The essentials list: Journalist Lisa Ling shares her travel must-haves | CNN Underscored

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Don’t get Lisa Ling wrong: She obviously loves being at home with her husband and two children. It’s just that being at home for too long makes her feel … well, “antsy” is the word she uses. “I still very much have wanderlust,” she says. “There’s so much to see and experience in this world. And I want to expose my kids to as much of that as I can.”

Since 2014, the Emmy-winning journalist has chronicled those adventures — and introduced viewers to unusual and extraordinary local communities and places along the way — in her CNN docuseries, This Is Life with Lisa Ling. “Our show allows the audience to have a better understanding of their fellow Americans,” she explains. This concept has been especially important in recent years, she adds. “We’ve been isolated in our bubbles and cut ourselves off from knowing other people.”

For its ninth and final season (airing this Sunday at 9 and 10 p.m. ET), the host and executive producer heads everywhere from the backwoods of Arkansas to discover the fate of bred and captive tigers to Denver to explore the city’s alarming rate of alcohol consumption. She singles out her visit to a city just outside Chicago, where she learned about the Baha’i faith and saw “one of the most magnificent structures ever in the United States.”

As you may surmise, it hasn’t been easy getting from Point A to Point B. Ling says she bought a deluxe Sprinter van during the pandemic so she and her crew could get around safely. There have also been flight delays and rental car snafus, of course. But she’s proud to say that the team has covered 49 states during its production. (The surprising exception: Hawaii.)

“I love being in environments that are unfamiliar to me,” Ling says. “I feel like I’m a sponge that likes to just absorb as much as I can. When you’re out in the world, you’re never on repeat because there’s something new every day and every hour. I really crave those moments. You can’t do any of that if you’re stuck at home.”

No wonder Ling is an on-the-go product pro. She jumped on the phone (from her L.A. home) to share her expertise for CNN Underscored.

Ling abides by the Golden Rule of Travel: Thou shalt not check luggage. “Fortunately I’m pretty small, so it’s not like I’m schlepping around these giant shoes,” she says. Ling likes this durable duffel because of its malleable and “squishy” recyclable material. A longtime Patagonia user, she also applauds the brand’s lifetime warranty. “They have repaired many bags for me over the decades, and all I have to pay for is the shipping,” she says. “I highly recommend that all avid travelers seek out these kinds of companies.” (Eagle Creek and The North Face offer the same policy.)

“This is my absolute staple that goes with me no matter what,” Ling raves. Though the exercise device is compact enough to fit into her travel bag, it gets the job done keeping her stomach, legs and arms tight for quickie workouts in her hotel room. In fact, Ling jokes that she’s lugged her beloved roller for so long that the original label has worn off. But she does recall buying it at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store.  


When rattling off the items in her toiletry bag, Ling listed this oil-free lightweight sunscreen as her No. 1. “Being in these warm climates and on so many airplanes can really dehydrate me,” she says. “If I don’t use it, my skin will really suffer.” Her face-time routine also features a moisturizing Hyaluronic Acid-infused serum from the Korean American company Hanbi.

Ling dumps an individually packaged supplement into her coffee every morning (along with some Stevia sweetener). The collagen, she explains, helps supply the body with needed amino acids to renew tissues as well as healthy hair, skin, nails and joints. “I have experienced a difference in my skin and joints,” she says.

Ling prides herself on being a voracious book reader. As in, books. “I mark them up and highlight like crazy,” she says. During production, she toted the likes of Healing, Aftershocks: A Memoir, This Is Your Mind on Plants and Fiona and Jane. “I’m really interested in reading about varying aspects of healing because our world needs it right now,” she says. She gives a special shout-out to this new non-fiction memoir, in which a roving ER doctor uses his travels to far-flung locations to help face down the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mind you, this is not your grandpa’s beef jerky. Ling’s choice features hormone and nitrate-free and grass-fed beef with nine grams of protein packed into each smoky-flavored stick. “It’s the first snack I reach for in my backpack,” she says. During the Great Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Sauce Shortage of 2022, Ling kept an extra bottle on-hand. “I wouldn’t normally do it,” she says, “But I need my hot sauce on everything!”

“I’m always cold!” Ling says. Solution? A well-insulated puffer jacket that rolls up into a ball and can be easily stashed into a carry-on bag. (FYI, Ling’s own Ultralight Down Jacket from Patagonia is currently out of stock.) “It’s important to just have something you can throw on when the weather turns,” she says.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ling wears her sturdy black Doc Martens and Charles and David boots when working in the field. Now let’s talk about crucial hotel-room footwear. “I always carry a pair of flip-flops and literally keep them right by the bed because I don’t like my feet to touch the ground,” she says. And socks are a no-no: “I can’t wear the socks I’ve been wearing all day into bed and it’s a pain to put them on when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!”

Even before the pandemic, Ling — who admits she is “OCD about germs” — was ultra-diligent about using her wipes to sanitize her airplane seat and rental car and hotel room. (That goes double for the remote control.) “My habits didn’t change much after COVID,” she says. “My idiosyncrasies just became justified!”

More from The essentials list:

Michael Strahan talks what he brings on the road
Phil Keoghan shares his go-to on-the-road products

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