What’s in my bag: travel essentials from a road warrior

What’s in my bag: travel essentials from a road warrior

As someone who travels like it’s her job, I have packing down to a pseudo-science. My suitcase isn’t packed exactly the same every time, but I definitely have some core necessities. Below you’ll find some of the things in my suitcase, complete with links.


Travel closet

After trying and failing for years to like packing cubes, I found a travel solution that works amazingly for me: the travel closet. There are a couple of suitcases that have these built in, but I’m a bigger fan of the portable ones that can be put into my carry-on OR checked bag. Tropic Feel also sells a smaller closet that I use for short trips—it fits decently in my carry-on from them.


Rewards credit card

My Capital One Venture X is amazing. I use it for everything that my Savor One doesn’t get 3% back on. There are also no foreign transaction fees on any Capital One cards. Effectively, that means my rewards come out to:

  • 2% minimum back on everything (Venture X)
  • 3% back on groceries/restaurants/streaming/entertainment (Savor)
  • 5% back on flights booked through Capital One — which has been all of them (Venture X)
  • 10% back on hotels booked through Capital One (Venture X)
  • All the money saved by eating in airport lounges and not buying food

With the annual travel credits that equal the membership fee and Priority Pass getting me access to lounges and food in airports, this card actually pays for itself and then some. Gone are the days of paying $12 for the driest sandwich of my life.

You can apply for this card with my referral here.


Schwab card

On the rare occasion I need cash, my trusty Schwab card is ready for action! I keep this card for the odd debit-based transaction and to withdraw cash. Schwab doesn’t charge ATM fees, has no foreign transaction fees, and refunds all ATM charges worldwide. So if you’re like me and find yourself with a $7 ATM charge in Argentina or Zimbabwe, rest assured that you’ll get it back.


Phone wrist strap

This one is kind of cheating because I use it every day, but I think a wrist strap for a phone is life-changing. It’s not bulky like a purse or lanyard strap, it can easily be hidden, and it still allows you to be hands-free when you need it. It’s not ideal, but I frequently “drop” my phone when I realize I have too many things in my hands. In true sustainable fashion, I re-used wristlets from old cases/devices.


Toiletry bag

I know many people that are content to throw their shampoos and lotions in a plastic bag and be done with it, but life can be so much better. After years of trial and much error, I have found the perfect toiletries bag from Travelon. It can hang almost anywhere, it has enough storage for your essentials, and it keeps them organized AND accessible. After months of travel with it, I can honestly say it has made my life so much better. I’m also less likely to forget things since I can see everything hanging when I’m packing.


Shower shoes/slippers, can double as beach shoes

Depending on your location and lodging situation, sandals/flip-flops are a MUST. Since I’m averse to anything in between my toes, I have the versatile EVA Birkenstocks. These waterproof shoes have seen many showers, beaches, and floors. I’ll also wash them and use them as house shoes on certain trips. Havainas are another favorite for flip-flop fans.


Stylish sneakers

Previously, I had slip-ons that I wore for nearly everything. Once I learned that sneakers are both more comfortable and have more traction, I made the switch. My go-tos right now are a cream colored sambas with elastic laces that effectively make them slip ons. The shoes made my 30000 step days much more comfortable.


Noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs

Filtering out the noise of my surroundings has been a boon for my travel experiences. My trusty Sony XM4s are 3 years strong, and very few things save my sanity like only hearing sweet silence (with my earplugs) or the melodies of my Spotify. With my headphones, dual device pairing also lets me spare my phone battery by using my tablet for fun while staying connected to my phone for bidness/emergencies. I’ve also been able to ignore many a crying baby on flights.

Earplugs quickly went from an occasional to a required pack for me. They can be used in noisier environments to save your ears at concerts and bars and to save your sleep in bed. I’ve invested in two Loop earplugs: for concerts [Experience Pros] and sleep [Quiet Plus]. To secure my investment, I also have a strap to hang them around my neck between sets or during conversation. Hearing is something that we can’t regain once lost, so best to care for our ears now.


Bags with a purpose

I have 4 main categories for bags in my travel rotation: a reusable shopping bag, a cross-body, a foldable backpack, and a backpack for my personal item on the plane.

For the foldable backpack, I picked up a longchamp backpack on a trip to Europe (and got that sweet VAT refund on the way out). The foldability adds to it’s portability, plus it’s water resistant and holds up well to the abuses of travel. I’ve also got a small crossbody (like this) that fits my phone, tablet, and keys during the day and the backpack while in transit.

While I’m ambivalent about the brand of backpack, the main feature that I like in this bag is the ease with which it transfers from a shoulder bag to a backpack. In tight spaces and public transit, this comes in handy. I also have a Nike backpack from highschool that’s held up very well to the decade of abuse.


Foldable keyboard

It should come as no surprise that I write quite a bit. Obviously my website is virtual, but so is my journal. Typing essays on touchscreens is a special type of hell, and as such I bought a full-size foldable travel keyboard that is a life and wrist saver. Writing on the road is so much easier when I’m not fighting with autocorrect on a weirdly-sized keyboard.


Bar soaps

For as long as I can remember, I have preferred bar soaps to body wash. Now that I travel a fair amount, I’m thankful because they save me time in security and packing. Bar soaps are lighter and more compact than their liquid counterparts, and are designed to travel as-is. I love Ethique’s bar products, and I also use their (compostable!) travel containers.

As I detailed in this post, bar products are also a greener way to live. I have bar face wash, shampoo, conditioner, deoderant, and even a stain remover stick. Ethique is my go-to brand because the products work well for me and the environment. They also have a great return policy if a product doesn’t work out for you.


Microfiber towel

Microfiber towels are amazing because not only do they absorb an insane amount of water, they also are ridiculously compact. Some hostels charge for towels, and I’ve learned that for my locs, microfiber is the way to go when towel drying. I know other travelers also use them as beach towels. Even Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy recommends a good towel above all else when trekking the universe.


Travel bidet

Everybody poops. It’s a sad but true fact. Travel bidets saved me from a surprising number of toilet paper woes, from the shortage in Cuba to toilets that can’t take it to the scratchiest one ply of my life. It’s truly a little miracle of modern amenities. They’re also better for your skin and the environment (fewer trees!) I’ve got a collapsible one from TUSHY that I take when I only have a carry-on, and a slightly bigger one for when I have a checked bag.


Satin bonnet/pillowcase

My hair is low-maintenance, but not no maintenance. One thing I do to protect my locs is sleep with a satin bonnet at night. At home I also sleep with a satin pillow-case. Traveling with a pillow case can also benefit the skin, but honestly I’m content just bringing my bonnet around.


Foldable tripod selfie stick

Honestly, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking people for pictures. Once upon a time I carried a tripod selfie-stick with a bluetooth remote, and I would weigh down the tripod with my backpack so it didn’t fall over—especially with strong winds.

While it works, I just simply don’t care as much anymore about my pictures. Asking a stranger is faster and easier, and while there’s a slight risk, I don’t have an overly nice phone to begin with. Another reason to be team Android: people are less inclined to steal them since their resale value is so much lower.


When I’m remote working

  • Portable screen: An extra 12”-14” is essential for the video calls that require multitasking or taking notes. I also use it with a little stand to lift it, so I can reduce my neck strain.
  • Mouse: Computer mouses are far more ergonomical. Logitech products also have a universal receiver dongle, so you only need one USB port.
  • Foldable keyboard: This is more for my tablet, but I occasionally use it for my laptop when I want a bit more space.
  • Laptop sleeve: In addition to offering a little protection, mine also comes with a little riser that raises the screen closer to my eyeline AND offers a bit of ventilation for my laptop.


Things I NEVER bring

  • Packing cubes: the appearance of organization but chaotic, especially for capsule-type wardrobes. I could go on about the insanity of this packing cube propaganda.
  • Anything that required multiple pouches: see above, it’s still disorganized.
  • All in one bags: different trips require different bags and different packing styles. Best to have things that can be packed in different bags
  • “travel” skincare routines: my skin is NOT happy when I change the environment AND the products on my skin. Streamlining a routine so that it can be done anywhere is the way! I make an exception for an in-flight mosturizer though, because that air is DRY.


Closing thoughts

We don’t need much to travel in comfort, but we do need the right things! Simplifying life at home has also simplified life on the road, but these recommendations work for all sorts of packers.

tbt to that one time I packed my entire life into NINE suitcases. Simultaneously far more and far fewer things than I thought.

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