12 Travel Essentials You Should Never Forget to Pack for Vacation

Garrett Gardner

Many of us have taken a two-year hiatus from traveling while cases of COVID-19 soared across the globe. But if you’re like me, you’re itching to get back to exploring your favorite places. With the holidays right around the corner, many of us are likely preparing for an upcoming trip. Actually, AAA predicts 54.6 million people will travel over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Even though traveling is typically a fun and eye-opening experience, it can also be extremely stressful — especially when it comes to packing. 

Even though I’m a notorious overpacker and planner, I inevitably forget to pack something I need and am forced to buy whatever I left behind. (Don’t get me started on the trip where I forgot to pack socks and pajamas.) While you can usually find what you need at your destination, it’s easier to just pack what you need beforehand.

Considering it has been a while since many of us have traveled, a refresher on the items that are often forgotten seems necessary. You likely won’t forget pants or shoes, but what about the items you might not think about? Whether you already have your trip booked or you’re just planning in advance, these are the 12 things you should bring with you on your next vacation. (For more, check out our picks for the top cameras for summer travel and the best way to pack a suitcase.)

1. A power strip

Throughout all of my travels, one thing I’ve discovered is that there’s never enough power outlets where I’m staying. It’s a tough task to choose between having a lamp or charging your phone, and this is only exasperated if you’re sharing a room with others. 

My solution: Bring your own power strip.

You don’t need to pack a full-size power strip either. Belkin, Philips and other companies offer power strips that are compact and built for travel. They turn one outlet into several and typically come with some USB ports built in, too. 

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 in 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 convenient stores are not always nearby, especially in rural or woodland areas. 

Here’s a list of our favorite water bottles of the year. If your destination’s tap water isn’t drinkable, try a water bottle with a built-in filter

Glass bottle filled with water on the beach with metal stopper

Water is often expensive in popular tourist hubs. Bringing your own reusable bottle saves money and keeps you hydrated. 

Mario Marco/Getty Images

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 sight-seeing 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 in 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

4. Towelettes

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.

female hands holding subway handle with a napkin

Bringing small wipes with you will ensure that you can sanitize your hands and certain “high-touch” objects when traveling. 

Kilito Chan/Getty Images

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 to 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: 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 it 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.

Beer bottles in a suitcase

Glass can easily break during travel, so it’s best to pack any beer or wine in a protective bag. 

Image Source/Getty Images

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. 

dirty shoes with a dryer sheet

Stinky shoes? Just use a dryer sheet. 

Alina Bradford/CNET

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. 

A closeup of the Ceptics adapters in a small bag.

A travel adapter is a must-have. 


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 to 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. 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.

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Final thoughts 

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 to resources to help. Get ready for your next trip like a pro with these travel hacks and tips:

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