Ever wanted an inside look into what I personally use to plan a trip or what kind of things I take with me when I travel? This is your chance to see what goes in my own travel resources toolbox and see what might be helpful for you.
This list is going to evolve over time as I’m continuously adding my new favourite things so make sure you come back to see what’s new!
Table of Contents (jump to where you want to go)
Skyscanner – I first discovered Skyscanner when I was on exchange in Europe and it really opened my eyes to what flight search engine should be like. Sure there are a TON of tools out there now but what differentiates Skyscanner is their ability to do open ended searches like finding the best deals to anywhere in Europe from your home city. The other thing it’s good with is searching low cost carriers which a lot of other ones don’t have. On top of that, I really like the Skyscanner app which I use for my last minute flight searches. If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll see all sorts of hot flight deals posted there.
Kayak – This should come as no surprise. Kayak’s been top dog when it comes to flight search engines for a long time. Search results are best when looking for flights that originate from North America. Kayak is a perfect place to do that initial search to get an idea of what the fares are looking like. Just keep in mind that they don’t include airlines like Southwest.
Google Flight Search – Google surprised everyone by entering the flight search business back in 2011. The reason why they are so powerful is because of how much data they have. Yes they have the standard flight searching tools but where they shine is in some of their hidden abilities. 1) Predict which months have the cheapest prices 2) Search for hidden layover cities and 3) Find the cheapest destinations based on your parameters. Check out my article on Google Flight Search.
airbnb – Now if there’s one thing that’s revolutionized travel in these past 10 years, it’s airbnb. While the idea of homestay isn’t new, airbnb popularized this method of stay and made travellers realize that there are options beyond hotels that may be more comfortable, convenient, and cheaper. If you haven’t signed up yet, make sure you grab your free $30 today through my referral.
HomeAway – A direct competitor to airbnb is HomeAway and while I do enjoy the user experience of airbnb, you can often find even better deals on HomeAway simply because their fees are lower. As an example, I was looking at a property in Kauai and for the same property between the two, HomeAway was cheaper by $400. It could also work vice versa so I always check both. Also keep in mind that VRBO is owned by HomeAway so you will get very similar inventory.
Booking.com – Booking is now my go-to search engine when it comes to finding hotels. It’s an easy to use interface and at the end of the day helps me find cheap deals. On my recent trip to Iceland, I more or less booked every single hotel, hostel, and guesthouse. I am always impressed with the amount of inventory they have.
Agoda – Anytime I go to Asia, my go-to hotel search engine is Agoda without a doubt. They simply have the the most robust collection of accommodations in Asia and good rates. I’ve never been led astray by Agoda and I can comfortably recommend them when planning your next trip.
Priceline – Now I don’t typically use Priceline for standard flight/hotel/car rental searches, the power truly lies in the Name Your Own Price feature. For years, I relied on this feature to bag some incredible hotel deals. The game of Name Your Own Price may sound like voodoo at first but I’ve written a handy Priceline guide that explains it all.
Hostelworld – The biggest player in town when it comes to hostels. Their platform is super simple to use because I can easily sort and filter on the top hostels in a particular city I’m searching in. Hostel listings are clear, concise and designed to help you make your best decision.
My must-pack items that I use for every single trip no matter the type of trip or climate.
Columbia Outdoor Gear – There’s no other company I trust for outdoor adventure gear whether it be for base layers, jackets, pants, shirts and accessories. What they really excel in is in athletic gear that doesn’t get in the way of the crazy things you might do. In the cold you have their TurboDown and OmniHeat reflective materials that keep the warmth in. In the rain you have OutDry to keep water fully out. In the warm weather, you have moisture wicking materials that also keep you cool. Columbia has never let me down and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending any of their products to you.
Keen Newport H2 Sandals – These are my all-time favourite travel sandals. They’re light, easy to pack, submergible, breathable, and most importantly ridiculously comfortable. I bring them on practically every trip that involves warmer climates. My review will tell you that they’ve been awesome for hiking, as water shoes and a daily walker.
Original Buff Headwear – When do I not have a buff on when I’m travelling? Popularized by the reality tv show, Survivor, this is a staple in my packing list because of how versatile they are. They’re a great microfibre cloth that I’ve used to clean my lenses in a bind, I’ve used it to wipe down sweat, I’ve used it to keep warm, and I’ve also used it to block the sun. And when I’m not physically doing something with it, it’s a great looking accessory I’m wearing around my wrist or wherever. There are a ton of designs to choose from. I profess my love for these in my official Buff review if you want to read more. I have 5 at this point!
ExOfficio Underwear – This is probably the last thing you think about when you’re putting together you packing list but over my many years of travel, you realize this is perhaps the MOST important thing. In your quest to pack light, it comes down to lightweight and easily washable things and one of the ways you cut down is to bring less underwear. Now it’s not as gross as it sounds. The amazing part about the ExOfficio Give-N-Go boxer briefs is that not only are the wedgie-free, they’re moisture wicking, super quick to dry and weighs practically nothing. Whether you can do this or not is up to you but you can literally travel with 2-3 pairs of ExOfficio underwear on any given trip. Looking for an alternative? I do a direct comparison between ExOfficio and ScottEVest’s underwear.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes – I’m a little OCD on organization so packing cubes and stuff sacks are a must-have for me. The one I’m using on every trip is usually the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cube which is perfect for keeping my rolled shirts together. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my video on clothes rolling tips.
Rainbow Sandals – Somebody once told me: “Once you go Rainbow, you can’t go back.” This couldn’t be more tree ever since I made the full transition to this California brand that is a house-hold name on the west coast. I own the double layer leather sandal and it has only gotten better overtime as my feet has imprinted onto the sponge rubber. I love the weathered leather look as well!
SmartWool Hiking Socks – If there’s a leader in hiking socks, I’d say it’s SmartWool. All of their stuff is quality and they’re the only socks I pack when I travel. They’re made with merino wool so you get all the moisture wicking qualities, they don’t smell, warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. What more can you ask for?
Victorinox Travel Organizer – Along the lines of staying organized, this is a great little travel document wallet that I primarily use to hold my printed travel documents, extra travel cards, receipts, extra cash, extra passport photos etc. There are a ton of options in the market for this but this one was the best I’ve used so far.
Money Belt – Let me tell you a story. I was in Paris 10 years ago and I made the mistake of putting my backpack on the ground while taking photos. Before I knew it, a thief had snatched it and just like that I had lost almost everything. The silver lining of it all was that I was wearing a money belt at the time and so all my important documents were safe. Don’t travel without a money belt. For reals.
Evernote – Whenever I travel, I like to keep track of the trip’s itinerary, writing down cool spots that locals recommend, interesting facts, and all the details of things that I know I’ll be sharing on the blog down the road. Evernote is my tool of choice because it’s super easy to use, quick to format, and syncs across devices. There’s a free version but I’m on the Plus tier because I use the app across 4 devices.
maps.me – I’ve been on the hunt for a good mapping app that works well offline. Sure there’s Google’s “Ok Maps” feature but it’s not the most consistent. That’s how I eventually found maps.me which is the only map app you need when you know you won’t have access to data.
Uber – I don’t think I need to convince you why Uber is helpful when you travel. I’ve done my comparisons and 9 out of 10 times, Uber is cheaper than taking regular cabs. The app is so simple to use and what I love the most about Uber is that the drivers actually care about customer experience. Their livelihood depends on good star ratings. Has any cabbie ever offered you gum or a mint? Uber drivers have. If you haven’t signed up yet, make sure you use my invite code: willt1234ue. Get a free ride worth up to $10!
TRIP PLANNING TOOLS
Google Sheets – Call me old school or a spreadsheet nerd but after trying so amny different trip planning tools out there, simple sharable Google Sheets have still trumped everything else. It has the collaboration feature, is widely adopted by everyone since everyone has a Gmail account at this point, and also has an accompanying app that you can use offline.
Lonely Planet Guidebooks – I try to do all my research beforehand but sometimes it’s nice to have a guidebook with you for reference. I’ve used a lot of different companies over the years and when it comes down to it, Lonely Planet’s is always the best. They focus on budget, are quite compact, and also very well organized. They have sales all the time so make sure you check their shop for deals.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 – I started getting into photography many many years ago with a camera that some will remember – the Canon Rebel XTi. It was my first introduction to DSLR and that flourished into the 5D MK2. I began second guessing my set up though when I went on that big trip of mine back in 2012. I carried all of my fancy gear and the photos were amazing but at the end of it all, my back was killing and it got to the point where I didn’t want to bring my camera out with me. Coming back, I knew I wanted a change and that’s when I learned about mirrorless cameras and invested in the Micro Four Thirds (M43) format. The beauty of the M43 is that you also don’t lose much in quality compared to most other DSLRs. I can now travel the world without putting the weight of bricks on my shoulders. As an added bonus, the E-M1 is also quite capable in video as well. If you’re looking for that perfect travel camera, consider mirrorless and M43. I tell you why here.
Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens – Paired with the E-M1, this is the best lens for travelling that covers the wide-angle range for those sweeping landscapes and the zoom range for portraits and close-up details. This thing is practically glued to my camera because while I’m on the go there simply isn’t enough time to be switching lenses. What I love about it is that not only is it versatile, the f/2.8 aperture gives my photos that blurry bokeh and handles low light very well. This is a top-notch high quality lens and a must-have for anyone invested in the M43 platform.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens – The 12-40mm lens is my go-to lens in most situations but in case where I go on a trip with sweeping wide landscapes, I will most often switch to the 7-14mm lens to be able to capture as much of the scenery as possible. The quality of the glass here is impeccable. The only knock I’d have on this lens and pretty much any other wide angle alternative is that you can’t put a filter on this because of the dome lens. I think it has something to do with the optics and small form factor. Highly recommend this lens regardless though and my second most favourite lens when I travel.
Olympus BLN-1 Battery – Duh you need batteries but the point I want to make here is that 1) you always want more batteries than you think you’ll need and 2) knock-off third-party batteries are a BAD idea. You need lots of extra batteries because you may be going on a multi-day hike like the Inca Trail and mirrorless cameras in general consume more juice. I’ve also had bad experiences with cheap batteries where in Peru, they started expanding at high altitudes to the point where they were practically stuck inside the camera body.
B+W 62mm XS-Pro Clear UV Haze with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating – Your lenses need protection and that’s where the UV filters come in. While blocking UV is nice to have, the real purpose of these filters is to protect the precious front element glass from being damaged or scratched up. Also if by some chance your lens takes a tumble and falls on the ground head first, the filter will take the brunt of the damage. Don’t skimp out here, make sure you protect your lenses. In my opinion, B+W makes the best filters out there so make sure you grab one of these for your photography gear set up. Note: This particular one has a 62mm thread that matches the Olympus 12-40mm lens but if you own other lenses, make sure to double check what thread it uses.
B+W 62mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating – Outside of the UV filter, I’d only recommend one more type of filter, and that’s the circular polarizer. The purpose of this type of filter is to 1) cut down the reflection and glare of water and 2) to darken the sky and saturate the colors. Your landscape shots will thank you for popping on a circular polarizer. It will make your photos look that much more dynamic and will save you a heck of a lot of time post processing. The Kaesemann line from B+W is their highest which is why the price tag on this is a bit high but I’ve had a really good experience using this one which is why I recommend it. Keep in mind though that this’ll only be for the 12-40mm lens since the 7-14mm wide angle lens can’t take filters.
SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB SDHC Memory – This is kind of along the same vein as batteries – you kind of need memory in order for your camera to function. The importance of high quality memory cards is of the utmost important because if you buy a bad one, you could be putting all of your photos in jeopardy. You really don’t want to be in a situation where your memory card becomes corrupt. Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not fun. For me, SanDisk is really the only brand I trust when it comes to memory. The Extreme Pro tier of cards are high speed and work well with video and if you’re taking sequential photos. I also have the philosophy of using smaller capacity cards in order to hedge your bets so to speak if you lose a card or if one does become corrupt. If say your 64GB card goes bust, you’ve just lost everything as opposed to just one of two 32 GB cards you have.
LensPen – This is an indispensable part of your photography toolkit. When you’re travelling, it is likely that your lens is going to get dirty. Instead of using your dirty shirt to clean them, something such as a LensPen is magic.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L in Ash – As a photographer or even an everyday traveller, you know that the struggle to find the perfect back is REAL. When this Kickstarter project started midway through 2016, I was excited as heck because their previous product, the Everyday Messenger was so good. The only issue with it was that for any serious travelling, it wasn’t useable because of the ergonomics of a messenger bag. What I love about this bag is that they’ve really designed it for the travelling photographer in mind. The divider system is pure genius in its flexibility and being able to handle camera gear and other miscellaneous objects. There’s a special laptop compartment which is crucial and there is space for additional items like a jacket or random things you pick up during the day while travelling. Materials were meticulously chosen to be of the highest quality. Oh and how you not appreciate that ash grey colour with tan leather accents.
Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop – Adobe recently transitioned everything to the Creative Cloud and as such made things slightly more complicated in terms of payment because now they can charge customers monthly instead of one time for software. Luckily they have bundles like this out there that are the only two tools I use from Adobe. I personally prefer Lightroom where I use it to catalog all of my photos and is overall just much easier to do photo edits on but Photoshop is more of that precision tool if you need to do highly specialized edits.
Backblaze – So you’ve finished post-processing all your photos and you have all of your files safely tucked away in an external hard drive. Now imagine the unimaginable, the hard drive dies or a natural disaster hits your home. You’ve just lost all of your files. Don’t let that happen to you. Sign up for Backblaze and have your files automatically synced and backed up in the cloud for only $5 a month. It’s a super slick program that runs in the background of your computer and any connected drives you may have.
Sirui T025X Carbon Fiber Tripod – How could I forget about the all important tripod! The hardest part about packing for a trip is deciding whether to bring a tripod or not. I did quite a bit of research on this one and after reading all the different review websites and comparing all the specs, this little known China branded tripod came out on top. I’ve used it for a number of trips this year and I love just how small this tripod folds into and how ridiculously light it is. The ball head could be better but for most applications such as stars, northern lights, sunsets, and sunrises, it does the job without adding too much weight to your gear.
Peak Design CapturePRO – My last new favourite camera gadget is this awesome quick clip system that is perfect for my Olympus M43 camera. What I love about it is that I can have this clipped to any bag that I have on me. Instead of something like a neck strap, I can quickly clip in and out of the CapturePro. I usually like this set up on one of my backpack straps. This makes the camera easily accessible and safe and secure when I’m doing something like hiking. Highly recommended for any photographer!
Bluehost – If you’re starting your blog, Bluehost is your best place to do it. Starting a travel blog is super easy and a lot of it is thanks to hosting companies like Bluehost. Once you have your hosting figured out (they include your custom domain as well which is nice), next you layer on WordPress, your theme and then everything else.
WP Engine – This is my current hosting company as my blog had grown and needed something that could provide a bit more than the basic services. These guys have been very reliable and have saved my butt a few times with their automatic backups. Save 20% off your first payment on any shared plan using code wpe20off.
StudioPress – For the 3rd iteration of Going Awesome Places, I was determined to look for a theme that was lightweight, performance optimized, and well designed. Through my research, Genesis kept coming up time and time again. Turns out, a ton of bloggers use it today with the main reason that it’s highly customizable and excellent performance. So over the course of 2016, I embarked on a big website redesign project. Going through StudioPress’ site, I eventually zoned in on one theme – Altitude Pro. It practically took a year to get done but I’m happy to see it live today. Tell me what you think!
themeforest – If you’re in the hunt for a GOOD theme, my recommendation is to take a look at themeforest. They have literally over 16,000 site templates available to choose from that many other travel bloggers (myself included) are built off of. My previous theme, Sahifa, was purchased from themeforest.
Elegant Themes – The first ever theme I got for Going Awesome Places was from ElegantThemes. What I loved about them was that by signing up for a year subscription, I had access to 87 beautifully crafted themes. Contrast this to themeforest where you have to pay roughly $40 per theme. Right now, the most popular theme on ElegantThemes is Divi 3.0 theme which has unparalleled control of your pages with its custom page builder. It’s their smartest and most flexible theme yet.
MailChimp – Building your list is important as heck and so you’ll need a service to help you build that list. For most bloggers, MailChimp is going to be your go-to platform because well…it’s free! The forever free plan is available to everyone for the first 2000 subscribers. What I love about MailChimp is that they’re constantly making improvements and is incredibly dummy friendly. Check them out and if you need to upgrade, you can easily do so afterwards.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links. I personally use and endorse all the products and services that I list below and wholeheartedly recommend them to you because they are companies that are downright awesome and have made my travels way better and easier. If you have questions about any of these, I’m happy to answer them. Just shoot me a message.