I laugh thinking of the days I conscientiously carried around a pegless clothesline that was recommended to me the very first time I jetsetted away from home (and that I never, EVER used). Back when I carried a film camera and Facebook didn’t exist. Now with years of travel experience and wisdom acquired from all types of adventures, my packing list looks a lot different to how it did back then. If I was to sit down now with my younger self and recommend travel essentials to invest in, it would look something like the following: a list of items that that ride shotgun in my luggage no matter the destination or activities involved, and that I now recommend to you.
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13 Essentials for every traveller, every trip
1. Packing Cubes
I have my lifestyle and etiquette guru, Mr Colin Cowie, to thank for introducing me to packing cubes many years ago. As someone who has flown millions of miles to preside over the most fabulous events, Colin knows how to pack! No one wants to waste time digging through a bag to find the thing they need – packing cubes are a simply genius way to keep everything organized. Some travellers pack cubes by outfit, but I prefer to keep like items together. For example, all tops in one, bottoms in another, one for underwear and another for accessories such as scarves, sarong etc. Cubes like this eBags Packing Cubes make it so easy to pack, unpack and lay your hand on the right item quickly.
If it’s summer, a wide brim for sun protection is best and in winter, something to keep you warm, just make sure you pack a hat! A hat is also a great in a pinch, to disguise unwashed hair.
Sunglasses are a no-brainer but don’t just pack the kind that look good, ensure they provide 100% UV protection (also labelled as UV 400 protection). I would add that polarized shades are best if water sports are your thing.
4. A secure wallet
Pickpocketing and theft are a risk wherever you travel in the world – don’t get caught out! Use a money belt, cross body bag with two closures (zip and button/clip) or a scarf that has a hidden pocket like these ones from Pierron Designs, to secure your valuables close to your body.
5. Samsonite B’Lite 3 toiletry bag
I bought a Samsonite B’Lite 3 toiletry bag for my husband and I each when we first started travelling together over ten years ago, and they still look like new. I fit not only my toiletries in this bag, but my make-up, medications, hairbrush, and even jewellery sometimes. The hook is handy for saving vanity space and keeping the bag off the floor. The pockets keep everything organized so that I can lay my hand on exactly what I need in a second.
Now that I’m travelling carry-on only for most trips, I still pack this bag with all my non-liquids and gels. Then I put all the screened security items back into the bag when I arrive at my destination because I love how organized it keeps everything.
6. GoToob carry-on size liquid containers
Inside my Samsonite toiletry bag are my trusted Humangear GoToobs (3oz). I broke and leaked my way through a few sets of cheaper, more flimsy, carry-on toiletry bottles and containers until I came across these. Since using GoToobs, I have never had a leak or a break and I’m still using my original set years later. The wide opening makes refilling them easy, and the twist top has inbuilt labels.
7. Waterless hand wash
My (almost) public health degree wasn’t wasted! Especially the two units I studied microbiology and communicable diseases. I will always choose soap and water as a first preference because I hate overusing antibacterials, but there are situations in travel where sanitation isn’t readily on hand and you’ll be glad you carried a bottle of Purell Travel Size Hand Sanitizer or similar product. Bottles with clips that attach to the outside of your bag make for better accessibility.
8. Eye mask and ear plugs
I didn’t buy anything special here, I just held onto an eye mask and earplugs I received on a flight years ago and didn’t use. Though I have never used the earplugs, I have come close enough that I always have them on hand. They are so small and light it’s worth it.
9. A pen or two
Pack a pen in your carry-on to ensure you can fill out customs form while you’re still on board and save time later. I pack two, as I inevitably end up lending one to someone else and sometimes don’t get it back (i.e. don’t want to stand around waiting for it while the customs queue is growing).
10. Fully sealable travel mug
Like me, you probably always carry a refillable water bottle, but it wasn’t until recently I switched to an insulated travel mug for hot and cold drinks. I made the change initially to save the world hundreds of non-recyclable take-out coffee cups but I’ve found it has other wonderful benefits. Firstly, I tend to drink less tea/coffee because I drink it over a longer period without needing to skol it when it starts to get to cool off too much. Secondly, I can buy a proper tea/coffee at the airport (once through security) and take it on board – no more revolting on board drink service – and it will keep warm in that over-zealous air conditioning for hours.
My current favourite is a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug (12oz). The lid has to be unscrewed and removed completely to drink out of it, so it’s more like a mini-thermos than a mug. This means the seal is watertight and I can throw it in my bag and not worry about leaks. The 12oz size (also comes in 16oz) fits under most espresso machines.
Headphones are essential for keeping entertained and sane during long commutes. Earbuds will do, but if you splash out for some good quality, wireless, noise cancelling headphones you will find they are also an excellent sleep aid (i.e. replace the need to carry the aforementioned earplugs). If you like to go walking/jogging with headphones, I recommend still packing your ear buds because it’s safer to hear a little of what is going on around you, and over-ear headphones get very sweaty. Bose QuietComfort 35 are not only at the forefront of noise-cancelling technology, but they fold down flat into a slimline case perfect for travel. They also come with the plugs and cables you need to charge them and connect up to the inflight entertainment system.
For those who work from the road or use their phone as their camera, you will be glad to have some extra juice at the ready when that dreaded low battery message starts flashing. Charge them before departing and pack in your carry-on. I have fortunately acquired a couple of free power banks over time but if your looking for a recommendation The Wirecutter recommend Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh External Battery which has the capacity to charge a midsize smartphone twice.
It goes without saying really. Whether you’re using your phone or something more specialized, a camera is an absolute non-negotiable travel essential. I use a Canon EOS 550D (European EOS Rebel T2i) with a Canon EF-S 15-85mm lens and a Olympus TG-5 Waterproof Camera for aquatic adventures. My phone still comes in handy for panorama shots and I find it the simplest for making short videos.
3 Extra essentials for adventurers
14. Dry bag
If you overturn your canoe, get caught in a torrential downpour or have to make a wet landing to go ashore, it is a relief to know at least your valuables are dry. Additionally, though I haven’t tried it myself, travellers fill the bag with dirty laundry, soap and water then seal and shake to wash small batches of clothing. Bags come in various sizes depending on whether you just want to keep your camera/phone/wallet dry or you want to put in a towel and a change of clothes. I picked up a basic Field & Stream 5L dry bag at the last minute before our trip to the Galapagos Islands, which has served its purposes so far especially considering the price point of USD10. My fellow travellers commonly recommend Såk Gear waterproof dry bags for their great quality and extra features.
15. Microfibre towel
Though most accommodation now provides towels, you will need one for activities like watersports and camping – microfibre is the way to go. It’s soft, lightweight, quick drying and rolls down very small to preserve space in your luggage. My original Kathmandu microfibre towel bought over ten years ago is still going strong. You may also like DryFoxCo’s Quick Dry Beach & Travel Towel, Backpacker Sanctuary’s best travel towel for 2018.
When I began travelling many years ago it was all about the Maglite flashlight, but I can tell you there’s nothing better than being handsfree when you’re stumbling around in the dark. Whether you are caving, or just trying to find the bathroom in the middle of the night, a headlamp makes life a lot easier. I did a lot of research before buying Black Diamond Storm Headlamps for my husband and I, and the recommendations have been true to their word. This waterproof headlamp covers all the bases with 350 lumens, 80m maximum beam and is lightweight at 110 grams (3.9oz). The lamp can be dimmed and the latest model has three night-vision colour settings.
Long, short, near or far, flying, driving, hiking or swimming these are the travel essentials you need to pack for EVERY trip. If you have any questions or would like to suggest additional travel essentials, drop me a comment below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,