tips: travel essentials

The most essential essential….shoes

This time last year, I was in Amsterdam and a friend said: Y’know….those shoes have seen better days. And, she was RIGHT. I left those shoes in my hotel as I desperately tried to finagle everything that once easily fit into my carry-on luggage….once…about 10 days ago….before a lot of shopping. But now, every inch counted. And, at a size 8.5-9, shoes count. Let’s be honest – shoes always count. The important thing is – I hadn’t remembered those shoes again until fall crept into Austin (i.e. the mercury dipped below 90) and I needed something other than sandals. In my search for a neutral pair of cheetah print shoes that go with everything I remembered my most essential pair of closed-toe shoes, which I now needed to replace. And, that led me to thinking about my essentials in general and what couldn’t I live without…travel-wise.

We all have our favorite items. I asked some of you and found we share a lot of the same tools of the trade. Sleep masks rank pretty highly – especially silk because they’re soft, durable and light-weight against your eyes. If you’re a light sleeper like I am, that crack between the black-out curtains…that stands between your good night’s sleep and about 10 high-powered street lamps…is a foe who will get the better of you everytime. Also – socks. If my feet are cold, I’ll never fall asleep. Long-haul flights hand out amenity bags that contain sleep masks and socks, so I’m not making this up. These are basic creature comforts that are worth their weight in gold when you need them. So, plan ahead and enhance your trip before you even leave.

I have a few pieces that just live in my suitcase. Well, a few things and cat, who plants himself in my suitcase any time it comes out of the closet. What is it about cats and suitcases? Nonetheless, the essentials that I keep are similar to yours:

A portable bluetooth speaker

So, here’s a strangely neurotic thing – on weekdays, I like to watch local morning news while I get ready for work. Do you? I want to know what’s happening in THIS city TODAY. I need the newscaster to tell me every 8 minutes what time it is and how much traffic I’ll encounter and whether I need an umbrella. But, AFTER work or on the weekends: Podcasts and Spotify. You could use the speaker on your phone, but this little beauty packs a punch – it sure is nice having decent sound in your room. I have a million curated playlists: A variety of instrumentals for when I need to think intently and songs with lyrics of all ilk for when I just want to unwind. This brings a little bit of home with me everywhere I go.

Ah-so wine opener

I’m not a BoyScout, but I like to be prepared. You never know when a colleague or a business is going to give you the gift of wine – and, you don’t want to appear ungrateful. Unlike a traditional corkscrew, this version is TSA-safe. Somewhere along the way, I also acquired a wine stopper and portable infuser because……I don’t know why because. But, they all live permanently in my suitcase and, um, get used. Often.

A retractable lint roller

Because you don’t know until you’re getting dressed for an important meeting that THESE pants are the ones your cat’s been hiding behind in your closet at home. So that you don’t look like a Yeti all day, carry a lint roller. This one is small enough you can stick it in your purse, briefcase, or just keep it in your luggage as I do. It’s refillable, too, so less plastic waste.

Travel brolly, carrying bag, portable speaker, lint roller, eye mask, travel wine infuser, wine stopper and ah-so wine opener…..don’t judge.

Travel Umbrella and Carrying Bag

Yep, they’re everywhere…until you need one. So, I just leave mine in my suitcase permanently. I tell other people to think of it as an insurance policy because if you don’t pack it, sure as…..rain, you’ll be plagued with damp hair and clothes the whole trip. For $10, you too can rule the weather. And, yeah – they usually come with a little sleeve that if you’ve taken the advance course or have a Masters in physics, you can use over and over again with ease. But, if you’re like me, you need to just stash it in something impermeable quickly and keep the rest of your satchel contents dry. I stole this tip from an NYC friend who uses the reusable plastic bags from the grocery store. My take on this theme is a plastic bag from Harrod’s in London. Why not? Reminds me of a good trip and it’s a great conversation starter on a dreary day.

Aforementioned silk sleep mask

I’ve had a variety of these:

  • Memory foam – pricey, and a little heavy = hot
  • Scarf – works in a pinch
  • Free from the airlines – perfectly serviceable unless you flew United this summer when they were giving out the Spiderman masks…..NOT serviceable
  • Silk – current favorite and a favorite among my friends apparently. Light-weight, pretty, gentle – as in no pressure on your face. And, a reasonably priced luxury item at under $20.

Shoe bags

You wear your shoes into public restrooms……and, then you tuck them into your suitcase next to your undies? So, you get where I’m going with this. Shoe bags. They’re not expensive. Recently, British Airways even put their amenities into shoe bags – 1 round-trip and you had a pair. Lots of nice shoes even come with them tucked into the bottom of the box. Shoe bags. Use them.

Silver cleaning cloth

If you wear silver jewelry like I do, it’s an essential. For some reason, jewelry tarnishes faster on the road – or, er, maybe you’re just suddenly aware because you’re getting dressed and using it……could be either. Really. You can buy them easily enough. Or, at finer stores, if you ask nicely when making a purchase, they’ll gladly implore you to take it as a gift. Thank you.

As an aside – Did you know that gemstones take in all their light from the bottom? Before you head out, you can quickly scrub your colored gems, on the underside, with an old toothbrush and water. That’s really all you need – maybe some baking soda if you think you need to scrub. And, diamonds are the only stones that take in light from the top, so scrub opposite for them. I worked in retail jewelry for a long time – if you ever dropped your jewelry off to be cleaned with me, this is what you got. So, a little tip – direct from me to you. No charge.

A small all-purpose handbag

You might be rolling your eyes right now if you clicked the link, but lemme tell you why this pricey bag is essential:

  • It’s color-neutral
  • It’s cross-body, with a removable strap, and the gold chain option used alone makes it a passable evening bag
  • I use a clip-on wallet also by LV that clips compactly into my never-full as well as any other bag I carry – snap! – wallet moved
  • Comes in a cloth storage bag that keeps it nice and clean no matter how long it sits unused waiting to be whisked away to an exotic land. Or, New Jersey.
  • It’s at least 8 years old and looks like brand new
Folds flat, holds a TON and zippers shut

A spare tote bag

Even my function over form husband admits this is genius. These bags fold up to almost nothing and I keep one in my luggage at all time. I use them when I’m out for a day and want a large, light weight bag for shopping Or, since I sometimes buy more than I’m able to comfortably get back into the luggage I came with, the zipper and a luggage tag allow me to securely and conveniently check it. They are available in a variety of sizes and colors.

Have I given you anything to think about? When I asked for everyone’s essentials – I got a lot of great ideas that I think most of us who travel often take for granted. Example: Buy 2 of every toiletry and keep your liquids, makeup and “other” ready to go at all times. (Can you tell I personally keep them in 3 separate bags…?) Don’t swap out – just keep a set ready to drop into your suitcase without giving it a thought. Another: Melatonin. I resisted it for a long time, but I have to say – it takes the edge off and helps me sleep. Noise cancelling earbuds – these are on my list of items to explore….would love to hear about brands and experiences from others. I’ve had Bose recommended to me. At one time, I blew these off because they were just one more thing to charge, but now that I carry an extra power source with me, that’s probably not a problem. Hmmmmm… much more to learn. SOCKS – Don’t forget socks; often free on airlines, but inexpensive to grab a pair that you keep in your suitcase. If forgotten, they can mean the difference between a restful sleep, or torturous tossing and turning. At which point, you start trying to tie shoebags onto your feel in lieu of socks…….well, that’s a topic for another time.

Durable handbag, socks, shoebags, silver cloth – Bon Voyag-ee