Five months ago, we got rid of our apartment and most of our belongings to travel the world for an extended period of time. Along the way, we’ve become indebted to a few key tools that have made moving from country to country a total breeze. Here are our six essential tools for traveling the world in 2017.
Google Fi for Cell Phone Service
Did you know Google has its own cell phone network? This magical wireless service called Project FI was rolled out by Google in 2015 and it works by tapping into the various cellular networks owned by other carriers, such as Sprint and T-Mobile. When you land in a new country, your phone finds a tower and connects to blazing fast 4G coverage within minutes of taking it off airplane mode.
Besides being connected anywhere in the world, the best part about Project FI is the flat-fee model. The base plan is $20/mo for unlimited voice and messaging in the US, followed by $10/GB of data anywhere in the world. We’re averaging about $45/mo each for our cell phone (~2.5 GB of data each) and have had perfect coverage in 6 different countries so far. The only downside is that you have to have a US-based phone number and a Nexus phone to get started. That said, we purchased our Nexus phones for $199 when we signed up for Google FI so it wasn’t a big deal. For more info and pricing, visit Project FI website.
Charles Schwab Account for No-Fee ATM Withdrawals
When traveling outside the US and particularly in South America and Asia, cash is king. Which means lots of ATM visits and, if you’re not careful, lots of ATM fees – from the machine and your home bank. What’s a traveler to do? Open up a Charles Schwab account. With its no-fee ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world, it’s the very best way to get around this. At the end of each month, they simply take a tally of all the ATM fees you incurred and put that money back into your account. It’s that simple.
(Related to this is to get a credit card without international fees. Between flights and hotels, we’re putting a ton of big purchases on the credit card so we love the Chase Sapphire Preferred card we got for the trip and all the money we’re racking up towards flight credit ($1,200 and counting)).
Foursquare, Wikitravel & Google Maps for Recommendations
Turns out Foursquare is super popular around the world (Yelp, not so much). When we want a recommendation for a guaranteed good meal, good massage, even a good beach to visit, we go to Foursquare to find out what our fellow travelers think. There are reviews and ratings even in the remotest of places and it’s awesome to land somewhere new and instantly know where to grab lunch. We also compare these reviews to the ones on the Google Map app. This combo has not let us down yet and taken us to amazing coffee, excursions and bungalows all over the world.
Also Wikitravel is great for getting a high level overview of a new city. This is where we go when we land in a new place and want to learn about things like tipping procedures, cultural or safety dos and donts, cool spots to check out, etc.
Packing Cubes To Keep Our Stuff Organized
One of our favorite travel tools EVER, we literally can’t take a trip without these little $20 lifesavers. When you’re on the move and only staying somewhere for a night or two, it’s a real pain in the ass to unpack everything in your bag or have it be disorganized. With the packing cubes, this problem goes away. I have two medium sized cubes for clothes — one for our colder destinations and one for the warmer — and two smaller ones for miscellaneous things like medicine and travel gear.
Since we’re currently spending 2 months in southeast Asia where it’s summer, I don’t even have to take my other cube of winter clothes out of my backpack. The cubes also serve as a makeshift drawer when you get to a hotel, keeping your room better organized too.
ExOfficio & SmartWool’s Fast-Drying Underwear
We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find how easy it’s been to get our laundry done, either at hostels with washers and dryers or wash & fold spots in Asia that are super cheap. But we still frequently wash our underwear in the sink with detergent because we each only have 5 pairs for 7 months of travel. Yeah yeah, you might be bugging out at that one, but it’s actually quite easy to travel with only a couple pairs of underwear, shirts, a dress or two, 1-2 pair of pants, etc — as long as they are fast-drying. So, no cotton! We really like ExOfficio and SmartWool for the undies and Eddie Bauer and UNIQLO for regular clothes. We hang a small laundry drying band in the bathroom and voila, within hours, we have fresh clothes.
Osprey Backpacks That Are 55L or Less
One of the fun parts of planning any extended travel is picking out your backpack. After lots of research, we settled on Osprey because of their “Almighty Guarantee” to repair any damage or defect free of charge. Santi went with the Osprey Ozone Travel Pack 46L because of its size, but it has proven to be cumbersome with packing and repacking because it doesn’t have a full top to bottom zipper in the main compartment. I have the Fairmont 55L, which I love and would highly recommend.
Besides picking a pack that you like, the most important thing though is to GO LIGHT. DO NOT OVERPACK. Buy a pack that’s smaller than what your instinct is so you’re forced to be smart about what you bring. We are traveling in places with multiple climates so we had to bring winter and summer clothes. If we were only staying in one area of the world with the same weather, we would have gone even lighter. Ditch the suitcase and don’t get a 75L+ bag. We promise, you won’t need half the stuff you pack.