Last time I posted about What’s in my Carry-on, it was focused on what actually fits in the bag I was using as my handheld purse/bag. Since then, I’m very happy to say that I’ve transitioned almost completely to carry-on-only travel and avoid checking a bag whenever I can.
Since I’ve spent between 30-50% on the road for the past few years, how I pack is important! I’m going to focus on a few travel essentials I use and need which make me feel at home wherever I am. I’m going to hold back on my actual luggage and carry-on recommendations for another post. Read the other posts in my How I Travel series.
Disclosure: There are some affiliate links with Amazon in the links below – that means the final price to you doesn’t change in any way, but I receive a small comission, so your regular purchase will help support this site! I wasn’t compensated by any particular brand mentioned and opinions are my own. Thank you for reading!
My Travel Essentials
A good lip balm (or four!)
I have posted before about how I have a problem with lip balms and gloss. It’s not going away. I love them! For shine, I like Philosophy’s Lip Shine, and they don’t taste bad, either. For something you can put on endlessly without getting fatigued: Softlips (Vanilla is my favorite) is just a simple moisturizer. For some quick color, I like NYX’s Butter Gloss which comes in a million colors. When I’m at home, I use Vaseline tins – Rose Lips is great – because I don’t like to carry tins around in my purse in case they melt/leak in warmer weather.
Travel atomizers for perfume
A few years ago I would have considered myself someone who doesn’t wear much perfume, but since I’ve been traveling so much I’ve actually found myself wearing it a lot more. I carry two different travel atomizers with me at all times and I fill them upon every return. The two scents are completely different, so I can use one for evening/going out and another for lighter, day wear. The lighter scent I’m using now is Lemon Verbena from L’Occitane and it doubles as a clothes or room freshener. I think the FLO atomizer works well and I have two!
Kleenex slim packs
This is perhaps the nerdiest and favorite travel essential I have: Kleenex On-the-Go Slim Packs. After living in Italy for so long, you start to appreciate the ever-present tissue pack you have tucked away in your purse. You can buy single packs of fazzoletti, tissues, at any tabacchaio / tobacco store, the street salesmen sell them to people in cars, and you really never want to be left without one. When Kleenex came out with these slim packs, I was so happy! Cute designs, and they take up a lot less space in your purse or handbag. Cannot recommend highly enough, and I stock up constantly. I’ve seen them in a few grocery and convenience stores in the US but Amazon sells them and they’re the cheapest I’ve seen.
Since I created the Passions Dessert Journal with Moleskine you might think I’m biased about them, but I’ve been a big fan of Moleskine for a long time and I don’t get royalties so you know I keep recommending them because I love them! My absolute favorite Moleskine is the squared reporter. In general I like squared because it mixes the freedom of blank with some structure, and I think ruled sucks! The reporter format is great because I can lay out the notebook horizontally and it gives me a lot more space to write. I also like the Moleskine Cahier squared which are much smaller books and can be useful to throw into your bag for some quick notes or to use for single-subject note-taking or brainstorming. Or writing a book…
I’m not a fan of anti-bacterial gels or creams but I wash my hands often while traveling, so I end up with dry hands quite a bit. In addition to the lotion I have in my toiletries bag, I always keep a travel-size tube in my purse and an emergency tiny tube of lotion in my medical kit to avoid cracked and dry hands on a flight.
My tiny emergency one’s from L’Occitane and the almond scented one is my favorite out of these tiny tubes. If you can get a small Lemon Verbena or even Lime, that’s a great smell to have with you (and it can help keep things smelling fresh), but you might need to order directly from their site or go in-store to get the travel sizes.
I also keep a small lotion container in my toiletry bag. I love citrus scents and my as-of-late favorite is from Bliss. The W hotels, in the few times I’ve been able to stay in them, give out great toiletries and the Bliss Lemon + Sage has been a go-to. I’ve also seen discounted tubes at Nordstrom Rack.
An Extra Bag (or two, or three)
I try to pack as light as I can, but make sure I have at least one of these extra bags tucked into my carry-on and purse (usually 2 of them).
Flip & Tumble’s 24-7 bag remains a bag I pack without fail, use almost daily, and gift to everyone (remember when I talked about them in 2009?) It’s come in handy again and again and again. With all the shopping & extra bags I’ve seen, I like that this bag has a longer strap that can be carried on your shoulder because it means you can carry something else in your hands (or another Flip & Tumble) which greatly increases the flexibility you have vs. those which have to be carried by hand. It’s super easy to fold up and doesn’t take up much space. My favorite colors are black and eggplant.
Recently, I’ve also been using a zip-top roll-up bag from July Nine. They have many models, but I like the zipper-top “Sequel” one because it has an added level of security – you never know what you might have to expand it to use! These bags are not as easy as Flip & Tumble to roll up but they are handy, and I have been enjoying it quite a bit. They roll up tighter than Flip & Tumble’s similarly-sized lightweight travel bag.
A few years ago, I gave myself a Longchamp Le Pliage bag for my birthday (forest green, similar to the one above). The bag is super durable and I’ve used it as an extra carry-on, shopping bag, and even laundry bag.
The shoulder-handled versions are super comfortable, but I like my short-handled bag because it fits into the bottom of my carry-on easily and once it’s opened & full, I just slip the short handles over my carry-on handle and wheel away. I’m intrigued by the short-handled expandable bag but haven’t used it myself.
A Versatile or Extra Pair of Shoes (or two)
Traveling with a carry-on only means shoe space is at a minimum. My tennis shoes double as my casual shoes, which means I’ve been wearing these simple black Nike Free and walking miles and miles in them. I’ve been eyeing these Nike Juvenates as the pair to replace my current ones.
I also took the plunge and tried Tieks, foldable ballet shoes, and I always have space to pack these in my luggage. There is some sticker shock, but for me these shoes are not really backup shoes; they’re one of the primary pairs I wear when I travel, and with how often I travel, it means I’m wearing them a lot. I do recommend some sort of shoe insert for either comfort or if you’ll be wearing them without socks so you can keep refreshing them. These cedar insoles are what I’m currently wearing as I type.
If you aren’t ready to try Tieks, there are a ton of foldable flats available. Just make sure you’re not getting the one-wear pairs (like Dr. Scholls) if you’re planning on using them for travel/regularly. I enjoy my Cole Haan ballet shoes but my pair doesn’t fold so I usually pack Tieks.
Reusable / Collapsible Water Bottle
S’well. Kleen Kanteen. Platypus. I’ve used all of these and I switch between them based on what I need. For the gym, it’s usually Kleen Kanteen as it’s stainless steel and I can re-use and wash it often (in the dishwasher) and the optional sports nozzle is very convenient for drinking on-the-go. I have a WordPress one similar to this one. The Platypus bottle has been good for travel and rolling up and not taking up much space, but you’ll want to make sure to dry it out properly.
After I saw the S’well bottle in the TED conference swag bag, I fell in love and I worked quickly to have some made up for a work event. What I love about it (besides the fact it just looks pretty – mine is a darker ‘wood’ than the above) is the size and insulation works for both hot and cold liquids. I have a 9oz. bottle which means I don’t have to give up a ton of space to pack it with me, and since it’s refillable I don’t need that big of a bottle anyway. The insulation is wonderful and on a camping trip I made a moka pot of coffee on Friday afternoon and filled it up, and on Sunday morning the coffee was still warm. Not hot, but still! Great.
I love having a passport holder because it keeps the cover protected as much as it can, and I actually like the additional bulk it adds because it means I’ll be looking out for it and will notice if it’s missing. You can see mine above and on my Instagram profile.
Choosing a design will be hard – I tend to like colorful designs like the ‘love tree‘, ‘palace‘ and ‘mushroom fantasy‘ designs here, but Etsy has a ton of passport holders – that’s where I’d start to find a design you like or want to gift someone.
Fine point pens are the way for me. The finer, the better! I still prefer ballpoint over those gels which I feel write too heavily and run. I usually have 2-3 pens in my bag at all times, and currently I’m favoring these Pilot Acroball fine point pens and buy them by the box. They’re inexpensive so I don’t mind if I lend one and it doesn’t come back. I’m not sure I’m ready for a fancy pen but I’ll let you know if and when I do.
Placebo or not, I like to keep a few packets of Emergen-C around and often take one the day I fly, and 1-2 days after, or in case of a slightly itchy throat. My mind loves its placebo, and sometimes it’s nice just to drink something different from water that’s not a soda. I think the Pink Lemonade flavor is the best, I’ll do Orange otherwise.
Extra Battery Pack
An extra battery pack for iPhones, FitBits, and iPads is essential. My specific battery gives me about 3 charges for my phone before I have to charge it up, and pro-tip: I always daisy-chain charging up my battery and charging my phone through my battery so they’re always at 100%. You can get one in the WP Swag store for yourself.
KIND Strong Bars (Snacks!)
I was a fan of their original bars, but I love the new Strong bars which are a mix of a sweet and salty, and are in interesting flavors like Thai Sweet Chili or Roasted Jalapeño. They have 10 grams of protein with 6g of sugar (relatively low for an energy bar) so I don’t feel like I’m eating a candy bar. I keep two in my bag in case hunger strikes and it usually saves me $2-3 from buying them or something else in the airport.
I always have an eye mask in my carry-on in case I need to black out everything for a bit and get some rest, wherever I am. That’s the thing about keeping things in my carry-on – they’re not just for the actual flight and transport, often they can help with wherever I’m staying or end up. The eye mask I’m currently carrying is from TUMI and is lightly padded, but I haven’t seen it online. I’ve been eyeing a lavender eye mask/pillow (I had one years ago like this) for a nap once in a while.
I definitely have a love of scarves. I have a gigantic scarf bag, and I recently got scarf hangers to keep them organized and visible and they work great. No matter what the weather is like outside, whether it’s 90F or freezing, I always have a scarf when I travel, and I always wear one on the plane.
For my in-flight scarves I prefer lightweight and natural fabrics as it will be very close to my skin (vs. winter scarves which might be part of multiple layers) and lately I have been favoring silk scarves and packing at least one regardless of weather as it’s good for both mild and cold weather. I will usually switch to a lightweight linen or cotton scarf for very warm weather. Infinity scarves are great for people who don’t want to deal with tying or folding the scarf.
Here are some more places to look for scarves: Desigual. I don’t really like their clothing but all those colors in a scarf work great. I also have an older version (no armholes, but buttons) of this multi-wear cape/scarf from Muji and I enjoy it, and I’ve bought some cashmere scarves from there as well. Etsy also has a big scarf selection, and many are handmade, and Nordstrom has a ton of scarves, too – this travel shawl looks super comfy.
Fitbit / Step tracker
With a pretty unpredictable schedule and lots of travel, I’ve been relying a lot more on a step tracker to remind me to stay moving. I have gone through multiple iterations of the Fitbit (previously a Flex devotee) in the past 3 years, but I think they finally got the design and size just right with the Fitbit Alta. It’s a little smarter than the Flex so I can see the time if I want to (I disabled the “quick look” however) and a few other stats, but it’s not bulky so that I feel like I’m Wearing Something on My Wrist. I also like that you can set reminders to move (at least 250 steps per hour) and the band will remind you if you haven’t met your goal each hour at the :50 mark.
What are your favorites for travel? Read more about how I pack and prepare for travel.