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Disclaimer: I Mess Up A Lot
I’ve lived abroad for a decade. I’ve traveled all across Europe and South America. You would think I’d be a packing pro. You would be wrong. I always manage to pack sweaters when the weather turns out to be boiling, and forget jackets for chilly nights. I overpack, I underpack, and I forget to check the weather forecast. But even though I often bungle it up in the clothes department and I’m not now nor will I ever be a carry-on only packer, I DO have some travel essentials that I never leave behind.
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But I Still Do Alright
Self-deprecation aside, I think I do a pretty good job in the packing department. And after so many years of travel, I push back on some of the “must-have travel essentials” most people insist on traveling with. Special neck pillows, enormous noise-canceling headphones, I never saw the need for these things. I see those people in the airport. They have the pillow hanging from their backpack (that they then put on the floor, then later they put their face on it, on the pillow that has been on the airport floor, don’t do that). They wear the headphones draped over their neck while they wait around, and that doesn’t look comfortable at all. Use the sweater you may have overpacked as a pillow and bring earplugs, save the carry-on room for souvenirs.
My Travel Essentials
Enough of what you DON’T bring Erin, what DO you pack?
Reusable Water Bottle
Bring a reusable water bottle. You’ll hear this advice over and over, and that’s because it’s good advice. Bring a water bottle, preferably an insulated one that will keep cool drinks cool for 24 hours. Aside from keeping your drinks cool, they won’t sweat condensation all over your bag. There are a lot of brands and price ranges but S’well is my favorite.
Flights are dehydrating and most airports offer bottle-refill stations for you to fill up after passing through security.You’ll also be served well by bringing a full bottle of water with you when you’re out and about at your destination. Or to think outside the box, a large S’well bottle holds an entire bottle of wine. We filled mine with cold rosé to enjoy on the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, or you could enjoy a cool chardonnay inconspicuously on the beach. THE OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS.
I’ve packed many a shoe that I thought was sensible, and many a sneaker has betrayed me and left me in pain. We cover a lot of ground when we travel, walking from end to end of every city we visit. At my wit’s end after a weekend in New York, I ducked into a store and bought soft-bed Birkenstock Arizona sandals. These are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned. I’m in love with them, and they don’t look like orthopedics, winning!
What are your favorite shoes that don’t kill your feet but also look stylish? I’m asking seriously (I need help), please tell me in the comments what you’ve found!
Travel Yoga Mat
I never travel without my Manduka Travel Mat. It folds up to the size of a pair of jeans and only weighs 2 pounds. Use it to practice in your hotel room or to try out yoga studios in your new city (without having to use the dreaded rental mats).
Pack-It-Flat Toiletry Kit
This toiletry kit takes up the same amount of space in your suitcase as a pair of jeans. I can fit EVERYTHING in it in an organized manner and hang it in any hotel’s bathroom to have access to my things without having to unpack anything. Game changer.
A Pouch Full of Toiletries
I always fill a cloth pouch in my purse filled with anything you could possibly need in a pinch. I recommend always having sunscreen, hand cream, hand sanitizer, medicine (aspirin and stomach medication), band-aids (for those inevitable blisters) and a packet of tissues (most public restrooms around the world do not have toilet paper).
Rick Steves Guides
I don’t really care for travel guides. There’s not much in them that you can’t find online these days. Except for Rick Steves. Rick Steves is a MUST if you’re traveling to Europe. His guides are very informative. He always has easy to follow walking tours of the cities, guides for museums (that have saved me money on audio guides and official tours), and amazing “where the locals eat” restaurant recommendations. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, his guides only cover Europe.
It’s hard to beat a Kindle. Carry all the books you want without weighing yourself down. Download all the books you think you’ll read before you leave home, just in case you don’t have a strong internet connection where you’re going.
Reusable Grocery Bag
My favorite brand for these is Baggu. The large size can hold up to 50 pounds, not that you’ll need that much, but they are sturdy. They have the cutest patterns and fold up into a tiny pouch when you aren’t using them. I always need them when shopping for souvenirs in the markets or to save on plastic when grocery shopping for food for my Airbnb. You can get Baggu here, and other options here, here, and here.
Travel days are long and iPhone batteries are not. Free yourself from having to always hunt out the power outlets in airports and bring power banks with you. I bring a large one that has 5 full phone charges of power that gets me through long travel days. I also have a smaller one that I always have in my purse in case I need a quick charge when I’m out and about.
I actually used to hate wearing sunglasses. But I had to give in, my light blue eyes burn SO badly. I got tired of ending long days walking in Barcelona with dried, sunburnt eyes, or the relaxing day on the beach in Rio, or even after a long day on the road in South Africa. At the end of the day, my eyes hurt so badly! Protect your eyes!
And finally, a scale to weigh your overpacked suitcase. I always weigh my suitcase before leaving for the airport just in case. Airlines don’t mess around with those overweight fees!