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The Ultimate List of Travel Essentials: Best Products 2020

Travel gear to purchase

When people hear that I have a travel blog, they usually ask what I bring (or wish I could bring) on trips. I normally share my packing list with them (which you can download for free here) or give them links to a few of my favorite travel products. Even experienced travelers grapple with finding the best gear and sometimes forget the basics. This list of gear will help you decide what to bring, what to purchase, and what to leave behind. For other travel tips, see my list of 100 Travel Tips here.

DisclaimerSome of the links in this article will take you to affiliate partner sites. This means that I may earn a small commission on items that have been purchased through those links at no additional cost to the buyer.

Bottle of Purell hand sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

Always bring hand sanitizer, either the bottled liquid type or pre packaged single sheets. Since Covid-19 there have been even more studies and papers published about hand sanitizers and their efficacy. See the pros and cons of different brands in this article by Healthline, and choose the ones that suit you and your family best.

Travel Pillow

Travel Pillow (Huzi, Trtl) Let me say right out of the gate that I NEED a travel pillow. I can’t stand to be awake or alert at all during even the shortest flight. The first travel pillow I recommend is the ever-popular yet contentious Trtl pillow. This pillow is pretty controversial among my traveling friends. It’s really less of a pillow and more of a fleece scarf with a plastic structure inside which holds your head up. It definitely looks funny to those uninitiated into the world of trtl, but it’s totally worth the side eyes and glances. The pros: Your head will be held in an upright position, the fabric is soft and cozy, and I find the scarf aspect to be soothing and warm on flights. The cons: The plastic can lose its “bounce” and eventually will not hold your head up as well. For some the fleece fabric wrap may be too hot. Overall I highly recommend trying this unconventional pillow. 

The second travel pillow I’d recommend is the Huzi Infinity Pillow. It looks like a puffy infinity scarf, and well, it kind of is. You can use it in a number of different configurations and poses for both sleeping and relaxing. The fabric is soft and breathable, and I think it’s the best travel “pillow” I’ve had yet. The pros: soft and versatile, can be used in a number of ways. The cons: Perhaps a little light on the stuffing, some people will want more comfort (like a memory foam). 

This Rainleaf Microfiber Towel is ultra compact and lightweight while still being super absorbent. If you will be staying in hostels, backpacking, or camping, a travel towel is a must. The microfiber is super soft yet thin enough to dry easily. Trust me, you don’t want the extra weight of a traditional towel bogging you down. The last time I stayed in a hostel the towel didn’t make it past my butt and was thin enough to see through when it got wet. Don’t let it happen to you! 

With over 10,000 reviews and 5 stars, you can’t go wrong with this set from Shacke. It comes with 5 different sizes of cubes that you can mix and match for your packing needs. You can use them to tidy up and organize your suitcase or carry-on, or get creative: Bring an extra change of clothes in your backpack in the smallest cube. Share a single suitcase with a partner by separating clothing in two separate cubes. This set also comes with a laundry bag to put your dirty clothing in as you travel, to keep it separate from your clean clothing.

Solid shampoos and conditioners are much more eco-friendly than single-use plastic containers of the liquid versions. The solid bars are also much easier to travel with. You don’t have to worry about liquids spilling out all over your clothing, or having a leak mid-flight. Ethique Eco-Friendly Shampoo & Conditioner Bar Bundle is great for dry hair. Be friendly to the environment and save yourself some luggage hassle. 

blue tube of toothpaste tablets

Solid toothpaste tablets will also save weight and remove a liquid from your luggage. Hello Antiplaque + Whitening Toothpaste Tablets are super easy to use: just chew them for a few seconds and then brush like normal.

I cannot stress this one enough: Buy a portable charger for your phone and small electronics. I use an Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger, which can charge my Pixel4 phone at least 4 times when full. This thing is tiny but mighty, and I never go on any trip or long day out without it. It has 4.5 stars and a whopping 33,000 ratings on Amazon. 

Check which electric plug type you will need if travelling internationally. There are several universal adapters available so you don’t have to worry about mixing and matching. I like ones that have USB ports for charging as well as classic plugs, like this one from Newvanga with a built-in surge protector. 

The Solar Power Bank, Qi Portable Charger has an 10,000mAh External Battery. It’s great for hiking and camping trips, or any time that you have a considerable amount of sunlight at your disposal. This one is tough and water resistant, and comes with a built in flashlight (and for some reason, a standalone compass).

The Travelon Anti Theft Classic Backpack is one of my favorite travel purchases of all time. I love this little backpack. I’m on my second one, after I retired the first after many years of travel and use (and only because a single zipper broke, it was still in incredible shape!). The bag I’m currently using and loving today was purchased in February of 2014. I’ve bought one for my mom and another for my boyfriend. It really is that great. There are locking clips on the zippers to deter pickpockets and the entire thing is slash-resistant. The fabric is water resistant and super durable. And this thing is ROOMY. From the pictures you really can’t believe the sheer amount of stuff this backpack can hold. It is my go-to pack for a carry on bag, a day pack, and camera bag. If you buy one thing for travel, make it this bag! 

 TSA-compatible Travel Luggage Locks will do double duty on your luggage while flying and then again if you stay at a hostel or need to rent a locker on your travels. These particular locks have a little indicator letting you know if your bag has been inspected by TSA.

These Travelambo Leather Luggage Bag Tags are faux leather and come in a ton of colors. You want to make your checked bag stand out from the crowd, especially if it is nondescript. If you don’t want to spend the money, you can always use a piece of ribbon or colorful tape wrapped around your bag’s handle. Anything that will help you recognize your bag quickly and make sure others don’t grab it mistakenly. 

 For a small tripod you can toss in your daybag, check out the UBeesize Tripod here Perfect for taking trip selfies or setting up an epic family photo (without leaving out the photographer for once). This tripod is small enough to throw in a carry on but sturdy enough to hold a full-size camera. It’s lightweight and won’t bog you down on your travels. I like this one in particular because you can use the flexible legs to wrap around poles and branches to take creative shots. Hang it upside down or sideways! It also comes with a little remote so you can snap timed photos with your phone or compatible camera. 

canon black camera

Point & Shoot Camera

I’ll admit, this one is more of a splurge. This unassuming little number is the G7 X Mark II Canon PowerShot Digital Camera. If you want to take next-level travel photos, or be able to vlog your trip, this camera is a great mid-level camera at a competitive price point. The image quality is incredible for such a small camera. Despite its size it’s packed with great features and presets. It has built in wi-fi and NFC capability so that you can back up your photos on the go.

For a more budget friendly vlogging pick, try the Canon PowerShot SX740 Digital Camera. It has many of the same features as the more expensive version above. It’s a great little point and shoot camera for travel – you don’t have to lug around a ton of expensive equipment or lenses. If you’re only taking a carry-on, either of these little cameras can easily fit. Make sure to grab a decent memory card before you go. 

For a waterproof action camera without a huge dent in your finances, check out AKASO’s EK7000 4K Sports Action Camera. You can capture stunning 4k video quality, or 12MP photos in still mode. You can control the shots with a wireless wrist remote, which is great for taking selfies on solo trips, or setting up action shots with a group. Each of it’s two batteries can film up to 90 minutes. It is also waterproof up to 98 feet. You really can’t beat this camera for it’s $50 price point! 

The Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle is a must for hiking, camping, and eco-friendly traveling. It collapses into a small roll which is easy to throw into any backpack. It is BPA-free silicone and comes in a variety of colors. The bottle is durable and won’t crack or shatter under pressure (which is great because I drop EVERYTHING). It’s lightweight yet sturdy enough to last.

For long trips where you’ll need to do laundry, consider bringing along some plastic-free, liquid-free laundry detergent sheets, like Tru Earth Eco-friendly Ultra Concentrated Compostable & Biodegradable Plastic-Free Laundry Detergent Eco-Strips. They are not only super simple to use, they are lightweight and will take up an almost unnoticeable amount of space in your luggage.

Hook a little Tile Pro to anything you don’t want to lose – your luggage probably being the most important during travel. The Tile app remembers when and where you left something behind. If you truly lose something, the Tile community can help you find it with the apps running on their phones. When you’re not travelling, the Tile is perfect for slipping on your keychain. 

Macks light blue earplugs

Wear ear plugs if you intend to sleep on your flight. Bring at least one pair for your trip, because you never know if a hotel room will be louder than you thought. I use Mack’s Original Foam Earplugs because they form perfectly into my tiny ear. They come with a handy carrying tube that fits about 2 pairs of earplugs for short trips.

I absolutely love my Kindle Paperwhite. So much so in fact that I’ve bought three more to give as gifts over the last few years. The glare-free paperwhite technology allows you to read in the brightest sun (something my iPad can’t do) or complete darkness. This new version is waterproof so you can feel comfortable bringing it to the beach or spa. a single battery charge can last literal WEEKS. It’s also super light and can fit in with any luggage, even a minimalist traveler’s bag. Make sure to download books you’d like to read before leaving, when you still have a solid connection to wi-fi. 

Get a dry bag if you’ll be in a very wet/rainy place or will be on a boat for any amount of time. Try the Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag which comes with a bonus waterproof phone case. This thing was an absolute lifesaver on my last trip to Utah and Zion National Park. When hiking the Narrows, I fell up to my neck into a nice, deep hole of chilly water. Luckily everything in my bag was stored safely in this baby and not a single granola bar or camera got a drop on them. 

Get a head torch for camping or whenever you’ll be outdoors at night for significant amounts of time. They are also great for staying at hostels, when you want to use the bathroom in the middle of the night but don’t want to disturb your sleeping roommates. Get this Ultra Bright CREE LED Headlamp and never trip on a giant stick in the middle of Yosemite again (it hurt). 

And some things I DON'T recommend spending money on:

  • RFID blocking wallets or card holders. There is no evidence that anyone is actually having their information stolen this way, and many experts find these products a waste of time.
  • Gimmicky products, like foldable toothbrushes. Does your everyday toothbrush really take up that much room? 
  • I would avoid the “vacuum sealed” packing bags ones unless you are going on an extended vacation or moving abroad. You may tend to overpack if you fill those things to the brim and vacuum the air out. You also may not have access to a vacuum on the way home, which leaves you with too many things and not enough space. Instead get a packing cube set that is sturdy yet flexible.

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