I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Atlassian Summit Europe 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. Afterward, six of us headed to Cardiff, Wales for a colleague's (read: friend's) wedding. From there, my husband and I hopped from Ireland to England before heading home. Less than 24 hours later, I was back at the airport on a domestic flight to a client site.
While this seems like a lot, my trusty backpack held most of my essentials for the entire trip around Europe and acted as my go-bag when I was ready to hop onto my next flight. I've compiled a list of essentials I carry with me while traveling to keep not only my sanity, but to ensure I'm prepared for most, if not all, situations.
After years of picking up roll-aboards at the local discount retailer, I finally invested in some new luggage. Don't get me wrong, my last roll-aboard traveled over 250,000 airline miles either in the overhead bins or checked and was only retired in August when one of the wheels finally fell off. My new one is soft-sided, expandable, lightweight, and has 360 degree movement. It's already traveled to Indianapolis and Cincinnati and will be in Vegas, Georgetown, Irving, Austin, and probably one more place I'm forgetting by the end of October. While I spent approximately $100 on the one piece of luggage, I am already pleased with its versatility and durability. Check out what I use here.
Not just any shoes. Depending on what we were doing at Summit, in the evenings entertaining clients, or even attending the wedding, it is important to have good shoes. However, when packing light, it's important to consolidate when able. While tennis shoes were a must for an 8-hour day of training, they aren't exactly the right foot wear for an elegant Welsh garden wedding or roaming around the streets of Dublin. Durable, stylish, and comfortable: those are my requirements. Our HR Generalist turned me onto some of the best flats I've ever worn. Averaging 15,000 steps per day in Europe, I was concerned about their long-term comfort for traipsing around cities or attending the wedding where I could keep my footing on grassy surfaces and while dancing. I can't tell you how impressed I am with these shoes and how well they have survived the abuse so far. Best part: they're machine washable. A must after walking in...well...not sure I want to think about it.
Flip flops are an essential for me for plane rides. I'm lucky my feet don't get cold and they allow me to wiggle my toes, arch and flex my feet, and perform other exercises while on the plane to keep the circulation moving. While it takes ~ 1 week of continuous wear to get them just right, once they're broken in, I can walk all day in them (and have). Just ask my buddy and fellow Principal Consultant, Brian Nye: 27,000 steps around San Francisco taking in the sights. In addition, they take up little space and depending on what I'm wearing during that week, I can choose from a load of colors. And they're easily replaced. Check out what I use here.
Reusable Water Bottle
While it may seem like a no-brainer, a quality reusable water bottle is an absolute must. Long plane rides, air-conditioned terminals and buildings, or visiting Jameson's Bow Street Distillery, hydration is key. I was lucky enough to receive one by Praecipio Consulting several years ago and I don't leave home without it. Many airports have bottle filling stations and if the restaurant has a bar, they're usually willing to fill it as well. I use this one because, other than it being free, has survived 200,000 miles in the air, several drops and falls, and keeps water cold for upwards of eight hours. Not that it usually lasts that long before I drink it all.
Locking Pill Case
Like most folks my age, I have a few medications I take during the day as well as supplements to keep my body happy. On more than one occasion, the weekly pill case in my backpack has decided to open several days worth of pills into the bowels of my bag. While I was at my local drug store picking up a second case for the 16 days I would be out, I came upon a locking pill case that maintains my daily regimen. I can't tell you how thrilled I was and promptly bought two. I no longer had to worry about where I stashed the cases in my bag for fear I'd be picking fiber out of the bottom of my bag or, god forbid, the fish oil gel capsules were crushed. Traveling with my medications securely stowed in my backpack was a little extra relief as we moved from city to city.
While I have no preference on brand, the weather in Barcelona reminded me much of home: wait 5 minutes and it will change. It would go from absolutely sunny and gorgeous to rainy and back within a 20 minute period. I stashed this handy piece of equipment in my backpack about a year ago and promptly forgot about it. It has come in handy more times than I can count. When collapsed and stowed, my umbrella is approximately 8" long and weighs less than 6 ounces. It fits beautifully in the bottom of my bag and the wrist strap makes it easy to loop over my arm or clip to my bag when not in use. Mine also has a slip-cover, so stashing a damp umbrella in my backpack won't cause any problems.
When headed to Europe and spending time in both Spain as well as Wales, Ireland, and England, switching or carrying multiple adapters and remembering plugs and cords and and and...ugh. Also, most adapters will offer you the ability to plug one item in then ask you to daisy-chain items to that one. For example, when plugging my laptop into the adapter, I might have to plug my phone and tablet into my laptop to charge those as well. Instead, I found a world adapter with USB charging ports. It also has a fuse for surge protection and each plug is retractable. It's lightweight, relatively compact, and mine survived planes, trains, automobiles, and boats.
Portable Power Bank
Let's face it. When at a conference or on vacation, you're in for some long days and nights. There's also a significant amount of phone usage for pictures, posts, tweets, etc. It's not always convenient to carry the adapter, a cord, and a power bank. In fact, that puts me right back in the dilemma of "Do I really need a whole backpack to carry everything?" My husband found this one and I ordered one right before I left for Spain. While it's by no means light, it was compact enough that with an octopus (multi-use cable set), not only did it fit in my relatively small purse, I was able to keep my phone charged as we galavanted around the various cities. Best part: it has a solar charging option for the power bank itself. I tested this one sunny afternoon and was delighted to see the flashing LED indicator turn solid indicating it was fully charged.
While I have many more things I keep in my backpack (probably too many things, to be honest), these items were and are a must when traveling domestically and abroad. If I have only one item to add, it would be something non-electronic to stimulate the mind. My preference is coloring, but a good novel (paperback), crosswords, Sudoku, or the compact multi-puzzle books are all good options. It should provide you the ability to disconnect from the world for an hour or two because, let's face it, travel can be exhausting and you can't pour from an empty cup.