Travel Essentials: What’s Always in Your Bag?

Backpack with baseball cap bandana and cameraI can get by with one pair of socks for nearly a week. A bandana is nice but not necessary.

As travelers become more seasoned and seek out reasons to hit the road, two things usually happen. First, they learn to pack smarter and lighter for longer durations of time. Second, they discover their travel essentials.

These travel essentials range from the mundane (a baseball cap for my dad) to the sentimental (a necklace my mom gave me before I joined the Peace Corps) to the fundamental (a pair of sturdy, breathable, multi-use shoes for my husband) to the technological (an iPod touch filled with road music and an e-book, again for my husband).

It doesn’t matter where we go or what we do, there are some things that we can’t travel without. In addition to my necklace, there are eight other things I always carry with me. They are:

  1. Baby wipes – For quick clean ups and full-body baths when a shower isn’t available.
  2. Sugar-free, mint-flavored gum – Besides being a gum addict, it works in a pinch if I can’t find my toothbrush or I need to soothe my stomach.
  3. A reusable water bottle – I refill as I go so I’m always hydrated and the earth is always happy.
  4. Zip-lock bags – Where to begin with Zip-lock bags? I use them for packing, separating wet from dry, keeping small stuff in its place and more.
  5. SPF chapstick – As soon as I don’t have it, my lips are dry. It must be a psychological thing.
  6. A roll of toilet paper – I can dig my own hole, squat, hover and tolerate the world’s worst bathroom, but I afford myself the luxury of cleaning up afterward.
  7. A sarong – Found the world over, sarongs are useful for so many purposes. I’m also an advocate of men carrying sarongs when they travel.
  8. A journal – I’m a word girl. ‘nuff said.

Dissect my travel bag and you’ll always find those items, but we’re all different. So now I’d like to know … what are your travel essentials?

36 Responses to “Travel Essentials: What’s Always in Your Bag?”

  1. Donna Hull

    Give me ziplock bags, breath mints and my laptop and I’m a happy traveler.

  2. Jill

    My blood pressure pills and a travel-size container of dental floss!

  3. The Skipper

    Hand sanitizer, JUMBO ziplock bags to keep things dry, DSLR camera and bare necessity camera equipment.

  4. Audrey

    Got all of these in my pack. Gum also helps when you’re starving and in a place without food (e.g.., long-distance bus) – the little bit of sugar keeps me from having a low blood sugar meltdown.

    I’d add ear plugs to the list. I never used them before traveling, but now I’m almost addicted. There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep!

  5. Mark

    My doggy with her own pack!

    Powerbars and a water filter.

  6. Wista

    My essentials include 81 mg aspirin for heart health, inhaler, and gel (for my unruly hair!).

  7. Cory Haugen

    If it’s going to be a long trip I like to take a paperback that I can leave somewhere once I am done.

  8. Shelley B

    Some of the same stuff in your list…plus hand sanitizer and hair ties. And a hard glasses case.

  9. TravMonkey

    Nice list, gotta agree with the baby wipes!

    I tend to travel pretty light, so just some havaianas, shorts and a t-shirt! 😀


    Paul @

  10. Megan

    good list! when backpacking, i always keep some extra straps, a bandana and band-aids.

    i also never travel now without my laptop and camera!

  11. Sarah

    The spf chapstick is a must for me wherever I go and I am almost exactly the same, the second I realise I dont have my lips are tingling and sore, I cant go anywhere without it. 🙂

    Cheers Sarah

  12. Gray

    I agree with Audrey on the earplugs. Absolutely essential. I’ve also become fond of my eye mask. And when I fly–a neck pillow. It’s the only way I can sleep on the plane. Also journal, camera, antibacterial wipes, lip balm, spare pair of glasses (in case mine break–I’m practically blind without them), sunblock if I’ll be out in the sun a lot. Lots of snacks. And what would we do without the Ziploc bag? So many uses….the downside of having so many “essentials” is I can never seem to travel light!

  13. leland

    i agree the baseball cap is a must….if not the head ache from a sunburn will keep you up all night…thanks

  14. Cristina

    — cell (which is always in my purse actually)
    — step counter (which is always somewhere on my waist LOL)
    — birth control pill! (i travel wt my husband)
    — granola bars or nuts
    — camera (wt charger) + spare cards
    — laptop (wt charger)
    — ibuprofen
    — lip balm
    — baby wipes
    — tic tacs (or sugar free gum)
    — toilet paper / tissues

  15. Kelley Kassa

    After years of catching a cold anytime I flew more than 2 hours, I’ve developed my list of essentials for carryon:

    — Airborne (yes, I know some people think it doesn’t work)
    — hand sanitizer
    — hand moisturizer (to counteract dryness from sanitizer)
    — travel blanket
    — lip balm
    — EmergenC
    — water

    With the exception of the water, I keep this bag packed and just need to toss it in.

    And, after learning some lessons, here’s what lives in my suitcase all the time

    — spare phone/USB charger
    — spare travel hairdryer
    — power converters
    — corkscrew

  16. Sarah

    I definitely bring the same things every time:

    – CamelBak water bottle
    – Emory board (nail snags are the bane of my existence!)
    – Chapstick
    – Laptop

  17. neha

    mints, paperback, lip balm, hand sanitizer, notebook and pen.

  18. Doug

    * Sony PSP (with at least 3 games and 2 movies loaded up)
    * iPod
    * Headphones
    * Kindle

  19. lynn

    – headlamp
    – silk cocoon travel sheet
    – ear plugs
    – AlphaSmart neo (because it’s light and inexpensive so if it goes missing, it’s not a tragedy)

  20. Abbie

    book/book reader
    my folder with my travel stuff
    lip balm
    notebook of sort

  21. Catia

    My bare essentials would be a camera, macbook, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, hat, light summer scarf, gum, lip balm, passport ;), snack bars, water and of another vote for ziplock bags… those are incredibly handy!

  22. Laura J

    Netbook, Silk sleeping bag liner, spare credit card, mascara, hand sanitiser, camera and way too many books :). I also use a guidebook, but tend to either neatly pull the pages I need for that specific city our of my guidebook and keep just that in my daypack, or buy the PDF guidebooks, and only carry the pages I need.

  23. Nancy DeWitt

    I’m a birder, so my binoculars are always the first thing I pack.

  24. Kimala McConnell

    Flip camera – love it!!, Moleskin notebook, lip gloss, sun glasses (migraines), cell, Zune, pencil, little pill box, baby wipes (a must have), little bag of EZ dental floss picks. Other items rotate.

  25. Sandy

    Gotta have a sarong (esp for women.) Calf length skirt. Bathing suit.
    Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lipgloss.
    Sleep mask, earplugs, stretch clothes line, sink plug, padlock.

    • JoAnna

      Definitely a sarong. There is always a sarong in my bag.

  26. Easy Travel

    one thing I don’t spend time debating about is whether or not to pack a sarong. I got my […]
    My bare essentials would be a camera, macbook, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, hat,
    sunblock if I’ll be out in the sun a lot. Lots of snacks. And what would we do without the Ziploc bag? So many uses….the downside of having so many “essentials” is I can never seem to travel light!

  27. Deb

    Love the Sarong, I always carry two. I can even dress up my wardrobe at night in a tropical place with a colourful sarong. Zip Locks are always a must too. Actually, all of the above are great recommendations. I have a few additions, but the one thing we have found the most useful for charging our electronics is the Belkin Mini Surge Protector. We can charge many things at once with peace of mind and not worry about our computers etc. getting fried. Cheers!

    • JoAnna

      Great tip about the surge protector! I never thought to carry one with me.

  28. Nomadic Samuel

    Out of all those items you’ve listed it is the roll of toilet paper I find most important! 😛

  29. Robin | My Melange

    I always travel light. My musts are a black cardigan, camera, laptop, journal, pen and of course the zip lock bags!

    • JoAnna

      A black cardigan, huh? An interesting addition. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Sophie

    I get restless and irritable if I haven’t a book to read and something to scribble in. Everything else seems to sort itself out along the way.

  31. Don Faust

    Other than some of the great things already mentioned, I always pack my second pair of glasses. I don’t want a trip to be spoiled if my primary pair were broken.

    • JoAnna

      Great suggestion, Don! As a contacts person, I almost always pack a second pair of contacts when I travel.


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