On a trip to Egypt, many years ago, my hold baggage didn’t arrive for 4 (yes 4!!!!) days when I only had a tiny handbag with me. Most of the things I can’t travel without were stuck in London!
It was not fun. Egypt. 40+ degrees. No deodorant, no spare undies, and no handy supermarket to nip into to buy some basics from. Plus, I was travelling solo, so there was no one to beg for spares.
Worst of all, I’d run out of things to read. I swore I’d never make that travel mistake again. Now I always double-check that the things I can’t travel without are safely tucked in my cabin bag. And I check everything off a list!
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On most trips today I take a carry-on bag only, as I prefer to travel light. I use luggage scales to check my bag isn’t overweight – anything that’s not 100% essential comes out of the bag. My golden rule is not to take more than I can carry – by myself.
The Essential Things I Can’t Travel Without
I won’t get far without my tickets, passport, and credit/debit cards! They go without saying, as do basic toiletries which I always decant into TSA approved travel bottles. Here are the other things I can’t travel without, no matter where I’m going.
1. Smart Phone
Is your whole life tied up on your phone? Today, a phone is a mailbox, alarm clock, tip calculator, currency converter, translator, news source, back-up camera, long-journey entertainer and music store. It’s also where we manage all our social media accounts from too. My phone is definitely the #1 thing I can’t travel without.
I went to Australia and back on my own without a mobile phone when I was 21 – today I don’t even go to the shops without my phone!
While my phone camera is pretty good, I always carry my Canon M100 lightweight mirrorless travel camera and my GorillaPod tripod. It’s a small camera, but the photo and video quality are incredible. I’ll never lug a big old DSLR around with me again!
3. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are the #1 best way to organise everything in your bag and save space. Do you remember the days of painstaking ironing (who has time for ironing?) then carefully folding your clothes and packing your bag, only to find crumpled wrecks in your bag at the other end? Did you fall for the “a few hours hanging up in a steamy bathroom will sort out the creases” line too? Not true.
Packing cubes make life easier and save precious time. You can see what’s in each one at a glance, so there’s no more fossicking in the depths of your bag to find things anymore.
Once you’ve tried packing cubes (especially ultra space-saving compression cubes), you’ll never go back to the dark side again.
SEE ALSO: How packing cubes changed my life
4. Fast Charging Power Banks
Does the idea of your phone dying while you’re travelling fill you with horror? Me too. We rely on them completely, so it’s vital to be able to charge them up when on the move.
I’ve tested a few different power banks over the years and now I can’t travel without my Anker Powercore Ultra High Capacity power banks. They only weigh 12.5 oz yet will charge my smartphone up fully five times!! These powerbanks have two ports, so you can also charge two devices from them at the same time (that’s my phone and Kindle sorted!)
5. Crossbody Bag
My Kipling crossbody bag is more than 20 years old. I will weep when it has to retire as it’s been around the world with me, through the washer numerous times and it’s still my go-to bag. With Kipling’s trademark attention to detail, it has tons of secure little zip pockets.
There’s a place for my phone, wallet, keys (I am so bad at losing keys) lippie, sunglasses and my Kindle. The smallest pockets are great for tickets and I can stash a small bottle of water too. Fall in love with your own Kipling bag here.
If you’re off to somewhere that you’ll need the extra comfort of a bag with anti-theft security, Pacsafe bags are unbeatable, and super stylish too!
Sometimes you’ll need a backpack rather than just a crossbody bag (day trips, long-haul flights etc). For comfort and functionality, choose one with padded straps, waterproof fabric, side pockets for a water bottle and lots of internal pockets.
Pro Tip: If you’re going somewhere that will be really crowded, choose a backpack you can wear the wrong way round (on your front). It’s much more secure that way, but do check the straps work for that too. Choose a bag with proven anti-theft security functionality. Backpacks from Pacsafe and Bobby XD design have anti-theft features to keep your valuables safe, wherever you go.
7. Hand Sanitiser
There are so many places you can pick up nasties on your hands when you’re travelling! A good hand sanitiser can kill 99.9% of germs and bacteria, and your hands will smell good too! I can’t travel without a bottle of hand sanitiser in my bag – especially since the Covid pandemic!
8. Antibacterial Wipes
Antibacterial wipes are the perfect way to clean up after eating juicy fruit or street food. You’ll also come across places on your travels where tables/seats need a good wipe before you dare use them, where there’s no toilet paper, and where you’ll want to give bottles of water a quick wipe before thinking about taking a sip.
Even if the seal on a bottle is unbroken, you don’t know where it might have been stored or whether unsanitary hands have touched it.
When you reach your 50s (and beyond) sunglasses become even more of a must-have. Apart from the obvious protection for your eyes, they also stop you squinting at the sun and getting unwanted extra frown lines. No woman needs those!
After the “nothing to read in Egypt” saga, I got a Kindle and I loved it. Stupidly I left it behind by mistake in my hotel in Xi’an before flying to Guilin. I read the in-flight magazine cover to cover twice on that flight but managed to find a wonderful English language bookshop in Shanghai. There was no way I would have survived the long flight home without reading material!!
I’ve just treated myself to a new waterproof Kindle Oasis so the world is at my fingertips again and I will NOT leave this one behind in a hotel room!
11. First Aid Kit
My late mum was a nurse who trained me to take a mini first aid kit in my bag on trips away from home. It’s a bit like the travel equivalent of the “mum bag” and carrying one could save you time, money and stress in trying to find a pharmacy in an unfamiliar place.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Why NOT packing Imodium was a huge travel mistake!
What to pack in your first aid kit
Here’s what you need in your first aid kit. Tweezers, blunt-nosed nail scissors, plasters and aloe vera gelly (for bites, stings, scrapes, burns and grazes). Take Imodium and rehydration sachets (in case you get struck down with “Delhi belly“) then add ibuprofen, paracetamol, a crepe bandage and Vaseline.
You might also want a gentle laxative, as a change in diet can have interesting effects! If you’re going through the menopause, don’t forget any meds for that too!
A cute pair of flatties is another one of the things I can’t travel without. They look pretty during the day and dress up well at night. They’re comfy and they take up next to no room in my backpack when I swap them for my flight socks. As soon as I land, I slip my flatties back on and I’m ready.
13. Snack Bars
Travel can be unpredictable with delays and missed meals. Stop yourself from getting hangry (or from filling up with unhealthy snacks) by packing a supply of snack bars, fruit and water in your backpack.
14. Water Bottle
Do you go anywhere these days without a reusable water bottle? They have become essential kit for daily life, and even more so for travel.
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Now you know the things I can’t travel without – what about you? Did I miss anything? What would you add to the list? What can’t you travel without? Please let me know in the comments below. As always, I love to hear from you x