Freelance Travel Writing Gear: my top 10 must-haves
Once, while sitting by the river and working on my laptop at an eco-lodge in Belize, another guest approached me and said, “Travel writing must be the life – you get paid to vacation and they buy you a free laptop.” There are a few things wrong with his sentence, but the one I’ll focus on here is the “free” laptop. Freelance writers aren’t given the equipment we need to do our job. We buy it ourselves and haul it with us wherever we end up going: camel riding in Morocco, practicing yoga in Mexico, or scuba diving in Belize.
Price is a major factor in deciding what I need to buy, but durability, weight, and multi-functionality matter too. The trick is to invest in gear from the States that I can’t easily find in foreign countries. Notebooks, memory cards, and toiletries are available all over the world, but my core list of crucial items were bought before I got on the plane. Here is a list of must haves to bring with me when I travel.
Osprey bags are well known for their durability, which was extra important when I had to carry my entire life on my back while I travelled throughout Belize for three months. Rips, tears, or broken zippers weren’t an option – and they weren’t an issue.
What makes the Olympus PEN E-P1 camera the best bet for travel writers is that the camera body is lightweight and discreet, but still takes beautiful photos. The extended battery life allowed me to shoot hours of HD video and hundreds of still shots in Belize’s Mayan villages with zero access to electricity.
I’m a firm believer that anything I take with me on a trip has a good chance of not coming home with me. I proved I’m okay with that when I left my iPhone in Morocco. But if anything were to happen to my MacBook Air, I’d be devastated, and not just because of its high price tag. As a blogger, my light as air MacBook Air is my business partner and best friend. For me, the cost is justified because I don’t get a sore shoulder from lugging a bulky computer everywhere, and the MacBook Air is lightning fast, which saves me time.
While in Morocco, I collected hundreds of business cards, menus, flyers, receipts, and promotional materials because that information becomes vital when writing articles after the trip. The easiest way to organize all that loose paper is to simply staple it into a notebook. Voila. Organized.
I wish I’d printed out business cards earlier in my career. Having my name, contact information, and website on one little card is much more professional and organized than scribbling on a scrap of paper. In Latin America especially, business cards are a requirement. Not having one reads as amateur. Exchanging cards with anyone from hotel owners to interview subjects is as necessary as a handshake, mostly for formality.
A smartphone is like a miniature laptop that fits in my pocket. When I’m traveling I can quickly access travel apps and email, and take photos for my social media platforms. In New York City, I use it constantly to navigate the subway system. Oh, and that Starbucks app? Perfect for finding the nearest free bathroom.
Headlamps are the ultimate hands-free device. In Paraguay, I used my headlamp every night on my way to the dark latrine. In Belize, I put it to good use exploring wet and dry caves. And I can’t forget all those nights it illuminated my travel journal as I wrote down my latest stories.
I spend very little money on clothing. Most of my travel stuff is destroyed in months and left in whichever country I’m visiting, but I made an exception with my NorthFace Fleece. It’s durable, washes well, and adds a layer of warmth without much bulk – features that more than justify the precious space it takes up in my backpack. I’ve worn it biking in China, hiking in northern California, and on the windy beach in Uruguay.
I only pack one backpack when I travel, which means my hiking boots, emergency snacks, and underwear float around in one big compartment. Not cool. SeatoSummit garment bags changed all that. I tried them out on a trip to Portland and was able to keep my clothing clean, folded, organized, and away from my dirty shoes and clementine oranges.
A yoga mat is my one essential non-essential when I travel. I’ve used it as a makeshift bed in Paraguay and for actual downward dog stretching in Cabo, San Francisco, and Belize. To transport the mat most effectively, I roll it very tight, secure the top with a rubber band, and insert the bottom into the exterior pocket of my backpack designed for a water bottle.