Stuff I like: 7 travel accessories that make awesome holiday gifts


With the holidays upon us, every travel pundit is telling you what to buy. After admiring last year’s lists, I decided to throw down my credit card to buy some of these recommended gadgets and accessories. Big mistake.

I bought expensive luggage only to destroy it through regular use (it’s not like I’m trying to ruin it – it just happened!) Highly-rated gadgets couldn’t deliver on basic performance. Since I pay for travel myself, I tend to be a harsh critic.

So this year, instead of reading another pundit’s list – and being disappointed – I decided to create my own. Here are seven travel accessories I like:

1) Patagonia MLC bag.
I’ve been through a number of roll-on bags (some expensive, some cheap) over the years and they’ve taken abuse on six continents, some never making it home. Wheels break and handles snap off. So I picked up the Patagonia MLC and found that I can cram more stuff into it than my rolling luggage (whether this is purely psychological, I’m not sure.)

Not being so rigid means I can put it into the overhead bin without being one of those people who put their rolling luggage sideways and occupy more space than they should. It’s easily held four changes of clothes, plus my laptop and other things I travel with. There’s an internal divider that I use to cinch down my dirty clothes and keep the clean from the dirty. The bag’s shoulder strap is awesome, and I’ve converted it to a backpack in order to get around quicker. Plus, it’s survived as checked luggage on trips back from India and Hong Kong and has been beaten. I’m happy with it, and I think you would be too.

2) Packing Cubes.
“But Nick, I don’t want to buy a new bag because you said so!” That’s cool – so let’s work with what you have. I’m a big fan of packing cubes, and just happened to buy mine from eBags. Socks and underwear go in the smallest one, undershirts/shirts go in the medium-sized one and pants and larger items go in the largest one. It helps me pack more efficiently because I can keep track of what goes in my bags, and in the event that TSA inspects my luggage, it won’t ruin my job packing. At the end of the trip, the largest cube is used to hold dirty laundry.

3) Quick dry underwear and other clothing.
My friends mock me for wearing the same shirts in all of my travel photos, but there’s a reason: If I can’t wash it in the hotel sink and hang dry overnight, then I don’t want to bring it with me. It helps keep down the amount of stuff I have to bring with, along with the fact that breathable clothing works better for big guys like me who sweat a lot (I know, TMI, but it’s true.) Marmot makes good boxers, and I know people who swear by Ex Officio. Plus if I check luggage, there’s always a pair or two in my bag just in case there’s delays.

4) Garmin Nuvi 500.
GPS devices are becoming pretty ubiquitous, but using the GPS in your car as a navigation tool when you’re walking around a foreign city doesn’t work that well. The Nuvi 500 makes that leap, allowing you to use it in your car, on your bicycle, your boat and walking. It’s been pretty handy on tests of walking around downtown Chicago, and I plan on loading it up with some topo maps while I go hiking in Hawaii in a few weeks.

5) Blackberry Curve 8320.
I’ve had a company issued Blackberry for years, and I’ve had mixed feelings about it. It’s awesome to answer emails from far away in order to stay in touch with the office and make sure people don’t injure themselves by thinking independently while you’re away, but it’s also a leash. So when it came time to look for a smartphone for personal use last year, I picked up a Blackberry Curve for myself on T-Mobile’s network.

Why? UMA support. UMA allows for routing of phone calls over Wifi networks, so those free hotspots overseas now become places to make phone calls that come out of your regular minutes, or you get unlimited UMA minutes for $10 a month. I’ve used it in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Hong Kong and in India to call home and stay in touch with family and friends (and I apologize for those phone calls that I may have made while under the influence of local alcoholic beverages.) It beats the GSM roaming charges, or having to find a local SIM card or – the traveler’s worst case scenario – the hotel phones.

6) Canon Powershot G10.
Are you looking for that happy medium between a point-and-shoot camera and not wanting to spend the money on a digital SLR (plus having to lug it around?) Enter the Powershot G10. I’ve been looking for a long time for something I can keep in a pocket and have it handy while I’m traveling versus having to bring $4,000 of camera equipment out of my bag every time I want to take a photo. It’s built like a tank and feels like a real camera in my hands versus a toy. The manual controls are great to have simply because it’s easy from someone who wants to graduate from the simple point-and-shoot camera to learn more about photography without spending $1,000 and up on a digital SLR and equipment. I’m happy with it, and that says a lot. At around $500, it’s a pricey gift, but it will last for years.

7) Moleskine Journals.
Ever since I was turned onto this 2 years ago, I’ve been using mine constantly as a reminder of my trips. It’s amazing how little notes, such as the cool coffee shop I went to in Buenos Aires or that awesome noodle place in Hong Kong, can make me remember what I did on trips. Even 3 words from my trip to India can make me giggle with glee. It’s a non-high tech approach to something we should be doing on our trips.