Travel Essentials You Should Never Forget to Pack (Especially for Spring Break)
This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way many people think and navigate travel. But if you’re like me, you’re eager to book your next trip and partake in the upcoming spring break festivities. Traveling can be exhilarating and eye-opening, but most of us dread the packing and preparation stages, especially when you consider the weather, temperature and climate.
As the planner of my friend group, my enthusiasm for spring break causes me to forget the most essential items for a trip… Don’t get me started about the trip where I forgot socks and pajamas. While you can usually find what you need at your destination, it’s a total money and time-saver to pack properly beforehand.
Key items like clothing and shoes are harder to forget, but what about less obvious items that will allow you to have a carefree and memorable trip? Whether you already have your trip booked or you’re planning in advance, these are the 12 things you should bring on your next vacation. (For more travel tips, learn about the best way to pack a carry-on and check out this travel checklist.)
1. Hygiene items and prescriptions
On your travels, the last thing you want to forget is any essential hygiene or medical item. While you can easily get more deodorant to stay fresh on your trip, it’s much more important to remember medications that will be incredibly difficult to replace once you arrive at your destination. This includes contact lenses, birth control, prescription glasses and any other medications.
For women, most times we can plan a trip around our cycle, but sometimes life happens. It can be very costly and uncomfortable to be on a trip without sanitary items, especially when you need them. So, just make it a habit to pack a few. It’s better to have them and not need them than to not have them and need them.
2. A reusable water bottle
If you’re spending hours walking through city streets or going on a full-day hike in a national park, you’re going to need to hydrate frequently. It’s not always easy to access water in certain destinations — not to mention how brutally hot or humid it can be in certain climates — so taking a refillable bottle with you is always helpful.
Sure, you could rely on purchasing water bottles at your destination, but water is often expensive in popular tourist hubs or hotels, and grocery or convenience stores aren’t always nearby, especially in rural or woodland areas.
Here’s a list of some great water bottles. If your destination’s tap water isn’t drinkable, think about a water bottle with a built-in filter.
3. Portable power banks
When traveling, you’re likely going to be using your phone more — pulling up boarding passes, looking up places to go and directions to those places, keeping in touch with friends and family back home and taking hundreds of pictures. All of this drains your battery, and it can be frustrating to interrupt your busy itinerary of sightseeing to charge your phone. Plus, access to power outlets is never guaranteed.
That’s why it’s always good to bring a portable power bank with you. Power banks put the power in your pocket for easy access and usually aren’t too expensive. I recommend investing in one that’s not only reliable, but can also charge your phone multiple times before needing to be charged itself.
Read also: Must-Have Travel Gadgets to Make International Trips Stress-Free
While bus tours or subway rides can be super fun, they’re not always the most cleanly of places. During your travels, you’re likely going to have to grab “high-touch” objects like remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, faucet handles, etc. so it’s important to keep hygiene in mind to prevent illness.
Washing your hands might not always be an immediate option so make sure to pack a few towelettes with you. Plus, small wipes should make it through security checkpoints without issue.
5. A quick-dry towel
Towels come in handy more often than not and you never know when one might save the day. Maybe you spilled on your outfit or got caught in a rainstorm and need to dry off quickly. Or maybe you arrived at your hotel or Airbnb only to find they didn’t provide towels.
Quick-drying towels are not the most luxurious option, but they’re lightweight and easy to stow away while traveling. Most importantly, they dry super fast so you can clean up and pack it up in your bag without too much of a wait.
6. Plastic bags
If there’s one travel necessity I swear by, it’s a plastic bag. Need to pack up your muddy shoes? Plastic bag. Want to separate worn dirty clothing from your clean items? Plastic bag.
While plastic or trash bags are not the most glamorous travel item, they have a multitude of uses and won’t take up much space in your luggage.
7. A packable backpack
I consistently pack too much in my carry-on luggage. I want to bring my cameras, hat, sunglasses, a change of clothes and some toiletries just in case my checked back is lost. But all of these items quickly add up to leave very little room in my backpack. And usually, I don’t want to take them all with me as I tool around the destination I’m visiting.
I suggest taking another smaller, preferably foldable backpack that you can use as you tour. This will keep you from having to pack and repack your carry-on bag. Plus, you can use it to carry the souvenirs you pick up along the way.
8. Bottle protectors
I come back from almost every trip I take with a bottle of wine or specialty beer as a souvenir. I love bringing a special bottle of beer, liquor or wine home to share with friends and family as I tell them about my adventures.
But before that can happen, the bottle has to actually make it through the trip home. And that means you’ll need to bring a form of protection. Many people swear by the wine-bottle-in-the-sock method or will swaddle the glass bottles with their clothes, but I prefer to pack an actual protective bottle bag. I recommend a protective bottle bag with padding and a zipper top that will help protect your clothing.
9. Dryer sheets
For me, this is a no-brainer. When you’re walking miles and miles through various train or bus stations, airports and cities, you’re going to work up quite the sweat. And your shoes will likely pay the price.
Bring several dryer sheets with you to help mask the smell of your shoes. Upon returning to the hotel or Airbnb at the end of your day, simply place a dryer sheet in each shoe to help aerate them.
10. A universal plug adapter
You probably already know this. I’m going to remind you anyway: If you’re traveling abroad, you need a plug adapter. Outlets in the US are a different size from outlets overseas, which means if you intend to use electronic devices in a different country, you’ll need an adapter.
You could try to buy one at your destination, but they can be expensive and hard to find. It’s best to pack one with you before you go to save time and money.
11. A travel router
OK, this might seem like overkill, but a travel router has saved me on more than one occasion. Internet connection is not always reliable when traveling or in certain rural areas, and establishing a wired connection is almost always going to be more dependable than wireless (especially in hotels). I feel much safer traveling knowing I have a stable connection to call in case of an emergency, keep up with the group I’m traveling with or connect with loved ones back home.
Here’s some more good news: Travel routers are usually small, affordable and easy to pack. You can buy one for anywhere between $20 and $100, and they’re usually not much larger than a wall adapter.
12. A packable down or rain jacket
No matter if you’re heading to a tropical destination or hitting the streets of a European city, it’s always wise to bring an extra down or rain jacket (or umbrella if you have the space). Even if you check the forecast religiously, you could still get caught in a freak rainstorm or have a chillier night than expected.
One of the best options that won’t weigh down your suitcase is bringing a packable down or rain jacket that can easily fold up. Trust me, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Traveling can be a life-altering experience that creates memories that last a lifetime. But before you can experience all the magic of the cities around the world, you have to pack. And packing the right way can make all the difference by reducing stress and saving you money in the long run. While everyone might have a different idea of what items are essential for traveling, the 12 recommendations above are what I have found to be the most useful during my own trips.
If you’re planning a vacation soon and are stressed about preparing, we have plenty of resources to help. Get ready for your next trip with these hacks and tips: