A Travel Gift Guide from an Award Winning World Traveler

I may have made that part up about award winning.  However, I do consider myself a pro traveler by this point.

It’s that time of year, where everyone is scrambling to figure out what to give their friends, family, and loved ones.  Being an avid gear aficionado and (unfortunately) a spender when it comes to those categories, I have had the pleasure of purchasing and using many different types of travel gear.  Here are my favorite choices, and why I chose them!



Light hard sided suitcases with 4 wheels are all the rage, and for good reason.  They are light, durable, expandable, and come in sizes that fit most carry on regulations.  They are also very easy to move around.  My all time favorite is the ones built by Delsey.  Sure you could spend more on a Samsonite, or a Tumi, but having owned all three, my Delsey has done the job time and again and taken me on dozens of trips through all sorts of rough and tumble luggage handlers and excursions.

Click here to check it out on Amazon

Simple, cheap, and awesome
Simple, cheap, and awesome



The Carry on bag also known as the overnighter, is usually a small bag that will carry your toiletries, your electronic gadgets, and maybe a single change of clothing.  Although I carry on all my luggage there are those times when you need to check in your rollaway and can only carry one bag on board.  As a result, everything that I MUST have on my trip, ie: toiletries, phones, cameras, passport, are all carried within this carry on bag.  In my opinion, there is only ONE company worth buying soft sided bags from, and they are Filson.  For those not familiar with Filson, they are a purveyer of heavy duty travel goods located in Seattle.  Their stuff is nearly indestructible – it isn’t cheap but it’s not Louis Vuitton expensive by a long shot, and i’ve put my Filson bags through over 10 years of abuse and they keep on running like I purchased them yesterday. My favorite is the standard Filson Small Duffle here.  It’s just the right size to fit a jacket, maybe a t shirt and underwear, a toiletry bag, laptop, and even some shoes along with my electronics bag (mentioned below).  Even filled as so it will easily drop into an overhead compartment on a small regional jet, or fit under the seat in front of you.

Damn near indestructible, and damn pretty
Damn near indestructible, and damn pretty




It’s always a pain in the ass when small electronics items such as memory cards, chargers, accessories get lost in the inevitable black hole of larger bags.  To avoid this, I carry two of these bags below.  They fit all my gadgets and charging cords, and are a must have when organizing your life on the go.  They are also padded, so you don’t get the odd crushed charger prong or broken iphone.  They’re cheap and can be purchased here

They're perfect for putting in anything small and delicate
They’re perfect for putting in anything small and delicate



Packing cubes are nothing new, but not all packing cubes are created equally.  If you’re serious about using these, I highly recommend getting COMPRESSION packing cubes.  They allow you to stuff more items into the cubes themselves and are a great way to get the most out of your luggage space.  Regular packing cubes – move aside.  Check them out here.


Compress those undies!
Compress those undies!




I could wax poetic for ages about what you should bring for a travel camera, but being a video and photography nut and having owned dozens of different cameras and lenses I would have to say the ultimate travel camera (other than your cell phone) is the Panasonic GH4.  For many reasons, its weatherproof and tough, it creates incredible 4K video, you can just bring 1 wide angle lens (the 7-14mm) and you’ll be able to take incredible video and photo no matter where you go.  Now I usually bring 2-3 cameras on each trip each for a different purpose, but heck, you can’t go wrong with the Panasonic GH4 – it would be my 1 go to camera if I had to pare down to the basics.  Click here for the camera and here for the lens.

The man, the myth, the uhh... camera
The man, the myth, the uhh… camera


If you’re not ready to splurge on a full camera, I highly recommend buying lenses for your existing camera.  These do wonders for any iPhone or Android, giving you the ability to take wide angle or telephoto shots with your camera phone.  Just remember, take photos SIDEWAYS!!  No one shoots vertical anymore.  Especially in video.  There’s quite a few models but I have always liked the Aukey.


It'll do wonders for your smartphone
It’ll do wonders for your smartphone


I often bring my drone with me for some incredible sky-selfie shots, cool video of the surrounding areas, and pretty spectacular footage that you really just can’t get anywhere but with a drone.  Unfortunately up until recently drones have been large and a pain to carry.  This changed recently with the DJI Mavic Pro.  It’s a tiny drone that folds up to the size of a water bottle, yet has the capability to take extremely high quality 4K footage that would look good in any feature.  I can’t state enough how this tool will make your vacations way more fun as you create memorable footage and photographs from the sky and get a completely new vantage point of the world around you.

Its a bird, its a plane, NOPE - it's a Mavic Pro!
Its a bird, its a plane, NOPE – it’s a Mavic Pro!


Whenever i’m waiting at the airport gate, sitting on the plane, riding to and from the airport, or basically am in transit, i’m wearing these.  They’re not cheap, but they’re incredibly comfortable, block out almost all external noise, and have incredible sound quality.  I’m not even a Bose fan, but I have to say that my Bose Noise Cancelling In-Ear headphones are my favorite accessory for travel.  They’re a MUST HAVE.  I also used to have the over-the-ear model but they took too much room in my luggage, and frankly weren’t as comfortable as the in-ear model.  Click here to get them.

Bose Noise Cancelling In Ear Headphones. A must have!
Bose Noise Cancelling In Ear Headphones. A must have!


The Best Credit Cards to get for travel


I know this subject has been covered by specific sites such as The Points Guy and Nerd Wallet but I wanted to throw my hat in the ring and give an opinion, as sometimes those sites are a bit biased due to their sponsorships and advertisements.

I have at one point or another owned almost every credit card related to rewards travel, but the picture above shows what’s currently in my wallet.  I’ll let you know why I have each one in there and give you some secrets.

Citi Prestige – This one is currently one of my FAVORITE.  The reason why?  They offer 4th night free!!.  You heard that right, everytime you book a hotel through their concierge service they give you the 4th night free.  Recently when I stayed at the Rosewood London and also the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico I was able to save close to $700 on my stays because of this card. I HIGHLY recommend it, the yearly fee pays for itself, especially if you combine it with the travel credit

Barclays Black Card – This one i’m going to get rid of soon.  I originally got this purely for the novelty factor and to see how it compared to the Amex Centurion which I also carry.  Unfortunately the rewards system is terrible on this card, and the high yearly fee is not offset by any great benefits

Citi Aadvantage – This is also one of my favorites, it offers free checked bags and because I mostly fly American when I buy tickets I usually use this card to amass more American Airlines points.  Their points systems are one of the best when redeeming

Amex SPG (Not Pictured) – I currently use this card the most due to its rewards points system, which can be used with SPG hotels OR transferred over to American Airlines

Ritz-Carlton Rewards – The signup bonus on this card is great, with 3 free nights upon sign-up and Ritz gold status first year for free!

Chase Sapphire Preferred – I am going to switch this one over to the Chase Sapphire Reserve in about a month, but you cannot go wrong with either of these cards (Preferred or Reserve).  They offer some of the best signup bonuses and the rewards redemption process is very simple and the points are often worth a LOT!  If you have ONE card in your wallet I highly recommend this one.

Amex Centurion – This one gets asked about the most, because of its iconic status. It is a charge card, and not technically a credit card (meaning you have to pay off your entire balance in full every month).  It is incredibly hard to get in terms of spending requirements, but I highly recommend it if you get the chance to get one.  The platinum status you acquire on Delta pays off on its own, as I am almost always upgraded to first class or economy Plus even after buying a regular discount economy class ticket.  The other benefits are also SPG Gold and Hilton Honors Diamond status, all of which give you free room upgrades for when you stay at participating hotels.  Are these worth the $7500 initiation fee and $2500 yearly fee?  I would say they are if you travel often, as room and airfare upgrades are significantly expensive and add up quickly.

Chase Palladium – This is another card which I sometimes use for travel as I can combine the points with my other Chase card, but its high annual fee really makes me think twice about keeping it.  The United lounge access is great but I also tend to fly American so it doesn’t help me much in that regard.  The only really great thing about this card is its hidden credit line, which means that your FICO score isn’t impacted (it doesn’t show utilization ratios).



REVIEW: How to upgrade your room for close to free!

So how do you go from your normal room to that upgrade?  Well there’s quite a few ways to do it!  Here are my secrets that i’ve used in the past.

  1. It is always better to check in REALLY LATE – This is how it works, if you check in very late, many times the rooms will have already been allocated and the hotel will know its inventory for that day and for the next.  Cancellations will also have been logged in.
  2. ALWAYS REGISTER FOR MEMBERSHIP REWARDS – If you are not part of the program of a particular hotel chain, be sure to register ahead of time.  Then when you arrive at the front desk, let the manager know that you recently registered and are a new member of X (pick your hotel group), and that you are looking to learn more about the benefits of moving your business over to the new group. Ie: “I am a longtime member of Marriott’s Rewards but am looking to move my business over to SPG, can you please explain what kind of upgrades you would be willing to offer?”
  3. SIMPLY ASK FOR UPGRADES – Upselling at the front desk is the job of the hotelier working there.  They get commissions for upselling so its in their best interest to get you an upgraded room.  Also don’t take what price they quote as the end-all-be-all.  Negotiate!
  4. PULL UP HOTEL TONIGHT RATES – If you don’t have this app, get it immediately!  You can then pull up the rates on Hotel Tonight for different room categories (which often are lower than the rack rates at the hotel), and kindly ask the hotel to match the rates.
  5. OFFER TO WRITE A GREAT REVIEW OF THE MANAGER OR EMPLOYEE ON THE SPOT – Hotels rely heavily on Tripadvisor reviews.  Every review counts too.  Leverage your ability to review and get an upgrade out of it! At the very lease you’ll get great service.

Hope these all help you get better room upgrades and improve your hotel experiences for future stays!