I’ve never done a product post before, but I get a lot of questions about my favorite luggage and other things that make travel easier. So here you go! A note: I have no financial incentive to recommend any of these products. None of the links are affiliate links and I’m not getting paid by any of these companies to promote their products. I’m simply a happy customer.
LL Bean Luggage
We fly over 150,000 miles a year, virtually always checking luggage. We’ve tried a lot of different brands of rolling luggage, including REI and Eagle Creek, but the longest-lasting bags have been those from LL Bean. I’ve traveled around the world for more than a decade with my large yellow bag pictured below, from the Indian desert to three African safaris to photo trips through Vietnam, Ethiopia, Burma, Japan and China. I’ve never had an issue with the wheels or with the bag ripping. Other rolling bags tend to last 2-3 years before needing to be replaced but this is going strong, and we similarly haven’t had any problems with our larger (extra-large) red bag purchased three years ago. The downside is that the bags can’t stand upright, but that also makes them a little lighter. Website: www.llbean.com.
While we use the LL Bean rolling duffels because of their size and weight, we love the Patagonia Black Hole duffels as well. The Patagonia rolling duffels stand upright and are easier to get clothes in and out of than the LL Bean bags. Last summer we got by five weeks in Europe with just two of the bags – a little smaller than the LL Bean ones – and an extra soft-sided Black Hole duffel that we always pack in case we shop. We haven’t been using these as long as the LL Bean bags so I can’t speak to the long-term durability, but in two years we haven’t had any issues with the wheels or fabric. Website: www.patagonia.com.
eBags Packing Cubes
When we travel we frequently move around a lot, staying in five or six hotels over the course of a trip to Europe or Africa. Because we pack each person’s clothes separately in a packing cube, when we arrive at a hotel with connecting rooms, we can quickly distribute clothes to where each person is sleeping. We throw the cubes in dresser drawers and we’re unpacked – at least as unpacked as we get. Then packing back up is just as easy. Some of the cubes that I’ve had for a decade are starting to rip a little, but I’ll happily buy these again when I need to. Website: www.ebags.com.
Tava Adventures Travel Cards
Tava Adventures’ cards entertain traveling kids and educate them about their destinations. We used their Florence cards to create a scavenger hunt through the city, and in Africa my kids brought them out every day for two weeks, looking up animal facts and sketching and playing games to pass the non-animal-viewing time in the car. Tava has a bunch of locations available now, but as far as I’m concerned they can’t create them fast enough – a great addition to trips even for well-traveled kids. Website: www.tavadventures.com.
Forsake sent me a pair of its hiking shoes a year ago and they quickly became a favorite – light and comfortable. However, it wasn’t until earlier this month in Berlin that I really appreciated just how comfortable they are. After walking the 26 halls of the ITB travel trade show for two days in dress shoes, my feet were exhausted and sore. For the third day I changed into my Forsakes and, though undoubtedly more casual, they saved me. Next year I’ll likely switch into them after day one. Website: www.forsake.com.
T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan
I can’t believe that every American who travels a lot doesn’t have T-Mobile. In most countries, I simply turn on my phone and I have free data (usually 3G, but more and more often LTE), free texting and $0.20/minute calling. No need to get a local SIM card, and no need to get annoyed when someone calls since it’s so inexpensive. No other US mobile service comes close to T-Mobile’s international pricing or simplicity. Website: www.t-mobile.com.
Oliver Jeffers World Map
There are a lot of world maps out there. My issue with most of them is that they are very serious. That makes sense, since maps are supposed to accurately represent borders and distances, but to me travel should be fun and filled with wonder. So I love Oliver Jeffers’ world map. I’ve had it over my computer for two years now and it’s always taunting/encouraging me to book more travel! Jeffers is one of my favorite illustrators anyway – without his books, reading to my kids would have been far less fun. Website: www.oliverjeffers.com.
I like anything that makes kids want to travel. Little Passports sends us packets of kid-oriented, country-specific games and activities every month and my kids love getting them. We received the Kenya packet right when we got back from Kenya and the kids thought it was really well done. My daughters particularly like the science/archeological activities like chipping away an Egyptian pyramid to reveal a sarcophagus and uncovering a dinosaur fossil in Argentina. These are great for introducing non-traveling kids to the world and in teaching well-traveled kids about places they haven’t been yet. Website: www.littlepassports.com.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
It’s not as satisfying to hold a Kindle on the beach as it is to hold a paperback, but the tradeoffs are worth it. The Kindle lets us bring as many books as we want on vacation for barely any added weight, it lets us download new books virtually anywhere in the world, and it lets me read in bed if I wake up in the middle of the night jet-lagged while those around me continue to sleep. Definitely one of my favorite travel products. Website: amazon.com/kindle.
Jellycat Stuffed Bunny
I almost didn’t include this, since my son’s bunny (Ra Ra) is more a member of the family than a travel product, but I realized that he’s held up to eight years of travel better than practically anything else we own. We’ve never needed to buy a second bunny and never had to sew anything back on or repair him at all – pretty impressive! Ra Ra has now been to 32 countries on five continents and is still going strong. If you’re looking for a stuffed toy for a child, Jellycat is great. Website: www.jellycat.com.
220v Universal Power Strip
We need to charge a lot of devices when we travel, and this makes it easy. The VCT power strip has a European-style plug and accepts all types of charger plugs. Plus it protects everything from power surges, which is a concern when we’re staying at places with less-than-reliable electricity. I’d love for it to have USB inputs as well, but otherwise I’ve been very happy with the durability, weight and quality. Website: amazon.com.
I’ve been doing Pilates twice a week for twelve years now, whenever I’m in California. The workouts are tough, but it’s given me the strength to handle travel better – the walking, hiking, running, climbing and lifting that’s a part of normal travel – and my body recovers from long flights far faster than I could otherwise. I luckily have no photos of me doing Pilates, but I highly recommend it if you travel a lot…or even if you don’t.
I currently shoot with Canon (DSLR) and Panasonic (compact), as well as with my iPhone. I talk about my cameras and lenses in this post.
What are your favorite travel products? What should I try out and include on here next time? I’m up for anything that makes travel easier or more comfortable, or that allows us to pack less.
Thank you for your post! Curious as to whether you also use any particular brand/products for packing away shoes and backpacks for the day-to-day excursions. Also, maybe a post on travel safety? I was on a tour of Europe (23 cities, 11 countries) and the tour guide often warned about pickpockets, such as inside the Louvre. I’d greatly your experience and expertise on how my family could enjoy traveling and be smart without being paranoid. 🙂
Eric Stoen says
Hi Tiffany. For packing shoes, I usually throw them in the plastic laundry bags that I’ve taken from hotel rooms and put them at the bottom the suitcase. We don’t travel with nice shoes that we’re trying to protect though – it’s more about keeping shoe dirt off of our clothes. For backpacks, I like the Minaal Carry-on for an overall travel/laptop/airplane backpack and have just ordered their Daily bag to try it out. For now I’m using an Osprey Daylite for walking around cities or amusement parks or taking short hikes. It’s light and holds a camera and a couple of light kid jackets.
As to travel safety, if you’re aware of potential pickpockets you’re already semi-prepared. I never travel with my wedding ring, and I only have the bare minimum in my wallet – a credit card, ID and some cash. I leave everything else in the hotel safe. And I have scans of our passports in my gmail account and on my iPhone camera roll that I could pull up anywhere if I needed them. I may do a post at some point, but I’m not that knowledgeable about different scams. I just say No to anyone who approaches me on the street and watch our things anytime there are a lot of people around.
Thanks for sharing your tips! I feel a lot more confident and ready to travel with kids!
Eric Stoen says
It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s an adventure, and at this point I honestly don’t have fun when I’m traveling without my kids. Far more enjoyable to see the world through their eyes.
Hi Eric, what style of the Forsake shoes were you trying out? Is it the Mack? My husband is really into hiking, and I want to get him a great pair that could be used for future travels as well. Thanks!
Eric Stoen says
The Mack in Sand/Orange. Very comfortable. I’ve never tried any of their other styles.
Thanks for this – I actually was looking for this sort of article here a couple of weeks ago when packing for spring break and purchasing new luggage (we settled on eagle creek). One very important question for me – what shoes/clothes does your wife bring? I have yet to find a pair of attractive shoes that do well with a ton of walking in european cities!
As a parent of three myself I really appreciate your family take on things!
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for the comment Kelly. I included my wife in my Africa Packing List post, but that was a unique trip. For European travel, my wife brings one pair of Frye sandals and a black ballet flat. She says that Spurga shoes are a tried-and-true European staple, as are low-top Converse. If you know you’ll be hiking you would want something for that too. For clothes she packs really light. She takes a pair of linen pants in black or brown, a skirt, a dress, a pair of pants or two and a couple of tops. I should have her do a post at some point! I feel like I pack light, and then I see that she brings half as much as I do.
For me, as long as the wheels work, and the price isn’t exorbitant, luggage is luggage.
Eric Stoen says
Except that for ten years now I’ve been buying rolling duffels that only last two years or so before they’re so trashed that the handles don’t extend anymore and the wheels start to wobble or stick – even $250+ bags. The LL Bean and Patagonia bags have held up the best to my crazy travel.
Great list! I saw those Patagonia bags the other day at the store and debated about getting them. Definitely will now!
Great list Eric! Especially the packing cubes and LL Bean luggage tip. I’ve eeked out every last breath from my current luggage (the ramp guys lost a back wheel and I’ve been dragging it on 3 for far too long) so I’ll give them a shot!
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Lori! Good luck with the luggage. I always find it funny when I’m extremely happy with something and then read mixed reviews on retail sites. Hopefully LL Bean and eBags work as well for you as they have for us.
Hi Eri Great,
As always, very informative post! What size is your pataganonia duffell? I have a 30 day summer trip with my family (2 kids, my wife and I) and I’m trying to decide between the 60L and 90L. My initial idea is to get two 60L and use as a carry on since it comes with backpack straps.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Henry! We have Patagonia’s 120 and 100 with wheels and all of the sizes (45, 60, 90 I think) without wheels. The 45s are pretty small – only really useful for overnight trips. I love the 100s with wheels and will be taking one to Minnesota, Paris and Sri Lanka with me next week – the perfect size for two weeks on the road. But I don’t know if those are available anymore? I only see the wheeled 120s on their website now.
If you’re light packers and like to carry on, the 60s could work, but that’s not a lot of space for four people. We never mind checking luggage and found two 100s with wheels to work perfectly last summer in Europe for 5 weeks. You may want to go for the 90s instead, although those get a little heavy and awkward without wheels if you have 20 kilos / 44 pounds in there, which is about how much they can hold.
The Travel 2 says
This was a great post. I read so many different “travel essentials” posts that all mention the same stuff. This blog post was different because it was really thoughtful!
Eric Stoen says
Hi Eric, thanks for all the great info! What size are your eBag packing cubes in the pic?
Eric Stoen says
Large. We’ve found that the medium packing cubes aren’t able to hold much.