A question that we often get is, “what to pack when traveling?” Forget packing cubes, backpacks, and cameras! While those things are great, the essential (must-have) travel tools are often the most simple and accessible items. In this post and video, I want to review the things that I carry with me on most trips that aren’t slick or fancy but are essential items that have saved the day on many occasions. We’re not talking about packing cubes or backpacks, even though those are awesome tools that make the process of packing and traveling smoother. Instead, these are simple and basic items that I carry with me that have proven to be extremely handy when traveling.
I know we’ve mentioned wipes in several videos, but they are truly a must-have when traveling. I use them all the time to wipe dirty airplane trays. We’ve also used them when visiting places with no running water in the bathroom like many National Parks. These things are super handy and cheap, and there’s no reason not carry a few in your bag.
One tip though is put your wipes into a second plastic bag. For some reason, the packaging from the store seems to often leak. I recommend putting them in a ziplock bag to be safe.
I know most us are using pens less and less every day, especially since more of our life is digital. Though one thing that is almost never digital are those pesky customs and immigration forms that you need to fill out when entering another country. It also seems like there are never enough pens on the airplane.
I recommend packing a pen. Actually, pack a few of them and you’ll be a hero when you share them with others. You may even make some new friends!
A tip though is to carry pens that won’t leak on a plane. You don’t necessarily need a fancy space pen either. Most gel and ballpoint pens will work, however, I would avoid rollerball pens as they tend to leak under pressure.
You’re not going to win any fashion or hipster awards for wearing one, but headlamps are extremely useful. I know that I have a flashlight on my phone, but there are times when I need to be hands-free while still having illumination. An example is when I traveled to Vietnam and went through the Cu Chi tunnels. Holding a phone while crawling through the narrow tunnels would not have been practical.
I have an old Petzl Tikka headlamp that I’ve used for years, and it still works great. It also doubles as an emergency light at home and is handy when doing home repairs in dark places.
4. Plastic utensil:
This little plastic utensil is not only sturdy and reusable but has saved the day on several occasions. Why? Because I’ll often buy foods like yogurt when traveling to not only save money on breakfast but also because it helps my digestive system. Though what often happens is I realize that I don’t have a spoon. And even worse, I have to buy a large pack of spoons, which is wasteful and cumbersome.
After going through this exact scenario in Panama, I decided to get an inexpensive Humangear GoBites utensil, and it’s been perfect for traveling!
I know a lot of people just use their mobile phones as their watch. That makes a lot of sense, but I always recommend wearing a watch when traveling. Why? Because I tend to burn through my mobile phone battery faster when I’m traveling. This is especially the case when using my phone to capture photos and videos. With time being extremely sensitive when you travel, especially when flying or taking a tour, it makes sense to have a dedicated watch for the task.
I’m also a bit “old school”, so I like wearing an automatic watch, which means that it doesn’t use a battery. I just happen to be a watch geek, so I like the idea of the watch being powered by my motion, though any watch will do.
Speaking of mobile phones running out of power, I always carry a small USB battery charger. It’s come in handy so many times when traveling, and I honestly recommend one to any traveler.
They come in a variety of sizes and capacities. I personally love the battery packs made by Anker, and I plan to get a bigger capacity one now that I’m carrying more camera gear and a drone. However, their tiny charger is what I usually carry, and it’s saved me on so many occasions.
To continue the theme of power and electronics, I recommend carrying a multi-port USB charger. One thing that I’ve noticed when traveling is that hotels often have very few plugs. This is especially the case in older hotels. This can be an issue if you have multiple devices that need to be charged. Having a multi-port charger allows you to charge many different devices, and can even win you friends at the airport.
Again, I highly recommend any chargers from Anker. They even make a charger that doubles as a spare battery pack.
8. Rain gear:
Being in a sudden downpour is no fun, especially when you’re carrying important items or gear. I sometimes carry an umbrella, but most times I prefer to pack a poncho. It takes up less room and keeps me (and my daypack) dry.
You can get ponchos that are disposable but I recommend spending a bit more to get one that is reusable. They are more durable and often made of breathable materials, making them more comfortable to wear.
9. Luggage lock:
The last item on my list is the simple luggage lock. The reason I recommend carrying one is that there have been times when I have checked into a hotel only to find that there isn’t a safe. Or even worse, it doesn’t work properly. I usually carry a portable safe, but in the event that I don’t have it, or if I have items that are too big, I’ll lock them in my suitcase.
This isn’t the best way to secure your items as the lock can be destroyed and your bag can be cut. It’s not going to stop a determined thief, but it’s probably enough to deter a curious housekeeper. If you are traveling with expensive or valuable items, then you’re better off carrying it with you during the day. Another option is to have the front desk secure it in their safe if they offer the service.
Also, if you want to use a luggage lock when flying, makes sure it’s TSA approved. This is especially important if you’re traveling to or within the US. Otherwise, it will be cut. For US travelers, be aware that theft from your luggage is much more common around the world.
If you’re looking for a specific brand or recommendation, we love the luggage locks from Travelon. They are colorful and unique, making it easy to spot your luggage at the baggage claim.
What underrated items do you carry when traveling? Is there anything that you’ve used that has saved the day? Please let us know in the comment section below.