatile items. Some other key takeaways include:

  • For luggage, go for sturdy and dependable
  • For daypacks, keep it simple
  • Packing cubes will help you stay organized and access your items quickly, but luggage with lots of compartments, like Tortuga, works equally well
  • Make sure you have a set of converters for everywhere in the world on hand and that your normal phone is unlocked for international use
  • Invest in in-flight accessories that will help you stay comfortable, healthy, and rest well
  • Travel clothes should be durable and versatile, but if you keep the usual staples in your closet, you should already have them at your disposal
  • For toiletries, we’re all about the reusable containers and a little extra love when it comes to skin care
  • Pack a workout routine to help you stay fit on the road
  • Don’t forget about “virtual” items, like TSA’s Global Entry and time-saving apps, that are a frequent traveler’s best friend

Image Credit: Zachary Young, Unsplash

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