If you’ve read any of the articles in our travel section, you’ll know that we really want you to have a great trip. While most of our advice is about saving money and avoiding scams, there’s no doubt about it—traveling is a lot easier when you have the right stuff!
Here are the items that we swear by to make any trip more comfortable, whether heading to a busy European city or exploring tiny beach towns in Thailand. Not only are each of these suggestions super helpful no matter your destination, but they’re also each under $50 (and one is free!)
Without further ado, here are the seven travel accessories that are non-negotiable when we start to pack and prep for any trip:
1. Packing Cubes ($25–40)
If you’re packing for a trip that’s over three days and you don’t have packing cubes, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. They’re so useful that these little buddies will change the way you pack and travel.
Image via Ebags
In “You’ve Been Packing Wrong All Along,” we discuss the finer points of the three main methods of packing: folding, rolling, and bundling. No matter which way you decide to pack, a cube allows you to neatly group items so that you never again have to unpack your entire suitcase just to find one article of clothing.
Traveling for long enough to accrue dirty laundry? Just toss your soiled items in a packing cute. Want to keep delicates from getting snagged? Packing cubes. Did a pair of your shoes get muddied in the rain? You see where we’re going with this.
Eagle Creek is a popular brand of packing cubes, and theirs are reported to last a lifetime. However, I’ve been using this less-expensive set by eBags for the better part of five years, and they’re still holding up strong.
2. A Clothesline ($7)
Imave via Amazon.com
Speaking of dirty laundry, I can’t count how many times that I’ve carefully considered which items to pack, only to have one or two key pieces ruined by a laundry service—if they come back at all. Once while traveling through Thailand, there was a mixup that left half of my items with an unknown customer, while I was the recipient of a slightly-used wardrobe consisting mainly of sequined nightclub wear.
These days, I prefer to save money, my clothing, and dignity by hand washing while traveling. However, there’s only so many items that you can hang over the shower curtain. Besides, who wants a dripping wet bathroom floor?
Enter the extendable clothesline! We’re a big fan of this model because, not only does it stretch to accommodate almost any space, but the twists mean that your items can be pinched in between the two ropes without requiring additional clothespins.
3. TSA Friendly Travel Bottles ($2–20)
One of the best aspects of travel is exploring the unknown and experiencing unexpected surprises. However, personal hygiene should never be an adventure.
Save yourself the trouble of attempting to read shampoo and face wash labels in a foreign language, or the cost of those over-priced travel size bottles at your local store, and bring along TSA-friendly tubes, bottles, and jars of your favorite products instead.
Image via Amazon.com
Not only are the bottles sized to pass through security without a second glance, but also this set sold on Amazon already comes in a transparent bag, making it even easier to place in a bin for scanning.
4. A Power Strip ($20)
Does your destination use a different voltage or outlet? Don’t lug a different travel adapter for every piece tech in your repertoire—much less risk losing one, or several, because they’re plugged into different outlets around your room.
Image via Amazon.com
Instead, grab a combo surge protector and power strip, which allows you to keep all your gadgets plugged and charging in one place, while only requiring a single converter.
The Belkin Travel Charger pictured above offers two USB ports and three AC outlets, which should cover all your bases. Additionally, it comes with a warranty to cover your connected equipment for up to $75,000—a nice touch when traveling to destinations with less-than-reliable infrastructure.
5. NAVMII: Data-Free GPS (Free)
Not all those who wander are lost—unless their GPS isn’t working. As someone who could get turned around in a closet, I depend on GPS to navigate new city streets and take extra steps to make sure to grab a SIM card for data upon arrival.
Image via Navmii.com
However, sometimes a new SIM just doesn’t work out. Sure, you could read a map or ask for directions, or you could just download Navmii. This free app works just as well as Google Maps, but it doesn’t require data.
No SIM, no problem. Just download your destination maps before you go, Navmii stores them locally, and you don’t have to worry about getting lost or incurring roaming charges.
6. Dryer Sheets ($5)
Image via Amazon.com
Even if you’re staying at a posh resort, traveling means hours of walking around in the hot sun and limited access to multiple items of clean clothing.
To help combat feeling grungy, slip a few dryer sheets into your suitcase or backpack to keep everything smelling nice and fresh throughout your trip. Plus, they’re great to sooth static and frizz from your hair, especially after a long flight.
Heading to a beach vacation and don’t want your room to turn into a sandbox? Dryer sheets to the rescue! These things are also surprisingly great at wiping off sand.
Just one note: While dryer sheets offer multiple uses at a minimal cost, standard versions are full of some less-than-fresh chemicals so, when available, I prefer an eco-friendly brand such as Seventh Generation.
7. A Cloth Grocery Tote ($5–15)
In “Essential Steps to Prep for a Perfect Flight,” we share the magic that can happen when you take a few minutes to pack a separate bag pre-boarding.
Image via Amazon.com
By shifting your necessary in-flight items into a cloth grocery bag, you can quickly toss your carry-on items in the overhead bin—plus, no sweat if it has to be checked. Then, just sling this bad boy over the armrest or the headrest of the seat in front of you and enjoy having everything you need at your fingertips all flight long.
Of course, you can pick up reusable grocery bags at pretty much any supermarket. Or, you can check out the Huffington Post’s article guiding you through potential styles and features.
Save Your Money: Pressure-Reducing Ear Plugs
Image via Alpine Hearing Protection
If you experience discomfort due to shifts in the cabin’s pressure during takeoff and descent, you might be tempted to grab one of the several brands of earplugs designed specifically to help minimize the effects of changing altitude.
But, do they really help? While some frequent fliers claim that this accessory is a must-have, a study shows that pressurizing earplugs can actually do more harm than good.
Instead of spending close to twenty dollars on a pair, we suggest sticking to the plain foam plugs meant for noise reduction. And remember, you should never fly with a cold or nasal congestion, as doing so can result in severe discomfort and ear damage.
Bottom Line? Cover Your Travel Accessories Basics
There are plenty of travel accessory lists touting gadgets and gizmos that you don’t actually need, such as cheeky suitcase stickers, mini steam irons, and that odd-looking ostrich head pillow (how is that comfortable?)
Image via Travel Away
While those extras can be nice for a few minutes, do you really want to lug portable speakers around when airlines are charging for every extra pound of checked luggage or spend extra cash on a posh leather case for your USB cords?
Instead, the key to staying comfortable on a long flight and beyond is all about covering your basics. After all, even the most minimalist travelers need clean clothes!
If you have any spare room in your suitcase, try not to be wooed by high-tech accessory lists and, instead, think about your specific travel needs. Need to get work done during a flight? Consider some noise canceling headphones and this ergonomic laptop stand.
Does travel make you feel a bit nauseous? Queasy Pops look and taste like ordinary lollipops, but they’re made with essential oils designed to keep you away from that dreaded brown paper bag. Even if you’re not feeling motion sickness, the act of sucking on one also helps to relieve presssure in your ears gradually, so they don’t suffer a painful pop during takeoff and landing.
Once you’ve got your bases covered, check out our tips on “How to Get Through the Airport Faster & With Minimal Hassle” to help make sure your trip is smooth sailing from beginning to end.