5 Random Items I Never Travel Without

Filed Under: Travel

We’ve talked before about many of the items we consider essential for travel, be it gadgets and technology, or just having the proper combination of bags.

But I thought it might be fun to share a few of the decidedly-random-yet-super-useful things I make a point of always having in my suitcase, regardless of where I’m traveling.

Or, alternatively, the things in my bag that Ben people might mock me for schlepping across the globe, but are still really nice to have in a pinch.

Eye drops

I’ve worn contacts for years, and am fortunate to at least have a prescription that allows me to wear moisture-laden lenses, but my eyes still get dry when I travel. The combination of airplanes, excessive air conditioning, smoggy cities, or just new environments can do a number on my eyeballs, and I find that I feel more tired when my eyes hurt.

So I always throw a few single-use vials of eye drops into my liquids bag. The slim containers mean they take up hardly any space, and I’m not having to lug around a year’s supply on every trip.

Fluffy spa socks

Particularly in climates where sandals and open-toed shoes are the norm, I love being able to give my feet a break (or just warm them up in freezing air conditioning). Sure, socks like these are ridiculous, but they’re much cozier than hotel slippers when I’m working in the room, and can be an absolute blessing on cold flights.

I only wear them for a bit at a time, so one pair goes into my bag for the entire trip.

Super-concentrated laundry detergent

Even if you don’t intend to do laundry on a trip, stuff happens. I know a lot of people carry Tide pens or stain-remover wipes, but I’ve found a concentrated detergent to be more effective and practical.

My favorite is a fragrance-free fabric wash from Nordstrom. It’s labeled for lingerie, but is great for washing anything, or even just rubbing on stains, and it’s amazingly concentrated. I keep a 10mL bottle in my bag, which is enough to wash everything in my suitcase at least twice.

At a minimum, having fabric wash along means never having to put a chlorine-laden swimsuit in with my other things, which is a huge perk for as often as I swim when traveling.

Non-liquid insect repellent

I am a magnet for bugs — seriously, I got about two dozen bites at breakfast this morning — so make a point of always having either wipes or stick-style insect repellent in my bag.

Even if I don’t think I’ll be hiking or being generally outdoorsy I try and dab a bit on my ankles and wrists. You never know when you’re going to be seated next to a water feature of some sort.

Obviously I failed at this today, so it’s worth noting you actually have to use the insect repellent in order to, you know, repel insects.

Basic Bouillon cubes

This is definitely the most random thing in my bag, but the one I’m most consistently grateful to have.

The high amount of sodium is helpful in replenishing electrolytes and preventing dehydration (I travel with Magnesium and Potassium as well, but those seem less unusual), and is wonderful to have on-hand if someone gets a tummy bug or your travel companion starts coming down with a cold mid-trip (again).

You can get a package of bouillon cubes cheaply at almost any grocery store (though there of course fancier options), and again — this hardly takes up any space.

Bottom line

There are definitely more glamorous travel items out there, and everyone has different needs for different trips. But it always surprises me how a handful of somewhat random items can make travel much more pleasant.

What less-common items do you consider essential when traveling?

  1. I find contacts to be a hassle on airplanes and trains, and at the very latest, take them out in the lounge prior to departure. Traveling with saline nasal solution is a life saver for the dry air on airplace

    As for electrolytes, if I’m flying domestically, I buy gatorade/powerade post-security. If internationally, I travel with single-serving gatorade powder packets.

  2. I also love repellant wipes. Way easier than sprays.

    I never thought of traveling with boullion but I similarly pack Pedialyte. May or may not help after a flight full of champagne, too 😉

  3. Have you read the ingredients on those bouillon cubes? There are 100000 ways to replenish electrolytes that are much safer and natural than pumping all that junk into your system.

  4. @ anon — Oh, I switched to daily disposable contacts, and it changed my life. Agree they’re a hassle, but so is not being able to see!

    Nasal solution is a great idea too, as is the gatorade!

  5. There’s an excellent rehydration packet on Amazon called RecoverORS, which is way less sugary than Gatorade and less salty than bullion. I’d always prefer coconut water, but that obviously isn’t available everywhere and doesn’t travel as well.

    As for eye drops, be sure they’re artificial tears and not red-eye drops, which just make the problem worse in the long run. B&L SootheXP is great as it’s mineral-infused.

  6. @Tiffany,

    Just curious, do you declare the chicken bouillon every time you pass through custom, especially in the US as it is animal product?

  7. Hard candies, like individually wrapped peppermints because sometimes after traveling all day instead of ordering room service Imoften just want a little something and not a whole meal before going to bed. Scissors if I am checking a bag and have never gone anywhere without being glad I brought them. Safety pins and a few clothes pins.

  8. I’m a runner and like to get some exercise while traveling and can’t carry my passport on my person while out running so I travel with dog tags – not the ones I used in the Army but a custom tag showing my name, country, and contact phone number.

  9. @ John W — I would if I ever had any when returning to the US, but I only bring enough for the trip. In general cooked, shelf-stable, commercially packaged poultry-derived products like this aren’t a concern for most countries, most of the time, but I’ll swap out for veggie bouillon when I think it’s going to be complicated otherwise.

  10. 1 – Comfortable lounge pants.
    2 – A z-pack, alkaseltzer cold-medicine, nasal spray, cough drops, first aid items, a thermometer, and everything is packed in an airline amenity kit.
    3 – International adaptor plug.
    4 – A framed picture of the loved one.
    5 – My Bose headset.

  11. What about Toilet Paper? I always carry at least a little bit of Toilet paper everywhere I travel.
    Of course, TP can double as tissue or napkin (not only to use in the bathroom)

  12. A shower puff (preferably Body Shop) in a plastic zip lock bag. Makes that shower after a long haul flight even better.

  13. Another must have item is a Light My Fire plastic spork with a serrated edge. Makes short work of stirring a drink, cutting an apple or spearing a fresh fruit cup you grabbed at the airport.

  14. 1) Bandana. Can substitute for a sleep mask, tissue, napkin and more.
    2) Wet wipes.
    3) One use eye drops.
    4) Phone charger
    5) Ambien

  15. Interest post, thanks. I also carry ere drops,.

    I have a hard time believing non atheletes need to take anything to replace sodium. Let alone 25% of the daily recommended intake in one cube. (And the recommendation for many of us is even less mg of sodium per day than what the label says.

    Might as well be recommending snickers bars for nutritional reasons.

  16. Wow; those are 5 things I never travel with; don’t have contacts; always wear synthetic (not cotton) socks anyway; don’t attract bugs unless I’m hiking in a forest; bring enough clothes for my trip and for god snakes, eat humanoid food and drink plenty of liquid– I don’t need the human equivalent of a salt lick. To each his(her) own!

  17. Bandanas, sanitary wipes (for the OCD in me to wipe down my plane seating area and tray), those insecticide wipes ( I think I bought them after your trip to Thailand with the elephants…thanks for that tip).

    I carry a Frio pouch. It is a pouch that you soak in water and it will keep medicines (like insulin) from getting too warm in hot climates. It will not keep it refrigerator cold, but it will not allow it to get too warm. To ‘recharge’ it you simply soak it in water for several minutes. It is great for heat sensitive medicines like insulin.

  18. A large square scarf. Keeps me warm on freezing planes and doubles as wrap. Alligator clips. ALWAYS have a use for them: to hold drapes closed at the hotel, to clip a hanger with wet laundry onto something; to engineer a hanger using a string to hold my iPad onto the seat clip in front of me on the plane to watch Amazon preloaded movies; to secure my boarding pass and ID to my bag for easy access; to tame the trip receipts as they come out of my wallet; and once, to attach a towel to an air vent in order to divert cold air that was blowing directly onto my head while in the bed. And of course, obviously, to hold a snack bag securely closed.
    Also always bring my own VERY compressed pillow and stretch slippers. A small blanket and my own pillowcase. Hotel ones tend to smell strange. Mints and an empty water bottle, which I fill everywhere. Small bottle of woolite. And yes, only one carry on and my purse.

  19. Imodium or its equivalent (in your carry-on). I learned this on a transpacific flight back to USA from South Korea. Had to stand near the lavatory practically the whole trip. It takes a little while to work, but take it as soon as symptoms appear.

    Wet wipes, too.

    For domestic hotels, I always take an extension cord. As a budget minded traveler, for me a hotel is just a place to sleep, and my choices sometimes lack enough outlets.

  20. Wet wipes, swim towel (one of those tiny super absorbent ones), insect wipes, small combo lock, extra large zip lock bag

  21. Anyone have condoms or sex toys on their list, ha ha ha.

    For me, it’s a nail clipper, pen, noise cancelling headphone (unless a road trip only), Nexus card or passport on a US domestic flight (in case of IROPS to Toronto)

  22. @Tiffany

    This Knorr probably includes MSG?

    I have tried asking Lucky with no success, but do you, Tiffany, ever care about MSG in airline and lounge food? I guess there is plenty of MSG in soups everywhere…

  23. @ Markus — They do, and that’s partly why I’ve moved to some of the “fancier” options, but in general I consume so little of it that I don’t worry about it too much. That being said, the MSG itself isn’t something high on my radar — I don’t typically eat any processed food or sugars at all, so most interactions with airline/airport food can wreak havoc on my system anyway, so MSG is the least of my worries.

  24. Twizzlers! What about those! I love those and almost always get them. 🙂 *truth be told* I’m not ashamed! 🙂

  25. A travel iron, when traveling outside the US or to odd little B&B type places in the US. Most major chains in the US always have irons in the room, whereas in Europe and the rest of the world, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Since I didn’t inherit the genes that would enable me to fold shirts properly to minimize wrinkles, the iron is essential.

  26. I always travel with a drugstore rain poncho. It keeps you dry, is super light, and takes up little room. Also I bring large ziplock bags to isolate small items and keep things organized. They also work great for dirty laundry.

  27. I take a couple of plastic coat hangers and a handful of pegs. I have hung washing in showers, on backs of chairs, on balconies and even in the back of the car while travelling! These are invaluable and light to carry. Also I take large ziplock bags for putting everything in instead of packing cells – clean, dirty, leaky, valuable everything goes in a bag. Saves disasters and things can be seen inside them immediately.

  28. A 5 day course of prescription antibiotics (in original pharmacy packet) should a dormant condition recur. Such a drama and expense getting them in many countries.

  29. Seconding the eye drops, but if you have chronic dry eyes avoid the “get the red out” kind. I was using those and my ophthalmologist told me they can actually make your eyes drier. The Systane drops @matt mentioned are a great choice, but pricey. Unless you have severe dry eyes and want something to use just before bed, the Target brand is fine. And unless you have immune system problems, you should be fine with a multi-use bottle.

    My other choices:

    * Immodium or generic equivalent
    * A bag of trail mix. I’m diabetic, and had a major hypoglycemic incident during a three-hour wait for a gate at JFK. FAs brought me soda, but it’s better to have something a bit more substantial (and with some fat in it so your blood sugar won’t spike that badly. Peanut M&Ms aren’t a bad choice in a pinch.)
    * An old-fashioned book or magazines in case the IFE packs up and you can’t recharge a tablet.
    * Eyeshades and noise-cancelling headphones

    I also carry my insulin, but the type I use is in the preloaded pen and after opening is safe at room temperature up to 28 days so I don’t have to worry about keeping it cold.

    As for MSG, unless you’ve shown sensitivity in the past I really wouldn’t worry about it. Part of the reality of traveling is that you frequently have to make food compromises.

  30. Hahaha ….. good one, John W. Those stock cubes have probably never been within a five mile radius of a real chicken in their lives!

  31. Loving the sudden surge of Tiffany articles, we love you Tiff!

    Anyway, I always carry
    1)comfy socks like yourself to wear on my flights on top of whatever socks im wearing-i tend to have smelly feet and the airline blanket doesnt usually cover my 6’1 body in its entirety
    2) extra plastic bags for dirty laundry to bring back home
    3) eyemask, earplugs, even if im flying business and they handout an amenity kit
    4) universal adaptor
    5) good attitude 🙂

  32. I second the good attitude suggestion . Bouillon ? Might try that . I often carry a lightweight extension cord and always carry some wooden clothes pins .
    Never carry voltage adapters , only plug adapters for my destination .
    If you look closely your phone and laptop chargers will almost always work on dual input voltage .
    Tear open alcohol swabs available at drugstores by the box for a penny each . Good for cleaning eye glasses as well .
    Backup phone charger or battery pack.

  33. Flashlight. Surefire Titan with a lithium battery to be specific. The lithium battery is durable and has a 20 year shelf life.

    Pepto-Bismol chewable tablets.

    The travel industry as a whole salts food to excess. For the life of me I cannot find value in adding more salt to the day-to-day activities via bouillon cubes or otherwise.

  34. @ Tiffany

    I think you must mean 100 mL of super-concentrated detergent? 10 mL would hardly be enough to coat the inside of the bottle, let alone wash two loads of laundry!

    Best wishes,


    A Consumer (aka A Scientist!)

  35. The only items I travel with:
    1. Running sneakers
    2. Sony NC headphones
    3. iPhone
    4. Running shorts and bra
    5. One dress
    6. Purse (clutch for cards)
    7. Passport
    8. Sunglasses
    9. My bamboo sleeve drink canteen
    10. Journal and Mont Blanc fountain pen
    11. Refreshing face wipes
    12. A long coat for cold destinations

    I wear a dress or fashionable wear on the flight with my night out shoes – just like the feeling of being well dressed in public. All fit into my Hide Design backpack. I pick up a book to read at airports and donate them when finished. Everything else can be purchased on the road and then donated. Traveling 365 days out of the year. ❤️

    Simplicity works for me.

  36. 1_first aid kit- bandaids, bandage soft and supporting types, Imodium, anti pyritic like aspirin, anti-inflammatory, ORS, senna, antiseptic cream, gastric tabs-rennies, gaviscon or such, charcoal tabs, a mossie spray and sun block . all meds in small doses-around 3 doses a med and non liquid where possible. add small antiseptic soap(can be used to clean clothes in emergency).
    3-one set of basic clothing-shirt cotton (or mix but breathable and as crease resistant as poss). trousers, shorts , underwear, one full walking sandals(wearing same but with lightweight boots and one lightweight cotton or silk jacket added). working on the wear one and one washed principle. get socks on plane and all those wee things like toothbrush, razor and moisturizer.
    4-device cable and battery charger
    5- one bow tie- for embassy visits and those times when you must look respectable and that kings of leon t isn’t just the thing.
    all packed in a portable soft bag that can go onboard-I use a backpack with just two compartments that are both lockable and the pack goes into the smaller one. buy everything else when needed(and more t shirts)

  37. Great suggestions!

    I like
    Blink gel tears
    Zip lock bags
    change of undies
    Lately I’ve added a good face mask in case someone is coughing nearby

  38. @Emily apparently causes quite the scene when running without a t-shirt. In addition, running without socks sounds painful… Or maybe we missed a few items. ;->

  39. Coming from AUS, everywhere has a different electrical outlet plug … A plug converter with multiple options (2.5 x 2.5 inches square) and a charge board with 4 outlets. It’s flat, weighs little and I can charge 4 things at night in one spot – less chance of leaving something behind.

  40. In addition to much of the above one item I always include: massage socks, the type with the flat , firm sole covered in silicon beads/dots. I routinely use them at home but also take them away. They are great for wearing in the hotel after being on my feet all day. IMO the German ones are the best ( usually Falke), a bit expensive at around €25 but better than the cheaper competitors. I always pack 2-3 pairs.

  41. @AD good attention to details but let me clarify item 4: running shorts and “sports” bra 😉

    I don’t wear socks while running. They feel uncomfortable on long distance runs. My vivo stealth 2s are moisture wicking and dry fast. I don’t wear socks with dress shoes.

  42. Rather than bouillon cubes, I take a couple of small Slim Jims meat sticks. They have plenty of salt for electrolyte recuperation, are sealed and probably last forever, and can stave off hunger pangs if you are really desperate.

  43. @emily. I didn’t miss the sports bra. I was hoping you’d forgotten the T-shirt in your comments. Unless your sports bra covers more than any sports bra I’ve ever seen or you only run in treadmills in gyms in western hotels… or limit your travels to a relatively small number of countries, you’re offending a lot of people. Running in a sports bra and no T-shirt would be culturally insensitive in many places. At best you would offend a lot of people. At worst you’d get arrested or hurt. Your choice but it doesn’t seem like a smart one to save a few ounces in a carry on.

  44. @AD
    You make a good point. Here’s my experience.

    T shirts are something I purchase and then give away. No point carrying them everywhere. I have only ever felt the need to hide my skin in a handful of countries, primarily in the Gulf, of the 140+ visited. Never felt in danger or unsafe as long as I run along frequented routes from research on Strava or such websites. As you can tell, running is a passion and running communities around the world provide the information. Everything I own is mentioned above since traveling is my life and the system works well for me. I appreciate your concern and advice and think it’s good to bring up.

  45. 2 clothspins to shut drapes tight or a piece of laundry, 2 deterge pods for emergencies and a big blue Ikea bag for extra carry on or dirty laundry to the laundromat.

  46. My travel backpack includes the following items that are always present

    – Enough of my preferred protein powder to make 4 servings of protein shakes.
    – Ibuprofen and Zantac
    – 3 outlet AC converter, plus a set of travel adapters
    – kit with 3 charging cords for ipad/iPhone/watch, extra battery and charging cord for Sennheiser headphones, 2 USB thumb drives, and a pair of BT earbuds
    – Pad of paper and 2 pens
    – Yeti water bottle that fits in backpack side pocket (both for water and protein drink)
    – An emergency travel kit – toothpaste, toothbrush, disposable razor, small shave cream, sleeping mask, wet wipes, packet of tissue paper.

    Each trip, I add my laptop and ipad. When I get home, I replenish the items I used.

  47. chicken boillon is a great way to lose nexus/global entry

    unless of course you always declare YES to food items.

  48. 1. A spare, uninitialized (virgin) SIM card for MY home wireless provider. You can replace a lost/stolen smartphone anywhere. You can’t replace your SIM ANYWHERE. This is one of the few things I know I can’t possibly obtain abroad, at any price.

  49. Anti-diarrhea pills and condoms are a must. Both can be difficult to find when you’re in a hurry, especially when in a country where you don’t speak the language.

  50. I had no idea single-use eye drops were a thing! I’m a contact lens wearer too so having these for travel will be a lifesaver. Thanks Tiffany!

  51. A Wine Opener. And a plastic coffee filter together with my own coffee. I figure if I can drink good wine and quality coffee, I’m sorted.

  52. If nothing else, get a reliable travel alarm or a phone app. NEVER trust a wake up call !!! (especially if you are in a place that doesn’t have daily plane service or overbooked flights. )

    1- plastic self locking ties to go through the locking zipper holes. They are small and the locks can still be inserted. I get coloured ones and in the kit I keep small nail clippers to cut them so I can open the bag. Bright colours make it obvious if the bag is still secure. TSA uses something similar to close your bag If the had to search it. If I am going someplace dodgy I put one in every lockable zipper and snap cell phone pictures that will have a date/time stamp. Airlines have numbered tags that are similar to lock up the alcohol either at intermediate stops or at end of flight. These have serial numbers.

    1a– 3 sizes of heavy duty zip top freezer bags- the plastic is heavier. Check your hotel room for plastic laundry/dry cleaning bags for stuff that they are picking up from you.

    1b– use large heavy weight black plastic trash bags to line your carry on. Most carry one are not waterproof. You can use one to cover your bag in heavy weather and inside they may help in keeping your stuff dry.

    2- a small LED flashlight in my purse or side pocket of my carry on. I keep it close on t/o and landings. It could help me get out of the plane fast in an emergency.

    3- a down sweater or jacket. They fold down very small and are handy in cold rooms/cabins.

    4- to go with the above sweater– a travel laundry bag. It helps to organize your bag and when the sweater is crammed into it it makes a passable pillow. ( like 5 days on the Trans Siberian express!)My is bright orange so I don’t lose it
    5- to pass the time on a cramped flight, a small piece of pettipoint needlepoint with folding scissors or small children’s play scissors and spare needles stuck in corks or film type canisters. I finished an eyeglass case on long trans Pac flt and had something to show for the time spent. Also you don’t need batteries. Think of similar things to do.

    6- a very long extension cord along with a 3 way plug and take a separate 3 way plug. In a gateroom or lounge It is useful if you can find an outlet and try to share it if someone already is there. It also frees you from the desk outlet.
    7- down booties and special foot warming socks. Good for frigid flts and htls
    7a– get a good sleep mask that is contoured over your eyes. Get several and stash them in carryon, purse, tote bag etc. Get a bright colour so you don’t leave it behind..Get good ear plugs to keep with it. Just do it– and get a good one/s
    7b–invest in a portable “sound machine” that can be fun off batteries or a.c. plugs. There are some very good travel alarms that incorporate white noise or other soothing sounds. I can’t live without one.

    8- small Swiss army type knife with tweezers , folding scissors, corkscrew and bottle/ can opener. Remember to take it out of your carryon lest TSA appropriate it
    9-small travel salt and pepper shaker.
    10- Collapsible bowl- approx 1 cup Capacity, Collapsible cup and a heavy spork and filth some good plastic utensils. Cup and bowl should be heatproof and possibly folding silicon, small funnel and empty plastic bottle. ( useful for decanting duty free vodka into an “empty water bottle” to use with a clear beverage – 7-up, h2o etc ( save any sturdy plastic water bottles for this use. They need to be leakproof.)
    not course on an airline as they should serve you , however it makes planeside and inflight purchases from clanking and breaking in the flimsy bags and having it in smaller bottles makes it easier to carry and have available. I have found this very useful so that you can discreetly have a nightcap of you can’t sleep.
    10a– a church key preferably with a bottle opener on one end a punch through can opener on the other end.
    11- Lipton cup of soup packets or similar, hot cocoa mix, tea bags, individual coffee creamers for beverages or to perk up soup and cocoa. Instant oatmeal packets! If you have a heat safe bowl you can take ramen and similar snacks out of their foam cups and repack them into labeled zip lock bags.

    12- packets of preferred artificial sweeteners.
    13-Immersible heater suitable plugs if not in US
    14- a small amount of duct tape – roll into extra pens or pencils.
    14a–use duct tape and large black trash bag/s to fashion a blackout curtain. Useful in northern summer time and “midnight sun” countries.
    15- Plastic clothespins, clamps etc for minor repairs . 20 yrs of parachute cord.
    These are things that I have mixed and matched over 45 years of airline and business travel. Just adjust your 5 must haves to your itinerary
    I also highly recommend both Travelsmith.com and Magellans.com for extremely difficult to find travel gear.

  53. @Jane

    May I travel with you? Love your attention to details. I’m a terrible packer and have on many occasions just become frustrated (with packing and left everything at home) and got on a flight with the essentials: my wallet, passports, phone and charging cable. It’s really liberating though.

  54. @Emily. Likewise. While I will admit that I sometimes engage the trolls when they get too obnoxious (IMO – obviously, they disagree) I much prefer a constructive conversation. While I can’t imagine running without socks I really appreciated you explaining that you do and sharing a bit more about you choices!

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