I like to travel alone. I like to travel light. Fees for hold luggage along with waiting times at the carousel mean that, wherever possible (and it nearly always is possible) I travel hand luggage only.Through judicious packing and careful selection of items, I have managed to travel for more than a month on more than one occasion with just my trusty Cabin Max backpack. Here is what I usually take:
Cabin Max Backpack
Cheap and cheerful, the Cabin Max has been my constant companion for three years and many thousands of miles now. Designed to fit as much as possible into the space allowed by airlines for hand-luggage, the Cabin Max is basic but functional. Although mine is coming towards the end of its natural life (fraying seams, sticking zips), it has exceeded expectations many times over. When it comes time to replace it, however, I may well go upmarket to see if the extra outlay is justified.
I am a bit of a camera nut. I have many. Too many. Which cameras I take depends on available space and weight requirements.
My workhorse, go-to travel camera is an Olympus OM-D E-M1 micro four-thirds body with an Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens. Sturdy, waterproof, dustproof, freezeproof, this combination does everything I could ask of it. It isn’t the smallest of cameras, but it is, for me, by far the best balance of size and quality.
I also often carry the Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6 lens for extra reach, and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 for when I need that extra aperture stop.
I pocket-carry a Ricoh GR: this camera is a master for street photography. With its small but sturdy magnesium alloy body, high quality, fixed 28mm equivalent lens and large APS-C sensor, this one is a no-brainer.
If space is limited, I may instead take my Fujifilm X100S: another APS-C compact, it may require more creativity in framing given that it has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, but the picture quality and ease of use is astounding for a camera this size. It also looks pretty damn cool too.
If I take the Fuji as my main camera, I also carry a Sony HX60 – not the greatest picture quality (though not by any means terrible) but the 24-720mm equivalent zoom does come in handy.
Fow low light photography, I also carry a Gorillapod portable, flexible tripod and a Velbon travel tripod. All this fits comfortably in my National Geographic Walkabout Midi Satchel.
My main item here is my iPhone 6+. Perfect for most forms of travel, not only is it my constant web-access point, the screen is also large enough to make comfortable use of the Kindle app as well as providing games for those moments in which only a quick blast of ersatz football management will do. the 128GB memory also means that I do not need to carry any other form of music player. Though I generally prefer silence, sometimes life demands a soundtrack. And, on top of that, what the hell did we use to forestall awkward conversation with strangers in lifts before we had mobile phones to stare at?
Again, depending on where and for how long I an travelling, I may take either my iPad Air 2 (wifi only – my phone connects it to the internet) or my 2015 Macbook.
Although the iPhone can double as an e-reader, to preserve battery life, I usually carry my faithful Kindle Voyager. I still miss my first-gen 3G Kindle, with which I was once able to book emergency ferry tickets in the middle of the Swedish wilderness using the experimental web browser, but the Voyager is smaller and easier to use. It is also even better than a mobile phone for signalling disinterest to others. Viva la tecnología!
Additionally, I carry a multi-country plug converter, a three-way plug adapter, a 5-way USB charger and a Hahnel Unipal Plus multi-battery charger along with a multitude of charging cables and the like.
And, old fashioned technology though it may be, I never travel anywhere without many pens and notebooks.
When I travel, I cannot afford to be vain. Clothing designed for backpacking in almost invariably ugly and often appears ill-fitting. However, it is for the most part lightweight, easy to wash and dry and hard wearing. I prefer Craghoppers lightweight travel trousers (I don’t bother with the convertibles as, despite my earlier utterance about vanity, I would never be seen dead in shorts), and any lightweight t-shirt and overshirt layers. As all the usual advice goes – avoid cotton, never wear jeans. In terms of shoes, I go for whatever walking-shoe/trainer crossover happens to be on sale. Currently, I have a pair of Salomons, though as these move closer to their expiration date, I am tempted to look at shoes that offer no internal ‘support’ as I am beginning to think that slightly misplaced arch-supports may be the cause of recent bouts of foot and ankle pain while travelling.
The only time I have felt uncomfortable in my travel get-up was an ill-advised trip to a super-club in Madrid with a much younger colleague who I happened to be travelling with for a few days. There exists, somewhere, a picture of a statuesque exotic dancer, an image of human perfection in every way; and by her side, me: damp and crumpled in head-to-toe grey nylon. Thankfully, it is a picture of which I do not have a copy.
I usually carry a bandana of some description. Living in the Middle East, arab-style headscarves are easy to come by and they fulfill many roles. Most obviously, they can be used to ward off cold as well as keeping the head and neck from burning in sunny conditions. However, I find mine most useful for keeping my seat when I need to visit the toilet in bars, pubs, coffee shops, restaurants. One of the constant perils of the solo traveller.
The 100ml airline rule makes toiletries an interesting challenge. Where a dry alternative exists, I try to use that: tooth powder instead of paste; bar soap instead of shower-gel. I have successfully trevelled for over a month with no liquids at all, washing both hair and clothes with a bar of Pears Coal Tar soap. However, more commonly, I travel with my liquids already in a clear plastic bag ready for airport scrutiny: 100ml each of toothpaste, shower gel, hair gel and clothes wash.
How to pack with carry-on luggage only
Before I leave the house for the airport, I ensure that I put everything I want to take with me into my bag. Then, as I travel, I remove what I need from the bag, ensuring that I put it back again before I move on, if appropriate. When I get home, I open my bag and unpack it over the course of the next several weeks.