I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life—trips that have been as short as less than a day and as long as a few weeks. In my years of packing, there are a few surprising items that I have learned I cannot travel without, no matter the destination. If you have a big trip coming up and are scrambling with what to bring along, read below for the 9 things I always take with me.
- A sarong/oversized scarf: This is the number one thing you need—use it as a blanket on a cold plane (or when you have to spend the night at a train station), as a towel on the beach, as a scarf to dress up a plain LBD for a night on the town, to wrap up the delicate items you’re bringing home as souvenirs, the uses are endless. Pictured below are a few times my lightweight scarves have come in handy: as a beach towel, a blanket for a chilly Santorini sunset (yes, they exist) and as, well, a scarf. I like this one from Mara Hoffman, because it’s pretty and the pattern has a lot of color, so it dresses up the neutrals you might have packed—of course, it’s $100 and rayon, so. This one’s neutral enough, and cheap enough, that it’ll definitely get its use.
- A baggy chambray shirt: Use it as a cover-up for the beach, an extra layer on chilly nights—heck, just a shirt!
- A big canvas bag: to hold all your items when you go to the beach; to serve as your carry-on; to hold dirty laundry; line it with a plastic bag and put ice in it for an impromptu cooler (don’t judge). This one has a lifetime guarantee and a zip-top for extra security.
- Delicate laundry detergent: HALVES the amount of clothing you need to pack for a longer vacation. This one smells so nice.
- Head lamp: My love of head lamps has been documented. Why bring it on a trip? It’s a reading light, guidance down a sketchy alleyway, a stylish hair accessory (kidding about that last one). We used mine recently after returning to Arizona after two weeks out of the country to find my car battery dead. Our cell phone cameras were inefficient, as we needed to be using our hands to connect everything. Head lamp to the rescue.
- University or state-labeled shirt or hat: Especially useful when traveling alone. I ran into a guy who went to the same university as me in Paris, and it was such a pleasant surprise to see Arizona State University’s pitchfork on a metro stop near the Louvre. I didn’t end up talking to him (damn you, introversion), but I had been feeling lonely at the time and it was a nice reminder of home. Perhaps if I, too, had worn an ASU shirt throughout Europe, I could have come in contact with a fellow solo Sun Devil traveler and had an instant friend.
- Bandaids: you never need them until you NEED them. Even the most trustworthy of traveling shoes can cause blisters if you wear them enough.
- Umbrella: come rain, come too much shine, come protection from the sun on the beach…you’ll be grateful you brought this. Plus, rainy days are a fantastic opportunity to hit up popular outdoor tourist attractions. I had the Berlin Zoo nearly to myself on a day when it poured. Of course, I forgot my umbrella, so I got soaked. Do you see my point?
9. Nail file: Is there anything worse than the feeling of a nail snagging? Yes, the inability to do anything more than furiously rub it on your jeans to smooth it out. Bring a nail file.
What do you always pack in your travel bag?