The Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy Recommends Her Top Three Bags for Easy Travel

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

My name is Susan Portnoy. I am Communications consultant and former Michigander, who’s lived in New York City so long I feel like a native. Three years ago, what began as a hobby but is now something more profound, I created The Insatiable Traveler—a travel/photography blog that chronicles my adventures at home and around the world. My hope is that my work will inspire readers to embrace adventure, travel the world, and connect with the people and places they visit. I also freelance for publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Adventure.com.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

How and why did you get into traveling?

I’ve loved travel for as long as I can remember. There was never an “ah-ha” moment or someone that I recall inspiring me. Discovering new destinations, getting to know and understanding different cultures, has been a desire of mine since I was a child. When I was young, I was lucky to have parents that took me on family trips.

After college, I moved to Europe for three years, living in Madrid and for a short time in Geneva. As time passed, my explorations never stopped. The truth is, the more I travel, the more I want to travel. My interest in photography came much later, but it’s an integral part of who I am now. I wouldn’t want to do one without the other.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy
Male lion walking towards camera with female lion walking behind in the grass in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

How do you prepare for your adventures and travels?

I’ve always been somewhat of an impulsive traveler, and what I mean by that is one minute I don’t have any plans, and then after seeing a movie, a photo, or hear friends speak about an incredible adventure, I become fixated on a destination. My first trip to South Africa was shortly after hearing my friend talk about her experience. I went to Turkey after watching a fascinating piece on 60 Minutes. Bhutan was a must after a Today Show segment. I never know what will perk my interest.

Prepping for my trips has evolved over the years. When I was working in-house and had little free-time, I hired a travel specialist to help me plan my adventures. Today, I do the research myself. I belong to several Facebook groups where I ask questions, I Google a lot, and I use Instagram and National Geographic’s “Yourshot,” to get a sense of where some of the most picturesque locations can be found. My information is from a myriad of sources distilled down to my final itinerary.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

Why is traveling important for you?

A few reasons: I’ve always been fascinated with exploration and I get bored easily. Two attributes that lend themselves to a love of travel. I’m also my best self when I’m on the road. I am more outgoing and try things I might forgo when I’m at home. I love discovering new places, meeting new people and photographing what I find. It’s also an important part of my understanding of the world. Books, blogs, newspapers and the like, are valuable to inspire and provide context, but there’s nothing like experiencing a place, its people and culture, firsthand. Travel also provides much needed perspective. I feel very lucky to be a citizen of the United States. I have opportunities and liberties others do not. Travel is joyous, but it’s also very humbling. And that’s not a bad thing.

How do you finance your travels?

I finance my travels a few ways: Monthly personal donations to a travel account I created long ago, which has funded the majority of trips throughout my life. More recently, as a travel writer/photographer, a lot of my trips are the result of sponsorships and press trips.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

How do you bring your things with you?

For clothing: What luggage I use is completely dependent on the activities I will engage in and what’s needed for them, and any restrictions there may be on size, weight or structure of the bag. That said, I have three bags I use the most:

  • 1. Athalon 15-Pocket 29″ Wheeling Duffel. I use this bag the most. It’s incredible sturdy. Looks good, and I really like all the pockets to keep my belongings organized.
  • 2. L.L. Bean’s Large Adventure Duffle. I love going to remote locations, and that often means I have to take small bush planes that have strict luggage requirements. The most common being a bag must be soft-sided and without wheels. The Adventure duffle is perfect for this scenario. It’s also well-priced, and very durable.
  • 3. Tumi (Costco) I have a 21” Tumi bag that was given to me as a gift and sold at Costco. It’s the perfect size for weekends and longer trips to warm-weather destinations where clothes are less bulky.

For my camera equipment, I have a few different bags depending on where I’m going and what I’ll be shooting.

When I want to bring a lot of gear (i.e. multiple bodies and lenses), I use my Gura Gear 22L Kiboko backpack, which also carries my laptop. It’s my favorite bag to date and, unfortunately, no longer available. That said, Tamrac, which owns Gura Gear, will be re-launching the brand with a fantastic new collection in 2018.

When I’m using a single body and 1 or 2 lenses, I use the Lowepro Pro Runner 200AW Camera Bag. It’s petite, well-made, and has just the right amount of space for my gear and accessories.

If I’m walking around shooting street photography with a single body and lens, I use my Lowepro Passport Sling DSLR Camera Bag. It hangs like a purse and makes it very easy to access my camera.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

How do you organize things in your bags?

I pack my tops, pants, toiletries and underwear/socks in four separate TravelSmith packing cubes. The rest of my belongings I pack separately.

How do your bags and gear hold up?

To date, I’ve really been happy with my choices. All the of the bags have held up well.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Since what I bring is so trip specific, this is a question I can’t answer. I’ve packed the wrong things, or too much or too little when I’ve traveled, but I try to learn from my mistakes and also realize that travel often means I’ll have to improvise. I just try to roll with it.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

My Ntonpower, compact, travel Power Strip, $16.99 on Amazon. It has 3 USB ports and two outlets and is probably one of the most essential things I carry because it keeps all my other important gear charged and ready to go. It’s especially wonderful when I’m stuck in an airport with delays or when an accommodation has too few plugs.

My Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Armor A80 IPX7 Shockproof, Waterproof USB 3.0 2.5 Inch Military Grade External Portable Hard Drive, also on Amazon for $87.99. I like to edit my photos on the road and this 2TB hard drive makes it easy to back up my images so I don’t lose any pictures along the way.

My iPhone 8 Plus. It’s become a part of my hand. While that’s a little sad, I can’t imagine being without it.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

What kind of photos do you prefer to shoot?

It’s hard to say, it really depends on where I’m going. In Cuba, it was all about the people and street photography. In Mongolia, I wanted the people but also images that really reflected the Kazakh nomads’ unique culture. In northern Manitoba and the Masai Mara, wildlife was the key. If I had to choose, I suppose it would people and wildlife the most, but I also like landscape and night photography, though I’m the least proficient at them. No matter the type, however, 99.5% of what I shoot is candid.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

What is your best advice for people who want to follow your footsteps?

From a travel perspective, begin by starting a travel fund. I created a separate bank account just for travel and with every paycheck I contribute something. You’ll be amazed how quickly those dollars add up. It’s also important to recognize that unless you’re extremely wealthy, you may have to give up some things to travel when, where and how you want. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into traveling and sacrificed other things in my life in order to be able to do it on my own terms.

In terms of photography: Just keep practicing. Look at other photographers’ work for inspiration and understanding. Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Experiment. Don’t be comfortable with the status quo where your imagery is concerned. Figure out the stories you like to tell and refine your craft. Take workshops led by photographers you admire. They really help. Every workshop I’ve taken I’ve upped my game in some way. It may be small or it could be huge, but you’ll learn something valuable.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

Something you see a lot of travelers and photographers do wrong?

Don’t travel in a bubble. That means really connect with the people and places you’re visiting. Talk to locals, make time to wander the streets. Take a walk and let a mental coin flip be your guide. If you love packaged tours, great. Just don’t do them all the time.

Photography-wise, I think complacency is the easiest thing to fall into and the hardest thing to beat.. My advice is to shoot as much as possible, even if you don’t think you’ll get a great image out of it. Experiment. Try panning shots, long exposures, changes in composition. Keep pushing yourself. Learn as much as you can from others. I found that workshops that require daily reviews by the group and the leader often ignites my competitive spirit and I do better work than when I am on my own. I have a piece that speaks to some of these ideas called, 8 Reasons You’re Taking Bad Photos and How to Make Them Better.

Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy

What will the future bring?

If I only knew. Ha!

In the short term, I’m very much looking forward to a river cruise down the Amazon and a trip to Africa. The rest I’m not sure yet, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now and I’m just waiting to see what happens.

Visit Susan Portnoy on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter


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