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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 without.
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. From Death Valley to Denali, these are my go-to items – and I own more than one of many of them, to ensure I’ll have years with these items I know, love, and trust.
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.
This post was originally published in November 2019, and was updated in October 2022.
1. Suitcase: Pro Carry-On from Level8
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 got tired of carrying everything on my shoulder or over my back. So Mr. Valise and I decided to splurge on our anniversary gift that year and get carry-on-sized rolling suitcases that carry our stuff now.
While initially inspired to buy an Away suitcase, I’ve finally settled on the Pro Carry-On from Level8 Cases. The two things I love most are the ease with which the wheels roll – honestly, sometimes it rolls away from me! – and the laptop pocket that helps me downsize my personal item and keep everything tidy in one bag.
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. On my first trip to London that year, I wandered into a Cath Kidston shop and immediately fell in love with this new pattern, “Mini London View.” (There’s a new version of this design available now that I also love.)
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, I grab UNIQLO Ultra Light Down Jacket as my outer layer (or one of my outer layers). 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 on basically all of my packing lists over the years, and for good reason – the one I bought back in London in 2013 is still going strong, thanks to a zipper replacement by my mom a few years back. Above, you can see me wearing it in Anacortes in 2016, Utah in 2020, and hiking in Alaska in 2021.
4. Scarf: Encircled Chrysalis Cardi
I also nearly always grab a scarf before I head out on a 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.
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 in Long Beach, WA, 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!
5. Shoes: Tieks & TOMs
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.
My second pair of go-to shoes are the TOMS Mesa Boot; they go in and out of stock but you should absolutely snag them if you see them available. I have two pairs, and use them as my primary hiking boots on more adventurous trips (like Death Valley in my brown pair and Alaska in my black pair, shown above), but they’re comfortable enough to wear for long walks in urban destinations too.
6. Sunglasses: Trickster Company
On the rare occasions, I make to the airport and realize I’ve forgotten something, it’s almost always sunglasses – and I’m always so annoyed about it, because I wear sunglasses all the time. To help me not forget as often, I now have two pairs of sunglasses from Trickster Company, which have designs by Tlingit/Athabascan designer Rico Lanáat’ Worl on them.
I love these because they honor the Alaska Native communities of my favorite destination while still adding a pop of color to my outfit (which, as you can see, I absolutely don’t need!). I have the pair linked below (“Town Meeting”) as well as a pair of pink ones with a hummingbird on them which I found at the gift shop of the Sheet’ka Kwaán Naa Kahidi Clan House in Sitka.
7. Daypack: Cotopaxi Luxon Del Dia 18L
As I’ve gotten older and traveled more, I’ve become a bit more adventurous – and that usually means grabbing a day pack to hold water and whatever gear I might need for any given day. My go-to day pack is the affordable Cotopaxi Luzon Del Dia 18L bag. It’s super lightweight, rolls up to easily fit in your suitcase, and has plenty of space for a water bladder and loads of other stuff.
My only complaint is that the bag is a bit of a black hole – it’s long and narrow, meaning most things just mingle together at the bottom and you often have to fish around a bit to find what you’re looking for.
Like many things on this list, I have two of these bags, one in vibrant orange and yellow, the other in contrasting green and purple. Honestly, I pack whichever one will contrast the most with the gear I’ve packed so it pops in pictures.
8. Hat: Solar Escape Casual Fedora
Packing a hat is always a good idea when traveling; I usually throw a beanie in my bag when I’m headed somewhere cold and/or anytime I’m going to Alaska. But I have a second hat that I love and jokingly call my “Instagram” hat – even though it’s more functional and earns way more compliments than any floppy colored felt hat you might see and was way cheaper than those hats.
I actually bought my favorite hat – the fedora from Solar Escape – at Costco and loved it so much that I bought two more the following month when we went shopping again (so I have three total, proving that I am a weirdo who has backups for everything I love!). I can’t find it online anymore, except someone is selling one on Poshmark, so if you want it, you should snap it up!
9. Cameras: iPhone 12 Pro & GoPro HERO10
While Mr. V invested in a great Nikon D7500 for our blogging business a few years ago – and I do pack that any time I’m planning a trip that includes astrophotography – I generally only grab one or two small cameras for most of my trips.
First up, my iPhone 12 Pro (I’m due for an upgrade!), which is tried and true for almost all of the photos you see on this blog – proof that you don’t need a big fancy camera to take nice photos from your trips, even to breathtaking places like Alaska. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t sell the 12 Pro anymore, so I’ve just linked to the main iPhone page below.
Second, I recently invested in a GoPro HERO10; I’ve previously had the GoPro HERO3+ and GoPro HERO7 Black and thought I should grab a newer version to try my hand at making more travel videos. (Check out my YouTube!). This newer GoPro is insanely good at shooting stable video and easily capturing certain types of night sky photos, but I’ll probably stick to my iPhone as my primary camera for a while longer.
10. Eye Mask: OwlzzZ
Actually, my eye mask is less of a “travel essential” and more of a “life essential” – while I used to be great at sleeping when there was light, it’s gotten harder as I’ve gotten older and I now wear an eye mask to sleep most nights.
I don’t have any pictures of me wearing this eye mask (thankfully, as I’m sure I look like a goob when sleeping), but this particular eye mask from OwlzzZ is my favorite. The two eye cups actually allow you to open your eyes with the mask on, and don’t put artificial pressure on your eyes. I find this makes it easier to sleep when I don’t want to wear or accidentally forget the mask since I’m not used to the sensation of having the mask pressing my eyes closed.
In any case, the best place to buy the OwlzzZ mask is directly using the button below:
Other 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. Read my Flytographer review. (Get $25-$50 off your first booking with this link or code VALERIEVALISE!)
- 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 just invested in the TRTL Pillow Plus, though we haven’t had a chance to try it yet. 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!