I’ve always said I don’t travel enough to be good at it, unlike those people who can pack up a week’s worth of clothes and gear in twenty minutes, zip through airport security unflustered, and not wake up a thousand miles from home realizing they forgot their makeup bag, again.
Over the past few months, for a mix of personal and professional reasons, that’s changed. I’ve been traveling a lot, and surprised myself by getting pretty good at it. I’m not great—this last trip I forgot a few non-essential but nice-to-have meds, I left a trail of belongings across the U.S., I begged a suitcase from a new friend so I could transport my new books home from a conference. But I’m better than I was at the start of summer. Much better.
Today I’m sharing a few small and large pieces of gear that helped enormously in my fall travels.
My travel essentials:
I placed my order after friends who travel for a living said these packing cubes were a must. I was skeptical, but now I’m a believer. They’re great for organizing: on my last trip I had one “West Coast” cube and one “East Coast” cube, which saved time and stress. But I really love them because they let me fit way more into my suitcase.
Before I got these packing cubes, I didn’t think I could possibly fit a whole week’s worth of clothes and book tour supplies into a single carry-on, at least not during sweater season. But with the cubes, I had so much extra room on my shorter trips that I worried I’d forgotten things. I hadn’t—and put the extra room to good use on the way back, bringing home books and coffee from my travels. (Heads up: because of the density these lightweight cubes make your bag HEAVY, but golly, does it hold a lot.)
I discovered Away when they first sponsored What Should I Read Next? two years ago … and fell head-over-heels in love. If you’re a casual traveler, I’m not sure if the extra expense would be worth it. But if you frequently wheel your bag through major airports, or worse, through the NYC transit system, believe me when I say my Away carry-on is eleven notches up from my previous $80 Target suitcase. (I love Target, but serious suitcases just aren’t their bag.)
My Away bag (it’s the regular carry-on) holds a ton, is easy to organize, and easy to close. (You know it’s a good sign when airline personnel ooo and ahh over your bag, saying this is a nice one! But what I really love is the stable and graceful maneuverability. Also the pink. (It’s “blush” on the Away site.)
My first Away bag was black, but can I recommend getting yourself a fun color instead? I don’t typically like to stand out in a crowd, but gate-check pick-up (or worse, the baggage carousel) are a breeze when your bag stands out from the crowd.
A note about the battery, a feature that allows you to keep your devices charged on the go: in early smart suitcases, removing the battery was a hassle. In the new versions it’s a breeze—I’d pop this auxiliary charger out of my bag before carrying on (it works in or out of your suitcase), pop it in my purse, and plug in to keep my phone battery nice and high (for watching The Office onboard and calling an Uber when I landed).
I’ve never traveled with earplugs … until this trip. A kind Texas reader brought me a travel survival kit including a pair of earplugs, because sleeping in a strange place is hard. What she didn’t know was my Fort Worth hotel ended up being a hundred yards from a ten-lane highway abutting a bustling train depot with horns that sounded all night long. They worked so well I started using them in every city, because I never find hotels to be as quiet as I’d like.
These earplugs are now permanent residents of my travel toiletry bag.
In the past, I didn’t attempt to organize my toiletries; I just dumped them in a gallon-size ziploc bag. It was a mess. When I saw my friend’s L.L. Bean bag, I didn’t hesitate—I just asked her what size I should buy. (Medium.)
It’s easy to pull this out of my suitcase for airport security; unzip and hang it up for easy access in the hotel. It holds a ton of stuff if you need it to, but you can also pack it lightly to save suitcase space.
How adept are you at traveling? Any tips or tricks to share? I would love to hear YOUR favorite travel essentials in comments!