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I used to be the world’s worst packer. I’d arrive at the airport with two overstuffed suitcases, yet still manage to forget a toothbrush.
For the sake of my back and oral hygiene, something had to change. Thankfully, my packing skills have vastly improved in recent years. Since Sam and I now travel with only a carry-on, packing smart is essential. Through trial and error, we have discovered which items we can’t live without and which ones are space-wasters.
No matter where we’re headed, there are certain things we take on every trip. Here is our list of travel essentials:
One of the best ways avoid over-packing is to travel with only a carry-on. If the idea of not checking a suitcase scares you more than a Stephen King novel, don’t panic. It is totally doable if you have the right bag.
We have used the Osprey Porter 46L for the past two years and absolutely love it. It maximizes space without adding unnecessary bulk or weight. Best of all, it fits within the carry-on allotment on most airlines (including budget European airlines).
You can buy it here.
Further Reading: Backpack Review: Osprey Porter 46L
In the past I’d have to pull EVERYTHING out of my backpack whenever I wanted anything, since it’s a natural law that important items always end up in the least-accessible places. Now if I’m looking for a specific shirt, all I have to do is pull out the packing cube that contains my tops. So much easier.
These are the ones we use.
I’m an insomniac at the best of times, so traveling through multiple time zones wreaks havoc on my internal clock. Even Sam, who approaches sleep with the skill and determination of an Olympic athlete, sometimes struggles to overcome jet lag.
To help regulate our sleep rhythm, we never travel without some form of sleep aid. Our favorites are Melatonin and ZzzQuil.
(Be sure to read the label and talk to your doctor before taking any new medications. We are not trained medical professionals!)
For that reason, we always travel with a few dry bags so we can protect our electronics if and when we end up in a sudden torrential downpour.
We use bags like this one. But any dry bag will do.
In preparation for the latter, I always pack earplugs. Not only do they guard against the ear-grating screeches of a teething baby, but they also block out sound if you are staying in a noisy hotel.
We recommend getting some like these.
However, not all eye covers are created equal. I like this one.
When traveling long distances and eating foreign food, you are almost guaranteed to experience some sort of gastrointestinal distress. I always travel with stomach tablets so I am prepared if and when they become necessary.
Flip flops are handy to have on any trip. They are obviously essential on beach vacations to warm climates. But we’ve also taken them to Iceland to wear at the Blue Lagoon and on other trips to wear around the hotel (especially if the hotel has a pool) or in sketchy showers.
Our favorite brand is Sanuk because they are super comfortable and high quality. These are the ones I have.
We’ve found that purchasing travel-sized toiletries is often more expensive per ounce than purchasing regular or bulk toiletries. So instead we bought reusable 3oz bottles and simply refill them for every trip.
These ones are like the ones we use.
Ex Officio Underwear
Now, I’m going to get a bit personal here. But when we find a brand we love, we feel compelled to share. Don’t worry; I’ll make it brief (no pun intended…gulp).
Ex Officio’s quick-drying underwear is designed specifically for traveling. Not only are they perfect for active days involving hiking or trekking, but they are also super easy to wash in a sink and re-wear. When packing light, we highly recommend throwing in a few pairs of Ex Officio underwear.
You can find them here.
Packing a full-sized towel is a massive space-waster. Instead, we pack an ultra-absorbent pack towel which soaks up 4-times as much liquid and is only a fraction of the size. It also dries much quicker so we don’t have to shove a dripping wet towel into our backpacks.
This one is similar to the one we use.
This is the one I use.
Whether on the airplane, at the beach, or by a cozy B&B fireplace, I love having a good book to read when I’m traveling.
It’s a bit bulky, but this is the one we use.
When traveling to warm climates, especially those in zones with a risk of malaria or dengue fever (such as Uganda), we always pack travel-sized sunscreen and bug spray. While you could usually buy some in your destination, they are often exorbitantly-priced. So it’s always better to be prepared.
What items would you add to this list?
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