10 Essential Items In An Entrepreneurial Globehopper’s Survival Bag

What are the most useful, day-saving things you should keep on you if you’re constantly shifting climates, time zones, and currencies? Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee shares his must-pack items.

10 Essential Items In An Entrepreneurial Globehopper’s Survival Bag

Geoff Watts, vice president of coffee for Chicago’s renowned Intelligentsia Coffee, is not your typical, desk-bound exec. Intelligentsia roasts coffee from around the world, and that’s where Watts has spent most of the last decade: learning every last detail about the cherries that eventually become caffè macchiatos. That means his travel bag is more about survival and grit than DisplayPort adapters (though those are handy, too).


“When you travel a lot, you do learn the value of preparedness,” Watts says. “You figure out what sorts of things are useful to have on hand, no matter where you are going.”

Here Watts gives us a few tips about his must-pack list:

  • 2 Universal power outlet converters. One is rarely enough these days, with all the electronic devices we use. It’s also nice to have an extra on hand, since oftentimes I run into other people who are in need and who are always grateful when I can loan them one! (Recommended: Conair TS253AD Adapter/Converter Combo with Surge Protection, by The Wirecutter.)

  • Mosquito repellant. I am often in places where those suckers are aggressive and carrying all sorts of bad things. For repellents, I don’t have a particular brand really. I make sure to get something with at least 25% Deet or 20% Picaridin. 3M Ultrathon is a good one. Depends on the intensity of the mosquito population–in the jungle or at the coast I’ll use something with a lot of Deet. In areas where there are fewer mosquitos I like to use oil of lemon eucalyptus (at least 20% concentration) because it is more gentle and not synthetic.

  • Sunscreen. Most coffees grow in the tropics, at altitude, where the sun is especially intense. My midwestern skin tone is not prepared to go it alone. (Recommended: Up & Up Sport Continuous SPF 30, here reviewed by Consumer Reports.)

  • A small supply of healthy snacks. Nuts, energy bars, dried fruits, etc., because airline food normally sucks and being a vegetarian it can be tricky to find enough nutrients in rural Africa and Latin America that don’t come from cows, chickens, or goats.

  • Some cold hard cash. Because credit/debit cards are often no more useful than my Petco Pals card in many of the countries I travel to, outside of the major cities.

  • A flashlight. Because power outages are frequent, and even if I don’t need the flashlight, it makes a great gift for friends I meet along the way who live with regular power outages. (Recommended: JetBeam, by MythBusters’ Adam Savage.)

  • I always keep a Garmin GPS that I use to record location coordinates and altitudes–for farms, mills, etc. (Recommended: Garmin nüvi 2495LMT, by The Wirecutter.)

  • An external hard drive to store all kinds of photos that I take with my Canon 5D SLR. (Recommended hard drive: Seagate Backup Plus 500GB, by NewEgg.)

  • Often I bring a digital thermometer for measuring water temperature (for cuppings) and a portable scale for weighing out samples. (Recommended: RT600C Waterproof Digital Thermometer by Cooks Illustrated.)

  • One package of antibiotics. Just in case.

For more on Watts’ work with sustainable coffee farms, read a focused Q&A with Cool Hunting, or an extensive chronicle of his trips in God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee.