Dear Outside Magazine – though I’m sure the demand is greater than the need, I humbly and officially submit my interest to become one of your honored gear testers and reviewers. My experiences as a Sales Associate at Recreational Equipment Inc., living and traveling abroad, combined with my passionate, yet slightly obsessive drive for product research make me a perfect fit for the position. I would also like to add that my wife, family, and friends, think I’m extremely trustworthy and that I provide useful information about many things (most of the time).
I am a gear junkie of the best variety. I’m honest to a fault, but mostly I just believe in great products and knowledge. Products that, when I pay for them, I expect them to do what they say they are going to do. Fair value. A great overall experience is much appreciated.
Having traveled to a variety of places and committing our lives to intentional and simple living, I’ve discovered that there are 3 main things I care about in regards to purchasing products for traveling:
A great example of this are my Reef Slippers (flip flops/sandals).
1. They are extremely well made: durable, quality materials, good looking.
2. I’ve used them everywhere: at the beach, indoors, light hiking, around town.
3. Initially I paid around $30 for them but they have lasted 4+ years and 4+ countries.
This is a guide for the most useful travel gear that we suggest for almost any adventure. Products that are versatile. Products that we’ve tested ourselves that we believe in, love, and share with others. Because really, if you love something and believe in something, you should share it with others, especially if it helps someone in their journey.
What I mean to say is that I hope you benefit from our failures and lessons learned when it comes to travel gear rather than having to go through those experiences yourself.
Compact Travel Umbrella
The Description: Should be big enough to fit two average-sized adults, yet compact enough to fit in a day pack/bag. Should be strong enough to handle tropical downpours and last 4-5 years.
The Experience: One of our most memorable moments was being outside on a main road in Jamaica trying to catch a taxi home. BOOM. A huge thunderstorm dumps a ridiculous amount of rain on us and our umbrella was our only protection. An umbrella is way better than a sweaty rain jacket in the tropics. In climates like the Pacific Northwest, it serves as an added layer in your arsenal to protect you from the cold and wet. Staying dry is important no matter where you travel.
Recommendation: Totes Golf-Size Compact Umbrella
Quick Drying Clothing
The Description: High tech fabrics that feel good against the skin, wick away sweat, and most importantly are easy to wash and dry when you don’t have access to a laundry machine.
The Experience: A quick confession: we had access to a washer for most of our time in Jamaica. A couple of months ago that washer broke. Now we are back to hand-washing every week and trust me, it’s better to have high tech, fast drying clothing when you travel. An important thing I learned at REI was that cotton kills. It feels good against the skin, but it soaks and holds in moisture too much. This makes for sweaty and smelly clothing. In tropical weather, if your clothes don’t dry properly, you run the risk of mold. In cold weather, moist clothing combined with wind can exacerbate how cold you feel. Cotton is great. Not when you travel.
The Day Pack/Messenger
The Description: You want a pack that you can throw a weekend’s worth of clothes in, essential toiletries, enough pockets for random things like the passport and change, as well as enough space for the laptop or tablet.
The Experience: One of the best things we have loved in our adventures abroad is taking weekend trips and fitting everything into a manageable bag. Lugging around big bags or luggage makes you less mobile. It also makes you stand out in a crowd or be seen as the quintessential tourist. A messenger bag gives you a little more versatility because it can also be used for work environments. However, backpacks are still more comfortable for longer walks.
The Description: Tough enough to handle unpaved roads, mud, bush, and yet stylish enough for semi-formal situations like classrooms, Church, and nights out.
The Experience: Gone are the days when people need to pack 3-4 pairs of shoes for 3-4 different situations. Travle shoes should be versatile, durable, and comfortable. We both love our footwear that serves multiple purposes. It just decreases the amount of things to carry when we travel. The extra durability is especially appreciated in Jamaica because of the harsh conditions that wear down footwear. More importantly, you want something to protect your feet against the elements.
Recommendation: Crocs, New Balance, Sanuk
Lightweight and Versatile Technology
The Description: Small, light weight laptops for work and entertainment. Tablets for e-books, movies, and some work functionality. (Special note to Apple: Please make a product that combines the work functionality of a Macbook with the the touch capabilities and portability of an iPad. Call it an iBook. Thanks. -J)
The Experience: We love our Mac. I had to say it. Right now I’m writing on our 8-year-old computer and it’s doing great. It’s not as prone to viruses as a PC, and we’re easily able to write blog posts, edit photos and videos, and yes, almost everything is compatible with Microsoft products. We also love our iPad. We use it for our e-books, movies, internet browsing, and email. Both are easy to travel with and provide us with both work and entertainment value. Yes they are a big investment upfront, but who can argue with 8 years from a laptop??!!
Chef Knives – for those who love to cook
I think at first Michelle thought I was a little crazy to want to bring my own knives to Peace Corps. I’ve learned, however, that I am passionate about cooking and one of the best thing’s I’ve heard on Good Eats with Alton Brown is, “The best knife is the one you are most comfortable with.” Bring a chef’s/santoku style knife, a pairing knife, and a bread knife. You can do just about anything with these three knife styles.
Recommendation: Anything you are comfortable with and don’t mind getting a little beat up. I really like my Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife.
Portable Wireless Speaker – for those who love their music
We use our little speaker a lot more than we thought we would. Laptop speakers aren’t loud enough in noisy Jamaican classrooms and the portable speaker works great for presentations. It’s the one product we were both surprised at how much use we get out of it.
Recommendation: The Logitech UE mini boombox.
It can connect wirelessly via bluetooth to phones and laptops. Super compact. Great overall sound quality and pretty loud for being so small. Rechargeable (via USB) battery that lasts 10 hours!
I know there’s a lot of products and categories I have left out. We would love to hear your suggestion for gear that you found most useful in your travels. Let us know in the comments section below. -J