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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