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Saturday, June 11, 2016

10 Must-Have Travel Items (That Aren’t Clothes or Toiletries)

Yes, clothes are important, but there are a few things I always have packed in my carry-on, because they are necessities that I’ve learned to take with me after years of travel. I’m still working on paring down my toiletries and sometimes the clothing I pack that hardly ever get worn, but these things are tried and true for me and I believe they could be just as useful for you as well. Here are 10 of my must-pack items:

must-have travel items

1.       Ziploc bags
You never know when you’re going to need a spare bag for something. I carry a variety of sized bags with me for snacks, leftovers, wet stuff, receipts and anything else. They come in dead useful for tons of stuff and they take up no space, so you won’t feel bad if you don’t use them, but you’ll kick yourself if you don’t bring them at all.


2.      Pop-up laundry hamper
I found a great mesh laundry basket some years ago with sturdy handles and inside and outside pockets that folds up. I take it everywhere and use it as a hamper and then use it to take my dirty stuff to the laundry room and back. It’s heavy duty enough to carry a bunch of wet clothes, if I want to hang them up instead, plus there’s room for quarters, soap and a game if we stay while the clothes are washing.

I learned my lesson when I had to carry two loads of laundry three blocks to a laundromat and then had to drag them all back half wet, because the dryers didn’t work well. The handle on my cheap tote broke on the way back (better than on the way there, I guess) and made me hate life. Problem solved. Even if I end up staying in a rental with a washer/dryer, I can keep all my dirties separate without them just sitting in a pile in the corner. 


3.      Small bills
Sometimes when you travel, you gotta have cash, either for toll roads or coffee or whatever else. Not all places take credit and will turn you away if you only have a twenty or larger. Make sure to have at least $20 in fives and ones on you before you leave home. This happens most often in foreign countries. 


4.      Kindle/tablet 
I love books and magazines, but carrying a bunch with you pretty much defeats the purpose of packing light. I remember when I used to pack a book that I was reading and then finish it partway through my trip and then get mad about not having anything else to read, or would have to find a book swap. Those days are gone with the invention of ereaders and now I can carry a ton of books (and magazines and podcasts and blogs and games) with me on my iPad mini. And if I have WiFi wherever I am, I can also check/send email, listen to streaming music and download new books/magazines.
5.      Back-up battery
With so many electronics coming with us everywhere, it just makes sense to bring extra power with you. While we usually just use our phones much of the time, that can really sap their juice. We each bring a battery back-up with us to keep them charged all day while we’re out or traveling. It’s especially helpful when you are on a long plane ride and only have your own stuff for entertainment. 



6.      Paper copies of everything
You never know when something’s going to go wrong. Keep a copy of your ID, credit card and passport with you just in case. If you’re worried about having these available for thieves, then take photos of them and either email them to yourself or put them in a sharing folder somewhere, like Dropbox or Evernote, where you can bring them up anywhere and print them if you do need them. (Don't forget your packing list!)


7.      Ear buds/headphones
Let’s face it. Ear buds suck. Even the good ones, but it makes no sense to pay $3 for the crappiest pair on the planet just so you can watch the overhead movie on the plane. Buy a pair that you can keep in your carry-on, or get a really good pair of noise-cancelling buds/phones that you don’t hate and want to use. I mean, even if they’re just for watching a random episode of Friends (airlines are weird), it’s worth it to just bring your own than paying for a new pair every time.

please excuse how bad I look in this picture, but this is how we travel overnight.
8.     Eye mask
If you’ve ever been sleeping really well and then woken up by blinding sunlight at 5:30 in the morning because of that stupid gap in your hotel curtains that just won’t shut, you won’t wonder why this is on my list. You can never go back to sleep after that either. Of course, it also helps when flying and needing to block out daylight to catch some Zs and can’t sleep without darkness.

9.      Ear plugs
What’s that? Construction at 6am? Just why? Maybe your travel mate is a snorer or there’s a crying baby in the next room (or in the seat behind you). You never know when a pair of ear plugs will be useful, but you’ll be mad if you could use them and you didn’t bring any. 
10.   Pen & notebook
You might need to take down a number, fill out a form on the plane, get directions or jot down your thoughts on that fantastic wine you had at dinner. Whatever comes your way, having an actual pen and some paper can really come in handy. If you’re crossing borders while flying, you’re always going to need to fill out a customs paper. Have at least one pen for your group. Bring more and you can be a hero for a neighbor or two.

photo credit
Bonus must-pack: A few months ago, I picked up a 3-pack of antibacterial handwipes from the local dollar store. These have come in handy when a sink wasn’t available to wash my hands, to clean mud off my shoes, to wipe down the tray table and to clean a kid’s sticky face. I keep a pack in my purse and another in my carry-on, so I always have them at my disposal. They’re less messy than antibacterial gel, have more uses and don’t have to go in your 3-1-1 bag. And they only cost a dollar!

So, when you travel with these, you'll be ready for just about anything that comes your way, whether it's loud, bright, sticky or any number of other inconvenient things. 

What are your must-have travel items?
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