Updated January 2023
Our participants often ask what gear to buy for their GEEO travel programs. How do you pack for the Sahara desert in the winter or for Iceland in the summer? Our staff have traveled to over 100 countries and picked up some travel gear favorites along the way. We want you to feel well prepared for your adventures while also packing light. Read on for our suggestions for most of the items on our packing lists.
Most of our gear suggestions can be purchased at REI.com. They are the largest online outdoor retailer and offer an extensive selection of high-quality gear and clothing for travel. By following the links we provide to the gear on REI’s website, you get the benefit of finding high-quality, GEEO-curated travel gear at a fair price. You will also help generate revenue for GEEO (at no extra cost to you) so more teachers can travel with us.
Here are some of the things that GEEO loves about REI:
- Their Return Policy
- One of the best things about shopping through REI is its generous return policy. For most purchases, you can make a return for a replacement or refund within one year of purchase. You can see REI’s full return policy on their website.
- REI Membership
- If you decide to join REI as a member, you will receive an annual dividend of up to 10% based on everything you purchased from them throughout the year. It’s like a tax return for your travel gear! You also get first access to sales and other REI offerings. See the full membership benefits here.
- REI Credit Card
- While some avid travelers are great at playing the sometimes complicated credit card points game, REI makes it simple. With the REI Mastercard, you receive 5% back on REI purchases, 1% back on everything else, plus your annual member dividend. If you’re making a lot of travel gear purchases, this is a great way to maximize your spending. Learn more here.
GEEO’S Favorite Travel Gear
The GEEO Packing List
The GEEO team works to customize the packing list for each of our programs, and you can find trip-specific packing lists on each of the program pages. For most of our itineraries, you will need many of the same travel essentials, so we’ve curated the below list so you can pack the most affordable, efficient, eco-friendly, and good-quality gear available. The GEEO team will share our tips for ultra-lightweight packing in another blog post soon, but in the meantime, check out these tips from Lonely Planet on how to pack light.
Luggage & Backpacks
As you pack, keep in mind that you must be prepared to carry your own bags and be comfortable carrying them up and down stairs, on and off transportation, and to hotels. As a rule, we try not to have to walk more than 15-20 minutes with your bags, which is why we recommend keeping the weight of your bags between 22-30 lb. Most travelers carry a backpack or rolling bag of small to medium size. No XXL bags, please! Here are our favorites:
- Osprey Fairview Wheeled Convertible Luggage: This suitcase does it all! It rolls. It’s a backpack. It has a detachable daypack included. It has internal pockets for organizing. It translates menus in other languages (okay, not that last one, but trust us, it’s a great suitcase).
- REI’s backpacks are great budget options for a durable travel pack.
- For those who live that carry-on-only lifestyle, this suitcase was reviewed as the best option. (This is what GEEO’s Executive Director Jesse uses on most of his trips as his overhead luggage)
A daypack is also essential for carrying everyday items. Space is limited on transportation, so there is a limit of one main piece of luggage (i.e., suitcase or backpack) per person plus one daypack per person. Here are GEEO’s top picks for daypacks:
- Cotopaxi’s Alpa 35 when packed light fits under most airline seats, so can be used as a personal item. It looks great and has organized internal pockets, a laptop section, and a cover for when it rains. It is kind of big for a day bag. (This is what GEEO’s Executive Director Jesse uses on some of his trips as his personal item)
- Osprey makes durable technical backpacks. Here is their basic, no-frills daypack.
- PacSafe is a good option for travelers who like a little extra security. This bag features stainless-steel wire mesh embedded into the fabric to help protect against slash-and-run theft, plus other security features.
We love packing cubes for keeping clothes organized and compressed. Two to three of them should be enough for all of our trips. If you are packing more, you may be overpacking!
Fleece top or a packable jacket
Even on trips to warm weather destinations, there are still cold nights and cold flights. For packable, lightweight warmth we recommend down jackets. Here is a link to all of the down jackets REI considers “packable.” The REI Co-op 650 down jackets in men’s and women’s designs are affordable and pack into one of the pockets on the jacket itself. For our colder weather trips, you may consider an 850 down jacket.
Light windproof/waterproof jacket
Wirecutter rated the Patagonia Torrentshell as their top choice for a rain jacket. It packs into its own pocket, comes in lots of different color options and is backed by Patagonia’s excellent warranty. It should be useful for all of our trips. Here are the men’s and women’s versions of this jacket.
A bad sunburn can ruin your trip. If you want better protection than a baseball hat, we recommend these sun hats. If you are going on one of our programs where you will be in the ocean, we recommend Thinksport brand sunblock as it is reef safe.
Small towel and swimwear
For some of our programs we recommend bringing a travel towel and/or swimwear. A great option for a travel towel is this one from the REI Co-op. They come in various sizes, are super light, and can absorb up to 8 times their weight in water! When it comes to swimwear, REI has lots of options for men and women. Keep in mind that different countries may require different levels of modesty on the beach and at the pool, so do your research.
Hiking or Track Pants
On more active travel days or when hiking, you will appreciate clothing made specifically for being active. Our favorites are these Prana pants for men and these ones by Kuhl for women.
Sturdy Walking Shoes
As a teacher, you already know that supportive shoes are everything when you have to be on your feet all day. While this is a pretty personal decision based on your own style, think of the types of activities you’ll do on your trip as you decide what to purchase or pack. Pack lighter (but still supportive) shoes for activities like city walking or heavier-duty boots for rougher activities like multi-day trekking in the mountains. REI has a great selection of footwear, and GEEO recommends finding something you like online and then trying it on in a store near you to make sure it fits well.
For durable sandals that you can wear while city-walking, light hiking, or in the water, we recommend investing in a pair of Chaco sandals. They will last for years! REI has great options for women and men. While a #chacotan might earn you some cool points with your students, just don’t wear them with socks–that’s a fashion faux pas in any country.
A good pair of sunglasses that block the sun’s harmful rays is very important. Fashion is such a personal choice, so check out REI’s whole selection of sunglasses.
We recommend using biodegradable bath & body products whenever possible in order to reduce your environmental impact on the places you visit. Here are some of our favorites products to pack in your toiletry bag:
- Refillable 2 oz. bottles: Rather than purchase travel-size shampoo, conditioner, and body wash every time you travel, buy a few of these bottles and refill them with your own products that you use at home. You’ll save money in the long run and keep plastic from getting to the landfill.
- Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap is great for body wash, face wash, washing your clothes, and much more while you travel. They say there are 18 uses for Dr. Bronner’s!
- Dental Hygiene: REI has some great options for travel
- Soap or shampoo: Sea to Summit makes small TSA-compliant soap and other body care products. If you’re tight on space or want to reduce the weight of your luggage, these are ideal.
- Body wipes: If you need a refresher between showers, use these wipes that are good for your skin and are 100% compostable.
- Hand sanitizer – This lavender-scented hand sanitizer doubles as a body spray to freshen up on sweaty travel days.
- For people with periods:
- While it would be ideal not to have to worry about your cycle while traveling, sometimes it’s unavoidable. There are some great options to avoid lugging around lots of personal care supplies when you travel. Check out this menstrual cup and Thinx for our favorite travel-friendly products.
Health and Safety
REI has an extensive selection of pre-packed first-aid kits here. If you’re going to make your own first-aid kit, we recommend including: lip balm, aspirin, bandages, antihistamine, Dramamine, Imodium or similar tablets for mild cases of diarrhea, electrolyte powder, insect repellent, extra prescription drugs you may be taking, and any other medications you use regularly. It can be hard to find your go-to OTC medications in other countries, so come prepared.
For protection against viruses like the coronavirus and influenza, bring high-quality KN95 masks, COVID-19 antigen tests, and plenty of hand sanitizer. We recommend that you pack three COVID-19 antigen tests per week of travel and at least one mask per day of travel. You may want to purchase a protective case for your CDC COVID-19 vaccination record card so it isn’t damaged during your travels; it’s also a good idea to take a picture of your card as a backup.
While most of us have built-in cameras on our smartphones, sometimes it’s nice to leave the phone at home and travel with a small digital camera. The New York Times’ product-testing team recommends this Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX10K Digital Camera as the best point-and-shoot digital camera on the market. You could also explore the options on REI for sports cameras like GoPro. This waterproof phone case is great for snorkeling activities.
This pillow will make all the difference in the world on planes, trains, buses, and other long journeys.
This one is affordable and blocks RFID scanners.
Reusable Water Bottle
This one is very packable and easy to fill. Please do your best to use your reusable water bottle at home and abroad to keep some of the millions of plastic bottles per day from ending up in landfills and oceans.
We recommend this one if you want to cut down on plastic and drink tap water without a worry in countries where the tap water is questionable.
These are a lifesaver if you have a snoring roommate
Don’t travel hangry! Packing a few pre-packaged snacks is a good idea. The GEEO team loves Kind Bars, Clif Bars, almond butter, and the occasional gummy bear. You can also buy snacks when you get there, so don’t go crazy here.
Plastic or Silicone Bags
Ziplock bags are great for storing for wet clothing, or you could also get these reusable silicone bags to avoid unnecessary trash.
Sleeping Bag Liner
This sleeping bag liner will come in handy for chilly flights and bus rides and is also great for when you want to be extra sanitary in your hotel.
- This power bank is a portable battery so you can recharge on the go.
- Here is a great option for an all-in-one travel adapter so you can plug in almost anywhere in the world. Make sure that whatever you’re plugging into the wall is capable of accepting the amount of power coming through the outlet. See more information here on determining if your device can be safely plugged in.
- Multiple-hour flights call for dependable headphones. We love these wireless earbuds.
We hope you’ve found our gear advice helpful as you pack for your GEEO program! As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need a suggestion on a specific piece of gear you don’t see here. Happy packing!