My Five Favorite Travel Items

I am not a good traveler and I get whiny and irritable when I’m the least bit uncomfortable.
Even more so than usual.

There’s nothing I like better than tucking into my own bed every night and arranging the jumble of pillows just-so in my own very-special configuration. So unlike the rest of America, I sympathize with Paris Hilton and am not keen on sleeping in strange places or being cooped-up either.

But unlike Ms. Hilton, when I’m not comfortable, I don’t have any fancy lawyers to call so I have to fend for myself. Since summer travel season is revving up, I thought I’d share my top five travel items that I find indispensable for sleeping and keeping yourself in the best shape possible on your journey to Paris, or wherever else you might be heading.

Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask

If you’re a light sleeper, chances are just the slightest amount of light will wake you up. There’s lot of flimsy eyemasks on people’s faces out there, but they don’t fit very well and if you’re like me, any morning light entering can jolt you into an early-morning reality that you might not be reluctant to deal with.

The Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask is made out of that fancy memory foam and after wearing them for a minute or so, they conform to your face and block out every single itty-bitty morsel of light. If you’re trying to block out the world and get some sleep, to adjust quickly to the local time, get yourself a pair of these. Pronto.

Noise-Canceling Headsets

While they’re yet to come up with a model that will eradicate the noise of all those people screaming into their cell phone at the airport, strap these over your head and prepare to sink into a world of bliss. You never realize how loud those airplane engines are until you switch on these headsets, and most annoying noises (the airplane engines, not the jerks on their cell phones) simply disappear.

Seasoned travelers swear by the Bose headsets, which are great (which I learned from swapping mine for a moment with the passenger across the aisle from me last week), but there a few less-expensive options. I have a pair from Sennheiser, which are lightweight and compact, and pack easily. But I’m looking forward to losing them so I’ll have an excuse to upgrade to the superior Bose. Either way, I won’t get on a plane without a pair of these in my carry-on.

Excedrin PM

I’m not a big fan of taking pills, which puts me in the minority with the Paris crowd. But I am a fan of getting a lot of sleep. (Which puts me in the majority in in Paris, France.) And there’s nothing worse than trying to sleep when you’re uncomfortable sitting on a plane, crammed in coach with some knucklehead fast asleep next to you hogging the armrest or drooling on your shoulder.

I’ve tried a few prescription drugs, which puts me in the majority in France, and Hollywood, but even the heavy-duty Ambien doesn’t work for me. But Excedrin PM always does. (Actually, I take Target PM.) I take one pill and it puts me out pretty well. Two if I really want to get really knocked out. Some people report it makes them feel goofy the next day, but I haven’t had that problem. Or perhaps that just my normal state.

(Of course, first check with your doctor to make sure before taking any medication or pills.)

Pad & Pen

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve led guests through Paris (France) or met friends that are traveling who invariably pump me for local advice and shopping tips. When I start reeling names off, they panic and start ripping through their bags and purses looking for some scrap of paper to write it all down. Since I like to practice remaining calm while other people panic, even if I have paper and pencil, I don’t offer it and instead use this time to reflect on my very personal Zen koan“Why do people ask a question when they are unprepared to deal with the answer?”

I love my sturdy Moleskine notebook, but I’ll often buy a few cheap spiral-bound note pads just for jotting things down, like addresses and phone numbers, which I can tear out and jam in my pocket to refer to later.

Big, Strong Zip-Loc Bags

Frankly, it’s just plain dumb to go anywhere without these. They take up less than .00001% of the space in your suitcase, and allow you to buy mustards, olive oils and wine while your traveling, and get them home with relative safely.

I use mine, doubled-up, for packing everything from Spanish olive oil to elegant chocolate…although they won’t properly contain the aroma of French cheeses. And you don’t want to get off the plane and have an “Oh my God!” moment.

I put everything I can into Zip-Loc bags. While I’m not a big fan of lots of plastic, I re-use them over and over and over again and I am certain I have a few circa 1994. And don’t be stingy and buy the cheap bag either: the best are the thickest ones intended for deep-freezing.

A few other things I pack along: A bar of good dark chocolate, Bach® Rescue Remedy, David Somerset’s Shaving Oil, homemade trail mix with chocolate chips, a Bucky buckwheat neck pillow (which is bulky but oh-so-comfy), and, of course, a trusted Sharpie or two.

What are some of your favorite travel must-haves?

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  • June 8, 2007 11:49am

    Sadly most of the things I used to take with me on flights are no longer permitted through the checkpoint at Dublin Airport. They used to be (for travel to South Africa):

    a 2l bottle of water
    a prepacked meal (KLM food sucks)
    snacks (for the midnight munch)
    two good books
    a notepad and pen (always get ideas on flights)
    a mp3 loaded with music and fresh batteries
    a camera (to capture the tropical storms over central Africa and for when we are circling over Table Mountain).

    For shorthaul flights I stuck with
    a bottle of water
    some snackfood (all airlines flying out of Dublin charge for everything)
    a book to read
    a notebook and pen
    the mp3 player
    the camera (for crossing the Alps – taking pictures of snow covered mountains has become something of an obsession).

    I always thought the little pillow was a great idea but I always think twice of it when I see the price…

    Since all the travel restrictions were put in place I now travel with the mp3 player, a book and I buy water and snacks once through the security at the airport.

  • Aaron
    June 8, 2007 11:58am

    You are such a pastry chef! Pads and pens and organization…you crack me up. Hope to meet you at some point while you’re here at your many events in the Bay Area.

  • June 8, 2007 12:09pm

    Tylenol PM (probably does the same as Excedrin.) Eye drops and hydrating nose spray (ew, gross, but it’s good on long flights.) Water, water, water. Moisturizer and chapstick. Cozy sock and loose fitting clothes for long flights. FLEECE.

    For me it’s all about sleep and hydration, and everything else falls into place.

  • Stephanie
    June 8, 2007 12:10pm

    This should be 2 lists: 1 for the flight and 1 for the travel.

    For flights: earplugs, hand-sanitiser, moisturiser, a loaf of sourdough bread (to settle the stomach of nervous travellers).

    For travel: who doesn’t carry pens and paper always? -Maalox, a “soothing face mask” for when you don’t sleep, and a stain stick of some sort (I’m partial to Spray and Wash).

  • June 8, 2007 12:52pm

    I do hope you will post a picture of you in the eye mask.

  • Martha Nelson
    June 8, 2007 12:54pm

    Thanks for all the wonderful education.
    My husband is a pilot and he never leaves the house without his own down pillow.
    When he is a passenger on an airplane, he uses the little foam earplugs as soon as he takes his seat.
    Enjoy your trip.

  • Nice list! Good to see we have quite a few in common (headphones, Moleskine, ziplocs). I would add the following:

    – special pair of socks (especially if wearing sandals and/or large boots) to keep your feet warm/clean
    – (moist) makeup remover/face wipe for a pre-landing touch-up

  • June 8, 2007 2:37pm

    1.Unisom sleeping pills (gel-caps work fast!) but I only do deep sleep on west-to-east flights.
    2. Targus noise-cancelling headphones (remember to take both jacks — airlines have one-hole or two-hole inputs)
    3. Yes, the disgusting nose moisturizer – mine is called “Flight Spray” and a pharmacist in NYC insisted that I buy it. I owe her big time.
    4. Air-Borne fizzy vitamin C tabs that you add to water. Who knows if it really helps fight those plane germs, but it can’t hurt to drink more and more and more water. If you bring a small empty water bottle the attendants will usually fill it up for you.
    5. Warm old socks that I throw out at end of flight (who wants to re-pack something with plane-floor mung all over it?)

    Bon voyage et bon retour–

  • Bob
    June 8, 2007 3:26pm

    Target PM?!?

  • June 8, 2007 5:27pm

    In case I’m stuck behind a 7 year old brat kicking my seat, I bring along a cattle prod…i mean chocolate to scare the shit…i mean…bribe him to stay still

  • Jora
    June 8, 2007 5:56pm

    A nice pair of travel slippers always makes me feel so clean and civilized when in a hotel room. Also, I always take a pashmina on a plane to cover up with (I don’t like putting those airplane balnkets near my face).

  • June 8, 2007 6:55pm

    what do i LIKE to take on a trip? I’d like to take a lot, but I am already packed as a mule with all the stuff for the little ones ;-)
    on long-haul flights, i always take an inflatable ball on which i rest my feet (they keep your extremities moving and thus are supposed to prevent DVT), as for sleeping: i don’t like medicine at all, so i always go for the homeopathic way: coffea (yes, that’s coffee for you) is a great remedy.
    i also take a face spritz (body shop orange is my favourite), not only does it refresh, you can also fend off annoying fellow passengers ;-)
    and since i someimes struggle with the pressure in my ears, i always have chewing gum for landing, the constant masticating keeps the ears from tapping.

  • June 8, 2007 8:37pm

    Well! Since I’m now stuck in the Richmond, Virginia airport for an unexpected three hours, which will leave me overnight at JFK until an 8 am flight home to Seattle (the nation’s worst travel day, some news organizations are calling it)?

    I’d have to say wi-fi, so I can pull out the computer and read this entry.

    Thank you, sir.

  • June 9, 2007 9:24am

    I would add crossword puzzles, crappy entertainment magazine or a Harper’s, and ipod to the list. I generally try to catch up on periodical reading – sleeping on a flight is a terrifying idea to me …

    But like most of the others, water and skin/lip moisturizers are by far the most important items for me.

  • June 9, 2007 10:05am

    I can’t fly without my Earplanes earplugs (I use the child size). I suffer horribly from the pressure changes and these work wonders.
    I also love the Moleskine notebooks. And I make sure I have a good, reliable pen.

    My husband and I just came back from 16 days in Italy and here’s a few items we were glad we brought:

    – a compass (got a little one on a key ring to attach to my bag. used it a million times)

    – individually wrapped wet wipes

    – small roll of travel toilet paper

    – crocs!

    – blister pads

    – body glide (for feet)

    – packets of woolite

  • June 9, 2007 9:38pm

    thanks for all the tips, especially the excedrin pm! I’m about to go on a long trip and also don’t sleep well on planes.

    I take a nice big book of Kakuro. I take books too but never end up reading them, and just end up doing the Kakuro.

    Steamy Kitchen: Yeah, i’m wondering if i can sneak a blow-gun with tranquilizer darts through security!

  • June 10, 2007 12:19am

    Steamy Kitchen: Good idea. Do you think it would work on the moron in front of me who jams their seat back (for some unknown reason) at full-force?

    Jill: A compass is a great idea. There’s company that makes travel maps that embeds a compass in the corner of the map! (Here’s the one for Paris.)

    Shauna: Boy, I wish I could travel with WiFi. I was stuck without access all last week. You Seattle folks are so techno-saavy : )

    Clotilde: I’d be happy to take a picture of myself wearing it, but I think it’d be too difficult to do completely blindfolded!

    Musicalchef: Well, this knucklehead in front of my at security today was all miffed they wouldn’t let him take his Swiss Army Knife on the plane, so I think tranquilizer darts would be another no-no.

    Johanna: The ball is a great idea. I wear compression socks and I love ’em. There’s a store in Paris that specializes in, well, specialty socks—all kinds, makes, and models. It’s not on most people’s itineraries, but it’s one of my favorite places in Paris!

    One more tip: I bought my Tempur-Pedic eye mask on Ebay for less than Brookstone outlets at the airport, but I couldn’t find a link. It really is one of my favorite things, though.
    (Oh..and one more: Burt’s Bees Carrot Cream moisturizer. It’s rich and thick so it keeps your skin nice and hydrated.)

  • June 10, 2007 6:15am

    What a FUN post!

    I never leave home without my…

    Those decompression earplug thingies for takeoff and landing.
    Those horrid black decompression sock things on board
    A small paint box to keep the air hostesses amused…
    My real dice bracelet to divert the attention of the customs officers-always works.
    And an apple for breakfast…

  • June 10, 2007 9:31am

    Love the ‘real dice bracelet idea Carol!
    : )

  • June 10, 2007 12:28pm

    After living in Switzerland and travelling to five other countries, and spending a great deal of my time on the various trains, I worked packing down to a fine science. My trips were always short, just for the weekend, so everything that I took was in my northface backpack. Some of the most crucial things that I took despite my location were: an ipod (to commence sleep on a train), a great pair of walking shoes, my moleskin (which inevitably contained a great bit of research of the location that I was going to), an understanding of how to at least say please and thank you in the native language, breakfast, (for the trains, because as I found out the hard way, if you leave Brussels and are bound for Luzern, the first stop you will make that allows enough time for you to get food is five hours away), preferably something that I picked up at the saturday farmer’s market in which ever city I was in, my U.S. Cingular phone, for emergencies, because as I quickly find out, those orange click phones don’t work outside of Switzerland, and of course my digital camera. Also, if I was travelling on a night train or at least at night to the destination, whom ever I was with and I would always go to Migros and get some cheese, crackers and vino for the ride.

  • June 10, 2007 12:33pm

    Other than the regulars…earplugs, moleskin, tide stick, lipbalm, etc. I’ll add…

    I always pack a foldable, collapsable bag in my suitcase. This way I can fill up on treasures and not have to worry about fitting things in my suitcase.

    I also use an eye mask that works pretty light and compact too…called ’40 blinks mask’ by Bucky.

    I pack several small travel candles, so my hotel room can always smell nice…if in fact it smells ‘funky’ when I get there.

    Happy travels!

  • June 10, 2007 2:11pm

    To pass the long hours in the air — going to or from the airport (it seems to take more than 1 hour to get to most airports these days from the city center) — I bring a file folder filled with Sunday SF Chronicle Magazine crossword puzzles by Merl Reagle (and the answer key!). I have a routine for each Sunday: look at the usually worthless articles in the Sunday magazine, notice that the food critic has once again reviewed a place in the Wine Country (doesn’t SF, the Penisula, or East Bay have any restaurants?), then tear out the puzzle and key.

    I have also taken to tearing out potentially interesting articles from magazines and putting them into my travel folder. When I’m finished with the articles, I either toss them or leave them with my hosts at the other end. The New Yorker is an especially good source because I can never finish an issue before the next one arrives!

  • AlliK
    June 10, 2007 4:21pm

    My must-have for sleeping in unfamiliar places is a travel-sized white noise machine by Marsona. They even have a dual voltage model so all you need is the little plug adapter to use in US/Europe.

  • June 11, 2007 9:56am

    I have to have an eye mask and ear plugs which are both helpful for the plane and anywhere you find yourself that you wish you weren’t. My husband calls me sensory deprivation woman and he’s right…and always a little envious when I’m able to block out the screaming baby in the next room and he’s not. I’ve also started using an expandable suitcase. I make sure it’s zipped down when I begin the journey and it’s always such a relief when I’m packing for home and find I’ve purchased one too many souveniers to be able to pop it up a few extra inches and store my stash. I also carry a corkscrew because you never know when you’ll find yourself under perfect people watching tree with a bottle of wine…

  • June 11, 2007 3:19pm

    The last five years I have flown 150K miles, both long and short haul.

    ipod with nc buds
    airborne or some such
    lip balm
    comfortable pants
    advil or tylenol
    sudukos (usually the calendar pads)
    notebook (moleskine works fine)
    mechanical pencil with extra lead and new eraser
    sharpie and heavy duty ziplocks for addressing the collismo xls we send back from Paris
    eye shade from amenity kits if we’re in coach
    small desertspoon if I can cadge away a bespoke yoghurt in the lounge between flights
    an extra pair of smalls and socks
    toothbrush and toothpaste

    sense of humor

    Always make sure your cell phone is charged and you have your airline number already programmed.

    Oh, other than chocolate and other comestibles, I stopped buying geegaws when I travel and now only buy socks.


  • June 12, 2007 9:43am

    I’m forever flying between Heathrow & South Africa & I have to say that if I could inflict lasting pain on anyone it would be the guys who hatched the liquid bomb plot – they have made long-haul flights a lot less comfy for me!! Ideally I want:

    a LOT of bottled water (can’t take it with you if you are flying from London via a European city to SA – damn!)
    Aspirin (don’t want DVT now, do we!)
    Nivea hand cream
    Blistex Lip Medex lip balm (the absolute best)
    Vitamin E oil (for the unhappy skin around my eyes)
    my favourite huge red pashmina
    foam earplugs
    a hairbrush (because nobody looks good after a night of vigorously rubbing the back of their head against an airline seat…)
    a good book
    my compact camera (because you never know what you might see…)
    pen & paper (I’m forever writing a scribbled journal or blog ideas down on planes!)

    I also always have Ziploc bags with me, as well as a collapsible bag in my suitcase for extra purchases. I’m off on a trip home in a week – yippeeee!

  • June 12, 2007 1:48pm

    Great tips here! I just got a small MP3 player, and plan to load it up with my favorite NPR podcasts and “This American Life” episodes to listen to. I just have to find some headphones I like.

    One of my ‘gotta-haves’ is a good manicure kit with a decent nail file- nothing annoys me more than having a snaggy nail I can’t do anything about. I also have my lip balm and hand sanitizer.

    I carry a laptop computer with me, in a very roomy Targus backpack, which gives me room for a change of clothing, TSA-approved toiletries, the latest computer and science magazines, a couple of novels, and a bag of trail mix to snack on. I tend not to eat much during in-country travel, and just drink water and maybe have a snack. Airport food is way too expensive for me.

    I’ve discovered that ginger Altoids are great for air-sickness. Or, barring that, crystallized ginger.

    With all the craziness over that guy with the antibiotic resistant TB, I think I might add an N95 mask to my boarding bag, too- especially when I’m flying during cold and flu season.

  • June 26, 2007 4:15am

    “Why do people ask a question when they are unprepared to deal with the answer?”

    Because it looks so vulture-like to hover with pen-in-hand in the hope – often unfounded – that the questionee will answer.