Having traveled A LOT over the years, I’ve honed a kit of essential items that see me through, both physically and spiritually, the unexpected events that are guaranteed to hit, sometimes hard. Since I have a seriously-sensitive constitution, I’ve learned the hard way that taking some fortifications is well worth the bit of thought and effort that goes into rounding them up. Perhaps some of these will help fortify you in your travels. And they beg the question: What do you consider essential when you travel?

Lavender Essential Oil: I decant lavender essential oil into a small plastic or glass bottle and carry it in my backpack. Over the years, I’ve used it endless times to mask unexpected odors when traveling. I’ve rubbed a drop right under my nose to block the beery smell of the just-come-from-partying guy in the seat next to me, to a few drops on my pillow and sheets and carpet in a stale hotel room. In Finland, I devised an effective room spray by emptying the little spray bottle that came with the room toiletries and filling it with water and a few drops of lavender oil. It is also a famously calming scent, so helps to reduce stress during en route an upon arrival.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Incense: I have yet to find a hotel room that has not been sprayed with some mighty chemical, even in the guise of “aromatherapy”. Incense helps to clear the room of lingering odor as well as lingering vibes, and fill it with a calming REAL fragrance.

My incense kit which includes matches and a little holder weights little. I prefer unsweet scents like Minorian frankincense or the astonishingly calming Hyofu Aloeswood (both from Japan Incense).

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Ear plugs: Being extremely sensitive to noise — and at the mercy of noisy neighbors — I actually did a comparison of earplugs. E-A-R, for me, are the best (though ear plug preferences are a highly personal thing). They can block A LOT of noise, and are an almost weightless solution to noisy hotel rooms. (At a recent stay at a Marriot, they blocked the sound of the elephantine guy walking above, and the moan of the plumbing in the shower in the next room, as well as street traffic. I buy them in boxes of 200 pairs.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

I’ve also found thatBose Noise Cancelling Earbuds provide wonderful meditative effect, with or without music,  when on a plane or noisy airport. They do require charging.


Portable Pharmacopeia: Coming down with a cold when traveling is a serious bummer so I make sure to take benign medications that I find effective in warding them off, even after sitting next to someone who has one. They include Rainbow Light Counter Attack and Kold Kare.

Traveling these days can involve a certain amount of shock to the system (like when ALL flights to NYC Pittsburgh were cancelled recently, not to mention the stress of uncomfortable, noisy airports and planes). Rescue Remedy is made of five Bach flower essences that help alleviate anxiety and stress. Boiron Arnica 30C , homeopathic pellets (take 2) that facilitate are excellent for shock, both emotional and physical, such as muscle aches and bruises (a sprained ankle for example).

Many is the time I’ve helped a fellow traveler calm down or ward off a cold with my portable pharmacy.

Disclaimer: These remedies are not for everyone, so I recommend you put together whatever works for you to keep you healthy and calm.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

A Shawl:  The silvery-gray pashmina shawl (below), a gift from a friend, has traveled the world with me for at least two decades. It is light, warm and pretty. I’ve used it as a wrap when evenings turn chilly (perfect when dressed down or up), a blanket on frigid over-air conditioned flights, and under-heated rooms. I also use it, and other shawls to disguise a homely chair or ugly permanent artwork in a hotel room, and to have something pretty and comforting to look at from home. Depending on the time of year and the fabric you chose, a shawl can double as a sarong or skirt. OR be tied into a head wrap.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap is a pure castile soap that is seriously multi-purpose. It is a fine body soap, can be mixed with hotel hair conditioner to make a nice shampoo. I use it routinely as a dish soap for cleaning up my hotel room food preparations, and to rinse out clothes in the sink. It comes in a variety of fragrances, including peppermint, almond, tea tree and lavender, which is my favorite. I carry it in a small plastic bottle decanted from a 5-gallon bottle (since I use it everywhere in my home as well).

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

A multi-purpose knife or two. My never-without travel tool is a basic Swiss Army Pocket Knife, which has a knife, can opener, cork screw, scissors, screwdriver, bottle opener, nail file, toothpick.  I use it for hotel room repairs and other food preparations and picnics. The scissors and screw driver come in handy when you least expect it. Since there are MANY iterations, check out Swiss Army Knives here to find the combination of tools that will work for you.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

If I am traveling somewhere I will be doing some cooking, I take my trusty Opinel Folding Pocket Knife, which has a super sharp carbon steel blade; it is a lightweight solution the dull or serrated knives that seem ubiquitous in many kitchens I’ve been in, which make cooking a chore. The Opinel is, of course, great for picnics.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

I’ve used the two knives to cook dinner for twelve.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider


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11 replies on “7 Essential Items to Carry When You Travel

  1. I can’t resists posts like this one and more importantly, I love when the items are unique / inspiring. Well done!

    My essentials, I suppose, would be this:

    1. My true essentials go into my pockets. That includes: cell phone, whistle, small knife, P51 can opener (worth a Google if you’re not familiar with it, but surely you are), flashlight, pen, notepad, keychain compass, essential medications and a safety pin. Whether I’m taking a walk through the neighborhood, schelping up a mountain in Japan or stuck on a 25 hour flight, these items cover the basics (though the knife doesn’t go on flights).

    along with the above, I carry a few additional items when traveling:

    2. headphones. This turns my cell phone into an entertainment center, or I can add soothing sounds and change my environment altogether.

    3. external battery. I’ve got an anker model that I’ve grown to adore. It charges my phone up to 4 times, insuring that my phone has a fighting chance during long travel days.

    4. Buff. Along the same lines as the scarf, this is a useful multipurpose item. It’s a hat or balaclava in unexpected cold; it can be soaked in chilly water and draped around the neck in unexpected hot weather and gets used as a sleep mask on flights.

    5. Foldable bluetooth keyboard. This is a bit of a luxury item, however as a programmer, business owner and blogger, I find it quite useful to have full keyboard access with my phone. I’ve found writing code on long flights makes the time whiz by, and I’ve used the keyboard to remotely fix issues (like that time I fixed a server issue while waiting in the stands at the US Open…).

    and if I’ve got no limit on what I need to bring, I grab my Jr. Go Bag, which includes all of the above plus a few other essentials.

    Though the most important travel essential: the right frame of mind. Rather than striving for a perfect trip; strive for a great story. Lost luggage and missing your train makes for an imperfect trip, but a great story. See, problem solved.

  2. I love your list and am going to check out your external battery. Thanks so much.

    Of course, my list is severely limited; those of just the absolute essentials…I plan to feature a few others — decidedly eccentric perhaps — but they work for me. And of course, then there is redecorting ugly hotel rooms (:

  3. Along with several of the aforementioned items, I also include an herbal capsule for helping digest foods and activated charcoal capsules for the god-forbid bacterial gut-reaction… Rescue Remedy goes everywhere with us!

  4. This post could also be called “What to give your kids when they go away to college”. I remember the first time I went to Europe I even used just one drop of Dr. Bronner’s to brush my teeth with when I ran out of toothpaste.

    I don’t fly anymore but I do drive a lot and this group of essentials seems perfect to have tucked away in the back of the car. Thanks for sharing!

  5. There are my bottom-line travel items, most of which have to do with keeping healthy and minimizing stress. There are a slew of others I’ll post down the line.

    And yeah, you’re right about Dr. Bronner’s as toothpaste. I forgot about that.

    I wish my parent’s had given me this kit when I went off to college.

  6. I love this list. For your pharmacy, I suggest adding fiber & probiotic combo capsules. They are now widely available and, along with the charcoal caps mentioned above, help keep the digestive system in good working order. This is particularly helpful when traveling abroad. Also, I have friends who travel with their own lightbulbs. Harsh light in hotels or rental apartments can be jarring, so they temporarily replace them with a couple of lower wattage incandescent bulbs. It’s the visual equivalent of incense.

  7. Sally – Dunno how you slipped past TSA with your knives, but I’ve had at least four Swiss Army knives confiscated, and simply stopped trying to carry them. I would add a roll of duct tape to your fine list.

  8. When my sons graduated from high school recently I gave each of them a phone card, packet of sunflower seeds, pen and writing paper,tiny flashlight, big safety pin, two stamps and a knitted (not by me) beanie cap and one bungee cord. So far, and sad to say, they’re STILL here! Happy summer.

  9. Oh, ah, well, I forgot to mention that I check a bag (with the knives packed inside) because I am simply incapable of traveling with a single carry-on. Future posts will show my in-room coffee rig, among other “essentials”.

    When I went on a publicity tour for A New Way to Cook two months after 9/11, I had a bag packed with chef’s knives, platters, pots, pretty kitchen towels etc to use in the demos I’d do on morning tv shows. Somehow, the TSA let those 2-ton bags through. I accidentally had that SAME Swiss Army knife on my person and they confiscated it. I convinced them to let me go back out of the TSA screening, get the knife and mail it back home. Which I did (it had a lot of history even then).

  10. What a MOM!!! Lovely gifts, but I’m wondering what messages they sent… (;

  11. I actually had a 100 watt LED in my recent trip, where my dear friends favor dim bulbs. Have for years. Those “essentials” was my absolute bottom line list…Stay tuned for the expanded version. I recently took a meatloaf kept cold with icepacks in my checked bag…long story.

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