The indispensable items I pack for every trip
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I used to approach the packing of travel essentials by jamming as much as possible into my luggage and carry-on bag. Unfortunately, this leads to overpacking. And I’ve learned that having to manage extraneous bags weighs me down, literally and figuratively. And so, with some recent globetrotting trial and error and some, I’ve come up with a list of the important items I now take on every trip. I hope my list sparks some new ideas and helps you plan a collection of travel essentials, all your own.
The Travel Essentials
Travel days can be long and uncomfortable. Delays happen and much is out of our control. What I can control is how I pack my carry-on bag and the travel essentials I bring to keep me comfortable and entertained on my flight.
Compression Socks for Flights
Compression socks are an important travel essential for women who travel on long flights. Sitting for long periods can put us at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) so my doctor recommended knee-high compression socks for all my long-haul flights. The compression in the socks squeezes the legs to increase blood flow back towards your heart. I now pack them for every overseas trip. Even sitting in a car for long periods can cause lead to swelling in the lower legs, so I intend to take them on future road trips as well.
Disclaimer: do check with your doctor if you have any questions about buying and wearing compression socks.
I’ve tried several brands and my favorite are the compression socks from Bombas, Women’s Performance Compression Sock (20-30mmHg compression level). They are a very soft, midweight poly blend with a nice stretch and arch support. I wore them on my recent 11-hour flight from Athens, Greece to Atlanta, Georgia — I completely forgot I had them on.
I also like Wellow. I wore them on the 16-hour flight between Africa and the U.S. They were soft and comfy, and not too tight which I found with some of the others. They come with a medium level of compression (18-25 mmHg), the range typically recommended for travel. They also have a wide-calf option.
A Reusable Water Bottle
I am not sure what is more essential than staying hydrated, and I drink more water on my travel days when I bring a reusable water bottle. At airports, I fill up my bottle as soon as I am through security, so I have water handy as I wait and don’t have to rely on a flight attendant coming around with a tiny plastic glass of water.
Just as important, by bringing bring my own bottle I can avoid buying single-use plastics. The last thing I want to do as a visitor to a new place, is contribute toward their plastics problem.
I personally love water bottles by Swell; they make great gifts (from $25) and the classic stainless bottle by New Wave Enviro ($11) has been all over the world with me, including Laos, above. For more options, the New York Times has tested over 100 bottles and selected the 8 Best Water Bottles.
I am almost certain that when you bring this travel essential along on your next trip, you’ll never want to travel without it again.
Other Carry-On Bag Essentials
A few other things I always have in my carry-on bag include a warm sweater, wrap or poncho because airports and flights can be cold.
I love reading physical books at home but always travel with a Kindle e-reader (I have the waterproof Oasis) because it’s lightweight. I also pack headphones for listening to music or podcasts, a glasses case for the glasses I am wearing, and prescription sunglasses. I love not having to wear contact lenses on vacation if I don’t want to. My favorite prescription glasses and sunglasses are by Warby Parker. I recently bought The Beale, in the color Rosemary Crystal — it’s a very pretty green.
I also have a small toiletry bag in my carry-on luggage. More about what’s in my toiletry bag, just below.
Toiletry Bag Essentials
Depending on whether I am checking a bag, I will bring some or all of my toiletries in my personal bag for my flight. If I am traveling carry-on only, I put liquids in this clear 3-1-1 travel toiletry bag that meets TSA security screening requirements but is sturdier than a plastic baggy.
For an overnight or long flight, my toiletry essentials for the plane are: hand sanitizer, hand cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, eye makeup remover (my favorite is by the Body Shop) and face wash.
For the next morning I always have my deodorant and a Face Moisturizer with SPF. More than 50% of the sun’s UVA rays can penetrate windows and cause skin damage and premature aging. There are several brands I love. I also carry a small travel hairbrush.
And last but most important is my prescription medication. I keep just enough for the trip in my carry-on toiletry bag, and I pack extra in another bag
Extra Prescription Medication
Flight cancellations, illness, a medical emergency – you never know what might delay your trip. I once had an offer to stay in Mexico an extra 4 days, all expenses paid, because the charter company had overbooked its flights. Yes, I stayed and I wouldn’t have been able to if I didn’t have extra prescription medication with me. It’s also possible to misplace medication, so I take extra and keep it separate from the bottle which I access daily.
Portable Charger & Tech Organizer
I don’t know about you but my phone feels more and more essential and that’s even more true on my travels. I use it for my boarding pass, airline apps, taking photos and videos, navigation using google maps, and for podcasts about the destination (I like Rick Steves for Europe). And I’ve noticed that many museums and attractions now have guides you can download to your phone. With all of that, my phone battery runs down very quickly. I know that when I am off on a full day of exploring, it won’t last. Add to that the unexpected: flight delays and boat trips without power access.
Luckily, there is a simple solution, a portable battery pack which I bring with me on every trip. This small, travel essential is easy to carry and allows you to charge as you go. If you are in the market for this handy device, I like the Anker which comes in two sizes. Travel & Leisure Magazine shares its top picks here: Best Portable Chargers.
A tech organizer is also great for keeping your charger, charger cords, headphones, etc. neat and easily accessible during a flight.
Essentials During Your Vacation
Scarves are one of my favorite travel essentials. They shelter you from a breeze or hot sun or cover your shoulders as you tour a church or monument that requires you do so. They’ve saved my hair from an unexpected downpour and add a fun hit of color to a neutral outfit. (They can be an ideal compliment to an otherwise neutral capsule wardrobe.)
You can choose a scarf specifically designed for travel, such as the one pictured above from Waypoint Goods. It comes with a hidden zipper pocket for storing valuables.
Hats for Travel
A hat is another of my favorite travel essentials. Wide-brimmed hats for summer, or a cute baseball hat for spring and fall, depending on where I am traveling and the weather. I have had a basal cell carcinoma on my forehead (skin cancer) so I have to be especially careful about sun exposure. And of course cozy hats are essential for winter. A hat is easy to carry and can make a difference between being comfortable while you explore and getting chilled, or too much sun. A hat can also add flare to an outfit.
A hat may not be a travel essential for every woman, but I encourage you to at least consider one for your next trip. I love the selection of hats by Tommy Bahama. I took the Laguna Drover Hat on a recent trip to Africa.
If I am going to be in the sun a lot, I wear a wide-brim hat similar to the Rafia Lurex Lifeguard Hat. I also love the hats at Gigi Pip. They are an investment but so well made. I am wearing the Isla Fedora below which I’ve taken on multiple trips.
Tote, Crossbody Bag or Backpack for Daily Essentials
The right bag for the trip makes all of the difference. Think about what you will want with you as you tour each and plan accordingly. I always carry my water bottle, unless I’m heading out for the evening when I’ll mostly be in a restaurant. I love crossbody bags such as the one pictured here. But if you have a lot to carry you might want to consider a backpack. I have two, pictured below. One is a small adventure daypack the other is more stylish and ideal for my travel days and for wearing when I know I will be doing a lot of walking and want to bring my DSLR camera.
Perhaps even more important than the right bag are the right walking shoes. If our feet aren’t happy, we aren’t happy.
Shoes for travel should be comfortable, versatile and practical. The right pairs will depend on where you are going and what you will be doing (cobblestones aren’t especially forgiving for any sort of heel, for example).
My basic rules of thumb is no more than three pairs of shoes on any trip and two of those should be shoes you can comfortably wear all day. I say two because even the comfiest shoes can give you blisters if you walk in them long enough (I was recently reminded of this in Paris) and so you need a second pair to alternate. A third pair can be more dressy, say for evenings. The shoes will change with the seasons and destinations of course, but the criteria will not.
I love loafers because they are practical and versatile and go with so many different outfits. A sandal with some arch support is my go-to essential for warm-weather trips. I like travel sandals that can be worn with shorts, pants and dresses. My recent favorite travel sandals are the Flatform by Nisolo (they run small so I sized up half a size.) I have them in almond but love the two-tone.
And of course, sneakers are the ultimate versatile travel essential for women. Choose your shoes thoughtfully, and you will enjoy the trip so much more. My favorite sneakers for travel are my AllBirds Wool Runners. They are very comfy, lightweight, and washable. I chose the color Dapple Grey because they work with almost anything I wear.
Travel Medical Insurance
Don’t leave home without this essential. “Travel medical” is insurance that will cover your medical expenses in the event that you become injured or sick during your international travels. This is not insurance in the event of trip cancellation; that is separate but can often be a part of the same policy. Travel medical is intended to cover the costs of an unexpected health emergency. It can also include coverage of trip interruption due to contracting Covid-19. For an in-depth explanation of what to look for in a policy and how to purchase travel medical insurance I suggest you read: How to Buy Insurance.
If you are located in the US, I can recommend the company I have used for my last few trips to Europe: Wanderwell. Their “Trip Protection” plans (cancellation policies) can include travel medical insurance or you have the option to buy travel medical only.
A Google Map Customized for Your Vacation
Creating a google map specifically for your trip, with all you want to see, do, eat etc. makes navigating a new place much easier. If you are going somewhere like Paris for example, you might want to save restaurants you hope to try, or perhaps a map with Where to Find the Best Views of the Eiffel Tower. Creating maps is fairly straightforward; if you would like to try it this link explains the steps. Creating Custom Google Maps. You will need an account with google, which you will already have if you have a “gmail”.
Travel can bring the chance to experience new places and new people. Depending how far afield you venture you may be visiting a destination within your own country or a new culture on the other side of the world. Things that are different can sometimes cause stress, such as unfamiliar foods, languages or customs. By approaching these experiences with a sense of curiosity it can allow us to be intrigued by and ultimately appreciate these differences.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading “Travel Essentials for Women.” What do you always take on your travels? Please share your favorite travel essential in comments below.