Ask regular travellers for their must-pack items and the responses will be similar: headphones, hand sanitizer, power banks and other items that aren’t that surprising. Such gear is pretty much mandatory for any trip nowadays. But get frequent flyers talking about items they don’t really need but would still never dream of leaving home without and things get interesting.
For example: Being a cheapskate traveller of a certain age, I take my silk pillowcase when I’ll be staying in hostels, cheap motels and questionable Airbnbs. My, let’s say, “maturing” skin is at a point where laying my head on rough linens means I wake up with deep creases across my cheeks that last well into the evening hours. I don’t need one side of my face to look 10 years older than the other, thank you very much.
At two recent travel-industry events – the Society of American Travel Writers annual conference in Barbados, and GoMedia, put on by Destination Canada, in Calgary – I asked other savvy globetrotters to share what I’ve deemed their “essential non-essentials.” Turns out I’m not the only one obsessed with skincare – but who knew glitter could be so useful?
“I always bring my own shower cap because many times in hotel rooms, the shower caps are cheap and rip easily. When you have long hair, you want to get away quickly without having to wash it every day. My one from home is solid. It has a good elastic, it’s thicker – the light plastic ones also don’t cover all of your hair.” – Christina Robbio, director of communications and social media, Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau
“I bring a small, TSA-approved amount of Fernet-Branca because when I travel, the food is richer and often the bar won’t have it. I’ll go to my room, pour myself two fingers and throw it back. It’s my secret weapon.” – Tracey Minkin, travel editor, Coastal Living Magazine
“Mine is a washcloth because most hotels, especially in Europe, don’t have washcloths. They only have a hand towel, which is too big. I got a pack of 20 of them at Walmart a year ago. My towels are nothing fancy. Actually, they’re quite abrasive. I like that.” – Albert Stumm, travel and food writer, Milk Street Magazine
“Drinking tea while travelling is always more difficult than coffee. I pack my own tea bags – both caffeinated and decaf. A lot of hotels either only have coffee in the room or herbal teas, not a good English breakfast. I generally pack PG Tips or Typhoo brands. Obviously, there’s nothing more English than an Englishman abroad." – Matt Owen, director of public relations, Salamander Hotels & Resorts
“I travel with single-serve packets of coconut oil. It is an excellent makeup remover – it takes everything off. You can also put it in your hair to make it silky soft. It does so many things, and it’s so cheap and you don’t have to fill little containers. And then I just snip the end off and I have it with me and I use it up over the week.” – Anne Banas, editor, BBC Travel
“I love essential oils. I use Rescue Remedy spray for a little calm down. I have a sleep one that is fantastic. It’s so good on the plane to just zone out if things are smelly, it’s muggy – whatever the issue is, I just put it between my hands, take 10 deep breaths and everything is right. And I have a ‘grounding’ blend that is great for the end of the day. As soon as I walk into my room, I open up the windows, walk on to the balcony, do the grounding one and it’s like, ‘I’ve arrived.’” – Dodie Stephens, director of communications, Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau
“I carry a small Bose speaker so I can listen to music. And to go with that, I always pick an album that’s going to be my album for the trip so it ingrains into my experience. For instance, when I went to the Galapagos, I listened to Pink Floyd’s Pulse the whole trip. It creates a mood. Then when you go home you pop on that album and – boom – it’s back. Also good slippers are clutch. They’re one consistent creature comfort, especially if you’re travelling to a bunch of different places.” – Matt Payne, travel writer and photographer, mattpaynewriter.com
“I bring a proper latex pillow; it squishes into a ball – really nothing. I use it on the plane when my upgrades don’t come through. And when hotels have terrible pillows, it’s the perfect solution. I also bring a full-size Conair blow-dryer because a bad blow-dryer will extend the time needed to blow out your hair by 20, 30 minutes and you’ll still look like a poodle. It’s got a comb on it so it brushes and blow-dries at the same time. It’s not perfect but it’s better than the dingy thing they put on the wall." – Dominika Dryjski, vice-president global development and operations, TravMedia USA
“I pack peanut butter because it’s really only an American thing. I love the stuff, so it makes snacks easy if the hotel has toast or any number of things. I bring a mini-jar, usually Jif, always creamy.” – Cory Lee, travel blogger, curbfreewithcorylee.com
“I travel with my own homemade glitters because it’s an amazing way to connect with kids. I went to South Korea and I bought a bunch of loose glitters and I mixed them with an aloe gel so it dries and stays on pretty well. I’ve had kids swarm me in India, Tanzania and South America and I glitter them all. I ask if they want it on their faces but sometimes I do it on their hands. If they don’t have a mirror, it’s not that fun for them to do it on their face. Occasionally, the adults will shyly line up behind them.” – Anna Kate, travel blogger, crazyintherain.com
“One of the things I try to bring with me everywhere, especially to places where you might not always have much access to fresh vegetables, are green powder packets. You can mix it in with your juice or water, so even if you’re not getting satiated by a side of broccoli, you feel a bit better. I also buy single-pack wipes of insect repellent and sunscreen. They get past security and if you’re going out with your backpack for a hike or whatever, you’re not weighed down by bottles.” – Ashley Norman, public relations director, PHG Consulting
“I always travel with my emergency chocolate because you never know what it will be the solution for! I’m a British chocolate person, so chocolate abroad, to be honest, doesn’t measure up. I take Galaxy Minstrels with me because they’re easy to carry; they have a hard outside shell which means they don’t melt in your hand or get all over your suitcase. They come in a bag, so you can have just one and go, ‘Phew, I’m okay now.’” – Chantal Cooke, managing director, Passion for the Planet radio
“I travel with a blanket I bought in Sri Lanka. I put it out in the hotel room when I type so I always have the same work environment. But more importantly, I can use it as a sort of picnic cloth. If I’m sitting down on a train or elsewhere, I can pull it out and I know that the things I have on there won’t be touching a dirty surface.” – Stuart Forster, travel journalist, whyeyephotography.com
“A Korean face mask is a necessity for my skin as I get older. The first night when I arrive at my hotel, I put that on so that I don’t scare people the next day. I get the hydrating version and it makes me feel better after a bad flight. I lie down in bed and just relax. I leave it on for about 25 minutes – I soak all that Korean goodness out of it.” – Sabrina Bhangoo, director of Canadian public relations, Marriott International
“A hair towel. I was given one as a gift and it’s the best thing. It absorbs the water in a different way, so your hair doesn’t get too dry, which is important if you have finer hair that is more fragile. You put your hair up, wrap it around and twist it into a little hook you pull over.” – Gemma Bishop, senior account manager, Avenue PR
“I travel with three phones. First is my iPhone 8, which I use for all my essential iPhone things. Then I have my iPhone 6. The internet doesn’t work on it any more but the camera is decent so I use it as my white-noise machine – I downloaded an app – slash backup camera. If I’m going out in a situation where it could get wet – like a whale-watching cruise – that will be my camera. Then there is the iPhone 5S, which I call my pool phone. The WiFi works but it’s such an old phone that if somebody steals it I don’t care. If I’m doing an afternoon of chilling at the pool, I bring that phone down and connect to the WiFi. I’ll go swimming, I’ll leave it on the beach – it’s such an older phone, who is even going to take it?" – Tim Johnson, travel writer
“My essential is L’Occitane eye cream because whether it is a long – shall we call it – creative evening or a classy evening, I still want to not look like the Crypt Creeper the next morning. It’s a ritual, like brushing my teeth. I wake up, put it on and feel hydrated for the rest of the day.” – Taylor Lancée, PR manager, Jasper Park Lodge
“Resistance bands. When I find myself on a luxury ecoresort on Easter Island where there is no gym, I go to the resistance bands, which I place around a tree next to the swimming pool and get my full-body workout in. Yes, I’ve used them in other hotels that didn’t have a gym, but Easter Island is a real standout memory.” – Lucas Aykroyd, travel writer
Interviews have been condensed and edited.