After 30 years of solo travel, I’ve developed my own unique list of essential travel items you may not find on other packing lists. Once you start using these 10 items needed for a trip, you’ll wonder how you lived without them!
1. Dr. Bronner’s soap
When traveling, I hand-wash undies and socks daily to extend the time between laundry days. Dr. Bronner’s soap is great for laundry and can also serve as body wash, shampoo, or even toothpaste in a pinch (I recommend the peppermint scent if you’re going to brush your teeth with it!).
It’s organic, vegan, fair-trade, and biodegradable, and the scents are incredible. My favorite is almond, which smells like marzipan or amaretto.
A little goes a long way; one bottle lasts several trips. In addition to Amazon, in the US you can usually find it cheaply in bar or liquid form at Marshalls.
2. Hand sanitizer wipes
I always pack a stack of hand sanitizer wipes and keep a couple in my day pack when I’m out and about.
They’re great for those situations when you really want to wash your hands but can’t, such as after eating greasy street food or using a dodgy public toilet.
These are unscented and don’t leave a weird smell on your hands if you use them before eating.
I buy this must-have for travelers cheaply in bulk on Amazon.
When crossing many time zones, I take half a melatonin pill for several nights after arrival to recover more quickly from jet lag. I do the same on my return.
Melatonin has been shown to be more effective at treating jet lag from traveling eastward, such as from the US to Europe.
Read what Harvard Medical School experts recommend about using melatonin for jet lag. Of course, always consult your healthcare provider before taking any kind of supplement.
4. White noise MP3
Listening to a white noise track on repeat is sometimes the only thing that allows me to sleep in the noisy environment of a hostel or Airbnb.
I find white noise mixed with the ambient sound of rain very comforting and calming. A great cure for insomnia!
5. Mini contact cards from Moo
Moo MiniCards are a great conversation piece and a fun memento to hand out to new friends on the road. I always get lots of oohs and aahs over these cute little cards! It’s easy to create customized cards using your photos, with contact details on the reverse.
When giving a card, I usually fan out a selection to let the recipient pick their favorite. The matching card holder is indispensable. Click here to get 20% off your first order with Moo.
6. Moleskine travel journal and glue stick
Moleskine notebooks have deservedly garnered a cult following for their design and quality. I bring one lightweight journal on each trip and write daily entries.
I also use it to preserve the tickets and paper souvenirs I’ve collected, gluing them into the journal every few days during the trip to create a nice remembrance for later.
7. PacSafe travel safe with combination lock
This portable safe is a travel must-have. It’s a huge relief to be able to leave my valuables in an Airbnb or hotel room without worrying about them.
In your room, lock the safe to something immovable like heavy furniture or a radiator. I use the 12-liter safe to store my laptop and DSLR with large zoom lens, but you may be able to use the five-liter safe if you have less.
I also use it when I store my suitcase temporarily in reasonably secure locations like hotel baggage storage or a luggage locker. I place the valuables I don’t want to lug with me, like my laptop, in the safe, put it inside my suitcase, and lock the safe to the luggage handle with the cord extending from the inside. Since the cord is thin, the bag can be zipped almost completely shut.
When I travel between locations I pack the PacSafe flat in my suitcase. It can also be rolled up. It’s light, doesn’t take up much space, and looks innocuous, so it’s not in danger of being stolen.
8. Gifts for locals
I always plan gifts in advance for people who make a special effort, like homestay families, language teachers, and volunteer guides. And I carry extras to give spontaneously to especially helpful Airbnb hosts and new friends I meet on the road.
Successful gifts have included:
- Fridge magnets featuring my hometown (my Breaking Bad Albuquerque magnets are especially popular!)
- Creative thank-you cards from Etsy, or with images of my home state
- Small scenic calendars of my home state
- Locally made products like gourmet chocolate bars, handmade soap, and coffee
- Cute souvenir dish towels
You can wrap the gifts ahead of time or bring small gift bags and tissue paper along, packed flat.
9. Kindle Paperwhite
E-readers are perfect for travel; they’re so much lighter than lugging a stack of physical books. I also love being able to check out books from my home library from anywhere in the world!
The subtle front lighting of the Kindle Paperwhite allows me to read in dimly lit hotel rooms, and its non-reflective screen prevents glare in bright sunlight. It has great battery life too.
10. Google Phone with Google Fi plan
If you’re US-based and like Android phones, I highly recommend Google Fi, Google’s innovative low-cost phone carrier that covers 200+ countries.
I’ve successfully used Google Fi in 20+ countries on three continents over the last six years. Love crossing a border and having instant coverage. No more local SIM cards or roaming charges!
US monthly rates consist of a flat fee of $20 for unlimited calls and texts plus data at $10 per gigabyte. Overseas rates are identical except that calls are 20¢/minute. Fi is currently only available to US residents.
Fi works on most Android phones and iPhones, although Google phones designed for Fi offer the best experience. I currently use the 128GB Pixel 7 and love it; the camera is outstanding.
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Have feedback on these travel essentials or more recommendations for must-have travel accessories? Please share your travel packing list suggestions in the comments.
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So interesting, Ingrid! Some good ideas for my Argentina trip!
So glad it was helpful, Barbara! =)
What a practical and useful post!
Hi Ingrid, thanks for the tips, we will definitely “implement” some of these ideas on our upcoming trip to Mex.City. Viele Grüsse! -David
Thanks so much for stopping by, David! Abrazos a ti y a Vero!