When we first started traveling together, we made many mistakes when it came to packing. Now? We kind of think of ourselves as packing ninja gurus. This list has our absolute essential travel items, the ones we don’t leave home without, most of which were tested on our five month trip around the world. Some are a bit obvious, some have surprised even us (who knew a blow up neck pillow would be the difference between fly happy and crazy jet-lagged nutjob exiting the plane, for example). We’d love to hear your favorites too, leave us a comment below!
Want more packing intel? We made a FREE packing checklist for yours truly based on a two week itinerary with just a carryon. Or, see our mega packing post from five months abroad, including reviews of each item.
1. Comfortable and practical backpack
This is probably the single most important item we bought for our long trip. Whether you are going for a week or a year, the piece of luggage you bring with you can make or break the vacation. We opted for backpacks because we needed something easy to transport, lightweight, and that could be carried from point A to B in any circumstances (ever tried rolling a suitcase through a thick crowd or across a beach? Not going to work). For shorter trips, we usually prefer a small carry on duffle or rolling luggage.
Pick for backpacking packs:
Joe: I ended up not loving my Osprey pack, but I think they make great packs overall, the setup of mine was just not practical for this trip (I have a more in-depth review of this here).
Alicia: I used a traditional hiking backpacking pack from REI that I loved. This is something I highly recommend trying on in a store yourself, as it is super personal in terms of fit and comfort.
Top pick for carry on luggage:
Patagonia Duffel. This is such a great size and would be a great carry on bag versus bringing a rolling bag.
Backpacking Europe? Check out this location specific guide to find the best pack.
2. Blow up neck pillow
This was a very silly last minute purchase that we snagged from REI on one of our many supply runs before we left, and ended up being one of our favorites. Our particular model folded into the size of the palm of your hand, and handily clipped onto our packs for easy access. We used this on countless bus/train/plane trips in every single country we visited.
Similar item: Swissgear Neck Pillow
We live off music/podcasts/Netflix when traveling. When we are the only people we are talking to, it’s easy to run out of things to say. Cue the I can’t speak to you anymore signal — headphones.
We originally used the pair that came with our phones but have since upgraded to these bad boys: Bose Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones.
What started out as 1 camera grew to 3 by the time we were done. The first met its sad end on a lonely bench in Kaikoura, New Zealand during an allergy attack where Alicia could not see her hands in front of her face. The second camera was purchased in the same town shortly after and held us down for a good month until we were gifted our most recent during Christmas.
Camera 1: Very solid point and shoot when starting out, we would have stuck with this for longer if we (I, Alicia) didn’t lose it.
Camera 2: Another point and shoot. This one was ok, but inferior to the one above for about the same price point.
Camera 3: Our current love. This is one we intend to stick with for a while and slowly build up gear for.
5. Packing Cubes
There is a reason these are on every blogger’s packing list ever created: because they are amazing. No way would we have been able to consolidate our clothing the way we did, or avoid the accompanying stress out when Alicia feels disorganized, without these guys. We never travel without them anymore.
Our pick: Flight 001 Spacepak Cubes
6. Quick dry underwear and socks
I take it back, THIS might be the most important thing you take on a trip with you, especially when it comes to anywhere humid or wet for any reason (including lots of rain/snow). Since we were going to places that brought us through just about every climate except extreme cold, we relied on these to keep us dry in all the right places. If you’ve ever had wet sock syndrome walking through a new city, you know how important this is.
7. Quick dry pants/shorts
These were great for working out, hikes, and just general life. Bonus that they happened to be super comfortable, and also became our go to wear on travel days. Nothing says “I’ve been in 4 different time zones and on 6 planes” like soggy sweat patches on your bottom. These helped us feel slightly more human in these moments.
8. Quick dry shirts
Notice a theme here? Quick dry ery-thang.
Mainly for sun protection, but also for the inevitable unwashed hair for 4 days strong look. We used Patagonia baseball cap, but really any hat with a brim will do including the more fashionable floppy sun hats for the ladies. It’s also useful to have a warm weather hat if traveling someplace with cooler temperatures. There are a bunch of warm knit hats out there that fold up nice and tiny.
Our pick: Patagonia bison
Winter Hat option: Thermal beanie
10. Extra day trip backpack
Another impulse buy (see blow up pillow, above) that made the cut for all time favorite items. We got a daypack that folded into its own zipper pocket, making it compressible and easy to pack and unpack.
We could do a whole rundown of our favorite tech items, but we probably need more than most do traveling as bloggers. The Kindle, however, is a non-negotiable for us even if we’re simply taking a long train ride for a day trip. It is the one item we never travel without. Both of us are BIG time readers and have passed many a boring travel hour with our nose in a digital book. Is a paper book better? Probably, nothing quite replaces the smell of warped paper and the weighted feel of a book in hands, but it is no match for the Kindle in terms of traveling convenience. The ability to access millions of books in a matter of seconds, and carry as many as we wanted at a time without added weight is a rational benefit that we can not trade in for the nostalgia of the printed version.
12. Earplugs and Eyemask
These have become two items that we do not fly without. The number of sleepless days and nights that have been avoided because of these are hard to guess at, and our gratitude is infinite.