For many years, I’ve had a hypothesis: for people who travel even once per year, we pretty much pack 90% of the same things over and over. We all have travel essentials – and as I travel about 20x more than the average traveler, you can bet I have some tried and true travel essentials I never leave home with out.
So why write this post? Because it’s handy information when you wonder things like how does that Valerie girl really do all that travel? and what things does she actually spend her own money on? Read on for that list!
Below you’ll see 10 of the travel essentials I’ve used to make my life as a ‘professional’ traveler more tolerable and enjoyable. If you need to upgrade your own travel essentials or are just curious for a behind-the-scenes peek at those items you’ve seen in my photos over and over – read on! Here are my top travel essentials and where you can buy each one.
1. Suitcase: Calpak Ambeur
You might be a little bit confused by this one – isn’t this named Valerie & Valise, after all? While ‘valise’ strictly means ‘suitcase’ in French (and is pronounced “val-ease”), I chose the word for my blog because it also used to mean a small weekend bag. Initially, that is exactly what I used to travel with!
But as of 2019, six years after starting this blog, I’m a bit over carrying everything on my shoulder or over my back. So Mr. Valise and I decided to splurge on our anniversary gift to one another and get a real roll-y suitcase that carries our stuff now.
While initially inspired to buy an Away suitcase, we did a ton of research and settled on the Calpak Ambeur. For about 40% less than a similar Away bag, we got what I consider to be an equally nice-looking bag that I still haven’t been able to completely fill when traveling on my own. I may have a bigger bag, but I’m still a light packer!
2. Travel Wallet: Cath Kidston Mini London View
In some ways, 2019 was the year I ‘upgraded’ some of my travel essentials – like my luggage, and my travel wallet. For many years, I had traveled with the TK, a simple, affordable wallet that held everything. But on my first trip to London this year, I wandered into the Cath Kidston shop at Heathrow and immediately fell in love with this new pattern, “Mini London View.”
I looked at the travel wallet but found it actually wouldn’t be super practical since I do travel with a lot of cards and other documents. Instead I went for the large wallet, and haven’t used either of my old wallets (my travel wallet and my home wallet) since I bought it. It perfectly fits a passport, up to 12 cards, cash, coins, and more. Whether you prefer this pattern (London ❤️) or any of her other designs, this is a great option for a beautiful, functional travel wallet.
3. Jacket: UNIQLO Ultra Light Down
99% of the time I’m headed out to the airport, the last thing I grab is my UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Jacket. It’s a perfect light jacket for travel in almost every climate – and layers well if you find you need extra insulation.
You’ve seen it featured in several of my packing lists over the years, and for good reason – the one I bought back in London in 2013 is still going strong. The photos at the top of this post are from visiting Anacortes in 2016, and drizzly sightseeing along the London Wall Walk in 2019.
4. Scarf: Encircled Chrysalis Cardi
I also nearly always grab a scarf before I head out on trip because they’re so darn versatile. You can use a scarf as an accessory, as a scarf to stay warm, as a head-wrap, as a blanket, as a hood, as a pillow… It’s really one of the most useful things to bring, and you don’t have to find room for it in your suitcase or valise – you just wear it on travel days.
Related: How to Pick the Perfect Travel Scarf
Many years ago I received a Chrysalis Cardi from Encircled, a Canadian sustainable eco-fashion company. This particular ‘scarf’ is even more versatile as you can actually wear it in a variety of styles for clothing too. In the photos above, you can see me rocking it as a scarf (the triple-wrap is ultra-warm) and as a dress on the red carpet at WITS 2019 in Portland, Maine. Can you believe that’s the same single item? So useful!
Encircled also has some other lovely items; as I write this I’m wearing their everyday twist top on a flight to Miami! Here’s their full catalog.
5. Shoes: Tieks & Toms Shaye Booties
If you’re keeping count, technically this section has two different travel essentials – two different pairs of shoes. But I think you do need two pairs of shoes for nearly every trip (I only go with one pair if I’m on the road for 2 nights or less).
First, I can’t deny that Tieks are an undeniable travel essential for me. I’ve written before about why Tieks are the best travel flat, and I’ve invested in several pairs over the years, wearing them until they literally fall apart. My first pair took me from the U.S. to Europe to the Middle East; my second pair tromped around North America, Central America and South America, and even Central Asia.
For many years before I found Tieks, I was a huge proponent of Toms Jutti flats… but now I’ve got a different pair of Toms I’m absolutely obsessed with. They call them Shaye Booties and they step it up a notch to offer a comfortable low heel that’s super cute with every outfit. Since I snagged my pair of Jacquard Blue Shaye Booties in mid-2019, I’ve worn them on many cool trips, from hunting street art in Nebraska to my first film project in Boston.
6. Sunglasses: Ray Bans Aviators
I’ll be honest… I don’t bring my Ray Ban Aviators with me when I travel anymore. Because I lost them on a trip to Lake Tahoe this summer! 😭
These were the first real pair of sunglasses I’ve had in years, because I typically just wear the free swag sunglasses we travel writers get a lot at travel conferences. Having a real pair that looks nice and fits my face makes me way more confident, and this particular pair of Aviators has a gradient lens that’s perfect for road trips.
7. Travel Insurance: World Nomads
I’m still working on my blog pots about why you need travel insurance – based on a few horror stories from my travels where I haven’t booked insurance and ended up needing medical care – but for now, just trust me: travel insurance is a really good idea.
I especially recommend travel insurance if you’re traveling to a new region and/or to an area where you don’t speak the language and may not have an interpreter available for you if you do end up needing medical care. It seems like a waste of money until you need it, and then every penny you’ve spent in your whole life of travels will be well spent.
(The photos above are from Jordan and Central Asia – the two destinations where I’m now all-too-familiar with the medical care system… 😷)
8. Notebook: Mindful Travel Journal
Maybe you’re not a writer; maybe you’re traveling to pen the next Innocents Abroad. (Good luck!) Either way, bringing a journal or notebook is a great way to document your experiences for posterity and to help solidify your memories.
Did you know I designed a travel journal based on my favorite way to to document my own travels? Yep. You can find it in my shop! (Also, did you know I have a shop??)
9. Passport: Ticket to the World
I won’t cite the appalling statistics about how many Americans don’t have passports – and I won’t ask you to out yourself if you don’t have one. But can we both agree it’s time to get one so you can actually book one of the cool trips you’ve read about here on my blog?
I’ll make you a deal: if you get your passport as a result of reading this post or my blog, you let me know and I’ll send you one of my travel journals for free so you have it for your travels. That’s how much I want you to book a trip!
Passport application requirements and costs vary by country, but I’ve linked below to the main site for U.S. citizens. I’m by no means a passport application expert, but I’m happy to answer questions to help you get one – or connect you with someone who can.
10. Camera: iPhone 11 Pro
I can’t believe I nearly forgot to include a camera on my list! It’s definitely one of my personal travel essentials; for many years I always grabbed my Sony NEX-6 and it served me well. In fact, many of the photos on this whole blog were taken with that trusty camera!
Since I bought an iPhone 11 Pro in late 2019 though, I haven’t even picked up my Sony. I’m so happy with the new camera and capabilities that it’s become my go-to travel camera – it even has night mode for ‘basic’ astrophotography, and is water resistant for all the fun water adventures I often find myself on. It was absolutely money well spent, especially if you’re still limping along on an old iPhone 5 or 6.
Fun Gift Ideas for Travelers
When I first wrote this post, I created it as a gift guide… so I don’t want to delete some of my other travel gift recommendations!
- Flytographer – If your snaps and selfies don’t cut it and you want pro photos from your next trip, book a Flytographer! You’ll get a session in basically any destination with a pro photographer, and stunning photos as souvenirs. (Get $25 off your first booking with this link!)
- Tour Experiences – like Urban Adventures – Rather than all the stuff I’ve already listed, consider buying your favorite traveler an experience. I personally like Urban Adventures because they offer the kind of day tours that don’t bore your socks off. And they offer gift certificates.
- Neck Pillow – TRTL Pillow – I’m still working on my on-plane sleep technique (and failing), but having a neck pillow is critical. I like the TRTL Pillow because I can rest my head in any direction; Mr. V swears by his inflatable neck pillow because it packs up so small. This is a great stocking stuffer!
- My Books! – If you know a traveler who also loves space, consider gifting them one of my books! I sell signed copies of Dark Skies and you can also find The Universe on Amazon (I contributed a lot of the ‘deep space’ objects!).
So there you have it – these are my travel essentials that come with me on every trip, plus a few extra gifts I think any traveler would love. Do you have any other essentials that you always bring? Let me know in the comments!