Experienced travelers tend to pack light. The less they bring, the easier their luggage is to lug around…and the better their odds of avoiding airline checked-bag fees. So when a road warrior says that he/she won’t travel without an item, that’s usually something worth bringing.
Bottom Line Personal recently asked travel experts to name an item or two that always accompanies them on their journeys…
Compelling condiment. I always travel with togarashi, a Japanese dried spicy chili-blend condiment that I adore for its flavor and heat. Living out of a suitcase sometimes means enduring boring food on planes, in hotels and at highway rest stops. Having my favorite spice on hand really brightens my day—it’s a godsend on late-night gas station pizza. I use it on almost every trip at some point.
Andrew Zimmern is host of the food-and-travel program Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations, which airs Tuesdays at 9 pm ET/PT. TravelChannel.com
Baby wipes. These aren’t just for wiping babies. They are a surprisingly effective—and very portable—way to clean lots of things. When my son got chocolate on the backseat of our car in the middle of the Nevada desert, baby wipes cleaned up the mess so well that the fabric didn’t even show a stain. Baby wipes also can wipe sunscreen and sand off skin after a day at the beach…disinfect hotel-room light switches and TV remote controls…and provide a quick shine for shoes.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who writes the “On Travel” column for USA Today and “The Navigator” column for the Washington Post. He is author of How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler. Elliott.org
Plastic tube from a used-up stick deodorant. These make great mini-travel safes—thieves don’t steal toiletries, so they don’t notice that there’s something inside other than deodorant. Once in Mexico, my hotel room was robbed while I was out. I lost my laptop computer but not the extra cash and emergency credit card I had stashed in a deodorant tube in case my wallet was taken by a pickpocket. Any stick deodorant works, but I like to use a tube of Secret-brand deodorant. I find it especially satisfying that thieves don’t find my cash when it’s hidden in something that is clearly labeled “Secret.”
Jeff Yeager is a money-saving expert who has written extensively about frugal travel, including in his book How to Retire the Cheapskate Way. He spends more time on the road than at home. UltimateCheapskate.com
My pillow from home. I never travel without mine, even though it takes up lots of room in my suitcase. Eileen Ford of the eponymous modeling agency once told me that she always advised her “girls” to travel with their own pillows because they would sleep better and therefore look better. It certainly helps me get a good night’s sleep.
Also: Bose Noise Cancelling headphones. These block most cabin noise on planes, which helps me sleep on red-eyes and reduces my stress level on daytime flights.
George Hobica is founder of Airfare Watchdog, a website that reports on airfare bargains including unannounced, unadvertised rates. He previously was a travel writer for Travel+Leisure, National Geographic Traveler and other magazines. AirfareWatchdog.com
Small power strip. Many hotels do not have enough outlets, so it’s worth bringing a power strip that converts one outlet into many—especially if you travel with lots of electronics that require recharging. And if all the outlets are taken when I get to my gate in the airport, I pull out my power strip and ask if anyone’s willing to share. Someone almost always agrees.
Gary Leff is CEO of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC, in Austin, Texas, and emcee and cofounder of the InsideFlyer.com frequent-flier-mile online community. He currently writes about air travel and frequent-flier programs on his blog, ViewFromTheWing.com.
Pocket-size flashlight. People think they don’t need to carry a flashlight anymore because their smartphones have a flashlight built in. But using a smartphone’s flashlight quickly depletes the phone’s battery. If there’s been a power failure—a common occurrence in many foreign travel destinations—you could be stranded in the dark in an unfamiliar location or on a high floor of a hotel with no flashlight and no phone. Even a tiny flashlight that attaches to a key chain is better than nothing.
Also: Duct tape. This can provide a quick, easy emergency fix when something breaks. I once had the zipper of a piece of luggage break as I rushed to make a connecting flight in an airport. Duct tape held the bag together well enough to reach my destination. There’s no need to travel with an entire roll of duct tape—very few travel emergencies require 100 feet of tape. Just wind five to 10 feet of duct tape around a small plastic or wood dowel.
Kevin Coffey is a travel-risk consultant and CEO of Los Angeles–based Corporate Travel Safety. He recently retired from the Los Angeles Police Department, where he rose to the rank of detective and founded the department’s Airport Crimes Investigations Detail. CorporateTravelSafety.com
Resealable plastic storage bags of various sizes. These bags serve a million purposes during trips. Put damp swimsuits or muddy shoes in one before packing them in your luggage to protect everything else from getting messy. Save a piece of fresh fruit from the breakfast buffet so that you can have a healthy snack on the road. Use a plastic bag to hold travel receipts. Use another to contain your phone charger and adapters. I never leave home without at least a dozen in various sizes.
Also: Thank-you notes. Hotel staff appreciate tips, but a tip that’s accompanied by a handwritten thank-you note means more. One lovely fellow at a small hotel in Istanbul walked for blocks in the rain to find me a cab. When I checked out, I left him a note thanking him for doing this, along with my tip—and he was so touched that he tracked me down on Facebook to say so. That was five years ago, and we’re still in touch!
Pullover or zip-up sweatshirt. I always pack one of these even when I’m traveling to a warm-weather location. At some point, I’ll be glad I have it. Even if there isn’t a chilly evening, there’s often an over-air-conditioned restaurant or theater. The one time I forgot to pack a sweatshirt, I ended up having to buy an overpriced one in the Bahamas.
Dori Saltzman is senior editor with Cruise Critic, which offers cruise reviews and information. CruiseCritic.com
Bungee cords. These always seem to come in handy and can be used for any number of in-a-pinch fixes. They can serve as a clothesline, to help keep hotel-room curtains closed, for securing luggage and other tasks.
Patrick Smith is an airline pilot for a major commercial carrier. He is founder of the Ask the Pilot website/blog and author of Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. AskThePilot.com
Reporter’s notebook. I keep one of these little notepads in my hip pocket whenever I’m on the road. I’m constantly pulling it out to jot down interesting things that happen on my travels…the names of restaurants that are recommended to me…or details I need to remember, such as addresses or departure times. These days you can record details such as these in a smartphone, but I find it faster and easier to use an old-fashioned reporter’s notebook.
Also: List of my medications. I once got very sick in Toronto and had to see the hotel’s on-call physician. He wouldn’t prescribe anything for my illness until he knew exactly what medications I already was taking, including dosages—and because of time-zone differences, it might have been difficult for him to get this information from my doctor’s office. Fortunately, I had prepared this list and brought it with me on my trip, so I got the medicine I needed.
Jim Loomis is author of All Aboard: The Complete North American Train Travel Guide. He serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Railroad Passengers and has traveled approximately 200,000 miles on Amtrak trains. TrainsAndTravel.com
Travel-size binoculars. I bird-watch out hotel-room windows. It’s relaxing, and it’s something to do during downtime. There are birds everywhere, even in the parking lots of the worst two-star motels.
Don Wildman is host of Mysteries at the Museum, which airs Thursdays at 9 pm ET/PT. He previously hosted several other travel-related series. TravelChannel.com