12 Must-Have Items for Your Next Trip

Have you ever consulted a packing list, either online or in a guidebook, only to find things like a smart phone, toothpaste, and underwear on it?

You’re not alone.  We consulted dozens of online resources to put together our own list for this trip – some were helpful, but most were composed of totally obvious stuff like the above.

We’ve been asked enough about our packing list that I considered writing a blog post (or five) on the topic, but given our experience, I really don’t see the value in that.  Travelers have different needs, styles, and interests, so what works for me may not work for the next person.  In fact, what worked for us motorcycling Vietnam didn’t cut the mustard for roadtripping Europe or trekking the Himalayas in India.  What we currently have in our bags is so different than what we started with that it’s pretty much pointless to share our initial list.

More useful to know, I think, is the list of random items that have made our trip, and lives, infinitely better.  Essential?  No. Awesome?  Absolutely.

These items are not travel-specific, which is what makes them especially great.  All are useful in every day life, and if you buy the whole lot, it will cost $333.63, not including taxes or shipping.  A small price to pay for a massive life gain.

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Clockwise, from top left: Petzl headlamp, SteriPen, mini-speaker, Caudalie Beauty Elixir, Sea-Bands, folding knife, external battery pack, double-hinged wine key, peppermint oil.  Background: Buff in Afghan Blue.  Not pictured: packing cubes and splitter.

External Battery Pack ($39.99)

This nifty little guy can charge an iPhone seven times, a Samsung Galaxy four times, or an iPad almost completely … and fast.  It also charges multiple devices at the same time.  If you’re reliant on your phone for navigation, hotel booking, social media, email, etc., this pack will ensure you never have a dead battery again.  Hallelujah.

SteriPEN Ultra ($99.95)

Purifying one liter of water in 90 seconds at a cost of just over a penny/liter, this tool is especially helpful in the back-country, the developing world where sanitation is problematic, and the developed world where bottled water is insanely expensive. Read our full review here.

Buff ($20.00)

It’s a hat!  It’s a neck warmer!  It’s plane (just kidding – it can’t actually fly … yet). It’s a Buff, and there are over 16 ways to wear it plus a million other ways it’s useful.  We used ours as hats, neck warmers, sweatbands, and face shields when riding through dust/pollution (note: a surgical mask is best for your health in this case, but this was our only option and better than nothing).  It washes easily, packs up to nothing, dries in just a few hours, and comes in more designs than you possibly have the patience to scroll through.

Peppermint Oil ($6.61)

What in the world is this for, you ask?  It’s only the best breath freshener ever!  My earth mother friend (you know who you are) turned me onto this, and I haven’t had a stick of gum or breath mint since. It’s natural and lasts forever since one drop on your tongue is all you need (warning: this stuff is seriously strong and concentrated).  Our one-ounce bottle is still two-thirds full after 10 months.  Not only will it give you fresh breath and a good-tasting mouth for hours, it will also the clear sinuses and can even be dabbed under your nose during olfactory emergencies (i.e. the guy in front of you on a plane is serving up a nasty combo of tuna fish sandwich and BO).  PRO TIP: Do a drop just before eating some chocolate … heaven!

Small Folding Knife ($23.61)

I’m not talking about the knife on your Leatherman (which the savvy traveler already has in his or her bag).  While the Leatherman is great, it can be heavy and cumbersome to carry and use for small jobs like food preparation or  cut through various light materials (plastic, rope, fabric, etc.).  It can also be used as a weapon – H completely disagrees with me on this and thinks a broken glass bottle is better.  Sure, but can that fit in your pocket, H.J.?  Didn’t think so.

Double-Hinged Corkscrew ($1.90)

No explanation needed, and no, the one on your multi-tool isn’t good enough.  Get something small, simple, and sturdy. Ours cost us $1.90.  For that price, there is no excuse not to have one stashed everywhere – your purse/briefcase, car, office drawer, bedroom, bathroom, whatever.  Now you’re ready for a party, anytime, anywhere.

Sea-Bands ($9.99)

While I’ve never vomited from motion sickness, I have it bad enough that a curvy car ride or a heavily rocking boat is a completely miserable experience for me.  Designed to prevent nausea from pregnancy, cancer treatment, sea/motion sickness, etc., the Sea-Bands are worn on the wrist and use acupressure to calm nausea with zero side effects (I’m looking at you, Dramamine).  To be honest, I have no idea if it’s acupressure or a placebo effect, but they worked, and that’s really all that matters.  Bonus: if you feel well enough to work out, they also function as sweet-looking sweatbands.

Caudalie Beauty Elixir ($18.00)

A spritzer for your face, it promises smoother, more radiant skin and tighter pores.  I’m not sure about all that, but it feels damn amazing on a hot day.  It’s also helpful when you’re dealing with foul-smelling surroundings (certainly not an intended use).  Yes, it’s a really foofy thing, but it makes me feel refreshed in the worst of circumstances.  H not-so-secretly loves it too. He panicked more than I did when it ran out in Kuala Lumpur.  Thankfully, KL is awesome and has a huge Sephora – crisis averted.

Headlamp ($59.20)

Perfect for places with limited/spotty electricity, reading menus in dark and romantic restaurants, traversing excrement-filled streets in India at night, and reading while your partner is asleep next to you.

Packing Cubes ($38.00 for a set of three)

I am a really organized person – the kind that unpacks my entire bag the minute we arrive in a hotel if we are staying more than one night.  These are a godsend for someone like me.  No more exploding suitcase.  No more sifting through a huge pile of stuff to find what you want.  No more clean and dirty laundry sharing the same space.  Everything is at your fingertips, even if it’s at the bottom of your bag.  We use the Eagle Creek cubes and are super impressed with their durability.  We’ve stuffed the crap out of them to the point of bursting, and they come into and out of our bags almost every day – they’re still in fantastic shape.

Mini-Speaker ($12.99) and Headphone Splitter ($3.39)

When computer or phone speakers just won’t do, the mini-speaker is great for listening to music and watching movies.  For traveling pairs, the splitter is great doing the same but in public.  For the love, please don’t be that jerk that watches a movie and makes everyone listen to the audio.

4 Responses

  1. Jon Brown
    | Reply

    I love reading abou the way “the things we carry evolve over time” and the way they are subtly different for different people.

    Being a digital nomad, my list skews heavily towards tech. I talked about that a bit here: http://www.wanderingjon.com/2014/06/11/finding-worklife-balance-remote-worker/ and stuff in general long ago here: http://www.wanderingjon.com/2006/12/03/pack-list/ (lol 2006! I think it’s perhaps time for a new post on the subject). Regardless +1000 on having some kind of battery for recharging mobile devices.

    I concur with you on pack cubes, even though I often leave mine in my bag if only staying a couple days. I also carry dedicated laundry bag that I “borrowed” from a fancy hotel in Las Vegas 10ish years ago. I love that bag and have nearly lost it to laundry washers a few times. Those two things keep my clothes organized and me happy.

    I do carry a headlamp and a small flashlight, I actually use the flashlight far more often.. Usually in the room/bathroom pointing at the ceiling during power outages in Asia. When I read it’s usually on an iPad and use my iPhone’s flashlight in dimly lit restaurants and paths.

    We carried Peppermint and Clove oil in Asia as a water “purifier/stomach fortifier”. I can think of a few times I wish I had a SteriPEN. Need to pick one up eventually.

    A friend turned me on to carrying an HDMI cable so I could plug my laptop into the TVs ubiquitous in nicer rooms… a month in Europe though and I haven’t used it once. Elena and I rarely ever watch TV/Movie and even less frequently do we watch something together. Now, GOING to the movies in foreign lands is an entirely different story, we love that off adventure. That’ll be in the next “why did I bring this stuff & why did I buy this stuff” shipment home.

    • Courtney Derr
      | Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Jon. I loved reading your lists, especially the one way back from 2006. It’s interesting to see some of the overlap on more obscure items, like a second small flashlight (we ours a lot), pumice stone (which I never used at home but we bought over here) and tea tree oil, which we had to get rid of after it spilled all over our medical kit, which STILL smells of it 9 months later.

      We also haven’t used a lot of the same things, like a pack towel. Everyone has towels these days except rural Indonesia, and let’s be honest, a sarong is way better than a pack towel!

      Re: going to movies in foreign lands, we saw the Hunger Games in Ho Chi Minh, and that was so much fun. 9am, theater full of teenagers, and Vietnamese subtitles, all for pennies on the $30+ we’d pay at home.

  2. Valerie
    | Reply

    These are great travel tips! I always like to travel with a battery charger for my phone. Of course if you’re flying, you should double check your bag and make sure everything can be taken on the airplane. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Courtney Derr
      | Reply

      Thanks, Valerie! Everything on our list can be taken in a carry-on except for the knife and corkscrew.

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