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Unglamorous Travel Must-Haves

The internet is full of packing lists for various types of travel, and we all have our special items that we can’t leave home without, such as comfy-but-stylish walking shoes or a versatile pashmina. But there’s another category of packing must-haves that you will never see in your glossy travel magazines. I call these items the “unglamorous travel must-haves,” and I'm sharing my super secret (well, until now) list with you right here. Most of these items take up very little room in your luggage, but can be real lifesavers when you need them.

A couple of disclaimers: first, none of these ideas are intended as medical advice and should not be taken as such. Always consult with your medical professional about what is right for you. Second, I am mentioning some specific brands to be helpful, but I am not expressly endorsing one brand over another, nor am I affiliated with the brands mentioned.

Clothespins. From clipping together blackout curtains to prevent that annoying chink of early morning light to hanging up a freshly rinsed quick-dry hiking shirt, clothespins are utilitarian multitaskers that always find room in my suitcase. To pair with your clothespins, Tide's Travel Sink Packets are perfect when you just need to wash a couple of items.

Arlington travel agent tip: clothespins
Unglamorous, but awesome: the humble clothespin

Temporary dental repair material. (See, I told you this list was not glamorous!) This tip came from my dentist - I had no idea this even existed until she told me about it. If you experience a loose dental crown, filling, or cap while traveling, this material can temporarily cement it back in place until you can see a dentist. It comes in the tiniest of tubes and is one of those things you hope you’ll never need, but could really pay off if you did. One available brand is Recapit.

Breakfast bars. I’m not a happy camper when I am seriously hungry, especially if I wake up in a new time zone hours before breakfast is available, so I've learned to travel with a stash of chocolate-free (no risk of melting) breakfast bars. One of my go-to favorite bars are Belvita breakfast biscuits in the orange-cranberry flavor.

Zipper-style plastic freezer bags. I always take along several gallon-size zipper-style disposable plastic freezer bags. The ones made for the freezer are a thicker material, making them sturdier. They are useful for packing a wet bathing suit or a potentially leaky bottle of shampoo, or for separating out a precious souvenir from the rest of your packed items.

Multi-passport wallet. When we travel as a couple or family, we put all of our passports into one multi-passport wallet. It is so much easier to keep track of them this way, and we also add in any paper boarding passes, parking tickets, and baggage claim stickers. On the subject of passports: always make two photocopies of your passport. Leave one copy with a trusted friend or relative back home, and keep the other copy separate from your original while you travel. In case your passport is lost or stolen, you will have a copy to share with the embassy, which can help speed an emergency replacement.

Social-distancing multi-tool. Is this tool useful post-pandemic? I'm not sure...while I used it during that time, it's not something that has stood the test of time for me. This small, metal tool (about 3” x 1.5”) has various notches for using door handles, as well as a pointy end for pressing elevator or keypad buttons (some even have a stylus tip). I’m not an extreme germaphobe, but this tool is so small and potentially useful, it's one to consider for your travel arsenal, especially in cold and flu season.

Arlington travel agent shows social distancing multi-tool
A handy tool for your travel arsenal

Mini pharmacy. Everyone’s on-the-go mini pharmacy will be different, but some items you might consider including are: pain reliever tablets (after a hunt in Narita airport for acetaminophen to soothe a splitting headache, I’ll never be without my own supply again), diarrhea / laxative medication in tablet form (enough said), hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, adhesive bandages, and personal prescription medications. For your prescriptions, bring them in the original container that has the script attached (both to avoid questions from transportation security officials and in case you needed a refill while traveling), and try to bring enough to extend two weeks past your intended travel dates, just in case. Keep your items in your carry-on luggage.

Really good sunscreen. It pays to use a really good, high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen. Know what you like before your travels and bring along enough. If you will be swimming in the ocean, use a reef-safe sunscreen (one without oxybenzone or octinoxate) to help protect coral reefs and fish. Having seen firsthand bleached coral in Tahiti and the major efforts being undertaken to revive coral reef habitats there, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Many companies make sunscreens that are less harmful to the environment while still offering protection and hydration: look for the words, "reef safe."

Chargers and plug adapters. This is obvious, but always remember to bring along your device chargers and any plug adapters you may need.

Squirrel with bright eyes, ready to travel
Bright eyed and ready for the day!

Eye drops. To me, nothing feels better after a long flight or jet-lagged night like some refreshing eye drops. Of course, consult with your ophthalmologist or optometrist for what is right for you. To bring back a bright-eyed look, I recently discovered (and now love) Bausch + Lomb’s over-the-counter Lumify drops, billed as a next generation version of redness reliever drops.

What are your unglamorous travel must-haves? I’d love to hear your tips and ideas! You can reach out to me through my contact page, linked here.

Photo credits: Socks on clothesline by Jeanine Meuche on Unsplash, social distancing tool by Christina Schlegel copyright 2020 all rights reserved, squirrel by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash.


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