Over the years, I’ve asked several traveling females about the one little thing they just can’t travel without. It turns out that sometimes the best/most useful/favorite item on your travel packing list is the least expected. There are some great items in these mini-interviews, some of which are worth their weight in gold.
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Black Maxi Dress
The Draw: A versatile and comfortable article of clothing.
Why Pack It: It’s comfortable, and black goes with everything! The length is perfect for visiting more conservative countries as well as entering cathedrals. As an added bonus I don’t have to worry about shaving my legs! It’s also my favorite outfit to wear for those long days of traveling spent on buses or planes. I’ve slept overnight in airports wearing my maxi dress and it’s almost like having a built in blanket keeping me warm.
When It Proved Useful: Every single day! The best thing about my maxi dress is not having to worry if it’s going to fit. With a few colored cardigans and cute jewelry, the options for outfits are numerous and I can tailor it to my activities. I’ve worn my maxi dress on the beach and out to dinner, and it’s perfect for both occasions.
A Little Black Dress
The Draw: With an LBD, she always looks fab on the road.
Why Pack It: An LBD can take me trekking in tropical rainforests to painting the town red at night. It is comfortable and at the same time chic! Black is slimming, it goes with everything in your wardrobe, and it photographs really well. It takes up next to no space. Plus, since it can be worn during the day and at night, you can eliminate other items of clothing.
When It Proved Useful: Every single time I travel I am happy that I brought it with me. And I have a ton of followers that email to ask me how I always look good in my photos. I promise it is the LBD!
Find your perfect LBD: Anatomie
Wraps, Scarves & Accessories
The Draw: It’s versatile like a sarong, but absorbent like a towel.
Why Pack It: For a beach-loving tropical traveler, I find that Turkish towels are the most versatile travel accessory you can have. They make an excellent beach towel, a fashionable sarong, a blanket on long bus rides, a scarf for dorm rooms with air conditioning, a shawl for impromptu temple visits, and of course a quick dry towel for camping or visits to public bathhouses. It’s way thinner than your typical towel but nearly as absorbent. You can also wear it as a shawl or scarf on the airplane or bus, so that it takes up no space at all.
When It Proved Useful: I’m constantly grateful to have this accessory with me on the road. When I check into hostels and there’s no towels provided, when I get onto a bus and the air conditioning is blasting, when I shop up at a monument and realize I need to be covered up, and when I take an impromptu trip to the beach and need something to lay on. Though perhaps most importantly, it’s saved me from sunburns on long beach walks; it makes a great turban.
The Draw: A two-meter piece of West African ’tissu’ cloth that can be used in many situations, similar to a sarong.
Why Pack It: It can be used for everything! Around the village it can be wrapped around your waist and tucked in to be worn as a skirt, and it’s perfect when you’re about to spend countless hours in a bush taxi and don’t want to get your nicer clothes dirty and sweaty. You can also use it as a blanket, a sheet, a towel (it dries quickly), even a wrap for packages and bags if you’re afraid of something coming apart or falling out.
When It Proved Useful: I took a vacation to Burkina Faso not long ago and it came in handy day after day. When the hotel didn’t provide towels? Pagne. When the bus spouted out surprisingly cold air-conditioning? Pagne. When I was lazy and didn’t want to put together a real outfit to go to the boutique next door? Pagne.
The Draw: It can be used as a skirt, towel, scarf, beach cover-up and more!
Why Pack It: Mostly it’s adaptability. It [the sarong] has been so useful to me in so many situations. It is basically just a large rectangle of cotton, but I’ve used it as a towel, as a picnic or beach blanket, scarf against the cold, shawl against the sun (or to go into churches), blanket on long coach journeys, dress or skirt when I’ve been swimming (or have been slow about washing pairs of shorts). Oh, and folded up to make a pillow.
When It Proved Useful: A very chilly 10 hour coach journey.
The Draw: A way to block the sun, protect from bad hair, and assist in napping.
Why Pack It: When you’re camping in the backcountry for days at a time, looking polished just can’t be a priority. A good hat covers up greasy hair and a makeup-less face and lets you focus on what’s important—like enjoying some incredible scenery—while protecting your hair and skin from the sun and other elements.
When It Proved Useful: It sounds silly, but that little hat helps me truly lose myself during a trip. Any worries about what my hair looks like or how my sunburned face will look on Instagram just go right out the window the moment I put it on my head. My friends and I took a big yellow school bus to North Carolina for a weekend of surfing and camping. There weren’t many opportunities to shower, so it was nice to just pile my knotty hair on my head and slip the hat over it!
The Draw: A versatile accessory for warmth and fashion.
Why Pack It: It’s warm, versatile and circle scarves come in so many colors and styles. I’ve worn it on chilly ferry rides in Newfoundland, used it as a pillow on a night train in Serbia, and as a picnic blanket in parks. A circle scarf is very packable! I use it a lot on travel days so sometimes I don’t even have to pack it. When I do, it takes up as much room as a t-shirt.
When It Proved Useful: I went on a hiking trip in the NC mountains a couple weeks ago and I was so glad I brought it. The wind was relentless, so I wrapped the scarf around my neck and head to keep me warm and to stop my hair from blowing in my face!
Further reading: Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarf
The Draw: A convertible headband, hat, ear warmer.
Why Pack It: It’s a no-effort way to clean up your act if you’re having a bad hair day and it’s helpful on various activities on your travels. Whether it be wiping the sweat from your eyes while trekking in the jungles of Thailand or keeping your neck warm while skiing in New Zealand, Buff comes in handy in an array of different scenarios on the road.
When It Proved Useful: I hiked the Tongariro Crossing this past April, a seven-hour walk in New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park. I wore it for the crossing to keep my hair out of my face and to look somewhat presentable in photos on a walk that I knew would have me disheveled. Starting the walk and at various points on it, like climbing up to the base of Mt. Ruapehu, I used my Buff as a sweatband. As we walked at higher altitudes and the temperature dropped, Buff kept me warm.
Read the entire review: Buff Headwear
The Draw: It’s the perfect accessory to spruce up any outfit.
Why Pack It: Because a scarf is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing you can take backpacking. I wear it in the winter to keep me warm, on chilly evenings in the summer and even if the weather’s hot I use it to cover my shoulders because getting sunburnt is painful! A scarf can also be used to dress-up an otherwise dull backpacking outfit and a makeshift beach mat when you’re sunning yourself.
When It Proved Useful: It was really handy when I was on a flight from Perth to Sydney last year. When we left Perth the weather was hot and the air was dry so I slipped into a strappy dress and hopped on the flight forgetting that the plane would be air-conditioned! Mid-flight, when I couldn’t stand the goose pimples anymore, I used my scarf as a blanket to cover up my bare legs!
The Draw: This multipurpose item is also fashionable.
Why Pack It: It has saved me time and time again when traveling abroad. The versatility of it can be astounding.
- It can be used as a hair accessory to keep your hair out of your eyes or even on a bad hair day.
- It can be used as a sweat band around your neck when hiking through jungles – urban or tropical.
- Dipping it in water and tying it around your neck is fantastic.
- It can plug up sinks so you can do your laundry.
- It can use it as a way to tie things to your backpack.
- It can be used as a makeshift Kleenex/towel.
- It can be used, god forbid, as a tourniquet.
- It can be used to MacGuyver almost anything.
When It Proved Useful: Let’s just say that Kyoto, Japan is probably the most humid city I have ever experienced. There can be long walks between bus stops and exhibits and on a super hot day it saved me from nearly passing out on a mile long gravel walk to the Imperial Palace. The sun was beating down and the rocks were reflecting the rays up. A quick stop and wet the bandana with our bottled water and I was ready to continue.
Make-up & Cosmetics
The Draw: It’s an easy way to dress up an outfit.
Why Pack It: Obviously I can’t take an entire makeup drawer with me. I don’t really bring any jewelry either– I just “accessorize” with red lipstick. It can either make an outfit more fun or elegant depending on what you wear it with, and it’s just nice to feel a bit special on a night out on the town. This is especially true when all the local girls are dressed perfectly and you have been wearing the same four outfits for a few months.
When It Proved Useful: It definitely helped when I went out in Istanbul! I was only planning on being there for a few days, and I ended up staying for three weeks! There are tons of fun clubs and bars in Taksim, the “going out” area of the city, and every time I visited, I would throw on a little red lipstick and feel ready for a night out.
Estee Lauder Double Wear Concealer
The Draw: It’s a multipurpose beauty product.
Why Pack It: At home there is enough space for my concealer, foundation and mineral powder [including brushes] but when I pack for a trip I always try to include items that are multifaceted. The product itself is lightweight, waterproof and has medium-high coverage. Although it is a concealer I use it for a variety of things; it covers my dark circles, acne and redness – at times I even use as my foundation as it also contains SPF 10. In short it is a multi-purpose, long lasting and high coverage concealer sealed in carry-on friendly package.
When It Proved Useful: In Bocas del Toro [Panama] I was working at a dive shop for a couple of months which meant that I was in and out of the water every single day. Beach living is quite relaxed, so make-up looks quite silly. When I started diving the salt water didn’t agree with my skin and I broke out a little. I had a crush on one of the instructors and I would apply the concealer in the morning to cover up my pimples. I didn’t want him to notice that I had make-up on, but at the same time I wanted to cover up my little imperfections. The make-up gave me that “natural” look and I used it religiously in the morning and even if I went out at night.
Further reading: The Low Key Travelers’ Beauty Kit
Buy Estee Lauder Double Wear Concealer: Amazon
Chapstick (with SPF)
The Draw: To keep your lips soft and beautiful.
Why Pack It: Because it is useful in any country and in any climate. It can be easy to overlook the humble chapstick, but it can really make all the difference between happy lips or sad lips, whether they need some extra hydration on a flight, or some sun-protection on the beach, or even if you’re hiking and the wind starts to dry them out.
When It Proved Useful: When I first moved from Indonesia to New Zealand for university, my lips got really dry, especially in winter. It was so bad that they looked flaky and painful all the time and would even bleed. It was around this time that I started religiously using a good chapstick. After a few days of this treatment, my lips were as good as new and now, five winters and many chapsticks later, my lips have never been that bad again.
Aveeno Eczema Care Cream
The Draw: To care for dry, chapped skin.
Why Pack It: During travel, our hands go through a lot, from low-budget hand soap and anti-bacterial gel, to hard water, sun exposure and constant swimming (yay!). All of this wear and tear can leave your hands calloused, cracked and ripped, a big no-no in my books. With traditional lotions, I need to re-moisturize at least 15-20 times a day or my hands become tight, rough and unbearably itchy. This eczema care cream is thick, creamy and lasting without leaving me feeling like I dipped my hands in motor oil. I’ve cut my usage in half… five times over.
When It Proved Useful: Lotions are generally geared toward one body part, but in reality, good quality products are interchangeable. In Southeast Asia, I combed a tiny amount through the ends of my hair to help fight the humidity.
Buy Aveeno Eczema Care Cream: Amazon US
My Brown Pencil
The Draw: A tool to make you look pretty in a snap!
Why Pack It: A little brown Maybeline pencil, I believe it’s an eye-liner, but to me: It’s a lipstick, eyebrow pencil, rouge, eye-liner and general travel sprucer. It’s hard to look your best when you went to bed at 2pm, sneaking out of dorms in the early hours to make a flight or having just spent 12hrs on a flight. This magic little pencil fits discreetly in pockets (or even bra’s) and just adds that spruce up of colour when makeup never happened.
When It Proved Useful: In Vermont, when I was a ski instructor, I’d been out skiing all day and the family of the one of the kids I was teaching invited us out to dinner with them, to a rather nice place. I thankfully had a change of clothes, but no make-up bag, but one quick trip to the bathroom and I had some lippy and eye-liner and a dash a rouge. Feeling good again.
Health & Personal Care
The Draw: Keep your hair looking clean without washing it every day.
Why Pack It: Dry shampoo cleans, volumizes, and freshens up your hair by soaking up the oil from your scalp. Whether you’re venturing somewhere that has issues with running water, or you want to look clean and well‐rested after long hike without going through the stress of washing and drying, dry shampoo is a must‐have. Name brand or budget, big can or small — every traveling lady can find a dry shampoo that fits her lifestyle and budget requirements.
When It Proved Useful: During a recent lull in my working holiday here in New Zealand, I was doing lots of job searching in Auckland. Some of these were not your typical WWOOFing or backpacker‐y jobs—they were temp stints bordering on real‐people jobs, so a girl had to look like she has it together (as in, I couldn’t simply throw my hair up in a ponytail or topknot). Since I was also exploring and taking advantage of the nice autumn weather, by being outside sometimes I wasn’t as prepared as I would like to have been when it came to looking for work. If I got a last‐minute phone call for an interview or temp position, dry shampoo was my hero.
Further reading: Cut out shampoo completely
Buy dry shampoo: Amazon US
The Draw: Use as moisturizer, after-sun cream, lip balm, and so much more.
Why Pack It: There is nothing more multitasking than this little gem. You can use it in multiple ways: body moisturiser, cleanser, sunburn and mozzie bite healer, lip balm and leave in hair conditioner. Taking it a step further, you can mix it with sand to make an exfoliator and even to make a tinted moisturiser out of your foundation.
When It Proved Useful: In South East Asia, finding affordable suncream is a bit of a nightmare so I extend the use of my UK bought suncream by mixing it with coconut oil, which is a natural SPF 4. I particularly loved the day I had next to no suncream left, so mixed the remnants with some coconut oil and smeared the mixture onto my parched arms which were also covered in sand fly bites which immediately soothed them.
Read the full interview: Traveling with Coconut Oil
Get travel-sized coconut oil: Amazon US
Rainwater Botanicals Natural Deodorant
The Draw: Smell fresh, naturally, on the road.
Why Pack It: This deodorant uses coconut oil, so it moisturizes rather than dries out my skin. It doesn’t contain aluminum, so no having to wash out stains in hostel/hotel sinks. A little goes a long way, which is perfect for when I’m backpacking. I can bring one stick and not have to worry about running out after a few months of traveling. The standard size is a 2.5 oz stick, which is easy to throw in any carry on and works with most airline regulations. There is an even smaller trial size that I have used, which is great for weekend trips. It’s 1/8 of an ounce, great for weekend trips – just make sure you don’t lose it.
When It Proved Useful: On my last trip to India and Nepal, the natural deodorant came in handy. I was hiking and walking around for much of the trip. I didn’t have time to always go back to the hotel before dinner yet I was still fresh. Also, the scent is strong enough to mask unexpected smells while traveling. There have been many smells I have encountered while traveling in public transportation or walking around. All you have to do is shrug a little and get a whiff.
Check out natural deodorants: Etsy
The Draw: Tablets that turn into single-use moist towelettes when you add water.
Why Pack It: They are essentially little tablets, smaller than a bottle cap, that turn into single-use moist towelettes when you add water. They can be used as a wash cloth while traveling, as a dish cloth while camping, as an on-the-go sponge bath in the Bangkok airport at 2 AM, for first aid, for general cleaning and probably a million and one other things. The tablets are light as a feather and you can easily pack a tube of 10 of them for the same size and weight as a tube of lipstick or mascara.
When It Proved Useful: When I was traveling home from Southeast Asia, there was a massive 41 hour window of travel that included a ferry to the mainland, a bus to the airport, a flight to Bangkok Domestic Airport, a bus transfer between Bangkok airports, a night spent on the floor in Bangkok International Airport, and then a flight to Tokyo before finally crashing in the bed at our layover hotel before flying back to Canada. After a hot, sweaty day spent traveling, an airport sink sponge bath with a Wysi Wipe and a little bit of hand soap was an absolute godsend.
Buy Wysi Wipes: Amazon US
The Draw: From the obvious uses to back-up toilet paper, don’t leave home without them.
Why Pack It: It might seem like nothing, but imagine doing a day-long hike with a dripping nose and no tissues around. Or rushing into a bar to go to the toilet only to find out they’ve run out of toilet paper. Tissues can be used as handkerchiefs, napkins, toilet seat protectors, nosebleed stoppers, even ear plugs. It might seem strange, but they’re also great to make connections on the road. I’ve often had people ask me if I’d happen to have a tissue. Sometimes tissues also allow you to be the hero who saves a stranger that just spilled a drink all over herself.
When It Proved Useful: My intestines don’t always function as they should and often when I travel I can’t… Well, I can’t go. You know. So last summer we were traveling through Portugal for 12 days and I had that same issue. I hadn’t gone to the toilet for a week or so, when one night we were walking back to our hostel in Lisbon after we’d had dinner and I felt that things were starting to get into motion. I couldn’t hold any longer, so when I saw that the place had a toilet I told him to go for it while I went for it. I locked myself in, felt a huge relief coming over me… and then saw that there was no more toilet paper. But guess what? I had a full packet of paper tissues with me.
The Draw: Protect yourself from annoying (and potentially dangerous) bug bites.
Why Pack It: My friends often don’t understand the big deal about my need for my bug spray. They will never understand that one bite could cause swelling knots that can sting and itch for what seems like an eternity. Those that know what I’m talking about understand. And then when they finally decide to cease itching, they leave awful markings on the skin. Depending on your skin type those marks can take weeks to fade away.
When It Proved Useful: Every situation is an instance where I’m so thankful for having any form of insect repellent. It’s definitely needed if I’m surrounded by lots of plant life and water which is mostly any vacation destination that I go to. So it’s uber important that I have it. What I can say is that plenty of moments have been ruined by me worrying about being bitten because I may have forgotten to bring it with me or rub some on before leaving to go anywhere. Even more so ruined when I actually get bitten. Disgruntled doesn’t even begin to describe my emotion in that case.
Further reading: Your Favorite Insect Repellent Gear
Tanya recommends the following: Cutter Skinsations or Off! Bug Repellent
Lucas’ Papaw Ointment
The Draw: For chapped skin, rashes, stings and more.
Why Pack It: I constantly have dry, chapped lips and Lucas’ PaPaw, an ointment made from fermented Australian Papaya, has been the best thing I have found to solve this. It is my go-to for all types of ailments. Whether it’s a simple chapped lip, cracked cuticles, dry hands, burns or bug bites, this little tube has gotten me out of many a painful moment. As soon as I feel a cold-sore coming on I use pawpaw and I haven’t had one surface in over a year. It saves me from being a cranky, itchy, dry-skinned traveler and helps me get on with enjoying wherever I am.
When It Proved Useful: A few weeks ago I was stung by a wasp and it was more painful than I’d like to admit (there may have been tears). It was itchy and red and swollen. I immediately thought to dab a bit of PaPaw on the sting and it was like I’d placed a cold compress on it. The pain subsided almost immediately and every time it started to itch over the next couple of days PaPaw came to the rescue.
>> Editor’s note: We think Natralus brand PawPaw is a better option.
The Draw: A multipurpose balm for aches, pains, ails and more.
Why Pack It: My one little thing is Tiger Balm! An ointment made of herbal ingredients, it is found all over Southeast Asia, where it originated. Due to its popularity, it’s now sold in countries in all parts of the world. It is used primarily for muscle and joint pain, but I’ve found that it works on pretty much any ailment: bug bites, a cough or sore throat (as a vapor rub), blisters, headaches, you name it. I’ve even dabbed a tiny bit under my nostrils when I’ve been on a smelly bus.
When It Proved Useful: I’ve used it so many times, but perhaps my most memorable was in Burma (funnily enough, where Tiger Balm was first created). I was horribly sick with the worst cold I’ve ever had, complete with a hacking cough and lung infection. I was trying to make the best of my time in the country but had to retire early to bed because I felt so terrible. I used Tiger Balm threefold: on my chest and throat to calm my sinuses and cough, on my sore muscles, and on my temples for my headache. Within minutes I had relief, and I was able to actually get some sleep so that I could have the energy to explore Burma.
The Draw: For freshening and cleaning in a pinch.
Why Pack It: It’s important to feel and smell fresh during and after a long flight. Recycled air and sitting with your legs crossed for 5+ hours is really NOT conducive to that, as you can probably imagine. They are gentle and not perfumed and they leave you feeling fresh! Grab a pack and use to blow your nose, clean your face, hands, armpits, feet, lady bits, bum, everything! If it’s gentle and effective enough for a baby (and they are the ultimate dirty/sensitive combo) then it is good enough for you!
When It Proved Useful: Every time I am greeted at the airport with a dozen roses from my boyfriend, in my head I’m saying “thank you baby wipes!” Baby wipes are perfect for travelers on long flights who like smelling fresh. Especially any time you have someone special waiting for you on the other side of the flight. Even if its your parents, you don’t want them thinking, “Oh I’ve missed her… but she smells weird.”
The Draw: For all travel cleaning needs.
Why Pack It: I am not a neat freak in my everyday life, nor am I overly concerned with germs and everyday bacteria, but traveling can get messy quickly. When I wander, I never know where I will end up. Wet wipes can come in handy in so many ways and have saved me in many, would be awkward, uncomfortable, or mildly irritating, situations.
When It Proved Useful: I could name many. I have also been glad to have them post hike at Montserrat and other locations when I was covered in sweat and dust and was able to wipe some of the grime away and make myself feel more appropriate for human interaction again. Most memorably, I was oh so happy to have them with me at a very sad toilet in Athens where there was neither seat, nor doors, nor paper in sight. I have also appreciated them in many other unpredictable and more beautiful moments.
Personal air purifier
The Draw: To give you fresh air on flights.
Why Pack It: I never fly without what I call “my little buddy,” a personal air purifier. This little gizmo goes around my neck on a cord. Its ionizing action keeps particles, including ones with germs away from my nose and mouth. I love it because I don’t get sick after flying anymore. I want to enjoy my time away from home and not spend it sneezing or worse. At first, my husband (aka traveling partner) didn’t have one. After a trip when he got and passed on a stomach virus, he flies with one to. We don’t seem to get sick anymore when we fly.
When It Proved Useful: Besides on a plane, you can use it to filter out pollutants. I have allergies and was in a hotel where the lobby was being painted. With my little buddy, I was able to be in that area without having a severe reaction.
The Draw: To protect against the harsh sunshine in many countries, especially Australia.
Why Pack It: I always have my Soltan Active Ultra Resistance Suncare Protection Stick in my bag. Sun cream in a stick is portable, easy to use and no mess. Also this specific stick is fantastic because it is SPF 50, water and sweat resistant and moisturising as well.
When It Proved Useful: When I was hiking up Mt Kilimanjaro it was perfect. At altitude, with the pressure changes, liquid sun cream has a tendency to start oozing out of the bottle uncontrollably. When we had a break, I could take out my stick, reapply on my exposed skin without having to worry if the sun cream had rubbed in or not (it’s clear), and then quickly pop it away again. It was quick and no faff. Even better, it is designed for active use, so ideal for hiking.
Further Reading: Solid toiletries
The Draw: A wristband to keep your tummy calm.
Why Pack It: Acupressure wristbands – they’re like sweatbands with a ball in the wrist that presses on a pressure point to relieve motion sickness. Unless you’re one of those hardy travellers who can ride out 12-foot waves whilst drinking a beer and not breaking a sweat (in which case I hate you) then they’re useful to have as they’re so small and light and not expensive (around £6 or $9). They also work on any other type of nausea, including hangovers and even morning sickness.
When It Proved Useful: After leaving Nusa Lembongan in Bali by boat on a deceptively calm-looking sunny day, an hour out to sea the waves started to pick up. We ended up spending three hours being tossed about and bouncing off the top of the waves. I was so glad to have the wristbands as they help me make it through the whole journey ok when everyone around me was looking distinctly green.
Gravol (Motion Sickness & Relaxant Pills)
The Draw: A motion sickness tablet that relaxes you at the same time.
Why Pack It: It’s just such a versatile product! I take Gravol to prevent crushing the hand of the person unfortunate enough to sit next to me on the plane. I only wish I had loaded up on Gravol two years ago when I headed to Mexico for the first time and spent my Catamaran tour with my head in the toilet unloading the contents of my stomach. Also useful for hangovers.
When It Proved Useful: On my return trip from Mexico THIS year, my flight was canceled and I had to spend the night wandering around New Jersey without any winter clothing. I didn’t sleep, and my return flight was at 6 a.m… I had to be back at Newark by 4 a.m. I popped two of these babies, boarded my flight, and slept the whole way home with my mouth hanging open and drool rolling down my chin. I NEVER sleep, I’m a legendary insomniac, so this was a big deal.
The Draw: Travel can wear you down, but this will give your immune system a boost.
Why Pack It: Emergen-C is not only a great dietary supplement, but can really help when you’re feeling ill and/or severely dehydrated, two things that are never good while traveling. It’s full of vitamin C, zinc, and electrolytes to help you fight colds and hydrate quickly, and the packets are so convenient to take along.
When It Proved Useful: Five years ago I took a trip to Israel in the summer, where it can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees in some places. My first day on the trip I was hiking a mountain in the Golan Heights where it was hot and extremely humid. I didn’t realize how dehydrated I was until I blacked out on the trail and had to be rescued. After downing several giant bottles of water, I was still feeling terrible and couldn’t figure out why. I had brought the Emergen-C packets along in case I got a cold or a flu, but a friend suggested I try one to help with hydration and replenishing my electrolytes. It worked perfectly and I felt so much better.
The Draw: Best female travel hygiene product out there.
Why Pack It: The Diva Cup is a menstrual cup that keeps you from having to pack boxes of tampons and pads when you travel. It’s also reusable, which is better for the environment, and don’t get me started about the lack of leaks. I no longer fear traveling on my period.
When It Proved Useful: On long, long plane journeys, it ALWAYS proves useful. I hate having to worry about changing tampons in plane and train bathrooms. But since menstrual cups can be worn up to 12 hours before changing, it covers most big legs of transport.
Further reading: Menstrual Cup Basics
The Draw: For a soft clean pillow option across the world.
Why Pack It: Believe it or not, but my constant travel companion is an extra pillowcase. It might not sound too spectacular but it is the only personal thing that makes me feel comfortable even when sleeping in a not so clean room – wherever that might be. I have very sensitive skin and it gets irritated quite easily. My face especially is very delicate. Besides the fact that it helps you to stay in your own comfort-zone, the pillow case is multifunctional in that it can also be used for dirty clothes – if you don’t have an extra laundry bag.
When It Proved Useful: Last year I visited my former American host family and friends who live in New York state. I was brave enough to plan a weekend-trip to New York City all by myself but wanted to keep the budget low as I would be out all day exploring the city anyway. The hostel was central, yet not the cleanest. To be honest, the white sheets didn’t look too inviting, so I was more than happy to have my little something with me. I got my pillow case out and had a relaxed, good night’s sleep – without having irritated facial skin the next morning.
Nemo Fillo Pillow
The Draw: A partially inflatable and stuffable travel pillow for sleeping comfort on the road.
Why Pack It: It is the perfect little travel pillow. It is made of a layer of memory foam covered with microsuede material and can be blown up to your personal comfort level. I would recommend this to my travel friends because it is such a great alternative to those ridiculous U-shaped balloons people have, and it can be slept on in a bed not just in transit. This pillow has been around the world and back and is still just as comfortable as the first night I slept on it, and it is so convenient to just throw in your bag because it isn’t bulky or heavy.
When It Proved Useful: Honestly, every single day I am grateful for this pillow. Like I said, I sleep on it every single night no matter where we are in the world. It has come in handy on those really long travel days, I just keep it in my carry-on bag and blow it up quickly when I want to take a nap and put it away just as quickly when I’m done with it.
The Draw: For a good night’s sleep, anywhere, anytime.
Why Pack It: Travel can be unpredictable. You might be staying in a hotel one night and catching bits of sleep on a train station floor the next. My eye mask helps me to get some sleep in buses, trains, stations, hostels, and even in my own comfortable bed at home. I need absolute darkness to be able to sleep and my eye mask helps to block out all the light that might otherwise keep me awake.
When It Proved Useful: One of the times that I was most happy to have this was when I was in a London train station in the middle of the night, waiting to catch the Eurostar to Paris. My friend and I found ourselves in the only open café filled with other travelers awaiting the early morning ride. Having been awake for 24 hours already, I desperately wanted sleep. Although I only caught a little bit of sleep that night, it is more than I would have had without my eye mask!
The Draw: To sleep better when you travel.
Why Pack It: I can not go anywhere without ear plugs. I am a pretty heavy sleeper and can sleep for incredibly long periods of time, in uncomfortable positions as well. I have often amazed my friends by even being able to sleep in Ryan Air’s plastic airplane seats. Despite this, I still never leave home without my earplugs. And if I – a self proclaimed expert at sleeping – need earplugs, then I think that they would probably be useful for most other people as well. Also, did you know that ear plugs can help reduce motion sickness? Wearing an ear plug in just one ear, can help even out the inner ear pressure which helps reduce the dizziness and nausea associated with motion sickness (for when you don’t have any Gravol left).
When It Proved Useful: On a few occasions I have travelled with my Mother. She is a big snorer. No adjective can adequately describe how loudly she snores. I’m pretty sure the people next door mistake it as a small, but persistent earthquake. If I don’t have ear plugs with me, I end up waking up the next morning moody and grumpy. And believe me, I don’t make a good travel partner when I am moody and grumpy.
The Silk Sleep Sack
The Draw: It keeps you safe from suspicious hostel beds.
Why Pack It: It’s a silk sleeping bag liner. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to lug around a sleeping bag at all, quite the opposite. Most hostels provide linen, blankets and pillows, but the cleanliness of it all is sometimes questionable. A liner is such a relief to have in these occasions.
When It Proved Useful: Oh I wish I had it in Peru when we got lost in the jungle. It was hot and sticky and we only had sleeping bags. But we were sleeping on tables in a school for a few nights as well as on the floor of a medical centre. There were creepy crawlies everywhere – especially mosquitoes – so I ended up using my sleeping bag as a mat and fully COVERED myself with insect repellent, only to wake up the next day with a rash all over me from the chemicals. If only I had my Silksak then, I would’ve looked like an odd gringo instead of a complete alien.
The Draw: These all-in-one sheets act as a fabric softener, detergent and static guard.
Why Pack It: I can’t travel without all-in-one laundry sheets. These are small, thin sheets that get tossed into the washing machine with your clothes, and then gets transferred with the clothes into the dryer. The sheet acts as a detergent, softener and anti-static. When I travel, I try to completely minimize the amount of liquid I have to carry. This makes life easier when I just want to take a carryon bag, and it helps to avoid accidents such as a bottle of something exploding all over your stuff (we’ve all been there!).
When It Proved Useful: After a long flight, one of my friends opened her backpack to find her laundry detergent had been crushed to the point where it exploded. It was all over her clothes, toiletries, and even her electronics. I was so thankful that I had my laundry sheets, and didn’t have to carry around a bulky bottle of laundry detergent where it could possibly ruin my things.
Julia recommend Purex laundry sheets: Amazon US
Rick Steves Braided Laundry Line
The Draw: Great for hanging clothes to dry after a day at the beach or hand-washing.
Why Pack It: My Rick Steves braided laundry line: I bought it spontaneously — not even sure if I’d use it, but I’m so glad I decided to pack it on a recent trip across Eastern Europe. The laundry line coils up into a small roll when you’re not using it and stretches out to over six feet when you’ve got it hung up. It has a braided texture and has two velcro straps at the ends — perfect for tying to any doorknob, shower handle, bed post, car seat latch or two tree branches, if you’re camping or drying your clothes under the sun.
When It Proved Useful: Honestly, clean clothes are precious when you are backpacking and I always seem to do laundry whenever I get the chance, even if it’s only a few items, because I just can’t predict when I’ll have the next opportunity to clean my clothes on the road. So anytime I checked into a new hostel I would tie up the line against the posts of my bunk bed, near the wall so you couldn’t even see my clothes hanging out. It was really handy when I was travelling through the Mediterranean countries and swimming everyday — I had somewhere to easily dry out my bathing suit. Since the line was hanging up over my bed, I wasn’t worried about any one else in my hostel taking my clothing at night.
Food & Drink
The Draw: For making your own soothing warm cup of tea on the go.
Why Pack It: A few high-quality tea bags (or sachets, depending on your provenance) in your purse, backpack or carry-on can never go amiss. I have brewed my own tea on planes when the drink service lacked palatable options (airline coffee is some of the worst stuff on earth). I have been able to offer a hot cup of tea to a new friend or host, and the added bonus is that it can become a neat souvenir of your home nation when you bring some tea bags abroad. And when I am feeling congested or am getting a migraine (altitude and dehydration during travel have led to these for me), a hot cup of tea will go down when food is not an option.
When It Proved Useful: On a flight to NYC, brewing my own cup of Jasmine Pearl tea while the people around us swigged soft drinks was the right choice. We arrived early in the morning and instead of feeling sluggish and dehydrated, the tea had calmed me down and prepared me for an intense day in a sometimes overwhelming city!
The Draw: Great for eating on the go.
Why Pack It: The one odd little thing I always carry with me is a plastic “spork”, a multipurpose utensil that is part spoon, part fork, and has a serrated edge so it can used as knife. The one I have is made by the camping gear company Light My Fire. When I travel, I spend a lot of time visiting local markets, grocery stores, and food stalls to find out how the local people eat. I usually discover lots of fresh food to try – local fruit, bread, meats, cheese, pastries, yogurt, prepared salads, curries, ice cream, etc. Carrying my own eating utensil means I’m always ready for an impromptu picnic!
My bright and cheery travel spork is made from sturdy Tritan plastic so it is much nicer to use than the flimsy, disposable plastic forks that eating establishments often give you to take. It’s also more sustainable than using a disposable utensil every time you eat.
When It Proved Useful: One evening in the Galapagos Islands, we stumbled upon a tiny market selling my favorite tropical fruit (passionfruit) for ten for $1.00. We bought a big bag and I couldn’t wait to eat them, so I was grateful to have the spork (and its serrated edges) to slice into the hard shell and scoop out the tart flesh. It made for a memorable sunset picnic on the beach. I’ve also used my spork in Paris to cut bread and cheese, Tokyo to eat fresh Japanese pickles (tsukemono), and Chicago to enjoy a leftover slice of deep-dish at the airport before my flight home.
CamelBak Groove Water Bottle
The Draw: Helps you cut down on waste from plastic bottles while you travel.
Why Pack It: The one little thing I can’t travel without is my CamelBak Groove water bottle. It turns tap water into fresh clean-tasting water thanks to its plant-based filter. When I’m traveling on a budget and under the sun, purchasing bottled water throughout the day is not sustainable. Drinking tap water was something I really avoided until I began using this bottle. It filters the water to take away any unpleasant taste and odor. It doesn’t feel like I’m drinking tap water at all. Editor’s note: The filter does not eliminate harmful bacteria.
When It Proved Useful: I was so happy to have packed my CamelBak when I was in Russia this November. I dislike sparkling water, and there was no way to tell the difference between still and sparkling water since I can’t read Cyrillic script. This item was a lifesaver for me because I never had to purchase a bottle of water from the vending machine, only to realize it was sparkling after opening it.
Vapur Water Bottle
The Draw: A handy, soft, foldable water bottle.
Why Pack It: It’s a 0.7 litre soft foldable bottle. This summer I went on a big Ireland trip and did loads of hiking, and decided to try a soft bottle and it saved so much room in my day pack! I was always very skeptical about this type of bottle, thinking they would either leak (lots of my hard, regular water bottles do!), or not stand up straight, or that the carabiner would rip the bottle from the weight of the water. Luckily, none of that happened with this one!
When It Proved Useful: I was spending a few weeks living with friends in Dublin, and decided to spend two nights in a hostel in the Wicklow Mountains to hike around. Since it was a very short trip, I decided to try and fit everything in my daypack- photo equipment, toiletries, clothes and all. I had no room for a water bottle in the mix, but tied mine to the strap of my bag and went hiking. It got dragged everywhere and kept kind of swinging with the pace of my walk and still it held perfectly fine! When I was done I could put it in the bag and no worries.
The Draw: To stay hydrated without hurting the environment.
Why Pack It: I drink a lot of water and since the TSA banned bringing liquids on board and I refuse out of principal (and the environment) to keep buying fresh bottles, I bring an empty in my carry-on. There are always water fountains past security and the first thing I do after putting my shoes back on is search one out to fill my bottle.
When It Proved Useful: How about every time I fly? Flying dries you out and not having to wait for beverage service is a lifesaver. And you know it’s only a matter of time before they start charging for drinks.
Further reading: Traveling with Reusable Water Bottles
Noise Cancelling Headphones
The Draw: These headphones could change the way you travel.
Why Pack It: Believe it or not, they [Bose noise cancelling headset] make flights so much more enjoyable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sound quality when watching movies on the plane is amazing in comparison to the cheap and cheerful headset you are given by the airlines. Pop them on and you have movie theatre quality sound in your ears. They cancel out all other noise. Even when you have nothing playing they are the perfect way to create quiet in a noisy airplane. Screaming baby? Guy snoring his head off next to you? No problem! Just pop them on and you can’t hear a thing!
When It Proved Useful: On a recent flight to Singapore we were flying Business Class and were given some fancier earphones than usual. Even though they looked better quality than the usual ones you get given they were SO uncomfortable and really pinched my ears. Thankfully I had my trusty Bose headphones with me so I was able to chill out and watch movies in comfort… and quiet!
Further reading: The Best Headphones for Travel
The Draw: Always have a charged flashlight without needing batteries.
Why Pack It: I always have my dynamo torch with me (also called a dyno torch). It’s a bit bulky, definitely noisy, but oh-so-useful. There’s a lot of different designs out there, but mine is a big green one with a thin rope that you have to pull to get light. If you pull it enough times, it can make light on its own for at least one hour [without batteries]. I think every traveler agrees a torch is an essential. But my dyno torch is not only practical, it’s also a big step towards traveling green, which is something very important to me.
When It Proved Useful: In Turkey I went for a night hike with a couple of other travelers. On the way out it was fine, we all had our own torch to light the way. On the way back, it started raining. It was more like a downpour actually, with a huge storm and everything. Everybody but me had to put their torches away so as not to kill them with the water. We were in the countryside, there was not a single light. Complete darkness. It was scary enough as it was, but honestly I don’t know if we could have found our way home without the light from my dyno torch.
Further reading: Lights to Pack for Travel
Travel Power Board
The Draw: You’ll only need one adapter, and you can charge all your electronics at once.
Why Pack It: A power board from home that already fits all my electronic devices perfectly – add ONE adapter and you have a great solution to your tech needs. Sounds simple, but it really is one of those things that makes your life that bit easier when you are on the go 24/7. Going from conference, to dinner, to drinks, to meetings – you simply don’t have enough time in the day to be fussing around charging all the items that are vital to your working life (forgetting even that things like an iPad take a century to charge…). One power board, with as many ports as you have devices, one plug adapter and you are good to go.
When It Proved Useful: On heavily scheduled business trips I only have a few hours in my room to sort out my electronics. I don’t have time to wait for one to charge before moving on to the other!
Travel Power Bank
The Draw: Keeps your phone charged and barely takes up any space.
Why Pack It: I will not travel without my power bank. It’s saved my professional posterior more than once! Considering a lot of the travelling that I’ve done in the past year has been because of my job as a tour guide, I can’t not have my travel power bank. I use my phone for directions, to call suppliers for confirmations, to take pictures for clients, and so much more. I can’t afford to have my phone die halfway through the day.
When It Proved Useful: I had to go the hospital with someone while working and I had to provide regular updates as to how my companion was doing, but I hadn’t had a chance to charge my phone. At around 3 am, my phone was dying and I was panicking because I needed to call my contact to let them know that we were done and needed a ride home, as there were no taxis. At that point, I remembered I had my power bank and felt a lot better. Had I not had my battery, I probably would have had to trek outside in the freezing cold Canadian winter to find a functioning payphone.
Anker External Battery
The Draw: For keeping your mobile phone charged and ready for taking travel photos.
Why Pack It: My battery of choice is the Astro E3 from Anker, and it just happens to be mighty cheap (under $30!) on Amazon right now. Because my iPhone is one of my most important travel tools, it’s a huge bummer when it runs out of battery. Thankfully, this external battery will charge my phone 3-4 times on a single charge, and I never have to worry about missing a photo op, not being able to look up directions, or missing out on games and music on a long flight.
When It Proved Useful: When I was camping in Iceland this summer, there weren’t many opportunities to plug in to charge. With so much incredible scenery, I’m glad that I was able to charge my phone multiple times, and didn’t have to miss out on snapping any photos.
Electronic Luggage Scale
The Draw: To weigh those bags and make sure they aren’t over airline restrictions.
Why Pack It: I never leave home without my luggage scale. I’m learning how to pack lighter but I like the space and convenience of a suitcase on wheels. What I don’t like is the added weight over a backpack. What I hate is spending money on things that aren’t necessary like extra baggage fees for overweight bags. The scale saves me money by letting me know exactly what my luggage weighs so that I’m not surprised at the check-in counter. Can I buy that pair of shoes or will it put me over? I’ve even taken it with me when I was shopping for a new suitcase. Needed to know how heavy the bag alone was.
When It Proved Useful: When I flew a domestic flight in Costa Rica, they had limits for each type of bag and weighed them so it was handy to know just how to shuffle my items around to have each bag come in under the limit.
Further reading: The Best Luggage Scales for 2019
D-SLR Camera Bag & Purse in One
The Draw: So cute and multipurpose!
Why Pack It: I bought my Nikon D3000 just before coming to Australia, and I knew I needed a solid bag to store it and both lenses safely. However, I did not want to carry a bag that looked like a camera bag. I felt the ones I’d seen could be cumbersome and draw too much attention from would-be bag snatchers. And, I wanted something that could easily double as a purse.
When It Proved Useful: I’ve been on planes, buses, trains, long walks, gone to work, and lived everyday life with this bag and have always been pleased with it. If it wears out one day, I plan to buy another from the same designer.
Check out Janine King bag designs: Etsy
GoTubb by HumanGear
The Draw: Great for storing small things like vitamins or earrings so they don’t get lost in your bag.
Why Pack It: When traveling, sometimes plastic bags do not cut it for holding smaller loose items such as vitamins, earrings, earbuds, etc. Having the GoTubb helps cut down on space and keeps those items from being crushed and pushed around. It also only requires one hand to open and close, which is great when you are rushing from terminal to terminal or catching the next bus or train. I have the medium GoTubbs, which are only 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) in diameter and weigh .7 ounces (19.8 grams) when empty. They are the perfect size to slip into a purse or makeup bag!
When It Proved Useful: On my flight to Hawaii in December 2014, the gentleman next me was constantly coughing with no end in sight. I figured I had some cough drops somewhere but those things tend to find their way to the deep crevices of my bag every single time. Thanks to my prior proper planning I was able to find the cough drops all neatly packed away in one of my GoTubbs and gave my plane neighbor the soothing power of menthol. The GoTubbs are always handy no matter where I am!
They get constant use at home, in my purse, at work, etc. I always tend to lose earrings and hair ties when I am traveling, so having them all in one place is always a lifesaver. Again, how cool is it that I only need one hand to open them?!
The Draw: To keep all those loose ends tied up.
Why Pack It: I travel with two DSLRs, a GoPro, a Canon G12, a Kindle, a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPod, an iPhone and various other gadgets. Before I discovered the Grid-It–ironically, I first bought one for my sister when she was studying abroad, then quickly claimed one for myself not much later–all my cords, camera batteries and memory cards would get tangled up and lost in my seemingly bottomless carry-on.
When It Proved Useful: Every time I’m in the airport and frantically digging around my bag to find my phone charger (which happens more often than not)!
Read the full review: Grid-It Organizer
REI Stuff Travel Pack
The Draw: An extra lightweight bag to use for groceries, beach days, laundry, and more.
Why Pack It: I always travel with my REI Stuff Travel Pack. It has so many uses and it packs up small, so I have a hard time finding a reason to leave it at home. The price was reasonable at $29.50. I usually travel with a regular daypack, but since I pack my laptop in there, I don’t want to use that bag for certain situations. It’s perfect for packing up a few things, like sunscreen, a towel, and my Kindle, to spend the day at the beach. When I’m renting an apartment somewhere, I can load it up with food from the grocery store. I’ve also used it as a laundry bag to take my clothes to a laundromat.
Sometimes I travel with even less stuff and leave my daypack at home. On those trips the stuff bag serves as a daypack since I can’t fit snacks or a water bottle in my camera bag. I’m always finding more uses for this bag.
When It Proved Useful: I am a big advocate of traveling carry-on only so all my stuff fits into my REI 40L backpack plus either my camera bag or a daypack with not much room to spare. But often there are days when I’m traveling by train or bus from one city to another and I pick up snacks or even an entire lunch to bring on the ride. Having the stuff bag means I have extra space to pack up some food, my Kindle, something to drink, and anything else I want to have easy access to while in transit.
My husband and I were especially happy to have the stuff bag while we were in Southeast Asia a few years ago where we took several long bus rides. The stuff bag gave us a place for the things we temporarily acquired, like food, that made the journey more tolerable.
Read the full review: REI Stuff Travel Pack
The Original Chico Bag
The Draw: It’s light, durable and packs up small.
Why Pack It: It’s a reusable bag that stuffs into its own tiny pouch. It comes in handy whenever you need an extra bag: grocery shopping, picnicking, going to the beach, moving. It’s so tiny that you can throw it in your purse whenever you leave in the morning. I use it on an almost daily basis, whether at home or traveling. It’s super tiny and super light. Closed up, it’s about the size of a tennis ball and only weighs 1.5 ounces. Easy to pack in your suitcase and your purse!
When It Proved Useful: I used it all the time while food shopping in France. The grocery stores will charge you for plastic bags in certain regions: the best way to save a few cents is to bring your own. Plus, farmers markets often have super small vendors who can’t afford to give away plastic bags. Plus, I always like using it and saving a plastic bag: it’s such a little thing to do for an environment, but it makes a difference!
The Draw: Organize the things you want easy access to on the plane all in one place.
Why Pack It: Flight 001 Seat Pak. It’s a zippered pouch to keep all my stuff organized while I travel. Now I don’t need to rummage through my bag to find anything. The pouch even has a little loop on the side, so when I’m flying I can hook it onto the tray table latch or coat hook at my seat – all my essentials right in front of me. From chargers, to cables, to memory cards, there are so many things to keep track of while you travel. It’s so helpful to know that everything I might need is easily accessible in one little pouch.
When It Proved Useful: Every time I travel, I’m happy with the purchase I made. Prior to getting the Seat Pak, there were so many trips where I would get to my destination and realize that I left something in another bag. Now the only concern is to make sure to pack everything back into this pouch, and then grab and go!
Check out Seat Paks: Amazon US
Money & Security
The Draw: Can be easily exchanged in many countries of the world.
Why Pack It: Some places around the world will accept local and American currency only. It comes in handy. I’ve even heard cases of people needing it to bribe officials just to get where they needed to go. This could happen anywhere in the world. American money is more universal than you may think.
When It Proved Useful: I was in Anda when I had a money crisis as well. Right before we went there, I discovered there had been delays with checks clearing my bank account. I had no money to take out at the ATM. My friends offered to lend me money or I could do a cash advance on my credit card. I thankfully remembered I was carrying around USD (I am American). I resigned myself wearily to going to the currency exchange in town and dealing with the fees and bad exchange rate. I had only $27, but that goes very far in many Asian countries. It lasted me through the end of my trip without me having to borrow money, starve, or pay exorbitant bank fees.
Waterproof Travelon Pouch
The Draw: Can be used to protect passports, documents, electronics and more from water.
Why Pack It: The Travelon Clear View Waterproof Pouch is a simple self seal plastic case that allows your cell phone, money or valuables to be submerged under water about 65 feet.
- Foam insert allows pouch to float on waters surface
- Touch screen and controls are fully functional through pouch
- Takes photos through transparent window on back
This item is so important to me because it allows me to take photos underwater! With this waterproof pouch I am able to keep my iPhone, money, passport and any valuables waterproof whether or not they get soaked from a rain shower through the Amazon or surf waves from taking cool photos of the ocean.
When It Proved Useful: I have jumped in the ocean with this waterproof Travelon pouch and have taken some really great underwater ocean photos! I have also gotten stuck in a sun shower in Martha’s Vineyard and was able to still take pictures of my surroundings with no worries to the rain!
Ila Dusk Personal Safety Alarm
The Draw: For added protection when traveling solo.
Why Pack It: I prefer to not to even leave the house without my ila dusk personal alarm. When activated the ila dusk lets out a piercing 130 decibel female scream that would put any on-screen damsel in distress to shame. This is designed to not only stun the attacker but to also draw the attention of any knights in shining armour.
When It Proved Useful: In Brazil I was staying with a friend and made my way back to her house alone a little later than usual. I had my alarm ready as I always do when I’m coming home from a night out. The street was empty and I saw a guy randomly standing on the corner that I had to turn. “Oi Gostosa” (Hey sexy) the scumbag sneered as I passed him. My paranoia kicked in and I played out a scene in my mind where he followed me out of street view to my door as I fumbled with my keys… so I activated the alarm. It was possibly completely unnecessary and even perhaps borderline mental, but I know it wouldn’t make sense for him to even think of attacking an already screaming female.
Further Reading: Packing for Your Personal Safety
The Draw: For attaching, locking and securing.
Why Pack It: Carabiner clips are super nifty because they can be used in a variety of ways. Have you ever been out and about for the day and the strap on your purse broke? I have, and it is the worst! Use a carabiner clip to re-attach the strap (depending on how the bag broke, of course!) and you can carry on with your day, problem solved! Maybe you went a little crazy shopping and just have enough room in your backpack for your new purchases. Use a carabiner to connect the zippers on your backpack so they don’t slide open. Nobody wants to see your backpack explode and rain underwear all over Paris, so clip that baby closed! If you are worried about pickpockets, use a small carabiner clip to discreetly attach your purse to your belt loop or clip the zipper closed, making it more difficult to open your bag.
When It Proved Useful: When I was in Ecuador, I was traveling with my backpack and a sleeping bag. After carrying my sleeping bag around in my arms for a week, I used two small carabiners to attach my sleeping bag to the bottom of my backpack, and what a difference it made! Although I was still carrying the same amount of luggage, it felt like I was carrying less because I wasn’t holding anything in my arms. I’m also notorious for losing track of my water bottle, so it’s great to clip it to my backpack so it can’t run away from me!
The Draw: To hide and protect your money.
Why Pack It: Everyone has a money belt, and they are definitely useful when you are traveling with a lot of cash and important documents. However, I lived in South America for a long time, and money belts are hot and uncomfortable, and after a while you stop using them. Plus, they are bulky and hard to access when you are wearing a dress!
About 9 months into my trip, I was traveling through Peru and got held up at gunpoint. Because I wasn’t wearing my money belt, I lost everything. I bought the little bra pouch the day after the mugging – it does not hold my passport or large amounts of money, but it is the perfect size for bank cards, ID and a bit of cash. It’s important to me because it makes me feel safe – I wear it not only when I’m traveling around, but also when I go out at night. It means that I can go out with money on me, and not have to worry about having my pockets picked, my purse stolen, or wearing a hot, sweaty money belt when I’m dancing all night!
When It Proved Useful: Every time I’ve used it! I can also say that I wish that I had had it when I was mugged. Sure, I would have lost my passport and camera anyway, but I would at least have had some cash to take care of replacing these items, rather than having to depend on other people’s incredible generosity.
Further reading: Bra Stash Personal Security Wallet
Eagle Creek Undercover Belt
The Draw: To keep your money, passport, and cards hidden under clothes and safe!
Why Pack It: A money belt is neither stylish as a multi-purpose black dress nor sentimental as an entry journal. However, for me, this belt not only fulfills its purpose as a security precaution. This thin belt has two zipper pockets, so I could separate my cash in one place and my credit card and passport in the other. For me, it is multi-purposed. Often I store non-monetary items in it. It’s held a room key during a night walk alone in Athens, near the Plaka. It’s been like a drawer for stomach medicine needed after a heavy BBQ meal in Memphis and ibuprofen for the morning after a strong cocktail and a nasty fall on Bourbon Street. Other contained items have ranged from hotel business cards (because it might take a while for me to remember the name of the place I’m staying), to handwritten notes.
My money belt even helps me better manage my cash flow. Before venturing out, I try to take out how much I think I will need or spend that day or night. I leave the rest in. Gradually, my money belt has made me feel bold enough to leave my purse at the hotel, taking out the essentials, and walking around bag-free with confidence.
When It Proved Useful: While in Italy, I felt better having it on me. During a packed ferry ride to Venice, my tour group members and I huddled near to watch out for each other and our respective stuff. We heard later that supposedly a group of pickpockets cleaned out other passengers–most likely tourists–on the ferry. Hope that was just a rumor.
Odds & Ends
The Draw: They’re great for taking notes and writing posts.
Why Pack It: These pocket-sized notebooks are important not only in my job as a writer and part time waitress, but I use it to write directions in, as a planner, address book and diary. I’m pretty forgetful, so if I write down the details I will remember it. About 99% of my blog posts are written by hand in one of these notebooks before I post them. Out of all the notebooks I’ve owned, I recommend the Moleskine small ruled cahiers because the lines keep you organized and the covers can take a beating. However, I also like having a pocket and a band to keep it together, so the Tag notebooks are good for that, not to mention a lot cheaper.
When It Proved Useful: Before I started carrying notebooks, I wrote on napkins, menus and any slip of paper I could find. Now, it’s all in one place. When I took my East Coast road trip this summer, it was good to be able to write down the names of every small town and greasy diner. Plus, I never know when I’m going to get an idea for a blog post or article, so it’s good to be ready when I’m feeling inspired.
Further reading: Keep It Old School: Travel Journals & Notebooks
Manduka PROlite Yoga Mat
The Draw: This yoga mat is great for maintaining your well-being through practicing yoga even on your travels.
Why Pack It: The mat itself is one of the best on the market, if not the best. Yoga teachers are always recommending it, and I can see why – I wouldn’t want to use any other mat now. So yes, if my friends who travel a lot love yoga, I always recommend it. Practicing on this mat makes the world of a difference, as it’s got the perfect amount of padding for all those poses!
When It Proved Useful: I was in Skyros, Greece in September last year, attending a writing retreat. I got there to find that I was staying in a gorgeous, traditional little house with a terrace that overlooked the town. The view was spectacular – like a Greek postcard. I was so happy to be able to practice there.
The Draw: Perfect for keeping in touch with new friends on the road.
Why Pack It: A collection of business, nay, adventure cards with my blog and contact information on them (I want to call them entertainment cards, but I think that’s what you get whenever you walk around anywhere in Las Vegas). I am a scientist. and while I have unbounded appreciation for the various ecosystems around the world, a lot of what I love most about traveling is meeting locals and fellow travelers. Their stories, recommendations, and support are what constantly motivate me to explore new places. When I make a connection with someone I truly want to stay in contact with them. I want to make it as easy as possible to ensure that my new friend(s) have my information.
When It Proved Useful: I traveled solo for 3 months last summer throughout Europe. I made plans for the first few days, but afterwards I just researched one place ahead of my current location. This flexibility in my schedule allowed me to seize unexpected opportunities, which was the case when I stumbled upon one of many summer CouchSurfing festivals in Edinburgh. The next few days were a whirlwind of activities and new faces. Everyone received a card, and for the rest of the festival I was consistently informed for all of the events and hangouts. I ended up traveling with several people I met at this festival throughout the remainder of my summer, “solo” journey.
The Draw: A little piece of home that makes a great conversation starter.
Why Pack It: My teddy bear, Andy, who I’ve had since the day I was born. This teddy bear has been my constant companion on my journey through life, but even more than that, he has been a fantastic actual travel companion! I started taking pictures of him when I began traveling solo, because he was a way for me to take personal photos without having to try to always get myself in the shot somehow.
However, I soon realized that he was also an amazing conversation starter! When people see me taking pictures of my teddy bear, they are often intrigued enough to ask me the story behind it. From a few minutes that brighten someone’s day to forming friendships that last for years, my teddy bear has introduced me to so many people – which is quite a feat for a stuffed animal that doesn’t speak!
When It Proved Useful: On a recent trip to New York City, I was at a cute outdoor cafe on the High Line (an awesome park created on old elevated railroad tracks), and I sat down at one of the communal tables to take pictures of Andy enjoying the alfresco atmosphere. Almost immediately, the two women next to me stopped their conversation to start one with me about the story of this teddy bear.
Soon we were sharing tales of our lives and travels, until the group on the other side of me interrupted to find out if the teddy bear came with the menu or if he was mine. As we began talking, they gave me all sorts of suggestions for places to take my teddy bear during the rest of my time in New York. I took their recommendation for Governor’s Island and headed there the next day. It ended up being one of my favorite places on the whole trip, and I hadn’t even heard of it before my new friends brought it up!
Is there one little thing YOU can’t travel without? Be sure to let us know in the comments!