10 Small Things to Always Take with You on Your Travels

Candice Gaukel Andrews June 4, 2015 25
Journals always end up being my most treasured trip souvenirs. Jotting down how you feel about what you’re experiencing in the moment keeps those feeling from being lost forever. ©Eric Rock

Journals are among my most treasured trip souvenirs. Jotting down—in the moment—how you feel about what you’re experiencing keeps those sentiments from being lost forever. ©Eric Rock

Every few months, it seems that we travelers get hit with increasing airline fees and baggage costs. And as seat space and overhead bins get smaller and smaller, it’s a wonder we can still travel comfortably with any luggage at all. Packing space is extremely limited.

There are 10 things, however, that I think every traveler needs to have on hand. While that number sounds like a lot, I can assure you that all of these items are pocket-size, inexpensive and easily found.

Below are the 10 small things I always pack when preparing for any trip—all guaranteed not to weigh you down:

1. A spare pair of bootlaces. You know that hiking boots are absolutely essential for explorations in natural places. But what many people forget to bring along when they are packing their bags is an extra set of bootlaces in the length that works best for their particular pairs of boots.

Once, on a beautiful morning in a remote part of Alaska, I hurriedly started to get dressed in order to catch some of that beautiful, northern early light. As I was tying my favorite pair of well-worn and comfortable boots, a lace broke off in my hand. For several days, I was relegated to wearing sandals. Now, I always travel with an extra set of laces tucked in my backpack.

Always bring along an extra set of bootlaces. If yours break and you only have one pair with you, your go-to footwear becomes unusable. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Always bring along an extra set of bootlaces. If yours break and you only have one pair with you, your go-to footwear becomes unusable. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

2. Duct tape. Duct tape may be one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. There are probably hundreds of ways it can come in handy when you travel. It works amazingly well for repairs on the run: it can temporarily mend your rain gear or tent; hold a pair of broken sunglasses or a leaky water bottle together just long enough; and wrapped around the tops of liquid-filled bottles packed in your suitcase (such as shampoos or first-aid supplies), it acts as a sealant so that your clothing stays dry. It can also serve as a lint roller or an improvised curtain “corrector” to keep crooked drapes closed in order to darken a hotel room.

The first time I traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, in 2002 on a polar bear tour, the zipper on the suitcase I planned to check broke the night before I was to fly home. Luckily, I had duct tape with me, and I could seal the suitcase up strongly enough so that I could at least get it back to Wisconsin, where I live. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the airport without that roll of duct tape to save me.

3. A headlamp. There always comes a point on a trip when your schedule doesn’t match up with that of the people traveling with you. For example, I am an early riser and a late-night writer. I’m often up in the evenings jotting down notes long after my roommates have turned off the lights.

Rather than keeping on the overheads while everyone else is trying to sleep, I find I can be a little less annoying by using a headlamp in a corner of the room.

In some places in the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador, flash photography is not allowed for shooting any wild animals. This photo of a barn owl in a cave is lit solely by a headlamp. ©Jeff A. Goldberg

In some places in the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador, flash photography is not allowed for shooting wild animals. This photo of a barn owl in a cave is lit solely by a headlamp. ©Jeff A. Goldberg

4. Packets of moist towelettes. More shared spaces and tighter quarters—where sick people and well people are in close proximity—are a fact of travel. That means that you have a higher chance of getting sick while traveling than you do in your daily life. But that doesn’t have to ruin your next trip. Just take along some disinfecting, moist towelettes.

They’ll come in handy from the minute you step inside the airplane. Once you pull down your tray table, you’ll want to give it a quick once-over with a moist towelette. Why? With quick flight turnovers, tray tables certainly aren’t being sanitized between every trip. And people use them for everything from dirty-tissue depositories and diaper-changing tables to barf-bag holders.

The next area you may want to swipe (or forgo using) is the seat pocket in front of you. People tend to shove garbage, such as banana peels, sticky beverage cups and used tissues, into those convenient pockets on a plane. That receptacle definitely isn’t deep cleaned between flights. It’s best not to touch that pocket, but if you need the space, at least swipe it first.

Seat-back screen controllers and armrests are other places where germs lurk. On one flight a few years ago, as I prepared to sit down in my seat, I discovered that there was dried vomit on my armrest. I immediately rang for a flight attendant, who admitted she was just as grossed out as I was. She quickly tried to wipe away the grim with a wet washcloth as the other passengers maneuvered around her to get to their seats, but needless to say, in that circumstance she wasn’t capable of doing a thorough job. I had never been so thankful I had a few moist, disinfecting towelettes with me.

5. A quick-drying towel. Many lodging establishments are trying to save money these days, and one of the ways they cut costs is by cutting back on laundry. Bringing your own lightweight, compactible, quick-drying towel—especially on boat trips where you might only be supplied with one towel for a whole week—will provide you with a backup and an extra measure of good hygiene and cleanliness.

Bringing along a piece of bubble wrap or tissue paper means you’ll be able to transport a memorable toasting glass home safely. ©Eric Rock

Bringing along a piece of bubble wrap or tissue paper means you’ll be able to transport a memorable toasting glass home safely. ©Eric Rock

6. A sheet of bubble wrap or tissue paper. One of my favorite trip souvenirs is a large, frosted beer mug I bought in Yellowstone National Park. Now, at home when I relax with a good brew, I remember the sights and sounds of that amazing trip.

When I stepped up to the cash register to pay for the mug, however, I was told that the store had no tissue paper or bubble wrap to protect the glass. It was no problem, since I carry a wedge of bubble wrap and a single sheet of tissue paper with me on every trip.

By putting the bubble wrap and tissue in the front pocket of your duffle or suitcase, they also act as cushions for your things when the airlines place other suitcases on top of yours.

7. A few Ziploc bags. Before packing my sandals or shoes in the pocket of my duffle bag, I place each one in a large Ziploc bag. During my trip, I don’t have to worry about the dirt that collects on the soles getting the duffle dusty or muddy because I can quickly place them back in their Ziplocs before repacking them. If the soles of your shoes stay relatively clean, you can always use the Ziplocs to bring home wet or damp clothing or dirty laundry.

The Ziplocs can also serve as “files”; they corral stray maps, brochures, tickets, memory cards or pens. They can protect books or journals—even cameras—from possible water damage.

Always bring along a few notecards to thank people you meet during your trip, such as a guide who goes the extra mile. ©Eric Rock

Always bring along a few note cards to thank people you meet during your trip, such as a guide who goes the extra mile. ©Eric Rock

8. Note cards. Although handwritten note cards might sound like a relic of the past, you’ll encounter people during your travels that you’ll want to thank, whether it’s a guide who went the extra mile for you, a fellow traveler who became a new friend or a local who invited you into his or her home while you were away from yours. Note cards provide the medium for you to immediately express your heartfelt appreciation.

By writing a card on the spot and handing it to the recipient, you don’t have to hassle with an exchange of addresses or e-mail addresses or worry about remembering to send a message when you get home. I have often had fellow travelers ask me if I have a spare card or two, since in remote locations, it’s often hard to find a piece of paper to write on.

9. A small notebook or journal, with pen. Despite the occasional beer mug or two (see no. 6, above), I find a book filled with notes about the experiences of my trip and how I felt about them in the moment to always be my most treasured souvenir. Travel days are packed with new experiences and activities, and if you wait until you get home to write them all down, you risk forgetting the smaller but perhaps more meaningful moments.

A tiny journal or notebook in your backpack or daypack can also work as a great organizing tool or reminder system.

Travel days tend to be packed with activities. Writing down your reflections on site ensures you won’t forget the smaller but perhaps more meaningful moments. ©Patrick J. Endres

Travel days tend to be packed with activities. Writing down your reflections on site ensures you won’t forget the smaller but perhaps more meaningful moments. ©Patrick J. Endres

10. A yellow highlighter. I’m a big fan of collecting paper maps from the places I travel to. I either bring a map of the area along with me or make sure I purchase one locally before setting out on my trip. By taking along a yellow highlighter, I can mark the specific course I take as I go along.

My paper, foldout maps are not only permanent records of where I’ve been, but they act as references when captioning photographs or filling out journal entries.

 Your suggestions?

Luckily, most of what I consider travel essentials are small, inexpensive items that are easy to find and purchase. Help me add to this list. What small—but indispensable—thing do you always pack for your adventures?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Russ G.J. Wortman June 29, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    A pretty good listing. I always suggest taking a small, quality flashlight & of course, if you routinely take some required medications – don forget your meds! RGJW.

  2. Mary Gilchrist June 25, 2015 at 6:24 am - Reply

    I take a small compass, helpful even in Kyoto, and a small thermometer both hooked onto the backpack with a carabiner. Also a supply of decongestants and antihistamines as well as Imodium to make sure that colds or diarrhea don’t make the return trip on the airplane uncomfortable or impossible. I prefer the liquid hand sanitizer to the wipes because it has alcohol in it and is thus anti-viral as well as anti-bacterial, able to prevent acquisition of colds and flu.

  3. Susan June 24, 2015 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Alternative to a written journal is dictating notes on your smart phone. I have also used my camera video to record some thoughts… I don’t video myself, just whatever is in the room. If you do that, just make sure to put a note that it’s a journal as I’ve accidently deleted “images” of something in the room because I forgot it was actually a journal. Doh!

  4. Joan June 24, 2015 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Dental Floss is super strong and an essential “tool” to add to your mini repair kit With that plus a mini Handyman and duct tape (wrapped around an old pencil) I’ve solved a lot of problems on adventures around the world.

  5. Gary Vanderbilt June 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Ricola sugarless lemon cough drops have come to
    the rescue for me or fellow travellers many times.

  6. Susan Barber June 24, 2015 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    A few additional suggestions:
    (1) a couple of safety pins and rubber bands – pins can be used as pegs and to do repairs; rubber bands for repairs or tidying up your kit
    (2) a lightweight sarong – can be clothing, blanket, towel, privacy screen, sunshade, carry bag when tied up
    (3) length of thin, strong rope similar to paracord but available in hardware or marine chandlery – clothes line, bootlace, repair pack or other items, string up pack from animals, string up shelter, lower pack off cliffs etc
    (4) garbage bag – spare groundsheet, pack cover, hold wet or dirty items
    (5) spare toothbrush – clean bottom of boots for entry into countries with strict quarantine eg Australia and New Zealand

  7. bern muller June 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Excellent list.

    I have “retirement” business sized cards that include my name, hobbies (travel, photography) and email address. I exchange such information with fellow travelers who are interesting, and give one to guides and others with whom I wish to communicate. A written note on back adds personal info.

    Instead of a magic marker, I carry a small GPS device with me wherever I go, by bus, boat or walking. I then have Google Earth to document exactly where I was. This information is also useful to geotag all my photos.

  8. Carol Seay Rommel June 22, 2015 at 11:26 am - Reply

    If it is outdoors I always bring a firestarter.

  9. Sia Sharma June 22, 2015 at 2:59 am - Reply

    Great Ideas…i have noted all the ideas. It helps me at the time.

  10. Carole Thrasher June 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I always take a large metal mug, coil water heater, correct electrical adapter and small packets of instant coffee, creamer and sugar. Also a small travel clothesline which is made of braided rubber tubing that attaches to anything and stretches to any reasonable length. No clothespins needed.

  11. Jessica Klein June 9, 2015 at 11:17 am - Reply

    Excellent list. I really liked the photo of the owl for item 3 the headlamp. It is incredible how well just a headlamp illuminated the owl. Paper clips both small and large are another great multi use item. They can be used to replace a zipper pull, to secure a broken bra strap or as a heavy duty twist tie.

  12. Stewart Stirling June 8, 2015 at 6:23 am - Reply

    The bootlaces dilemma can be avoided by taking along a single length paracord or similar material. Not only acts boot laces if required but also for securing many things. Make sure your head torch is bright enough. I know a lot of people who have gone for a cheap £1 head torch only to find it woefully inadequate. If you do bring one, pack it with the batteries turned the wrong way around, that way you won’t switch it on accidentally and have nothing when you need it most. Instead of glasses, I carry a folding magnifying glass, which can double up as fire lighting tool or used for singing the ends of the paracord you have just cut for new bootlaces. It’s also great for looking at small flowers or interesting insects. Wrap a few turns of the duct tape around your water bottle or drinks bottle instead of carrying a whole roll of the stuff, and if you buy a patterned one you can turn it into a fancy piece of kit! I always have some zebra print, which i also put on the handles of my bags and a couple of turns around the shoulder straps of my rucksack to identify it quickly at airports. Finally, ear plugs. Noisy cities, air con and snoring traveling companions. Need I say more?

  13. Joan June 7, 2015 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    In addition to Ziploc bags, I always take a plastic garbage bag – it’s useful not only as a laundry bag, keeping your dirty stuff away from the clean in your luggage, but if you have one in your day pack or handbag, it can allow you to sit on the ground or on a wet park bench without getting messy.

  14. Ryan James June 7, 2015 at 3:19 am - Reply

    I forgot to add the notecards is a brilliant idea.

  15. Ryan James June 7, 2015 at 3:15 am - Reply

    When we are gone for long periods and renting apartments, I carry salt, pepper, and sugar in old camera film canisters. Small pieces of electrician tape keeps them sealed when traveling.

    In another canister, I have needles and small spools of thread for emergency repairs.

    My spouse has an eyeglass repair kit handy.

  16. Konrad Lau June 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I would like to add a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool to that list as well as a fire starter and lighter.

  17. David Agosta June 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Candice, Great list, most of those things I bring as well. One thing I would add is a Carabiner. Their light and versatile for securing all sorts of things.

    Angela: That sounds like a Type M plug. You can find a list of plugs with their amperages and frequency here: https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/

  18. Angela P. Schapiro June 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    If you are planning to go to South Africa, be sure to buy this plug converter. They have an unusual 3 wall socket. The prongs are round and, as far as I know, not used anywhere else. You can get them at any African airport store. You may be able to get them on Amazon but I haven’t checked there. But you don’t want to get caught in a remote place without one. Another photographer gave me this heads up and I am very grateful for that. I would really have been up the creek without it.

  19. Cynthia Donaldson June 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    I also take a hat and double A batteries.

  20. John H. Gaukel June 6, 2015 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Candy, that is a great list of things to take with you on a trip into the wilderness. I would also add a fingernail clippers and since I wear glasses, I always bring a old pair of eyeglasses, in a hard protected case, with me.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews June 6, 2015 at 12:27 pm - Reply


      Those are great additions to the list. I have had to use duct tape to repair glasses on the run. I think having an extra pair with you would be far more stylish! Thanks for the tips. —C.G.A.

  21. Eleanor Lamdin June 5, 2015 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you Candice,
    What a great list. I had some of them but these 10 certainly make good sense.
    I will pass this on to my clients.

  22. Simon Albert June 5, 2015 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    A great selection of ‘must-haves.”

  23. David Pilla June 5, 2015 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    The small things always turn out to be the most important when on the road!

  24. Gregory Sweeney June 5, 2015 at 5:20 am - Reply

    A great list. I always take ziplocks! and how many special trips into town have I taken to try to find bootlaces for a guest!

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