The Strategic Packer’s Gear Guide

Kelsey Dixon

I’ve managed my own company from abroad for six months and counting. Starting and managing a company is hard enough and doing so abroad has had its own unique set of challenges. A little strategy in navigating the obstacles goes a long way, and a lot can be compared in the world of travel: learning as you go, embracing the lows, celebrating the highs, then strategically and creatively tackling the challenges.

In my travels, this strategic and creative mindset is often translated into life hacks: from traveling on a budget to navigating a new city and learning a new language. Therefore, it feels like Christmas morning when I come across a product with multiple uses, a website or blogger boasting an inside scoop, or a place that inspires productivity (more than just free coffee refills…). The location independent lifestyle requires connectivity, a light pack, and a versatile mind. 

The key to a light travel backpack is strategic packing. Investing in the right gear, like the tech protection, the right clothing, and items that have more than one use and/or improve your connectivity to both the outside world and your actual location makes a difference.

When life = travel and travel = life, everything in your pack has to have a purpose, and bonus points if that precious, occupied space can fill more than one void. I’ve come to greatly appreciate multi-functional gear for this reason. I even scoured the sites of Tortuga’s most beloved travel hacker-bloggers for the best inspiration out there. Without further ado, I bring you a list of tried and true travel gear to improve your strategic packing.

Nalgene Water Bottle

Nalgene water bottles are durable and great for any weather. Plus, the “meter” on each bottle helps you realize how much water you did, or didn’t, drink. The twist on cap with attachable loop not only keeps the parts together, but also allows you to attach it to anything with a small carabiner, or slide it neatly into the side pocket of your travel backpack.

Pro tip: your Nalgene can be used as a waterproof carrier in times of need, too. Secure valuables like your cash or snacks in the bottle when it’s not being used!

Wrinkle Release and Fabric Freshener

Sure, you can invest in wrinkle-free clothes that are perfect for packing away, however, it’s not likely that all of your clothing will be this high-tech.

Packing tips like these help prevent wrinkled clothes too. If you’re still not hacking it, this wrinkle release/fabric freshener will be your new best friend.

Spray away the wrinkles and freshen up fabrics between washes with this travel-sized product that conveniently doesn’t require an iron or power. I’ve found this most useful for long travel days/weeks and roadtrips where I may not have access to an iron, and when clothes just start to feel stale after sitting in a suitcase for too long.

Outbreaker Wet/Dry Bag

We all know that adventures tend to get our clothes dirty and damp, so the Outbreaker Wet/Dry Bag is the solution to the other end of the neat-and-tidy clothing challenge! Stuff your need-to-wash clothes into this bag to keep it separate from the rest.

Or, use this bag to contain that damp swimsuit as you dash for the plane, or keep dirty, muddy shoes separate from the clean things in your bag.

With a roll top closure that creates a neat handle, you’ll find lots of uses for this versatile little bag. And that’s key for a strategic packer, items that are multi-use and versatile.

Allbirds

I can’t get enough of my Allbirds. They offer some support for walking, don’t rub or bother anywhere on your foot, and the Merino Wool is the warmest, most breathable fabric. Plus, you can throw them in the washer.

These are great for travel because they go with anything, but they’re like wearing slippers. 

Travel Towel

Thanks to our friends at Extra Pack of Peanuts blog, I’ll never be able to look at towels the same. A travel towel that doubles down as a bath/beach towel AND as a blanket for the planes, trains, and automobiles is not only economical, but also space-saving and multi-purpose.

Its compact, lightweight, and fast drying qualities make it a perfect travel towel. Plus, it has a waterproof zipper pocket to store your phone, wallet, snacks, or whatever. I accidentally ordered a bright color, but then ended up loving it because it won’t get mixed up with anyone else’s, or the plane blankets.

Water Resistant Laptop Bag

My Macbook Air is my office. I can’t afford to lose it or see it get damaged, so a water resistant bag to carry my computer in, like the Outbreaker daypackis a must. 

This daypack is made of waterproof sailcloth that will hold up to the rigors of the road, and more than a little rain.

Spontaneous rainstorms while working and caravanning through the South Island of New Zealand proved this travel hack a necessity to keep my computer dry and functioning. (And, lest I forget the countless bumps in the road and spilled coffee).

A waterproof daypack is a simple  investment that buys insurance and peace of mind for the traveler and digital nomad alike.

Light Scarf

A scarf is a great hack for the lady traveler and a non-negotiable for me ever since I discovered how multi-purpose they are. A light-weight, large scarf can be worn in many ways: as a scarf, as a shawl, as a head wrap/hair scarf, as a bathing suit cover up, as a skirt, or more.

Use it as a beach towel, picnic blanket, or a little extra warmth on the plane. (I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m positive I could get even more creative and tie up a scarf into a makeshift bag.)

Get a pretty one like this and it can dress up an outfit while doubling as a staple travel piece for you!

Travel pants

For the gentlemen travelers, TripHackr suggests Bonobos travel pants. He says he wears them hiking, in the city, and even out to dinner.

Tortuga’s own recommend Bluffworks Chinos on all continents. Shawn just raves about them. Ladies, try Prana’s Halle pants. Laura recommends them.

A great pair of pants will dry fast and look great straight out of your travel backpack, but also provide a great staple in your everyday wardrobe. Plus, Clint of TripHackr says “Shorts are a great way to stand out almost anywhere outside the US.”

Good Quality Leggings

As a lady traveler, I prefer airport wear that’s cozy, warm, and simple.

I love these leggings from prAna because of the ideal weight and thickness. They hit the comfiest part of your waistline, and the fabric is soft and cozy.

A plain pair of black leggings can be athleisure wear or dressed up with boots and a tunic.

Plus, these leggings have one of those hidden pockets along the waist for your keys, lipstick, or whatever. While of course, good travelers are always alert for petty crime, it can still happen. I stash a little bit of cash in this pocket of my leggings when I travel! The pocket is perfectly hidden and secure!

The Tile: Wallet Finder

Losing your wallet or having it stolen while traveling, especially while abroad, can be an absolute nightmare. Luckily, I’ve never had this happen to me, but I’ve heard plenty of horror stories! I borrowed this travel hack from our friends at Extra Pack of Peanuts blog: a beacon device to find your lost or stolen wallet.

Travel Adapter

My husband loves to drive and we love traveling on our own terms. So often, when we visit a destination, we’ll rent a car to extend what we can see. For road trips, power inverters work wondrously because you can plug into the power station in your car.

Complete with two USB ports as well as a regular US outlet, this device has allowed me to work from the road on my laptop (in the passenger seat, of course) and has kept me fully charged. It’s also allowed for that last minute camera battery charge a time or two.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Love music? We hear ya! Noise-cancelling headphones are a prime travel hack because they act as your music listening device, but also could double for some peace and quiet if you want to get your snooze on.

The members of Team Tortuga are big fans of Bose. Some of us use the big over ear kind. Others swear by the in-ear sport variety. Both have their merits, namely: QUIET.

If you’re a serious traveler, digital nomad, or remote worker, these are almost a requirement.

Headphone Splitter

My husband and I love downloading as much as possible from Netflix for long flights. We also enjoy a good movie together. As much fun as it can be to try and sync pressing “play” at the same time to “watch a movie together,”  a headphone splitter does the trick.

Instead of the one-side-in-one-ear-split game, share the joy with both ears covered. Extra Pack of Peanuts blog recommends this brand in particular.

Cell phone case and charger

Another two-for-one travel hack from An Extra Pack of Peanuts, as well as our friens Shawn, is a phone case that charges your phone (2x over)!  I love a good, reliable remote battery charger, but the Mophie Juice Pack Air takes the cake with its dual purpose.

Shawn, when talking about his wild rickshaw race across India last year, had this to say about the Mophie in his review of external battery packs:

“That single external battery phone case powered our trip. No matter how much we used it, we never ran out of battery. It got to the point where I almost expected my phone to keep up with this supercharged beast.”

Multi-USB Travel Adapter

Of course, if you’re traveling internationally, you need a travel adapter. Inexpensive options for adapters are available in the airport upon your arrival – but I’m obsessed with THIS one (recommended by Nomadic Matt) because it takes all the guess work out of it.

With multiple settings for multiple countries and several USB ports to charge all your devices at once, it’s another must-have that goes in my carry-on bag.

If you know you’ll be bringing other items that need a regular outlet, this universal travel adapter, recommended by Extra Pack of Peanuts, is a must. Plus, it has a wattage converter so you don’t fry those precious electronics!

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there definitely is such a thing as free travel. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is a total travel hack because you get VIP rewards and access. What seems like a hefty annual fee ($450 ) more than comes back to you in free travel benefits. 

The card has great lounge access and major travel perks. If you’re one to be traveling quite a bit (multiple times a year internationally), this is the card for you. It’s also a hack because your travel spending racks up 2x the points that you can redeem for free travel… on almost any airline, car rental, or hotel, and more. What’s better than travel? Free travel.

Confession: I don’t have the Reserve card. I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I love this card too, but given the fact that I booked 17 flights in the last 6 months, I probably would have gotten more bang for my buck with the Reserve card AND would have been able to kick back in a lot more lounges. However, there are benefits to either. Both The Points Guy blog and The Art of Non-Conformity blog recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred (our blog does too). It’s similar to the Reserve card and is a great starter card to practice the idea of earning travel points via a credit card. The annual fee is much lower so there is also less risk.

If you have multiple credit cards under the Chase bank, Chase makes it simple to transfer/share points among your cards. I do this often amongst my three Chase credit cards. Travel is Free provides an amazingly helpful infographic to navigate the crazy and wonderful world of Chase credit card points. If you play your “cards” right, free travel is on your horizon.

Setout Travel Backpack

The Setout travel backpack packs like a suitcase and carries like a backpack. Also, it’s the maximum allowable size (45L) for a carry on for most every airline.

Setout is the perfect backpack for most travelers. With interior organization that is “just right,” hideaway shoulder straps and a wide, padded waist strap to help distribute the weight of the pack to your hips, it’s comfortable to carry.

What you pack inside is well protected; the fabric with a water resistant coating and there’s even a protective sleeve to store your laptop, nestled in the most secure place: right next to your back.

TL;DR

Whether for a few days or a few months, packing strategically makes travel more enjoyable. Gear with more than one purpose makes packing easier, faster and more efficient. Here are the products I recommend for a strategic pack:

  • Water resistant daypack
  • Wrinkle release/fabric freshener
  • Travel shoes
  • Travel towel
  • Light scarf
  • Travel pants
  • Wallet finder
  • Power inverter
  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Headphone splitter
  • Cell phone case and charger
  • Multi-USB travel adapter
  • Chase credit cards
  • Carry on backpack

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