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Whether you’re traveling by car, bus, or plane, 5 or more hours en route anywhere can be a real pain in the… everywhere. Sure, it’s not the destination but the journey that matters—but the famed poet who said that never traveled on a low-cost airline from California to Massachusetts.
Chances are you struggle to find a comfy position to sit in, let alone sleep in, while traveling. But after my last trip to Europe—when I endured a 9-hour flight without actually feeling the need to jump out—I learned that packing the following things are essential for both comfort and entertainment. Having 12 items in your carry-on may seem like a lot, but trust me, you can make them fit. You’ll thank me later.
1. A trusty pair of headphones or earbuds to drown out all the annoying sounds
Typically, everyone on the plane is loud, and bus drivers have poor taste in music. That’s why I suggest packing a pair of both headphones and earbuds because after about four hours of use, either become uncomfortable. The JLab Fit 2.0 earbuds are under $25 and won our Best of Year award, but if you are looking to splurge a bit, check out the best wireless headphones you can buy.
If you are looking for a souped-up pair of over-ear headphones equipped with the market’s best audio and noise-cancellation technology, then check out the Bose QuietComfort headphones ($329). They’re the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy, and though they come at a hefty price, it’s worth it for their comfort and quality. Traveling with a little one? Check out our best headphones for kids
2. A reusable water bottle because there’s nothing worse than dehydration
It is so easy get dehydrated while traveling, especially on a flight, and dehydration makes jet lag much, much worse. Don’t make my mistake and find yourself stuck in the middle seat during the ‘nighttime’ of a 7-hour flight, trying to ration that one tiny cup of complimentary water. Just bring a water bottle, and ask the flight attendants to refill it—they are always more than happy to.
This is where our favorite water bottle, the Hydro Flask, comes in. It comes in multiple shapes and sizes, and keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12 hours—it’s a great gift for the fitness-lover in your life, too.
3. A portable charger because without your smartphone, you’re basically stranded
The lower the phone battery level, the higher the anxiety. But luckily for you, we’ve tested several portable chargers and found that the RavPower Turbo Series 20100mAh is the best battery pack for your money.
The RavPower battery pack won our Editors’ Choice award for its high charging capacity at a low price—it can charge a smartphone several times over before needing a juice refill of its own. The pack is a bit larger, but still slim enough to slide into a backpack or purse without taking up too much space. Also, it’s only $50, making it one of the most affordable too.
4. And while you’re at it… a long phone charger
After testing the best lightning cables on the market our team found that the best charging cord you can buy is the 6-foot AmazonBasics Nylon Braided lightning cable—which is incredible because it only costs $13. The braided cable is sturdy, and will keep the cord from developing the “deadly double chins” that most Apple chargers get because of their rubber casing. This cord is perfect for travelers because it is long, built to last, and charges your phone without any hiccups.
5. A pair of comfy compression socks to prevent bloated cankles
I usually wear fuzzy socks on a quick flight for comfort, but for long days of travel where my butt is planted to a seat most of the day, I wear compression socks. Wearing compression socks on a flight is a great idea to increase circulation and reduce the risk of swelling.
Yeah, I know: Compression socks aren’t necessarily the most beautiful things in the world, but they’re important and can easily be tucked under a pair of long pants (seriously, who wears shorts on an airplane anyway?! That’s gross). Just think of them as an inexpensive way to fight cankles.
6. A Nintendo switch to distract you (or your kids) from a crappy flight
Everyone in our office is obsessed with the Nintendo Switch. I don’t currently own one yet, but the Switch is on my list because of its small size and incredible gaming capacity. It’s also a fantastic gift for kids, since it can distract them during turbulence and flight delays.
One of our editors recently traveled with her Nintendo Switch, saying, “It saved me. We flew Spirit, which, if you’ve ever used that airline, you know how lackluster the experience can be. But, my boyfriend and I pulled out our Switch and played Mario Kart to pass the time together. Once I got tired of winning, he was able to dive into Zelda while I read.” Oh, and by the way, Chrissy Teigen loves her Switch too.
7. Candies that help ease motion sickness
I have a pretty pathetic excuse for an equilibrium, which means traveling by air, sea, and sometimes even land can make me dizzy and sick to my stomach. I usually take over-the-counter medication when flying, but sometimes I need a second line of defense—and that’s why I turn to motion sickness candies.
I also tuck a pair of Sea-Bands into my pocket to wear on a flight or bumpy bus ride. They may not work for everybody, but I swear they are what saved me on a rough bus tour through the hilly roads of Ireland. Others begged for a pit stop due to nausea, but I actually felt fine for once! Wear them on the pressure points around your wrists for relief.
8. The best Kindle E-reader to catch up on your favorite books
When traveling, you need to save space, so why would you pack three bulky books when you could pack 1,000 in a thin gadget? Our favorite Kindle is the new Paperwhite as your best travel companion. Whether the lights are on or off, you’ll still be able to read with ease. With its 300 pixels-per-inch touchscreen display, adjustable backlight, and excellent battery life, it has the best bang for your buck. This new and improved version is lightweight and waterproof.
9. A package of facial cleansing wipes to use on everything
Use them on your face, use them on your hands, use them on your phone, use them EVERYWHERE. These micellar cleansing wipes from Simple are my favorite, because they are gentle on my ridiculously sensitive skin while still getting the job done.
10. A reliable face and hand cream that’s as thick as oatmeal
Pressurized cabins make for heinously dry skin, which is why I always bring a travel sized bottle of my favorite, thick lotion. I sometimes even bring a lotion that has essential oils in it, so I can score a bit of aromatherapy while crammed in a stale cabin. I have dry skin to begin with (darn you, eczema!), so I always turn to First Aid Beauty skin products.
11. A neck pillow because getting good rest is worth looking goofy
Okay…I know. Neck pillows take up so much space and look ridiculous. But what if you could use a top-rated neck pillow that looks more like a scarf and takes up less room in your luggage? Allegedly, this scarf neck pillow can convert anyone into a bonafide plane sleeper. Getting good rest is worth looking like a goofball, but with this neck wrap, you no longer will.
Around the holidays, we suggested the Ostrich pillow as a gag gift for those who love to travel which I wouldn’t say is a necessity, but certainly a hilarious (and actually functional!) choice of travel pillow for those who are always looking to bury their head in the sand.
12. Travel sized hand sanitizer because everything is gross
Honestly, I practically bathe in this stuff when traveling. What can I say?! People, places, things: They’re all gross.
13. A carry-on cocktail kit so you can toast to you and your stressful travels
When traveling gets stressful, take the edge off. These tiny cocktail kits were all over the place this holiday season—and they are just about the classiest things I’ve ever seen. Personally, I am having a tough time deciding between the Moscow mule and the Champagne kit. Maybe I’ll just get both.
14. A useful weekender bag to skirt checked-bag fees
Nothing is more frustrating than getting smacked with surprise carry-on fees at the airport, but a weekender bag which is the perfect size for a short trip and fits under small plane seats. The best under-seat luggage you can buy is this Timbuk2 bag with tons of zippered compartments and enough room for a laptop, snacks, and iPad, plus a 22-liter interior main compartment for clothing and toiletries.
15. Tile Trackers for peace of mind
There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling of losing your wallet, purse, or phone—especially an already-hectic travel days, or in a bustling airport as you’re about to board your flight. That’s why we love the Tile, a small tracking device that you can attach to your most important—or most often forgotten—personal items (think: keys, wallet, purse, luggage, laptop bike, etc.)
You can use an app on your phone to track your Tiles—but you can also use the Tile to track your phone if (read: when) you lose it. One main user gripe has been that its battery life gives out after a year—but luckily, Tile just released replaceable batteries for these little life savers.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.
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