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10 Essential Items to Bring on Every Trip

woman packing suitcase
sebra/Shutterstock

Packing is often one of the most stressful parts of a vacation, so let’s make it easier with a handy list of essential—and often forgotten—items.

The Obvious Essentials

There are some items that you need to make your trip happen. If you don’t have them, you won’t be getting on the plane, picking up your rental car, or checking into your hotel. They’re pretty obvious, but since they’re so important, let’s recap them. Never, ever, leave on vacation without:

  • Everyone’s (up-to-date) passport so you can all get on the plane.
  • A credit card that works internationally for any unexpected (or expected) expenses that crop up.
  • Whatever medications you need. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get them while you’re away.
  • Your driver’s license if you plan to rent a car.
  • Your smartphone. It’s almost certainly got all your flight and hotel information on it, plus it’s your camera, entertainment device, and a way to keep in contact with the others on your trip.

If you only pack the items above, you can make your trip happen even if you forget everything else. Sure, you’ll have to buy some cheap clothes at your destination, but it’s not the end of the world.

Phone Charger and a Power Adapter

That smartphone that’s so important? You need to keep it charged, so of course, you need your charger. But here’s the catch: if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll also need a power adapter to make it—and anything else you have with a plug—work.

travel adapter

You can buy them at the airport—for a price. You’re far better off ordering one of our favorites before you go. I’d recommend getting something that’s also a power strip: then everyone can charge their gear from a single socket.

A Spare Change of Clothes In Your Hand Luggage

Bags go missing—it’s just a sad fact of modern travel’s tight connections. Your stuff will probably arrive a day or two later, but it’s no fun sitting around in your sweaty travel pants until that happens. The trick is to pack a spare change of clothes—or at least, an extra pair of underwear and a t-shirt—in your hand luggage so, if the worst comes to the worst, you’ve something to change into when you arrive.

Or, you can go full one-bag and bring everything you own with you as hand luggage.

Comfortable Shoes

Shoes are surprisingly bulky, so they’re often one of the first things that get cut when people are trying to squeeze the last few items into their bags. This isn’t a terrible idea, but you need to make sure you leave out the right shoes.

On vacation, you almost always end up walking far more than you think you will: you make a mistake on public transport, you decide to explore some local markets, you end up on a walking tour, or any of a million other things.

This means the first shoes you pack—and ideally wear on the plane—should be something comfortable for a few miles of walking. I’d recommend some sharp looking trainers that, in a pinch, can double as your going out shoes. I use Nike Free RN Flyknits in black.

A Small Day Bag

Roller carryon bags are fantastic when you’re dashing to catch a flight. They’re not so good when you’re heading to the beach. That’s why you should bring a small, packable day bag. They’re perfect whether you’re exploring new cities, going for a hike, or chilling by the sea.

batac day pack

I love the Cotopax Del Dia Batac. It’s a super light 16L backpack that packs small but is still comfortable to wear all day. They come in super bright colors so you won’t misplace or forget them either. Any small backpack will do though.

The Right Clothes for the Weather

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. One big mistake people make is packing for the weather they want, not the weather they’re going to get. While Mexico has a reputation for being sunny, if you go during the wet season, it will rain most days. Check both the historical weather and the current weather forecast before you go anywhere, and pack accordingly.

If you’re going somewhere it’s likely to be hot, bring:

  • At least one pair of light shorts.
  • A tank-top or vest.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Flip flops.

If you’re going somewhere cold or wet, bring:

  • A decent jacket or rain shell.
  • A base layer or t-shirt.
  • A mid-layer or light sweater.
  • Non-cotton pants that dry quickly.
  • Extra pairs of socks in case your feet get wet.

A Small Multitool

Here at the Geek network, we’re huge fans of multitools. Mine has saved the day lots of times. Say, the screw in your eyeglasses comes loose? Multitool will fix it. What about a hangnail? Multitool will trim that bad boy right back. Need to open the plastic packaging for your travel power adapter? Damn right, multitool.

leatherman style

While I never leave home without mine, I make doubly sure I’ve got my Leatherman Style PS in my pocket when I’m going away for a few days. You can check out other great travel multitools over on Review Geek.

A Pen

A few decades ago, no one went anywhere without a pen. Now that so many things have gone digital, most people forget them. The problem is that a lot of travel stuff isn’t digital. If you’re going internationally, you might need to fill in landing cards, customs forms, and who knows what else. It just makes sense to keep one in your carry on bags. If you need a recommendation, check out our favorite everyday pens on Review Geek!

Something to Read (Or Any Other Offline Hobby)

When you travel, modern essentials like power and internet are not always available. It’s all too easy to get stuck somewhere with a dead phone or no wifi. Unless you want to spend a few hours sitting in silence, or God forbid, talking to other people, it’s an excellent idea to pack something that works offline. The classic is, of course, a good book or magazine, although a well charged Kindle will also do. If reading isn’t your thing, bring some other hobby you can do offline. I’ve seen people knit and play chess when we’ve been trapped on a plane waiting to take off.

A Corkscrew

One of the best bits of advice I ever got was “never go anywhere without a corkscrew.” Wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and it’s always fun, especially when you’re traveling in Europe, trying out the local varieties. Unfortunately, not every winery has gotten the memo about how handy screw-top wine bottles are. If you also like a glass of wine when you’re on vacation then make sure to keep a simple corkscrew in your bag. That way, you’ll never have to go hunting.


And there you have it, ten essential items that really should be in your bag on every trip. I’ve learned this the hard way, so don’t make the same mistakes as me.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »

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