My Favorite Travel Companies and Gear: 2013 Edition

lonely planet guidebookMany years have passed since the last time I wrote about the travel companies I use and a lot has changed in those years. Now, there’s a ton of travel apps, new search sites, and resources available to help plan your trip. And while many of the companies I use have stayed the same, many have changed as has some of the gear I take with me.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is:

“Matt, who do you use when you travel?”

Since the last time I answered that question was 2010, I am overdue for a response. Below you will find a list of all the companies, apps, and gear I use:

Travel insurance – I still am a loyal user of World Nomads. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2006 and I’ll continue to use them until I stop traveling. Their prices are competitive, they offer comprehensive coverage and great customer service. Overall, they just rock. They are the official travel insurance of both Lonely Planet and National Geographic and I figure if they were good enough for them, they’re good enough for me. I’ve never been disappointed.

Backpacks – When I went to Africa last year, South African Airlines lost my REI Mars backpack. It was my baby. After 6 years on the road with me, it functioned as good as the day I took it home from the store. I still miss that bag – it was a constant on the road. It went everywhere I did, saw everything I did. So after mourning its lost, I walked into REI and bought the same one. Their products last forever and come with a lifetime guarantee. I’m a customer of theirs for life. Now, let’s just hope this backpack doesn’t get lost either.

Guidebooks – I don’t always use a guide book but when I do, it’s Lonely Planet. Everyone has their own guidebook preference; Lonely Planet is mine. I like the look of their guides as well as their light weight. After a redesign in 2011, the books are now better organized with more photos and better maps, and I enjoy their emphasis on budget travel.

Camera – I used to be a Nikon guy, but Canon has really improved the quality of their night photographs. Since my Nikon point-and-shoot was a little outdated, before I went to Africa, I bought a Canon SX 500 because of its really impressive zoom lens. I mean, look at the detail on this moon photo! That’s pretty amazing detail. Now, I keep the Nikon around for city shots but if I’m taking a lot of nature shoots, Canon is what I use.

Video Camera – For the videos I post on my site (I’m starting to publish weekly videos, so be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel) I use a Panasonic HC-X900M. It’s supposed to be the top-of-the-line HD video camera under $1,000. It shoots in full HD at 1920×1080 and since starting to use it, I’ve noticed a vast improvement in my video quality.

Computer – For all my website design, video, and photo needs, I use a Macbook Pro. I find it easy to use and it never breaks down. I love my Mac. Once you go Mac, you never go back.

Hotel booking sites – When it comes to hotels, I am a Starwood hotels loyalist. I don’t often stay in hotels but when I do, I love the W and I use the points I get from travel hacking to stay for free. But if I do have to research I like to use Hotwire,, Expedia, and

Travel Apps – I don’t use many travel apps; I’ve never been a huge fan of them. Why would you be checking apps while on the road? I never find myself in the middle of a jungle or on a beach thinking “damn, I wish there was an app for X!” But a few do come in handy: Google Maps (the handiest app of all), Skype, and Currency cover my basic needs. The rest are just filler.

Airline booking sites – I tend to be loyal to American Airlines. I fly a lot so being loyal as a frequent flier pays off. But when I am looking beyond AA, I use the following sites: Momondo, Skyscanner, Vayama, and ITA Matrix. Those sites are the start of any search I run for airfare prices.

Hostel booking sites – The best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and availability is Hostelworld. I use them for my bookings and I like them so much that I started a partnership with them two years ago.

Airline alliance – While I travel hack the world and use points to fly just about anyone I can, when I am paying for my flights or have the miles, I am a Oneworld loyalist. While the Star Alliance has more airlines to choose from, American Airlines (the US partner) is far better than United and I’m also a huge fan of Cathay Pacific and British Airways! Win, win all around.

Travel credit card – This is a bit tricky since deals, cards, bonuses change so often. I sign up for a lot of cards in order to travel hack so I can fly for free. But when it comes to my everyday spending, I rotate between three cards: Starwoods AMEX (business expenses), American Airlines (points for free flights), and Chase Sapphire Preferred (some points, plus no foreign transaction fees).

So there you have it: my favorite travel companies – the ones I use constantly throughout my travels. These are the ones I recommend throughout my site because they constantly get me great deals, offer great customer service, and are just all-around amazing. Are these the perfect companies for every traveler in every circumstance? No, of course not — but if you’re looking for some consistently good companies to check out first, these are the ones.

  1. Fantastic list, Matt. Glad to say I use most of the things you’ve listed! I’m considering taking my first G Adventures tour while I’m in South America this year, too.

  2. I find I use Google Translate and a currency converter quite a bit while travelling. I also like TripIt for keeping my bookings in one place because I tend to forget times and the little details. I could just keep it in a folder in my email but this is easier for me.

  3. Have you ever thought of giving up the backpack for a roller suitcase? Or a hybrid backpack/roller?

    More and more I’m finding that I’d like to have wheels, and Kelty is coming out with a pretty nice looking line of hybrids this summer.

  4. Does anyone take a silk sheet or sleeping bag liner? I’m just learning this traveling light thing and would like to start traveling alone. I’m thinking hostels might be the way to …cheaper and meet people. I’m wondering about the liner just in case the sheets are “iffy”?

  5. I agree there are few travel apps really worth it, but one I’ve come to appreciate a lot are Trip Advisor’s city guides. As someone who likes exploring on his own, they make my travels easier, they work offline, they are full of traveler’s information and they are free of charge. This way my phone turns into a handy travel guide. Of course, Google Maps covers everywhere else and remains an essential.

  6. Great list Matt…I am with you on most of your choices although lately I have been straying from Lonely Planet. I still use their country guides – they have been my favourite for years, but for a quick city getaway, I am becoming a fan of the Eyewitness Travel Top 10 books. I used one for my trip to Prague, and have to say, it hit all the highlights for me! My vote may now be split. Only time will tell!

  7. Thanks Matt. You’re helped us narrow down our gear/travel company shopping for our upcoming travel adventures. We’ve just sold our house and we’re selling our belongings to travel indefinitely starting in August, so your article is perfect timing in helping us gear up.

  8. Great information! Thanks for the list, Matt! It’s really helpfull for us, since we’re setting off later this month as full time travelers! Especially the insurance has cost us a lot of thought and doubt – will check out World Nomads right away! :)


  9. Great travel companies and gear guide Matt. I am about to convert to a Macbook pro but have been procrastinating for the past year! I think i just need to make the lunge hey. Also have you checked out the 28 Degrees travel cards? Well worth scoping out for no fees anywhere in the world.

  10. Rushali

    With the smart phones getting more and more handy, one can actually rely on n number of mobile apps for getting directions, finding nearest places to eat, have ebook downloaded in mobile, read translations, understand local languages. I believ most of the things are taken care by the mobile. 😛

  11. Great companies! I love REI – when I was backpacking on my second trip years ago my “mini-pack” that attached to the larger pack ripped and I had to pin it. It was the first 3 weeks of my trip. The best part was I called REI from overseas and although they could not do anything for me, they said when I got back to just return it and I would get my money back. I still had 6 months to go! I’ve owned many REI packs since then and never had an issue, but it was so nice that the one time I did, they would take it back. GREAT company! Also am a big AA flyer!

  12. Another great post! You’re so right about Macs–for iPhoto alone they’re great for travelers. We’re about to “age out” of World Nomads (this is our last year to quality, I think). Any advice on travel insurance for senior travelers?

  13. Bridget

    When will you write about your trip to Africa? Where did you go? Any tips you can give? I’m headed there (hopefully) next year!

  14. jeremiah

    For hostels he always suggests Hostelworld because of his partnership with them, but other sites (like Hostelbookers, Gomio, Hostelsclub) let you book without a booking fee and they usually have lower prices too. But really, just always use It searches all of the hostel booking sites at once and just books through whichever site has the best price and availability. If Hostelworld wasn’t paying him, he’d probably just recommend you use like everyone else.

    • NomadicMatt

      Gomio = awful interface and selection
      Hostelbookers = now owned by Hostelworld = same as Gomio

      I suggest Hostelworld because I was them because they have a great selection and much better booking interface. Plus, if you are on my newsletter, you get a code that lets you book without any fees with them.

  15. I’m a 70-year-old Frequent traveler, with some ideas:

    APPS: WAZE (free GPS for smartphone) is my constant and nearly infallible companion. Recently bought by google for $1bil.

    CALLING CARDS: If US-US or US-Europe, check out “Brilliant” 1-cent-a minute card, find on web.

    MOBILITY-DISABLED? Jet Blue will book for you on phone, no fee, and put you in more-space rows, no fee.

    Happy Trails!

  16. Kevin Hogue

    I just returned from my first trip to Bali and prior to leaving opened a Schwab checking account for their debit card that reimburses you for any international atm fees. This information was from your book, and I felt the savings on what I estimated the service charges would have been more than paid for the cost of your book. Thanks so much.

  17. Clay Winowiecki

    Way to get me all excited for the announcement then tell me I have to wait a few weeks! Haha great article as always!

  18. Amy

    Hi, I just read your previous article of ‘why you would never return to Vietnam’ and I wanted to make a comment. Being a Half -Vietnamese (but not having visited the place) I agree with most of what you stated. I just wanted to say that even the Vietnamese who travel back to Vietnam from North America are treated the same way there. It could perhaps be because there is a corrupt communist government in place and the local people there also happen to behave in a corrupt manner. People in my family that are Vietnamese stated that if you are Vietnamese and moved to North America and come back to Vietnam for a visit you have to pay some airport officers a (hidden) fee and if you don’t something unpleasant will happen. This does not apply to non-Vietnamese.

  19. We just bought the Canon Powershot SX50 HS and we were debating between the SX500 and SX50 HS. We eventually decided on the sx50 because it has 50x zoom! The Canon compact cameras have improved a ton, the zoom is impeccably amazing!

  20. amyzain

    Thanks Matt for suggesting G Adventures and for the fabulous deal! Me and my friend just booked a trip to Peru for Labor Day and were able to save big on the trip and flight using your suggestions. Also, the travel insurance is cheaper than I’ve seen offered, so that will save a bunch as well. Can’t wait to hear about your latest adventures!

  21. Larry

    Regarding the camera, I had the opposite experience. I used to be a Canon fan until my brand new camera failed in Central America when it was weeks old. The customer service was not only horrible but insulting. “You need to press the shutter half way down to get it to focus”… I now have two camera’s: a Nikon S9100 for point and shoot and a Sony AX37 for when I’m really concentrating on taking photo’s.

    Currently, I’m considering loading my pack and traveling for a year plus to places I haven’t been yet (Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India) and favorite spots where there is more I want to experience (SE Asia, Indonesia).

    Thanks for all the tips and great information here!


    • We are primarily a Nikon family, but I have to admit that I was less than wowed by their point & shoot underwater cameras. I picked up an Olympus Tough TG1 for a trip to the Riviera Maya in February 2013 and I LOVED it! I’m really impressed with the quality and the color of the shots. My husband, who initially didn’t think we needed any more camera equipment bought the TG2 and I think he likes his as well. This camera would have come in really handy when we were getting soaked by the Athabasca Falls a couple of years ago!

  22. Mike

    Great read.

    Personally, for me the most important part of travelling is to feel comfortable. Meaning, good clothes that don’t hinder you, light gear, a backpack that doesn’t hurt you or make you suffer for moving it around.

    When you feel good, it makes travelling awesome and relaxing.

  23. Melinda Roth

    I need some advice, I’m going to Cambodia for a month or more! I can’t decide what size backpack to buy. 60,75…

  24. Narayanan Hariharan

    The REI Mars Backpack isn’t available anymore, at least not on their website. Which one is next best?

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