Full disclosure: My husband and I are pretty much minimalists, so we can take a three week trip in one carry-on bag each plus a purse/backpack, even when the weather ranges from freezing to broiling hot.
So, the list below can be viewed as the minimum of travel essentials and for this article, I’m sticking to non-wardrobe travel essentials. See this article for clothing essentials.
I would also argue that many of these items, in a pinch, can be purchased rather than brought along, but especially overseas, the hassle factor of time and energy to find them isn’t worth not having them packed and handy.
Really sturdy carry-on bag (note: overseas carry-on sizes can be more restrictive than here in the U.S.). Good luck to you if you want to check your bags. I think the risk of losing them and the time lost waiting at the baggage carousel or potentially replacing lost items is not worth checking luggage.
Very light, nylon (or similar) day pack/back pack for day hikes and excursions. Bring along a few essentials for the day such as water, sunscreen, etc.
Purse or backpack for under the airplane seat to have flight essentials handy such as your reading material, identification, smartphone, snacks, etc.
Clear, 1-quart plastic bag for your liquids in no more than 3 ounce containers. TSA pre-check lets you avoid removing your liquids as you go through their screening, but you should be prepared with this baggie in case you randomly have pre-check revoked for that trip or for airports such as Heathrow which requires re-checking.
Bag tags on each piece of luggage, carry-on, purse, etc. because you never know when you might get separated from them.
Folder or envelope for keeping reservations, directions, receipts or whatever paper needs keeping.
If you travel often and can afford it, buy a second set of all your make-up (and remover), keeping it together in a small bag (Clinique give-away bags are perfect for this) so you don’t have to think about rounding up all your make-up each time you travel. Keep this in your purse or carry-on luggage.
3. Hair Care
Keep in mind some of these which are liquids will be in your clear, 1-quart plastic bag.
Contacts (and an extra pair)
Put a copy of your prescriptions in the bottom of your bag, just in case you lose your eyewear and need to have a new pair made.
5. Toiletries (including skin care)
Laundry soap for handwashing (if needed)
Nail care (clippers, emery board and polish)
6. Oral Care
Prescription medication (always in your purse)
Ache meds (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.)
Hand sanitizer… keep this in your purse and/or day pack
Health insurance card
I landed in an out-of-town Emergency Room on a recent trip and was really glad I had my insurance card with me.
8. Managing Distractions
Earphones… for your smartphone, computer or airline movies
Earplugs… I actually used mine on a recent trip when the middle-of-the-night birdsong was driving me crazy.
Reading material (books, magazines, Kindle reader, etc.)
Deck of playing cards… I know games are also on your smartphone, but cards don’t drain your power. I was really glad I had a deck along when we recently had a couple hour flight delay.
You better bring your own because food is few and far between, especially on domestic flights. Gorp or small packs of nuts are healthy and easy to pack.
Sleep mask. Rarely needed but good to have. I used mine in Sweden when it was still daylight around midnight.
If you have a separate camera from your smartphone.
Remember to figure out a communication plan if you’re going overseas as you can spend a fortune if you leave all your regular phone features on while you’re gone.
For all electronic gadgets – phone, computer, Kindle reader, etc.
Take two different cards. I would suggest one debit and one credit. On a recent trip, we found a few places where one card didn’t work but the other did.
Tuck a couple hundred U.S. dollars in the bottom of your bag. In a pinch, everyone will accept this form of currency.
You decide how much local cash you need which is most easily obtained from an ATM machine. We managed three weeks in Africa with all U.S. dollars we brought with us (the itinerary was prepaid so we mostly needed cash for tips).
Adapters/converters. If your electric gadgets are already 110/220 compatible, you only have to worry about adapters. A universal adapter will serve for most places, but do your country-specific homework as we have found a few outliers not covered by a universal implement.
Passport copy of the front two pages. Tuck this in the bottom of your bag. DON’T lose your passport but if you do, the copy might help.
Pen… for the inevitable form to be completed
Mini sewing kit for stitch-up emergencies
Stain remover (Tide stick works great for this)
Reading light… for rooms without bedside lighting
Tissue mini-pack for the inevitable spills or runny nose
I hope this will provide a comprehensive packing list of travel essentials for you beyond your wardrobe. Many of these travel essentials can be buried deep in your suitcase so they are out of the way but available if needed. Bon voyage!