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I love traveling. Whether for work or for fun, domestic or international, to explore or to relax, I love being able to explore new places and see (and eat) new things. Since college, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to travel, thanks partly to going to graduate school overseas, and with “travel hacking,” making the most of frequent flyer miles, credit card points, and abnormally low airfare to make travel more affordable.
As I’ve gotten more experience traveling, I’ve started bringing less and less with me on each trip. I’ve gotten more comfortable leaving that extra pair of jeans home, or that third pair of shoes.
However, there are still a few things that I always bring with me on every trip. When it comes down to it, being somewhere different is great, but there are challenges, too. From packing everything in accordance with your airline’s rules, to keeping up with your beauty routine while living out of a small dopp kit, I asked the rest of the Insider Picks team for their must-have items when they hit the road — things that make traveling easier, more comfortable, more efficient, or cheaper.
Take a look below at 25 of our favorite travel essentials.
A selfie stick to make sure everyone (and everything) is included in your photos
People may laugh, but Anker’s selfie stick is a great thing to have when you’re traveling. Selfie sticks make it easy to take group photos without cutting anyone out or losing the background entirely. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
A pack of makeup wipes to keep skin fresh on the go
I always travel with these makeup-removing wipes from Aveeno; in fact, I’ve resorted to buying extra packs and storing them in my go-to rolling suitcase and duffel bag. The wipes are great for more than removing makeup — they’re also handy for quickly cleansing your face of sweat after a hike or a hot day at the beach, for example. — Ellen Hoffman, Insider Picks senior editor
Away is a relatively new luggage startup that offers roller bags in a handful of different sizes for carrying on or checking. The carry-on versions include an ejectable battery and two USB ports so that you can charge your devices with ease at the airport.
I find that the regular carry-on size is plenty spacious for 3-4 day trips — I recently traveled with it to a work conference in Utah and a bachelorette party in Nashville, and I credit it for making these trips smoother overall; it’s compression straps and included laundry bag are nice pluses. Currently, you can choose from nine colors, like blush pink and sky blue in addition to your classic black and navy. — Ellen Hoffman, Insider Picks senior editor
A wallet that also holds your important travel documents
I never really bothered with passport holders before, preferring to just slip my passport in a jeans or backpack pocket. Then I tried one out, and I became a convert. The Bellroy Travel Wallet is basically a folio for all of your travel documents, like a passport, boarding passes, landing cards, extra currency, and anything else you have. I can even put my Priority Pass airport lounge card in there so that I don’t take up room in my regular, everyday wallet. It’s an easy way to streamline everything and stay organized at the airport and at passport control. You can also take a look at a few of the other passport wallets I tested.— David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
Noise cancellation headphones for quieter plane rides
Bose’s noise-cancelling headphones are simply a life changer. Bose developed the first active noise cancellation headphones for commercial use in the 1980s, and brought the technology to the masses with the original QuietComfort headphones in 2000. Since then, each iteration of headphones has gotten better and better. The QuietComfort, or ‘QC’ 35 headphones are effective, wireless, comfortable, and just about perfect. They also come with a wire and an adapter in case you need to connect to something that isn’t equipped with Bluetooth — for instance, and airplane’s in-flight entertainment system. — David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
Note: Currently only available from third-party sellers
The right credit card to earn rewards and access lounges
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider
Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy
I absolutely never travel without my Platinum Card® from American Express and my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. That may seem nuts, since it means I pay $1,000 in annual fees between the two cards, but it makes sense for me — you can read why here. Even if you don’t want to carry both, just one can be incredibly useful.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points per dollar spent on all dining and travel — so the vast majority of your purchases during a trip — as well as an annual $300 travel credit that offsets a big part of the annual fee. It also includes numerous protections including trip and baggage delay insurance, trip interruption coverage, and primary rental car insurance, as long as you use the card to pay for your trip.
The card also offers access to airport lounges through the Priority Pass program, which you can read more about here.
The Amex Platinum offers 5x points on airfare purchased from the airline and prepaid hotels reserved through AmexTravel.com, but doesn’t have the same level of protections as the Sapphire Reserve. It does, however, offer a number of useful credits, and significantly more extensive lounge access within the US.
Both cards have no foreign transaction fees, and come with rich bonuses for new cardmembers. The Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, while the Amex Platinum offers 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. — David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
Packing cubes to help you maximize the space in your duffle
I didn’t use to travel with packing cubes, but once I got these, I’ve rarely packed without them because they keep me so organized. I can separate my belongings by category or outfit so I don’t upend my entire suitcase or duffel in pursuit of the clothing items at the bottom of the compartment. I also like to use one as a dirty laundry bag that I can instantly empty into my hamper once I get home from my trip. Paravel’s come in three sizes, are made from a smooth nylon, and have a small window to preview what’s inside. I’ve used them in Away’s carry-on, which is already fairly structured (but extra organization never hurts) and Everlane’s Mover Pack, which, as a duffel bag, can get pretty unorganized without some extra assistance from the packing cubes. — Connie Chen, Insider Picks reporter
A more affordable noise-cancelling headphone alternative
A travel backpack built by a veteran outdoor company
Plain and simple, this is the best carry-on bag I’ve ever found. It fits 35L worth of stuff, but it still magically meets airline restrictions for a carry-on. And while it has savvy travel-friendly design hacks like a suitcase-opening, its creator, Cotopaxi, is technically an outdoors gear brand, the bag itself is reminiscent of that; The Allpa inherited the tuck-away straps, rain-resistant finish, and low-profile harness that helps evenly distribute the weight of a pack more commonly found on hiking trails. For traveling purposes, it’s opens like a suitcase, so you don’t have to waste time digging to the bottom of a traditional backpack. – Mara Leighton, Insider Picks reporter
A moisturizing mask to refresh your skin on long flights
Skin gets dry on airplanes, so I like to bring some sort of mask with me when I fly. Sheet masks are usually drippy and messy, so I prefer to use a moisturizing mask like this one that goes on like a lotion. I basically just swipe on a dime-size amount and let it soak in over the course of my flight. — Sally Kaplan, Insider Picks editor
A misting spray that will keep your face hydrated wherever, whenever
I carry this misting spray with me everywhere in the summer, but no matter the season, you’ll never catch me without it on an airplane. It’s another great way to keep your skin hydrated and refreshed when the air is attempting to sap you dry. — Sally Kaplan, Insider Picks editor
A portable charger that can charge two devices on the go
If you have an iPhone, this battery pack is the only one you’ll ever need. It has a built-in lightning cable for your iPhone and a built-in micro-USB cable for any wireless headphones, kindles, or other devices you have. There’s also a USB-C version for Android fans. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
Note: USB-C version currently unavailable
A bluetooth keyboard so you can conveniently use a tablet like a computer
Unless I’m traveling for work, working remotely, or for some reason need to edit photos before I get home, I avoid bringing my laptop when I travel. Even the newest models add weight to your luggage. Instead, I’ve been bringing a wireless keyboard to connect to my tablet. I’m a fan of the Logitech Keys-To-Go. While I might not want to type a novel on it, it’s great for e-mails and notes, and it’s super lightweight and portable. — David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
Note: Currently unavailable
A kindle that allows you to read plenty of books and saves space in your bag
I love my Kindle, and I take it everywhere. The Kindle Oasis may be the most expensive one, but it’s worth it because it’s waterproof, has a backlight, includes page-turning buttons, and it’s super slim and light. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
A durable notebook to hold important information
We all rely on our phones for almost everything, but I like to make sure I have a small notebook to store important information lest I lose my phone, or find myself unable to grab a charge. Sure, any old cardboard-covered cheapie will do, but I’m rough on things and Moleskines are less likely to end up in tatters. I also appreciate the expandable inner pocket, which is handy for storing small documents like plane tickets and receipts. — Owen Burke, Insider Picks guides reporter
A charging cable that works on every kind of smartphone
If you travel with a lot of tech gadgets, you need a universal cable. Nomad’s is the best one because it’s super sturdy, long enough to reach, and it has lightning, USB-C, and Micro USB endings, so you can charge literally any smartphone with it. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
Comfortable flip-flops for hotel and AirBnB floors
If you’ve stayed at enough Airbnbs, you probably know that it’s a good idea to bring flip flops with you to protect your feet from fungus. I take these ridiculously comfortable, machine washable flip flops with me when I travel. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
Durable bags for all different kinds of travel
Patagonia’s Black Hole series travel bags are some of the best out there. I use the 40L bag for everything from short weekend trips to two-week-long vacations. — Breton Fischetti, VP of Insider Picks
Wireless earbuds that hardly take up any room
I rarely travel with a checked bag anymore, so space is a top concern. For shorter trips where I don’t want my Marshall over-ear headphones to take up prime real estate or get crushed, I bring along my Jaybird RUN truly wireless buds. They’re tiny enough to keep in my pocket, and their charging case takes up less room than a pair of rolled socks. Plus, they’ve got an 8-hour playtime and on the off-chance I forgot to charge them beforehand, 5 minutes in their charging case gives me an hour of listening time. – Mara Leighton, Insider Picks reporter
I’ve tried a ton of different camera bags, and Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack is hands-down my favorite. The bag comes with three Velcro inserts that can be used to divide the main compartment, and can be adjusted, folded, reshaped, and moved while still Velcro-ed in place. It’s loaded with a ton of thoughtful, smart features, and is comfortable to carry all day. Some have complained that the bag is over-engineered, but I disagree — if you want help figuring out the most efficient way to use the bag, though, Peak offers full video walk-throughs for all of their products. You can read more about the Everyday backpack here. — David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
A collapsible water bottle for compact storage
A comfortable travel pillow to help you actually get some rest on flights, train and bus rides
As an extremely anxious traveller, I cannot overstate how helpful it has been to have a super comfortable, luxurious travel pillow with me on airplanes. This one is filled with silk fibers so it’s phenomenally soft and cloud-like, and I actually use it at home and in hotels to sleep on, too. It might seem silly or frivolous, but I’ve come to view it as a sort of security blanket that keeps me feeling safe and cozy when I’m anxious. — Sally Kaplan, Insider Picks editor
A mobile hotspot for WiFi wherever you go
Using your smartphone abroad can get incredibly expensive, since many US cellular providers offer international roaming plans that cost a fortune on a per-day basis. If your phone happens to be unlocked, you can buy a local SIM card, but that’s not a great solution since it means you’ll have a different cell phone number for the duration of the trip. The Skyroam Solis is a great alternative. You can connect several devices at a time, and everyone can use 4G data up to about 550 MB per day — and 2G data after that. Although you’ll have to buy the device and day passes for data — which are $9.99 each — that can be significantly cheaper than your provider’s roaming plan — especially if your whole group opts to use the Solis. — David Slotnick, Insider Picks senior reporter
A durable laptop case to protect your device in all kinds of conditions
I’ve had the Thule Gauntlet 13″ MacBook Pro case for over five years, and taken it through everything from squalls in leaky boats to monsoon seasons on motorbikes, and I still have the very same laptop I bought this case to protect. It’s also just large enough to pass as a briefcase, and the divider and accessory pouches allow you to get creative with your storage. The newest version of this case doesn’t come with the water-resistant zipper which upsets me, but it is more durable. — Owen Burke, Insider Picks guides reporter
A super-portable, accessible water bottle
I’ve had this water bottle for years, I take it with me on every trip, and it’s still going strong. It rolls right up when it’s empty, so it’s super portable. Plus, the lid makes a tight seal to prevent leaks and it has a carabiner on it so you can clip it onto your backpack while traveling. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor
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