I love to travel; I haven’t always felt the same way about packing. But the more I go through the process, the more I’ve come to appreciate the challenge of trying to combine style and functionality in the most compact way possible. Somewhere between folding pants and counting socks, my OCQ (Obsessive Compulsive Quality—because as one of my favorite creative directors used to say, “Attention to detail is a fine quality, not a disorder”) kicks in, and the monotony of sorting turns to zeal. It typically involves some Reese’s Cups and a combination of Aretha Franklin and Journey as well.
Of course, the destination and the purpose of the trip affects the packing list, but for this post, the focus is all-purpose essentials that can travel with you wherever you go.
1. CARRY-ON BAG
Travel light. It’s more than a phrase used on motivational posters with pictures of eagles on them; it’s an excellent mantra for the modern globetrotter. Invest in a carry-on bag that is lightweight and has a variety of pockets or compartments. A friend introduced me to Tom Bihn Travel Bags, and now I’m smitten. (My current love was a gift, the Aeronaut 30, and it makes weekend trips a breeze.) But if the look or the price point aren’t a fit for you, there are plenty of great options on the market.
2. WALLET / ORGANIZER
Even though the digital age offers convenient smartphone scans, I often opt for printed tickets if I have a long day of travel or multiple connections—just in case the battery dies before I can recharge. A wallet or organizer that can hold all of your necessary travel documents helps expedite the hustle of check-in and security, and it’s indispensable when you arrive at your destination as well. Look for one with versatility and a chic factor, such as Spartina 449’s Continental Clutch Wallet that you can take to dinner as a wristlet or slip into your purse for day-tripping.
3. PURSE / DAY PACK
Whether in-flight or out on the town, you’re going to need a few of your favorite things within arm’s reach. Though your gut instinct may tell you that bigger is better because it will hold more, remember you’ll have to tote that tote around town. Look for a neutral crossbody bag with a few compartments and a classic shape—it’s likely to become part of your everyday gear. I found mine at modcloth.com, the Merry to Carry Bag, and it’s been a fantastic travel companion. I’ve also seen some great options from Frye and Fossil at 6pm.com and Nordstrom Rack. If you prefer the daypack vibe, Filson makes some solid options—Otter Green colorway is aces as well.
4. SNACK FOOD
Prolonged hunger can lead to a state of disgruntled grumpiness that is now know and as hanger. Save yourself and your traveling companions from this sad fate with a handy dandy snack bag! Trail mix is time-tested option (Trader Joe's has some delicious varieties), and I also like to have some Jif-To-Go natural peanut butter and granola bars on hand. Again, traveling is unpredictable, so just in case you have to miss dinner to catch a flight or you get stuck in a car in Rio de Janeiro during a mudslide for seven hours while trying to get to the top of Christ the Redeemer (yes, that really happened), it’s wise to have snacking supplies at the ready. Also remember Sour Patch Kids (or whatever your favorite non-melting candy is)—in case of emergency.
Sometimes I need a place of retreat, especially if I end up in the middle seat on a flight, and when that happens, headphones and a pre-made playlist are clutch. (Look for noise canceling headphones like Beats—they even come in rose gold [insert swoon].) For me, there’s also something calming about holding a good book or a printed publication in my hands and poring over the pages (though I may be a little bias on that topic since print media has played such a big part in my career). I often take my Kindle on longer trips (the only time I prefer an E-reader to the real thing) so I can have more of my literary favorites without having to carry the weight of each volume (think how tiring it would be to carry Rory Gilmore’s loaded-down yellow backpack from terminal to terminal).
6. CHARGERS FOR ELECTRONICS
Thankfully airports and even the planes themselves are providing more charging stations to help us maintain the battery life of our electronics, but it’s up to you to bring the charger. Of course, it’s easy to replace—you’ll just have to pay a premium price. I gave mine some DIY style with washi tape to make it easier to identify, but you can purchase one with a more personalized vibe, too. Also helpful, especially once you’ve reached your destination, is a solar powered battery charger or a portable charger for on-the-go battery boosts.
7. NO-SPILL TRAVEL BOTTLES
If you’re on the road often, you can save some packing time by keeping a collection of toiletry essentials ready to go. After several experiences with travel-size versions of my favorite brands bursting during an overseas flight (who wants to clean up a soapy mess when you could be out getting a fresh baguette in France?), I decided to try no-spill refillable bottles. They’re relatively inexpensive, and they cut down on waste from buying new bottles each time. Surprisingly, a little does go a long way, and the 1- and 2-ounce sizes have been ideal for my week-long trips. (Tip: If you refill them when you get home, they’ll be ready to grab-and-go the next time you need them). These are some of my favorites: MoYo Natural Labs Bottles, Nalgene Leakproof Bottles, and Bocco Leakproof Squeezable Bottles.
If lip balm had a fan club, I would be in it. You may never need it, but on the occasion that you do and it’s nowhere to be found, the situation starts to feel quite desperate. Also if I’ve been traveling for more than 12 hours, adding a bit of color to my world via a tinted version makes me feel cheery. I love Burt's Bees Tinted Lip Balm, and I also try to keep some Aquaphor around (my friend Celine Russell, who is an incredibly talented makeup stylist, turned me onto it—ideal for chapped or cracked lips or outdoor exploring in cold weather).
9. ZIP-TOP BAGS
Since you need a clear quart-size plastic bag to place your liquids in for security to comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule, it’s wise to bring a few extra along. If it’s a work trip and I’m styling a photoshoot, I often bring a box of them because I can use them for a variety of things from frosting cookies to lining floral containers so they don’t drip onto the tabletop or surface. I’ve tried several brands, but my favorite is the classic Ziploc.
10. PAIN RELIEVER
Headaches happen. Don’t forget to bring your preferred meds. For me, it’s Tylenol and Advil Liqui-Gels. (Tip: Look for online coupons.)
11. LIGHT LAYERS
Variables are always a part of the equation when you’re traveling, but one thing you can be prepared for is climate change. From the abundance of air conditioning to the absence thereof, temperature fluctuations are highly likely, and your best defence is a layered look. I pack a hat and gloves in my carry-on and usually wear a jacket and a scarf to the airport. For my travel day outfit, I also try to go with a tank or tee as the base layer just in case I find myself amid sweltering heat and need to lose some pieces. Upon landing, the hat has been a lifesaver more than once, especially during the spring break trip I took to Disney World with my family when the temperature plummeted unexpectedly. Target is one of my favorite stops for some fashion-forward, inexpensive layering pieces.
12. WATER BOTTLE
I try to never leave home without this. Once I got stuck on the interstate in a vehicle with two friends for more than 13 hours, and my Nalgene bottle was our only water source. I repeat: I try to never leave home without this. (Tip: You can also find canteen versions that fold down when empty to save space.) Take it empty to the airport, and once you’re through security, look for water stations or fountains to fill it up for free. You’ll save money, and stay hydrated—winning! Consider options that fit into or clip onto your carry-on.
13. POCKET-PACK TISSUES
Since society has mostly bid adieu to handkerchiefs, the next best thing is a pocket pack of tissues. They take up little space but provide big payoff if you happen to watch an unexpected tear jerker on the plane (yes, I’m talking about you, “We Built a Zoo”) or cross paths with someone in need. You can also get some with groovy packaging like Cath Kidston's.
14. COMPRESSION SOCKS
The first time I went to Asia, my feet were so swollen from the flight that my ankles sort of disappeared. Not cool. The answer: compression socks. Perhaps you are like me and are picturing frumpy, uncomfortable things seem like something only grandmothers in the 1950s wore, but thankfully that is a far cry from the truth. My friends who are nurses love them, and there are some wonderful, non-frumpy options out there. Adios, sad ankles; hello, happy feet! I like Sockwell and also wear them when I plan to be on my feet all day—they’re great for long photoshoots or sightseeing adventures.
15. HAND WIPES
If you were Mrs. Steele’s kindergarten class with me, you would know that washing your hands was not optional before eating, it was mandatory. However, it’s not always possible to wash them while traveling, so hand wipes can help you stick to Mrs. Steele’s rules for a healthier you. Use them to wipe off sticky stuff from the tray table in front of you while on the plane or to remove the camel spit that landed on your shirt while touring the ancient temples in Siem Reap.
And there you have it, my picks for packing essentials. Don’t forget your toothbrush and other toiletries, and if you have time, throw in a black pen, a small notebook, a carabiner (in case you need to clip something to your purse or pack that won’t fit inside), and some breath mints or gum. With these items in your bag, you’ll be ready for takeoff and well on your way to great adventures!