We're always looking for ways to making traveling easier and more fun. Paying careful attention to what we pack helps us enjoy our travels more and prevents us from carrying around a bunch of stuff we don't need. So what have we made sure to bring? We've complied a list of our favorite travel products below!
Technology & Entertainment
Headphone splitter - Raise your hand if you've ever tried to listen to music or watch a movie with someone while sharing a single pair of headphones. Even when it's someone you actually want to be that close to, it's a real pain. For one thing, you each only get one ear piece so you only have half the audio, and if the cord isn't very long, any movement from either person could jerk the ear piece out of the other's ear. Take it from us, a headphone splitter keeps everyone happy. We don't personally own this one (because we made an overpriced impulse purchase at the airport) but it gets great reviews.
Bluetooth headphones - I got a free upgrade to an iPhone 7 when my phone got damaged, but I didn't consider the fact that it doesn't have a headphone jack until we were at the airport for one of our trips. Having downloaded some Netflix movies/episodes and Audible books I was pretty disappointed at the prospect of having no way to listen to them. I ended up purchasing some bluetooth headphones at the airport and I really like them. They have a built-in magnetic clip for keeping them securely wound up when not in use which can also clip to my collar when I'm listening with them so they don't swing around. The only downside is that they have to be charged and if your device doesn't support bluetooth, you're out of luck.
Digital Entertainment - Speaking of all of these audio devices, you'll need something interesting with which to use them. Many online streaming services now allow you to download movies or episodes to watch offline. We have subscriptions for Netflix and Amazon Prime so while we're waiting to board, I'll usually go into my mobile app and download several episodes of whatever show I'm watching or a couple of movies to have available for the flight. I also enjoy listening to audio books so I do the same thing with Audible, Audiobooks.com or Librivox (free audiobooks!). Not all streaming services allow offline use (Hulu, for one, does not) and even if yours does, the offline function may not be compatible on all devices. For example, at the time of this post, I can't get downloaded Netflix content on my Mac - only on my iPhone (or certain iPads and iPods). If you're counting on having something to watch or listen to, make sure you check ahead of time to make sure your provider allows offline use and on which devices.
Flight Flap - If you are planning to use your phone for some sort of entertainment, you might find it annoying to hold it the whole time or struggle to find ways to prop it up. We tried the Flight Flap on our trip to New England (direct 2.5 hour flight to and from Boston). According to the product info, the Flight Flap allows you to place your device where it can be easily viewed at eye level, reducing neck and back pain. It attaches to most airline seat backs and tray tables and accommodates almost every phone and tablet size. The Flight Flap is made of soft, closed cell foam and a rigid aluminum core allowing it to retain its shape without scratching or harming your device and making it extremely light and able to fold flat for easy transport and storage in laptop bag, purse, or pocket. At only $10 it seemed like a good investment for our in-flight comfort - and it was! I used it on both flights and it worked perfectly! It held my phone in place at a level that was easy to view and it hardly took up any space in my bag when I wasn't using it. Definitely recommend if you're planning to watch a show/movie while flying.
Waterproof Phone Case - When we booked a kayak swamp tour in Louisiana, I knew we would want to take pictures, but I was worried about dropping my phone overboard. We purchased these phone cases and they worked really well. They have a detachable neck strap which keeps the phone secure and within reach, and it's long enough to be able to hold the phone however you need for the pictures you want to take. The clear plastic is responsive to touch so it's easy to use your phone while it's inside the pouch and you can't even tell that your pictures were taken from inside the plastic shell. The case is easy to open/close and very lightweight. This would work well to protect against sand too! We followed the included instructions and tested both cases in a bowl of water before using and I would probably do that before each trip to make sure everything is still working properly. For $8 for two, you can't get peace of mind any cheaper!
External Phone Battery - Our phones get a lot of use on our trips - mostly for directions/research and for taking pictures. It's not uncommon to for the battery to be depleted before the day is done and it's not very fun always asking Brandon for his phone so I can take a picture because mine is dead (Brandon doesn't think it's very fun either). On trips where we're spending lots of time in the car, it's less of a problem because our phones can be charging anytime we're driving somewhere, but on days where we're exploring on foot or going for long periods without access to a charger, it's nice to have a portable charger just in case your phone doesn't make it through the day. We happen to have this one, but there are tons of options out there. I really like the idea of this one because it is so small (almost the size of a credit card), but I'm hesitant because it seems to only charge your phone to 35-40% and it's definitely one of the more expensive models I've seen. Any particular model may charge your phone faster, offer pass-through charging (so you can charge the external battery and your phone at the same time), take up less space or hold more charging power so be sure to check out the details. You'll also want to check current airline regulations for lithium batteries. At the time of this post, a power bank must be with you in the aircraft cabin - it can't be in your checked bag and if your carry-on gets checked at the gate, you'll need to remove the battery and keep it with you. When flying, I keep mine in my personal item so it meets those regulations and is easy to access at any time.
Dual Car Charger - As mentioned above, keeping our phones charged is a priority. We almost always have access to a car on our trip (unless we're in New York City, Boston or other big cities that are walkable or have great public transit systems) so we try to always pack a dual car charger so that we can both be charging our phones at the same time. We've played the "Whose phone needs it more?" game with a single charger and it's not fun. I'm not sure which model we have right now, but this one is cheap (about $9) and has fantastic reviews. If ours ever goes out or gets lost, this one is the one I'll be buying.
Books and/or Digital Reader - I never thought I would be on board with digital readers, but Brandon got me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas this year and it is pretty sweet. It's super light-weight, has a built-in adjustable light, a touch no-glare screen, wi-fi and a super long battery life (it lasts for weeks in between charges). I love that it can hold tons of books, allow me to highlight sections and make notes, look up words with the built-in dictionary and sync with my Goodreads account. It's also a great way to save money on books because the Kindle version is almost always significantly cheaper than the paper copy. Amazon frequently has great deals on Kindle books and websites like BookBub offer daily cheap (and free) deals as well. To be honest, I'm still reading (and buying) more paper books than Kindle, but I really do like reading my Kindle and I see myself transitioning to it more and more over time. I can't wait to try it out on our upcoming trip because it's lighter than even small paper books and it gives me access to lots of books without all the bulk. I'll also be able to read in bed regardless of the bedside lamp situation at each of our lodgings.
The Ungame - This suggestion is for you road trippers. I'm not much of a conversationalist on a plane - I usually prefer to read, watch a movie or sleep (if I can), but when we have travelled by car we have really enjoyed playing the Ungame. It's just a deck of cards with questions on them that you take turns asking each other. If it's not your turn to answer the question, you're not supposed to comment on what the other person said. Not only does this help prevent conflict (in the case of more sensitive topics, of which there are some in the Couples version), but it keeps the conversation moving. Once in a while you get a card that allows you to make a free comment or question about anything so if you're just dying to say something or ask a follow up, you will eventually get the opportunity. In the Couples version, there are lighthearted questions (one of my favorites was "Describe your dream home.") and some deeper ones like "What is something your mate does you wish they would do more?" We really like that it brings up a lot of topics we wouldn't normally think to ask each other and gives us the opportunity to share about ourselves and hear about each other. The Ungame has lots of different versions. We have the original which is good and the Couples version which I tend to like more, but is definitely designed for a more private setting. There's nothing inappropriate or sexual in the questions, but it asks things that most people probably wouldn't be comfortable sharing in a group. This "game" has entertained us for hours on different road trips simply by prompting us to learn more about each other.
Hygiene & Convenience
Travel Toiletry Bag - I have always used whatever was handy for packing toiletries and never gave it much thought, but when I stumbled across a good deal for a toiletry bag specifically made for travel I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did! These are so much better than just throwing all your stuff in a bag and picking through it every day to find what you need. I love anything with compartments so I can't believe I didn't discover these sooner! We happen to have this one and this one because we got them at a discount, but there are tons of options out there and most of them seem pretty comparable. They tend to have a big open pocket (with dividers), a compartment for toothbrushes, zippered pockets (which I love for earrings, q-tips or bobby pins) and other misc. areas. Brandon and are both pretty low-maintenance when it comes to cosmetics so we're usually able to share one bag between the two of us. The only thing that doesn't usually fit is a full-size aerosol can (like deodorant or hairspray). I like that it keeps all of our stuff contained and has a hook so it can be hung open for easy access (the hook is pretty small, though, so you may or may not end up having anything from which to hang it).
Travel Toothbrushes - It may seem like a silly thing to add to the list, but when I discovered this set of travel toothbrushes I was intrigued. They are compact and self-storing. I love that they fold up and stay contained so that I don't have to worry about where I set them down or how they get stored in my bag and they have little vents so you don't have to worry about moisture getting locked in. We only travel a handful of times per year, so they should last quite a while and at about $6 for a set of two, they're not any more expensive than regular toothbrushes. These worked well for us the first trip we tried them on (even though the head is smaller and the bristles are softer than we're used to) so we'll disinfect them and store them for future use. When we're ready for a change, I'll be curious to try this version. They seem slightly more compact and sturdier, but not fully contained.
Travel Bottles - We once missed a flight because of improperly packed shaving cream. Yes, really. When we checked in at the Charleston airport to fly home, we were told that we had been bumped up to an earlier flight because they were afraid our later one would be cancelled due to weather. We had to rush through the airport and through security to try to make this earlier time and, sure enough, for the first time ever, I was stopped by security. I had inadvertently packed Brandon's imported, almost brand-new container of shaving cream in my carry-on not thinking at all that it could be considered a liquid - because it's not. Seriously, if you held the jar upside down for hours it would not move at all. In the garbage it went, though, and I had to be patted down. "Don't worry," the female security officer said, "this isn't New York City, this is Charleston. You're not going to miss your flight." Well...we did. Luckily, our regularly scheduled flight wasn't cancelled and, after all that stress, everything went as previously planned. Lesson learned, though. It's worth paying extra attention to how we pack our toiletries and we're going to try this set of leak-proof travel bottles, complete with a TSA-approved clear carrying case on our next trip. The bottles are the approved size, have suction cups to attach to the mirror or shower stall, include multiple label options and are even dishwasher safe for when we want to clean them out for future use. There are lots of options for these kinds of bottles so shop around and read reviews (or just look for the colors you like).
Laundry Travel Aids - If you're going on a long trip (or you want to minimize your packing), it can be helpful to have these little travel detergent packs. They allow you to wash a small load of clothes in the sink. We haven't had the chance to use them yet, but they're so compact that there's no harm in brining them in the off chance that they will come in handy! Along the same lines, this travel size wrinkle refresher spray really helped keep our clothes looking (and smelling) fresh after spending so much time in our suitcases.
Travel Hangers - You never really know what the closet situation will be when you travel. On our longest trip, we stayed in six different Airbnbs, one of them for five nights. A few of them had closets but hardly any hangers. We had purchased some Tide Travel Sink Packets (above) in case we wanted to wash a small load of clothes in the sink, but when we realized we had nowhere to hang the clothes to dry (it was a shared bathroom), we ended up taking a trip to the laundromat instead. Whether it's having a way to dry clothes (which also would have come in handy after being rained on) or just being able to hang something so it doesn't get wrinkles, these will come in handy for our next trip.
Umbrella - Speaking of getting rained on, man, do I wish I would have packed an umbrella on our last trip. I had this one on my list but just didn't want to spend the $15. Big mistake! It rained on a handful of the days we were in New England. When we had our rental car it wasn't too bad, but it rained pretty heavily a couple of the days we were in Boston and it was a huge pain getting around while trying to stay dry. We either ended up wasting time waiting for it to stop, wasting money on a cab or getting wet knowing that we probably wouldn't fully dry out until we got home for the day (several hours later). Not having an umbrella really put a damper on those days. I like this particular umbrella because it comes with a travel waterproof case so you can pack it up and put it in your daypack without getting everything wet. You can go even more compact and get disposable rain ponchos, but I've never seen anyone wearing one of those and thought, "They look like they're having fun."
Wet Wipes - If you're traveling in a big city you may have a hard time finding public restrooms. You may also find yourself touching things that thousands of other people have touched. In Boston, we got a 7-day subway pass and it was great for getting around, but we often had to stand and hold onto the poles and I couldn't help but think of how germy they probably were. I'm not a germaphobe by any stretch of the imagination, but I often felt the need to wash my hands after riding the subway or touring a popular site. If you stop at an ice cream stand or get any sort of snack from a street vendor, it's unlikely that there will be a place to wash your hands first. It really grossed me out to think about eating anything with my hands after everything I had touched up to that point. These will be on my list for our next trip.
Wet Dry Bag - I used to try to remember to pack a garbage bag or two for dirty or wet clothes, but this wet/dry bag is a much classier (and studier) solution. This particular bag has dual layer water-resistant fabric that is lined with high quality polyurethane laminate with two separate compartments. According to the product information, it could not hold something dripping wet but is good for things that are damp. It's reusable, machine washable, has a strong zipper closure and a carrying handle. It comes in different sizes and fun prints (although I couldn't help but buy the neutral one). We recently stuffed it full (the fabric has a slight stretch to it which is great) and took a load to a local laundromat while in Boston and I was really thankful to have it! During the trip we keep it in our suitcase (or hang it on a door knob in our room if we're staying somewhere multiple nights) and put our dirty clothes in it and zip it up so there's no more guessing which clothes are clean and which are dirty.
Extra bag - We've gotten into the habit of packing a small extra bag in case we need more room on the way home for things we picked up on our trip. The goal is to share a personal item between the two of us on our flight out so we know we have the option to use the other small bag as a second personal item on the way home if necessary. We've always tried to find the balance between a bag that is small enough to not take up a lot of space on the way out, but big enough to be useful on the way back. We tried this one on our last trip. It's only about $18, folds up super small, is water resistant, comes in fun colors, and has great reviews. We didn't need it while we had our car rental, but once we got into Boston, we used it as a daypack. Brandon, who really hates wearing backpacks, said it was about as good as it can get. It's really lightweight, but it can hold quite a bit so it worked wonderfully for any souvenirs we picked up during the day as well as any other convenience items for a full day of exploring (like an umbrella, our external phone charger, water bottle or disinfectant wipes). I also had my eye on this very similar, slightly cheaper version. It's got some fun color options!
"Personal Item" - Airlines charge you for almost everything these days, especially the airlines we typically use because we're cheap. For example, Spirit Airlines and Sun Country charge you for any luggage (checked or carry-on) other than your "personal item." A personal item is a bag or object that meets certain size requirements which is allowed to be with you on the flight (it typically has to be stowed under the seat in front of you during take off and landing). While I sometimes bring a small cross-body bag to use as a purse while we're exploring, I'd gotten in the habit of using a large purse or tote as my personal item. I've found, though, that most of what I have tried doesn't work well for this purpose because it either doesn't close securely, doesn't have compartments, or doesn't carry well. Brandon got me the "Professional Slim Laptop Backpack" from Ebags and we recently tried it out for the first time. It's on the small side because I specifically got it to use as a personal item (you'll want to check the measurements in advance of any bag you plan to use for this purpose against common airline size requirements which can be found online). It has a padded compartment for my laptop, fold-away backpack straps (which is going to be so helpful while walking through the airport), a removable crush-proof AC-Adapter garage at the bottom, a front panel organizer for small items that you need to reach easily (including a key leash) and so many other features. Click on the image to read more about this awesome little backpack (a 4.6 star rating with almost 4,500 reviews is no joke!). Not only was it super convenient for flying, but it also worked well for keeping necessities close at hand in the car. I always try to pack my personal item as light as possible so that my stuff is easy to navigate during security checks and in flight, and so that I have space for souvenirs (esp. delicate ones that I don't want to pack elsewhere) on the way back.
Luggage - As I mentioned above, you often need to pay for your baggage but it depends on each airline. If you have multiple flights for one trip, be sure to check for each one in case the fees/size requirements are different. We often travel with one carry-on each and one personal item each, however, sometimes it has been cheaper for us to share one checked bag instead of bringing two carry-ons. You'll have your own preferences about checked vs. carry-on but, for us, it was nice not having to drag our luggage through security and around the airport (especially with a layover) when we checked our bag, even though it was a pain waiting for it at the baggage carousel after we landed. We don't have any recommendations for checked luggage at this point, but the two carry-ons we're using right now are my fun, yellow hard-sided roller (found here) and Brandon's new "TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible" from eBags (found here). I like mine because it has a solid exterior (although I do kind of miss having a pocket on the outside for small things and papers). It has a detachable middle divider with insulated compartments that are meant for baby items (like bottles) but I always leave that out. One of the sides also has a detachable divider that cuts the side in half from top to bottom. The other side zips shut. It rolls in all directions and handles very easily. I like that it's easy to see and keeps my stuff secure, and the color just makes me happy. I'm not sure how long it will last, but, for now, it works well. Our trip to New England was Brandon's first time with his new backpack carry-on. After checking out my smaller backpack from eBags, he was pretty eager to get a new bag too, but he went for the larger one that would replace a normal rolling carry-on. It's got lots of awesome features and he thinks he'll enjoy wearing it on his back instead of rolling it through the airport. We flew Sun Country there and back and both times it passed for free as a personal item even though we were expecting to have to pay for it as a carry on! It will depend on how full you pack it (and probably somewhat on your airline clerk too).
Portable Luggage Scale - I didn't think we'd need this since we could easily use our own bathroom scale at home to check our luggage weight. I wasn't considering, however, that we'd need it more coming home than leaving (after adding all those heavy book souvenirs). The last place that we stayed at on our most recent trip didn't appear to have a scale so we had to guess at the weight and hope it was ok. We ended up packing more in our carry on to be safe, but found out that we were a whole nine pounds under and could have made our carry on bag a lot easier to carry if we had packed more in our checked bag. For $10, next time we can avoid all the guess work (and the stress of having to re-adjust at the baggage check counter).
Addalock - Now that we're staying in Airbnbs more than hotels, I really like the idea of having some compact security tools at the ready. You never know if the room you get in someone's house has a lock which is kind of an unsettling thought! The Addalock allows you to set a lock on pretty much any door and it takes up next to no space in your luggage. One piece fits into the strike plate and, when the door is shut, it protrudes allowing the locking mechanism to fit inside and prevent the door from opening. Click on the image to go to the product page and see a video of it being installed - start to finish in seconds. I don't love the price point (slightly over $20) for something so simple, but I do really like how small it is and it gets great reviews. We brought it with us on our last trip, but the one time I actually might have wanted to use it was with a pocket door that didn't shut all the way and it wasn't compatible. We'll continue to bring it with us just in case!
Portable Door Alarm - Another option for extra security is this small door alarm. The unit houses a metal clip that is removed, squeezed together and inserted in between the door and jam. If the door opens, the clip separates and an alarm is sounded. It only costs about $13 for two units and is incredibly small and lightweight. I can think of at least one time that I would have used this one one of our trips if we would have had it. It seems like a very small investment in cost and space for peace of mind in unfamiliar places.
TSA-Approved Luggage Locks - I've never been too concerned about locking my luggage while flying, but on one trip we had to leave our bags in a common area of where we were staying because we had to check out of our room several hours before our flight left. It was great to not have to drag our luggage around the city, but I was a little apprehensive about leaving our stuff where the other guests could get into it. I felt pretty confident that no one would run off with an entire bag, but I would have liked to have locked the zippers shut since one of the bags had my laptop and other expensive and/or personal items in it. These are small enough to keep on hand for just such an occasion and they have a little indicator letting you know if airport security used their special key to open them (if you choose to use them when flying).
Pop Up Tent - We don't camp very often, and usually not for more than one night at a time, so we have a pretty basic tent that we got at a discount on a whim. I love it, however, because it is so easy to set up. You basically unroll it, fling it out and the supports snap into place. This was a great feature when we arrived to our campsite after dark on one trip. There's no trying to fit poles together or anything like that. I wouldn't trust this model in the rain - when we look closely we can see that some of the seams aren't as tight as they should be and I doubt very much that it would be water resistant. For our casual purposes, though, it has worked well on two different trips. If we were going to set up a home base at a campground for multiple days I think I would want to upgrade to a higher quality tent that is big enough to stand up in. It's kind of a pain to do everything either laying down or sitting up, but it does have room for our queen size air mattress plus some room on the side for our bags. It does the trick for now!