Packing Essentials: 5 Things a Travel Writer Never Leaves Home Without

Family Travel on 10.31.12
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Photo: elitatt/Creative Commons

Whether I’m packing for a cross-country road trip or a beach vacation, for business or for pleasure, theses are my essential travel items.

1. A large scarf

colorful scarf
Photo: Francisco Osorio/Creative Commons

I’m astonished how few women I see sporting scarves at the airport; it is the one thing I never take a trip without. A scarf is an inexpensive way to add versatility to your wardrobe, but it’s so much more than fashion that keeps me toting this accessory when I travel. For starters, it doesn’t require actual toting: a scarf can be worn around your neck, tied around the handle of your suitcase, or wrapped around your waist.

I rarely fly first class, which means no painfully thin blanket and flat pillow for me; my super scarf quickly transforms into a blanket on chilly flights. It can also be balled up into a pillow if I’m really desperate. On the ground, my oversized scarf has been worn as a swimsuit cover-up for unexpected pool-side meetings and as a turban when lost luggage left me with no hair products. I’ve used it to stretch my travel wardrobe during extended stays, dress up basic cottons and tie a tourniquet after an automobile accident. OK, fortunately that last one hasn’t happened, but if it did, I’d be prepared!

2. My iPhone

Photo: Matthew Pearce/Creative Commons

I don’t have an iPad and I never travel with my laptop anymore; my iPhone can handle all of my computing needs on the road. I download my boarding passes to my smartphone, access my itinerary and reservations from it and use an app to navigate public transportation systems. My iPhone has also replaced my much larger cameras for most trips, giving me more freedom to actually enjoy my surroundings.

Of course, a smartphone is only as valuable as its access to the World Wide Web. A nationwide plan with ample data usage is as important as the hardware I slip in my pocket. Travel abroad requires an even more flexible (and costly) plan or an international SIM card. I also make sure I’m staying at a hotel with Wi-Fi whenever possible.

3. A portable phone charger.

Photo: iGo

Obviously, a dead phone is useless. And, relying on my phone as much I do when I travel puts a serious strain on the battery. I carry my standard-issue wall charger, but I also keep an iGo charger in my purse. This handy gadget gives me an extra jolt on the go, and I can recharge it right along with my phone at night. Another option for many non-Apple phones: invest in an extra battery. Someday I hope to get a solar-powered, portable charger so I’ll never have to be without my beloved iPhone.

4. Black yoga pants

yoga pants
Photo: lululemon athletica

I do not, if I can help it, travel in workout gear or pajamas. However, I always make sure I’ve got a pair of comfortable, black cotton pants rolled into my carry-on bag before I leave home. Like the scarf, the yoga pant is an incredibly versatile piece of fabric. I can wear it to hit the gym, do yoga on the beach or as pajamas. A good pair can even be dressed up and worn out to dinner in a pinch. They can also be easily washed in the sink and hung to dry over the tub.

5. A reusable water bottle

water bottles
Photo: Michelle TeGrootenhuis/Creative Commons

Hydration is essential for staying healthy while you travel, but buying water every few hours can be hard on your wallet and the environment. Bring your own reusable water bottle and fill up at the water fountains after you clear security. If you’re traveling within the United States, the tap water you get from most restrooms is safe enough for drinking. Need ice? A free cup can usually be procured from anywhere fountain pop is sold; just ask.

If your plans take you somewhere with questionable water, or you have an issue with drinking straight from the tap, buy one of the many water bottles now available with their own filtration system.

What do you always carry when you travel?

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