20 items you need to own
Forget the filler, these items have real value
I'll be the last person to tell you to buy a new wardrobe for your trip or spend a bunch of money on a plush resort. I'm not into quick-fix deals or bargains that go unused, and after living out of a suitcase I know how obnoxious over-packing is—because let's be real, it takes up mental and physical space.
And in a world that wants to make you think traveling, airports, and faraway places seem like the most stressful thing ever, we need to do everything in our power to counterbalance this. You know, to put the joy back into the journey. Who knew airports could be full of wonder, security lines could be a meditative experience, and the first steps in a new place could be invigorating.
Before you get into thinking you need to buy everything for your new life. Consider these things to invest in. They make a big difference, and make a great foundation to build from.
- Good Quality Luggage: My first time living overseas was when I studied in Barcelona in college. I went with a ripped backpack (that I think was my brothers friends) that I sewed up and safety pinned together. Seemed like a nice idea, until I was backpacking and jimmy-rigging the backpack back together, which isn't the best use of time or sanity. Then another time, I was in the Tokyo airport in the middle of night, with a roller bag with wheels that hardly rolled. These experiences showed me that poor luggage can make you feel like everything is working against you. It doesn't need to be like that. Investing in good quality bags will last you years, and make a big difference. For roller bags, I like Away for their in-bag USB charger and easy rolling. For backpacks, Deuter makes backpacks that fit female frames well, and have useful compartments and a comfortable fit.
- Comfortable Underwear: When I worked in the lingerie department of Nordstrom in college I learned the value of quality, comfortable underwear. Then, I was all Hanky Panky, all the time (this style is my favorite.) Now, Commando is my go-to. I like them when I'm traveling because it offers a bit more coverage than a thong if you're wearing a dress or flowy shorts. Plus, they really feel like you're wearing nothing (hence the name) so you know you're good whether it's a busy day or long flight. I am all for investing in pairs that are comfy and know how to hold up. Gone are the days of uncomfortable, unraveling undies.
- Noise Canceling Bluetooth Headphones: I'm the kind of person that gets distracted by the tiniest bit of noise, whether it's construction outside or a baby in flight next to me. I put on these headphones and it's like diving into my own world of music, podcasts or audiobook. I researched and waited for awhile until finally diving in and making the purchase. So glad I did.
- Simple E-Reader: I am a true book lover and wasn't quick to hop on the kindle bandwagon. That was until I carried my favorite book, Shantaram, all over SE Asia with me. This is a hunky, heavy, 1,000 page book. I couldn't put it down or fathom leaving it, and developed an almost too-personal attachment to it. Kindle's take the load off. Plus, the battery lasts forever, you can load it up with books before takeoff, and since it's only books, you can focus on reading, and reading only. Turn that multi-tasking mind off.
- Warm Socks: I think a product of growing up in the Northwest is a deep-rooted fear of cold feet during those rainy, bone chill kind of days. The moment fall rolls around, the socks come out. I'm all for wool socks, but these are my absolute favorite. I keep a pair in my carry-on, so the moment I get on the plane I can get cozy. The worse thing is having cold feet on the plane. Worst. (So make sure to pack them, even on summer trips.)
- Black Romper: Like an LBD, but more versatile. You really can't underestimate the power of a black jumpsuit. It's this magical combination that is comfortable, stylish and cozy all in one. Plus, you don't have to worry about matching a top and bottom. One piece and you are good. to. go. This one by Lunya I love for flights, wandering, sleeping.
- Tee Shirt Dress: When it comes to clothes I am a less-is-more kind of girl. A tee-shirt dress, similar to a romper, can get you through almost any environment and can easily be dressed up or down. I love the linen material of this dress, and Lunya makes a similar version, which you can also sleep in. I love it for three reasons: pockets, longer-style sleeves, and fabric thick enough to wear literally from day to night. Which doesn't seem like much, until you're living out of your suitcase, and literally living in items you love.
- A Cozy Hoodie: Oh man, this is a lesson learned. I don't know why when I moved to Barcelona I packed all these going out and daytime clothes, but nothing to hang out and lounge in, like I would be going all the time, and resting never. This couldn't be further from the truth. Traveling means down time, all the time, so you've got to be comfortable. Plus, when you're away from regular comforts of home, it's the little things that make a big difference. Having a good worn-in hoodie is the perfect comfort item to soothe your soul. This one has that worn-in, vintage soft feel, plus is lightweight and good for layering. I'm also loving this quarter-zip from Free People. Though it's thicker, so more suitcase bulk.
- Large Lightweight Tote: Traveling smart is all about simplicity and ease, and materials are a big part of this equation. Often when we go to invest in a tote, it's made of a heavy material like leather, which adds unnecessary weight. This tote is a classic staple, which I like for three reasons: the material is lightweight but washable in case anything spills, it has a zip closure, which is good when traveling in a place with pick pockets or safety concerns, and it's nice and roomy. I just have to accept the fact I will never be a small-purse kinda girl.
- Clear Hair Ties: I have thick unruly hair that just does. it's. own. thing. I used to be the girl with hair that flew out of my bun in ballet class, and I'de be fixing it on the side when my teacher shot me dirty looks. I felt like she never had sympathy for thick, heavy hair. Also I just hadn't figured out how to work with it. I used to have multiple hair ties on my wrist. A couple thin ones, for when I wanted a loose bun, and a thick one, to hold it down when I needed it to stay. This all changed during yoga training, when my friend had these around her wrist. Not only do they not look like hair ties, but they don't crease your hair, are so comfortable, and can do as loose or tight as you need. Plus there's something about the plastic that makes me not lose them. Which never happened before.
- A Good Face Balm: We all know traveling drys out your skin, but it's also difficult when you don't want half your bag going to toiletries. This skin savior (they call it the wonder balm) by One Love Organics has an amazing citrus scent (it's actually made with orange peels) which have natural de-stressing qualities. Plus, it has simple, all natural ingredients, can act as a face wash and moisturizer, and is a balm, so you don't have to worry about messy spills. For an equally versatile, less expensive option, Egyptian Magic is another all-time favorite.
- Sandalwood Essential Oil: I just found this oil in the jacket pocket of my winter coat, and forgot how obsessed with it I am. I used to take this with me everywhere (and still do, now!) In stressful situations I can be a bit of an oil junky, and traveling is no exception. I like to put a little bergamot oil on my palms and under my nose before going through security, grapefruit oil in my water, and serenity oil on my palms and feet at night. But it's the sandalwood I love the very most, because it is relaxing, but also acts as a perfume. Just a drop of this instantly elevates any situation, and leaves me smelling nice for hours. I was on the fence about oils for awhile, and it's crazy how much they've changed my life, and become major players in my road game.
- Castile Soap: I am all about cult classics. I just trust them. Plus, they're almost always made of simple, no-fuss ingredients, with not nasty additives, which means you can use them for a variety of things. Prime example: Dr. Bronners. I always carry travel size lavender soap with me. I use it as a face wash, body wash, laundry soap (for hand washing), dish soap, shampoo if I need it. Really, it's my go-to for any washing.
- Classic Button Down: My favorite flannel is my Mom's vintage baby blue, white and red button down. It's the perfect weight—not too thick, not too light, and it just has that ability to do anything. Tie it around your waist with a tee shirt dress, throw it on over cut-off jean shorts, wear it with leggings, layer it under a hoodie or throw it on over your swim suit. The same goes for a denim chambray. If you find the perfect one, get it, and wear it over and over again. I look for soft material, an oversized fit, and that mixture of good weight and a nice drape—gone are the starchy days.
- Nice Notebook and Pen: I feel naked if I go somewhere without a notebook. But I can easily go into journal-overload zone, so Moleskins keep my thoughts and ideas all in one place, and keep me from bringing multiple journals with me. Also, I love a smaller, bright notebook for keeping important information all in one place, like passwords, addresses, phone numbers and destination information. It's like my personal on-the-go filing cabinet. Also, since I'm left-handed and a freak about pens that smudge, I keep a couple of my favorite gel and felt-tip pens with me, so I'm not filling up by bag with an overload of pens that end up not working.
- Leather Cardholder: I'm forever trying to figure out the easiest wallet method, and coming back to the conclusion less is more. This just keeps it so simple when changing between bags, it doesn't add all the extra weight, and keeps me from letting my wallet accumulate. Plus, you can always throw it in a back pocket and go. It's a nice practice to bring only what you need, and makes the subway line way easier when you're not fussing through everything. Plus, I love the tassel.
- Battery Charger: I'm all about freedom in all forms. This includes freeing myself from the wall outlet, or the inevitable stress that comes with a low battery when you're running around. As much as I like wandering without a phone, it's nice to know I can take off for the day, do my thing, and not have to stop at a cafe or somewhere else to charge up. This one has a sleek, sturdy design and enough power for five charges.
- Versatile Cami-Bra: I learned in SE Asia that sometimes you're out and about, wearing a loose tank or tee, and bend down and feel a little exposed, especially as a Westerner in a modest country. Also, since laundry options are either hand washing or dropping off (better for big laundry days) this means you'll often go awhile without washing your bra. So a good material that wicks moisture and doesn't stink is key—because let's be honest: you're moving and shaking, with long days and activity. This bra is made of merino wool, not any of that synthetic material bras like this are often made of. And if your tank falls down when you're loading luggage, you're fine. This bra is one of those rare ones you can wear for five days backpacking or a five nights in the city, and still look and feel good. If you need to hand wash, it will dry quick too. I like this one, and they also make a great racer-back option.
- Upgraded Toiletry Bag: For the majority of Asia and Australia, I was using a plastic ziploc for my shower toiletries (which actually works great if it's a thick plastic!) But I feel more pulled together having a nice makeup bag—it's just one of those things that make you feel like you have your life together. Toiletry bags I find are either too big, too bulky, too over-complicated, or too constricting. I love how this one zips all the way around, and is simple enough to last forever.
- Lightweight Yoga Mat: I didn't think of traveling with a yoga mat until my friend had one in Bali. Her morning yoga practice inspired me and changed my idea about traveling with a yoga mat. There is something about bringing your practice with you, wherever you are. It's a subtle whisper of self-love. And while I often do yoga without a mat, and don't think you need it to move, there's something about the ritual of it. When your life is in different pieces, rolling out a yoga mat is a gesture of saying: hold on world, this is my time. Your mat is your space, to lay, to move, to stretch, to breathe, to close your eyes and feel how it feels to be present in the moment. Let this be your little motivator for your practice become a part of you, wherever you are. This Manuka one is great, and made of natural, biodegradable tree rubber—meaning no toxins or harmful dyes. And it can fit in your carry-on.