The Beginner’s Guide to the Best Travel Gear

Jessie Beck

When I first started traveling on my own, it took more than a few packing flubs to figure out what worked well on the road. I’ve overpacked for Ryanair flights, been denied entrance to Swiss Discotheques because of my clothes, and (more than once) totally forgot some basic thing like a converter or a band-aid.

Learning as you go is part of the experience, but this was also 10 years ago. The internet still didn’t have as many resources for packing tips, lists, and travel gear to guide me. 

Lucky for you, the team at Tortuga has spent years testing and writing about travel gear. We have more than a few favs. If you’re just beginning to ramp up your travel game and want to invest in some better gear — be it a wrinkle-free blazer or a new travel backpack — start with this list.

Luggage

The Setout Backpack ($199)

Whether you’re studying abroad or taking your first international trip, you’re likely still testing the waters with this whole travel thing. You’re on a budget, maybe don’t pack as light as you’d like to (yet), and don’t need the same luggage a frequent business traveler. The Setout was made with you in mind.

Unlike other backpacks, it unzips along three sides — like a suitcase — making it easy to access through your stuff. Unlike a suitcase, it’s easy to carry up several flights of stairs or wander cobblestoned streets without making a ruckus. Last, but not least, it’s carry on size so you can spend less (re: zero) money on checked baggage fees and more money enjoying your trip. 

Setout Packing Cubes ($35)

To organize your bag, you should also invest in packing cubes. “They’re a game changer,” say many traveler friends.

The Setout Packing Cubes are made of the same high-quality heathered polyester and YKK zippers as your carry on and are designed to fit perfectly in the Setout Backpack.

Setout Daypack ($39)

You’ve just landed and can’t wait to explore. Since your luggage is too big for a day of adventure, you need something smaller and lighter to carry the essentials.

With the Setout Packable Daypack, you can carry everything you need for a day of sightseeing.

The padded, mesh shoulder straps and back panel will breathe and feel comfortable, even on a hot day. For one bag travel, it packs into its own front pocket and is easily stowable inside your carry on.

Airport and In-Flight Essentials

While no amount of travel gear (other than a pen and your smartphone) can help you navigate an airport, flights are a different story. Here are the items seasoned travelers wish they’d had as beginners:

Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds ($26)

If you’re looking for an affordable bluetooth option, look no further than the Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds. “They just plain work,” says Tortuga writer, Shawn Forno in his list of the best bluetooth headphones. Just keep in mind, most airlines haven’t caught up to the technology. While these headphones will help with personal device entertainment — which more airlines are moving towards — you won’t be able to use them for back of seat entertainment.

Trtl Soft Neck Support Pillow ($30)

The U-shaped travel neck pillow is totally useless,” claimed a recent article in The Atlantic. Fortunately, the Trtl Soft Neck Support Pillow is designed with the U-shaped pillow’s flaws in mind; it actually supports your head as you sleep. Still prefer a U-shaped pillow? No worries, there are a few good ones out there. Find them in our list of travel pillows and in-flight accessories.

Flight001’s Eye Masks ($16)

I can’t sleep on a plane without an eye mask. If you don’t have one already, grab a fun one from Flight001. It’s co-founder Fred Perotta’s go-to brand — especially for surviving long haul flights.

Zara ($30)

Choosing multi-purpose gear is key to packing light — which is why I love blanket scarves, for keeping warm on planes or wandering around town. Zara almost always has a solid line of options.

Vapur water bottle ($14) or Grayl ($60)

No matter where you’re off to, you’ll need a water bottle — and that water bottle may not be the same one you use at home.

For most adventures, we recommend one of the Vapur collapsible water bottles. They’re especially nice for times when your water bottle isn’t full (like going through airport security). 

If you’re going somewhere where you need to filter your own water, the Grayl Ultralight Purifier is what you need. Check out the full list of travel water bottles.

The Best Travel Clothing

While you can build a functional and stylish travel wardrobe from your closet, sometimes you just need a piece of clothing built for travel. These brands keep the needs of travelers in mind.

Toms and Sperry’s

For shoes, always look for a pair that serves multiple purposes and can pack down light. Both Toms and Sperry’s fit the bill. Brands aside, flats and low ankle boots also work well for travel.

 

Bluffworks Tailored Fit Chino ($125)

“The Bluffworks tailored fit chinos might be the best pair of pants I’ve ever worn—travel pants or otherwise,” says Tortuga writer Shawn Forno. They’re fitted, stylish, and durable — everything you need from a good pair of travel pants.

“If the price tag is a little high,” Shawn advises, “just remember that quality gear pays for itself over time.” But if you’re on the fence, take a look at the rest of his travel pants suggestions.

Patagonia Men’s Stretch All-Wear Hybrid Shorts ($69)

We love these shorts because they’re a stylish hybrid between streetwear and swimwear; a two-for-one if you will. Also, “they’re incredibly comfortable,” says Shawn.

Not your style? (Not a dude?) Check out the full list of travel swimsuit recommendations.

 

Bluffworks Gramercy (Slim Fit) Travel Blazer ($295)

Traditional blazers and suit jackets can be a huge pain to travel with. The Bluffworks Gramercy Travel Blazer, however, is not that blazer. “This wrinkle-free travel blazer fits great, looks awesome, with all the right stretch and give to take everything from airport lounges to after hour raves,” says Shawn. Also, it’s machine washable.

Not your style? Take a look at a few other travel blazer options and while you’re at it, learn how to pack a dress shirt without wrinkling it.

 

Nike, Athleta, or Lululemon

“Don’t show the world your underwear,” says writer Emily Gaudette. “Buy a pair of black leggings meant for athletics, and you can throw them on under a skirt or dress if it gets cold, or wear them to bed.” Whatever side of the leggings-as-pants debate you’re on, you have to admit: they’re versatile.

Uniqlo and Smartwool

For both genders, we love Uniqlo and Smartwool brands for basics like t-shirts and long underwear that can help you layer outfits while on the road.

Smartwool Socks (prices vary)

However, our favorite Smartwool product? Their socks. They’re warm, quick-dry, and sturdy which make them great for both long flights and everyday adventures.

Patagonia Nano Puff Travel Jacket ($200) or Craghoppers Compresslite Jacket ($65)

Down jackets are the way to go for travel. “If you want to take your winter jacket to the limit, the even slimmer Patagonia Nano Puff travel jacket ($200) is the way to go,” says Shawn.

Beginners not ready to invest $200 in a coat should consider the Craghoppers Compresslite Jacket ($65). It’s “a great entry level, easy to pack winter jacket.” For more, peruse all of the best winter jackets for travel.

Travel Toiletries

In-flight essentials, check. Clothing, check. Now how about some toilet(ry) talk?

GoToob Travel Bottle ($3+)

Hands down the best containers for your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and other liquids are the ones by GoToob. They’re easy to fill, clean, and use. Seriously, there isn’t even a link to other options for this piece of travel gear. This is it. You found it.

Dr. Bronner’s

We all recommend Dr. Bronner’s again and again for travel. Use it as body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, and 15 other things.

Best Travel Gadgets and Electronics

To pack lightly, you should always try to limit your electronics. Especially since many electronics serve multiple purposes. Can you get away with just your iPhone as your camera instead of bringing both? Electronics are an easy place to cut back. Still, a couple of our go-tos:

Apple’s World Traveler Kit ($34)

For Mac users, go for the World Traveler Kit since it converts both plugs and voltage for you.

This is all you need. No matter where your travels take you.

Anker PowerCore 20100 ($40)

The Anker PowerCore 20100, “Holds a ton of juice, and continues to demonstrate reliability after being put through some rough conditions.” It’s also pretty lightweight — all great features for an external battery pack.

Canon EOS Rebel or Nikon D3400

If your iPhone camera won’t do, both the Canon Rebel and Nikon D3400 are great starter cameras if want to make the investment before your next trip. Just keep in mind to look for the body and lense when comparing prices — they’re sometimes sold separately.

Your Phone, Unlocked

It doesn’t matter what provider you have, they will all unlock your phone for international usage for you — if it doesn’t already come that way. Once in a new country, swap out your SIM card for a local one.

Alternatively, you could get on T-Mobile International Plan, which covers 140+ countries (most other international cell phone plans are a rip off).

Other Travel Accessories

Nomatics BASIC Minimalist Travel Wallet ($20)

While different destinations warrant different wallet needs, the Nomatics BASIC Minimalist Travel Wallet works well for most. It gives you easy access to your card, has a stash pouch for small things (like your Airbnb key. It ranks high on our list of the best travel wallets.

REI Multi Towel ($10)

Looking for a travel towel? Whether you’re staying in hostels or plan to spend time by the beach, travel towels can come in handy. Whatever you do, though, don’t pack a normal bath towel: they take up way more space than they need to. Instead, opt for a micro-fiber towel like the REI multi-towel.

If the REI multi-towel doesn’t work out for you, writer Stacey Ebert has plenty more towel recommendations and shopping tips.

TL;DR

While most of the items you already own will do just fine for most trips, there are a couple of pieces of gear you should invest in as your starting out. Your luggage will be the most important (and biggest) investment — so choose something that can meet all of your diverse travel needs, like the Setout. Other items to look into:

Next up: learn how to pack a carry on

 

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