Natasha Brownlee in Morogoro, Tanzania

In this segment, we cover people's favorite items to travel with, their best travel hacks, and stories from the road. Do you or someone you know have a couple cool pieces of gear they wouldn't leave on a trip without or want to share some travel hacks? Contact us for an opportunity to be featured.

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hello! My name is Natasha and I'm a Minnesota-based International Development Consultant. I'm actually doing this interview from an airport-hotel in Dar Es Salaam on my way to Morogoro, where I'll be living for three months supporting the monitoring and evaluation of empowerment and life-skills programs at a girls' secondary school. While I love to travel and see new places for fun, my favorite travel has been long-term stays through work or studying that have allowed me to immerse myself in a culture, build relationships, learn new histories and languages, and expand my perspective. When I pack up for a new place, whether for a long weekend or 6 months, I always challenge myself to pack as minimally as possible so I don't have to spend time or energy abroad thinking about what I'm going to wear or use. This has also helped me live more mindfully and with less stuff at home, which is good for the planet and my mental health!

Natasha in Mexico City
Natasha in Mexico City

What’s your favorite destination?

It's a little cliche, but Paris is the city I just can't shake. I studied abroad there in college and it was the first city I felt at home in. Now every time I step off the plane I get that warm nostalgic feeling. It's a great place to practice my French, wander familiar streets, and recharge with un thé et un bon livre at a sidewalk cafe. When you know a place like the back of your own hand, that at one point was completely foreign and new, it can be so empowering. It's one of the things I love most about traveling – expanding my definition of home.

What are your “Trusty Three” travel items?

Natasha Brownlee's Trusty Three Travel Items
Natasha Brownlee's Trusty Three Travel Items
  1. E-reader: While I prefer the heft and sentimentality of print books when I'm home, my e-reader allows me to pack an entire library into my carry-on. The kind of solo-travel and work I often do means I have a lot of downtime, so I actually do my best reading while on the proverbial “road”. I'm currently reading Paul Beatty's The Sellout on an old Kindle from 2008 but I've been eyeing a new Paperwhite version for better battery life and night reading when I'm somewhere without dependable electricity.
  2. Shampoo and Conditioner Bars: Traveling with these means I never have to worry about the 3-1-1 TSA rule or liquids busting open in my bag. Lush makes my favorite products – you can choose different ones for your hair type (I like the Seanik, made with sea salt, which enhances my natural waves) and they last forever! Plus, they're zero-waste. I love them so much I'm actually trying to finish up my bottled products at home to make the switch full-time!
  3. Protein Bars: As a vegetarian, I have to be super conscious of the protein I'm getting while traveling. Whether I'm getting in late to a new city and don't want to venture out for food, or it's monsoon season and I can't get to a market without soaking through my clothes, or I'm sharing a meal with new friends that's light on the veggie-options, it's always good to have a backup in my pack. I like Clif Bars because they're dense enough to replace a meal if they have to.

Editors Note: Check out our Vegan Gear Guide for some tips on packing protein for the road!

What's your favorite travel hack?

I don't know if it's a “hack”, per se, but I always lay out everything I'm bringing on a trip before I pack it. I group like-items together (electronics, shoes, t-shirts) so I can see what I have too much or too little of. I put non-essential items (like a second pair of leggings) aside and then add these in if I have enough room once I've packed everything up. I love knowing that all my items will work well together so I can have the most outfits with the fewest items. It helps me travel as minimally as possible and ensures I don't forget anything important.

Natasha Brownlee in the Sahara Desert, Morocco
Natasha Brownlee in the Sahara Desert, Morocco

Are there any pieces of gear or travel technology you wish existed that don’t?

You know the Babel fish from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that you put in your ear and it translates any language into your own in real-time? I would like one of those. I always try to learn at least a few words in the language of the place I'm visiting, but feel like so much is lost when I can only communicate in English. A Babel fish to help travelers converse with people around the world would be a game-changer.

What item do you miss most when you travel?

When I’m living somewhere longer than a few weeks I end up really missing my artwork – is that weird? I’ve collected so much art and textiles while traveling around the world and really love the way they all fit together in my little apartment at home. I actually have a picture of my favorite corner in my apartment as my desktop background right now… I look at it and it gives me that warm hygge feeling. But what’s cool about being in a new place is that I get to get a new piece of art to add to the collection! And I can put it up in my temporary home until I get there.

What’s the weirdest thing you carry with you while traveling?

I like to look pretty put together while traveling so for clothing I really only travel with nice, simple basics that all go with each other – and the fewest items possible. That being said, I also always travel with one or two ratty old t-shirts that remind me of home! I only use them to sleep in, but it’s so nice to have a little comfort of home when I slip into a bed that’s not my own.

Natasha and Her Mom in Copenhagen (Thanks to $300 Flights)
Natasha and Her Mom in Copenhagen (Thanks to $300 Flights)

Any closing thoughts or advice?

Follow flight deal sites on Instagram or sign up for emails. I like Thrifty Traveler, since they're based out of Minneapolis like me, but there are lots of others. If you can be flexible, these can save you hundreds of dollars on trips you didn't even know you wanted to go on! When I saw a $300 flight to Copenhagen last year, I texted my mom and we both purchased flights that night. It wasn't necessarily the top destination on either of our lists but it ended up being one of our favorite trips together! And when you save that much on the ticket, you can have a little extra wiggle room for spending elsewhere (like the beautiful Danish teapot I brought home as a souvenir). Which brings me to my packing tip – always leave room in your bag for gifts and souvenirs!

Follow Natasha's adventures on Instagram or her blog!