Favorite Travel Items

I’ve made a couple of big trips lately, and although I’m (almost) home for a while, I’m not really a good traveler so I take a few things along to make traveling easier and more comfortable. Here’s a list of things that I don’t leave home without, to make life a little more pleasant on the road, and in the air…

Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask

My whole travel life changed with the Tempur-Pedic eye mask, which is the only one that blocks out all light and doesn’t hurt your head and make you feel like you’re recovering from brain surgery. It also doesn’t press on your eyes, which is said to discourage REM movements, necessary for good sleep. It takes a few moments for the memory foam to conform – and you look like a robotroid wearing it – but when you’re blissed out in total darkness, who cares if others on the plane think you look funny having a puffy black band around your head.

They used to sell them at Brookstone but replaced them with another eye mask for whatever reason. (Amazon seems to be habitually out of them as well.)

And there is a Rick Steves Travel Dreams Sleep Mask that is said to block all light, but with all those dark angles and pleats, it might make your face look like the batmobile.

Noise-Canceling Headsets

I once lost my noise-canceling headsets and I refused to get on an airplane without them. Okay, that’s not completely true, but I was really not looking forward spending eight to ten hours listening to the drone of airplane engines, which are actually a lot louder than you imagine. How much louder? Put on a pair of noise-canceling headsets and you’ll see. I just upgraded to a pair of Sony headsets and while I was considering the Bose ones – and they probably are that much better – I wasn’t sure if they were $200+ better.

The Sony ones I use work well, are less than half the price, and I’ve been happy with them. But don’t forget to bring a few extra batteries, and not just one. Because once I dropped my only battery sitting in seat 27E and it went quickly rolling down the length of the plane, under all the seats, and landed somewhere up in first-class.


For someone who gets up in the middle of the night (ie: man over 50), stumbling around in a strange room (no, it’s not what you’re thinking) can be problematic. Having a small flashlight handy really helps keeping your toes unstubbed when walking around an unfamiliar room in the dark. I like these flashlights because they are slim and are pretty rugged but I’ve learned to buy ones in vivid colors, since the black ones tend to get accidentally left behind on nightstands. There are now LED flashlights that are supposedly more effective, but until my regular Maglite fails – or I leave it behind, again – I’m taking it with me.


Question: What’s worse than trying to get a good night’s sleep when the sun is filtering into your room in the morning? Answer: Nothing. A lot of hotels don’t have light-blocking curtains. And worse, some have bright streetlights or signs outside, which I am certain are there to keep me from sleeping. In order to close any gaps in the curtains, I bring along a few clothespins to seal those vexing curtains shut. (Tip: Clothes hangers with clips on them in hotels work just as well.)

Tiny Notebooks

While I like my Moleskine ones, I go to drugstores in the US or bring along the Rhodia ones I find at paper shops and some grocery stores in France. Each tiny little notebook cost around $1/€1 and are easier to slip in a pocket than a Moleskine. Plus I don’t feel so bad ripping out pages if I need to hand someone an address or a note, like I do with my larger notebook.

Click-Style Pens

This may seem kind of trite but I bring click-style pens, rather than those with caps, which can come off and get lost. Or worse, the cap comes off and scribbles your dress shirt. I’m a big fan of Uni-Ball pens at home, but be aware that many are not intended for travel and can leak due to cabin pressure on airplanes. Some newer ones apparently don’t do that.

Swiss Army Knife

The Swiss Army Knife with a wine opener is the one I bring along. Of course, you can’t take it in your carry-on. But it has so many functions that I always slip one in my suitcase if I’m checking a bag.

French Train Mix

Because you never know when you’ll be stuck at some airport (such as Charles De Gaulle, which has a poor selection of food choices), I never go to the airport without a bag of trail mix or some homemade combination of dried fruit, toasted nuts, and chocolate. Even if my flight is just an hour, by the time I leave for the airport and arrive at my destination, it can be half-a-day (if you’re lucky!) and because I get cranky when I’m hungry, as a courtesy to my fellow travelers, I bring along a little bag of “train mix.”

Silicone Ear Plugs

I like my noise-canceling headsets just fine, but they’re hard to sleep in. I’ve had a lot of trouble with foam ear plugs, which hurt my ears if I wear them for a while. The flexible silicone putty-style ear plugs, made by Mack’s, work the best for me and stay put. I buy them in drugstores in the US. Always follow the instructions that come with earplugs, and use as directed.

Bucky Neck Pillow

Even though this takes up a lot of space, I always feel like I’m going to pass out when I blow up one of those inflatable pillows. If I’m going on a trip longer than eight hours, I bring my Bucky neck pillow along for the plane.

Razor Case

I don’t know why these are hard to find, but I got my Radius razor case at Flight 001. It’s odd that drugstores often carry plastic travel accessories but not shaver cases. There’s a list of places that carry them on their website, as well as on Amazon.

Soap Case

I stopped using hotel soaps in the little plastic bottles because it just seems like a waste to me, all that plastic. And sometimes those little bars of soap they give you are so over-scented, they make my skin itch. (And some stink to high heaven.) So I bring along a reusable soap dish with my own soap in it.

Coffee and Milk Powder

I’m not so big on those little cuplets of non-dairy creamer, and as much as I like black coffee during the day, in the morning, I need milk in my coffee. And before you get irked that I suffer through powdered milk, I’m a lot more insufferable when I haven’t had my café au lait in the morning. I get dosettes in France, but others can buy powdered milk in boxes and pack it in smaller reusable containers. (If you want to see how powdered milk is made in France, here’s a video, in French. Although is it just me, or that guy at the beginning look like he’s up to something else with that cow?)

I bring a few Via coffee doses along, made by Starbucks, which do depend on your having access to hot water. I know people are pretty high on their Aeropress coffee makers, and other gadgets, but as much as I love good coffee in the morning, packing along a coffee press seems obsessive. (Although I bring clothespins. So what do I know?)

Timex Alarm Clock

I like this clock because it’s flat, it’s easy to use and to read, has a snooze button, and doesn’t tick all night like some other travel alarms. Which for a sensitive sleeper like me, is like having a grandfather clock chiming all night next to my bed. And it’s also not so bright that it illuminates the entire room.

(For some reason, an online search keeps bringing me to this Elgin model, which looks similar. But the Rick Steves site seems to carry the Timex alarm clock that I have.)

There’s a large snooze button which doubles as a way to illuminate the time, which is written in large block letters, so for those of us with aging eyes that can’t see all that well in the middle of the night, it’s nice to be able to see what time it is. Or how much longer I have to sleep.

What are some of your favorite travel items that you don’t leave home without?

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  • Once I’ve gone through airport security I always buy a large bottle of water, add 4 sachets of rehydration powder (Dioralyte in the UK) and sip throughout the flight. Since the air in airplanes is drier then the Sahara it prevents the hungover-feeling that usually comes with jetlag. Works every time.

    My other must-take items are a Squishy pillow, a soft blanket, thick fluffy socks, pashmina, foam earplugs, sleep mask, moisturizer, hand-cream, lip salve, sleeping pills for red-eye flights, ipod/ipad, kindle/book, some healthy snacks and baby wipes.

    I find Longchamp folding bags work really well as hand luggage.

    I will definitely invest in some noise cancelling headphones before my next long-haul trip and would like to hear which Sony ones you use, David.

  • Lovely list, actually gave me a few ideas. I don’t travel as much as you do, however, so the need is less, well.. urgent :-)

    For the plane, I’d add bringing a vest, hoodie, whatever floats your boat and indeed, thick socks. Especially if you are supposed to sleep! The temperature drops and it can be really uncomfortable otherwise. The good news is: you can always take it off again if you get warm. Bringing something to nibble on and preferably to give you some energy works as well. I use prepackaged slices of cake (I”d bring my own homemade ones, but with today’s airport security I’m sure they’d be convinced it contains anthrax or something else nefarious).

    What I can recommend to everyone is using a dreamsack while traveling. I’m pretty sure you can make one yourself quite easily, but due to my husband’s sensitive skin and allergic reactions to some types of detergent – and because it just feels really good – we use the ones Yala sells (http://www.yaladesigns.com/travel). We’ve had ours forever. They also work quite well if you aren’t entirely certain of the level of hygiene of your hotel/hostel. Because they’re silk, they pack really, really small. The drawback of course is more limited movement. But really, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in some cases!

  • This is not a conventional travel item, but I’m a bit addicted to baked beans and they have to be ‘heinz’. If there’s even the slightest possibility that they won’t have them where I’m travelling to, then a stash of three or so cans (depending on length of stay it could be more, lots more) are coming with. I can foresake most travel items, but lack of baked beans, no.

  • A small roll of duct tape can be a lifesaver. I’ve used it to fix a ripped hem, tape curtains closed, patch a torn suitcase, the list goes on and on …

    I also bring a small rubber doorstop. As a woman staying alone in hotels, I like the added security of knowing no one can enter my room while I’m sleeping.

    And I never travel without this little power strip.

    With this, I only need one plug adapter and I can charge all my devices. And having all my chargers in one power strip means no more walking out of the room and leaving my phone charger in the outlet under the bed. I haven’t lost a single one since I bought it.

    By the way … iSkysoft makes software that will rip DVDs to any Mac format … iPhone, iPad, etc. I ripped a bunch of yoga and exercise DVDs for my iPad so I can get in a workout even in the hotel room.

    • Yes, a doorstop is a good idea. Most larger hotels in big cities have good locks and so forth, but smaller places often has flimsy doors and hardware, so that’s a good idea.

      Interestingly, I was reading an article about the huge amount of chargers that people leave behind in hotels & how hotels have so many on hand. A friend recently bought a laptop case in hot pink and I asked her why she got something that was so ‘noticeable’ – and she said she read that less laptops get stolen in colorful cases than black ones (I guess because they are less-discreet and harder to pilfer?) so when I got my Maglite, I bought a colorful one rather than black, which tends to get lost or left behind. That outlet strip looks great – they should make it in hot pink : )

  • Gum is definitely a necessity. Having a flavour in your mouth just makes long travel times less boring…I suppose it’s because one of the only things you are thinking about is when you will get your next meal! Not to mention it helps with the ear-popping during airplane landings.

  • As I’m gluten-free and now vegan, I bring my own home-made granola in single-serving ziploc baggies. I can buy soy milk at any Starbucks and voila, breakfast!

    • Starbuck’s takes a lot of hits, but when you’re traveling, it’s great to have one nearby since they often have a lot of healthy options, like fresh salads, fruit, soy milk, and other stuff. Since I’m not necessarily a fan of sitting in a hotel dining room and having breakfast, it’s nice to just grab a coffee and granola and take it up to my room instead.

  • Fantastic list: There is one other thing I’d like to add.

    Prescription and over-the-counter medications. Always take the important ones with you in case they lose your bags. It happened to me. Thank God in Spain there are lots of them you can get without prescription.

    Life is good. Thank you.

  • all these suggestions are great, but I don’t see post it notes – great for marking the pages you need each day in guide books (or places on maps). I also found that the maps we took or obtained along the way were really hard to read in poor light (eg in metro stations) – it happens to most of us past 50!! Next time I will take a magnifying strip and or reading glasses!
    I always save the salt and pepper sachets on the plane – the salt especially comes in handy while travelling. Oh, and I take washing powder – I hate highly perfumed stuff.

    Next time I go away I will take a spare dental floss – we ran out in Paris and could not find floss anywhere – maybe they have special dental hygiene shops that we didn’t see?

    • You can find dental floss in pharmacies (but usually not supermarkets) although it’s quite expensive since it must not be commonly used. I use it daily but make sure I have a full roll in my travel kit since I can only use one brand so I like to make sure I have enough – most of them break off in my teeth, which is enervating.

  • Love the topic — and I’ll add one more. I’m usually not one to go for this kind of thing, but I got a bit into aromatherapy after my yoga teacher used to slather us in oils during shavasana (I know, I feel cheesy for even typing these words), and I now mix up a blend or two of essential oils and put them in tiny travel bottles from Muji. Lavender is probably the most useful — I use it to relax on the plane, use it to freshen up a little bit during or after a transatlantic flight, put it on my pillow in the hotel, put it on achy muscles, and so on.

  • Yorkshire teabags for a familiar cup of tea first thing in the morning.

    My Loro Piano cashmere wrap for on the plane or anywhere really.

    An indian pareo which I prefer instead of the bulky bathrobes in hotels.

    Power Monkey which charges everything.

  • As a flight attendant I can only say “Thank you!” In today’s world of air travel you really do have to bring what you need. Please remember that as much as you think you paid for a ticket, it probably doesn’t even cover the price of fuel for getting you from A to B.

    I tell my family to bring ANYTHING they ABSOLUTELY need, such as pillows, blankets or special food. You can bring an empty water bottle though security and fill it up. Please bring anti-bacterial wipes and wipe down the tray table and bathroom. I cannot stress enough to NEVER walk into the lavatory without shoes. NEVER do that. And please bring a jacket/hoodie/sweater and socks. Airplanes are cold even if you’re going from hot place to hot place.

    Your suggestions are spot on and thanks for sharing your experience. xo

    • Whenever I’m in the states and see someone boarding a plane, wearing shorts and a tank top t-shirt, I always want to say: “What are you thinking?” Invariable the airplane temperature fluctuates wildly for warm to ice-cold, and it’s pretty well-known that airlines don’t supply blankets much on domestic routes & I always seem them tangling with flight attendants because there aren’t blankets anymore and they’re cold.

      You folks work so hard and are often caught between passengers and airline policies, that you have no control over – thanks for taking the time to give us some “insider” tips!

  • I need to travel more so that I can have such a extensive list of go-to items! I’m with you on the train snacks. I like to bring my homemade granola to keep my blood sugar at the appropriate level.

    Other items I’m always packing: one cloth shopping bag for unexpected goodies I may need to bring home with me and my iPad (for meditation, inspirational talks, and reading).

  • eyedrops! (artificial tears, that sorta thing). especially if you wear contacts. mine always feel like they’ve been sealed to my eyeballs after a long flight unless i give them regular and liberal dosages.

  • David-about your maglite, they now make LED bulbs you can use to convert your old maglite. Just google LED maglight bulbs.

  • A lovely article. I would like to point out that while noise-cancelling headphones work well, why not try a good closed headphone? You might never go back to noise-cancelling ones again. As for Bose headphones, it is the opinion of many audiophiles that Bose is an overpriced brand and that you’re better off with others. Just thought I’ll say that :) Have pleasant future trips!

    • My headphones are both closed and noise-canceling (Sony makes an over-ear model, which is a little slimmer) but I tried them both on and thought the over-the-ear ones would be more comfy. I can tell a big difference when I switch the noise-canceling from on to off with mine, so I do think they’re a worthwhile option. I once did try the Bose ones from someone sitting next to me and I can’t really recall exactly how much different they felt than mine, but they are about 3 times the price.

  • I always travel with thick booties or ballet slippers w/leather soles to walk through the plane; a soft, cashmere and/or wool blend pashmina that doubles as a head scarf or turban which really knocks out the noise and cold air~~yes, I look like a giant amoeba but it keeps me warm and undisturbed; a mirror to check what’s behind me instead of always turning around to see if the aisle is clear to go to the loo; and a good piece of decadent chocolate that I can throw a bit into morning coffee or let melt in my mouth while dreaming of some exotic affair that’s never going to happen, but hey! that’s why it’s only a dream.

  • I LOVE my Aeropress but no way I’m going to travel with it!!! I always take my ear plugs too. Too many times I lost sleep because of snoring, teeth grinding, talking in sleep, etc. I think I’m gonna have to get that Tempur-Pedic eye mask!

  • Radius also makes the best travel soapdish.

  • Can’t afford noise cancelling headphones so I make do with a couple of white noise tracks on repeat on my mp3 player. Helps with snorers and loud hostel rooms.
    I also wear flight socks on long haul (and seem to be the only person who still does these days – have I missed something?!).
    I’m another grumpy person if I’m deprived of food (and it seems to trigger migraines) so I always have snacks to hand.
    Then just the usual : books, mp3 player, fleecy jumper, notebook/journal (I love Moleskine!), prescription medications

  • Great article but you have to pick and choose or else you will be carrying half of airplanes load lol

  • a bottle of sweet chilli sauce!

  • Ziplocs in several sizes!

  • Ziplocks, tupperware and silverware. Ziplocks so we can bring cheese home. Silverware (including a Swiss army knife) so we can eat restaurant leftovers or other snacks in our hotel room. Tupperware always seems to come in handy for something.

    I buy paperback books at Goodwill for 50 cents and then toss them when I am done reading. Someday, I might get a kindle, but for now, paperbacks work fine.

  • If you can’t find those Tempur Pedic Eye Masks and you already use a Bucky neck pillow, have you tried Bucky Eye Shades? They are 100% light blocking and don’t press on your eyes. I just flew coast to coast and the Bucky Shades were wonderful. I actually slept on the plane! AND they come with their own earplugs!
    Also LOVED your book The Perfect Scoop. If anyone likes ice cream, they must read this!

  • I bring a washcloth (facecloth). Most European hotels don’t have them and they are great on the plane too. It feels great to wash your face on long flights. For some reason Mack’s kid size ear plugs feel the best for me, even tho they are dayglow orange,

  • Good choices David! I always go for the Bucky pillow, Bucky 40 blinks and the soap case. Must haves!

  • Good call on the duct tape, whoever commented with that suggestion. To save space, pull the tape off the roll it’s sold on and wrap it around a reusable water bottle! Yeah, it’s a little weird looking, but you will have your tape with you wherever you go, and you reduce bulk.
    I also never travel without a length of thin cloth – I use kangas (colorful sheets of cotton) that I bought in Africa but anything works. You can use it for literally anything – a sheet to cover up with, a picnic blanket or beach towel, a shawl, a wrap skirt, swimsuit coverup…
    Tea bags or instant coffee (and a travel mug! protip: pack sunglasses or other delicate items inside when not using it) save sooo much money when you’re caffeine dependent and on the road.

  • as an Australian, when i am going for an extended period of time, i take Vegemite staves any pangs of home sickness and helps any place feel like home, and its good for you !

  • Besides the ones mentioned, I like bringing a small spray bottle filled with Evian or just plain water and Earplanes. I spray the Evian on my face, neck, arms and moisturize often, and use Burts Bees lip balm. Earplanes are phenomeonal! If you have ear problems and not being able to pop your ears these are great: Just wear them during landing and take off and you won’t have the cotton filled ears when you land.