Yes, your passport and wallet (and probably some clean underwear) deserve to be at the top of your packing list. But in the rush to remember the essentials, travelers sometimes underestimate the power of the nice-to-haves. Humble objects, ranging from an empty reusable water bottle to bandages, can save time and money and go far toward boosting the quality of your travels. Here are the items we often forget to pack—and always regret not having in our suitcase.
Reusable Water Bottle
Reusable water bottles are worth their weight when you travel. Throw your empty water bottle of choice into your carry-on, then fill it up post-security at the airport (if you prefer to avoid water fountains, just ask at a cafe or restaurant) and you won’t have to depend on the flight attendant to keep you hydrated. When you arrive at your destination, your next refill is as close as the tap, as long as the water is potable. Even if the water is questionable, you can opt to purchase one large plastic jug of water instead of dozens of smaller ones and just refill your reusable bottle as necessary.
Not only is a reusable water bottle sturdier (and less prone to leaks) than a convenience-store bottle, it also keeps your water tasting more like water and less like hot plastic. For travel, consider getting a slightly smaller water bottle that fits easily in a purse or bag. There are plenty of glass, stainless steel, and hard-plastic options in the 12-ounce range.
Suitcases are tight quarters. One dirty sock or wet bathing suit can turn an entire vacation wardrobe into a dirt-smeared, olfactory mess. Don’t make your clean clothes rub elbows (or knees, or feet) with your dirties—pack a small laundry bag that can contain wet, soiled, and smelly clothes. A simple grocery bag will do, but if you want to get fancy you can also find reusable options such as this one. And if you forget a bag, check the closet of your hotel room; many still stock a plastic bag for in-hotel dry-cleaning services.
First Aid Supplies
Blisters happen. So do scrapes and scratches. Don’t be that person who ends up spending $7 on a pack of five bandages because you forgot to throw a few in your bag when you were packing. In many travel destinations, basic first aid supplies tend to be overpriced, and it’s not always convenient to hobble to a store post-injury in search of emergency supplies. Instead, make yourself a little first aid kit and keep it with your toiletries. You don’t need anything complicated, just a few bandages, some antibiotic ointment (look for the individual-use packs), and maybe some moleskin if you tend to get blisters on your feet.
Reusable Shopping Bag
Do you chronically leave a stack of plastic or paper shopping bags behind in your hotel room when you check out? Then you’re the perfect candidate for a reusable shopping bag that can be folded up and stowed in your day bag, then whipped out to hold the day’s purchases. And since reusable bags tend to be tougher than their disposable brethren, they are handy for heavier purchases and can do double duty as picnic baskets and beach bags.
There are dozens of scenarios in which an emergency snack might come in handy. You arrive late at a hotel with no room service. You miss your train and find yourself stuck at a country rail station where live pigeons are the only source of protein. Your late-night connection is canceled and all the shops are closed at the airport. Protein bars, nuts, and other items that don’t get mushy or need to be refrigerated are perfect snacks to keep stashed in your bag. And let’s face it, an on-the-go snack is never unwelcome, even if you sail through your trip food-emergency free.
Extra Memory Card
Two scenarios: In the first, you pack an extra memory card, and when your first is full, you simply flip open your camera, swap in the new one, and get on with your vacation. In the second, you stop everything, have to ask the concierge where the nearest electronics store is, figure out how to ask for the right one in the local language, then pay the marked-up price. Play out these two stories as you’re packing your camera as a reminder of why it’s always worth it to bring an extra memory card.
The CDC recommends frequent hand washing to prevent illness. Since hygiene standards vary among destinations, and because the hand-washing trinity of water-soap-drying implement is not always available, keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your day bag is your ace in the hole. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 percent alcohol), rubbed on your hands until they are dry. While hand sanitizers aren’t as effective when your hands are visibly dirty, they can be very useful when you’re on the go and need a quick clean.
Even if you don’t normally use lip balm, it can still be an important item to pack. Breathing dry airplane air, being out in the sun, eating salty foods in transit—travel inevitably leads to mild dehydration and chapped lips. And there’s something off-putting and vaguely predatory about constantly licking your lips; it’s definitely not the way to make friends in an unfamiliar culture. Lip balm can also be used to tame frizzy hair ends, soothe dry cuticles, protect the skin from windburn, and even unstick a stubborn zipper.
Copies of Travel Documents
The last thing most people want to do when packing is scan and print or photocopy their passport and other important documents. However, in the unlikely but serious event that your passport or visa is lost or stolen, it’s a big help to have an extra copy on hand. Stash the copies in a separate place from the actual documents, so if you lose one, you’ll likely still have the other. At the very least, write down your passport number and email it to yourself or simply email the scans of the documents. Losing your passport is panic-inducing and can potentially ruin a vacation, so this is one of those times when it pays to take a few extra just-in-case steps.
The items that will go farthest toward making your trip easy are going to vary based on your destination and style, but here are a few more things we’ve found most useful on our journeys.
Flip-Flops: We’re not suggesting flip-flops as a fashion statement, but rather as a hygiene measure if you’re headed to any spas, pools, shared bathrooms, or other moist, warm environments where a bit of extra foot protection might matter.
Stain Remover: The Tide to Go Stain Eraser can save you from walking around all day with a giant coffee stain on your shirt. Stain-erasing wipes and pens take up little space and offer quick fixes for messes—a big plus for travelers with limited wardrobes.
Host Gifts: Whether you’re visiting old friends, meeting business associates, or will be invited into a home during your travels, it’s always nice to come prepared with a small gift. Gift-giving practices vary by country, so before you choose a gift to pack, do a bit of research to make sure it’s an appropriate item.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-on
- 8 Secrets of Ultralight Packing
- 8 In-Flight Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Trip
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.