I suspect you could achieve the same result with stock Ubuntu and a USB stick though?
Indeed yes but much more effort and time…
Tails can be installed or started on a USB key (or a LiveCD) and anonymizes via Tor, Freenet or i2p your connections. It embeds many free software including Aircrack, GnuPG, LUKS (to encrypt its peripherals), TrueCrypt, OpenOffice, Pidgin, Firefox…etc.
Besides, I recommend that you use it on a USB key, with a good old netbook and remove the hard drive from the machine. You won’t need it anymore and it will lighten your backpack a little when you travel 🙂