Depending on individual travel style, the differentiation between a “necessity” and “luxury” item can certainly vary. I do not actually have many actual necessities when I travel, but I do have several nice-to-have items that whenever possible, I take with me. These are my packing favorites. If you have other recommendations, let me know!
Compression Socks – I have owned basic graduated compression socks from various brands, but my preference recently has been the patterned styles from Sockwell since they’re more feminine and fun. With pants, any variety is relatively discreet and the benefits outweigh any nuisance of having to wear these. They have saved my feet from swelling several times. You may just have to plan your travel outfit around these (e.g., leggings don’t work as well since they are snug already and it can be tough to squeeze a pair of tall socks underneath).
Travel Flashlight or Headlamp – For a portable flashlight, try to find a model that is lightweight and uses standard (or better yet, rechargeable) batteries that are easy to replace. A compact style is useful during power outages, illuminating hiking trails and for walks back to your room after dark. If you are going to do any hiking, you might just want a small headlamp since that can be used for bicycling at dawn and dusk as well and can easily be used as a carried flashlight too. I prefer an LED headlamp because it is most versatile (reading, trekking, caving, etc.) and the best part is that it keeps your hands free. Just remember to keep the batteries fresh.
Plastic Zipper Bags – I bring a few zipper bags in different sizes with me on trips since they roll up super small and are feather light. These can save your passport or paper money if you are caught in the rain, protect your electronics from the bottle of liquid hand cream you packed in the same bag or keep food crumbs contained if you decide to open that granola bar. They have saved me on more than one occasion.
RFID Sleeves – With increased technology comes increased security concern. RFID chips are becoming more common in credit cards, passports and driver’s licenses. A set of inexpensive RFID sleeves can help protect those cards from having their personal information swiped without your knowledge. This is especially important in congested areas such as trains or shopping centers. Remember to get the appropriate size for your need (e.g., passport or credit card size). Another option would be an RFID protected wallet but those do cost more than the sleeves themselves.
Passport Holder – If your passport has an RFID chip, be sure to get a folio with RFID protection. My favorite passport holder has a zipper and several compartments inside to hold other cards and travel documents. It helps me keep boarding passes, itineraries, dive certification cards and even a small pen handy in one place. Because of the zipper, nothing falls out in my bag. It can replace a general wallet in order to save space as well (some styles are fashionable and even have wrist lanyards).
Bug Repellent – I do not tend to travel with liquid or spray repellent due to airline carry-on restrictions so when Ben’s Wipes were recommended to me, I had to give them a try. They worked wonderfully. I like that they are individually wrapped and the packages do not carry a smell. To get the most out of them in my cabin, I used the wipe then left the open wrapper and used wipe on the nightstand near my bed to deter any creepy crawlies. Keep in mind that these have a high (30%) DEET content so you do need to be very careful and just use them when necessity warrants and wash your hands after use.
Laundry Color Protecting Sheets – This is a genius little product by Shout. These lightweight paper-like sheets absorbs any color transfer (“bleeding”) in the laundry washing process. If you are going to be traveling for a while and need to have your clothes laundered, this allows various colors to be washed together to minimize the loads you need (and hence, reduces cost). You may have to explain what these are if you plan to send out your laundry, though.
Spork – The CRKT Eat’n Tool is a multipurpose eating utensil that doubles as a bottle opener, screwdriver and wrench. It comes with a small carabiner that hooks easily inside a backpack. It is lightweight but still metal and I did have to explain its purpose as I sent my carryon through Taipei airport security. That was the only time I had any issues though.
Disposable Facial Cloths – I have been using Olay disposable facial wipes for years. Hotels rarely provide enough washcloths and in a hostel, you may be lucky just to find a bar of soap. These lightweight dry cloths already have gentle cleanser that foams when wet so no need to declare with your liquids and gels at the airport. The downside is that they end up in a landfill until they dissolve permanently. The upside is that most countries where you would use these either burn their trash.
Lip Sun Protection – I use SPF lip balm (the higher the better) whether I’m in the city or at the beach and I generally carry a few with me at all times, especially on dive boats where you forget how much sun exposure there is. There are some convenient little carabiner-style holders that can fasten to a backpack, dry bag or belt loop for easy access.
Face Sun Protection – I have gotten more selective on sun protection over the years, particularly for my face. I prefer plant-based products whenever available.
Solid Shampoo – I like Lush solid cosmetics, especially their cinnamon shampoo bar since it helps me reduce the amount of liquids I need to carry. This shampoo lathers exceptionally well, even in a cold water showers, and it smells delicious.
Long-Lasting Cosmetics – I generally do not take much makeup with me when I travel, but someone once told me that eyeliner and lipstick can make you feel fabulous even when you are far from home. My favorite eyeliner is Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof in Espresso but I prefer lip sun protectant over lipstick any day.
Flat-Iron/Curling Iron Cover – Girls, how many times have you needed to pack but your iron still wasn’t cool? This protects your bag contents when you are in a hurry and can not wait. Several companies manufacture these, but I prefer Vera Bradley so my luggage organization items match. And yes, a flat iron is indeed my luxury item. We all have our priorities.