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Travel Gifts and Essentials

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Whether you are the traveler or you are looking for that perfect gift for your traveling friend or family member, we have a growing list of essentials. Concerned with how to keep your phone secure while traveling? What kind of carry-on might help you avoid checked bag fees? How to pack toiletries? Learn what we find are essential resources and items that make for a better travel experience. This list is continually growing as we are inspired to share, so keep checking back.

Phone Tether Tab -- used in combo with a wrist lanyard, this eased my concerns with both a pickpocket or thief trying to grab and run with my new smartphone and my dropping the phone on cobblestones (ask me how I know!), having it swept over the edge of a windy cliff (almost happened in Ireland), over the side of a boat, etc. I've used this constantly since returning home, as we have a dog and it keeps my phone secure while walking her on a leash. These are inexpensive and worth their weight in gold. You receive two tether tabs for $6.59. I'm sure it wouldn't deter the most ambitious thief, but you know they go for the easy pickings. Everyone else taking pix without a lanyard is more tempting. I placed it under my phone cover, but dd not actually attach it to my phone by removing the adhesive cover (I was afraid of commitment since the phone was new). With my Otter Box Commuter cover, the fit was tight enough you can pull substantially on it and it stays put (not sure I'd try and rescue a companion who was dangling over a cliff by having them grab my phone while it was attached to my wrist though). Since returning from travel, I've kept it on my phone. It helps when handling our new puppy and has saved me more than once from dropping the phone on the driveway or sidewallk.

I use this with the phone tether and it has on more than one occasion prevented me from dropping the phone onto hard rock and cobbles. My son dropped his relatively new phone at the Rock of Cashel. Don't do that. This pack includes 6 different colors for $7.49. Just as with the phone tether tab, I've used this constantly since returning from our trips.

Like many, we often travel from city to city, whether in an Airbnb or hotel. We prefer to stay in one place for at least a few days, but even so, it's a pain to keep packing up and moving on. This toiletry kit makes that easy.

I've owned this toiletry kit for many years. We generally travel carry-on only, and this really helps with packing all the essentials (liquids removed until we land). I love that I can open it partway, hang it in the bathroom somewhere, and all my things are handy without taking up counter space (and I've been many places in Europe with no counterspace at all). i can quickly grab it and hang it in the bedroom if I'm still getting ready and someone else needs the bathroom. It packs flat. I also use it for local travel and weekends away, and it has held up beautifully. As of this writing, it's on sale for 30% off ($24.49) but even at full price, it's worth the money.

Carry-on bag -- Options we like for doing carry-on only flying.

When we first started seriously traveling, we invested in Tom Bihn's Aeronaut convertible 3-way carry-on bag that's currently not in production. Fortunately they've replaced it with the Tom Bihn Technonaut bags. They are available in two sizes: the 45 and the 30. The 45 fits on all the various size planes we've been on, but I believe they made the 30 for the small econo flights you might find in Europe.

The bags hold an incredible number of things in the wide main compartment, but the best part is the ability to carry it as a duffle, a shoulder bag, or on your back. It's available in a number of exterior fabrics, all tough and durable. In addition to quick access pockets, they've also added a laptop compartment since we first purchased from Tom Bihn. Pricey? Yes. But it will last. It's great for those times you want both hands free, or can't roll a hardshell carry-on over cobblestones. Soft-sided carry-on bags give you the advantage of "squishability" when fitting into overhead plane storage, but the downside is that if you accidentally overpack, you may be oversize (has never happened to us, and we fit a lot in). The sixty-something and the twenty-somethings in our family all use this bag comfortably.

Watch your dimensions when buying hardshell carry-on bags

Rolling spinner carry on bag with a black bag placed on top. Feet showing near bag with shiny shoes
My teal Ebag Fortis spinner with the Tom Bihn Pilot Bag on top.

A few years ago, I switched to the Ebags Fortis Pro 22" x 14 x 9" hardshell with spinner wheels. Admittedly, it was a pricey bag, but with the amount of travel we do, we don't mind spending for quality. I thought it a more sophisticated look for rolling around a major European city plus it allows me to place my other "personal item" on top of it (shown in the photo is the Tom Bihn Pilot Bag). The Fortis--not currently available-- is exactly the max carry-on allowed on most US airlines (check your typical flights first--Samsonite has a handy guide here). British Airways max is 22 x 18 x 10 inches but we travel various airlines so try to stick with the more typical 22x14x9 inches. Remember these dimensions have to include the wheels.

They've discontinued the Fortis but this model Samsonite below is very similar. What's interesting is that most carry-ons from any manufacturer right now push the dimensions allowed by airlines. They are close to limits, but may push the envelope by being less than a half inch in one direction, but over by a half inch in another. Yet, most airlines let them on. Personally, I don't like to take the chance of having to check my bag at the last minute.

This Samsonite Omni is an overall 22" by 15" by 9.5." It has the same type of multi-directional wheels that allow for pushing or pulling in airport crowds plus the TSA-compatible lock. While you don't technically need the lock for a carry-on, if you will be checking baggage on the way home due to souvenirs you are carrying, then having a bag with a lock is a worthy investment. If you want to stick to the US standard of 22 x 14 x 9 inches (playing it safe), check out these.

The Rockland Melbourne is an Amazon favorite that's highly rated. It's below $75 in price and comes in a great variety of colors. It's safely under the US airlines typical limit with exterior dimensions of 22" by 13.5" by 9." It does not have the TSA-lock (that's not a deal-breaker for me), but it is expandable if you need to carry extras home in a checked bag. It's available in a range of colors and color combinations if you feel the need to express your personality.

Packing Cubes

In our minds, packing cubes are an essential, but so are compression bags. It is possible to get cubes that compress, but we've not yet tried them. By appearances, they seem to compress but not as much as the compression bags. Since we often go up to 2 weeks with just our carry-on bags (laundry done at an AirBnB midway), efficient and compressed work for us. On our most recent trip, I rolled t-shirts into one packing cube, underwear in another, stuffed socks in my shoes, and did a layer of compressed bags on top that contained longer-sleeved tops and capris and pants. I rarely use all my packing cubes, but like that I have the option with a full set.

We currently use the Rick Steves packing cubes, which are see-through mesh.

The top seller on Amazon--Veken-- are different than what I currently use, as the bags hold their shape. I prefer bags that keep my things gathered but will be able to squish down if needed as I pack compression bags or my toiletry kit on top. But if you prefer cubes that hold their shape, check them out here-- Veken 6-Set Packing Cubes. No matter what cubes you use, if you are unlucky enough to to be that random traveler that gets "extra" TSA screening, your personal items won't be strewn everywhere.

Amazon Basics 4-piece packing cube set -- If I were buying packing cubes now, I'd get this set in small and supplement with compression bags for my larger items.

Compression bags --

A quick note--no matter which brand compression bag you purchase, make sure to get the kind that you roll up NOT the type that you need a vacuum to get rid of the air.

This HIbag set on Amazon is a nice small set that would give you more than what you need for your carry-on and some extra for a larger suitcase, should you desire.

Note: the photos in this product show the compression bags being packed while the bag is rolled. My preference is to roll to squeeze the air out, but them straighten them flat and pack that way on top of my packing cubes or shoes. You do you.

Check back for more! Next up will be recommendations for solid shampoo and conditioner bars. I want to avoid packing so many liquids.

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