Packing for a trip can be stressful: to bring or not to bring? Will you regret leaving a hat for the beach at home or will it be worth carrying around for a week? What about a really cute pair of heels you might wear out one night?
Knowing what you need to bring and what you can leave home can be tricky. I have found Rick Steves’ packing list to be a good base, but I’ve figured out a few items that either substitute in it or complement it well.
With that in mind, here are a few products that can make your travels easier.
I hadn’t ever thought of this until my world traveler friend made the suggestion. It was a forehead smack moment for me. It seems so simple, right? You can shove a handful of these plastic bags into any unused cranny of your suitcase and they are good for multiple uses. I have used them for everything from protecting my camera from moisture, sealing up an unfinished snack, stashing collections of seashells and driftwood or containing the seawater on my bathing suit from the rest of my bag.
I like the pint-sized bags so I have an extra one for my liquids at the TSA checkpoints. I keep one in my purse throughout the travel day just in case.
Bar shampoos and conditioners
The same friend who recommended Ziplocks pointed me toward these, too. The shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush solve two problems I run into while traveling: 1) the bars cut down on liquids to take through airport security and 2) I can count on having enough shampoo and conditioner to last through the trip that is also of a good quality. I can’t be the only person who is consistently disappointed by free hotel shampoo in both quality and quantity.
These bars will cost you about $10 each, but they can last for a couple of months, if taken proper care of. I like the Lush bars because they are good quality and made with food-grade ingredients.
To stretch the life of these bars, only keep them in the bath or shower area when you are using them. After you’ve finished bathing, allow them to air dry and remove them from moist areas. I keep mine on the edge of the sink until the bars have dripped dry (usually after I have gotten ready), then I put them in an open Ziplock baggie to complete drying before I seal the bag and put them away.
I bought these after seeing them in a demonstration of my eBag suitcase. Once I had determined which sizes the demonstrator used, I purchased six, anticipating I would fill each one.
Roughly following Rick Steves’ packing list — adding and subtracting items as I went along my trip, including a pair of boots and an additional small purse — I was able to fit all my rolled-up clothing in four of the cubes. The nylon squishes the fabric into a compact satchel, but the mesh gives just the tiniest bit of stretch so you can fill it to capacity. I brought along one of the extra cubes to stash souvenirs and other loose items I collected on my trip.
Baggu small reusable and standard reusable foldable bags
These are great when you are in need of an extra bag to separate your dirty laundry from your clean clothing or for shopping. The nylon bags come in a bunch of great colors, patterns and sizes, wash well and, since they are lightweight and small, I can carry one in my purse at all times.
We wrote about these when they debuted, and since then, we’ve tried them out on the road.
These inserts have a few things going for them that make them handy for travelers: they are thin, taking up little space in luggage, they protect the insides of your shoes from odor and moisture and they are padded with socks. In other words, they make the sockless trend bearable for the wearer and travel companions.
It should be noted, however, that since they do increase the padding in shoes, you will want to try out any walking shoes with these ahead of time. If you are purchasing a new pair of shoes in anticipation of a trip, take these to the store with you to be sure the insoles do not create any uncomfortable pressure.
This is one of those things you don’t think you need until you are trying to watch a movie or listen to a podcast with your traveling partner and struggling to hear the dialogue.
Splitters are a great way for you to each have your own headphones or earbuds for the plane or an audio guide at a museum.
Hand sanitizer just smears dirt around your hands and quickly turns into a sticky mess. Wet Wipes are a traveler’s best friend when bathrooms are few and germs from thousands of tourists or commuters are on every surface.
In addition to killing germs, though, these wipes can wipe up spills or act as a quick substitute for showers or toilet paper in a pinch (you never know).
Securing luggage brings peace of mind, but if you’re checking a bag, officials may need to get inside. Instead of TSA rendering a lock useless, buy a TSA-certified lock that they have keys to.
Vaseline or Bag Balm
A Rick Steves recommendation, these ointments are especially helpful in the first part of a trip when feet are still soft. I have found it is most helpful to rub some Vaseline or Bag Balm on the tender parts of feet and cover with socks before going to bed. In the morning, the ointment will be absorbed and your feet refreshed.
If you are a reader, these slim and lightweight devices will quickly become a favorite. With help from your local library, you will never run out of books to read on the beach or during travels. All you need is a library card and a computer or phone with Internet connection.
I took a photo on my phone of my library card so I won’t forget the number but don’t have to carry an additional card with me. I also download a few different types of books — a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, heavy and fun, romantic and mystery — to make sure I have a book at any given time to match my mood. There's nothing as embarassing as crying like a baby while kids build sandcastles on the beach because you wanted to read but only had "The Book Thief" on your Kindle that day.
Readers, tell us: what other travel essentials did we leave out?