These are all products I personally vouch for and that have really proven their value to me.
A good set of luggage. I recommend hard-sided; I am a convert! Protects the contents.
Most important, the revolutionizing packing cubes. I got a set for each family member (we each have our own color). These were a LIFESAVER on a recent trip. Everyone has their own system, but for me, I used one cube for “hiking clothes,” another for “city clothes,” and so on. It worked SO WELL that I felt smug (to nobody but myself) the entire trip!
Travel-size containers for your liquids. I recommend trying to go hand-carry only if at all possible!
Speaking of hand-carries, make your personal item count! I like these two, depending on the trip. This is a great backpack that holds more than you’d think and is really useful for any trip involving hiking. And this other one is super practical; I use it almost every trip.
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. For a recent trip, I got one of these cool “hidden pocket” scarves, which I loved! No more scrambling in the passport line. 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, and here is the kid-version.
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 love these silicone collapsible water bottles. 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 reusable 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.
And speaking of sustainable travel, pack your airplane snacks in these bad boys or these baggies in silicone. So packable and lightweight, they are perfect for travel. Think of the money you’ll save at the airport not having to buy gross take out (with all that packaging!). Wash them out at your destination and use for your daytime sightseeing: fill with local goodies… nuts, fruit or (I won’t tell) chocolate.
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. In every day life, 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.
Sun-protective clothing. A lot of places we like to travel come with intense sun. The Coolibar brand has some great options for protecting yourself from sunburns.
Hiking & water shoes. Sometimes – in Costa Rica, for example – you need shoes that are more suitable to hiking trails AND walking in a river. Or ok in a downpour (say, in a rainforest). I love these guys – they held up great, are comfortable and machine washable.
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 cozy” in the description).
Water shoes are imperative for water parks, boating, rocky beaches or water with sharp objects such as coral or sea urchins. Personally, I like the kind with “drain holes” in the sole, but YMMV.
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 pretty darn expensive and/or hard to find. This is what I try to buy or this one, which I like and gets a “1” score on EWG; these are especially good for ocean swimming, as they are “reef-safe” (reef-safe sunscreens are required in some resorts/geographic areas and are very expensive to buy at the resorts themselves). But, if you’re like me, you also like to have an alternative that’s more affordable. This Neutrogena sunscreen 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 Pure & Simple (and adults, for that matter) does the trick.
Visor or hat. This item, which rolls up to almost nothing, was crucial for me on a recent sweltering trip. It’s a must-pack for summer travel!
Insulated tumbler and reusable straws. Are you heading to a beach resort? These tumblers will keep your drink cold for hours, and along with these silicone straws, you’ll also feel good environmentally. Keep that “hydration” going!
Most all-inclusives and beach resorts allow you to bring your own flotation device. What says “vacation” more than floating on a raft in a pool sipping a cocktail in your insulated tumbler? (ProTip: get the ones with the cup holder for the adults)
Going somewhere with clear blue water? In this day and age, it’s good practice to bring your own mask & snorkel.
Insect repellent. NPR 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! A better one for packing for travel, though, is this one that comes in a cream – still, pack it in a ziploc bag, just in case.
Insect repellent for your clothing. Before a recent trip to the tropics, I pre-treated all my clothing with this spray – and got ZERO bug bites through any of this fabric. It was recommended by a travel clinic. I am sold!
Water filter. This is an investment, but hear me out. This little miracle means that you never have to buy water in a single-use bottle again! Nowhere to refill your reusable bottle (above)? No problem! Fill this puppy up from any tap, stream, lake ANYWHERE and feel confident that it will eliminate all contaminants, bacteria and viruses. Pretty awesome. I was appalled on a recent trip to Central Asia how many single-use water bottles our group went through. It’s past time for us to travel more sustainably, people!
While we’re on the topic… I’ve recently discovered the benefits of probiotics to prevent the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea. I was recently the only person in a group of 12 who did not experience it, and I credit these probiotics! Start taking them a few days before departure. Get the right kind though! They should contain Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. These are the kind I get; they have the right combination and have passed rigorous testing to make sure they contain what they say they do.
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!
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL INTERNATIONALLY: check to see whether you’ll need an adapter. If need be, 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 from each other.
One of the most irritating things about hotel rooms is the lack of well-places electrical outlets. One of my favorite “little things” I’ve added to my must-travel-with list is an extra-long charging cable for my phone. Highly recommend! Here for Android- or Kindle-compatible or here for iPhone-compatible. EVEN BETTER: get a portable solar powered waterproof charger!
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). 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!).
We *love* our Amazon Firestick. It’s small and easy to pack (protect the USB though), and it is SO easy to plug into any TV and access our Amazon Prime and Netflix accounts. We used to crowd around a laptop to watch “our” shows or a movie… not anymore! Plus, there’s a really fun most-ages party game we love called Fibbage by Jackbox that you can access via the Firestick.
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. Just please be considerate of your hotel neighbors!
Where’s Waldo was much-loved by our kids when they were younger- and by us, as they stayed entertained for a good long time. This is an awesome travel-themed version!