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15 Travel Essentials to Bring on Every Trip

Because certain things just make travel easier and smarter

person packing a duffle bag

As an avid traveler, both internationally and domestically, I have spent a lot of time and effort packing for trips.  And naturally, a few things have become my go-to items that seem to make their way into my luggage over and over again. So, I am here to share with you a few of my favorite travel items that have become essential for me!

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Travel Essentials for the airport and while in transit:

1. Vapur collapsible bottle 

vapur collasible water bottle

This is truly one of my ultimate favorite things for travel, perhaps my numero uno! We all know that it’s a rip off to buy bottled water at an airport, not to mention wasteful. It’s so much cheaper, quicker, and simpler to bring your own water bottle to refill. But unlike a heavy and bulky stainless steel water bottle, these Vapur collapsible bottles take up almost no space when empty and folded. They really are leakproof too! I’ve tried a few other brands, and Vapur is by far the highest quality and best shape I’ve found. Cleaning is a bit challenging, but they are technically dishwasher safe. 

2. Scarf 

Scarves are the most versatile thing to bring with you on any trip.  And when space is at a premium, it’s great to have items that multitask. Even if you are sojourning to a tropical locale, I guarantee a plane/bus/airport will be over-airconditioned at some point, and you will be happy you had a scarf.  I’ve used as these as a neck pillow/eye mask combo on a plane, a sarong, and a blanket. It can also make you look classier than your clothes would suggest. Other benefits to scarves include: hiding your protruding stomach after days of eating unhealthy, carb-laden meals; disguising a lower cut shirt in a place where it’s not culturally acceptable to wear it;  and covering your head to give off a pious “I’m not a loose Western girl/don’t mess with me” look to the local boys. Also, they are a fantastic souvenir.  I prefer to buy a scarf when I arrive at my destination as it’ll blend in with the local scarf style, and provide great memories when you wear it back home.

3. Instant Oatmeal packets

You can always get a cup of hot water, anywhere in the world or sky, and this means you always have access to a reliable, healthy meal.  These packets take up virtually no room, and if you’re outraged by the terrible and expensive meals available in transit, or forgot to buy a meal to take on the plane, you’re covered.  And sometimes while abroad, you just want ONE normal meal that tastes like home. Done!

4. Travel Spoon and Fork 

And along the line of instant oatmeal, I also like to travel with my own spoon and fork, because sometimes you can’t find one when you’re whipping up that instant oatmeal (or coffee!). My favorite is this Gobite Duo connecting spoon/fork combo, because the spoon and fork can connect to make a long-handled utensil. This was a lifesaver while backpacking, allowing me to dig deep into my dehydrated meal pouches, as well as for cleaning out my french press travel mug. And it’s super lightweight!

5. Eye mask and ear plugs

girl wearing black eye mask

These two items are essential, and it’s way better to bring good ones from home instead of relying on the cheap airline freebies.  On a plane/bus, they are amazing for making the outside world fade away. In a hostel, where people walk in and out of the dorms at all times and snorers abound- priceless. My favorite ones have deep molded eye cups, which allow for REM sleep and also don’t crush your eyelashes. They can be found here:

6. Coffee Favorites

I cannot leave the coffee situation up to chance when I travel. I always carry a few instant coffee sachets with me, just in case I can’t find a good cafe or have a very early morning, or need to prevent a caffeine deprivation catastrophe. Last year, I did some serious instant coffee research, tasting at least 15 different brands. The BEST is Blue Bottle Coffee’s Instant Espresso. It is legitimately good and tastes like non-instant coffee! However, it’s pricey and has to be bought on their website or in store. So if you’re going the budget route, Cusa Coffee, the Vanilla Dark Roast, is an adequate option (their Light roast is also drinkable, but none of the other flavors, IMO). And after Cusa, Starbucks VIA French Roast would rank third. 

four sachets of instant coffee

On some longer trips however, I will bring/buy my own coffee and make it in a french press coffee mug! I have been known to pack a pound of coffee in my suitcase, and I also love buying coffee abroad. This was especially great in Guatemala, because there were so many amazing cafes in which to purchase bags of local coffee. The Bobble french press mug makes it so easy to have good coffee anywhere- just throw in the grounds, water, wait a few minutes, then press. And it keeps your coffee HOT for a few hours. Since it is tall and narrow, I used my connecting spoon/fork combo to make cleaning the grounds out easy. 

Travel Essentials for Packing:

7. Ziplock bags

I like to bring a few of various sizes with me, they take up virtually no room and can be used for countless things. They make great clothing organizers if you’re not into packing cubes, and are my favorite thing to put wet/dirty laundry in, since they seal and won’t leak smell onto that which doesn’t. They’re great for putting things like passports and phones in if you don’t want them to get wet, such as when you’re wearing a money belt in a hot and sweaty place. Also, they are great makeshift wallets when downsizing for the day.  The list of their usefulness shall never end.

8. Small Amazon Basics Packing cubes

amazon basics packing cubes blue
So neat and pretty in the suitcase!

These make nearly everyone’s list for a reason- they’re awesome. They make your suitcase super organized and I also think it helps me pack more things in. I’m not a fan of the compression ones, I don’t think they compress very much and definitely wrinkle your clothes more. I love my Amazon Basics packing cubes, size small.  It was one of the only brands that had packing cubes of all the same size (most are a variety pack of small, medium, large). I like mine to be of uniform size, as it makes suitcase origami much easier when everything is uniform. The small size can fit at least 6 shirts, and I can fit four of them into every one of my carry-on bags that I own. Medium and large sizes end up fitting irregularly into my suitcases and are hard to pack around; not to mention I love having my clothing are separated categorically into different cubes. 

9. Contact cases

These are the greatest travel hack for bringing small amounts of toiletries when traveling! They are designed to hold thin liquids, so they are usually quite leakproof.  They’re perfect for the items you don’t need large quantities of.  I can bring nearly a week's worth of Vitamin C serum, night moisturizer, face sunscreen, cleanser, etc in a contact case and they take up very little room in my liquids bag.

Travel Essentials: Clothing and other Necessities

10. Athletic clothing 

I like to bring tops with me that I can wear running and they look somewhat like normal shirts. These shirts are made to wick sweat and dry quickly, which is perfect when walking around a destination all day, and also when doing bathroom-sink laundry.

11. Ex-Officio underwear 

Speaking of bathroom sink laundry, I will tell you that I love my antimicrobial, quick drying, underwear from Ex-Officio. Perhaps this is TMI. I used to get a lot of heckling from my travel buddies about this choice, but I stand firm.  You can wash this underwear in the sink, and it dries overnight. And antimicrobial properties keep them fresh and not gross.

12. Travel clothesline

hand holding a small pouch

Whether it’s washing some underwear in the sink, or hanging up my sweaty clothes after a run, find a place to hang clothing can be a challenge in many accommodations. That is why I often bring a travel clothesline on my trips. I’ve tried a few different brands, but this tiny Sea to Summit one is my favorite. It has an adjustable length, easy to attach, and is so lightweight that I bring it on backpacking trips too. It has little beads that help clip up your clothes, so you don’t need pins. 

13. Small cable lock

Locks are SO versatile. They close your zippers to prevent theft (on suitcases/day packs/purses) when in transit or walking through pickpocket laden streets.  They secure your belongings in hostel lockers.  They lock your bag to your seat or a rack on a bus/train.  My favorites are the locks with a 2-inch or so cable, as they can fit through a variety of spaces.  Warning: they are not fool proof at theft prevention, and I have had to cut jammed locks off my bags twice. But simple opportunistic thieves will be probably be deterred by them- sometimes I even just safety pin my purse zippers together when walking through crowded cities to prevent passing hands from reaching in.

14. Microfiber towel

These are light and thin, plus they dry both you and themselves quickly.  I rarely trust hostel towels, IF they are even offered.  These towels are also awesome for drying clothes you just washed by hand; roll your clothing up in the towel and wring it a bit, and it’ll draw out a lot of the moisture and your garments will dry much faster! I’m still looking for a favorite brand; so if you have a suggestion, let me know!

15. Menstrual Cup

Ladies, this is just for you!  A menstrual cup is an absolute must for dealing with your period while traveling. It’s definitely not great to have your period while on a trip, and if you’re anything like me, you will frequently get it in the most inconvenient of circumstances. Hiking the Inca Trail? Yep. Desert safari in the Sahara desert? Yep. Running an ultramarathon? Yep. Tampons are inconvenient to dispose of, take up lots of room in your luggage, expensive, wasteful, and buying them in a foreign country will leave you disappointed.  A menstrual cup can be worn much longer, holds more volume, and is only one thing to carry with you. While there is a steep learning curve, it’s worth it. I bought the Diva Cup before my round the world trip in 2014, and I’ve never gone back. I recommend reading the reviews on Amazon and gleaning some tips from other users before use, it’ll answer a lot of questions for you! There are lots of brands out there, so do a bit of research before you choose!

I hope you found this to be a useful list and that some of these items may be just what you need for your next trip! Let me know in the comments what your favorite travel essentials are!

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