12 Must-Have Travel Items

I like to think of this article as a companion post to Essential Travel Gear. This is a list of “Advanced” Travel Gear, if you will. While items such as a good travel backpack or packing cubes will get you started, eventually you might want to get some other equipment. This list includes things that will make your travels more comfortable and more worry-free. Especially so if you’re going to be in places that don’t have the developed infrastructure you might expect in North America, Europe, or East Asia.

The Amazon links I’ve included below are affiliate links, and so I would get a small percentage if you were to purchase an item using that link.

1. Microfiber Travel Towel

From my own personal experience, most hostels will only give you one towel, whether you’re there for one night or six. After the first few showers, that towel’s going to get a little grody.

Luckily, there are travel towels! These microfiber towels fold up nice and small, yet offer both incredible absorption power and quick drying times. I use the REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe. While you can get the regular Multi Towel, which folds up even smaller, I was not impressed with the size nor absorption power of that travel towel, and so I tossed it and got the deluxe.

2. Headlamp

Or a flashlight, for that matter. Though I would recommend a headlamp for the same reason I would recommend a travel backpack: it gets the job done and keeps your hands free. I personally use a Princeton Tec Byte headlamp, because I was on a “Buy American” kick a little while ago, and because it’s very compact while still sporting 100 lumens of light. Otherwise, Petzl is commonly considered an industry leader in headlamps.

Browse Petzl headlamps, such as the Tikka, on Amazon

3. Battery Pack

This is something that most people probably already have on their person anyway, but it’s crucial during a voyage. If you’re going to get a battery pack, I would not get anything below 3000mah, at a minimum; that’s about the size of a standard smartphone battery, give or take.

The one I travel with is a myCharge Adventure battery pack. It holds 5600mah and is rubberized for extreme conditions.

Browse battery packs of varying capacities on Amazon

4. Travel Adapter

Of particular importance when traveling internationally. Most regions of the world use different electrical outlets than the US (although, thankfully, those outlets tend to all be the same within their own region). I use an Epicka All-in-One Universal Power Adapter, which is about the size of a small Bluetooth speaker, and sports four USB ports. It can handle charging all your devices and even those of any friends you might make on your travels.

Another model I’ve heard good things about is the ultra-portable, modular Micro.

5. Travel Pillow

Having a travel pillow is great if you’re in for a long flight or train ride. There are many different styles of travel pillow out there, from the traditional U-shaped pillows to ones you can inflate. However, the one I like best is the Trtl travel pillow. It functions almost like a neck brace, keeping your head semi-upright and comfortable, so that you don’t wake up on a stranger’s shoulder (not that I have any personal experience doing that).

My one criticism of the Trtl is that, because of the shape of the “spring,” it’s not quite as small or packable as I would like. On at least one occasion it’s come down to it or some other item, and I ended up leaving the Trtl. Having said that, if you’ve got the space, definitely bring it!

6. Shampoo Tubes

What with a lot of airlines imposing travel restrictions on the amount of liquids you can bring, it’s crucial to have the right-sized containers. humangear GoToobs are specifically marked for 3.4 oz, or 100ml. They lock tight and you can get them in packs of three.

PRO TIP: Just bring bar soap.

7. Extra Rolls of Toilet Paper

My Texas readers might recognize the pouch of mini-toilet paper rolls in the picture above. H-E-B specifically sells toilet paper rolls that do not have holes in the middle; where the cardboard roll typically goes is, in fact, another roll! I’m sure your local Kroger or Publix sells something similar. If your local store doesn’t carry them, then just get a standard roll or half a standard roll and squish it flat.

I learned to bring these after my first trip to Mexico. A lot of the public restrooms there simply lacked toilet paper (or toilet seats, for that matter), or the attendants meted it out like it was gold. It’s the same story in places like Cuba and Guatemala, and I suspect many other countries of the world. It’s something you don’t think about until you’re in that situation, and then it gets awkward. So I’m here to tell you to be prepared!

8. Baby Wipes

Another thing you may not think you need, until you do. When you’re out and about in the world, you’re probably going to be doing a lot of walking. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Costa Rica or the United Kingdom: you’re going to sweat. While sweating is actually good for you, keeping it on your body isn’t. I would recommend grabbing a box of standard, inexpensive baby wipes to have on hand for your face and neck.

9. Sunscreen Stick

Sunscreen is an absolute, non-negotiable must-have in a lot of tropical regions. Unfortunately, it can be problematic to bring if you’re backpacking: a container can exceed the liquid limits imposed by airlines; it can be very expensive in your destination; or, as is the case in some African countries, the locals simply have little to no use for sunscreen, and so you’ll have difficulty finding it in stores.

You need something small and non-liquid. I recommend sunscreen sticks. They’re usually non-greasy and absorb quicker than the standard liquid variety. There is a growing number of these to choose from, so shop around for one you like the best.

Browse sunscreen sticks on Amazon

10. Shower Caddy

I’ve talked about hostels a lot in this article, and if you’ve read my post on accommodations you’ll know that the quality can vary drastically. Some have very nice showers with shelves for your things…but most don’t.

The good news is, whatever situation you find yourself in, REI’s got you covered. Check out their Shower Roll, which can clip to a door hook or even the door itself. It has pouches for your toiletries and even a fog-proof mirror.

You can use the detachable, clear pouch on the bottom to store your shampoo tubes and other liquids. This makes showing your liquids at airport security a breeze.

11. LifeStraw

I’ve not had a chance to use this one in the field, but it comes highly recommended. The LifeStraw can purify virtually any body of water of virtually all contaminants. It’s great to have with you whether you’re on the other side of the globe or hiking in your local state park. It’s easy to use because it works, well, just like a straw!

12. Tactical Pen

Browse tactical pens on Amazon

This particular item is not essential, but I do like to carry one on my person when traveling. These come in various styles from various companies, but basically what they are is a very sturdy ink pen with a small, pointed nob on one end.

This can be useful for a number of reasons. First, it is a pen, and it’s always good to have a writing instrument with you. Second, it can be used to break glass in case of an emergency. Third–and I hope it never comes to this, for myself nor anyone else–it can be used for self-defense. I will be very quick to add, however, that situational awareness and using words to deescalate a situation should ALWAYS be used before any kind of violence.

I myself have been in a number of pretty tense situations. I’ve been in a confrontation with an angry homeless man at a CVS back in Austin, and I’ve had to protect someone from a psycho on the street in Vancouver, just to name a few. At no point did I get myself into a fight, and I’d like to keep it that way. However, sometimes life happens and you need a non-lethal way to defend yourself. Many of these tactical pens are very convenient, having a clip to keep them inside your pocket, and I’ve never had airport security inspect it.

So there you go. What do you guys think? What travel gear have you found to be most useful in your travels?

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