My Travel Essentials

These are all products that have really proven their value to me. Some are found on many travel lists, but others may surprise you!

First up, a scarf/shawl. I can’t tell you how glad I am when I pack a scarf. They add elegance for almost no weight/packing space, dress up or change up an outfit, allow you to fit in a bit more with a European crowd, allow for modesty in religious institutions, add warmth, etc. This is a good winter scarf. And this is a good summer one. This is a larger one that can be worn as a scarf but also used as a sarong. You will NOT regret packing this item.

Ear Plugs. My husband has been using these since our first kid was born – amazing how well he thought our babies slept through the night! Ha ha (but really, this is true). Anyway, we all see the value in ear plugs while traveling. Sometimes your hotel room is on a road that is “livelier” at night than you realized it would be. Or, hypothetically (cough, cough), you end up living in a town with a thousand churches whose lovely bells ring all night. These are my fave ear plugs.

Eye mask. Along with ear plugs, an eye mask can improve sleep quality dramatically. We’ve learned that traveling in northern Europe in particular makes these items crucial – the sun sets late and rises early! And unknowns about hotels or rental apartments often include noise and light – these items take up almost no room but can make a huge difference.

Best water bottle. I adore these collapsible water bottles by Vapur. Fill ’em up, clip them to a backpack or even belt loop, and when they are empty, roll them up and stash them until you can fill them up again. See hubby in action on this page filling his Vapur bottle in Paris! They have been great for our Orlando trip to Disney World & Universal, all of our city trips and any day hikes we take. These have been especially useful in Europe, where bottled water is expensive to buy, “drinking fountains” as we Americans know them are rare, yet public fountains are ample – with potable water meant to fill, you guessed it, water bottles.

Luggage straps. I bought these luggage straps to make our luggage stand out to us – especially convenient if you don’t all have bags that look like a group. You can pick the same color for the whole family or a different color for each family member.

Money belt. Sometimes, putting your money in the front pocket of your jeans is enough. Sometimes, it’s better to play it safer. When we went to Barcelona, for example, everyone – including Spanish friends – told us to watch out for the infamous pickpockets. This money belt gave us peace of mind and can be worn by either my husband or me.

Travel purse. A purse is very much a matter of personal taste. To be honest, I am not much of a purse gal – I’d rather just put a couple of things in my pocket. But sometimes, a mom’s gotta carry stuff. But I like this one, because it’s affordable, resistant to would-be purse-snatchers, durable, fits a ton of stuff without being gigantic itself, and has a ton of convenient pockets that make sense to me. This one comes in a good variety of colors.

Winter boots. I bought these for our year in Switzerland, and they were PERFECT. Super comfortable, very lightweight for packing, and they show hardly any wear and tear. Love.

Summer hiking/walking shoes. I bought these Merrells for my recent Costa Rica trip. They were great for protecting my feet from insects and rocks, really comfortable for hikes and great drainage for river-rafting and rain. And this may seem like a weird one, but I LOVE these. They were ideal for our week at Disney (especially the waterpark day). They kept my feet very cool and blister-free, and they are very easy to clean. I wear them on warm-weather wherever I am, and I plan to wear them as water shoes this summer. Although I am happy I added several pairs of espadrilles from Madrid to the mix!

Most comfortable flip flops ever. I love these so much – they have a “yoga mat” bottom. I wear them every day in the summer (when I’m not wearing the ones above). My husband was jealous, so I got him the men’s version (plus, I think it’s hilarious they changed “yoga mat” to “beer cosy” in the description).

Sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group, which runs scientific tests on the most effective and least dangerous cosmetic products (including sunscreen), is my go-to resource for sunscreens. The challenge for me is that their best-rated ones tend to be über-natural and “Whole Foodsy,” which is great… but can be pretty darn expensive and/or hard to find. This is what I used to buy, which I like and gets a “1” score on EWG. But, if you’re like me, you like an alternative that’s easier to find and more affordable. This Coppertone sunscreen for faces is one we have on hand all the time. When I go running, though, I like a stick – this one gets excellent Environmental Working Group ratings AND good reviews. For our bodies, this Coppertone Sport Sunscreen (and adults, for that matter) does the trick. Just be sure to get SPF 30 or 50 – NOT the 70 (EWG advises against SPFs above 50).

Insect repellentNPR ran a story on how most products that are effective mosquito repellents contain DEET. But one was just as (if not more) effective – without the harsh chemical, especially for those of us who are concerned about our kids putting it on frequently. This is that product. Highly recommend! If you need something with serious DEET, this one came recommended by the travel clinic I went to before my recent Sri Lanka trip – in convenient cream form. Best of all, the same travel clinic recommended pre-treating my clothes with this awesome spray before my trip – REALLY helped. I will always do this from now on.

Nightlight. Fumbling around in the dark, trying to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night is SO.MUCH.EASIER if you bring your own nightlight – and they can make all the difference for little ones. This is a must-pack item!

Get a good converter/adapter (make sure it’s BOTH). For us, a universal one has been key, since the UK, Continental Europe, and Switzerland all have different systems. Full disclosure, this isn’t the exact one we bought, but this one gets good reviews on Amazon.

Kindle Paperwhite. Normally an early-adopter, I resisted moving away from the printed book. While I will never give them up completely, I am now an enthusiastic fan of the Kindle. I specify Paperwhite (as opposed to the Fire or any other e-reader whose screen reflects light), because it is SOOOO easy to read whether you are in the dark or out in the bright sun (and less breakable too). AND THIS NEW ONE IS WATERPROOF! Man, we could have used “waterproof” when my son’s water bottle spilled in his backpack a couple years ago. Instead of bringing a bajillion books with us on trips now, we just load up our Kindles – mostly with books borrowed on the app our U.S. public library uses (Overdrive). A huge added bonus for me is being able to email web pages and PDFs to my Kindle, so I have backups of all our important documents on it. Once they are uploaded, they are accessible regardless of internet access (protect your Kindle with a password!).

Mini-speakers. Great for music, podcasts or movie-watching; we use these all the time. They pack small and light and produce good sound for their size – excellent for travel.

Where’s Waldo is much-loved by our kids – and by us, as they stay entertained for a good long time. This is an awesome travel-themed version!

*Julia Slatcher is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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