I’ve been on the road for almost three years now and much of my gear is a bit worn down at this point. My laptop was limping along, my sandals disintegrating under the weight of their own stench and my massive 12-year-old main pack had finally convinced my back and shoulders that –perhaps– it might be time to downsize.

Being on a tight budget, I had to limit myself to items that were frugal in both price and weight. All in all, I think I did pretty good job of balancing both concerns. And my final setup is about 7-8 pounds lighter than before.

Johnny Vagabond -- travel, humor, photography


While I didn’t manage to cut much weight from my digital kit, I did increase the speed and performance dramatically. But it cost. Oh, did it cost…

New Year, New Gear. Part 1: Technology 15″ Macbook Pro Retina with 16GB RAM — this is the laptop that a photo contest bought. If I hadn’t won’s photo contest, I’d have never been willing to drop $2,500 on a laptop. But now that I have, I’m thrilled… although my credit card audibly wept when I clicked “Purchase”.

My 13″ Macbook Pro was on it’s last legs, running off an external drive with the fans blowing full time as it strained to keep up. It served me well and was a true workhorse but after three years of abuse, the poor thing was just spent.

My new machine is at least 4-5x faster, has a larger (and incredibly high-resolution) screen while only adding a half pound to my pack. It’s by far the fastest computer I’ve ever used. And the screen is amazing. For protection, I grabbed a Thule Macbook sleeve that is semi-rigid, has water-resistant zippers and has enough room to carry my 2-year-old iPad as well.

I also carry a thin $3 mousepad as well. Don’t laugh — finding a useable surface in a cafe in Laos can be trickier than you think.

This Macbook doesn’t include a DVD drive (which is a big part of why it is so slim and light) and though I use it only rarely, I decided to carry an external drive for one more season if only to allow me to buy those bootleg movies and software DVDs that you find in Asia. And while it does weigh 3/4 of a pound, I can leave it in my main pack 99% of the time so I don’t really mind.

New Year, New Gear. Part 1: TechnologyThe iPad 2 has been a great travel tool — it served as a backup blogging platform when my laptop power supply died (though the v.2 camera is horrible), and has been very handy for email, surfing, reading ebooks (10 hour battery life is great for long bus rides), watching movies, calling home via Skype, checking my site stats and answering comments, Twitter, Facebook, gaming, language translation, videoconferencing, maps, Instant Messaging, writing posts and taking notes while offline and more.

If you’re not a blogger/digital nomad and are traveling for any period of time, I highly recommend ditching the laptop or netbook and getting an iPad. Mine is wifi-only and can be bought for as little as $350. If the touch screen typing weirds you out, get a bluetooth keyboard for $50.

I know I’ll sound like a Apple fanboi (and I am, to be honest), but I also broke down and invested in a iPhone 5. My old iPhone 3 had finally died — the battery lasted about an hour on standby, the screen was cracked and fading and the home button was getting wonky. It was almost five years old, so I can’t complain too much. I also desperately needed a good point and shoot camera that was easily accessible so it was a bit easier to rationalize the purchase. I could have saved $150 by buying the older 4S model but the processor in the 5 is such an upgrade that I think I’ll get a longer useful life out of it. Look for more photos and video on the site in the future.

Portable hard drives have continued to evolve, so I picked up a 2TB portable hard drive to hold my photos and such. My old 1TB drive is being converted to a backup drive, with a small partition that houses a full working clone of my system and the rest of the drive holding my weekly backups. Both are stored in a small, lightweight dry sack for protection from rain and I’ll be leaving my old 500GB drive behind with a full copy of all of my photos to date for insurance.

Johnny Vagabond -- travel, humor, photography

New Year, New Gear. Part 1: Technology


For camera gear, I’m sticking with my Canon Rebel T2i with a 18-135mm lens — it has served me well and is as high-quality as I can afford right now. Next year’s goal: a full-frame camera with pro glass.

I decided to update my ultra-cheapie tripod (bought via for $25) with a slightly-less cheap Opteka carbon fiber tripod — it’s only a half pound heavier and –hopefully– steadier than the old one. I own a solid Gitzo tripod/ballhead but at seven pounds, I just can’t justify lugging the thing around the world.

Johnny Vagabond -- travel, humor, photography


I have a small bag stuffed with cords, a USB-powered AA battery charger, thumb drives, a Belkin mini surge protector, camera charger and batteries, wifi booster, USB hub, a backup power supply (Mac support is rare in parts of the world), a $5 punch to cut SIMS down to the new iPhone nano-SIM format, zip ties, a wireless mouse and a mummified frog. I’m not sure how the frog got in there but I’m not going to touch it.

Johnny Vagabond -- travel, humor, photography



The bulk of this travels in my daypack, never far from my sight. The DVD drive, backup HDs, backup power adapter and tripod ride in my main backpack while I lug the rest of it around in my new Outdoor Products Power Pack daypack. I looked at dozens of daypacks and this one was as close to ideal as I’ve found. It was cheaper than 90% of them as well.

It holds my laptop in a separate, sealed compartment (which is nice when a bottle of water/sunscreen explodes), while my camera rides in the main zippered section. A fold-out section has literally dozens of pockets and two zippered compartments so all of my goodies are organized and handy. If only I could remember where I put everything…

I have a rain cover stashed in one side pocket, power cord in the other and some cash and photocopies of my passport in a hidden pouch (spy stuff!). If this thing can hold up to the abuse of a year on the road, it may well be my ideal daypack (though I do wish they had a more water-resistant version).

NEW YEAR, NEW GEAR. PART 1: TECHIn some parts of the world, carrying your gear with you is not such a good idea so I’m trying out a PacSafe camera bag protector. I’d tried using one that covered my entire pack when I first started traveling but it was too heavy and awkward for everyday use. I’m trying this smaller unit, which will allow me to lock down just my daypack with my laptop and camera and only weighs about a pound and a half. If someone steals my main pack and clothing it will suck but it won’t be as bad as losing the hard-to-replace tech gear.

Johnny Vagabond -- travel, humor, photography


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah @ Getting Stamped January 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

We are still debating what we are going to bring for a computer…our funds don’t allow for a Mac Air, we are looking into some of the Ultrabooks that have 7-9 hours of battery life and weigh around 4lbs. We tested out a little netbook for a few weeks here at home and we realized the speed would be way to slow on the road and really bad if the wifi wasnt strong. We too have a tablet, Hannah has a Samsung Note II and Adam has an 64GGb ipod touch 5th generation (thanks to xmas). How many cameras do you bring? We have a Nikon point and shoot, Nikon underwater camera, and a Nikon SLR and debating on which lens to bring or bring to (weight scares me). Look forward to your reviews of the camera Pacsafe. We were hoping to get one large enought the 120l that would cover my camera bag and my 70L Osprey, but you said that didnt work…and it appears heavy and akward (at rei at least). Would you suggest the Pacsafe for the bag at all?

Thanks for all your help


wes January 8, 2013 at 11:14 am

A well-built ultrabook sounds good. If you’re wanting to do a lot of photography, Lightroom or Aperture are both going to require a fair amount of processing power and netbooks can’t quite keep up in my experience.

Not sure what your budget is for a laptop but 4 pounds sounds very heavy for an ultrabook. For that amount of weight you should be able to find a much faster machine, Mac or otherwise. (my old 13″ Macbook pro weighed 4 pounds and an 11″ Air come in under 3 I believe)

I have 2 lenses — one all-purpose 18-155 and a 70-250 that I very rarely bother with. Less is more — better to spend more on a decent lens with a wide range than 2-3 specialty lenses, imo.

Yeah, the large-size Pacsafe was a pain. Weighed too much and was a bear to install or fit back into its pouch. I’m going small — wrap the expensive gear in mesh, then run the main security cord through your main pack to keep someone from walking off with it. They can still easily steal your dirty underwear but your expensive stuff is safer (nothing is 100% safe)

2 cameras is fine for me — SLR for serious stuff and point and shoot for quickie shots. Waterproof option is a bonus. iPod Touch 5 should have a decent camera, no? Not waterproof but still…

Hope that helps.


Glenn Dixon January 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

Wow, that was a long post! You should probably take a break… LOL


wes January 8, 2013 at 11:15 am



Glenn Dixon January 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

heh – just yankin’ yer chain, mate!


wes January 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm


Mike January 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

Great stuff Johnny.Wish I could do that much. Maybe one day when I grow up (not old since I am already ancient-Ha!). Safe Travels mi amigo!!!


Wayne January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Being an avid traveler, are there any travel products do you think it would make sense to rent instead of buy? What about using box or dropbox instead of carrying around the external hard drive.


wes January 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Good question. I use dropbox quite a bit but it isn’t useful for full backup purposes in much of the world. For example: I shot 60+ GB of photos in India — at the local upload speeds it would have taken me months to upload all of that to the cloud. I find that dual-backups on external HDs with backing up to the cloud as a final step when available is a good mix. The cloud just doesn’t exist yet in parts of the world: Cambodia, Laos, India, Nepal, Honduras, Guatemala, etc (my personal experience).


wes January 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

As for renting, I can only imagine that if I needed a huge high-end lens or maybe camping gear for a short trip. Re: backup drives, the 2TB drive I just purchased is about the size of 1 and a half cigarette packs and weighs less than a half pound for $135 US — hard to quibble about that…


Serge January 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I bought the Outdoor Products Power Pack Daypack a few months ago in Thailand and I LOVE it! I’m presently in Vietnam and this pack is my Digital Office. I also carry a MacBook Pro 13″, and iPad 3, Portable HDs, Airport Xpress, DSLR, and all the stuff that is required by the Location Independent traveler. We basically carry the exact same equipment. This pack is nothing short of fantastic! Very highly recommended!!!

Wayne, I use JustCloud with their unlimited package and it works great for me.
But I find carrying both portable HDs and online storage to be the best option for me.


wes January 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I’m really liking the PowerPack so far but one of the first things I did was sut out the ‘file folders’ in the main portion of the bag. I had no use for them and they tended to snag my camera case…


wes January 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm



Gary Arndt January 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Spooky. I got the same laptop, hard drive and iPhone this month.


wes January 8, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Great minds ;)


Maria | Acceleratedstall January 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm

7 pounds less is an impressive and no doubt very welcomed change. Kudos for being savvy – your means will definitely justify the ends and I can hardly wait to see what you do with the new gear. Happy 2013!


Pete January 13, 2013 at 2:24 am

Hey Wes – looks like it was a good Christmas!

I was wondering what you keep your camera and lenses in when you place them in your daypack. I’ve been hauling around a third bag – the lowepro slingshot -for my camera gear and it is a pain (carrying a 3rd bag, not the bag itself). I’d like to consolidate it to my daypack, but I’m worried about it and the lenses being protected. Do your camera and lenses each have their own protective case?

I’ve got a similar rig to what you are carrying, maybe a few extras a canon t4i, with a 24-70, a 18 -200, flash, and a small prime.


wes January 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I carry my camera in a small wedge-shaped bag that barely fits the camera (carries batteries, lens pen and cards as well). That goes in my day pack, generally with my laptop. My long lens I tend to leave in the main bag for everyday walking around. If I’m going out to shoot specifically, I leave the latop behind and bring the extra lens and strap on the tripod. I don’t like walking around with an obvious camera bag if I can. In fact I worry that my new daypack is too ‘new’ in appearance — I need ot dirty it up a bit. The more I look like a poor backpacker, the happier I am.


Clint January 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Hey Wes, awesome new gear. I am looking at getting a new laptop right now. I currently have a similar workhorse, 15″ MBP, and its time to upgrade. I am thinking that a 13″ air or pro might be the best of both worlds(light and powerful). Do you like the bigger screen or do you think a 13″ is fine? Did you consider the 13″ Macbook air at all or did the retina display lure you away from that?


wes January 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I’ve used 13″ MBP for the last 3 years and loved it. Nice balance of screen size and power. I love the Airs but I needed more processing power — I shoot a LOT of photos and work occasionally as a graphic designer so I wanted more than a dual-core i7, which is all you can get with an Air currently. Most people would probably find an Air to be more than capable for their needs. I just push my gear a bit harder than average…


Jack Martin January 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm

This is a cool guide.

I am especially supportive of the Rebel T2i. I love mine, it just gets the job done. Some of my photog friends have suggested I upgrade, and I certainly see how some higher price models could improve my photos, but gosh dang the Rebel is just so easy to use and really has all the features I would ever use.

Happy travels!


wes January 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

I love my t2i. A full-frame would be nice but the cost/weight are just too much for me right now. Once you buy the body, then you have to move into the fancy/expensive glass to really get the most out of your investment. Too much for me, alas…