General Travel Tips

Secrets of My Travel Drawer: 20 Must-pack Items

I was speaking to some friends recently who were going away on holiday, and they asked me for my recommendations on must-pack items for their trip. I ended up repeating a lot of the things that I wrote back in August in the piece below, so I thought it might be worth re-posting – New Year and all… If you have any items you can’t live without while traveling, I’d love to hear about them. Please let me know in the comments below.
… So without further adieu….

You hate packing. I get it. You’re worried you’re going to forget something crucial or pack too much — and really, you just want to get on with your vacation. I’ve logged enough miles now to know my staples; things I’ve learned after many years, and even more miles, make frustrating moments more palatable and the good times even better.

I recommend keeping all your travel gear in one place — for me, it’s a drawer. I can see all my staples easily and replenish when I’ve run out, and I’m less likely to forget something. It easily shaves an hour off my packing time and saves a ton of “Wait! Did I remember the extra batteries?” anxiety. Some of my favorites are listed below, along with tips from other travel bloggers with plenty of experience. Whether you’ve logged a million miles or are a novice explorer, these suggestions will help you pack faster and enjoy your trip more.

1. Nothing revolutionary in a carry-on bag, but here’s a tip: Put the same items in the same pockets every time. You’ll be amazed at how helpful this is when you’re fumbling under your seat during an overnight flight or need something quickly. I use a Briggs & Riley tote for all my trips. It’s good-looking but durable and large enough to double as an overnighter. The shallow outside pocket gives me easy access to passport, ID and boarding pass, and a pocket that snaps out is great for toiletries. This bag also doubles as a footrest when flying, for which my lower back is very grateful.


2. The first time a friend suggested packing cubes, I cringed. Why would I need to use fabric containers inside my luggage? It felt juvenile, as if I was one step from sewing my name on my clothes. I was wrong — oh, so wrong. Packing cubes make traveling so much easier, especially when changing hotels frequently. I use separate Eagle Creek Pack-it cubes for tops, bottoms, and toiletries. Easy breezy.


3. I always pack a package of Garnier face wipes. My dermatologist recommended them for a trip I was taking to the Galápagos Islands. She said it would cut through the heavy layers of sunscreen I would need to wear yet be gentle on my skin. I haven’t used anything else since. They don’t spill, they’re TSA-friendly, and they come in handy in steamy locales, in between showers, or when you want to freshen up during a long flight.

4-5.There’s nothing more frustrating than checking in to a hotel to find there’s only one outlet to power all your devices, so I always pack a travel power strip. It can mean the difference between hours of switching chargers and a decent night’s sleep. A universal adapter also comes in handy if you have multiple foreign countries on your itinerary.

6. Dark temples, walks through the rainforest, or a suitcase when the electricity has gone out are infinitely more manageable when you have a small pocket flashlight — and no, your flashlight app on your smartphone isn’t as good. I use the FordEx Group 300lm Mini Cree Led Flashlight Torch (headlight strength) all the time. It has a long battery life, and at less than $4 it’s a no-brainer.


7. Ziploc bags are on many travelers’ lists. They’re cheap, easy to pack, and unbelievably useful. I’ve used them for my chargers and cords, to collect shells in Florida, and to keep valuables dry on the Mekong in Laos. Bring 10.

8. If there is only one thing you take away from this post, let it be this: Toilet Tissue to Go, small, individually wrapped tissue rolls housed in their own plastic sleeves. They’re perfect for small purses, fanny packs, or pockets, and they’re essential on the road, especially in developing countries.

9. If you’re going anywhere with mosquitoes, tsetse flies, or other blood-sucking bugs, BugX Towelettes are fantastic. I first used them in Tanzania in 2010, and they have been my go-to bug repellent ever since. The individual packs are easier to manage than cans, and application is strategic and simple.

And from my fellow travelers

10. Lance and Laura from Travel Addicts take their cue from first class and create what they call a comfort kit for long hauls. They stuff their headphone case with sleep masks, earplugs, iPod with music and noise-canceling headphones, a pen, and a small medication kit with aspirin and sleeping pills.

11-13. If you find sleeping on the move difficult, David DiGregorio from Style Hi Club raves about his Dream Essentials Escape Luxury Sleep Mask: “It’s the most comfortable sleep mask I’ve found, and it blocks out 100 percent of light.” Chris Backe from Chris in Thailand opts for clothespins because, as he says, “hotel curtains never meet.” Jenna Francisco from This is My Happiness uses the White Noise Ambience App HD to drown out unwanted sounds.

14. Janice Waugh, publisher of The Traveler’s Handbooks and founder of Solo Traveler, says, “A white pashmina is my go-to scarf for a head cover, a beach cover-up, for dressing things up. I usually bring at least three scarves for variety.”

15-16. Legal Nomads’ Jodi Ettenberg makes sure to include a doorstop and a sleep sheet when she travels. They’re great for when you’re staying in hostels or other accommodations where you want a little peace of mind.

17-18. As eco-friendly travelers, Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel always carry a refillable water bottle. It “avoids wasting plastic, saves on high-priced H2O in airports, and ensures we’re always hydrated on planes.” They also make sure to add electrolyte tablets to their water when spending time in sweltering locales, where dehydration and heat stroke are a risk.

19. If you love trying street food or exploring green markets, Ever in Transit’s Cassie Kifer suggests bringing a spork: “I used it recently in the Galápagos Islands when I found a local market selling my favorite fruit, passion fruit. The serrated edge allowed me to cut open the hard shell of the fruit, and the spoon let me scoop out the tart flesh. It was perfect for an impromptu picnic on the beach.”

20. Nate and Rachael Brown from Nothing If Not International, and parents of two kids under 3, recommend Munchkin Stroller Links — that way, you can connect two lightweight umbrella strollers and avoid hauling a bulky double stroller.


Do you have a packing tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

7 replies »

    • Thanks, Tara! It’s so true. In past I would kick myself because I forgot something I needed and that was because it wasn’t in front of my face when I packed. Agree with you on the B & R tote. It’s been great. 🙂

  1. A toiletries bag with a hook that you can hang up. Saves space and they have lots of pockets. I use one made by Victorinox.

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