What Are Your Top 5 Travel Must-Haves, Tara?

August 15, 2012 by

Editor’s Note: We asked our writers to put together a list of their 5 travel must-haves. Now, we’re sharing all their travel-savvy wisdom with you. 

I have been traveling seriously, in the my-trips-not-my-family’s sense, for twenty years. Advancing age isn’t necessarily something we celebrate in this society, but as a traveler it does come with a few perks. Among them: knowing yourself and your travel style very well from long experience.

By this point in life, I can pack a bag on auto-pilot. I know which items will never get used (high heels, hair appliances, anything related to work or other serious pursuits), which can go in a pinch (most electronics other than my phone, that “just in case” outfit, half my makeup), and which are absolute, life-saving “musts.”

Here are five of my favorite must haves, as learned from half a life (so far!) of travel:

Camera. Like many people, I store memories visually. Pictures or it didn’t happen! So a camera is an absolute must-have for recording those spectacular sights and small moments I love to revisit in later years through well-stocked photo albums.

I grow so attached to my cameras, I remember them the way some women look back on past boyfriends. There was the comfortable first love — a manual-focus Nikkon SLR that stayed by my side through those super-budget post-college years abroad. There was the brief handsome fling — a gorgeous rangefinder film camera bought just as everyone switched to digital. The marriage of convenience — a pair of adequate point-and-shoots when I went digital, too. And finally the perfect all-around family camera — an Olympus EP-1 with a Panasonic 1.7 lens. The micro 4/3 camera is small and light enough to slip into my shoulder bag, it takes beautiful photos, and the lens  works even in shockingly low light.

Earplugs. We all have certain small things — something completely innocuous to others — that make us want to flip out and run screaming from the room. For me, it’s sounds like gum popping and open-mouthed chewing.

My general sanity went up 43% once I started carrying earplugs in my purse at all times. Earplugs are also great for airport lounge TVs, that loud talker in Row 23, and the hotel room near the elevator or ice machine.

Light wool shawl. My mother gave me a thick cashmere shawl for Christmas in 1993. I originally found the gift a little odd. What in my late-teenage lifestyle said “shawl”? Eventually I discovered that shawls are fantastic travel companions.

Wear one as an extra layer of warmth at night or a modesty cover for religious sites, drape it as an airline blanket, or fold it as a small pillow. I still have the original 1993 number, but I’ve also picked up a whole wardrobe of beautifully patterned thin wool versions for around $20 each from random eBay rug merchants.

Snacks. Something deep in my lizard brain is sure that travel means impending famine. Put me on an airplane or into a hotel room and close the doors, and the lack of refrigerator access leaves me suddenly, desperately hungry. My toddler is a convenient excuse for a purse full of snacks, but the vast majority are really for Mama.

“Emergency” zip bag. Severe weather, major change in travel plans, nowhere to sleep for the night? No problem, I can deal. Onion breath, chapped lips, or a blister on my heel? Stress! Panic! Alert the medics!

It’s not hard to find things like breath mints or Band-Aids on the road, but what if they’re not there right away when you need them? I rest so much easier knowing I’m prepared for any minor emergency. Cue the pre-packed zip bag of Band-Aids, foot tape, safety pins, gum and mints, Tums, aspirin, blotting papers for an oily nose, lip balm, and my beloved ear plugs.

With those in my arsenal, I’m ready to take on the world!

Chic Travelers: What can’t you leave home without? Tell us your travel must-haves in the comments below!

Image Credit: Tara Wang

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3 Comments so far

  1. Joquena says:

    I envy your light packing skills. Maybe it’s the 3 young kids but we travel I feel like I fill every inch of the car, of every allotted bag and carry-on. Tell me you take more stuff when your kids are with you, please!

  2. Tara says:

    Oh, kids are a WHOLE different story! How can someone a fraction of the size of an adult require 3x the luggage??!?

  3. Penny W. says:

    All good ideas! I recently decided that a light sweater is necessary for all travelling, anywhere, even somewhere tropical. A shawl is probably even more versatile.

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