Electrolyte Packets for Travel or Survival?

This post began as a reply to a user comment questioning the claims made in this article on Lifehacker: Why You Should Add Electrolyte Packets to Your Outdoor Survival Kit. This is mostly focused on survival strategy, overlapping with travel advice.

Probably the most medically established use for electrolyte supplementation is in oral rehydration therapy, advocated by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, which uses ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) — a mixture of salt and sugar in specific proportions, sometimes including potassium, intended for use by people suffering from diarrhea and/or vomiting, which, if the fluid loss is severe enough, can lead to severe dehydration and death. If you’re American you may know of PediaLyte, which is essentially a pre-mixed oral rehydration solution with some added colors and flavoring. ORS packets are basically the same thing in powder form, thus making it much easier to transport. In many developing countries you can buy ORS packets cheaply at local pharmacies, and in the US it’s readily available through online retailers including Amazon (I would suggest this product for it’s low price per packet, as other products are running around $7/packet). Note that these formulations are similar to electrolyte products marketed to athletes (i.e. Gatorade) but different in the proportions of salt and sugar used (thus not quite ideal for this medical purpose).

From a travel perspective, if you’ll be traveling in developing countries where foodborne illness is more common and there’s a good chance that you’ll get sick, it would make sense to have some ORS packets on hand.  Whether you buy them locally once you arrive or order them and have them packed in your bag before you leave on your travels, it’s good to have a packet or two at the ready in case you fall sick in the middle of the night, when pharmacies are closed, or if you’re traveling alone and not feeling well enough to make a trip to the pharmacy (we are talking about diarrhea, after all).

There’s a case to be made for having ORS packets on hand in a wilderness survival situation as well, i.e. if you get sick from consuming tainted stream water. Obviously though, the better solution is to not get sick in the first place, so for me that means you should give priority in your survival kit to water purification tablets and means for creating fire and boiling water. You don’t want to be making ORS with tainted water which may only make you more sick, and you need clean water regardless of whether you’re sick or not.

Beyond getting a severe case of diarrhea, there are two things to consider regarding the need for some kind of electrolyte solution in a survival situation: 1. general hydration and 2. the body’s need for salt (sodium) and some form of sugar (carbohydrates). Regarding hydration, while sports drink companies would love for you to believe that their product hydrates you better than just water after a workout, the case for this is weak — that according to Harvard Medical School. One could make the case for needing electrolyte replacement after strenuous physical activity and sweating heavily, but if you’re doing any such activity that is causing heavy sweating in a survival situation, something ill-advised by survival experts, I hope to God that you have an abundant supply of potable water at your disposal (which goes back to my point above that water purification tablets above) as well as plenty of food to replenish those calories. (Survival shows often point out that the calories used to find food can often exceed the calories you gain from consuming it.)

As for your body’s daily needs, first sodium: you need a tiny amount (250-500mg) of sodium per day, which you can get from about 1 gram of salt (1/6th of a teaspoon). If you have any food, chances are you’re getting some if not all the sodium you need from your food source, which means you probably don’t need to worry about supplementing. If you don’t have food… well, there’s a bigger issue there, starting with carbohydrates.

You need about .7 ounces or 20 grams of carbohydrates per day to avoid ketosis, a state in which blood glucose levels are so low that your body starts breaking down fat for energy. This is a state that some people actively try to achieve through low-carb diets, but it can result in symptoms of fatigue, headache and nausea (I suspect in cases where the onset is sudden). Having experimented with cleanses and fasting before, I can say from my own experience that after 36 hours without any calorie intake whatsoever (just water) I started feeling what were basically flu-like symptoms — symptoms which prompted me to start spiking my water with juice to get some sugar in me, which pretty quickly made those flu-like symptoms start to disappear. Would ORS packets prevent this? Well, given the choice of drinking just water for 48 hours and just ORS solution in a survival situation, I think anyone would choose the ORS solution. But the thing is, I’m pretty sure that eating an apple or an energy bar would make me feel better as well. Something else to consider is that, while you might feel lousy if you have nothing but water, that feeling may be temporary and pass (once your body switches over to using your fat cells for energy). We know of cases where people lived for weeks on nothing but water, i.e. Ghandi, who only took sips of water for 21 days during one of his hunger strikes. The difference here is that in a survival situation, you may not be able to afford feeling lousy, assuming no one knows you’re missing and is out looking for you.

The point here is that, while an ORS packet might help in a survival situation, it shouldn’t be put into your survival kit at the expense of more important items, as it’s been pretty well documented that you can survive without them. Would they be a good addition if you have space and they’ll just be in your car while you’re camping? Sure. Should you bring a stack of them on your hike deep into the wilderness? Personally, I’d pass in favor of more real food and backup water purification supplies.

Finally, if you’re the DIY type, note that you can easily make your own ORS mix using salt and sugar. It’s important to note that you must have the correct ratios of sugar and salt to water (and for this reason, you should always follow the instructions if you use a packet). This makes sense when you consider an often told bit of survival wisdom: never drink seawater if you’re stranded at sea, because it will only further dehydrate you. Why? The salt concentration in seawater is much higher than that of your body, so the excess salt will literally suck water out of your body’s cells (a process known as osmosis), which you’ll then urinate out to expel that excess salt.

Comments? Please drop a line if I got something wrong or you have something to add!

LTE Bands Worldwide – The Ones That Matter

If you’re wondering whether the smartphone you bought (or the one you’re about to buy) will work with LTE in other countries, I regret to inform you that the LTE band situation is nothing less of a complete and total mess with 24 different bands used in countries throughout the world. To try to make sense of this mess, I’ve scoured through this list of LTE networks worldwide to come up with a smaller list, sorted by the bands themselves and where they’re used.

LTE Band # Frequency Blocks Non-U.S. Locations Used U.S. GSM Providers U.S. Non-GSM
1 2100   Angola, Japan, Philippines, S. Korea, Thailand
2 1900 Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic AT&T / T-Mobile
3 1800 Africa, S. America, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Mid East, Oceania
4 1700 abcdef Central and South America AT&T / T-Mobile (def) Verizon (f)
5 850 S. Korea, Malaysia US Cellular
7 2600 South America, Asia, Europe, Mid East, Australia
8 900 South Korea, Czech, Sweden, Australia
11 1500 Japan only
12 700 ab Kiribati T-Mobile (a) US Cellular
13 700 c Bolivia Verizon
17 700 bc Caribbean AT&T
18 800 Japan only
19 800 Japan only
20 800 Africa, Tajikistan, Europe, Qatar
21 1500 Japan only
25 1900g Sprint only Sprint
26 800 Sprint only Sprint
28 700 Taiwan, Australia (Telstra, Optus)
38 2600 Uganda, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia
39 1900 China
40 2300 Africa, Asia, Russia, Mid East, Australia, Vanuatu
41 2500 China, Japan, Philippines Sprint
42 3500 Belgium, UK, Bahrain, Philippines
43 3600 UK only

This gets us the list of 24 different LTE bands used worldwide. Now let’s narrow it down even further.  Note that for non-U.S. locations I’ve listed the region when most or several countries within that region make use of that band, and when only one or two countries within that region use that band, I’ve listed those countries specifically.

Next, you can see that several of the lines of the chart above are greyed out. This is part of the weeding process. These are bands which are only used by one or two countries and thus deemed relatively non-essential unless you’re living in one of those countries (in which case you should probably buy a phone in that country).

First, let’s deal with the U.S. bands. There are 4 LTE bands that are used by the big GSM providers in the States:

  • Band 2 – 1900 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile
  • Band 4 – 1700 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile
  • Band 12 – 700 MHz, blocks ‘a’ and ‘b’ used by T-Mobile
  • Band 17 – 700 MHz, blocks ‘b’ and ‘c’ used by AT&T

Often phones are listed as supporting specific frequencies, so if your phone is listed as supporting LTE 700, we can perhaps assume that it works on both Band 12 and Band 17, but ultimately it’s best to check with the smartphone manufacturer directly. Keep in mind, some bands are used in specific regions, so missing a band may not affect you at all depending on where you are or where you’ll be. Unfortunately, finding out what bands are used where is no easy task, especially with LTE being constantly rolled out in new places.

Moving beyond the U.S., there are 3 LTE bands that are widely used throughout the world and should be considered essential if you hope to have LTE coverage while traveling internationally:

  • Band 3 – 1800 MHz, used in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, Oceania
  • Band 7 – 2600 MHz, used in South America, Asia, Europe, Middle East, Australia
  • Band 20 – 800 MHz, used in Africa, Europe, Qatar

Additionally, there are 5 lesser-used bands that may be important to you, depending on your destination:

  • Band 1 – 2100 MHz, used in Angola, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand
  • Band 8 – 900 MHz, used in Australia, Czech Republic, South Korea, Sweden
  • Band 28 – 700 MHz, used in Australia and Taiwan
  • Band 38 – 2600 MHz, used in Brazil, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Uganda
  • Band 40 – 2300 MHz, used in Africa, Asia, Russia, Middle East, Australia, Vanuatu

As you can see, the LTE band situation is a mess, but at least we’ve narrowed it from 24 LTE bands down to 12, and hopefully this info can help you determine which bands are important for you. Many smartphones being sold today only support the 3 or 4 LTE bands used in the region where the device is marketed, but some of the higher-end “flagship” devices will support more, so look to these devices if you want international LTE coverage.

Based on the info above, a device would need bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 28, 38, 40 to get LTE coverage in most countries. As of November 2015, the list of smartphones which support all 12 of these bands include:

I’ve linked to the phone on Amazon when I’ve been able to find the appropriate model. Note that there that can be different versions of the same phone, so you should really double-check the supported bands of the device you’re looking at before buying.

Finally, keep in mind that if your smartphone lacks support for an LTE band you need, there’s a very good chance that it will still have 3G (HSDPA) band support, and with 3G now being capable of speeds up to 42Mbps, you’ll still have access to fast data — even if not quite the lightening fast speeds you may be used to from LTE.

Any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.


The Most Affordable Prepaid Smartphone & Data Services in the U.S.

If you’re planning a trip to the U.S. or you’re a local wanting to avoid an expensive monthly plan, here are some of the best options for prepaid SIM cards in the U.S., including options for both voice and data plans, as well as data-only plans.

First things first: I’ll only be covering options which use either T-Mobile or AT&T’s networks, as they’re the only two national networks which use GSM, the standard used by the rest of the world and thus compatible with many more devices, including those of basically anyone visiting from overseas. For locals in the U.S., know that one of the big advantages of GSM is that it means you can buy any “unlocked” device and use it on either of these networks, or in most any country in the world, just by popping in a SIM card. In short, service is tied to the SIM card — not to the phone.

It gets more complicated when you add data into the picture. While T-Mobile and AT&T both use this same GSM standard and even the same GSM frequencies for 2G, they use different frequencies for 3G, so assuming you want high speed data, this means your device might be better suited for one network over the other. Here’s where it will help if you find out what 3G frequency bands your device supports:

  1. Go to gsmarena.com
  2. Use the search box in the upper right to look up the model of your phone. If you’re not sure, look in “About phone” in settings if you’re using Android, or if your battery is removable, try looking under the battery for a model number. Or ask a tech-savvy friend.
  3. Once you find your phone on GSMArena, look in the section titled “3G Network”.
  • If the numbers listed include 1700, your phone is compatible with T-Mobile’s network.
  • If the numbers listed include 850 and 1900, your phone is compatible with AT&T’s network.

If you’re outside the U.S. and you only see 900 and 2100 under 3G Network, your phone won’t work on 3G in the US. However, if you look on the line that says 2G, it will probably say “GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900”. As long as it includes the numbers 850 and 1900, your phone will at least work on 2G — which means you can make calls and send texts no problem, but data access will be quite slow.

If your not sure what phone you have or can’t figure out what bands it supports, and you plan on using data, you may be best off going with a service that uses AT&T’s network, as the bands they use are generally more well supported on phone sold internationally than T-Mobile’s. You will, however pay more for it, so you may want to consider buying a cheap T-Mobile-branded smartphone (often under $100 these days) if you’ll be in the U.S. for an extended period.

A quick note on LTE (or “true 4G”): the frequency problem is such a mess that I won’t even get into it other than to say that if you bought an LTE-capable device outside of North America, you should assume it won’t work with the U.S. LTE frequences, so you’ll be on 3G or 2G (above). Some newer flagship models are exceptions.

Now, on to the services.


LycaMobile (T-Mobile network) – The cheapest option for “pay as you go”

LycaMobile is a virtual operator that uses the T-Mobile network for their service, and they’ve got the best rates out there if you don’t want to bother with any plans or packages. You buy credit which gets deducted on a per use basis.

  • Calls: 2c/min (outgoing and incoming) — Update: rumor has it that this will soon change to 5c/min
  • Texts: 4c/text — outgoing only (incoming texts are free)
  • Data: 6c/MB of data at up to 4G speeds

Source: http://www.lycamobile.us/en/national-plans#Pay_as_you_go

The cheapest recharge option is $10, and this credit will apparently never expire as long as you use the service once every 90 days, which is kind of a rare thing in the world of prepaid SIM cards (usually you have to add more money every so often).

As for getting the SIM card, you can get it “free” through their website, but they’d like to charge you a hefty shipping cost, which kind of kills the deal — especially when you can get a SIM card for as little as one cent ($.01) through Amazon with free shipping. If you have an iPhone 5 or newer iPhone, or any device which uses the tiny Nano-SIM cards, look here. Once you get the SIM just follow the activation procedure online for their “Pay As You Go” plan and then add some credit.

H2O Wireless (AT&T network) – The cheapest pay as you go option using AT&T

If your phone doesn’t support T-Mobile’s 3G bands, or if you’ll be outside of major metropolitan areas and you’re willing to pay extra for better coverage, virtual operator H20 Wireless uses AT&T network, which is widely recognized as having better coverage than T-Mobile when you’re away from populated areas. Their Pay As You Go plan offers the following rates:

  • Calls: 5c/minute (outgoing and incoming)
  • Texts: 5c/text (outgoing and incoming)
  • Data: 10c/MB

Source: https://www.h2owirelessnow.com/mainControl.php?page=planMin10

You can get these rates for as little as a $10 recharge, which will last you 90 days. You’ll need to recharge again before those 90 days are up to keep your account active. This outfit offers free shipping, but they charge $10 for the SIM card, so once again, Amazon to the rescue, having all SIM card sizes available for $.01 with free shipping.


T-Mobile $30/Month “Unlimited” Plan – 5 gigs of data and unlimited texts.

This offer isn’t well-advertised, but if you activate a new T-Mobile SIM using their website, you can select the following plan for just $30 a month:

  • Calls: 100 minutes/month (incoming and outgoing combined — 10c/minute if you go beyond 100 minutes)
  • Texts: Unlimited texting including internationally to “virtually anywhere” (Countries not included: Wallis and Fatuna, St. Helena. Hint: they’re tiny islands)
  • Data: 5GB of data at up to 4G speed. After 5GB you can continue using data, but at drastically reduced 2G speeds.

Source: http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-plans

Obviously, it’s not so unlimited, especially if you need voice minutes. But if, like many smartphones users, you prefer to communicate through text and internet messaging, and can wait until you’re on Wi-Fi to do longer voice calls over Skype, Viber or another VOIP service, this is by far the best plan to get a large amount of data for your money.

You can order your SIM directly from T-Mobile’s website, but be sure to check the prices on Amazon, as they may be cheaper depending on whether T-Mobile is running a promotion or not (sometimes they sell SIM cards for $.01, instead of the usual $10).


H20 Wireless (AT&T) – Unlimited voice with 500MB. 

If you really need unlimited voice minutes, or you really need to be on AT&T’s network, I suggest you check out another option offered by H20 Wireless (mentioned above), their $30 Monthly Unlimited Plan.

  • Calls: Unlimited calls nationwide + $20 in international calling credit (check their site for rates)
  • Texts: Unlimited texting + send 100 international texts and receive unlimited
  • Data: 500MB (additional data can be purchased at $5/100MB through “Feature Card” add-ons)

Source: https://www.h2owirelessnow.com/mainControl.php?page=planMon30

As you can see, if you want cheap data, the previously mentioned T-Mobile offer is really where it’s at.



The options below are only for use with a tablet, USB modem, hotspot or laptop. They don’t include calling ability.

Red Pocket Mobile Internet – The best option using AT&T

If your tablet, USB modem or hotspot device is only compatible with AT&T’s 3G bands, this is the best option.

  • $10 gets you a SIM card (shipped free) which includes 512MB of data to start you out.
  • $10/1GB (4G speeds)
  • $30/3GB “unlimited” (reduced speeds after 3GB)
  • $50/5GB “unlimited” (reduced speeds after 5GB)
  • All of the above work on 30-day cycles.

Source: http://goredpocket.com/plans#gsmt-mi

You can order a SIM card here, but make sure you read about the other data options below. And if you want a good laugh, look at AT&T’s pricing for prepaid mobile broadband ($50 for 1GB).

T-Mobile Free 200MB/Month for Tablets (Data Only) – You can’t beat free.

T-Mobile made a bold move with this offer: if you have a qualifying tablet (iPad, Nexus 7, Galaxy Tab are on the list) which supports mobile broadband through a SIM card (i.e. not a “Wi-Fi only” device), you can get 200MB a month absolutely free through T-Mobile as part of their Free Data For Life promotion. Simply get a T-Mobile SIM card, insert it into your tablet, open the browser and follow the instructions. You shouldn’t have to pay a dime — unless you want to go above 200MB, of course.

  • Data: 200MB/every 30 days (free)

Source: http://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-9700

If do use up that 200MB within your 30-day cycle, you’ll be prompted to buy an On Demand Pass: currently $10 for a 500MB day pass, $15 for a 1GB 7-day pass, and $30 for a 3GB 30-day pass.

T-Mobile sometimes has promotions where you can get a SIM card for $1 or less on their website, otherwise the cost is $10 (free shipping in either case). As such, this is really only a deal if you can get a SIM card for cheap during one of their promotions, or you’re in the U.S. long-term. Since it seems you may need a specific type of SIM for this promotion, I’d stick to ordering directly from T-Mobile on this one.


T-Mobile Monthly Data Pass – The cheapest for big data.

If you just want gigs of data at the best price possible, T-Mobile has the best options by far.

  • $10/1GB
  • $20/3GB
  • $30/5GB
  • $50/7GB
  • $60/9GB
  • $70/11GB
  • $80/13GB

Source: http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-plans

All the above are monthly passes which will auto-renew unless you cancel.

If you don’t have a T-Mobile compatible device, it might be worth buying a T-Mobile compatible mobile hotspot just to have access to their service (and these rates). If you’re someone who travels internationally, I can personally recommend the T-Mobile Sonic 4G Huawei UMG587 (not to be confused with a similar looking T-Mobile Sonic 4G made by ZTE), a device which supports all five bands of 3.9G spectrum, which means it will work in any country in the world (quite a rarity as far as hotspots go) at up to 42Mbps.


Final Tips

Regardless of which option you go with, here are some quick tips to keep your data use to a minimum, possibly allowing you to get by with one of the cheaper plans.

  • Avoid using any music or video streaming services, such as Spotify or Youtube, while on the go.
  • Disable any options for apps to update automatically (often this can be set to update over Wi-Fi only).
  • Use the pre-cache function in Google Maps to download map data over Wi-Fi before you need it.
  • Keep mobile data turned off when you aren’t actively using it. Note that this may prevent updates of email and messaging services from coming in, since the device won’t have an internet connection (assuming you’re not on Wi-Fi). If this is a problem for you, you may only want to disable data when you’re asleep.
  • If you have an Android phone, use Llama to automatically configure when and where your mobile data is active.

Have a question? Feel free to ask in the comments below.


The GaiaGeek Packlist

If you bring everything on this list, you’re doing it wrong. Some things you obviously need — some might just be fun to have if you have the extra space in your bag. This list will forever be a work in progress. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Absolute Essentials – You won’t make it far without these.

  • Passport (with visa if the country you’re going to requires one)
  • Photocopy of your passport (write a few emergency contact numbers on the back side)
  • Driver’s License / Photo ID
  • ATM & Credit Cards – Be wary of international transaction fees imposed by your bank.
  • Insurance Cards
  • $100 (or Euro) bill for emergency use only – Kept in a separate part of your wallet or elsewhere hidden.
  • Contact Lenses and case and/or glasses
  • Clothes for the plane – Dress in layers. Wear your jeans if you’re bringing them and other heavy or bulky items that will reduce your luggage weight or size.
  • Health-essential items, i.e. prescription medications, insulin if you’re diabetic, Epipen if you’re allergic to stings, etc.

Luggage – Name, address and contact info on the inside and outside of each bag.

  • Carry-On Backpack – All valuables should go in here when on the move.
  • Full-size Travel Backpack – Assuming you plan to check a bag.
  • Day Pack – Goes inside or piggybacks onto your full-size backpack.
  • PacSafe Travelsafe – For keeping your valuables secured in your room.
  • Packing Cubes – Some people swear by them. (I don’t.)
  • Compression Bags – Helpful for compressible  items like fleece, not so much for anything else.
  • Bag Locks – TSA certified. Or just use zip-ties. Never put anything of value in a bag that will be out of your sight.
  • Money Belt – Keep your passport on you at all times, at least while flying. Alternatively, look at arm wallets, leg wallets and shoulder wallets.
  • Compact Umbrella – Kept in one of the external pockets of your backpack.
  • Zip-Lock Bags – Useful for keeping things dry inside your bag.
  • Dry Bag – If you’ll be traveling on boats and there’s a chance your gear could take an unexpected dip.

Geek Gear – All such items should generally go in your carry-on bag or on your person, to avoid theft.

  • Smartphone – Phone, camera, video player, music player, web browser, GPS…
  • Laptop / Netbook / Chromebook – If you need to get any work done while traveling, something with a physical keyboard is pretty much essential. Plus the larger screen can be nice for watching movies if you’re stuck in bed on a rainy day.
  • Tablet – Personally, if I’m going to carry extra weight I’d rather have a laptop, but maybe you’re a tablet person.
  • Kindle / eReader – If you plan on doing your reading by the beach or around the pool.
  • Digital Camera – If your smartphone camera just doesn’t cut it for you.
  • Mini-Tripod – If you want to get artsy with your camera.
  • Travel Router / Repeater – Useful for creating a hotspot or passing on weak Wi-Fi signal. Choose one runs on USB power so your phone charger can do double duty.
  • MP3 Player – A small, clip-on MP3 player can be great for the plane or the beach, and less of a concern if you lose it.
  • Chargers – For all the above. Try to stick with gadgets that charge via USB, so you only have to bring 1 or 2 chargers.
  • Power Cables – For all the above. Aim for double duty cords for USB-powered devices. I tend to go with one micro-USB cable that’s long enough to charge my phone or Kindle while using it, and one very short cable (to save on weight) for charging and as a backup.
  • Noise-Isolating In-Ear Earphones – They block out sound on flights, don’t require batteries, and can double as earplugs.
  • Airplane Headphone Adapter – So you can use your earphones with the airplanes in-flight entertainment system.
  • Headphone Splitter – So you and your travel buddy can enjoy the music or movie.
  • Travel Speaker – Great for tunes at the beach.
  • LED Flashlight – Get a bright one that runs on a single AA or AAA battery.
  • USB Battery Charger – If you’re bringing devices that run on AA or AAA batteries.
  • Watch (with alarm) or Travel Alarm Clock- If you don’t trust your smartphone’s alarm clock.
  • Extension Cord – A short one, for those inconveniently placed outlets. Get one with a 3-way splitter on the end.
  • Surge Protector – Essential in developing countries with unstable electricity.
  • Plug Adapters – Assuming you’re headed to a country with different electrical sockets.
  • Memory Card Reader – To transfer photos from your camera to your laptop, if it doesn’t have one built in.
  • USB Flash Drive – In case you can’t backup your photos and videos online.
  • Spare Battery / External Battery – For your digital camera or smartphone, in case you have to go a couple days without electricity.

Daily Necessities – Things that I’ve found I need every day.

  • Sunglasses – Best bought from a reputable source so you can be sure they block 100% of UV rays.
  • Padlock – For your room or locker in hostels or budget resorts. If keyed, get one where the key has to be in the lock when locking it to prevent locking yourself out. Avoid common circular-dial combination locks which are easy to defeat.
  • Keychain LED Flashlight – Because you never know when the power might go out in a place like India.
  • Sarong – A thin piece of cloth about the size of an over-sized bath towel. Functions as a towel, a beach blanket, a scarf and even an outfit if you’re a female (or a daring male).

Regional Necessities – Things you may want if you’re going to a developing country.

  • SteriPEN UV Water Purifier – Purify water right from the tap.
  • Mosquito Net
  • Anti-malaria Medication
  • Toilet Paper – Not a “given” in countries like India, so you may want to bring half a roll in case your bathroom doesn’t have any. You can generally still buy it locally if you’re in an area frequented by tourists.
  • Swim Goggles
  • Dive Mask – If you like to snorkel but have trouble finding a dive mask that fits your face, consider bringing your own.

Footwear – Shoes are often big and heavy. Ideally you only want to travel with two pairs: one on your feet, one in the bag.

  • All-Purpose Shoes – Try to find shoes that are both comfortable to walk in and will look acceptable going to a nicer restaurant.
  • Shoe Inserts – For better arch support.
  • Hot-Weather / Beach Shoes – Sandals, flip-flops (a.k.a. thongs in some countries), Sanuks.


  • Functional Pajama Pants – ones that can also be worn for other activities, i.e. yoga.
  • Pants / Jeans – Ideally with deep front pockets so that items are harder to pick. Never put anything valuable in your back pockets.
  • Shorts – Again, ideally with deep front pockets.
  • T-Shirts / Tank Tops – For warm climates, of course.
  • Long-sleeve Tops – I prefer zip-up track jackets to quickly adapt to changes in temperature.
  • Socks – Try merino wool socks from Smartwool or Darn Tough for great socks that don’t stink.
  • Underwear – Keeping in mind that packing space is at a premium (and that applies to both girls and guys).
  • Swim Trunks / Bikini – Whatever you wear when you take a dip.
  • Belt – There are money belts that look and function like actual belts, if you want to have a secret money stash.
  • Hat / Cap – For sun and wind protection.
  • Ultralight Windproof and Waterproof Jacket – If there’s a chance you’ll encounter cold, wet weather, a thin jacket that can keep the wind off of you and keep you dry can be a life-saver.

Clothing – Female Specific

  • Bras
  • Dresses / Skirts
  • Jewelry – The less, and the less expensive, the better.

Cold Climates

  • Winter Jacket – You should be able to wear this on the plane, so you don’t have to pack it. Get a compressible one that goes in a stuff sack if you’ll be traveling in a range of climates.
  • Cap / Beanie / Hat – In cold weather, a lot of heat is lost through your head.
  • Lightweight Gloves
  • Long Underwear – Could double as pajama bottoms.
  • Scarf – Or something that can be used as a scarf, like a sarong.

Toiletries – Keep in mind that most of these items can be purchased locally if you want to save on pack weight.

  • Insect Repellent – Free free to bring your “natural” stuff, but be prepared to buy some stuff with DEET locally if it doesn’t work. Look into permethrin for your treating your clothing and treat key items before your trip.
  • Sunscreen – Even just a small bottle so you’re prepared for your first day of sun until you can buy a big bottle. Note that in remote areas of tropical countries where only tourists buy it, sunscreen can be exorbitantly priced.
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste – Easy to find and often cheaper in developing countries.
  • Dental Floss – Also useful for repairing gear.
  • Comb / Folding Brush
  • Hair Product – Pomade, forming cream, etc. Keep in mind the humidity if you’re going to the tropics.
  • Soap – Kept in a travel container. Body wash is heavier and not necessarily better for your skin if you buy a quality bar of soap.
  • Shampoo / Conditioner – Put into travel size bottles. You may only need half as much conditioner as shampoo.
  • Nail Clippers – If you’ll be gone more than a week. Can also be used to cut string and open bags.
  • Shaving Razor – And enough replacement cartridges for the duration of your travels.
  • Shaving Cream / Gel / Oil – If you insist, but I get by using only soap lather in the shower.
  • Lip Balm
  • Spare Contact Lenses
  • Contact Lens Solution – Plus an extra contact lens case.
  • Cotton Swabs – a.k.a. Q-Tips
  • Condoms or other contraceptives

Toiletries – For The Ladies

  • Make-up, make-up remover, make-up removal pads – Think minimal.
  • Nail polish, nail polish remover, nail file – I’d highly encourage you to leave this at home or buy it locally.
  • Tampons or a Moon Cup
  • Pregnancy Test Kit

Handy Extras

  • Swiss Army Knife or Multi-Tool – Some people can’t leave home without one, but they’re heavy and a target for thieves in your checked bag — and you can’t bring it carry-on because of the knife. If you bring one, keep it small, light and cheap. 
  • Utility Cord – For hanging hand-washed clothes out to dry.
  • Pillow Case – For a laundry bag which can double as a pillow in a pinch.
  • Silk Travel Sheet / Sleeping Sack – When sleeping in budget accommodation in the tropics, it may be all you need.
  • Pen – Black or blue ink. Other colors may arouse scorn from immigration officials.
  • Plastic Spoon – Especially if you’re the type to buy yogurt from a local grocery store for a snack.
  • Travel Guidebook – Generally I prefer doing my research online in advance and taking notes.
  • Rubber Doorstop – For some added security to keep the door closed.
  • Micro Compass – Because smartphones don’t always work, and finding north is tricky when it’s cloudy.
  • Sewing Kit with Safety Pins – For light repairs.
  • Small First-Aid Kit – Band-aids, disposable thermometers, Tylenol, Aleve, Imodium AD.
  • Small Survival Kit – Fishing line, fish hooks, duct tape.

Fun Extras

  • A Paperback Book – It never needs charging, it won’t break, and you can probably trade for another book.
  • Frisbee (a.k.a. flying disc) – A regular item in my beach bag. Standard 12-inch discs are a bit cumbersome for travel, so consider something smaller.
  • Hacky Sack (a.k.a. footbag)
  • Cards – Note that card playing can be illegal in some countries.
  • Chess Board (Travel-Sized) – Arguably the most popular and well-known board game in the world.
  • Journal – For jotting down thoughts.
  • Canadian Flag Bag Patch – If you’re Canadian (or an American preferring to appear as a Canadian).
  • Vegemite – If you’re Australian.


The Best Portable Wi-Fi Router / Repeater

A portable Wi-Fi router can be a very handy thing to have when traveling. If you happen to get a room that has a poor Wi-Fi signal, a portable router will allow you to create a wireless access point right in your room from the Ethernet cable provided for internet access — assuming there is one. In more budget accommodations, the chances of getting a room with its own Ethernet connection are pretty slim, and this is where it becomes crucial that your travel router also works as a repeater.

A Wi-Fi repeater does as its name suggests: it picks up a Wi-Fi signal and repeats it, passing the original connection on to your other devices. So, if that room you’re staying in has no Ethernet cable and poor Wi-Fi reception, having a repeater can mean the difference between standing by the window to check your email and doing so from the comfort of your cozy holiday bed.

By using a smartphone app such as Wifi Analyzer you can walk around the room to find Wi-Fi sweet spots — i.e. that spot by the window or the door that actually gets a decent signal from the Wi-Fi network provided by your hotel or guest house. Once you find a suitable sweet spot, it’s just a matter of setting up the repeater to connect to that network, which will in turn rebroadcast it to your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

While there are quite a few portable Wi-Fi routers on the market suitable for travel, I’ve weeded through the options and chosen the products mentioned below for these specific reasons:

  • They each have a repeater mode
  • They’re very compact (travel-size, of course)
  • They have a power cord rather than plugging directly into the wall (to allow better positioning for that sweet spot)
  • Each uses a MicroUSB port for power (so you can use your smartphone power adapter to serve double-duty and save weight)

ASUS WL-330N Portable Wireless Router

Described as a 5-in-1 portable router, this little guy is just 3.5 x 1.5 x 0.5 inches (90 x 38.9 x 12.8 mm). It comes with a USB power supply, MicroUSB cable, Ethernet cable and CD (which you probably don’t need) and is back by a 2-year warranty. If you’re geeky enough and you don’t mind voiding the warranty, you can install OpenWrt alternative firmware on it for even more functionality.

TP-LINK TL-WR702N Wireless N150 Travel Router

You’ve may not have heard of TP-Link, as they’re an up-and-coming manufacturer of networking products, but they’ve developed a good reputation for providing excellent bang-for-the-buck networking gear. Measuring just 2.2  x 2.2 x 0.7 inches (56 x 56 x 18 mm), this can do all the same things as the Asus router above for approximately half the price. Power adapter, MicroUSB cable and Ethernet cable are included, and it’s also backed by a 2-year warranty.

Note that with either of these gadgets, some familiarity with routers and networking is needed in order to set them up, so if this is uncharted territory for you, I recommend learning how to set it up while you’re still at home with a good internet connection before taking it on the road and trying to set it up in the wild. As a bonus, you’ll then be able to use your new portable router as a repeater within your own home if you have any dead spots where your main router doesn’t quite reach.

Can’t Load Gmail on your Kindle?

If you have an E-Ink version of the Kindle, such as the Kindle Touch or Kindle Keyboard (formerly known as the Kindle 3), and you occasionally use the built-in “experimental” browser to check your Gmail, you may want to see if you can still load the Gmail website. It seems that Google that has recently made some changes to the mobile version of it’s Gmail page which the Kindle’s browser doesn’t like.

In your Kindle’s web browser, go to the URL m.gmail.com. If it fails to load and you end up with an error message like the one shown below, look for a link beneath the error message that reads “Older version” and click that.

Below: Screenshot of the Gmail error

Gmail should load up fine with this older version, but if you’re still having problems, try reseting your Kindle from the main settings menu or by holding the power slider switch for 15 seconds.

Free Wi-Fi at Select U.S. Airports through Skype

Skype is giving the gift of free Wi-Fi at various U.S. airports from December 21st until December 27th. The list of airports isn’t very long, but it looks like it covers some of the major U.S. hubs (Chicago O’Hare, Denver, San Francisco) so if you’re between flights during your holiday travels, you can at least hop online for free with your laptop if you need to.

To access the free Wi-Fi, you’ll need the latest version of Skype on your laptop or the Skype Wi-Fi app for your iOS device (iPhone, iPad). No mention of Android devices, unfortunately.