Essential travel items (plus travel tips)

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My coffee cup an I on a recent hike. This is arguably the most essential travel item!

I travel a lot both professionally and for fun.  I’m quite familiar with all different modes of travel: flying, road trips, business trips, car camping, tent camping, backpacking, RVing, trips close to home and trips around the globe.  Granted, I’m missing a few categories there like travel by bus, train or boat.  Travel really isn’t about the things you take with you but about the places you go.  No where is minimalism more important than when packing because lugging around extra junk when on the road is a huge hassle.  That said, there are a few items that I really wouldn’t want to be without on my trips so I thought I’d share those things and explain why I feel they are must-have items.

Making this list also made me think of some of my best travel tips so they’re stuck in as a bonus!

A few of these items have links to where you can buy them on Amazon.  I’m not a fan of ads, so I avoid them on most of my pages.  That said, I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you purchase something on Amazon after following one of my links, they pay me a few cents.  It doesn’t cost you anything extra and it does help me out.  The items listed here are all things that I both own and really love, so I’m not posting them just as an advertisement, but because I feel others might enjoy them as well.  (Amazon sells a gazillion things, so I really don’t need to suggest things I don’t love.)

Food and drink

Insulated water bottle and coffee cup

One of my recent favorites is my Hydro Flask water bottle and coffee cup.  They’re solid, and have amazing insulation.  The water bottle was a gift and I loved it so much, I had to get the coffee cup as well.  My coffee stays hot for hours and if I put ice in my water bottle, there will be some still left in there the next day.  I can’t say how nice it was to have ice water around to drink on my last trip through sweltering hot Oklahoma this August.

Travel Tip:  Take along a gallon of water in the car to refill your water bottle.  This keeps you hydrated and prevents you from having to buy expensive disposable bottles of water at gas stations.

Having a good coffee cup is essential too.  Not only does my coffee stay hot, The great thing about my Hydro Flask cup is that although it’s not guaranteed leak-proof, it didn’t leak at all when I tried turning it upside down!  Plus it’s sturdy enough to survive my outdoor adventures.  I actually love it enough that I’ve bought a couple as gifts for those close to me lately.  I’ll admit that these are pricey, but they are so worth it.

Travel Tip: Coffee refills at gas stations are cheaper than getting coffee in a disposable cup.  Plus it’s less wasteful and it keeps collections of disposable cups from gathering in the car.

Hot Pot

This electric hot pot has to be one of my favorite and most used travel items.  For a mere $15 it has been worth the investment several times over.  It opens up a ton of options in motel rooms including tea, coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal, soups, hard-boiled eggs, and more.  Staying at places without a microwave, I’ve filled it with a little water and then placed food in a bowl set into it to heat up miscellaneous things.  This version is light weight, and although cheap has lasted me for years and done all I’ve needed.

I admit that I am ridiculously picky about my coffee and often motel coffee doesn’t meet my standards.  With my little french press and my hot pot, I’m set to go no matter where I am.  Actually, I use this hot pot daily at home for heating up water for coffee and tea as it boils water faster than my microwave and is more convenient.

Ice Chest

Obviously, this is only good for trips where I have my car, not so much with flying somewhere.  The one I use is not really a model I’d recommend to anybody, so I’m not posting any links.  Although there are a few models by Yeti that I am drooling over.  I do love having my cooler with me.  It’s nice to be able to take along food and not be stuck eating a bunch of fast food.  It’s healthier, more convenient, and less expensive.  If looking to buy one, I’d recommend one with wheels and a spout to easily drain the water as the ice melts.

Travel tip: I like to freeze water in Ziploc bags or containers so that I have large blocks of ice to stick in my ice chest.  This is cheaper than buying ice and the large blocks last much longer.  I still add in some small ice cubes with my block ice because they help to kind of surround each item.


Snacks are important.  If I’m driving somewhere, I am sometimes so set on getting to where I’m going that I won’t stop to eat if it’s not convenient.  Having healthy, easy-to-eat snacks along makes a huge difference. Things like carrot sticks, apple slices, and trail mix are great.  I tend to have stuff in my ice chest to make sandwiches and I will make my sandwich before hitting the road because I know I won’t want to stop to dig everything out to make one while driving.

Travel Tip: ALWAYS bring snacks on airplanes.   This is something I learned the hard way from a very hungry experience sitting in an airplane stuck on the tarmac at the Austin airport for hours on a flight from Albuquerque to Dallas. (For those unfamiliar with the area, Austin is NOT on the way to Dallas.)

Bonus Travel Tip: If you’re a smoker, bring a backup form of nicotine with you like nicotine gum on flights.  (I quit smoking quite some time back, but this was another lesson learned in Austin.)

Silverware and misc.

If I’m heading out on a two week trip with the car, I have a bag that I use to pack my hot pot and some other food-related items like my coffee, tea, snacks, a bowl, and my french press.  One of the most useful things is having some silverware along.  Plus, it’s small enough to bring along on just about any type of trip.  Plastic silverware is always a trial.  I will bring along a very cheap – yet still real metal – fork, knife and spoon that I bought at Walmart.   I’ve done things like eating yogurt with a little wooden coffee stir stick, but I’d rather not have to.  Paper towels are another very useful thing to have along.



The zipper on my last suit case tore off from the material when I was in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport on a layover.  Of course, I’d over-stuffed it, but then it’s tricky to fit all you need in something that qualifies for carry-on.  It wasn’t good timing, but then, luggage by nature always fails during travel which is always bad timing.  So when looking for a replacement, I wanted something that would last.  The new suitcase I bought has been amazing to have.  I’ll admit that it was a bit expensive, but it has been worth it.  This isn’t the suitcase I would recommend for the person that only travels occasionally due to the price.  It is definitely one I would recommend to someone who does a lot of traveling.  It’s well-built and has a unique compression system that allows it to expand without the zippers used on most bags to accomplish this.  It’s sleek and durable.

Travel Cubes

I love these travel cubes.  All three will fit in my suitcase with a little room to spare.  They allow me to separate out my things and keep them organized.  It makes it nice because if I need something in the bottom of my bag, rather than digging through everything, I can just lift out the top travel cubes and get to my other stuff.  Clothes stay nicely folded in them.  Packing and unpacking is quick and easy.  These were absolutely worth the $10 that I spent for them.

I was ridiculously grateful for these one day when I had packed my suitcase and closed the lid.  I came back a few minutes later and picked it up, forgetting that I hadn’t zipped it.  Everything dumped out on the floor, but fortunately, most of my stuff was in these little packing cubes and it was easy to repack.  Of course I’m sure you probably don’t do things like picking up your suitcase without zipping it first.



I spend a lot of time on my computer for both personal and work pursuits.  I also travel a lot.  A couple months back, I found myself in need of a new computer, so I wanted something that would be powerful and ultra-portable.  I ended up buying a Microsoft Surface.  I was a little unsure about the purchase at first.  (Shopping is kind of hard for me and I always second-guess decisions, especially decisions involving a lot of money.)  I have been very impressed with it and am so glad that this was the choice I made.  It is portable, full-powered and all around amazing.  When I’m at home, I plug in my full-size monitor, keyboard, etc and it is more that powerful enough to do all I need.  On the go, it provides the full computer experience I need for business purposes while being small and light weight.  Yet it also functions as a great tablet for reading Kindle books in bed.  I went for this model because I wanted something that would handle all I needed to do for work.  It’s also available in slightly less powerful models at cheaper prices.

Power Pack

There are many times I would not want to be without my power pack to recharge my phone.  Useful everywhere from mountain tops to airplanes.  Need phone.  Enough said.

Travel Tip:  ABC- Always be charging.

Power Cord/Surge protector

Some motels have convenient outlets and others don’t.  More than once, I’ve been grateful to have my power cord with me.  Plus, it also doubles as a bit of an extension cord when I want to plug things in further from the available outlets.  If I’m just taking a short trip, I don’t generally bring it.  If I’m heading out for a business trip though, I always bring one along.

Pillow and blanket

I almost always bring along my own pillow.  Nights in a motel with uncomfortable pillows are just awful.  Almost nothing gives me the comfort of home while on the road like my own pillow.  I’ll also bring along a blanket.  Sometimes I wrap it around my cooler to keep my food longer.  Sometimes I’ll use it if I need a short nap on the side of the road before driving on.  Sometimes I stay at State Park cabins that don’t provide bedding.  Sometimes, I just leave it in my car, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it.

Travel Tip:  On long car trips, sticking a pillow behind your back helps to change your position a little and make driving more comfortable.  Changing the seat position once in a while can also help.

What are your favorite travel items and tips?  Share them in the comments below.


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