What’s In Your Backpack, Lara Dunston, Professional Travel Writer?

by Matador Creators Apr 9, 2009
From a couple different cellphones and SIM cards to various day bags which help her blend in as a local, writer Lara Dunston shares her gear with us.

Photo courtesy of Lara Dunston.

I actually don’t use a backpack everyday, as I try not to stand out as a traveler and prefer to be mistaken for a local.

The Bags

I use a Samsonite Sahora Upright Spinner which I’ve had for 3.5 years and it’s absolutely brilliant although looking a bit battered now, as my husband, travel photographer Terence Carter, and I have been traveling constantly since January 2006, so time for an upgrade I think.

I carry a Borealis backpack by The North Face in my Samsonite so if we’re doing a trek or heading into the backcountry for a while, I whip that out and we’ll store the Samsonites with the bulk of our gear at a hotel.

For day-to-day travel around towns and cities, I carry a huge leather shoulder bag.

I’ve never found the perfect bag so I’m working with a renowned Italian family of leather-makers to create a bag that looks stylish but is also strong and super-practical with lots of pockets and inserts for all those essentials professional travelers carry with them.

So, what goes inside?

13-Inch Widescreen MacBook

I have just upgraded and the new girl is gorgeous! My last one served me well for 3 years, so it was sad to say goodbye but she was never quite the same after falling from the top of a cupboard in a hotel room in Chiang Mai.

I never travel anywhere without my laptop – I do absolutely everything on it: writing books and stories, checking email, organizing my photos, maintaining my blog, doing our accounts.

It goes absolutely everywhere with me – it even came trekking through the hill tribe villages in Thailand.

And this one is even lighter! (I also carry a bunch of USBs and portable drives for backing up data: see Terry’s post on that process.)


I carry several cell phones – one for my main number in Dubai, one for Australia (only because phones are locked there), and one which we use to pop in a local SIM card, which we’ll buy if we’re working in a place for a few weeks or longer.

We find using local SIMs to be the cheapest and easiest way to make calls by far and locals prefer to call people back on local numbers so it makes research easier.

We have quite a collection of SIMs now! I have a couple of Nokia phones but my favorite is the Motorola MOTORAZR.


I have an i-Pod mainly for recording audio interviews, but also for listening to music from my i-Tunes library (my CD collection is stored on the laptop, of course), and learning languages.

At the moment I’m using Earworms by Berlitz to improve my Italian, and it’s just brilliant – it truly is as revolutionary as they say!



Point-and-Shoot Camera

My compact camera of choice is a Canon G10 PowerShot. Terry has quite a collection of pro-Nikons of course, and I get the hand-me-downs when he upgrades, but I find myself using a compact more because I’m so busy taking notes and my photos are memory shots mainly.

I also like to have something I can sneak into restaurants! The Canon is fantastic in low-light and the picture quality is brilliant.

My only complaint is that the LCD screen cracked in the time between the guy in the store packed it away and I unpacked it at the hotel, and they wouldn’t replace it. The screen really needed to come with a protection panel.

Notebooks and Journals

I don’t go anywhere without a few notebooks. I don’t use Moleskins. I’ve used them before and tried several different types but they always fall apart. They’re not made for our kind of traveling.

I wish they were because they look so good, but they simply don’t do the job for me.

I’m probably one of the few travel writers who’ll admit that. I opt for spiral bound, pocket-size notebooks with recycled paper and recycled cardboard or plastic covers, and when I find something I like, I’ll get half a dozen.

The last lot I bought in Italy, the ones before in Amsterdam but at the moment I’m using some I picked up from a supermarket in Australia and they’re fabulous.

Spiral bound is essential because I staple business cards, receipts, tickets, tags and even serviettes with the relevant notes or review, so when the editor comes back to me to check a number, I have all the info together.



About Lara Dunston

Australian travel writer Lara Dunston has been ‘based’ in the United Arab Emirates since 1998.

Although she and husband, photographer/co-author Terence Carter, have actually been traveling the world constantly since January 2006, bouncing across the planet from one assignment to another; the closest thing they have to a ‘home’ is their storage unit in Dubai.

Lara has had scores of articles published, everywhere from National Geographic Traveler to USA Today, and has authored and updated over 40 guidebooks (most with Terry) for Rough Guides, Footprint, DK, and Lonely Planet among other publishers.

Lara and Terry have four books coming out in the next few months on Calabria, Northern Italy, Cyprus, and the Italian Lakes. They are currently in Australia writing books. Lara reflects upon the stuff she finds cool (and not so cool) about travel, the travel media, and travel industry at Cool Travel Guide.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.