Need some travel accessory recommendations...
March 22, 2012 4:38 AM   Subscribe

Looking for practical travel accessories

I find that I have to travel a lot more with my job. I didn't travel once for work in over 12 years, and now I am traveling 4-5 times a year (not a lot I know, but it is for me).

Anyway, I am trying to streamline what I take for my trips to conserve space and to be practical. I don't necessarily want to be exactly like George Clooney's character in "Up In The Air", but I would like to be more efficient.

My travel is only within Canada and the US (no other overseas travel), so I don't need to worry about power adapters, etc, and its mostly my air travel.

Are their any suggestions of what I should/could take with me on my trips? Any recommendations for bags/luggage/carry on's, etc? Any gadgets or things that would make my travel better? Do I need a neck pillow? Passport cover? Etc. I always take my iPhone with me loaded up with music, podcasts, movies and apps, and I have a good pair of Bose headphones that I got for Christmas.

I am open to all suggestions! Thanks...
posted by dbirchum to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Load up your toiletries in the appropriate-sized bag, including toothbrush, a hairbrush (if you use one), etc., and don't take them out between trips. Also, I find it helps to have belts and shoes that are just for travel, so I'm not trying to remember the matching pieces to suits I have.
posted by xingcat at 4:59 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

OH! And Ziploc bags. Keep about 10 of all sizes in your carry-on luggage, just empty. I can't tell you how many times I've needed to keep a couple of little piddly things together when going back and forth between offices and they've come in handy.
posted by xingcat at 5:02 AM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Slippers! A pair of cheap slippers to keep in my carryon was one of the best additions to my travel gear. They're great for the plane and the hotel. Run them through the wash when you get home, then put back in your carryon bag immediately (one less thing to remember and pack later).
posted by dayintoday at 5:15 AM on March 22, 2012

I bought a see-through zip-closing toiletry bag from Muji for airport security. It seems more sturdy than a plastic one. I also save those sachets from magazines/free samples (eg. the toothpaste tubes your dentist might give you) and take these along rather than buying expensive miniature toiletries.

It might be obvious, but a Kindle. I read three books a week if I don't have a lot to do, and you have no idea how much easier going on a long trip is going to be now.

Also, if you wear make-up, I can't recommend the Unii Palette highly enough. I am away from home every other weekend as my SO lives in a different town, and it is SO much easier to take one palette with eyeshadow/concealer/blusher/eyebrow stuff in it than several small plastic boxes. Depotting things can be daunting and messy but it's so worth it (especially as I love NARS shadows but hate the rubbery little cases).

I have an Eastpak shoulder bag which I use as my day bag when I'm away - it weighs nothing, rolls up and fits in my carry-on backpack, and has a zip which expands it. It's big enough to carry my camera, a water bottle, and any other stuff I need with me during the day. This is more of a holiday than a business trip thing, though, maybe.
posted by mippy at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Only using a carry on size bag will let you get out of airports a lot quicker.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:34 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

External battery packs/chargers for that iPhone can let you watch video all die and never have to worry about running out of juice.

There are also a bunch of "sleep aid" or "nature sounds" (or even "binaural") apps for the iPhone which work for me -- no specific recommendations, but they're cheap enough on the app store so buy a few popular ones and give them a go.
posted by robtoo at 5:36 AM on March 22, 2012

"all die"? oh dear...
posted by robtoo at 5:37 AM on March 22, 2012

Second the recommendation to have a second set of toiletries ready and waiting at all times; I throw in a Tide to Go pen and a tiny thing of laundry detergent as well. is great for small sizes of spices and toiletries and virtually everything else you could want. I always pack an extra small tote bag and a couple of plastic bags, along with extra ziplocs (and also duct tape re-rolled around a ballpoint pen, but I realize most people probably don't need duct tape!) I have a bag that pretty much just holds important travel things like my passport, different bags with different currencies and my foreign bank information, travel toiletries, old iPod/charger, my camera when it's not in use...pretty much everything I've found useful, so when I do travel, I can just go through it and grab the pertinent stuff. If you are mainly traveling in the United States and can afford it I would keep a set of duplicate chargers for your phone, laptop, and any other essential gadgets there as well. There is nothing worse than realizing you've left your only power cord on the plane or at home and trying to scramble for a suitable iReplacement. I have a passport cover as it was a donation gift from my old school; it is actually kind of a pain when going through security BUT it really helps me be able to find my passport at all other times. Also, my current passport is kind of a wreck, so it helps hold it together. If you have printed hotel reservations or boarding passes, I like bags that have slim external pockets where I can always put that kind of paperwork, so that regardless of how tired I am I can just reach to the side and pull it out. There are leather envelopes that serve a similar purpose. A travel umbrella that lives in your carryon may also be a wise investment. If you're in Canada in French-speaking areas and if you need it, a travel phrasebook or small dictionary. Multipurpose base layers in black and white, along with extra socks of different strengths, if you're travelling between climate zones.

(Not totally clear from your posting history/it's the morning and I can't read whether you're a guy or a lady, but if you do get cold on planes I pack a giant pashmina as emergency wrap/rain cover/cold plane/pillow.)

Honestly, the neck pillow and other items are just going to be really personal choices. If you can sleep on planes, great; if you never need to sleep on planes, don't bother.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:43 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I am really loving the recommendations thus far! Please keep them coming.

I should have mentioned that I am a male, so I don't have to worry about make up or curling iron issues, etc.
posted by dbirchum at 5:43 AM on March 22, 2012

I like packing cubes for trips of more than 2-3 days. I was skeptical at first, but they make it much easier to rummage through your luggage while keeping your clothes neatly rolled/folded and organized.
posted by exogenous at 5:49 AM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

never run out of power sockets
posted by robtoo at 5:51 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are a business traveller then you probably spend a lot of time fussing with the collection and processing of receipts. Specifically you probably have to fill expense forms and include evidence of your spending. After you have sent off the form you should retain copies of the receipts so that you can resolve disputes/pacify your accountant/ etc. In any case you can use your iphone to take pictures of them - and then save to the cloud so you have a permanent record - the image is pretty much the same as you would get with a scanner and much quicker to make. See also these other top iphone applications for travel which will not add to your luggage load. You should also be able to photograph train timetables, shop opening hours, local maps and other stuff you might want to refer to later.
posted by rongorongo at 6:08 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Compression bags, commonly used by serious hikers, are also great for travellers.
A compression bag will store clothing as tightly packed as possible. Pack it down really tight.
That will mean that things will be crumpled and will need to be ironed - so, it is not great for everything.
But it is great for laundry, underwear, socks, and other things.

Plus, having all your socks stored in a single compression bag is good organization.
They are all organized in one spot, and they are packed down tighter than tight to save room.
posted by Flood at 6:10 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

External hard drive of your desktop/laptops - you never know what might happen and its a backup.

Travel outfit that minimizes TSA fiddly bits - sansa belt ;p and slip on shoes, you want to get to the point where you're zooming through because you know the rules and restrictions and have ensured compliance

Scan and email to yourself a copy of your passport, birth certificate and whatever else you deem critical to your identity and other requirements - health insurance? list of contact names and numbers in hard copy not just on your phone, that type of thing
posted by infini at 6:10 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the things that made business travel a thousand times easier for me was never checking a bag. I got a rolling suitcase that fits cabin storage size. It holds everything I need for up to 5 days or so, if I choose my outfits in a smart way. There's no replacement for waltzing right off the plane rather than futzing around for half an hour hoping your luggage didn't get lost.

With that roll-aboard plus a carry-on for reading material, laptop, snacks, and travel documents, I'm totally covered and never separated from my stuff.

I used to be into the nice little toiletry kits, but with the TSA nonsense now I honestly think Ziplocs (or similar clear bag) make a lot more sense. They take up less room too.
posted by Miko at 6:41 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're travelling across the Canada/US boarder a lot, get a NEXUS card. It's a long process, taking months, but it greatly reduces the wait and hassle at security.
posted by bonehead at 6:48 AM on March 22, 2012

Compressible foam earplugs or good headphones. A bandanna - some planes have a monitor on the seatback that plays ads or a movie instead of staying dark. It's very distracting, and being able to cover it helps me read or sleep. A couple of plastic bags for dirty shoes or laundry. Lots of ziplock bags; I pack underwear in 1, socks in another, etc. They act a bit like the cube system, allowing me to quickly look through my bag for whatever I need. They compress pretty well. Look at your electronics, and try to reduce chargers. My phone and tablet can both charge from a usb adapter like that Belkin one. I keep a set of toiletries ready to travel, and I keep a toothbrush, travel size deodorant, minimal makeup, and underwear in my handbag(backpack for you) in case I get stuck in an airport; bandanna can be a washcloth/hand towel. I can face most things in life if I have a chance to clean up a bit. I like my LLBean rolling duffle; it fits in the overhead nicely.

I use bright orange label tape on all charger components; when I check out, a quick scan spots anything left behind. Label your phone, iPad, etc. Most people will just keep a found iPad, but you might get lucky. You can also create screen/wallpaper with if found, please return to: information. Amazing how many things can't be returned because the owner is hard to find. You may want to use office info so an evil person in line behind you doesn't rob your house. Keep a copy of passport, credit cards, etc., in the office or online, in case of theft or loss you'll want those numbers.

Develop a rigid sense of organization. Receipts always go in 1 place, the book and glasses always go on the nightstand, the credit card always goes back in the wallet, etc. And bring a sense of curiosity; if you like books, try to visit the best bookstore in owns you visit, or go to the science museum, etc.
posted by theora55 at 7:06 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. I am LOVING these recommendations!! Seriously. All of these tips are great. Please feel free to keep them coming!! I am checking out all of these websites as we speak.

Also, I have an old 15" MacBook Air (from 2008). I have a carrying case that I use for lugging it around with me at home. However, I have taken it with me traveling and I put it in my carry on bag (which is a sling bag), but if I had a cheap (affordable) case to protect it, it would be great. Any suggestions for this? Thanks,
posted by dbirchum at 7:18 AM on March 22, 2012

How about a Buff? You can use it as a microfiber cloth for cleaning glasses & electronic displays, but also as a quick hat when snoozing on a plane or around your neck (whether sunny or cool).

We have giant zip-loc baggies. They make packing easy: lay out a bag for each group of items and pile them on top, then fill all the bags and put them in your luggage. Squeeze out the excess air and they will all pack smaller. You can find stuff easier in them than in an opaque stuff sack/compression sack, and they are cheaper to replace if they get a hole. Best, in case of a nasty mess (why yes, I have kids, thanks) you can bag up the offending items tilidly.

If you have a morning routine and/or a before-bed routine at home (e.g., lay out clothes, check pocket for phone&keys&wallet when you leave) try to keep to them when you are traveling: the habits you have come to rely upon at home will not help you if you abandon them just because you're on a trip!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:29 AM on March 22, 2012

Oh, totally forgot! A small (12 oz.) refillable water bottle is a nice thing to have; obviously empty it before security but if you use the hotel gym or want extra water for the plane it comes in handy. Extra packets of almonds or another portable snack (ClifBar) that won't get destroyed in your bag; double-bag in a ziploc for security. Extra tissues or handkerchiefs or the bandanna mentioned above; some pre-wet cloths in a resealable bag may also come in handy if you end up eating on the run often.

Oh, and keep a pdf (encrypted, if it makes you feel more secure) on a USB flash drive with the important documents listed above with really good color scans.

This might be silly but if you find a configuration of outfits and packing that works well for you, take pictures! I hate it when I can't remember the really useful things the next time I fly.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:42 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nth'ing zip-loc bags, the Belkin thing or a squid and duplicates of everything from toiletries to chargers/cables to underwear to meds - all of which live in your suitcase. In addition to the uses others mentioned, zip-loc bags come in handy if you need an ice pack for a minor injury. I found out the hard way that hotels don't always have one on hand due to liability issues and the bag in the ice bucket leaks.

Also, a packing list helps make sure you don't leave anything behind whether outbound or inbound.
posted by JaneL at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2012

Some people swear by those TSA-Approved bags, but they don't seem to be significantly less hassle than a top-opening bag you can pull your computer out of in a single motion. I'd also look for one that has the computer sleeve built-in or attached somehow. A separate one just means you have to open an outer and an inner case.

I'm very happy with a Tom Bihn Empire Builder, but that's a pretty spendy bag. My wife has a Smart Alec which she seems to like too. I used to use a Crumpler bag, which was well built, but has too few pockets to be very useful. I still use it for personal travel and errands though. REI (US) and MEC (Can) both carry reasonably priced and quite nice laptop bags too.
posted by bonehead at 7:47 AM on March 22, 2012

I'm a recent convert to Grid-its. They're a backerboard covered with elastic straps. They go for $15-20 most places. These things have really made managing the cords, adapters, mice, usb sticks, etc... so much easier. Everything straps in one place and it's thin enough to slip into a bag easily. I used to use a mesh bag which was, first, hard to store in my bag becasue it became a ball, and secondly hard to find things in. The Grid-it solves both problems, and is pretty cheap. Really like mine.
posted by bonehead at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Never run out of power.

Unfortunately, that Belkin one doesn't have the power to charge an iPad. You want
this one instead.

Also, have a car charger that you leave in your travel bag, only for your rental-car use.

Learn how to pack a carry-on suitcase.

Have some way to remind yourself to check for all the things you've taken out of the bag and spread around the hotel room. I can't tell you how many times I left my travel router in my hotel until I started doing this. Luckily I tend to go back to the same hotels on rotation so I've been able to pick it up next time, but it's still a pain. Or on preview, what Theora55 said.

Which reminds me, get a dedicated travel router. Most hotel's either make you pay per device or have open WiFi, which is a bad idea. Also consider a VPN service for when you're forced to use open WiFi. Apple Airport Express is one possible router.

If you're entering/leaving the country, sign up for Global Entry. Takes about an hour to fill out the form, and half an hour for the interview, and then you can speed through the customs lane. Also going to be used for Pre-Check, so might help out even for domestic travel.
posted by Runes at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I bring a fleece blanket (I got mine at an airport but you can obviously get them anywhere) and it's been a godsend - I can use it as a pillow or a blanket or a back pillow on the plane, and also if my hotel bed is cold or the pillows are awful it's great for that.
posted by radioamy at 8:14 AM on March 22, 2012

I do travel with my cotton pillow and my favourite Singapore Airlines (best yet in size, packability, warmth) blanket as constant companions. Whenever I have not carried one of these, I have regretted it so now even if it ends up staying in the carryon all through the trip I will still pack them as religiously as my passport.
posted by infini at 9:19 AM on March 22, 2012

I find a US passport card to be invaluable for use as photo ID while traveling, letting me keep my passport in the hotel safe.

I'm pretty dedicated to my Flight 001 Seat Pak for in-flight organization. I use the smallest-sized Grid-It to organize all the bits and bobs inside, and there's still room for a (rolled-up) Vapur water bottle. La Fresh have a great variety of single-use wipes that I keep stashed inside; no need to open up my carry-on just to get at my toiletries.

Stuff is generally packed in a combination of Flight 001 Spacepak and Go Clean organizers, along with judicious use of compression bags. Version 2 of AViiQ's portable charging station is set to be released later this year, and when combined with Griffin's USB mini cable kit, it keeps everything tidy.
posted by evoque at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2012

A small (12 oz.) refillable water bottle is a nice thing to have; obviously empty it before security but if you use the hotel gym or want extra water for the plane it comes in handy

This, but make it a foldable one, like a Vapur so it takes up no room in your carry on when it's not fully, but is always ready for use when you need it. These are also way easier to fill up in weird tap situations, since you can bend them around the sink as needed. Platypus-style bottles also work.

... and I just realized that evoque said a Vapur too, but it's a really, really awesome product so I am going to leave this for emphasis.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:05 AM on March 22, 2012

Gotoobs For shampoo or whatever are great, refill them when you get home and keep them in the right sized ziplock bag.

Nthing packing cubes or ziplock bags for organising.

I like having a passport cover and bags all in bright colours, it is too easy to loose track of your bags if they are black in a sea of other black bags. If you need to look professional with black go for a very brightly coloured tag, that is the only thing that stopped my carryon bag with laptop in from walking off a plane as I was stuck in a window seat and a guy in the aisle opposite grabbed it out of the overhead locker and starting passing it up the plane to his friend. They kept insisting it was theirs and I asked why 2 strapping young men would have a bight pink daisy tag hanging off their bag, the stewardess handed the bag back to me without a word.

Compression socks can make the difference too if you travel a lot if only to prevent you having to try and work with the discomfort of swollen ankles, though preventing DVT is important too.
posted by wwax at 12:34 PM on March 22, 2012

A great resource for all things like this is the wonderful website that changed my travel life: - awesome advice to make your travel life far more pleasant. (You'll have to click around a bit to find the different products he recommends, but the system is the best 'product' out there.)
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 2:56 PM on March 22, 2012

I haven't pulled the trigger yet, but I am seriously considering purchasing a pair of loafers just so I can take them off easily in airport security.
posted by scose at 6:49 PM on March 22, 2012

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