16 Packing List Essentials From Travel Writers

When you’re in a group chat full of travel writers, the conversation inevitably turns to travel gear. It doesn’t matter if the topic is packing cubes or power banks; we all have our two cents, and we’re more than happy to talk about it. In fact, a lot of the gear I own comes from recommendations from travel writer friends and colleagues I’ve gotten to know after nearly a decade in the business. Combined, they have at least 100 years of traveling the world (and testing travel products) between them. 

While I’d like to invite you to join our chat, it’s already kind of out of control. So in lieu of that, I’ll share our favorite finds below. Some are budget-friendly and some are splurges, but all are investments we deem worth every penny. From comfortable shoes that have carried me across five continents to a $15 foot hammock that will completely change your airplane experience, here are 16 must-have items my travel writer friends and I can’t stop talking about. 

Related: I’ve Been to All 7 Continents, and These 15 Genius Amazon Finds Changed the Way I Travel

Airplane Footrest


Spoiler alert: Travel writers don’t always fly first class. For those long-haul flights in economy, my travel writer friend Jess Kelly swears by what she likes to call her foot hammock. “It allows me to keep my legs extended, helping with circulation,” says Jess. “You just wrap it around the tray table in front of you and adjust accordingly.” While there are several “foot hammocks” out there, this Amazon Choice one has more than 1,500 five-star ratings and comes with a convenient carrying case. 

It looks like Amazon shoppers are starting to catch on, too. One who called the foot hammock “100 percent worth it” said, “This took the pain and pressure off my lower back. It also fit the tray in front of me with no problem,” and even said, “I will never go flying with out it again.” 

To buy: amazon.com, $15 

Manta Sleep Mask 


Travel writer Jess also loves her Manta Sleep Mask. She learned about it from a sleep expert she was interviewing for an article, and since then, she’s never slept better (at least on planes). It doesn’t put any pressure on her eyes, yet it blocks out 100 percent of light. At Amazon, it has nearly 9,000 perfect five-star ratings, and it’s a top 20 best-seller in sleep masks. Oh, and it’s machine washable, too.

To buy: amazon.com, $35

Altra Olympus 5 Trail Shoe


In the last six months, I’ve hiked in my beloved Altra Olympus 5 shoes in Europe, Africa, South America, the U.S., and Antarctica. Unlike my favorite Merrell hiking boots, these shoes are trail running shoes, so they’re incredibly lightweight. Currently, I’m logging at least 15,000 steps per day while visiting Cape Town, where the weather is so beautiful (it’s summer here) that I want to walk everywhere. 

These shoes are brand new to the market, so they don’t have a ton of reviews yet, but there are already some glowing five-star ratings from Amazon customers. One reviewer said they’re “worth every penny” and “These are hands down the best and most comfortable right out of the box. No sores, no numbness.” Agreed — I find them so comfy and durable I want to buy them in bulk!

To buy: amazon.com, $200

OTM Collection Monaco Bag 


My travel writer friend Becca Blond is currently in Africa, where she’s raving about this OTM Collection makeup case made with patented technology to keep products at a safe temperature. “My makeup isn’t melting in the hot Kenyan summer sun, and also my Google Pixel 6 Pro, which is prone to overheating, is staying cool,” she says. That’s right. She uses this award-winning bag to keep her phone safe, too. The 7.5-inch by 6.5-inch by 2.25-inch bag is compact and sleek, with a roomy interior pocket and two other pockets, too — so yes, it’s worth every penny.

To buy: otmcollection.com, $145

GoPro Hero 10


Last year, I traveled to the Maldives with Becca, where she got some amazing footage of nurse sharks thanks to her GoPro Hero 10. “It goes everywhere with me because it’s super light and easy to pack,” says Becca, who makes really incredible reels for Instagram. “Plus, you never know when you’re coming to come across something cool to film.” (She’s currently on safari, so she can say that.) Not only is this camera compact, but it’s also waterproof, has a built-in stabilization system, and shoots video in 5.3K.

To buy: amazon.com, $400 (originally $450) 

Amazon Basics 4-Piece Packing Cubes Set


My friend and fellow Travel + Leisure contributor, Lauren Breedlove, doesn’t travel anywhere without these packing cubes. She calls them a “must” because they keep everything organized, and they also allow her to pack more efficiently. While there are lots of great packing cubes out there, this four-piece set has nearly 10,700 five-star ratings, and each features a double zipper pull for easier access. They also have a top mesh panel, so you can see each cube’s contents.

To buy: amazon.com, $26

Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Peak Design 

I recently traveled with Lauren to Antarctica, where she got some amazing photos of all the wildlife we saw. Every time she went outside, she had her camera, and this camera backpack which has an impressive 4.8-star average rating from nearly 1,000 reviews. “It’s super versatile,” she explains. “I can use it as a carry-on with room for additional items as well as for hiking, city wandering, or almost anything else.” The Peak Design Everyday Backpack, which carries 20 liters, is also built to last and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Over at REI, the top-rated backpack is getting rave reviews from travelers, with one calling it “one of my best purchases ever,” continuing to say, “The design truly could not be more thoughtful; they’ve anticipated my every need.”

To buy: rei.com, $280; peakdesign.com, $287

Cadence Capsules


Another friend and fellow travel writer, Cara Gibbs, credits these magnetic Cadence Capsules with keeping her “super organized” while traveling. The containers are genius for holding your shampoo, cleanser, pills — basically any essential toiletry item, liquid or not — and she loves how they bond together to form a little pack, which keeps them together and makes them easy to find in her bag. Plus, the interchangeable lids allow for re-organizing along the way. The capsules, which are available in eight colors and come with customizable text for labels, are TSA-compliant and hold .56 ounces. 

To buy: keepyourcadence.com, $76 

Baboon to the Moon Carry-on Bag

Baboon To The Moon

Cara, who I last saw in October at Palacio Del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Cusco, is also a big fan of her waterproof Baboon to the Moon bag, which I have added to my own wish list. “It does it all,” says Cara. “I wear it as a backpack, crossbody, and over-the-shoulder bag.” The mini bag can hold up to three days’ worth of clothes but is still compact enough to qualify as a personal item on most flights. And the roomier Go-Bag Small, which holds 40 liters, still fits in an overhead bin and meets TSA guidelines, making it the perfect carry-on. On the fence about the price? Just know that all Baboon to the Moon Bags are made of sustainable materials and come with a lifetime warranty. 

To buy: nordstrom.com, $189 for Go-Bag Small; urbanoutfitters.com and baboontothemoon.com from $160 for Go-Bag Mini

Royce + Rocket Luggage and Cubes 

Royce And Rocket 

When I first met travel writer Brandon Schultz at Club Med Magna Marbella in Spain, I was immediately taken aback by his sophisticated style, which is best embodied in his beloved Royce + Rocket luggage. This premium set looks expensive, and it is (you can also just get the carry-on for $415). However, it comes with six packing cubes and is also highly functional. It even boasts a built-in shelving system. “I can’t stand when there aren’t enough drawers in a hotel room,” says Brandon, a self-aware overpacker. “So I’m obsessed with this shelving situation.” 

To buy: royceandrocket.com, $700 

Fuse Reel Side Winder


Because he never knows if hotel room outlets will be conveniently located, Brandon also travels with a 12-foot charging cable for his MacBook. To minimize the space the cable takes up, he swears by the best-selling Fuse Reel Side Winder, a MacBook charger organizer that also protects your cable. “It’s a lifesaver in cafes, airports, and anywhere else I’m trying to get work done on the go, too,” says Brandon. But don’t just take his word for it; it has more than 900 five-star ratings at Amazon. 

To buy: amazon.com, $22

Duer Performance Denim

Shop Duer

Another Travel + Leisure contributor I know, Karthika Gupta, has the same travel writer-approved jeans as I do: Duer Performance Denim. They’re not your average jeans. “They have the right amount of stretch, comfort, and water-repellent fabric,” says Karthika who wears them on planes, around town, and even hiking. It’s all thanks to the jean’s temperature-regulating Coolmax technology and stretchy cotton-spandex blend that moves with you on the go and provides the ultimate comfort. I have Duer’s T+L editor-approved fleece-lined jeans, and I get just as much use out of mine in the winter.

To buy: shopduer.com, $129 

Cotopaxi Chasqui 13-L Sling Bag


If Cotopaxi isn’t on your radar yet, it should be — the outdoor brand known for their colorful, durable gear has definitely been making the rounds in my travel writer chat. While I’ve brought my Cotopaxi Allpa Backpack to more than 50 countries, fellow T+L writer Karthika has traveled extensively with her Cotopaxi Chasqui 13L Sling bag. “It’s surprisingly roomy for such a small bag and has lots of pockets, including one for my laptop, for organization,” says Karthika. She also loves the fact that it’s made with 100 percent recycled nylon and polyester ripstop. Plus, you can get this sling bag at so many retailers now: Amazon, REI, Zappos — so it’s just a click away.

To buy: amazon.com, zappos.com, rei.com, and cotopaxi.com, $75 

RTIC 52-Qt. Ultra-Light Cooler


While the majority of my travel is international, I do love domestic travel, especially camping and driving to our amazing national parks. One of my favorite road trip essentials is a hard cooler like the best-selling RTIC 52-Qt. Ultra-Light Cooler. Over at Amazon, it has an impressive 4.8-star average rating from nearly 1,200 reviews, and I love that it’s 30 percent lighter than similar coolers. It’s big enough to hold all of my favorite drinks and snacks, and more importantly, thanks to 2.5 inches of closed-cell foam insulation, they stay cold. 

To buy: amazon.com, from $175 

Epicka Universal Travel Adapter


The next hotel I’m staying at is the One & Only Cape Town, where I know I’ll need this Epicka Universal Travel Adapter because South Africa uses the Type C plug. In fact, I don’t travel anywhere, at least internationally, without it. While it’s not the most compact adapter, it’s universal, so it works with every outlet type. I used to buy separate adapters for each type, but this is a much better value. It works in more than 150 countries, including the U.S., European Union countries, Australia, and the U.K. too. Plus, it can charge up to six devices at once, and also has USB ports. At Amazon, where it’s a best-seller, it has nearly 7,250 five-star ratings. 

To buy: amazon.com, $23

Ray-Ban Polarized Aviator Sunglasses


When I was a 19-year-old studying abroad in Rome, I bought a pair of “Ray-Bans” from a street vendor. It turns out they were fake, something I only realized when the Ray-Bans sticker peeled off, but since then I’ve been a loyal fan of the brand. I currently own three pairs, but my favorite are my Polarized Aviator Sunglasses, which have been protecting the eyes of travelers, specifically pilots, since 1937. At Amazon, they come in 24 colors and have more than 6,300 five-star ratings. 

To buy: amazon.com, $94 

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