- I’ve been working and travelling abroad for more than two years.
- I pack only a carry-on bag, and I bring 12 key items that make my travels easier.
- Items like instant coffee, duct tape, and giant Ziploc bags have made my travel experiences easier.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When you’re preparing for a trip, every inch of luggage space is precious.
And if you’re permanently travelling, as I am, it’s even more important to pack smart.
For more than two years, I’ve been travelling and working as a remote journalist, living as a digital nomad. My travels have taken me everywhere from the Swiss Alps and the Balkans to Australia.
Along the way, I quickly learned that the more items I carried, the bigger the burden.
I eventually decided that travelling with just a carry-on was best. That means I have to think carefully about which items make the cut and which ones I need to leave behind.
So what’s in my bag? Read on to see 12 items that I pack in my carry-on everywhere I travel.
Travel alarm clock
When you’re on the road, power outages happen more often than you think.
That could be a problem when you need to rely on your phone or laptop to wake you up but they’re about to run out of battery.
Enter the battery-powered alarm clock. A friend got me Magellan’s Mini-Time alarm clock, which is analogue, small, and lightweight, has a backlight and a snooze button, and is loud enough to actually get you out of bed in the morning. It uses an AA battery, which is great because those seem to be easier to find than other clocks’ batteries. Basically, it’s perfect for travellers.
An absolute must when travelling, especially if you’ll be using many different showers – whether they’re at hostels, gyms, or Airbnbs – is some good shower shoes. I’ve known too many people who pick up ailments such as athlete’s foot because they didn’t have shower shoes on. Your rental apartment’s floors may not be the cleanest, so better safe than sorry.
The shoes don’t have to necessarily be ones you’d wear out and about, but they should be durable enough to get wet on a daily basis. I’ve found that these Ipanema Wave Heart flip-flops get the job done well and are cute to wear both indoors and out.
If you’re as clumsy as I am, a Tide pen will save you – and your clothes – every time. Formally, it’s known as Tide To Go instant stain remover, and nothing works quite like it. Best yet, it fits in your pocket or purse.
You never know when you’ll need a flashlight, whether it’s to find your way back to your Airbnb or to use it while unlocking your door. This pocket credit card LED flashlight is ideal; it’s small yet efficient and can fit in your wallet.
It apparently works in more than 150 countries, and its bright-red colour doesn’t easily blend in with the white walls you’ll often encounter during your journey. It has two USB ports, and I also love that I can charge three devices at once.
Big Ziploc bags
When you think of Ziploc bags, you may think of the items you put homemade sandwiches in. But a friend introduced me to Ziploc Big Bags, which hold 3 gallons and are my version of packing cubes.
Not only do they make you a more organised packer, since you can colour-code what you’re packing and see everything through the bags, but you can then squeeze out the excess air once you’re about to seal them shut. Plus, you can save a couple of empty ones for dirty clothes.
Added bonus: Bed bugs, sometimes an inherent part of travelling, hate plastic, so sealing all your items in these Ziploc bags is yet another precaution you can take.
For smaller items, I also use Ziploc’s gallon-sized freezer bags, quart-sized freezer bags, and sandwich bags. They also make great portable laundry machines – just put in a clothing item, some liquid soap or shampoo, and water, then close and shake it up, and voilà!
I bring extras of all four types, plus a couple of garbage bags (in case there’s no bathtub or shower to store your bags in, a preventative bed-bug measure), as you never know when you’ll need them.
Palladium baggy canvas boots
When I’m travelling, I live in my Palladium baggy canvas boots, which are perfect for dressing up or down, to wear with a skirt or on a hike. I bought them randomly at a mall in Warsaw, Poland, when another pair of shoes wasn’t working out for the long haul, and haven’t regretted it since.
They have made it through everything from hiking the Blue Mountains in Australia to walking endless miles of Croatian cobblestone streets.
I usually wear them laced up so they look more like boots than shoes, but I love how versatile they are if you don’t want to go for the boot look.
This 10-litre ultra-compact backpack folds up so much that it fits into the palm of my hand. I keep it in my day pack or pants pocket and have used it all over the world. Plus, it weighs next to nothing, which is also a big perk.
If you’ve ever wished duct tape would come in a travel-friendly size, your wish has come true with RediTape’s travel-size duct tape.
On the road, I use it way more than I’d ever anticipated, from patching up my purse to affixing it to my travel bag’s zippers to prevent bed bugs from crawling inside (a personal theory). RediTape’s slogan is “Don’t get stuck without it” – and I couldn’t agree more. You never know.
One of the best inventions ever is the sleeping-bag liner – especially the silk variety, like this liner from Treksilk, which is less bulky than ones made from other materials.
Whether you’re cold and could use another layer of bedding at night or the sheets and blankets are questionable where you’re staying, it comes in handy time and time again.
Lavender essential oil
Lavender essential oil is calming as aromatherapy and can work as a sleep aid – try a few drops under your nose or on your eye mask – and it’s good for dry skin.
Lavender oil is said to deter bed bugs too, so I tend to sprinkle and spray it on my luggage just in case.
I like this Plant Therapy lavender essential oil that I received as a gift and now keep gifting others.
How many times have you wanted coffee but for whatever reason can’t get it? Maybe the Starbucks line at the airport is too long, or the flight attendants haven’t started serving beverages yet.
Problem solved if you bring along some instant coffee, like Cafe Bustelo’s instant espresso sticks. Just put a packet in your water bottle, shake it up, and presto – you have coffee! You’ll avoid a caffeine headache, as well as long coffee lines.
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