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Travel Packing Essentials: What Not to get on a Plane Without

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As anyone who travels regularly knows, over the years we discover there are some things we always want to have with us when we’re exploring new places and other things that we haven’t bothered packing again after they stayed in the bottom of our suitcase.

Here are some of my travel must haves that have earned their frequent flyer status.

Your (Healthy) Passport

I can’t tell you how many times I double-check that my passport is in my bag before I head off on a trip. I’m not sure who or what is going to sneak into my room and not steal anything else but my passport, but even if I’ve seen it in my bag the night before I’ll check again before going to the airport.

But just having your passport may not be enough. Depending on where you’re going you may need to have six months left on your passport, or up to four blank pages before you can get into a country.

Passport ready for the adventures ahead

If you’re a regular traveller you may want to borrow a tip that I picked up from my friend Peyton, and that’s to have ‘Please Leave Blank’ Post-it notes on four of the pages at the back.

That way when the immigration official flicks through looking for any old blank page to stamp they’re more likely to be find another page to leave their mark in. Simples.

Antibacterial Wipes for Airline Germ Warfare

Long before Covid had us using hand sanitizers on planes I was the odd one out using antibacterial wipes to clean my tray table. And you know why? Because they’re the most bacteria packed places on a plane.

A 2015 study for the Travelmath website showed 2,155 colony forming units (CFUs) per square inch on airline tray tables, compared to 265 CFUs/sq inch on the toilet flush buttons and 70 on toilet stall locks.

It makes sense when you think about the way bathrooms are regularly cleaned but there may not be time between flights to give tray tables the same treatment. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to have lowered a tray table and shuddered when faced with traces of the last person’s meal or a hair. Eeew.

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The first thing I do when I settle into my seat is get the antibacterial wipes out and give my tray table, entertainment screen, seat belt buckle and other hard surfaces a good going over. Sure I may (still) look a little odd but I’ve found whenever I offer a wipe to my neighbour they gratefully take one.

A Silk Pillowcase

A silk pillowcase is such a simple piece of luxury to travel with that doesn’t just feel good, it’s also good for both your hair and your skin.

Having had moments in some hotels where I’ve wondered just how well a pillowcase was washed or in what kind of detergent, I like knowing what my face is snuggled up against as I drift off to sleep.

To make things even more luxurious Luna Lux’s silk pillowcases and matching eye masks have been infused with Hyaluronic Acid and Argan Oil for softer hair and hydrated skin.

A Good Pair of Sunglasses

Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement, they protect your eyes from damage including cancer and help prevent wrinkles too. So if cancer isn’t enough to worry you, just think how squinting in sunlight can make the skin around your eyes age faster. Do your future eyes and skin a favour and don’t save the sunnies for a beach holiday, wear them anytime the sun is out.

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In years gone by I used to buy sunglasses in Duty Free and I had to laugh when I read the Staysure holiday budget report that showed 25-34 year olds are the ones most likely to splurge on expensive items in Duty Free. Turns out the age group I’m now in (ahem, that would be 45+) are the least likely to buy things at the airport, which totally tracks for me.

These days I know I can usually find things the same price or even cheaper on the land side of the airport, and I’d rather spend that holiday money on a great experience than another pair of sunnies. Count me in the 2 in 3 people who don’t want to put a price on holiday fun.

Packing Cells

Another one that is oh so obvious to those of us who know and love them, but I still meet people on my travels (including fellow travel writers!) who haven’t discovered them yet and so I have to include them on the list.

Packing cells or cubes as they’re sometimes called have changed my travel packing life. They help you organise your suitcase anyway you want and mean when you’re looking for that special something, let’s say your favourite t-shirt, you can go to the cell for t-shirts, or casual wear, or whatever sub category you put that shirt in and it’s there.

Travel packing essentials: packing cells and amenities kits

No more throwing everything in the case on the floor scrambling to find it. You can also put the entire cell into a hotel drawer and open the top and it’s an organised drawer of clothes just waiting. And when it’s time to go you just zip it up and pop it in your suitcase with the other cells.

Seriously I can’t imagine every travelling without them again.

A Gorgeous Travel Diary

My friend Ronnie gave me my first travel diary when I headed off on a one way ticket to London last century. It is one of my most precious possessions and ever since I’ve always had one diary that was just for travels and lives in my carry on until it is full and ready for retirement, and another that I share my thoughts in at home.

Sure lots of us are sharing our travels with Instagram but putting pen to paper is something different.

Handwriting has been shown to increase neural activity in parts of the brain in a similar way to meditation, and a study at Indiana University showed writing by hand sparked creativity that isn’t accessed in other ways.

A travel diary is also where you can share those private thoughts just for you. A precious thing indeed.

A Luggage Scale

I can’t believe how long it took me to buy one of these.

For years I’d balance on a set of bathroom scales with my bag to see how much it weighed, or if no scales were around would find myself just trying to guess if it was really heavier than the last time I travelled with it or if it was all in my head.

Needless to say there’ve been some holding the breath moments at airport check in.

For some crazy reason I thought a luggage scale would be expensive. Then one day I went onto Amazon and found a luggage scale for around $10. Seriously. So easy! Why didn’t I do that years ago?

Reusable travel mug, drink bottle and straw

There are lots of little things we can do to help the environment when we travel and at home. Despite what a lot of people think, most take away coffee cups can’t be recycled because they have waterproof plastic linings that can contaminate a whole load of paper recycling, and reusable mugs can slash the number of disposable cups that go to landfill.

Some of the best reusable mugs out there are from Keep Cup and you can choose your own colour combos, as I did below with my blog’s colours.

You can also reduce waste by using a refillable drink bottle. There are loads of great options out there including Beysis double walled stainless steel bottles that keeps drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot for up to 12 hours, and can be personalised with your name or initials.

As someone who loves to start her day with a cup of tea in bed that means if there’s no kettle in my room in a hotel room or cruise ship cabin I can fill up my bottle with boiling water the night before and have a hot cuppa first thing in bed.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

Yes they’re one of the more obvious ones but I have to give a shout out to noise cancelling headphones.

Not only do they make movies and music sound so much better they can drown out the sound of screaming babies. Bless their little cotton socks.

A VPN for safe Wi-Fi use

Most of us love to see a ‘Free Wi-Fi’ sign when we’re travelling but before you click join you should give yourself a layer of protection with a good VPN.

Hopping onto a hotel, airport or any other free Wi-Fi can leave you open to hackers as anyone else on the same network could potentially get into your unencrypted data. And even if you don’t do banking on shared Wi-Fi how would you feel about your emails, documents or photos being accessed by a stranger?

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Sometimes you could even be accidentally joining a fake Wi-Fi hotspot as some dodgy characters set up network names that look familiar and like something you can trust.

VPNs create encrypted ‘tunnels’ that protect your browsing and Internet activity, and also stop the network you’re using tampering with your traffic by injecting ads into your browsing.

Keep in mind when you’re choosing a VPN provider that if they’re free they’re most likely making money in other ways, such as selling user browser habits to third parties, putting in ads or selling your bandwidth.

When I decided it was time for a VPN I read a lot of online reviews and ended up settling on Tunnel Bear. Not only is it easy to use, it has cute bears that go burying and then pop up in tunnels when you turn them on. One of those little things that makes me smile.

But a word of warning: VPNs are illegal in some countries including China, Iraq, Turkey and the UAE.

So if you’re travelling to a foreign country remember using a VPN there could lead to a fine or even possible jail time.

As always when travelling do your research, find out what is and isn’t allowed at your destination, and respect their rules.

So there we have it, some of the things I love to pack in my bag (and my phone) when I travel.

How about you? What would you never get on a plane without?

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