Traveling solo is a chance to wander new paths and go on unexpected adventures, but sometimes it poses unique challenges.
Packing the right stuff (in the right quantities) can help. Overall, it helps to bring less than you think you need, and to invest in lightweight, dependable gear. That’s why Wirecutter’s editors log thousands of miles with all kinds of travel gear to separate the truly helpful from the dead weight.
Pack light and keep your hands free
Opting for a travel backpack over a wheeled suitcase leaves your hands free to hail taxis, open doors or swipe open your phone to check an address. Plus, you can keep your attention ahead of you, instead of on whether your suitcase is dragging through puddles or catching on cobblestones.
Wirecutter recommends Osprey’s Fairview 55 and, for taller travelers, the company’s Farpoint 55. Both bags offer support, a spacious interior for their size, and detachable daypacks for shorter outings. If you still crave the design of a suitcase, the Tortuga Outbreaker is carry-on compliant and offers more options for organization than a pack while sitting just as comfortably on your back.
Consolidating to one backpack means you’ll need to make the most of the space you have, so use packing cubes to organize your things. Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Original Cube Set is a Wirecutter favorite. These cubes neatly compress your clothes into the smallest space; even better, though, the cubes make it easy to find items and repack them without overturning your entire bag.
Stay charged on the go
When you travel, your phone isn’t just a phone. It’s also a map, address book and on-the-fly tour guide — right up until the battery unexpectedly dies. Carry a spare battery pack so you can charge up your phone while in transit or at restaurants or airports where outlets are scarce.
If you have USB-C items to charge — and if you’re willing to sacrifice a little more space for more power — the ZMI USB PD Backup Battery & Hub offers a longer charge and can power up multiple devices at once.
Keep a light on and stay safe
Your travels, especially if you’re exploring the outdoors, may lead you on trails at night or camping in the wilderness. If you bring a headlamp, though, the way ahead will always be well-lit, and unlike a flashlight, it leaves your hands free. Wirecutter has tested dozens of headlamps, and found that Black Diamond’s Spot produced the brightest, longest-lasting beam of light of any headlamp tested.
In case you happen to stumble on the path, we also recommend keeping basic first aid supplies on hand. Our budget pick, First Aid Only’s First Aid Essentials Kit, is small enough to pack easily but has all the necessities to clean up cuts or scrapes.
Keep some creature comforts, even in a crowd
Traveling solo doesn’t mean you’re on your own. The plane or train seats next to you are probably going to be occupied. Noise-cancelling earbuds and a good sleep mask can be lifesavers when you’re ready to settle in for a deep sleep right as your neighbor is flipping on an overhead light and ordering breakfast.
After listening to more than two dozen pairs of headphones, Wirecutter experts found that the Bose QuietComfort 20 earbuds were the very best at blocking out ambient sounds. If you prefer an over-the ear design, Bose’s QuietComfort 35 set also canceled out noises handily. Add a favorite sleep mask — Wirecutter likes the unobtrusive, light-blocking Nidra Deep Rest — and you’ll stand a better chance of arriving at your destination well-rested.
If you’re staying in shared accommodations during your travels, like a camp, hostel, lodge, or Airbnb, you might be glad to have a pair of your own flip-flops and a packable towel for shared bathrooms. Consider the comfortable and grippy Havaianas Top Flip Flop, especially for walking on wet surfaces, and the quick-drying PackTowl Personal, which compresses into a tiny carrying case.
Make memories to share back home
You don’t need to come home with only smartphone selfies. A mirrorless camera is light to carry but offers the same great image quality as a full-size digital single-lens reflex camera (D.S.L.R.) camera.
The mirrorless cameras that Wirecutter recommends also have bundled apps that you can install on your phone and use to shoot remotely while your camera stays set up on a tripod — great for both selfies and group shots. Experienced photographers will appreciate the outstanding images and features, including weather-sealing and 4K video, on the Fujifilm X-T2. Or, if you’re looking for a starter camera, the Fujifilm X-A5 is an option that still takes high-quality pictures.
A good travel tripod will help you set up your shots. Wirecutter recommends the collapsible MeFoto RoadTrip, which offered the best range of height options and most flexibility of any model they tested.
Whichever camera you opt for, you’ll return with some fantastic shots and stories to share.
A version of this article is on Wirecutter.com.