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30 Brilliant Buys Travel Pros Never Travel Without

Travel agents and flight attendants share their must-pack items for every trip—what crucial items are missing from your checklist?

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Fire HD Tabletvia


There’s no reason to feel guilty for binge-watching TV shows while hovering 35,000 feet above the Earth—how else would you make the time pass by quickly? Bryan Herb, chief marketing officer for Zoom Vacations, explains why bringing your own tablet is a must: “Even if your aircraft has a good entertainment system, you are at the mercy of watching whatever they have selected for you. Having your own device allows you to watch programming that you may love, but don’t have the time to watch back home.” Plus, you can read books and magazines on it, too.

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TravelWise Packing Cube Systemvia

Packing cubes

If you’re heading on a multi-destination trip where you need to keep moving from hotel to hotel, then packing cubes will become your new best friend, says Herb. Not only do they keep all of your clothing and accessories organized and easy to locate in a dark and cramped room, but they also help you use the precious space inside your suitcase more efficiently. Don’t miss these 50 other genius packing tips.

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Bose noise cancelling headphonesvia

Noise-canceling headphones

Say goodbye to the sound of squeaky meal carts, screaming children and loud neighbors with the simple click of the noise-canceling feature on a pair of trusted headphones. “Not only do they help keep things quiet, allowing you to relax, but they also enhance your video and audio experience,” says Herb. “These are a great investment, especially if you spend a lot of time on the plane.” They can also help you avoid jetlag because you’ll get some much-needed sleep. Check out these 11 other ways to outsmart jetlag.

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Chin Supporting Travel Pillowvia


If you’ve ever tried to get cozy on the tiny pillow provided by your airline, you know it’s next to impossible. That’s why Herb says to bring your own pillow or a special travel pillow for a more comfortable experience. The BCOZZY travel pillow stops your head from falling forward while providing soft support—even if you’re stuck in the dreaded middle seat.

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Compression Socksvia

Compression socks

Blood clots can be a very serious risk on long-haul flights, which is why Herb recommends wearing a high-quality pair of compression socks. “Graduated compression from your knees to your ankles increases circulation naturally,” he says. “This encourages blood to flow back to your heart, instead of staying in your legs and feet.” You might even find yourself wearing them on all-day tours once you reach your destination, as they provide comfort when you’re spending extended time on your feet, too. Find out 10 other things flying does to your body.

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Whether you are going on a cycling expedition, camping, hiking or will be driving on dark roads during your trip, Emilie Thyebaut, an independent travel agent based in the Loire Valley, France, who started the self-drive tour company France Just For You, swears by a bright LED headlamp to light your way. “The lamp can be tilted to a 45-degree angle, the head strap is adjustable, and it is water resistant so you can use it in all kinds of weather,” she says. “I have used this on cycling tours in Europe on short winter days, when I’m out running on country roads early in the morning or after dark, and during cave explorations in the Dordogne region of France.” Thyebaut says it’s also hand for nighttime reading and to keep in your car, in case of a breakdown in a tunnel or at night.

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Hand Held Mirrorvia

Handheld mirror

Ever notice how awful the bathroom lighting is in most hotels? Oftentimes, it can be better to groom and apply makeup near a window—but there’s almost never another mirror where you need it. That’s why Mary Villamana, co-owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Brookfield, Connecticut, brings her own Conair handheld mirror. “This two-sided mirror with 1x and 3x magnification can stand up by itself when you fold down the handle, which leaves both hands free to apply makeup.” She packs the sturdy mirror in between layers of her clothes. Just be sure to avoid these 12 makeup mistakes that will make you look sloppy.

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Zen Bandsvia

Sound therapy

Between crying babies and chatty seatmates, it can be hard to relax on a plane or train. But have you ever noticed how wearing earbuds for long hauls begins to hurt? That’s why Arta Zhuli, a private lifestyle, beauty and travel agent, never leaves town without her lavender-infused ZENBand by Blooming Wellness. The 100 percent cotton headband with flat speakers allows her to listen to soothing music en route and even meditate away headaches after a flight. “It is so comfortable that I can sleep on my side while traveling,” she says. “Plus, it’s amazing for camouflaging messy travel hair or even forehead blemishes. I also love that I can just toss it in my purse and it folds up nicely and takes up no space.”

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Magnet Hooksvia

Magnetic hooks

Did you know that cruise ship staterooms are usually made out of metal? That means they are magnetic. (We know—mind blown!) That’s one of the reasons Sarah and Scott Stouder, co-owners of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in McKinney, Texas, recommend that cruisers bring magnetic hooks: “They will keep clothing, towels and other items off the floor, which will help keep your room more organized while on your cruise. Make sure to buy hooks that are strong enough to hold basic items and still stick to the wall.” Don’t miss these additional dos and don’ts of packing for a cruise.

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Airplane Pocketsvia

Plane pocket protectors

Raise your hand if you’re guilty of putting items in the seatback in front of you and forgetting them when you deplane—you’re all raising your hands, right? “I have left my phone and laptop in the back of an airplane seat before—both experiences were pretty harrowing, as they have all my information on them,” says Mikaela Walker, a travel agent with Dream Vacations in Orlando. “With the Airplane Pocket, you put everything in there like you would in the seat back pocket on a plane, but when the trip is over, you just fold it up and take the entire thing with you, so none of your stuff gets left behind. The Airplane Pocket works great with my kids as well, as it keeps everything organized and within easy reach for them.” Simply put the sleeve over your tray table and it hangs down on the back of the seat in front of you. It also prevents you from having to stick your hand in that pocket that almost never gets cleaned. Find out 18 things you should never do on an airplane.

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Wrist ID Braceletvia

Medical bracelet

Traveling with a medical condition or while taking lifesaving medications can be a bit daunting—what if you have an emergency and aren’t able to tell someone what medications you’re allergic to or taking, who you are, or what conditions they need to be aware of? “When I was pregnant, I was put on anticoagulants, which could be life-threatening should I be unconscious and bleeding,” says Elizabeth Dominguez, a travel agent with Dream Vacations in Fernandina Beach, Florida. “As a frequent traveler, I wanted something that emergency services could easily read and consider if I needed to be attended to and couldn’t speak. I used the Road ID stretch bracelet with two customized IDs on it to identify that I was pregnant, on anticoagulants, and who to call if I was injured.” And if you’re traveling outside of the United States, be sure to double check your medications against this list of 9 common medications that are banned in other countries.

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Digital Luggage Scalevia

Luggage scale

Have you ever watched someone at the baggage check podium frantically transferring items from their suitcase into their carry on bag? Clearly, their checked bag has exceeded the weight limit and now they are playing a real-life game of Tetris with all their belongings. “The EatSmart Precision Voyager luggage scale ensures your luggage is not over the weight limit for air travel that will trigger extra fees,” says Chris Caulfield, a travel agent with CruiseOne in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “Designed with a large handle, it is easy to attach and lift your bag while checking the weight, which is done in seconds.” It’s also a lifesaver if you enjoy shopping and picking up souvenirs during your travels—you’ll know exactly how much you can get away with when packing to head home.

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Defense toolvia

Self-defense tool

When you’re out sightseeing in a new city, it’s easy to take a wrong turn and end up in a less-than-desirable location—one that puts you in harm’s way. That’s why Southwest flight attendant Karen Seeley has not only purchased My Defense Tool for her personal safety, but she has purchased them for her fellow flight attendants. “When we go out exploring, My Defense Tool provides a sense of security without going overboard,” she says. “It’s strapped to my hand and weighs less than an ounce, so I hardly notice it. Plus, it goes through security without any problems.” While having this tool is handy, it’s also important to know these 11 ways to be your own bodyguard—they could save your life.

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EarPlanes via

Pressure poppers

There’s nothing more annoying than popping ears due to changes in air pressure while flying. For someone who is sensitive to altitude change, like Endeavor Air flight attendant Sheilah Reyes, EarPlanes earplugs are a natural, effective, and affordable way to avoid the pain. “I insert EarPlanes as soon as I board the plane and keep them in the entire time,” she says, explaining that while they muffle out the sound of the engine, they still allow her to hear passengers loud and clear. “Proactively inserting EarPlanes is the best way to avoid in-flight ear pain.” Also, parents often don’t realize that their young children are suffering from altitude induced ear pain. Reyes says that her youngest used to cry the entire flight, but after discovering that EarPlanes offered a smaller size, flying with him is now a breeze.

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Soft side insulated coolervia


Mealtime options on flights have severely diminished over the decades—forcing hungry travelers to either buy lame in-flight snacks or overpriced options at the airport. But did you know you can bring certain foods to the airport and through security? The eBags Crew Cooler will keep your food fresh and organized. “The Crew Cooler has an opening to slide it onto the handle of your luggage, which is incredibly efficient for someone like me who’s always on the go,” says flight attendant Diera Gooden. “It also has so many compartments—I can not only bring my food, but I can pack in my wallet, passport and even a reusable water bottle for any trip I take.”

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Power stripvia

Power strip

How many electronic gadgets do you travel with? Probably at least a phone, laptop or tablet, a camera, and a watch. And of course, they all need to be charged—which can be tricky in most hotel rooms, as they offer very few outlets. “Save yourself the time and trouble by carrying your own power strip to charge multiple devices at once when you check into your accommodation,” says Carly Hulls, who is the head of global sales and support for TourRadar. “If you’re in transit at the airport or train station, this power strip can be the perfect way to make a connection with fellow travelers who are also desperate for a charge.” And don’t forget: If you’re headed overseas, you might need a universal adapter and voltage converter; here are 15 other things not to forget when traveling abroad.

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Travel Wallet Passport Holdervia

Passport wallet

If you’ve ever gone digging through your multiple pieces of luggage trying to locate your passport, then you know how stressful that situation is. Make life easier with a stylish passport wallet that will keep all of your important travel documents secure in one central location. “With set space for your passport, airline ticket, accommodation vouchers, and other important travel documents, a passport wallet can avoid an issue at check-in trying to find the right piece of paper,” says Hulls. She also suggests stashing a spare passport size photo or two in your passport wallet, in case you need to apply for Visas or need a copy of a photo for any unexpected travel documentation required on your trip.

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Water bottlevia

Water bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated on flights, which is why Cara Harvey, a flight attendant for Delta, makes sure she has her BPA-free Bubi Bottle on board at all times. “The carabineer clips onto my handbag or carryon luggage and ensures I’ll never lose another water bottle while switching planes or leave it behind in my hotel room,” she says, explaining that it rolls up when not in use. “My Bubi Bottle is a reminder to stay hydrated between trips. I fill it up at water stations within each terminal and while exploring a new town.”

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Nuun Hydration electrolyte drink tabletsvia


Speaking of hydration, water isn’t the only thing your body needs—electrolytes are also crucial. So how can you get these minerals (think: potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium) on the go and without ingesting sports drinks that are filled with other unnecessary ingredients and sugar? Kelly Connor, a travel agent with Scott Dunn Ltd., relies on Nunn electrolytes. “Put one of these tablets in your water to stay replenished throughout the day,” she says. “They are also helpful when visiting a hot climate or while traveling during the summer.”

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Dermal Facial Mask setvia

Facial mask

Just as the rest of your body dries out while flying, so will your face—making it tough to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed if you want to hit the ground running right after you land. Monica Pitaś Anderson, a flight attendant for United Airlines, swears by individually wrapped facial masks. “The cabin air is drier than the Sahara, so I use a hydrating sheet mask at the hotel on every layover,” she says. “I’ve seen passengers use them during long, international flights. After the meal service, when the lights go out, you’ll walk through the cabin and see a few snoozing masked faces. I think that’s genius.”

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Hanging Toiletry Bagvia

Hanging toiletry bag

Have you ever noticed how little counter space most hotel bathrooms have? If you bring your own lotions and potions when you travel, then the Maxchange hanging travel bag is a great way to free up space and ensure you can easily find all of your products. “This bag supports my love of having options for my personal care without having to carry a larger travel bag,” says Megs Yearwood, a Belize travel expert with Barefoot Rentals and Services. “It wins on functionality and size.”

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Women's nano light down jacketvia

Packable down jacket

During the winter season, no matter if you’re traveling to a warm destination from a cold one or vice versa, you’re going to need a winter coat on one end of your trip—but they can be heavy to lug around and take up too much space in your luggage. Lili Moreira, a flight attendant with American Airlines, found the perfect solution in the 32 Degrees Women’s Nano light packable down quilted jacket. “It rolls up and weighs next to nothing,” she explains. “The best part is it keeps you very warm. It even comes with a matching bag to roll it in to. I always put it in the back pocket of my roller-board and never notice it.”

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Crock pot food warmervia

Food warmer

When traveling on a budget, it can get very expensive to eat out three or more times a day. But there’s no need to pay more for a hotel room with a kitchenette when you pack your trusty Crock-Pot Lunch Crock Food Warmer. “I take this on every trip because it’s awesome for heating up soups and leftovers in a hotel without a microwave,” says Whitney Webb, a flight attendant for American Airlines. “Best of all it’s smaller than you expect and the cord coils up nicely to fit in my smaller bag.” Don’t miss these  9 other secrets to traveling cheap.

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Whether you’re stuck on a plane or train and looking to pass the time or want to do a little bedtime reading, lugging a hardback book around on your travels can be incredibly inconvenient. That’s why Anna-Sophia Van Brunt, a flight attendant with American Airlines, made the switch to the Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader. “I’ve always been loyal to physical books because nothing compares to the feeling of pages and the smell,” she says. “But the weight and space of multiple books in my suitcase every trip got to be exhausting. I fell in love with the Kindle, because it’s super lightweight and keeps me entertained on those long flights and less exciting layovers.” Plus, you can download new reads on the go, no trip to a bookstore required.

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Ziploc bagsvia

Sealed plastic bags

It’s easy to become a disorganized mess when traveling—you’re cramming your belongings into every nook and cranny of your luggage, which makes it difficult to notice when you’ve lost something. Alli Serencko, a travel agent with World Travel Specialists, has found the answer to this problem by using Ziploc baggies. “I keep my small electronics, cords, and earbuds in them to make going through airport security easy as well as have them all centrally located,” she says. “I also bring snacks with me on flights and they help with that too.” Consider buying a few different sizes, which can help store medications and small liquid containers, and protect everything else in your suitcase from a wet bathing suit.

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Womens slippersvia


If putting your bare feet on a random hotel floor gives you the heebie-jeebies, then step into a cozy pair of Snoozies. “These slippers are so soft, they can be worn all year round,” says Christen Beeney Bjornson, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines. Plus, they’ll feel so lush and comfy on your feet after a long day of traveling or touring around a city. Choose from a wide variety of colors and patterns. Find out the 11 dirtiest spots in a hotel room.

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Oversized plush throw blanketvia


Time moves very slowly if you’re trapped on a super cold train or airplane without the proper attire. And, as Serencko so astutely points out, “Those airline blankets don’t do a darn thing when it comes to keeping me warm on my flights.” So, she never travels without her The Big One plush throw blanket—she simply rolls it up and packs it into her backpack. “Having a blanket with me makes traveling that much more comfy,” she says. “And this is my favorite blanket because it’s so soft and warm.”

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LL Bean book bagvia

Monogrammed backpack

Using a backpack as part of your luggage is the way to go; it frees up your hands and lessens the burden of a heavy or awkward bag. But now that so many people are on to this secret, there’s an increase in similar-looking backpacks at the airport. Rob Turner, owner of Entertainment Travel and a former flight attendant, has the solution: “The L.L.Bean backpack is great because they’ll monogram it, so it’s easier to spot coming off the TSA X-ray belt.”

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Poo-Pourri sprayvia

Toilet spray

If you have to make a dreaded number two midflight your fellow travelers will be none-the-wiser if you hide the evidence with Poo-Pourri® Before-You-Go® toilet spray. “Or you might need to use it after the person before you comes out of the bathroom,” she says Cristina Dela, a flight attendant for American Airlines.” It’s also handy for sharing a small hotel room, staying in someone’s house, public restrooms, and anywhere someone might be waiting for you to vacate the bathroom or stall and you don’t want to be embarrassed.

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Granular fabric laundry detergentvia

Granular laundry detergent

You never know when you’ll need to do a little bathroom sink laundry while traveling—after you spill something, when the weather changes unexpectedly and you need to repeat clothing you wore earlier in the trip, or when your boss asks you to extend your client visit. That’s why Dela always travels with Forever New granular laundry detergent. “It’s powdered soap to wash any clothes or lingerie in the sink,” she explains. “I buy a little bottle and a big bottle and refill the little one that I take with me. With the powder form, it doesn’t interfere with the 3-1-1 rule at security, so you don’t have to take it out.”

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Jill Schildhouse
As an editor at large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel, and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.