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Everybody has their favorite travel essentials. You know, those tried-and-true items that make trips more convenient, enjoyable, and all-around easier that we just can’t leave home without. From suitcases to snacks, there are plenty of must-haves to help us along on the road. After taking trip after trip over the years, I’ve come to rely on a few must-haves when I travel.
Here are some of my favorite travel essentials.
A couple years ago I stopped checking bags. Now, whether I’m out of town for a weekend or a month, I pack all my stuff in a backpack.
My favorite backpack is the Tortuga. I love it because it’s durable, versatile, and doesn’t look like a traditional backpacking backpack. It’s made in a classic style that you can wear like a backpack or zip the straps into a compartment, turning it into a bag you carry by hand. Plus, it’s introduced me to the glory of packing cubes. (Seriously, if you haven’t hopped on the packing cube train, it’s time! Simply roll your clothes and place them in the cubes, where they’re compressed and take up less room. It’s awesome.) As my Tortuga is several years old, the specific model isn’t available now, but I’m sure what they have now is even better!
Tortuga backpacks are a bit pricey, but they’re such great quality, it’s worth it. You’ll never go back to lugging a big ol’ suitcase around once you make the switch!
2. Reusable water bottle
A reusable water bottle is a must have any time I leave the house, but it’s particularly important for travel. It’s so important to stay hydrated as you travel, and having your own water bottle on hand makes it that much easier.
When you have your own bottle, you don’t need to buy plastic bottles everywhere you go. Having your own water bottle on hand is great for your budget and the environment. There are public water fountains and water bottle refill stations throughout airports and many cities, making it even easier to refill your own reusable bottle on the go.
My favorite reusable water bottles are my Hydroflask and S’ip by S’well bottles. Both are metal with screw off tops. They’re portable, durable, keep liquids hot or cold, and come in a variety of colors and patterns. (I opt for the 16 oz bottles for travel so they’re easier to carry around.) Plus, they’re easy to keep clean and you don’t have to worry about them cracking or breaking (like with plastic or glass bottles).
3. Big, secure purse
Whenever I’m going on a longer trip, I make sure my purse is up to the task. I need a bag that’s on the larger side (to accommodate the extra stuff I collect), zips closed (to make sure nobody gets into it and nothing falls out of it), with shoulder straps and a long strap (so it can be worn up on my shoulder or down like a messenger bag), and in a neutral shade (to go with all outfits — it’s OK to be practical and stylish, after all).
One place I always find a perfect travel purse is ModCloth. They have a nice selection of bags that fit my criteria and style. I always order it several weeks before the trip to test it out before departure. Then once you’re done with the trip you have a new purse to use at home (and it’ll always remind you of your vacation)!
(Update on ModCloth bags: I have had ModCloth bags that lasted for years. And I tend to carry around a lot of stuff — water bottle, book, and so on. Hence the recommendation. Their bags have always been up to the task… but perhaps not anymore. I purchased the bag pictured in April and turns out the strap broke by August. Perhaps it was just a fluke, so I will likely give them one more chance since their bags have treated me so well in the past. Stay tuned. Plus, regardless of which bag you decide to use, a large, sturdy purse is still a travel essential!)
4. Travel book or Kindle
Whenever I travel, I always need something to read. Depending on what I’m currently reading and the length of the trip, I either bring a book or my Kindle.
If it’s a shorter trip or you’re worried about being able to charge electronics, good ol’ fashioned paper books are perfect. If you’re going on a longer trip or want to have lots of reading options (without all the weight), a Kindle works great.
Whether it be a traditional paperback or electronic reader, I never hit the road without a travel book! It serves to entertain you on your travels and serves as a reminder of the trip when you’ve returned home.
5. Travel journal (and pens!)
I love to take a travel journal along on my trips. It’s a great place to record everything from your thoughts and feelings to what you did and where you stayed. I often look back at past travel journals for all sorts of reasons.
Travel journals are great for later scrapbooking, blogging, reminiscing, and personal recommendations. When you get back home and a friend asks you about the best place you ate in Stockholm, all you need to do is flip back in the journal and find the name of the place. If you’re putting together a photo book and you can’t seem to remember the name of that little town with the beautiful castle you stopped in, simply flip to the page you need.
Along with the travel journal, don’t forget some pens! I always have at least one pen in my purse anyway, but for travel I make sure to have several. Pens come in handy for journaling, taking notes, writing postcards, signing checks, and all sorts of things. It just never hurts to have a couple extra pens around!
6. Light scarf
No matter what time of year I’m on the road, I always bring a light scarf. Of course, when the weather is cold, it’ll keep your neck warm.
However, it serves plenty of functions when it’s hot out as well. If you happen to visit a cathedral or temple while you’re out sightseeing, a light scarf can be used to cover your shoulders or head in order to follow the dress code and respect the space. If you decide to grab some snacks and have an impromptu picnic, you can spread the scarf out on the grass to sit on while you relax. Plus, no matter the weather outside, it always seems to be freezing on airplanes, so it’s handy to have your own little blanket. (The one pictured I picked up several years ago for about 5 euros at an outdoor cart in Rome, so no need for anything fancy here!)
So, whether it’s hot or cold, I always find a use for a light scarf when I’m traveling. It takes up hardly any space and serves lots of functions.
7. Neck pillow
For a long time I felt that neck pillows were just another thing to carry around and too inconvenient to bring along (full disclosure, I have lost several travel neck pillows). Over the years I’ve discovered that they are worth it when you need to rest on the plane, and also that not all neck pillows are created equal.
A few important things to look for in a travel neck pillow are its shape, compactness, and snaps. First, make sure to get one that’s flat in the back, otherwise the pillow just pushes your head forward as you try to relax against the airplane seat. Second, find one that rolls up and fits into a small bag. The more compact it can become, the easier it is to bring along with you. Finally, you’ll want a pillow that snaps together in the front. Pillows that don’t snap together in the front are constantly sliding all over the place and end up being uncomfortable and inconvenient.
One pillow that fits these criteria is the Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow. The section behind the neck is flattened, it rolls up into a convenient travel pouch, and it snaps in the front. Plus, it’s super comfortable and easy to clean.
Neck pillows are more useful for air travel, but they come in handy for road trips, too! They’re useful anywhere you might need a quick nap, really!
8. Eco-friendly toiletries
A great way to cater to your own health and the health of the environment is to use eco-friendly toiletries when you travel. All those small, single-use items used in travel toiletries quickly add up to a lot of waste.
When looking for eco-friendly toiletries, there are lots of easy swaps to make. Using refillable bottles, items made from bamboo, and sustainably made items, for instance.
My favorite vendor of eco-friendly toiletries is Public Goods. Public Goods is a US-based company that delivers toiletries, household items, and food to your home. It is a subscription service, so you pay $59 per year and then the items are sold at pretty great prices (there’s also a free trial available).
I use a wide range of their products at home, but the toiletries are great for travel as well. Most of Public Goods’s products are paraben free, sulfate free, cruelty free, vegan, and made with natural fragrances. Plus, they’re generally sustainably made and packaged, and you can buy refill packs instead of buying plastic bottle after plastic bottle.
Making some simple changes to your travel toiletries is an easy way to tend to your health and help out the planet!
I used to always just use plastic grocery bags for my shoes and laundry while traveling. Recently, I picked up some reusable shoe and laundry bags instead, and I am SO glad that I did. (The ones I used I picked up for a few bucks at my local CVS, but the bags pictured are very similar.)
These bags are a convenient way to keep dirty shoes and clothes away from the clean stuff and keep everything organized. Plus, using reusable bags instead of grocery bags eliminates the need for single-use plastic. They’re a win all around!
Adapters are the one thing I almost forget whenever I’m traveling internationally. It seems like two days before takeoff I wake up and go, oh crap, where are the adapters?
You’ll only need adapters if you’re traveling internationally, but not for all international travel. If you’re going from the US to Mexico, you don’t need any sort of adapters. If you’re going from the US to Europe, however, you’ll need adapters. (The adapters pictured are for US to most European countries, but always do some research to be certain which adapters you need for the countries you’ll be visiting.)
Plus, if you plan to bring a blow drier or higher voltage items, the adapter situation gets even tricker. (I almost never travel with a blow drier, so my advice is to just use one provided at your accommodation or even buy an inexpensive one at your destination.)
OK, so maybe I always have snacks in my purse, but I make extra sure to have an extra stash of snacks when I travel. I don’t know about you, but I get very grumpy when I’m hungry.
In order to avoid feeling like garbage, I pack some protein bars (Clif Bars are one of my favorites) and dry snacks, like trail mix or crackers. Often I’ll pick up something extra at the airport, but those airport prices aren’t exactly budget friendly. It seems more and more often these days food isn’t guaranteed on the plane. While there’s often food for purchase, I’ve found that they almost always run out, so I don’t count on buying food on board, especially if your seat is near the back or you have dietary restrictions.
If it’s a road trip, that’s a whole different story. One must have snacks galore on the road. I pack up the snack bars, trail mix, fruit, beverages, and so on before hitting the road.
Either way, I just like to be prepared with snacks on hand.
Well, there you have the travel essentials I just can’t leave home without! Having these things with me on the road makes my travel experiences all the better. What are some of your travel must-haves? I’d love to know what you always take with you!