Last Updated on April 5, 2022 by Nellie Huang

As a professional travel blogger, I get asked a lot about what travel items I can’t leave home without. I thought today I’ll answer that question once and for all with this post. You’ll see that most items on this list are tech gear and gadgets — I blame that on my work! For this blog and other magazine writing that I do, I do need to carry around quite a few technological devices.

But besides them, I don’t have a long list of essential travel items.  I’m a low-maintenance kind of girl and I try to pack as little as possible for every trip. I usually travel with a carry-on backpack only, whether I’m traveling for a week or a month. In the past 14 years of travel, I’ve learned to downsize and travel with only things that are absolutely necessary to me. 

Here’s a look at the things I never travel without, whether I’m on a six-month backpacking trip or a short weekend trip. All of these items below fit into my camera/daypack which is my best travel buddy!

TIP: The best time to buy these travel gear is definitely during the Black Friday sales, the biggest sale of the year! Here are more Black Friday travel deals including flight deals and Amazon promotion. 

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My Essential Travel Items

1. Smartphone

Of all my travel gear, my Apple iPhone XS  is definitely the most important item for me. (I use the unlocked, international version with 128GB of space.) For me, it’s multi-functional and works as a personal computer, camera, notebook, alarm clock and more. I use it offline to record notes from trips and take photos; and when I’m online, I use it to share live updates on social media, check emails, chat with friends and family, and even blog on the road. When I’m in a country for two weeks or more, I usually get a local SIM card with data plan so I can be connected all the time. My iPhone is probably the single most important item for me when I travel.

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essential travel items

2. Hat/Cap

You’ve probably seen photos of me in my Australian bush hat everywhere on this site. That’s another of my favorite travel accessory. I bought it more than 10 years ago and I’m still traveling with it. It’s lightweight and really great for protection from the sun. Check out this Hawkins leather waterproof leather hat if you’re interested in buying one too! It’s one of the best gifts for travelers.

essential travel items

3. Polarized Sunglasses

I never travel without my sunglasses, regardless of whether I’m going trekking in the Himalayas or just going on a weekend break in Spain. I’m an active person who loves to get out there and explore, both at home and when traveling. Beyond practical purpose, sunglasses are also my favorite accessory. They make me look and feel better even if I’m on a camping trip and haven’t showered for days. Of all the sunglasses I have, I probably use the Trinidad colorful mirrored shades (matte grey/pink frame) most often, as they’re perfect for any type of outdoor activity from hiking to beach bumming.

4. Toiletries

It’s easy to buy toiletries like shampoo, bath gel or toothbrush anywhere I go — but there are two essential things that I always bring in my toiletry travel bag: a lip balm and a sanitary napkin. My lips get dry on almost every flight I take, and I find a lip balm really useful whether I’m visiting a cold or a warm country. Yes you can get it in most countries, but not in the less developing ones, which tend to be where I usually prefer to travel.

As for female sanitary napkins, again it’s not easily available in remote and far-flung places, especially if it strikes while on long camping trips. I learned this the hard way, having had huge difficulties finding them in places like Cuba, Togo and Papua New Guinea. I use the Zero Grid toiletry travel bag as it’s small enough to pack into a carry-on. 

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essential travel items

5. First Aid Kit

Honestly, I never used to travel with a first aid kit until I got sick a few times when traveling solo in Ghana, Togo and Benin (and had nobody to rely on). Becoming a mother also made me more aware of how important it is to have medication around me, especially when traveling to developing countries. I always make sure to have these medication in my kit: paracetamol, rehydration pills, Diamox for altitude sickness, Compeed, band-aid, and Antihistamine for allergies. If you’re looking for a comprehensive ready-to-go kit, check out one of the world travel packs from Adventure Medical Kits.

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6. Universal adapter

This is definitely an essential travel item for every traveler (even if you don’t travel often), as you can use it anywhere in the world on more than one trip. I love how I no longer need to carry a different adapter for each country I travel to! This Newdigi® Universal Travel Adapter  works worldwide, and it’s light and easy to travel with. My adapter comes with two different heads, one for the European plug (since most of my gadgets are from Europe) and another for the USB plug.

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7. Portable Charger

Thank god for the invention of portable battery chargers! I don’t even bother hunting for power outlets at the airport anymore, thanks to my RAVPower External Battery. I’ve been able to do more work on the go and I love not having to constantly worry about charging my devices. This charger has a capacity of 15000mAh and it holds enough power to charge my iPhone for 7-8 times. As I’m often traveling in remote places with limited or no access to electricity, it’s awesome to have a charger like this to keep my camera, phone and Kindle going.

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8. Camera: Canon 60D

Because photography is an important component of what I do, I always travel with a DSLR to capture high-resolution, quality images in RAW format. Alberto and I have always been loyal fans of Canon and we chose the Canon EOS 60D because of its desirable features and affordable price, even though it’s rather heavy and bulky.

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I also have a Caden Shoulder Neck Strap Belt to carry the heavy camera across my shoulders comfortably when it’s not in my bag. To make sure I always have enough space for my photos, I travel with three SanDisk Extreme Pro SD cards: two 32GB and one 8GB.

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9. Lenses: Tamron 18-200mm and Sigma 8-16mm

I don’t have a lot of lenses, and these two are the ones I always travel with. The Tamron AF 18-200mm is the one I use most often, and I carry the Sigma ultra wide angle 8-16mm in my daypack. When I go on specific trips like an African safari or expedition cruise to Antarctica, then I’ll bring my Tamron AF 70-300mm with a nice zoom that is great for capturing close-up images of wildlife. But as it’s heavy, I don’t travel with it all the time. So far these photography gear have been good enough for me to get good landscape and portrait shots on my trip.

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10. eBook reader: Kindle Paperwhite

Before I got the Kindle Paperwhite as a present, I had no idea how useful it would actually be. For anyone who’s traveled for an extended period of time (two months or more), you’ll know how annoying it can be to lug kilos of travel books on your back. I usually have at least 10 ebooks or so in my Kindle to make sure I have enough reading materials for at least two months on the road. Check out my list of 50 best travel books. Kindle Paperwhite is one of my essential travel items as it’s lightweight, portable and so great for keeping myself entertained while on the road.

essential travel items

What are some of YOUR essential travel items? Share them with me in the comments field below!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon, which means that if you purchase something through these links, I get a small commission (at no extra charge to you). With or without the commission, I genuinely recommend these products above.

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essential travel items