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Products We Love: Our Favorite Gear for Travelers and Expats


During the past eleven years, we’ve bought, tested, broken and loved more than 100 products and services. Some travel products are exceptional – others aren’t even worth talking about – let alone buying.

In this article, we share 40+ products and services that we use as expats. Please share your favorite products in the comment section below.

Products we love Disclaimer: We are affiliates for some of these companies. This means that we will receive a small payment if you purchase the product or service. These products have been chosen because we actually love them – we have used every one of these items – and continue to depend on many of them. 

Travel and Expat Products We Love

In this article we cover the following categories:

  1. Travel Gear
  2. Language Learning
  3. Learn Spanish
  4. Travel Insurance
  5. Books & Courses
  6. Keep in Touch
  7. Trip Planning
  8. Expat Products
  9. Books about Ecuador
  10. Entertainment Abroad

Here are the best of the best:

1. Travel Gear

  • Backpacks: Our favorite brand is High Sierra. We have roller bagsbackpacks and laptop backpacks. They have traveled to Ecuador twice from Canada, to the US, Aruba and the Galapagos three times. And we have used them for countless trips around Ecuador.
  • Sun Hats: Although I’m not a big fan of big hats, these Outdoor Research hats are the best I’ve seen. The Sombriolet Sun Hat traveled with me on my last 10 day Galapagos trip and it saved me. I avoided a sunburn on my face and neck even after spending ten solid days outside. They are lightweight and have good ventilation. We all wear these hats while hiking or boating. We have recently begun wearing Coolibar hats – and we love them. Read Dena’s full review.
  • Camera: As travel bloggers, cameras are pretty important tools for us. We use a combination of point-and-shootdSLR and adventure cameras. To mount all of our gear we use the GorillaPod (SLR-Zoom model) which is strong enough to hold all of our cameras – safely and securely. And it hardly weighs anything. The other tool that is a must is our XShot extender pole. We have used this to get perspective video and up-close with animals – including underwater shots with sea lions and sea turtles.

2. Language Learning

  • Pimsleurs is our family favorite for learning language. After arriving in Ecuador we all used it to learn Spanish. Now Drew has taken the project of learning Mandarin Chinese – using Pimsleurs on Audible. (Read how to save on Pimleurs with Audible – at the end of this post). Pimsleurs works because it teaches in 30 minute segments – to be done at a rate of one lesson per day.

3. Learn Spanish: Books & Courses

  • Madrigals: {Print book} Without doubt the best book for learning Spanish. It is also the most popular book among our readers. It is one of the cheapest Spanish books and is a must for anyone learning a new language.
  • Pimsleurs: {Audio course} We have all used it for everything from vocabulary to improving conversation skills. We love the incremental lessons – and that they only take 30 minutes per day. With this link you can get a free Audible lesson of Pimsleurs. Read our review of Pimsleur Spanish.

Check out all of the books and courses that we’ve used to learn Spanish.

4. Travel Insurance

When we travel outside of Ecuador, we buy insurance from World Nomads. After getting residency in Ecuador, we learned that we couldn’t be insured by Canadian providers anymore.

If I had to choose a second option, it would be Atlas Travel Insurance. Aside from World Nomads, Atlas offers the most flexible policy that I’ve seen.

Looking for more options? Here is all of our research: 3 Travel Insurance Options for Expats and Travelers

5. Books & Courses

  • Improve your travel photography with one from this full set of our favorite photography books.
  • How To Make Money With Your Travel Blog: This is our full guide to starting a successful (profitable) travel blog.
  • Expat books: Here are the books that were on our shelf when we planned our relocation. Check out our full set of 17 expat books.
  • ProBlogger: {Secrets for blogging your way to a six-figure income} This is the first book I bought about blogging. We were still in Canada and I didn’t grasp the true power of the medium. If you want a great overview of blogging, check it out. For more options, check this post about all of my favorite blogging books

6. Keep in Touch

  • We used to recommend Skype as the best ways to stay in touch with friends and family. But today, you can also use WhatsApp, Facetime, Viber, or WeChat.
  • Mic / Webcam: We use two pieces of equipment to stay in touch online: a good camera and a good mic. While good video is nice, it’s impossible to communicate without good audio. The newer Logitech webcams (like the C920S)have great audio.

7. Trip Planning

When we are planning a trip, we usually check a few sites like Orbitz or Expedia to get a feel for the routes and schedules. In the end, we almost always book on Orbitz or the airline itself (like LAN Airlines or American Airlines).

We’ve booked a number of trips on Orbitz – because the discounts of flight with hotel are often better than booking direct. We’ve found Orbitz good to see which airlines fly to a specific destination.

Then by checking the specific airline for their routes and prices we can make sure we get a good deal. We’ve been able to book flights on Expedia for routes within Ecuador.

8. Expat Products

  • Water Filters: There is no doubt about the varying opinion of drinking water abroad. It creates some spirited conversations. Some travelers and expats like to “live like a local”. That’s fine. But for us, we prefer to be careful and stay healthy. We aren’t on a short trip – expat life requires common sense so we can remain healthy enough to stay here indefinitely. When we first moved to Ecuador we used bottled water. Since then we purchased a ceramic water filter. Not only is this less expensive than bottled water, it is less work (no more lugging huge bottles) and the quality of the water is better. This is the filtration system we use here in Ecuador.
  • Load Balancing: Internet abroad isn’t always the best. In fact, sometimes it can be a daily battle. Almost a year ago we discovered how to improve the connection. We had two connections installed and, using a load balancing router, we combined the two connections into one – making it more stable and faster. Here’s how we did it. And here is the router we used.
  • Backup Service: We use a couple of tools to keep our data safe and accessible. The primary tool is Sync. As the name suggests, this application syncs our data between computers. This means that Dena and I can work off the same set of data. When I copy new photos to my computer, Sync copies them to Dena’s computer in the same folder. If she deletes a photo then it is also removed from my computer. In addition to syncing, it also backs up our data to the cloud – making our files accessible from anywhere in the world. Now we don’t have to worry about losing data if our computers were damaged or stolen. We also use the free version of Dropbox. We use it across our family computers to share files and photos. You get 2GB for free – and get bonus space for referring friends to the free service.

9. Books and DVD’s About Ecuador

There are lots of books about Ecuador. We wrote about 13 of them here. The following are our favorites:

  • Ecuador & Galapagos Guidebook: {Insight Guides} This is one of many that we bought as we were researching our move. This is the only full color guidebook that we found and it helped us get an idea of what it was really like here. There is a section called “The Best of Ecuador’ that highlights things like best wildlife watching and best for families.
  • Our set of Galapagos books – yes, all 17 of them. Check out the books you should consider before your trip to the Galapagos.

10. Entertainment Abroad

Who doesn’t want to watch English television? What about an English book? Living abroad can create some feelings of isolation – especially in the first few months.

And in most countries, English materials are pretty hard to find. These services allow us to watch and read the stuff we love –  in English.

  • Audible: This is my favorite service. We have bought Pimsleurs language courses (Spanish for all of us, and Mandarin Chinese for Drew), fiction for Drew, and work titles for Dena and I. It is a simple signup – you can either buy a set of credits, a subscription, or just as you want them. We usually buy a set of credits (it is cheaper) and we can use them anytime we want a new book. Audible has apps for iOS and Android – and the book downloads in minutes. When we first moved we didn’t have any mobile devices – so we used their desktop application. Get a free audio book with this link.
  • English Television: There are lots of options. We’ve used Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. In order to access some sites, you’ll need a VPN tool.
  • Books: We’ve used Amazon Kindle with great success. Similar to Audible, we’ve ordered school, work and fiction titles on Kindle. Kindle comes with both an iOS and Android app. They also have a PC application that allows you to order and view on your computer.

So there you have it. These are our favorite products and services for both planning a relocation – and for successful life abroad.

Please share your favorite products in the comment section below.

You might also enjoy:

Check out our guides:

30 comments… add one
  • Maggie Martin Apr 6, 2018, 11:55 am

    I am really interested in relocating part-time at first to Ecuador. I am Canadian and have been to Ecuador twice (husband once). I was thinking of Cuenca or Loja. In order for my husband to be happy he will need to be able to play Bridge. I know there is Bridge in Cuenca but have been unable to find out any info about Bridge in Loja. Can you help me please. Thanks, Maggie

  • JENNA Nov 18, 2015, 2:47 pm


  • Dr. Michael M. Rosenblatt Oct 12, 2015, 12:08 am

    I realize that toilets in Ecuador are standard sit-down models. However, for your expats who travel to Asia, especially China/Vietnam, they may not be so fortunate when “stuck” in an area where there are few Westerners.

    “Squatting is not an option” for most Westerners. Many retired travelers have knee and hip problems and have no ability to squat when doing #2. This can be dreadful if you have diarrhea or other similar emergency need. This is NOT funny. It can be awful and embarrassing.

    Fortunately there is a web site that can help you with this serious issue. I’m sorry but there is also apparently an x-rated site that has close to this same name. I know of travelers who will NOT go to Asia because of the toilets being a hole in the ground.

    Please check this website to learn how to do #2 in an Asian toilet WITHOUT bending down or squatting. All you need to bring with you are disposable, bio-degradable gallon bags and some toilet paper and steri-wipes. I also recommend P-mates disposable urine directors for females so they don’t have to sit.

    Click here to see how “Westerners” can use Asian restrooms that only have a hole in the floor.


  • John Apr 20, 2015, 12:33 am

    Hello, I just started reading your blog and I have to say that it is one of the best by far. I am in Pennsylvania and getting ready to start all the paperwork for my work visa. I don’t have to go to work while living there but, I think it is a good way to meet people and to become familiar with the customs. I wanted to know if you would suggest an attorney to take care of all of my paperwork for my visa. I did contact one and she charges $1100.00 USD for all of the paperwork and if you are not in Ecuador then she adds $200.00 more to that. Not complaining about the fee but, I wanted to check to see what you may have done. I am looking at rental places as I can find them on line. I want to bring my dog with me when I move as well, I can’t leave her, she is like a child of mine. I have had her for over 8 years now. If you know if an easy way to take care of her transportation I would appreciate that as well. I am so glad that I came across your site and begin to read it. Thanks for all the information.

  • Jerry Anderson Sep 6, 2014, 2:22 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while as one of the sources for information on a part time move to Ecuador. Like others, I have done a lot of searching for the most direct routes to avoid layovers and in some cases overnight stays. From southern California, the best route I’ve found so far is Avianca’s route which goes from LAX, a short layover in San Salvador, then on to Guayquil. We have found their prices to be competitive and the service very good in comparison with the major American lines which require us to go to Houston, Miami or Atlanta and will often require a very long layover or an overnight stay to connect with the outgoing flight to GYE or UIO. Hope this helps.

    Thanks for all your work and information – you provide a great service to those of us seriously considering a move to EC.

    Thanks again,

    Jerry Anderson

  • Leo Dewilde Aug 3, 2014, 4:19 pm

    As one Canadian to another, congrats with the start-up of your other Ecuador website. I very much enjoy reading about all you share with us about Ecuador. Informative and interesting. I arrived from Toronto back in March 2014 in Cotacachi and after 6 weeks decided to relocate to Quito due to more business prospects. As yet I have not been able to find a store which specializes in selling a wide variety of spices.
    Most (bigger) stores (Megamaxi/Supermaxi) have a rather slim selection of spices. Any one of your subscribers who can help me find a better selection of i.e. Indian or Indonesian spices?
    Many thanks for all of your efforts!

    • Ben Aug 12, 2014, 10:48 am

      Spices are few and far between. I usually ask people to bring some when they come visit… or shipped via mail…. Especially Indonesian spices(love my bami and nasi)…

      But there are smaller spice shops(like a bulk barn of spices)… just hard to find them… and no guarantee as to what they will offer.

  • Paula Hofmeister Jul 16, 2014, 2:01 pm

    Although I’m not in Ecuador yet and I don’t know the extent of what provides, if you want multiple types of access VPN/HTTP Proxy/DNS Proxy, I suggest IronSocket as a provider – you can get all of the services for your PC/Laptop, phone, tablet, Roku etc. you can also set it up through your router so everything going through your router use it – the cost varies based on what special they have going (I just signed up for a year of service for $50US) – you can preset connections to different areas around the world so if you want to use a US connection for some things (Netflix, Hulu) and a connection in another country for something else, you just set them up and then select between connections depending on what you’re doing.

  • Jon Rice Jun 11, 2014, 9:57 pm

    Bryan – it seems to me that at some point a Zen or similar filter was found in Cuenca. I think I read it on your blog. do you know of a quality ceramic filter sold in Cuenca? thanks

    • Bryan Haines Jun 12, 2014, 6:37 am

      I haven’t heard of them in Cuenca. Someone mentioned they found a ceramic filter north of Quito.

  • Richard A Mageau Jun 2, 2014, 11:47 am

    Bryan, I so enjoy your site! As our anticipated departure from Vancouver to Cuenca approaches – late August – I am more and more paying attention to all the valuable info you provide. This article about products, especially the internet part, is priceless. I do expect that once we arrive, I will be able to contact you and bend your ear about these computer related issues, if you have time for such …meanwhile, thanks!!

    • Bryan Haines Jun 2, 2014, 12:07 pm

      I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the site!

      All the best on your plans.

  • DT May 27, 2014, 2:39 pm

    Hi I am planing a trip and I would like to see a dentest and get a canser screing whal I’m there do You have any recomendations?

    • Bryan Haines Jun 2, 2014, 9:50 am

      There are great dentists here. This is our dentist.

      Solca is a top cancer clinic here. We have had a number of treatments there and highly recommend it.

      • D.T> Sep 25, 2014, 4:09 pm

        Hi , I was hoping to come down in Oct. and was looking for the dentist You had recommended and couldn’t find it.

        If I wanted to get a screening at Solca how can I do that? There website didn’t seem to have any $ or way to get info before I get there.

        Thanks I like You blogs . aspeshely the pictures of the towns, Arch. ect

  • theWhiteRabbit1971 May 26, 2014, 4:35 am

    Excellent article, I’ll definitely check out some of these items, and thanks again for all the information you’ve shared over the years!

    I have to second your recommendation of Madrigal’s – I studied Spanish when I was young (3rd through 7th grade), but it was basic public-school classes and I never had the opportunity to reinforce it so it faded quickly. Madrigal has been a fantastic resource while trying to re-learn Spanish as an adult (I’m nowhere near fluent, but working on it bit by bit…) I especially appreciate Madrigal’s focus on the similarities/cognates – most English speakers know more Spanish than they actually realize!

    For further tuning, I would have to call out “Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish” by Joseph J. Keenan. It’s interesting because it assumes a basic knowledge of Spanish and uses that as a basis for introducing more colloquial speech. Another useful, if sometimes cheesy, colloquial reference is “Street Spanish” by David Burke. It’s more dictionary-like than Keenan’s book, but contains great country-specific references for various terms. It’s also where I was surprised to learn that South American Spanish seemingly has about 5,000 geographically-specific words (including several that I learned quite innocently in primary school) for a particular part of male anatomy that shall go unmentioned in polite company.

    I also wanted to weigh in on the international communications aspect. My wife has lived in Cuenca for several years, however I have been unable to join her so far because of my job in the states. Because of that, we communicate almost exclusively over Skype. I carry an international dialing plan on my stateside cell account so I can call her directly (i.e. not on the computer) in case of emergency, but those calls are ridiculously expensive, on the order of $0.30/minute, so that’s for the “Holy goalie, I was in a car wreck/cut my thumb off/won the powerball!” sort of call (wow, what a day, right?)

    In reality though, I communicate with my spouse (via Skype), my work (via VOIP), my many international friends (via video/audio internet chat) and my family remotely, so I spend over 50 hours per week listening to voices over the internet.

    Based on that experience and the fact that I’m moderately hearing-impaired, I can say that the microphones integrated with webcams are the worst – they’re basically useless and only to be used in absolute direst circumstances. Secondary microphones (i.e. free-standing, like a singer would use) and/or junky earbud types are only barely better unless you have a soundproofed room and don’t have any fans running, background noise, etc. What I’ve found to be best in terms of online communications are actual stereo headsets with microphones. Everyone can hear everyone clearly, background noise is not eliminated but at least minimized, and they tend to be pretty comfortable for long conversations.

    (Note: I’m not sure what the product ‘plug’ policy is on this blog, so if the following is inappropriate, feel free to edit it out. For the record, I am not affiliated in any way with any of these companies or authors, I just use and love their products after trying many others.)

    With that said, I’ve had the best experiences with two different products:

    Logitech G930 Wireless Gaming Headset: My wife uses this daily to teach English over Skype, I use mine when I’m talking to my family on Skype for a couple hours at a time because that’s the one I usually keep attached to my personal computer – Roughly $85-100 in the states depending on vendor. Runs about 5-7 hours on a single charge. The only drawback to this one is that the boom mic isn’t very structurally sound – it’s easy to accidentally snap off if you’re not paying attention, and after that you’re out of luck.

    SteelSeries Wireless H Gaming Headset (I use this 9-12 consecutive hours a day for my work, mostly VOIP over a corporate VPN) – about $300 but I’m a tech nerd with hearing problems so I splurged, ya know? Runs up to 10 hours per charge, but comes with a swappable battery and charger so you can switch out midstream if one dies instead of plugging in the dreaded cord – meaning that as long as you remember to put the discharged battery back in the charger when you swap, you can run this headset indefinitely (yup, it actually comes with 2 batteries right in the box). Also, you would have to work to snap the mic off this one since it’s in a flexible, retractable sleeve.

    The best part about both of them is that they’re both wireless with about 40′ range, so you’re not tied to a tiny little 6′ cord plugged into the back of your computer – you can stand up and move around a bit during long conversations. They both provide great sound and have microphones mounted on the headset so the other side can hear you clearly as you move around. They also both have handy mute switches for the times when I wish the other side *couldn’t* hear me (naturally because I’m listening intently, not because I had to fart or something… Ahem, just sayin’…)

    There are definitely cheaper options out there, ranging down into $15-25, but there’s always that awful (and invariably short) cord to deal with, which is a flat-out deal-breaker for me, but to each their own. No matter which way you go, headsets are where it’s at for serious long-distance conversations.

    One often-overlooked great thing about Skype is their mobile app (for Android – I don’t use Apple products, but I assume they probably have an iPhone/iPad/iWhatever version). I can leave that running all the time on my smartphone and if my wife needs to send me an instant message or call me, it comes through on my phone just as if I were sitting in front of the computer. Best of all, it’s free! (even the Skype calls don’t burn any credits – it’s the same as if we were chatting computer-to-computer via regular Skype except I don’t get to use my awesome headset). This could get expensive if your cellphone has a limited data plan though – I usually connect via wifi instead of 4g (so no data limit) since I’m usually at home, but in that case it’s your cell company charging you, not Skype.

    Anyhow, I figured I would throw in my $0.02 on this, especially on the long-distance communications part since I have long-term real world experience with it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions about long-distance communications and/or equipment that come up.


    PS: Internet-wise, my wife has basic DSL service in Cuenca (I’m pretty sure it’s through ETAPA, probably the lowest tier they offer – she’s very budget-minded and not susceptible to nerd pressure) and Skype works just fine over that from her laptop – in 3 years we’ve only had a handful of minor audio/connectivity issues, and she uses it daily for her English teaching business with no problems too.

    • Bryan Haines May 26, 2014, 6:59 am

      Thanks for your suggestions. We’ve found Skype to be good – especially the Android app. We love that we can video chat from anywhere in the house.

  • Gil Edgett May 24, 2014, 9:37 pm

    The information and experiences you share with your readers is so… great and necessary! I have been researching and gathering as much info as possible preparing for our move to Ecuador after a summer at home in Florida. My wife and I have lived in China for the past 9 yrs. teaching ESL. We are looking to (semi) retire, probably in Cuenca or Loja. There actually seems to be a lot of conflicting information and nonsense blogs concerning life in Ecuador. You share what’s worked for you guys and I believe you are very upfront about that. Can’t even believe a couple of the criticisms I’ve read on your blog! I understand that it is all about attitude, flexibility and common sense when when adventuring outside your comfort zone. Thanks for what you do to relieve much of the stress of transitioning to a new culture. Your shared research and experiences are much appreciated!

    • Bryan Haines May 25, 2014, 6:40 am

      Thanks Gil, so glad you are enjoying the site. All the best on your plans!

  • karen hobbs May 24, 2014, 2:25 pm

    gosh. I am busy today.
    I have just decided to order the ‘Zen” water system, shipping it initially to my friend in bellingham who I will be visiting soon.

  • karen hobbs May 24, 2014, 1:38 pm

    Hi again.
    I can be very sensitive to water changes. I have had severe reactions to water from a hotel in the Rockies and staying with a friend in Washington state! I did stay in Ecuador for two weeks and drank mostly bottled water but brushed my teeth with tap water and even had a fruit juice at a local cafe and didn’t think about it until later. I was not ill then or later at home. However, as you noted, better safe than sorry. So, about the water filter. I see that amazon sells these. What would be your ‘opinion’: do you think I should purchase now and add to my container or wait and order it once in Ecuador? Also didn’t you make note of travel filters in one blog. I would like to pick up one of these but can’t find the reference. Maybe it was somewhere else?
    thanks again for ALL of information.

    • Bryan Haines May 25, 2014, 6:47 am

      If you are sending a container it is probably best to fill it – and save the hassle of ordering things when you first arrive. We are reviewing a portable purifier right now and (if the tests go well) we’ll include it on this page.

  • karen hobbs May 24, 2014, 1:26 pm

    Hello all. I already get your newsletter and just love it!. Everything is so well laid out and useful. I especially like a) that you are canadians, like me, and sincerely believe that perspective is valuable and different from most other blogs from an american perspective; and, b) hearing from Drew. Honestly a child’s eye perspective is really important. I always read her blogs. What she thinks I should know is not just about kids. it is useful for everyone. She is quite talented. Please complement her for me.
    I will be moving to Vilcabamba in September because that is where a few friends are. I don’t know if I will settle there but it is great that i won’t be totally alone and I have visited. it is a lovely little town. I just suspect that it will be way too hot for me. I have looked at the possibility of Cuenca but I am not much of a big city gal and your blog about the dry air concerns me. I have serious sinus problems all winter long. Even in Vancouver we still have the furnace on for several months of the year, making the inside air quite dry, and the first time I ever developed major skin problems was the three years I lived in Calgary – very dry.. I will visit Cotacachi after I have settled in a bit.
    BTW Dena – I bought the Sombriolet Sun hat from Mec about two months ago :). I too am very fair skinned. Glad to see your endorsement!

    • Bryan Haines May 25, 2014, 7:08 am

      Thanks so much for your feedback. We are so happy that you are enjoying our sites.

  • Jakob May 24, 2014, 9:50 am

    Magic Jack (or similar provider) is missing on your list. It is the best there is if you have US based customers calling you at any time of day or night. The advantage to Skype is that you use it like a regular phone, no need to turn on your computer.

    I might add that Orbitz tends to find connections and routes for us that other travel web sites do not see for some reason. 8 out of 10 times we end up booking through Orbitz.

    • Bryan Haines May 26, 2014, 7:07 am

      I know that lots of expats use Magic Jack – we just haven’t converted yet… Almost all of our calling is outbound, we haven’t had the need for clients to call us. Some readers have told us about the Magic Jack app for Android – it is free and highly rated.

  • Fraser Rawlinson May 21, 2014, 9:49 pm

    Great article!. Thanks for all your work. You’ve saved us all time and money.

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