We recently were asked about our travel kit; the person was looking for holiday gift ideas. If you’ve been reading us for a bit, you know we have opinions; strong ones even, now and again. Next thing we knew, we’d come up with a list we think everyone will find useful all through the year! Note that most of what’s in the picture above wouldn’t make the list – “cardboard box” isn’t exactly best-in-class for luggage, but that’s everything we orginially brought with us from the US. Anyhoo…none of these are “affiliate links”, just stuff we think is useful – let’s go!
All of these items are in our active travel repetoire, if you will.
Water Bottle. The travel world has started taking these seriously, and it’s about time. We carried re-usable bottles for years because buying new plastic ones on the regular was slowly driving Lisa just a little bit . . . mad . . . about the waste and cost. Frankly, ours are from a deli in SFO, and no other airport we’ve been in sells them. (Upon further review, it seems they are a generic product that they offer to customize for businesses, so it’ll be hit or miss where you may find them.) So you’ll likely have to get yours elsewhere. They now come in .5l and larger sizes, even insulated to keep your water very very cold. Some travelers get a kind that come with filters and purification tablets, to keep themselves very safe; not a bad idea in some parts of the world (or if you have a tender tummy). While not ubiquitous, more and more airports seem to have refilling stations for water bottles – if they exist, you’ll typically find them near the water fountains and sometimes even *in* the fountain housing as a combined unit.
Carrying a reusable water bottle is better for the environment and more cost effective than buying bottled water. Bottled-water production in the US alone in 2007 required somewhere between 32 million and 54 million barrels of oil, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters (PDF). That’s roughly 2,000 times as much as the energy cost of producing tap water, and bottled-water sales in the US have grown to 15.3 billion gallons as of 2021, from 8.76 billion gallons in 2007. Bottled water is also a thousand times more expensive than tap water. Add in the fact that in 2014 nearly 64% of all bottled water sold in the US was nothing more than pricey, prepackaged tap water (PDF), and it becomes difficult to deny the value of a well-made reusable water bottle. No matter what ***never forget to empty the bottle before security, we’ve seen agents make the traveler throw their bottle away***
Packing Cubes. We love, love, LOVE, our compression packing cubes. Packing cubes, especially the compression ones, are a great lightweight solution to organizing your gear and reducing clutter in your luggage. Ours come in two sizes: small and large. The small cubes hold 6pr underwear and bras or 3 t-shirts, rolled. That’s enough for a week of travel (presuming you wear a set :-). The large size holds 2-3 bottoms (fabric pants, shorts, or skirts) and another 2-3 tops, laid flat. The more fabric the less you can pack. Our small (European compliant) carry-ons can hold two large and two small packs along with either a toiletry bag or pair of shoes.
Using compression cubes helps us travel for weeks with just our carry-ons; it’s one of our best “secret” weapons. There are many manufacturers, we chose Eagle Creek because of good reviews and they were the least expensive. YMMV.
Backpack. This may not be for everyone, but if you travel with electronics or have a bad back, we strongly recommend a good backpack. Our backpacks (John’s is the same brand, but larger to accommodate his beast of a laptop) [Editor’s note: RAHR!] are just right. They fit under seats and in overhead compartments easily, and have counted as “personal bag” on all the airlines we’ve traveled. The interior has a specially padded compartment for your larger electronics, space for personal items (like wallets, glasses, etc.) and comfortable padded straps. They are super spacious! As an example, Lisa’s bag is 44 x 32 x 17 cm and typically holds her 17″ laptop, kindle, passport holder, camera bag (with a Nikon body and two lenses), water bottle, snacks, power and charging cords, paper journal, jewelry pouch, scarf, comb, travel toiletry bag, and wallet. While they can’t “ride” on your luggage (you have to wear it), its a balanced load and won’t wear you down, like carrying a bag in your hands, or on one side (like a tote) will.
Hanging Toiletry Bag. We have two of these, different sizes to accomodate different-length trips, and have found them incredible useful over many trips. Able to hang in almost any bathroom (or nearby) they free up counter space, or provide utility when there isn’t a place to put anything (I’m looking at you The Wilder.) There is space for scissors, tweezers, or barrettes in the zipper pouch at the top. The first main compartment holds bottles (like the silicone ones we travel with, below) and suchlike. The remaining two compartments hold everything else, from full-size brushes to dental items. While its best for checking, its not hard to put liquids in the clear bag to go through security, then use this bag for the rest of your travel.
No Leak Liquid Containers. There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination and discovering that your toiletries have leaked and your clothes are a mess. And we’ve all watched in frustration as there was one person holding up the line at security because they were carrying oversized liquids. (Pro tip, they will not accept your large bottle because it’s only 1/3 full.) One way to prevent this is to get a set of silicone, leak-proof containers. Our set (not the one pictured, but very similar) of three (3) 3-oz bottles are made of flexible food-grade, BPA-free silicone. They are very easy to fill and clean and have never — in multiple trips over ten years — leaked.
Luggage Tags. You can go the “pink duct tape strapping your suitcase” route if you like, of course, just like you can tie scarves around the handle of your bag. We like to go a “slightly” subtler route and roll with very bright, patterned luggage tags. We’ve never had the slightest difficulty getting out bags mixed up with anyone else’s, except for that one time where we simultaneously flew off in different directions and John landed in South Carolina with Lisa’s bathing suits while Lisa landed in Hawai’i with John’s khakis. Aaaaaanyway… They’re easy, usually quite durable, and relatively low maintenance compared to the other usual options.
Shawl/ Scarf. This one may seem a little off-base, but bear with me. A good quality shawl will fill a lot of roles — warmth being only one. You can lay it over your head to make it dark enough to sleep. When added to an otherwise “fine” outfit, it can lift it right into “good enough for a Michelin star restaurant” territory. They fold up into a bit of nothing, and once you start using them, you’ll be a convert.
Cable Organizer. This item came to us relatively late, and we’re kicking ourselves for not getting one sooner. Our travels have required more and more plugs/cables as the years have gone on. Phone chargers, the little mini speaker we bring for white noise, connectors to get photos off of cameras… they add up. Keeping them in one of these beats the heck out of the little zip baggies that John was using before. And besides, if all the cables have a place in the organizer it’s easy to know when you’ve forgotten to pack something.
Adapters for Power. Kind of feels like a “duh”, but there are a lot of solutions in the marketplace now; if you take a moment to figure out exactly what you need to plug in you may be surprised to find something very specific (like the device pictured above) that does everything you need with a minimum of sockets. The notion of “enough” sockets in a hotel room is wildly flexible; we’ve been in places where there was exactly one usable plug, which was tricky – see our comments on cable organizers, above. John actually harbors a fantasy of finding a surge protector that has USB ports and handles the adapter issue by having female sockets of differing countries and has models that plug into sockets all over the world. Alas, it’s adapters for now.
We encourage you to buy direct from the manufacturer when possible, or from a local business owner rather than the big name stores; it’s not always possible of course, but still worth a try. Note that the images are from all over the ‘net and not meant to endorse any one product over another.