A travel writer’s suitcase reveals a lot about her: Where’s she’s been, where she’s going, what books keep her company, what creature comforts she can’t live without, and what souvenirs she remind her of her favorite places or people. To start unpacking these secrets, I interviewed a few popular travel writers and bloggers and asked them about the items they never leave home without. Their answers range from utilitarian to indulgent, but all prove essential to their uniquely transient lifestyles. Here’s what they had to say:
When culture and travel writer Julie Schwietert Collazo responded to my inquiry with the same item I always pack, I knew I was onto something. After all, she has to be strategic for frequent trips to Mexico and Latin America, sometimes with young children in tow. Her work has been published by Afar, the BBC, Budget Travel, Fodor’s, Outside, and dozens of other outlets. Her number one item? “I've had the same sarong for something like 20 years, maybe more, and it is always in my backpack,” she says. “I've used it as a blanket on a plane, as a shirt for my 5-year-old when her younger brother barfed on her (and I had no back-up clothes), as a stand-in for a mat to change diapers, and even as a makeshift baby carrier. I think I've even slept on it in an airport. I've also used it as a scarf to (at least pretend that I've) dress(ed) up outfits.”
France-based American travel writer Lane Nieset writes for USA Today 10Best, Travel + Leisure, and a number of other publications. She always packs a bathing suit, regardless of whether a pool is on the itinerary. “Coming from Miami, I always carry a bikini wherever I go — even if it's somewhere with snow. You never know if there will be a pool, sauna, or al fresco hot tub prime for après ski soaks,” she says. Her swimwear of choice also suits her other passions: style and fitness. “Bandeau bikini tops can double as a bra for low-slung dresses or serve as workout attire if you manage to squeeze a gym session into your travel plans.”
Traveling as a couple comes with its own set of challenges — and advantages — if you learn how to share certain items like Kelly and Alex Bryant have. To reduce their load, the couple behind Practically Everywhere combines some of their toiletries (a difficult task, considering many bath products are gender-specific) and always include a few specific items in their packs. “Our favorite products (or at least the ones that we can't travel without) are a set of shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush Cosmetics. Not only are they gender-neutral fragrances (Sea-Nik shampoo and Jungle conditioner), but being bars instead of liquid means you can carry them onto any flight without having to worry about airport security tossing them,” says Alex, who adds that the bars last for months. He also recommends throwing a couple of bandanas or handkerchiefs in your backpack. “It may seem silly, but napkins aren't always a thing [in every destination], and even in some nicer restaurants,” he says. “Plus, it can keep sweat out of your eyes on a hike, act as a makeshift sleeping mask, help clean up a spill, or in a really big pinch help in the bathroom. Luckily, that last one is just in theory, so far.”
Caribbean travel expert Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon is always on the go — reviewing hotels in Puerto Rico, touring cruise ships, uncovering vacation deals, and racing through the Caribbean. So it makes total sense that her must-have item for the road is a pair of stylish, comfortable sneakers (complete with travel-inspired wings!). “I never leave home without my running shoes,” she says. “An early-morning workout is a great way to get to know a destination in a way that you simply can't from a car. And watching the sunrise in a new place (and sharing it on Instagram, of course!) is one of my favorite parts of the day. Bonus: Wherever I go, being a runner connects me to a community of friendly people who are always eager to share the best routes in their corner of the world.”
Chalk, Wine Key & Adventure Gear
Ashley Halligan chronicles her globetrotting and far-flung destinations on her blog Contemporary Pilgrim. She aids her adventures with an unconventional collection of items that allow her to leave her mark on the world and express gratitude for the hospitality she receives abroad. Here’s what she never leaves home without: “Sidewalk chalk, a wine key, something sequin, and my Davy Crockett hat — because I never pass up the opportunity to leave behind a fleeting note, enjoy a nice bottle, spruce up an outfit, or go on some grand adventure.” We love the creativity and encourage you to come up with your own signature imprint.