My first big semi-solo trip came after college in the 1990s when I took off for six months to travel around India, Nepal and Thailand. Since then, in between steady gigs, I have made it a practice to pack a bag and just go. I am the queen of high-low travel and along the way I’ve realized that no matter where you go — a tiny village in Zambia or the Ritz in Paris — there are some things that you must always carry with you.
The key to great travel is great sleep. A good night's sleep on a plane or in a hotel will make or break your trip, which is why I have so many sleep products I insist on packing. But they work. Trust me, I have paid for all of these products and found that they are the best. These have all been road-tested for years and are so good I have multiples of each to live in each suitcase and carry-on bag I own so I never forget them.
These products have changed the way I travel. They will for you, too, but first you've got to try them.
The Perfect Sleep Mask
I am so obsessed with the SleepMaster Sleep Mask (amazon.com, from $39) I have about six of them and can’t sleep without it—even if I’m not traveling. This mask is great because it wraps around your head and covers your ears, providing portable black out shades as well as protecting your ears from that annoying feeling of air vents blowing on them. It's satin so, unlike an elastic band, it won’t leave a mark on your hair if you need to get up and go in the morning or when the plane lands. It’s hypoallergenic and hand washable so it's easy to keep clean, which is more than we can say for most items in our travel bags, eh?
I am extremely picky about my earplugs. If they're too hard it takes forever to try and fit them perfectly in your ear and they fall out easily if you're a restless sleeper; Too soft and often times they don’t work.
I use the Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam earplugs (amazon.com, $5). These earplugs have helped me sleep through crying babies in the seat next to me as well as my dad snoring at level 11 in blissful ignorance for hours at a time.
Chapstick with SPF
I feel about Chapstick the way the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” felt about Windex. Chapstick with SPF 15 (amazon.com, $10 for a pack of six) is my favorite multi-use tool. It's not only great for dry lips but can be used to moisturize under eyes or severely chapped hands and to help with dry cuticles. It also works well as a pre-blister treatment: just rub some on your heels and there will be zero chaffing. Have a stuck zipper? Chapstick. Need to take your ring off but it’s 100 degrees and you’re bloated? Chapstick. Seriously, it’s the wonder stick everyone must keep in their bag at all times.
The Trtl Neck Pillow
Wherever you go, there will likely be long stretches of travel in a car, train, plane or donkey cart (don’t ask). And if you are like me, you still have that natural reflex to pass out cold when in a moving vehicle. For me there is no better “pillow” than the Trtl pillow (amazon.com, $30). Sort of a misnomer, it’s really a padded neck support that looks a bit like cervical collar you’d be put in after a car crash, but trust me, it works. It will support the heaviest of heads and is the only item that I can use to sleep in coach. Bonus: it takes up way less space than other travel pillows, can unwrap and be wound around any bag so it’s easy to carry and is easily washable.
This multifunctional tubular item of clothing (amazon.com, from $13) is most associated with skiing, but it’s also a crucial travel tool that come in cotton for the summer and wool for the winter. A buff is a scarf if you're cold, a hair band if you’re having a bad hair day or a hair cover when necessary. They also conveniently act as a face mask if you’re on a plane and the person next to you is coughing or has gas, because we all know that always happens.
The surest way to get over jet lag is to get a good night’s sleep once you’ve arrived at your destination. Sometimes, for whatever reason, that’s hard to do. Since sleep is so crucial, I personally use a combo of prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, but if you want to go holistic, valerian root, melatonin (amazon.com, $9) or lavender oils help as well.
A Reliable, Long-lasting Portable Charger
I don’t care what Apple, Samsung, LG, or any phone manufacturer says about their phone’s batteries, they all never last as long as you need them. And I don’t think I need to tell you the importance of having a useable cell phone. While I used to be a Mophie fan, I have recently switched to Anker, which is lighter and has more power. My favorite is the Anker PowerCore 20100 Charger (amazon.com, $32) which can charge the iPhone 8 almost seven times, the Galaxy S8 five times and the iPad mini 4 twice. If that’s too big aim for the smaller Anker PowerCore 10000 (amazon.com, $50) which gives you almost three-and-a-half iPhone 8 charges or two-and-a-half Galaxy S8 charges.