Travel Essentials

I recently was on a trip with a friend and she commented on how my weekender bag was one that she would have used for a carry-on while traveling on a plane. While I used to travel with a million different things, years of hauling oversized pieces of luggage through airports, waiting in line to check luggage or for my suitcase to come out of baggage, hoisting heavy bags overhead on airplanes, and traveling in an overstuffed car cured me of that. I tend to be pretty minimalist in my daily life and that translates well to traveling. I mix and match clothing in my suitcase (which works well since my wardrobe tends to as well), don’t worry about wearing pants multiple days in a row, typically only pack two pairs of shoes, and religiously plan out what I will wear in advance.

I love seeing what other people choose to pack, lists of essentials, etc. Here are the things we swear by when traveling (but please note that we never take all of this on every single trip. We assess what we’ll be doing and what makes the most sense).

Luggage

Weekend Bag: Cuyana. Surprisingly roomy and beautiful quality. I love everything this brand makes.

Longer Trips: Patagonia Backpack/Duffle. We have an older version of this bag and my husband and I each have one. We chose them for their ability to be used as a backpack in an airport, leaving us hands-free to help our toddler.

Day Pack: L.L. Bean Stowaway Day Pack (awesome for collapsing into a tiny pouch and throwing in luggage) or the Tumi Voyageur Halle Backpack (while pricey, I appreciate that this looks a little more polished than your average canvas backpack and the inner compartments and pockets are great for organizing things, plus it’s super lightweight.

Handbag: Cuyana Saddle Bag. I seriously own this in three colors. It’s lightweight, looks nice, and perfectly fits my essentials (including a diaper and travel pack of wipes if necessary).

Wallet: Cuyana. I use this long one which, while sizable, is great for easily keeping cards separate, has extra pockets for foreign currency, and can easily hold tickets or other  travel documents if necessary. If I want something much smaller, I take a card case from Cuyana.

Toiletries: Flight 001 (this for liquids, this for everything else).

Makeup: Cuyana (the smaller of the two in this set).

Laptop Sleeve: Cuyana.

Pouch for cables and for travel documents: Tom Bihn Clear Pouches in Medium

Baggu: I ALWAYS throw one of these into my purse or suitcase. Even when I don’t think I’m going to use them, I’m always glad I packed one whether for use in a grocery store, out shopping, or to throw in a water bottle, snacks, and magazines purchased in an airport. My mother even used one as a makeshift cooler for a beach picnic on a trip to Hawaii by adding a Ziploc bag filled with ice and tying the top in a knot.

Cosmetic bag in handbag: Truffle clutch in mini (for essentials like chapstick, hair ties, eye drops).

LL Bean Boat and Totes: We love these to corral items in our car for road trips. We have one large one that we use for books and toys for our son and another that we use to corral things like snacks for our trips.

Louis Vuitton Neverfull: My favorite tote bag, left over from my corporate office days. While it’s a pricey bag, it’s lightweight while also being extremely sturdy. I’ve used this as a carry-on when traveling, to corral books, magazines, and road trip supplies, and as a diaper bag with my son.

Lo & Sons OMG: While I no longer have a job that I travel for, when I was working in the corporate world this was my go-to to corral my work laptop, accessories, and other travel necessities. It’s roomy enough that I even fit my clothing for an overnight work trip in it once.

Clothing

Thin down jacket: Traveling during the winter is the worst because of all the layers required that bulk up your luggage. I have a thin down jacket that crams into a tiny pouch and takes up hardly any room in my luggage. While the company my husband and I bought ours from is now defunct, they’re very similar to the linked jacket from Patagonia.

Thin rain jacket: We each own lightweight rain jackets and pants from LL Bean and they were such a good investment. Thin and easy to roll, they’re great if you have a rainy destination on your agenda. You won't win any style awards while wearing them, especially together, but I've been out in a complete downpour in this and came home completely dry underneath.

Lightweight jacket: Madewell. Great for an extra layer, easily packable and easily washable. Until recently, I owned this one from J. Crew and swore by it as well.

Scarf: Everlane. I swear by scarves for an extra layer when it’s cool out or to feel cozy on a plane. I own this scarf in black and also in grey and like that it’s easy to loop over my head rather than trying to figure out how to wrap and tuck the ends.

Flat Shoes: 99.9% of the time, I'm in flats which translates well to traveling for comfort and walkability. Some of my favorites are Nike running shoes, Vince slip-on sneakers, J. Crew ballet flats, Rainbow flip flops, Birkenstocks, and Ancient Greek sandals.

ADAY Throw and Roll Leggings: The absolute best pants for travel. Stretchy and comfortable (they're designed to be workout pants) but stylish (rumor has it a woman once wore them to a meeting with the British PM).

Denim: Paige Denim. 95% of the time in my daily life I’m in jeans and while traveling, there’s no exception. I love these by Paige Denim and own several pairs. They’re great for someone who skims under 5’4” because it means I don’t have to hem them.

Solid and Striped T-Shirts: Favorites are currently from Madewell, Saint James, Kule, American Giant, and Everlane.

Sunglasses: Ray-Ban, Prada, and Westward Leaning. I always have sunglasses to protect my sensitive eyes. While some might say that it’s better to travel with cheap sunglasses in case they get damaged, I find that they’re not nearly as effective so simply make a point to always put them in their cases and take good care of them. I also swear by a pair of wrap-around Oakleys for outdoor activities like kayaking, paddleboarding and snowboarding.

Swimsuit: J. Crew. I always pack a swimsuit, whether I think I’m going to need it or not. They take up very little space and I often find myself impulsively heading for a swimming pool or jacuzzi. 

Beauty

Hand Wipes: Babyganics. Even if I didn’t have a toddler with perpetually sticky hands that have been touching everything in sight, I would probably still swear by these. They’re great if you’re out and about and unable to wash your hands and extremely mild on my sensitive skin.

Chapstick: Fresh in clear or tinted and Smith's Rosebud Salve in a tube.

Moisturizer: Aesop body balm or their lighter weight lotion with sunscreen. My only complaint is that neither comes in a travel size.

Face Wipes: Ursa Major. Individually packaged so not super environmentally friendly but I appreciate the fact that they don’t dry out between trips unlike many other brands I’ve tried.

Sunscreen: Supergoop. Strong enough to keep my fair Irish skin from getting burned, sensitive enough for use on my toddler, and no sunscreen smell. We all us this making it easy to pack.

Makeup: Beautycounter. I love this brand and their mission to make safer beauty products. I keep my makeup fairly basic both at home and on the road and am currently using their Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer, Touchup Skin Concealer Pen, Color Pinch Cream Blusher, and Lengthening Mascara. I also pack an eyelash curler.

Eyedrops: Refresh Plus Lubricant Eye Drops. I have sensitive eyes and also wear contacts and use these no-preservative single use vials of eyedrops to combat dry eyes when I travel.

Electronics/Paper

Notebook: Appointed. Made in the U.S. with a wonderful attention to detail. 

Pen: Sugar Paper. They’re pricey (I bought mine during a sale) but I find I write better with a quality pen and I do so much writing, it’s a worthwhile investment. 

E-Reader: Kindle. My husband also has an iPad that he takes when traveling and we’ll often use it to watch movies or tv shows.

Phone/Camera: iPhone 6S Plus. I stopped using a regular camera years ago and as the quality of the iPhone camera has improved, haven’t missed it. It’s easy to fit in a pocket, purse, or backpack, and I use it to take photos and videos of my family on our travels.

Headphones: Beats Earbuds.

Journal: Sugar Paper.

Laundry

Wet Bag: Flight 001. Great for wet swimsuits and damp clothes from toddler accidents.

Laundry Bag: Flight 001 for me, one similar to this for my husband (who travels via car extensively and needs something larger). I don’t use these on planes as neither fits well into luggage.

Nalgene bottle with laundry detergent

Snacks

Utensils: Light My Fire Sporks. We use these sporks constantly in lunches, on the road, with our son, etc. They’ve come in handy more than once when we’ve driven away from a restaurant with take-out only to discover that we have no utensils. When traveling by car, we’ll also bring a pocket knife to cut fruit or things like salami for a picnic.

Snacks: GoMacro bars in Cashew Butter (I buy the large size for me and the snack size for my son who also loves them). Kind bars in chocolate sea salt for my husband. Emerald Nuts 100 Calorie Packs of Almonds.

Ziploc bags in gallon, quart, and sandwich size. These have been a lifesaver on so many occasions. We’ve used them for ice as makeshift ice packs, to corral leftovers like pizza, and to organize smaller items. I always throw a handful in our luggage before departing.

Kids

Baby Carrier: Ergobaby 360. We used this for two years straight in the airport, running errands, in the grocery store, and even around the neighborhood when our son was tiny to get him to nap. You can position your baby four different ways in it and it's easy to use even if you're solo.

Jogger: BOB. When I first found out I was pregnant, multiple guys in my office (yes, guys) immediately swore up and down that this was the only stroller to consider. We knew we wanted a jogger and ended up getting this as our (initially) only stroller plus the conversion kit for our son's infant car seat. It's awesome. Seriously, the tires can go off-road in dirt and sand (a fact my husband loves). It's great for running but equally comfortable for our son if we're on a walk or just cruising around.

Travel stroller: UPPAbaby G-Luxe. We bought this prior to our first airplane flight with Jack, knowing we would need a stroller on the other end and wanting something lighter than the BOB. While we used our Ergobaby 360 in the airport on that particular trip, as he was still pretty little, we've since been very glad we purchased this as it's great for keeping him corralled in an airport while waiting in security, is easy to gate check, and functions as a perfectly adequate stroller at our destination.

Travel bag for travel stroller: UPPAbaby G-Series Travel Bag. We initially bought an extremely cheap stroller bag to protect the stroller when flying. When it arrived after our first trip completely ripped and destroyed, we knew we needed a better one and so bought this which has been great.

Travel Crib: BABYBJORN. This is a pricey item that I initially bought a cheaper version of and then ended up replacing. I should have just sprung for the expensive one first. This has more of a mattress than any other one I've found and collapses into a fairly small size. Our son slept great on it for months until he figured out how to climb out.

Snack cups: OXO. A friend recommended these to me before our first flight and they've became a staple in our everyday lives.

Music box: Baby Einstein. I purchased this as an add-on to an Amazon order to get to the free shipping total when my son was a few months old. I have no idea why the appeal is so strong but it has helped us survive long car trips, waits in restaurants, and occasions when he has to be in his stroller for an extended period. This thing is a lifesaver and literally one of our best purchases ever. We now have two and keep one in each of our vehicles.

Backpack with pockets: The North Face. The first time I flew solo with Jack, I was so unbelievably grateful for the outside pockets on the backpack I was carrying (similar to the one linked here), something I had never thought about before. I was able to easily pull out diapers or snacks from them or shove things in when in a hurry with my hands full.

Backpack with leash: Skip Hop. Now that our son is a very active toddler, we've purchased this little backpack with a leash. We only use the leash if we're somewhere that feels dangerous (lots of busy streets, a cliff near the ocean, etc.)  but it's given me a lot of peace of mind plus with the backpack, we've started stashing his little water bottle and occasionally a snack in it so he starts to get used to carrying his own things.

Weekend bag: Patagonia Backpack. We purchased this when we realized that his duffle was a bit large for a short overnight  trip on the weekends. While it's too big for him to carry now, it will make a great carry-on bag when he's older.

Luggage for Longer Trips: L.L. Bean Duffle. Affordable, excellent quality, and with enough room to stash diapers and wipes. We love this to corral our son's gear when traveling in a car. Typically when flying, we'll partition his items out between our suitcases to minimize on luggage.

Diaper Pouch: Baggu. I used a diaper bag for a very short period of time before realizing that I was carrying a lot of unnecessary items. I rethought our daily haul and ended up minimizing first to this (which was great since it has a changing pad for when my son was younger and more delicate) and then to this Baggu which easily fits in a tote bag or backpack.

Small Manual Breast Pump: Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump. I originally had a fancy electric pump that I used for the short time I went back to work and took that with me on two trips during the time my son was weaning. For the last trip, I was on a plane and realized I didn't want to haul the giant pump bag. I impulsively purchased this pump in Target one day to stash in my luggage if I felt the need to use it for my own comfort. I only used it once but found it to be faster and incredibly more efficient than the electric. Go figure.