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I've been on 12 trips in one year — these are my 10 favorite travel products
Over the last 12 months, my husband and I have gone on 12 short vacations (three to four days on average) across France and a few neighboring countries. From smaller towns like Amiens and Montreux to cosmopolitan capitals like Madrid and Amsterdam, we’ve tried to keep things fun and varied. On paper, 12 trips in 12 months sound quite excessive, but we had our (many) reasons to go on this bout of tourism. So we let ourselves be seduced by the ease of movement across Europe and the simplicity of the train-hopping and backpacking travel lifestyle.
But what kind of geek would I be if I hadn’t used those travel opportunities to test all kinds of products, devices, apps, services, and features? And what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t report on the ones that made a significant difference in my experience? That’s why I’m now here talking to you about my favorite discoveries of them all — these are the 10 products that have completely changed the way I travel.
There is no travel planner like Wanderlog. Trust me, I’ve downloaded almost all of them. The Wanderlog app (Android, iOS, web) lets me create trips, share them with others, and we can all edit at the same time — yes, a little bit like Google Docs. I can add accommodations, flights, trains, bus reservations, and car rentals, then create multiple lists (with different colors and icons) of things I’m generally interested in checking out as well as itineraries of places I’ve already decided to visit on a specific day. And it pulls place data from Google Maps, including opening hours, images, websites, and short descriptions.
Wanderlog saves me time at every step of the travel-planning process. It is my second brain before and during trips.
If that isn’t enough, Wanderlog won me over with all of its small but incredibly useful extras. I can add formatted notes to every place or list with my own bullets, bold/italics, and hyperlinks. I can assign budgets to every visited place. The app automatically calculates the distance between any two places in my itinerary and tells me how long it’ll take to get from point A to B while driving, walking, or taking transit. And for most cities in the world, Wanderlog offers an Explore section that brings blog posts and lists of recommended places and activities from all over the internet, puts them on the map, and lets me add them to my lists or itineraries. All without me having to research anything in Google or Maps. How madly cool and utterly frictionless is that?
Basically, Wanderlog replaces Google Maps lists, Chrome bookmarks, Calendar events, email reservations, and separate notes, and it saves me time at every single step. It has become my second brain both while planning trips and while on an actual trip. Now, it’s simply indispensable to me.
eSIMs (Mobimatter and Airalo)
Back in January of 2015, I landed at midnight on a Sunday in Las Vegas for CES. I took a taxi to a 24/7 Walmart 30 minutes away to buy a SIM card. I needed it to go online during LG’s 8:00 AM press conference without being reliant on the conference hall’s spotty Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, Walmart didn’t have prepaid SIMs, so I found myself in the middle of nowhere-Vegas with no taxi nearby and no phone line at 3:00 AM wondering how the heck I could get back to my hotel.
A prepaid data eSIM is simple, convenient, and an absolute game-changer while traveling.
Stupid jetlagged decisions aside, international travel has long been a challenge for the always-connected among us. I used to research the destination country’s prepaid SIM card plans and operators for hours, then I’d try to find a store that sells them in the airport or near my hotel, wait in line at said store, get the SIM card, navigate foreign-language SMS or websites, and figure out wonky top-up systems, just so I could be reachable in a new land without paying a kidney in roaming fees.
Last year, I discovered Mobimatter and Airalo, two sites that sell prepaid data eSIMs for almost any country in the world. Now, I just browse these two to find the best offer, buy my data eSIM online before leaving, “download” it as a secondary SIM on my Pixel 6 Pro, make sure the access point is set up properly, and switch data to it when I land in the new country. The whole process takes ten minutes tops and I’m good to go. I’ve already used MobiMatter twice in Switzerland and once in Belgium, and I tried Airalo once in Turkey. My colleague Dhruv got an Airalo eSIM in the UAE. We have nothing but good things to say about them. Absolute game-changers.
Osprey Fairview and Farpoint
About a year ago, my husband and I moved from Beirut to Paris, which opened up this whole world of train travel and short weekend trips. Before this, I had never imagined myself as a backpack traveler — too heavy, too uncomfortable — until I started thinking of how easier and more practical a backpack would be for weekend trips. It’s definitely simpler than lugging a roller suitcase behind me all the time.
We started by getting my husband an Osprey Farpoint 40 (starting at $150 on Amazon). He loved it. Thanks to the shoulder straps and hip belt, it’s so comfortable for him to carry across train stations and airports. The design provides stellar support — even when the backpack is full, it feels almost weightless. Plus, it’s made from a resistant material, the zippers are smooth, and there’s space for a laptop, tablet, and some other random small things.
Osprey makes one of the few backpacks with shoulder and chest straps designed for a female body.
After briefly trying his backpack and realizing how good it was, I decided to get the female version for myself. The Osprey Fairview 40 (starting at $130 on Amazon) is basically the same backpack, but the shoulder straps are attached and angled differently to account for a larger chest. Having tried both backpacks, I can tell you the Fairview is much more comfortable and better suited for a female body. I’ve already carried it on trips to Amsterdam, Montreux, Berlin, Turin, and Chantilly, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other backpack.
Bobby Pro backpack and Karry 3.0 drawstring
While our Ospreys are great for carrying clothing and essentials on a train or plane, we still need a day bag to use once we reach our destination.
When we’re only carrying one Osprey, our go-to is the Bobby Pro backpack ($130 on Amazon) from XD-Design. It’s been with us on dozens of trips already since 2019, from the Himalayas to Meteora, passing by Abu Dhabi and Barcelona. The anti-theft design is perfect for busy cities, airports, and public transport. But the sturdy material, comfortable balance, extra zippers and organizers, and pass-through USB-C charging; all of these are useful no matter the destination. City or nature, MWC or tech conferences, it’s done it all and it’s still kicking. If it ever dies, I’m buying another one, no questions asked.
Pick one: an anti-theft day bag for bustling cities or a light drawstring bag for quick trips.
But since we only have four shoulders, we sadly realized we couldn’t bring the Bobby Pro on trips where we’re already carrying our two Osprey backpacks. So we’ve gravitated toward the Karry 3.0+ drawstring from Anvi Original to solve that. I bought the first version of this on Kickstarter and loved it so much that I grabbed the third one too. (They’re now at their fifth iteration.) Why the Karry? Because this drawstring bag is unlike any other. It’s more comfortable to carry for a whole day thanks to its large and fluffy strings. It also has three large zipped pockets and comes with an extra flap to protect your stuff. And it’s made from an extra-resistant material. The best part is that it can lay flat inside the Osprey when empty, so we can easily pack it and then switch to it after dumping our luggage in the hotel.
Zendure Passport II Pro
Like any self-respecting geeks, we carry some tech gadgets while traveling. Phones, power banks, Fitbits, an action cam, and sometimes an iPad or a laptop. To charge all of these, the Zendure Passport ($75.99 on Amazon) is our jack of all trades. It is a universal adapter with 100-240V DC input/output for multiple plug types and it works in the US, UK, rest of EU, and plenty of other countries too. But that’s only half the story. The other half? It’s a multi-port charger too.
It's a travel adapter and a 61W PD charger. The one power adapter to rule them all.
On one side, there’s a 61W USB-C PD port. On another side, there is a secondary 12W USB-C port and three 12W USB-A ports. Power is divided between all ports when they’re used at the same time, with a total output of 61W. It might not be the most powerful PD charger, but it’s the most convenient one of all.
We just keep this in our Osprey backpack and we know it’ll work everywhere for everything — no questions asked. For more portability, we bought a few short cables to go with it and now we have a setup that is very portable and capable of topping up anything from a Galaxy Watch 4 (check this little USB-C puck) to a laptop. It’s basically the one charger to rule them all.
We recommend: The best multi-port USB chargers you can get
Too Good To Go
A few months ago, I discovered Too Good To Go, the anti-food waste app that lets you reserve baskets of near-expiry items from bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants. At first, I was only using the app in Paris, but then it occurred to me that I could also benefit from it while traveling. And that has been an amazing idea.
You save food from being thrown away, and you save a few bucks.
Before going on a trip, I check the area around our hotel or some of the activities we’re doing to see what stores and baskets are offered and at approximately what time. Then, depending on our schedule, I’ll reserve some baskets and make sure we pick them up for our dose of fresh fruits and veggies or nice baked goods, all for a few euros.
My favorite hack? Some hotels offer baskets on their breakfast spread. If you’re already staying at that hotel (or near that hotel) and you don’t want a very heavy breakfast, just reserve a $4-5 basket instead of a $10-20 breakfast. Go there around 10:00 AM, pick up some items from their spread, and you’re good. You’ve saved food from being thrown away, and you’ve saved a few bucks too. Win-win.
No matter how much I appreciate Google Maps in a foreign city or town, I have to admit that it’s not the absolute best solution for walking or public transit. For that, I’ve gravitated to Citymapper wherever it’s available. Sometimes Citymapper even supports towns where Google Maps doesn’t have any data — this was the case when I went to Montreux in Switzerland a while ago, but it seems that Google has caught up now.
Having used both apps side by side, I’ve also found Citymapper to have more accurate timings in some cities, easier-to-read instructions (especially entrances and exits, whether to ride in the front or middle or back, and sometimes even clearer names for trains and directions). It also adds up sidewalk crossing times while walking, and time inside the station (to enter, switch, or leave) — two features Google Maps just completely ignores. And it integrates with Calendar, pulling up all my events and offering a list of all their locations for quick directions.
Google Maps wanted me to wait for a bus in a street with roadworks. Citymapper had the new temporary bus stop location.
Fun story: Citymapper completely won me over one night in Berlin. We were heading back to our hotel around 11:00 PM and Google Maps suggested we walk a few minutes to take the bus. As we did, we realized the supposed stop was on a street closed by roadworks. Surely no bus could get there, but Google Maps was adamant. Citymapper, on the other hand, suggested we go back and wait at another stop (a deviation from that bus’ route). We followed it and, sure enough, there was a temporary stop right where it indicated, and the bus came on time. Because of that single incident, Citymapper has gained a permanent place on my phone.
Want to know more? When Google Maps struggles, Citymapper comes to my rescue
Trekology inflatable pillow
Look, if you’re traveling an average of once a month on a writer’s salary, you’re not booking five-star hotels with all the luxury and comfort. Affordable three stars are more like it. And if you’re in your late thirties to early forties like we both are, then you can’t sleep on any random surface and get up the next morning without back or neck ache.
Since we can’t carry our own mattresses, we’ve resorted to solving the next problem we encounter in cheaper hotels: impossibly thin pillows. You know the kind, it’s fluffy but flattens to a thin paper when you lay your head on it. One pillow is too thin, two are too high; there’s no middle ground.
An inflatable pillow makes all the difference between a thin hotel pillow and a supportive one.
Our solution to that is frankly genius. We have two Trekology Aluft 2.0 inflatable pillows ($17.99 on Amazon), which we inflate as needed and place inside the pillow cover below the hotel’s provided mediocrity. This provides extra support and height while removing the annoying feeling of a hard inflatable pillow. It (almost) fools us into thinking we’re sleeping on a normal compressible pillow. And when it’s not in use, it just goes back to a small, portable size.
Travel-friendly cutlery, straws, and bottle
Another way to save some dinero while traveling is to grab breakfast and other food essentials from nearby grocery stores or bodegas instead of eating out for every meal. The first time we did that, we realized that while precut mango is easy to grab with your fingers, yogurt isn’t.
So we looked for travel-friendly cutlery and found this white-label stainless steel set on AliExpress for a few bucks; you can also get it on Amazon for $16.99. It contains a fork, a spoon, a knife, and two chopsticks, all divided into three pieces. Everything can be taken apart or put together in a few seconds. They’re washable, easy to transport, and perfect for store-bought yogurt, fruit, and salads.
You can't eat yogurt with your fingers and you shouldn't carry a water bottle that spills.
Taking the idea to the next level, we also got these bendable and washable silicone straws from GIR ($8.95 on Amazon). No more ocean-polluting plastic straws or quickly-melting paper straws. (Side note: GIR makes some of my favorite kitchen tools, I recommend you check them out. I’m in love with the Spoonula.)
Our last item is this insulated 13oz / 400ml Quechua water bottle from Decathlon ($12.99). It’s bulky, heavy, inconvenient, and time-consuming to open and close, but we bought it because it has two screw caps, making any spills near impossible. We’ve had it in our backpack for a year, and, as expected, it has never let a single drop out no matter how much we tossed, dropped, or flipped the backpack. This no-spill feature makes it an absolute winner.
Kindle Paperwhite (2021)
Traveling for me used to be all about music and sleep, but when I got the Kindle Paperwhite, I decided to try reading on a train ride, and I’m a convert. For anything from a short trip of an hour or two to longer five to six-hour trips, reading is an excellent way to dissociate until I reach my destination.
Books can carry you to another world and make any multi-hour trip feel like a snap.
What I realized was that while music is fun and immersive, I still get bored every now and then, check the time, and get annoyed that we’ve still not reached the destination. A good book, on the other hand, takes my mind completely away from reality. Passengers, time, distance, everything dissolves, and I get sucked into another world. I’ve been on a six-hour train ride from Turin to Paris where I didn’t look at the time until half an hour before arrival.
The Kindle Paperwhite is crucial to that experience. It’s light, easy to pack, lasts weeks on a charge, provides a readable screen no matter the light situation (dim night trains or sunny bus rides), and can carry thousands of books. I’m currently reigniting my teenage passion for older French adventure book series — Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin and Henri Verne’s Bob Morane.
Our verdict: Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review
I realize I already cheated by combining some products together and mentioning more than 10 total, but when I find something that works and works well, I absolutely love talking about it and sharing it with the world. So I’m going to cheat a bit more and add some extra products worthy of being on this list.
- Get Your Guide: A site where you can book tours but also entrances, transit tickets, and other random activities in most cities across the world. Prices are relatively the same as the official source, but you can use the code GET10 in the mobile app for a 10% discount on anything. The code changes every so often, but there always seems to be a 10% off promo. And just like that, I saved you a few bucks.
- Tiqets: Instead of creating an account for every museum or attraction you want to buy entrance tickets for, you can use Tiqets. It doesn’t have everything, but it fills a few gaps from Get Your Guide. There’s no permanent discount code, but if you look, you should find a 5-10% promo code at any point in time.
- Fever: It offers a mix of unique activities and events but also some restaurants, museums, and other random things — but it’s limited to select cities worldwide. The reason I’m recommending it is you can get up to 20% cashback with Fever Club rewards, which is nothing to sneeze at when you’re trying to do cool things on a budget.
- Groupon: In countries where it’s available, Groupon is the simplest way to save money on activities and restaurants. In my experience, the activity section is pretty mediocre with limited choices, but you can find some excellent two- to three-course meals for two at extremely affordable prices. My two extra tips: check Google Maps ratings to make sure a place is really good, and opt for places with reservations on Groupon instead of by phone to avoid calling internationally.
- Atlas Obscura: Wanderlog is awesome for finding all kinds of things to do, but if you want to walk a little bit off the beaten path, Atlas Obscura is a great way to explore the most peculiar and less touristic places to visit.
- Location Scout: If you like taking unique photos from special angles, this site lets you see all the cool spots in any city or town, as submitted by other photographers. The exact location is behind a paywall, but if you know your way around Google Maps and Street View, you may be able to guess these on your own. (Alternatives include Flickr, 500px, Shot Hotspot, and many more.)
And there you have it. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, it’s a collection of the products that have positively influenced my travel experience over the last year. However, as you must have guessed by now, I don’t take my travel lightly, and I’m sure this list will evolve with time.
What about you? Is there any device, gadget, app, service, or feature that has improved your travel experience? I’d love to know about it.