Minimalism sometimes seems like it’s about living or traveling without things, but I prefer to think of it as finding those few items that are absolutely amazing. Here’s four I won’t leave home without. They weren’t necessarily the items I expected, and they all fit easily in a minimalist backpack, so maybe pick one up before your next trip!
My Schwab Debit Card
Schwab wins the gold star for being my favorite travel accessory. What? Did you think this post was going to be about fashion? On our US road trip, I loved that I could use any ATM and get any fees refunded, even though we didn’t use that much cash. What I learned on our SE Asia trip is that Schwab also refunds ATM fees for cash drawn outside the US. Even better, there’s no additional fees on their end and I get an intraday exchange rate on local currency. This is much better than the sketchy guys with a shack in the market or even the official stands at the airport. The fee refund alone saved me $50-80 a month over the 3 months of our trip. The exchange rates also saved us a few hundred dollars since we paid for everything in cash. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that US dollars are also at recent highs compared with almost every other currency, making it a great time to spend them.
ExOfficio Go To Dress
I almost didn’t bring this dress because it’s made of heavy black cotton and it doesn’t pack down, making it hot to wear and heavy to carry. Fortunately, it made the cut and I’ve worn it most days since. It turns out I sweat no matter what I wear, and the dress is comfortable and breathable. It’s nice enough to wear out in the evenings to any restaurant we’re hitting in SE Asia on our budget. It also has a built in bra that’s comfortable in the heat. When I eventually wear this one out and need to replace it, I will look for a more lightweight material so it’ll be lighter and can be washed more easily in the sink, but I will check ExOfficio first.
Side note, ExOfficio is our favorite travel brand for this trip. Adam also has shorts, a shirt, and underwear from ExOfficio that have held up very well. Check out their stuff here: ExOfficio Store. My go-to dress is no longer on the online shelves unless you want 3/4 sleeves, but other options are here.
Waterproof Digital Watch
As the neurotic planner on team ogre, I’m the one who keeps track of the date and time, plus our general calendar. My trusty $25 waterproof Timex watch keeps me sane. No, we don’t really have major appointments or a tight schedule anywhere, but I use it to estimate distances during our hiking and paddling adventures and to keep track of time for essential travel activities like surf board rentals or hard boiling eggs in a teakettle. It also keeps a “home” time zone so I can easily see what time it is in the US. Of course, most of these things can be done with a cell phone, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of keeping mine close at hand.
Beat Up Old Running Shoes
Before the trip, I contemplated buying a fancy new pair of quick drying, study, trail runners or some fashionable yet functional trekking sandal. I just couldn’t find a good all-purpose solutions, so I came to SE Asia with just flip flops and a beat up old pair of Nike sneakers. I know this feels like an odd add on a packing list, but I fully expected that the shoes wouldn’t cut it for some activity and I’d need to pick up something more technical or heavy duty or something.
But no! The sneakers got me through caves and rivers in Malaysia, workouts in Thailand and Cambodia, and up and over the mountains in Sapa, Vietnam. It was great to have shoes for biking and scootering too. And, as a bonus, the cave swims in Malaysia washed out the stench from all the other adventures. Since the eco-crazy New Zealand customs folks gave the shoes the ok, I’ve hiked almost 30 miles on gentle to moderate trails. And while these shoes aren’t perfect for slippery cave surfaces or real weight lifting, they’ve been good enough to get those jobs done.
For me, it was a great lesson learned, and I hope I never pack any sport-specific footwear again!
One High Quality Dry Sack
We have a few Outdoor Research dry sacks that were an REI pickup about five years ago before one of our paddling trips. I packed a medium sized one on this trip. It holds about two or three electronics, like my camera, our phones, or my Kindle.
It’s been very handy both for adventuring and also for days when we’re just out walking or biking and want to protect against potential rain. We have also used ziplock or other plastic bags, but those are less sturdy, don’t clip to things, and tend to wear out quickly.
After lots of use and possibly a little over-stuffing, I have noticed a very tiny hole in our dry sack, so I’ll still use it to protect our stuff from potential rain but I’ll have leave the camera at home for kayaking, at least until I can pick up a replacement.
I really wanted to pick a favorite out of my phone, camera, Kindle, and USB backup battery and computer, but it turns out that they’ve all been helpful in their own ways. I haven’t figured out how to write a blog post or edit photos without the computer, but mine is an absolute brick and is heavy to carry. We had wifi almost everywhere, so my Nexus 4 phone was great for finding information on the go, but it’s battery isn’t good enough to use it as a camera on long adventures or as an e-book reader on long travel days. I’ll keep looking for ways to simplify for our future adventures.
So these are my top four travel must-haves after this current trip. If you have other unexpected or amazing travel accessory that you’d really recommend, please let me know in the comments!
Final note: Some of the links here go to Amazon.com. Purchasing these brands I love through these links sends a little beer money back to the blog and doesn’t cost you more. Thanks!