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 with emergency contact numbers on the back.
  • Driver’s License / Photo ID
  • ATM & Credit Cards
  • Insurance Cards
  • $100 bill for emergency use only (kept in a separate part of your wallet or hidden elsewhere)
  • 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.

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 – 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 – Not only does it allow me to ready books on the beach, but my old Kindle 3G gives me basic internet access everywhere.
  • 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 – One that runs off a USB charger.
  • 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.
  • Cables – For all the above. Again, try to double up. Have at least 1 cable long enough to use your device while it’s charging.
  • 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 same tunes.
  • 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 – If your laptop doesn’t have one built in.
  • USB Flash Drive – In case you can’t backup your photos and videos online.
  • Spare Battery – For your digital camera or smartphone, in case you have to go a couple days without a charge.

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

  • Sunglasses - Best bought at home from a reputable source so you can assure 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.
  • Keychain LED Flashlight – Because you never know when the power might go out in a place like India.
  • Sarong – Functions as a towel, a beach blanket, a scarf and more.

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

  • SteriPEN UV Water Purifier and Nalgene Cantene Bottle – 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.

Clothing

  • 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 the 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 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 – 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.
  • Cap / Beanie – In cold weather, a lot of heat is lost through your head.
  • Lightweight Gloves
  • Long Underwear
  • 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.
  • Sunscreen – Even if just a small bottle so you’re prepared for your first day of sun until you can buy a big bottle.
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste 
  • 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 usually need half as much conditioner as you do shampoo.
  • Nail Clippers – If you’ll be gone more than a week. Find a travel-sized one.
  • Shaving Razor – And enough replacement cartridges for the duration of your travels.
  • Shaving Cream / Gel / Oil – None for me — I shave in the shower using only soap lather.
  • 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.
  • Tampoons 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 the tropics, it may be all you need.
  • Pen – Black or blue ink. Other colors may annoy 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.
  • Small 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 and you can read it even during take-off and landing.
  • Frisbee
  • Hacky Sack a.k.a. Footbag
  • Cards – Note that card playing can be illegal in some countries.
  • Travel-sized Chess Board
  • Journal
  • Canadian Flag Patch – For your bag 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.

Flashlights for Travel: Ultra Light and Ultra Bright

One item which should definitely be on your pack list, especially if you’re headed to a country like India where power outages can occur almost daily, is a flashlight. Even if the power is working fine, you may need a flashlight to light your path after the sun goes down.

If you haven’t bought a flashlight in years, you should know that LED lights have truly revolutionized the flashlight industry, allowing manufacturers to build flashlights that pump out mind-blowing levels of light in incredibly small packages which can withstand much more abuse than flashlights of old.

With small size, high performance and a budget in mind, here are four great options to light up your life on the road.

Bright Bargains: Generic 22,000 MCD Keychain LED Flashlights

These keyring LED flashlights are very small, yet bright enough to illuminate a dark path on your walk home. The operation is simple: you squeeze the light to turn it on momentarily, or if you need it on for longer, just flick the switch to keep it on. At under $10 for a 10-pack you can carry extras to use as backups or to give to people you meet along the way, as these make great little gifts. Each light will likely last you a year with regular use on the included batteries, and probably longer. For the price of new batteries you may as well just buy new lights (though if you’d rather replace the batteries, these run on two CR2016 coin cells).

Note that 22,000 MCD (milli-candela) refers to one means of measuring light output, so if you see similar cheap keychain LED lights which don’t mention this, they may not be as bright.

Photon Freedom Micro Keychain LED Flashlight

If it seems to you that this light (pictured above) looks incredibly similar to the cheap keychain lights, that’s because the Photon lights are the keychain LED lights which many other manufacturers have tried to imitate. Such imitations are also known as “fauxtons” by flashlight enthusiasts for this very reason (a play on “photon” – “faux” meaning “fake” in French, for those who don’t know). While the fauxtons may resemble the Photons in appearance, there’s a huge difference in features and quality.

First and foremost, the Photon Freedom has a microcircuit built into it which allows a range of lighting options which include:

  • Variable brightness ranging from very low to full brightness – useful if the full power is too bright, or if you just want to preserve the battery
  • A slow flashing ”beacon” mode where the light flashes once every 5 seconds
  • A medium flashing mode where the light flashes twice per second
  • A fast strobe-light mode
  • An S.O.S. flashing mode (S.O.S being the internationally-recognized emergency distress signal)

The lights are water resistant and feature gold-plated contacts for corrosion resistance. Each light comes with a quick-release key ring (very handy when you need to remove the light from your keys), a necklace attachment to allow you to wear the light around your neck, and a hands-free clip which can be used to clip the light to the brim of your cap or onto your bicycle (and it’s even magnetic if you need to attach the light to something metallic). All lights are made in the U.S.A. and come with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer.

There’s also a variety of beam color options including every color of the rainbow. White is definitely the brightest light and the best choice for lighting a path, but I can personally recommend the red light as a small but effective rear bike light (used in the medium flashing mode) and the yellow light for a warm reading light.

In terms of brightness, the Photon Freedom and the cheaper generic 22,000 MCD keychain lights are about the same. The Photon Freedom may be brighter with new batteries, but this edge soon fades and in the long run I’d say the brightness levels of the two lights are about the same.

The white light will give you 10 to 12 hours of run-time at full brightness with the included batteries, which means it will likely last you at least a year even with regular use. The red, orange and yellow version of the light will last much longer, around 120 hours, because they use different batteries. When it comes time to replace the batteries, Photon Freedoms use two CR2016 batteries, with the exception the red, orange and yellow lights, which use one CR2032 battery. Because the cheaper “fauxton” keychain lights above use the same CR2016 batteries, you can salvage a pair from one of those lights if you need to, although note that the batteries that come with the fauxton lights won’t last as long as the name-brand Energizer batteries that come with the Photon Freedom.

The white Photon Freedom runs around $12 shipped from Amazon.

The Generic Cheapies vs. the Photon Freedom – which to get?

Given that you can get 10 of the generic keychain lights for less than cost of a single Photon Freedom, you may be wondering whether it’s worth it to get the Photon Freedom. If you must choose between one or the other, I suggest getting a 10-pack of the generic 22,000MCD lights. They’re an excellent value for the money and you’ll be covered for flashlights for yourself with extras to spare as gifts. If after owning one of the cheaper keychain lights for awhile you find yourself dreaming of the ability adjust brightness levels, use it as a strobe light or take it through the rain without worry, then consider upgrading to a Photon Freedom. If the extra money isn’t a big deal to you and you love gadgets, I recommend buying both right from the start. You won’t be disappointed.

Something Brighter: iTP A3 EOS 3-Mode AAA Flashlight

The incredibly small lights above are very capable for lighting up areas within 20 feet (6 meters), but if you want a flashlight that can really throw light up and off your path, check out the iTP A3 EOS. It’s rated at a whopping 80 lumens of output despite being about the size of your pinky finger and running on a single AAA battery. Since you may have no idea how bright 80 lumens is, let me put it another way: when you turn this thing on at full power in a dark room, your reaction will probably be something along the lines of “Holy s***! How does something this small put out that much light?” If you’ve ever used a MagLite Solitaire, the well-known flashlight brand’s single AAA flashlight, this light will make you fully realize how LED flashlights are leaps and bounds ahead of the old filament bulb flashlights (and it might make you wonder how MagLite can still be selling those lights given how pathetically inferior they now are in comparison).

The iTP A3 EOS comes in both a single-mode version and a 3-mode version. With the single-mode version, twisting the lens cap turns the flashlight on or off – plain and simple. With the 3-mode version, you can switch between brightness levels of low, medium or high by turning the flashlight briefly off and back on again. Unless this sounds complicated to you, I definitely recommend the 3-mode version, as it’s nice to be able to switch to the low mode for using the light close up (i.e. looking at a cut on your finger in the dark where the high mode would be blindingly bright), the medium mode for walking at night but preserving battery, and the high mode for when you need that extra light to make sure you’re not being tracked by man-eating tigers (or whatever scary animals lurk at night around your travel destination).

It’s made from aircraft grade aluminum, and given this and it’s small size, it’s so light you won’t even notice it in your pocket or clipped to your belt. The light will last for about 1 hour on high power, 4 hours on medium power, and a whopping 50 hours on low. It can run on a regular AAA alkaline battery or a NiMH rechargeable.

The best part? It’s only about $23 shipped. Talk about bang for your buck. (Of course if money is no object, you can always get the titanium version.)

The Brightest AAA Flashlight: Fenix LD01 3-Mode Flashlight

Someone always wants to know what the brightest light out there is. Well, this is the brightest flashlight (at the time of writing) that runs on a single AAA battery. It’s rated at 85 lumens of light on maximum – suggesting only a slight advantage over the iTP EOS A3 on paper, but real world testing suggests that the difference is more significant (yet another case of manufacturer ratings not matching up with real world results). Fenix is a well-known and reputable brand in the world of LED flashlights. This light is made of aircraft-grade aluminum and has the added benefit of being waterproof to IPX8 standards, which means it can survive being immersed in water beyond 1 meter in depth.

The LD01 will run for 1 hour on high, 3.5 hours on medium power, and 11 hours on low (it’s low setting is set at a level significantly brighter than the iTP EOS A3′s is, hence the shorter runtime). It’s backed by a 2-year manufacturer warranty. It’s available for about $40 shipped - not as cheap as the iTP EOS A3, but if you want the brightest AAA flashlight out there, this is it.

Don’t Forget the Batteries

For either of the AAA flashlights mentioned above, regular alkaline batteries won’t last as long, so I recommend using a good NiMH rechargeable AAA battery, such as one of the Sanyo Eneloop AAA batteries. And don’t forget a good travel charger if you plan on charging your batteries on the road (the USB charger listed there weighs next to nothing).

Have fun – and try not to stare directly into your new flashlight (I know you will).

Your Hotel Room Safe May Not Be

If you typically stay in hotel rooms with an electronic safe in the room when you travel, you may want to double check just how safe your safe is. The following YouTube video reveals how a hotel room safe was unlocked by simply entering a default password of all zeros instead of the guest’s chosen password.

Now that this knowledge is out in the open, it makes hotel room safes with this vulnerability even less secure. The next time you stay in a hotel room and plan on using the safe, you should definitely check whether it’s possible to open it using all zeros before you stash your things in there thinking they’re secure.

If you do find your safe can be easily opened with this method and the hotel says there’s nothing they can do about it, you may not have a secure means of storing your laptop or other valuables. If you want to take the security of your belongings into your own hands rather than rely on your hotel to provide competent security, check out the best way to lock your laptop. While that article is focused on securing a laptop, the Pacsafe TravelSafe series of products (mentioned toward the end of the article) can provide the means to lock up almost any valuable that you might be traveling with. With the largest TravelSafe boasting a capacity of 20 liters, that’s actually more space than the average electronic safe you’ll find on the road – and you can rest assured it won’t be able to be opened with a series of zeros.

Below: The Pacsafe DaySafe 100 Backpack

Free In-flight Wi-Fi on Delta Airlines during August with GoGo

If you’ll be flying on Delta Airlines this month and want to gets some emails done during your flight, give the following a whirl:

  • Log in to your Delta.com account, view My Trips and check your upcoming trip to see if it will have Wi-Fi available
  • Once you’re airborne, connect to the GoGo Wi-Fi and select a Flight Pass (should come up as $12.95 or less)
  • At checkout, enter the promotion code DIETCOKEGOGO and click Apply. The price should now be $0.

And if when you’re at 30,000 feet you feel like letting others know that “It works!” just leave a reply below!