Anyone who has traveled more than once has them. The first items they lay out on the bed or put into their suitcase. The things that make it on every trip. Their own must-have travel items.
Even for someone like me, who’s a bit of an over-planner, packing is a chore. The only upside to doing it often is that you eventually get pretty good at it. You come to learn which things you absolutely have to pack and which you can leave behind.
While they might be different for everyone, I’ve come up with a few I think are – or at least should be – universal.
Here are the four must-have travel items I won’t leave home without:
I feel like this is a good indication of getting older and wiser. I used to avoid sunscreen like the plague when I was younger. Now I want it in everything—lotion, foundation, chapstick. I’m currently on a personal mission for the perfect organic moisturizer with built-in SPF. But until I find it, I have managed to find two sunscreens I absolutely love.
For my face, I’m obsessed with the Coola tinted mineral sunscreen. It’s natural and applies so-freaking-smoothly it will change everything you think you know about sunscreen. The other, stickier option I use for my body is the Aloe Gator Gel. The gel is a little harder to apply than creams, but I’ve also found it to be much more resistant to sweat.
(Side note: I’m an advocate for using natural products whenever possible, and now more than ever. There were are least two places in the Riviera Maya that didn’t allow sunscreen (and Hawaii just banned chemical sunscreens!) because it’s harmful to the local habitat. If you opt for something biodegradable, you can feel good about wearing it anywhere you go.)
2. Bug repellent
This is one of the must-have travel items I’ve learned to love the hard way. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a lighted target for mosquitoes.
These days I’m lucky enough to live in a place where they’re not a problem, but that only makes them more noticeable when I go anywhere else. Because these small, evil creatures have the ability to ruin a perfectly good time, I’ve learned to always be prepared. Don’t be fooled by the climate, either. I’ve seen mosquitoes at low humidity and 10,000 feet of elevation.
Since all-natural options have been unfortunately less effective for me personally, I shamefully opt for the full-strength varieties when it comes to spray. If you’re not sure you’ll need it, I recommend getting one of these small, travel-sized tubes that won’t take up much space.
Better safe than eaten alive, I say.
3. A Buff Wrap
The Buff wrap is certainly the newest addition to my list of must-have travel items. In recent years it has become a given for hiking trips. But after wishing I had something handy to wipe away the constant stream of sweat I battled in Mexico, I’d gladly take it anywhere.
It’s versatility is what makes it so great. You can wear it as a scarf to keep warm, or a headband to hold your hair back or keep sweat from your eyes. You can put it over your nose to block wind or bugs. In Cancun, our tour guides wore them on the boats and around the islands for sun protection, too.
And they’re so light and compact that you won’t even be mad if you wind up leaving it in your suitcase. Plus it comes in such a wide variety of colors and patterns—there’s definitely something for everyone.
A good Buff wrap is sure to let you flex your experienced-traveler muscles.
4. Travel towel
We’ve mentioned the advantages of a good travel towel before, and I’m sure we’ll mention them again. Even if you’re going somewhere towels are provided, these things come in so handy.
For example, we stayed at an AirBnb in Playa del Carmen that provided bath towels and beach towels. But the beach towels were massive. They’d take up half your backpack if you brought just one with you. Not to mention how hard it is to free sand from the fluffy ones.
For this trip, I took my Dock & Bay towel with me (though I also love the Sea To Summit options for smaller sizes). And I was so glad to have it. I threw it in my backpack wherever we went and used it any time a chair was hot or uncomfortable. I used it as a wrap walking around the beach or pool, and even as a shawl when my shoulders got hot from the sun.
The best part? After a quick shake virtually all of the sand is gone and it dries so quickly you can use it again and again.
Of course there are several other items, like toothpaste, that I never travel without. But I’ve found that these four must-have travel items can be unexpected life savers on any given trip.
Would you agree? Tell us what you won’t leave home without!