Travel Gear: When Brand Does and Doesn’t Matter

By Emily Landsiedel

It’s no easy task packing for a long trip. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere desperately needing something you forgot, or having a trusted item break on you. At the same time, you’re not made of money and you want to save as much as you can for the actual trip.  So where do you need to spend top dollar for the name brands and where does it make sense to cut corners? After five months of nonstop travel through all climates, here’s what I’ve learned:

Where Quality Matters:

Walking Shoes

Peter and I walk an average of 5-9 miles a day while we travel. I can’t stress enough how important good shoes are on your trip. I searched for months to find the right walking shoes, and now 5 months and 500+ walking miles into our trip, my shoes have fallen apart and I need new ones (which is frustrating, but understandable). You’ll limit yourself significantly if you don’t treat your feet well. My favorite brands for comfort and quality are Asics, Brooks, and Saucony for tennis shoes, and Chacos and Tevas for sandals.

Although they fell apart a little too quickly, I loved my Brooks for their comfort.
Although they fell apart a little too quickly, I loved my Brooks for their comfort.

Socks

Like shoes, the socks you wear greatly impact your traveling comfort. It’s amazing the difference a cushy pair of socks can make. The best brand of socks, hands down, are Darn Tough. I typically wear out my socks until there are holes in the toes, but I’ve been wearing three pairs of Darn Tough socks nonstop for 4 months and have had no problems. They are made of merino wool, which keeps your feet a lot warmer in the winter and cools them in the summer. They also don’t suck the heat from you like cotton if you get your feet wet.

Backpack

Picking the perfect backpack can be a long process when planning for your trip. It’s important to get something that is panel loading instead of top loading so you have easy access to all your stuff as well as something with sturdy zippers that locks and has a waist belt. We wanted a carry-on compliant backpack to save on checked baggage fees. Forcing ourselves to be lightweight also kept us from having to lug around too much while walking around a new city or riding on the metro. After a lot of research, I settled on an Osprey Farpoint 55, and I’ve been nothing but happy with my choice. It’s the perfect amount of space, and it has held up very well over constant travel the last 5 months. It comes with a padded 15 L zip-off daypack (the main pack is 40 L) that fits all the necessities for a day around town.

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The Osprey Farpoint 55 with daypack zipped on. Mine typically weighs about 28 lbs with all my stuff in it.

Daypack

Your daypack will be the backpack you wear for the longest periods and the most frequently, so it needs to be comfortable. Although I was lucky to get a quality daypack with my Osprey Farpoint 55, Peter’s backpack didn’t come with one. After returning his first daypack due to lack of comfort, Peter got an REI flash 22 daypack, and he can’t stop raving about it. It’s not only comfortable, but it also has soft sides, so it can really expand to fit a variety of cargo.  It has comfortable shoulder straps and a waist belt too, which set it apart from similar daypacks.

Hiking around the ruins in Lima, Peru.
Peter hiking around the ruins in Lima, Peru with his REI Flash 22 daypack

Sunscreen

If you tan easily, maybe this one isn’t as important, but as a redhead, sunscreen is not a place I skimp on quality. I’ve made the mistake of getting store brand sunscreen, and my sunburn the next day had me kicking myself for it. Peter and I always opt for Coppertone, but as long as it is a well-established brand, you’re probably okay. The closer you get to the equator though, the more direct the sunlight, and the more important the sunscreen brand becomes.

Where You Can Save:

Shirts and Pants

Before leaving on our world tour, we read everywhere about the importance of getting sturdy, name brand clothing for our trip. It’s true that you wear the same clothes constantly and you don’t want them to fall apart, but it doesn’t have to be Patagonia quality either. In fact, it’s better to take clothes that aren’t overly expensive so if they’re lost or ruined, you aren’t too hurt emotionally or financially by it. For example, Peter shelled out top dollar for merino wool shirts and I just brought along used clothes or stuff from Ross. Peter had to hand wash all his shirts the entire time we were in Central and South America because they couldn’t be washed in hot water (which is what all the drop-off laundromats do).  Traveling with these top-notch shirts became quite an inconvenience. His shirts also tended to fall apart at the same rate my older shirts did anyway.

You’ll get sick of your stretched or worn down clothes and want new stuff eventually on the road, or you’ll need to pick up something different when you change climates (no matter how prepared you are), so build that extra expense into your budget by buying affordable clothes from the beginning. Rather than considering the brand, just make sure it’s a fast drying fabric, because hang drying will become a part of your weekly routine and the humidity is very high in a lot of places around the world.

I may not be the most fashionable girl in the world, but my clothes dry quick, they're comfortable, and they get the job done.
I may not be the most fashionable girl in the world, but my clothes dry quick, they’re comfortable, and they get the job done.

Camera

This one is debatable, and I’m sure many people will disagree with me here. Before you write me off though, consider lugging around a really heavy, expensive camera everywhere you go. Not only is it troublesome to have around your neck or taking up all the space in your daypack, but it also makes you a target for thieves. Peter originally considered getting a nice camera, but he’s so happy he decided to get a camera he can fit in his pocket instead. Since it’s so easy to take along, he never feels the need to leave it behind when we go out. I personally went a step further and didn’t buy a camera at all. I just use my iPhone and I’ve been very happy with the quality of the pictures (and I love taking photos).

Packing cubes

First off, I love my packing cubes and I recommend them. Packing my bag only takes a few minutes with them, and getting ready in the morning or at night is super easy when I keep all my supplies together. Although packing cubes are a great asset, they do not need to be a great expense. I picked up three packing cubes at TJ Maxx for less than $15, and I could have spent twice that much on just one name-brand packing cube at REI.

No need for expensive packing cubes! As long as you can distinguish between them, you're good to go.
No need for expensive packing cubes! As long as you can distinguish between them, you’re good to go.

Bathroom and Makeup Supplies

As you travel to different places, you’ll realize your favorite shampoo or mascara can be hard to find and reading everything in another language doesn’t help. Rather than trying to pack a year supply of something (trust me, it’s not worth it) just get comfortable with accepting whatever is there. You’ll probably discover it does the job just fine. Plus, spending hours on your makeup or hair and looking top notch all the time just isn’t realistic when you travel longterm.

Watch and Jewelry

Once again, you don’t want to make yourself a target for thieves, and if you have a nice watch or other jewelry, you most certainly will catch their attention. Save the money and leave your nice jewelry at home. Peter and I even swapped out our wedding rings before leaving with cheap rings from Amazon so we didn’t have to risk our real rings getting stolen.

It’s hard to be prepared for every possible scenario when you set out for longterm travel, but as long as you know where to splurge on name brands and where it’s okay to save, you’ll have a more enjoyable, affordable experience.

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6 thoughts on “Travel Gear: When Brand Does and Doesn’t Matter

  1. Brenda

    I’ve been so impressed with all your planning, organizing, budgeting, travel supplies, advice! You two mak me so proud!

  2. Reed Barr

    This is all extremely interesting and informative. One area that I have a question is; what about eyewear or contacts for those who do not have 20/20 vision – what advice do you offer?

    • peworldt

      Good question, Reed. I am basically blind and so I bought a year supply of contacts before we left and carry them with me. I would do the same for any medications that aren’t easy to come by.

    • peworldt

      I should also mention I spent a lot of time thinking about what glasses to get for this trip. I ended up choosing glasses that change into sunglasses when it’s sunny and bought a cheap pair of sunglasses for when I have my contacts in. That system has been working pretty well for me.

  3. Nancy Luth

    What about coats? Any suggestions on raingear?

    • peworldt

      For rain gear, I would go with name brand. I got an REI brand rain coat and I’ve been disappointed that it doesn’t wick away water well enough. (Peter likes his Marmot.) As for a winter coat, that depends on how cold it will be when you travel. I got a Patagonia down jacket, but Peter got an REI brand down jacket and we are both happy. I recommend 80% down because it’s really warm and you can stuff the coat in its own pocket so it doesn’t take up much space.

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