It has taken me a while to get my personal checklist of what I need when traveling just right. After eight years of traveling for either work, to volunteer, or for adventure, I feel that I finally understand my travel-self well enough to know exactly what I need with me to make sure my trip is as good as it can be for me.
I recommend you making your own list for reference. Your list will, of course, look different from mine – you have your own individual needs and deciding what you absolutely must carry with you really depends on what kinds of experience you are anticipating having and what makes you the most comfortable when you are away from home in unfamiliar, and sometimes unaccommodating, environments. Here is what I have come up with and the reasons why I can’t leave home without these items:
What I Pack for Comfort
-Personal towel - Most of the time, as a woman in her thirties, I stay in hotels where plenty of towels are available in my room, so this wasn’t an issue until I realized that often, those hotels don’t like it when you take their bathroom towels to the beach or pool. I carry my own towel everywhere I go now so I don’t have to even think about it whether I would be breaking any rules.
I purchased the REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe and I love it. It was inexpensive and comes with its own bag. The towel even has a clasp, so you can hang it off balconies or off the back of a golf cart after a beach day to let it dry without risking losing it.
-Neck pillow – This was something that I was sure I didn’t want or need because I happen to be great at sleeping on planes. I also hated the bulkiness of a neck pillow and the idea of the dangling off the back of my luggage seemed annoying. But then I found the inflatable version that fit into my purse and I was sold. As I fly more and more, I found that I am often stiff and have back and neck pain at not-so-ideal times, and therefore I don’t always get to be my physical best before a long flight. The neck pillow has really helped to make sure I can adjust to positions that won’t put further stress on my body. Added bonus: neck pillows are great all-the-time pillows! Need to nap in the airport? Ready! Sleeping on the beach? No rocks in the back of my head! And when I don’t want to look at it, it gets so compact. I picked mine up at the airport and it was well worth the $12 I spent.
Eye mask – But, aren’t my eyelids already eyes mask, you say? Ok, I am sure no one actually said that. Eye masks have two main purposes for me – first, they really, really block out the early morning sun blazing in the airplane window or the overhead light from the person sitting next to you on the plane that is staying up all night to read. Secondly, an eye mask sends a strong message: I am sleeping. Do not disturb. Small and lightweight, it doesn’t take up any room in my bag, and it helps after the flight too – if you are adjusting to a different time zone after a trip to the other side of the world, and eye mask will keep your hotel room nice and dark as you get your body and mind well-rested and adjusted.
Scarf – I can’t go anywhere without a scarf. I started carrying a scarf in case the airline didn't give me a blanket to wrap around my head while trying to get some much needed rest on my flight. But then I found that it was necessary in every part of my travels. If you are adventuring in countries where you might be visiting mosques, temples, or historical sites, as a woman, you will often be asked to cover your shoulders, head, or neck our of respect or tradition. A scarf will guarantee that you don’t have to have your entry interrupted so you can run across the street and buy a t-shirt or pants that you didn’t anticipate owning while your husbands waits patiently for you in line (I have had to do this on multiple occasions). I also use my scarf as a beach cover-up and even a beach blanket when needed. So diverse, so necessary.
Blazer – If I am not traveling with work, I tend to only bring clothes with me that I am prepared to get dirty, but I don’t always want to look casual when I visit other countries. A blazer is a great way to make it seem like I got dressed up for dinner, or a visit to a museums or monument while still allowing me to pack lightly for a trip.
Yoga Mat – This is tough because it can take up a lot of room in your bag, but I love my folding yoga mat. I used to just rely on stacking towels on top of one another in my hotel room and then trying to exercise or stretch that way, but I still wasn’t completely protected from the hard, and sometimes gross, floors and the sliding cotton fabric meant I often couldn’t get a good workout. If you are not too worried about missing out on exercising while on a trip, skip the yoga mat, unless you plan on visiting a place with really rocky beaches, like Croatia, where your mat will really come in handy while you bath in the sun.
Headphones or earplugs - I don’t rely on airlines giving out headphones any longer – since many of them now use Apps to encourage passengers to watch TV on their own personal electronic devices, I bring my own headphones along to watch downloaded Netflix episodes and listen to Podcasts to pass the time. There have been many occasions where I didn’t even listen to anything on my headphones, but I keep them in my ears to signal to a chatty seatmate that I am occupied, or to drown out the sounds of late night talkers on an overnight flight.
Packing for Security and Safety
Visa information – This is something you need to do well before you leave for your trip, but also make sure you have it with you when you arrive to your destination. Don’t get caught not having the correct Visa requirements and make sure that you have printed versions of your confirmation of Visa purchase and acceptance. No exceptions.
Printed flight details – I was almost denied a flight in India that I had booked and paid for in full because I didn’t have a printed copy of my itinerary. I wasn’t even allowed entry into the airport without it, so I couldn’t see a ticket agent to ask for help. Thankfully, after a lot of begging, the rules were bent for me, and I was allowed in, but it was a lesson learned. Don’t rely entirely on your phone when traveling – it doesn’t help you in countries where many people are still using travel agencies and don’t have the same access to technology as we are accustom to in the United States.
Copy of passport – You need two – one to carry with you, and one you leave at home where it can be easily found. If you happen to lose your passport when traveling, at least you have the information you need to prove who you are when getting a temporary replacement.
Drivers License and printed copy – This only really applies if you are planning on driving in another country, but I like to bring my ID to carry with me while I am outside of my hotel. I don’t ever recommend carrying your passport once you have arrived in a foreign country - it is much safer locked away at your hotel or guesthouse. The copy of your Driver’s License is if in case you lose your ID and still need identification.
All credit cards and debit card – If you can believe it, I used to travel with cash only. Like, I literally went to another country outside of the U.S. with only my passport and a few hundred bucks. I was in my twenties, and the world was different then, but now I love that I have not only a credit card to earn points while traveling, but a back up credit card for emergencies. I still bring cash with me from home, but I definitely bring my debit card in case I decide to splurge on a fancy dinner or transportation ends up being more expensive than I anticipated. There are also many times when payments are only accepting in cash when traveling abroad.
Packing for Health and Wellbeing
Tuna Packets – I am a pescetarian (a vegetarian that eats seafood) so I worry about getting enough protein in my diet, especially while traveling. I always buy Tuna in Water packets from the grocery store before I travel and throw them in my bag – they are flat, don’t weigh much, and easy to eat anywhere. One packet is enough to fill me up when I need it.
Condiments – mustard and mayo packets from the gas station really help making the tuna taste even better. And you never know - they might come in handy when making cheese sandwiches out of the back of your rental car while on the side of the road in Serbia.
Collapsible kettle – This is the best purchase I ever made. When I realized that I often get up earlier than breakfast is served at a hotel, or I am somewhere very remote where coffee is not an option, this is a life-saver considering if I can’t have coffee the second I open my eyes, I get very upset. As long as there is running water and electricity where I am staying, I don’t have to worry about not getting my caffeine fix. When not making coffee, I heat water for tea, or for ramen noodles.
Instant coffee – see above.
Metal cup – see above. It is also lightweight, can be used for wine as well.
Reusable water bottle – One of the hardest parts about traveling for me is the waste that I create, especially when visiting countries where the water isn’t safe to drink. Before you know it, you have gone through countless water bottles all that end up in our oceans. Just say no to plastic whenever you can – carrying your own reusable water bottle with you is the simplest way to help save our environment.
Utensils – Collapsible and easy to store, a spoon and a fork will keep you from wasting plastic and comes in handy when snacking in your room late at night on dinner’s leftovers.
LifeStraw –LifeStraw products use a hollow fiber membrane to filter water so you can be sure that you are drinking safe water while traveling abroad. There are so many places, even when staying at upscale hotels, where the water is unsafe to drink. If you want to avoid drinking dozens of bottle of plastic water bottles, a LifeStraw works perfectly with your own water bottle.
Hand sanitizer and wet wipes – You absolutely never know what a bathroom situation is going to be like when traveling, especially when being adventurous in less developed countries. I have seen it all, and it is not pretty, but when nature calls, you have to go, which is sometimes behind an abandoned building or in an outhouse with no ventilation. Forget toilet paper or sinks. Don’t ever go without hand sanitizer and wipes in your bag.