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In recent years I’ve pledged to pre-plan my packing better to avoid that, “D’oh! I knew I forgot something!” feeling that’s plagued me on vacation. It’s annoying, and sometimes frustrating to get to my destination and realize a key piece of my daily routine is sitting back home in my bathroom or that something I bought just for the trip somehow didn’t make it into my bag.
This post strays from the entirely practical advice and more into emotional territory of things you may not necessarily need for a trip, but most certainly may want. I’d consider these things essential for maximum vacation pleasure. Make your trip seven times more enjoyable by not forgetting to pack these seven things!
1. A FUN PAIR OF SUNGLASSES.
I know this might sound frivolous but hear me out! When you look back at your vacation photos years later, beyond the fabulous setting, what stands out to you? The smiling faces? Yes. The fun activities? Of course. But I’d also argue that it’s the crazy-fun vacationwear that brings a big smile to our faces!
Vacation is a good excuse to wear oversized and fun sunglasses! They make photos extra amusing and lend an immediate enjoyable vibe to vacation activities. I try to stick with cheaper pairs for trips so I’m not sad if they get forgotten, lost, or sacrificed to the ocean (RIP pricey Ray-Ban Wayfarers I’d just bought on Maui, ugh).
I absolutely adore fun eyewear like the Mod Cat-Eye Sunglasses (now $20 + 40% off), above. Speaking of sunglasses it also helps to have an eyeglass repair kit with you on trips, especially if you wear regular glasses too.
The key to great vacation sunglasses are thus:
– Oversized is good, the bigger the better!
– Thick frames add to the drama and say “Why yes, I have not a care in the world, how about you?”
– Solid-colored frames are excellent for car rides, patterned frames are good for parties, boat rides and other non-car excursions.
– Mirrored lenses are an extra fun touch.
– Special shapes are great for photos and special memories — you’ll always look at that pair and remember your trip!
Here’s some made-for-fun vacation sunnies inspiration!
2. A VERSATILE BAG.
No matter what kind of trip you’re going on chances are you’ll need a good bag or two. Whether it’s to carry things around like your Passport, money and incidentals, or for shopping, or for fashion, whatever the reason I like my trip bags to be as multipurpose as possible.
There are key elements that make a travel bag especially useful. The Reversible Vegan Crossbody ($42) above for example can be flipped inside out, making it like two bags in one! It also has a helpful removable pouch that’s perfect for quick trips to the hotel’s convenience store or bar. The bag comes in many colors and patterns — for a trip, a bold pattern is very fun! Then when I get back home, I’ll use the coral flip side more often.
The Bel Air Slouchy Hobo ($42) is a very stylish bag that will fit in well both in urban locales and far-flung beach or mountain towns. Normally I want a bag with a zipper on it (to deter pickpockets), but this large hobo is deep enough to hold plenty yet small enough to pack easily. A couple of my other favorite fun travel bags include the Faux Fur Bucket Bag ($68) and the Billie Vegan Mini Tote ($48). The latter two are on the smaller side but have enough room for a wallet, sunglasses, and incidentals. I don’t recommend backpacks or mini-backpacks for use as travel purses when walking around town, because they are too tempting for pickpockets. They’re of course fine for excursions.
Here’s some more vacation bag shopping inspiration:
3. A COLLAPSIBLE TOTE BAG.
In addition to bringing a purse I always have a foldable tote or a canvas tote that lays flat on my trips. These come in really handy on the way home, when some mystery of physics makes it impossible for me to fit everything that came back in my bag for the trip home. Sometimes, admittedly, that ‘mystery of physics’ is buying stuff. It comes in handy that Alex nearly always has no personal item so we fill up the tote with our plunder or dirty laundry and he carries it on the plane as his second item.
These options take up nearly no space in your suitcase, and most will also fit under the plane seat as needed:
Inside of my bag or day purse on vacation you’ll usually find a sorting pouch like the Map Maker Commuter Clutch ($38). It’s an ideal travel tool because it has spots to hold credit cards, hotel room key cards, cash, and keep things like my earbuds safely tucked away. On vacation, the last thing I want is to have to dig through my purse hunting for anything.
These clutches are sure to do the trick, and fit right inside most purses:
4. RESCUE KITS.
No, alcohol mixes do not count as rescue kits! I’m thinking more along the lines of mini-travel kits that save the day. Whether it’s for repair purposes, cosmetic purposes or relaxation purposes, rescue kits should not be underestimated for their importance.
Let’s begin with practical things. There are tiny versions of sewing kits (though you may have to remove the scissors, depending on how stringent your airports are, JFK for instance is stringent), first aid kits, eyeglass repair kits and plenty more.
On the functional side, it’s hard to find regular sizes of my bath and beauty products. While it’s sometimes worth it to put them in travel containers, that solution doesn’t work well for things like eyeshadow. Instead, I seek out palettes and sets that are small, easy to travel with and do the job. For my makeup the Clay Play Face Shaping Palette II ($46) is a great set for home or away that includes everything I need to contour, highlight and take my eyes from day to night. With several winter trips coming up, the Winter Skin Survival Kit ($30) is a total lifesaver at a great price for Lanolips, and so is Aveda’s ‘botanical kinetics™’ Skincare Starter Set ($38).
For relaxing, I also appreciate having things like earplugs and a sleeping mask with me on vacation. (And if you really want to, you can purchase a coordinating sleep set and sleeping mask!) If you’re like me and have trouble sleeping in new places the Lavender Scent Pod Kit ($26) is a godsend.
Below, some of the practical, some of the relaxical and some of the wholly impractical but still enjoyable rescue kits I often take on vacation with me, along with a few hanging toiletry bags that make finding everything quite easy and some coordinating travel cases for jewelry, cosmetics and more.
5. A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE.
Your travels may take you to places where the water isn’t potable (such as in many parts of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, etc.). In these cases your resort will often offer free water or water for purchase but this often comes in small bottles or even by the glass.
Even in areas where the water is crisp, clear and highly drinkable, I’ve noticed that many resorts don’t give enough glasses in the room or big enough glasses to get my fill. Not to mention the hassle of then having to buy more water to take on excursions. It’s easier to bring my own bottle and have the peace of mind of knowing I’ll always have plenty of water on-hand.
Over the past couple of years I’ve grown accustomed to bringing my own reusable water bottle with me. Initially I tried collapsible water bottles but they didn’t really do the job for me so now I set aside space in my luggage for a good, large water bottle. Another option is to bring an active pack, such as a Camelbak, which does roll or stow easily inside your suitcase.
Below, a few of my favorite water bottle options:
6. A VACATION-READY, ACTION-READY CAMERA.
There’s no denying that smartphones have forever changed the camera game. For you Android owners perhaps your phone suffices on a trip, especially since yours are mostly waterproof! You lucky ducks. For we iPhone owners however, it’s a totally different story. After experiencing the burnout of having to pay full-price to replace a supposedly water-damaged iPhone 6 less than 6 months after I purchased it, I baby my phone more and more and am less willing to put it circumstances where it might get damaged…i.e., on a vacation excursion. Not to mention that the risk of losing a phone to forgetfulness or pickpockets (I lost my then-new iPhone 4 to pickpockets in Paris, ugh) and risk of authorities searching your phone when you enter a country makes me all the more likely to pass up on bringing my phone altogether. More on that in the next section.
Now this section is not really meant for you photography pros who own a dedicated, multi-lens camera that of course will be your vacation camera too. This section is meant more for people like me, who want a camera that can do the job of capturing both portraits and photos on the go, including in the snow or underwater, without any fear or damage or destruction. I don’t need the absolute best photos but I do want high-quality photos that will make me, my travel companions and my friends smile for years to come when we revisit the photos.
With that in mind, I’ve got a small roundup of great travel cameras below. Without a doubt my top choice is the FITFORT Action Camera 4K ($64), which comes highly-rated with over 2,000 reviews. It does still, video and comes with a remote as well as accessories to attach it to all sorts of things, like helmets or boats or whatever activity you might be happily undertaking. It’s waterproof too and comes with wifi capabilities!
The rest of the cameras in my shoppable gallery range in price from just over $50 to nearly $500, giving you an excellent range of choices depending on your needs. For ocean or water activities the TG-5 Waterproof Camera ($300) is a great choice, and for you high schoolers or college-aged kids going on a trip, the Instax Mini 9 ($56) gives instant gratification in highly shareable formats.
Shop all the best options just below:
7. A TRAVEL SIM CARD AND/OR PHONE, LOCAL MAPS.
If you’re traveling within the USA this is not an issue, but if you’re traveling abroad (or to the USA from abroad) you should consider buying a temporary SIM card and/or phone for your travels.
Here’s why. Depending on what cell phone network you’re on, you may not be able to use your phone abroad at all. Most countries use the GSM standard for cell phone communication, but Sprint and Verizon use a different standard called CDMA — which means your Sprint or Verizon phones may not work abroad, especially in Europe, where GSM is mandated by law. The technology is always evolving. For example until the latest generation CDMA phones didn’t even have SIM cards, but thanks to the LTE network nearly all phones now have them.
It gets a bit confusing and makes my head spin a bit. Here’s another reason why I’m less likely to travel abroad with my phone these days: in part for terrorism deterrence, many countries now include cell phone inspections as part of their visitor entrance process at customs counters. Your phone isn’t guaranteed to be searched, but if it is customs or national security agents may ask to look at your emails, photos, call records…all kinds of things, and you can’t say no. In some cases news reports have said that agents may even download or take copies of things, which makes me uneasy to say the least!
Understandably, many of us would prefer to protect our privacy which is why many travel agents as well as employers are now recommending traveling abroad with a simple pre-paid phone with its own SIM card or buying a local SIM card.
This takes some pre-planning to be sure. We’ve gotten so used to adding contacts once and then never needing to memorize their phone numbers. We rely on apps like Google Maps to get around or find directions and business phone numbers. Traveling with a temporary phone is a bit like going back in time to the early 1990s, when nothing like this existed on such a massively-adopted basis.
You’ll want to write down the following before your trip:
- Phone numbers for your emergency contacts and family members
- The phone number of your hotel and any other reservations you’ve premade
- Phone numbers of places you plan to call once you arrive at your destination
- Addresses and phone numbers of local businesses or locations you plan to visit
- Email addresses as needed
You’ll also want to ensure to buy a few local maps, because depending on where you travel data may not be available in many spots. You can purchase these at many bookstores, via travel agencies like AAA, or on Amazon.
Again, this is all location-dependent. When I travel to Paris for instance I bring my own phone, call my cell company before I go to add international data and minutes for a month, and then I’m off on my merry way using my personal phone as normal all over the City of Lights.
But south of the border especially, or the further East in Europe I go, the more likely I am to leave my own phone behind and invest in something disposable that I use just for the trip. It gives me added peace of mind — less fear of what would happen if I lost my phone or if it got stolen and no fear of my personal phone being searched or seized.
For this purchase, I recommend going to your local carrier’s store and asking them what the best options are. I’m hardly an expert in this area; I’m very much still learning myself. In the future when I have a better grasp on all of this I will write a travel phone buying guide.
If you do want to try an online purchase however, here are a few good options. You’ll need to get a SIM card for these too. Remember you don’t have to stick to your usual carrier for this travel phone, especially if you buy a pre-paid package.
And here are a couple of articles that explain the reasons why I use a different phone when I travel a bit better:
Your guide to international and travel SIM cards
CDMA vs. GSM: What’s the Difference?
I’d also love community feedback and this and my six other travel essentials! What makes your travel essentials list? Do you use a disposable phone when you travel abroad?