As you probably know by now, I am a pretty minimalistic traveler. Most of the time, the only luggage I take with me is a small “personal item” that fits under the seat in front of me. While I have already explained how I pack everything I need for a month of travel in a 18″ x 8″ x 14″ bag, I haven’t specifically described the items I always pack, no matter where I am headed. So here are the 8 items I always have with me.
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For as long as I can remember, I have had difficulty sleeping. (At 4, my preschool teachers used to send me to a different classroom during nap-time so that I wouldn’t wake up the other kids.) Today, I particularly struggle with sleeping in the car and on planes, but I have found wearing an eye mask lessens distractions and makes it more likely that I will be able to fall asleep. I don’t like to wear anything that feels restrictive, so finding a comfortable eye mask has been key. For me, that’s meant choosing eye masks made from memory foam, like this one, that leave space for me to open and close my eyes.
I use my phone a lot when I am traveling, especially on flights. I listen to white noise or sleep stories while I am trying to sleep, and I also download a lot of movies to watch on Netflix and audiobooks on Audible. Of course, I want to make sure my phone won’t be dead upon arrival, so traveling with a back up charger gives me peace of mind. Whether I’m binging on the plane or checking the map one too many times while road tripping around Iceland, I won’t have to worry about running out of power.
I also have some of the smaller lipstick sized battery packs that I keep as back ups, but I’ve found the one I have like this one usually provides multiple charges, as opposed to half charges.
I hate packing accessories like raincoats and umbrellas. I never know if I’m going to need them, and then I’m stuck carrying them around, “just in case.” But excess baggage is the exact opposite of how I want to live and travel, so before I left for Italy last year, I decided to pick up a small pocket sized umbrella that I could keep in my purse. It has truly been a game changer.
There were a handful of rainy days in both Rome and Florence, but thanks to that little umbrella I didn’t have to worry about taking cover. (I even did a night tour of the Roman Forum in the pouring rain.) And on the days that it didn’t rain, I wasn’t held back by lugging anything extra around.
Besides Italy, this handy little umbrella has been there to make sure rain did not slow me down while exploring Iceland, in the middle of my Savannah walking tour, and countless times here at home.
I got my umbrella from the Bloomingdale’s Outlet in Philly, but this one seems pretty similar and even comes with a waterproof case.
Since I prefer to pack light (and because travel, for me, means a lot of walking), I like to limit the number of shoes I bring along. I do this by making sure the shoes I pack are both practical and comfortable. For the last six years, my go-to pair of shoes for travel has been TOMS. Not only are they light weight, making them ideal for packing, but they’re incredibly comfortable. My friend, Jodi, once described them as “yoga pants for your feet,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Besides comfort, I like that I can get away with wearing them with a nicer outfit in the evening or shorts and a t-shirt during the day.
Earplugs are not particularly glamorous, but they are essential for travel, especially if you have an overnight flight or will be sharing a room with someone. But even without a roommate, you just never know what the noise levels will be like where you are staying. For example, in Camogli, I rented a private apartment next to a church with a clock in the bell tower that chimed every hour. During the day, it was beautiful and made me feel like I had stepped back in time; but if I didn’t have earplugs and had to listen to those bells in the middle of the night or in the early morning, I would have been miserable.
There are plenty of fancy earplugs out there but I’m always afraid of losing them, so I just buy a big pack of cheap ones. Then I put a couple pairs in my toiletries bag and a couple pairs in the pocket of my travel pillow, so they are always accessible.
If you’re planning to leave the country and have anything that uses electricity — like a cell phone, camera, laptop or hair straightener — you will want to bring along a travel adapter. This will convert the outlets to match your electronics.
If you only need to charge your computer and USB items, you might just want to consider getting an international adapter for your computer. (I don’t know if all companies have these easily accessible, but I have used them for Apple.) Then you can just charge USB items, like your phone and camera, through the computer.
Headphones are another incredibly simple but important item to pack, especially for flights. Besides necessary for watching movies and listening to books on Audible, I wear headphones to help drown out the dings of flight attendant call buttons, crying babies, and snoring neighbors while I listen to sleep music on the Brain.fm app. Additionally, headphones are really useful while exploring. You can save $10-20 on audio tours at museums and attractions just by downloading self guided tours on your phone. I used the Rick Steves audio tours while at the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum.
Obviously there are all kinds of great headphones out there, and everyone has their preferences, but I’ve never been one to go for anything fancy. That is until I won a pair of wireless Beats by Dre last year and fell in love. The battery life is great, they charge really quickly, and they are weighted, just slightly, so they don’t fall off your neck. And best of all, because they are wireless, there are never any tangles, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in them when at the gym or trying to get comfortable on a plane.
Staying hydrated while traveling is super important, so I always bring along a water bottle. Of course, if you are flying, you have to empty it before passing through security, but once you’re inside the terminal you can easily fill it at a water fountain (saving close to $5 on bottled water at the airport alone). While occasionally you might be traveling to a destination that recommends only drinking bottled water, many places will have plenty of spots you can fill your bottle. For example, when I was in Switzerland and Italy, there were fountains all over the place where I could fill my bottle.
I particularly like the bottles with bite valve straws because they are easier to maneuver (you can use it one handed) and because I always drink more water when I am using one. In fact, researchers claim we drink 24% more water when using these types of bottles. That being said, sometimes when I am traveling, I opt to use a more lightweight or collapsible bottle, like this silicone one.