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The Essential Travel Accessories We Never Leave Home Without

By Jessie Beck and Lyndsey Matthews

Apr 30, 2021

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These nifty travel accessories can make every part of your trip—from packing to sightseeing—just a little easier.

Courtesy of Matador

These nifty travel accessories can make every part of your trip—from packing to sightseeing—just a little easier.

Sure, you’d never travel without your toothbrush—but what about a cord taco?

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When packing, there are things we all reach for: toiletries, clothes, chargers. But then there are also various travel accessories some of us would never leave home without. The small things we wouldn’t consider as essential as, say, our passports, but nonetheless make travel easier. Things that solve (or at least lessen) the little problems that pop up along the way—like sleeping in uncomfortable airplane seats, dealing with tangled cords, or keeping your electronics charged. 

At AFAR, our staff has spent many hours searching for and testing travel accessories that help us along every leg of the journey—many of which are sustainably made, several from small businesses. This list reflects our tried-and-true favorites, the items that, now we’ve traveled with them, we never leave home without.

Whether you’re hopping on a plane to a far-flung destination, or taking a short road trip close to home, consider adding one of these travel accessories to your packing list.

Travel accessories for packing and preparing

Packing cubes help keep clothes neat and organized.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Packing Cubes

  • Problem it solves: Staying organized on the go
  • Buy now: Pack-It Starter Set $55, eaglecreek.com

If you’re not a packing cube convert yet, give it a go: the cubes really do keep the contents of your luggage neat, folded, and well organized. Although there are many options to choose from, several of our own editors cite Eagle Creek’s popular Pack-It packing cube system as their go-to choice. The starter set comes with a garment folder, a hard-backed cube, and a half-size cube—everything you need to try it out. Added bonus: Eagle Creek designs its products to have minimal negative environmental impact by keeping them PVC free and incorporating recycled materials.

Keep dirty shoes from touching your clean clothes with a shoe bag.

Paravel Shoe Cube Duo

  • Problem it solves: Keeping your dirty shoes separate from everything else
  • Buy now: $55, tourparavel.com

“I don’t let my boots, sneakers, flats, or flip-flops touch anything else inside my luggage,” says AFAR’s destination news editor, Lyndsey Matthews. “It’s not that I’m convinced the germs on my shoes are going to make me sick. . . . It’s more of the thought of all the crud on your soles coming into contact with your clean clothes, your toiletry bag, or even a hat that touches your head.” 

Her trick? Using a shoe bag, like the Paravel Shoe Cube Duo ($55, tourparavel.com). Made from recycled plastic water bottles, this structured cube is large enough to fit two pairs of shoes and comes with a transparent top so you can easily find the pair you want to wear. If the $55 price tag is a little steep, she also recommends a simple cotton shoe bag (Set of Three Cotton Drawstring Shoe Bags, $13, amazon.com).

This is Ground Cord Taco

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Whether it’s headphones or chargers, we all travel with one or more cords—cords that all too easily tangle into knots or with each other and other small items in our bag. To keep them in order, AFAR digital content director Laura Dannen Redman recommends the Cord Tacos by This is Ground. Handmade in Los Angeles, these tiny leather “tacos” wrap around your cords and snap closed to keep them neat and coiled up on the go.

Prevent leaks in your toiletry bags with the Matador Flatpack bottle.

Matador FlatPak Toiletry Bottle

  • Problem it solves: Leaky, single-use travel containers for gels, liquids, and creams
  • Buy now: $13 for one, $34 for three; matadorup.com

Rather than buy disposable, travel-sized toiletries that might leak or explode in your bag, invest in good-quality reusable bottles for your lotions, shampoo, soap, and other liquids. For this, AFAR contributor Maggie Fuller recommends the Matador FlatPack toiletry bottles, which—despite the name—look more like bags. These TSA-approved, three-ounce bottles are compact, leak-proof, and easy to squish into your toiletry bag.

Travel accessories for en route and at your destination

For some, the Trtl travel pillow is the trick to actually get some sleep on airplanes, cars, and trains.

Trtl travel pillow

  • Problem it solves: Sleeping comfortably on planes, trains, and long car rides
  • Buy now: $30, trtltravel.com

Finding a travel pillow that actually works can be tricky, but AFAR’s social media manager, Rosalie Tinelli, swears by the $30 Trtl travel pillow—both for her “can-sleep-anywhere” self and her “never-sleeps-on-a-plane” boyfriend. Although it resembles a neck brace and may look a little strange, this compact, machine-washable travel pillow has been mechanically engineered for maximum neck support and comfort, allowing travelers to sleep peacefully and avoid neck stiffness. Available in a variety of colors, as well as a kids’ version (ages 8+), and an adjustable, more-breathable Trtl Pillow Plus, this travel pillow is easily one of our favorites.

The Aesop hand sanitizer contains aloe vera, to keep from drying out your hands.

Aesop Resurrection Rinse-Free Hand Mist

Hand sanitizer has always been an essential travel accessory, but it is even more so during COVID-era travel. Fortunately for travelers, Australian brand Aesop has a spray version of its popular Resurrection Rinse-Free Hand Wash. Featuring the same refreshing citrus scent, this alcohol-based sanitizer also contains aloe vera so your hands don’t dry out.

These little headphones come with a myriad of travel-friendly features.

Apple Airpods Pro

You may have already heard rave reviews of Apple’s Airpods Pro for everyday use, but they’re also fantastic travel headphones. These compact, cordless earbuds come with travel-friendly features like noise-cancellation, a 24-hour battery life, and flexible silicone tips that help the earbuds stay in your ear (and not, say, lost inside your airplane seat).

For sleeping on planes or too-bright hotel rooms, a sleep mask is an essential travel accessory.

Blue Palm Print Sleep Mask by Finella Smith

  • Problem it solves: Sleeping comfortably, wherever you are
  • Buy now: $43, wolfandbadger.com

Whether trying to sleep on a plane or too-bright hotel room, we love the Blue Palm Print Sleep Mask. Designed by British brand Fenella Smith, the tropical palm print sleep mask is made with silk that feels luxurious against your skin. You might have to wear this one every night—even when your PTO days have come to end.

The Vapur Anti-Bottle can hold plenty of water but also fold down to a compact and packable size when not in use.

Vapur Anti-Bottle Water Bottle

  • Problem it solves: Staying hydrated on the go
  • Buy now: $7 (was $12), rei.com

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We always pack a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated while reducing waste when we travel. For those of us who don’t need a bulky 32-ounce bottle taking up precious room in our carry-ons, the Vapur Anti-Bottle—a BPA-free plastic water pouch that can roll up into practically nothing when empty—is our go-to. “It’s one of the few things I bring on every single trip, regardless of destination or length,” says AFAR contributor Nicole Antonio.

Scarf by Travel Tube Blankets

  • Problem it solves: Cold airplanes, buses, or destinations
  • Buy now: $48, etsy.com

Why pack a blanket and a scarf when you can have a blanket scarf? To keep warm on planes, dining outside, and everywhere in between, reach for one of the versatile blanket scarves by Seattle-based and women-owned Travel Tube Blankets. Made from a soft, stretchy knit fabric, the Classic Travel Tube Blanket can be worn like an infinity scarf when rolled up. Unraveled, it transforms into a 4.5-foot-long, tube-like blanket (kind of like a sleeping bag without the bottom seam) or a shawl to toss over your shoulders.

For COVID-era travel, add a few face masks to your packing list.

Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks

You already grab a face mask every time you go out, but when traveling, you’ll want to pack a few for flights, public transit, and public indoor spaces. For a durable, comfortable, well-fitted mask to carry along for COVID-era travel, try the cotton masks by Hedley & Bennett. Not only are they well made, but the California-based brand will also donate one mask to a frontline worker for every one you purchase.

Reusable Cutlery by Snow Peak

Reusable cutlery may not be the first thing you reach for when packing, but it can be surprisingly handy—for takeout, picnics, or eating an emergency pack of ramen in a hotel room after all the restaurants have shut for the night. “I always pack my Snow Peak cutlery set, while my husband takes their collapsible chopsticks, so we can skip the disposable utensils,” says AFAR SEO manager, Jessie Beck. Both come with a dedicated carrying case so you can keep your cutlery separate from the rest of the things in your bag.

Travel adapters are a must-pack essential for international trips.

Castries Universal Travel Adapter

  • Problem it solves: Charging electronics in other countries
  • Buy now: $20 amazon.com

For international travel, an adapter like the Castries Universal Travel Adapter is a must-have accessory. This compact, universal adapter comes with plugs that you can use in more than 150 countries, including the United States, Australia, England, and most of those in the EU. With an AC socket and four USB ports, it also lets you charge up to five devices at once—saving you the need for multiple adapters.

The Anker PowerCore Fusion is a versatile, portable battery for your devices.

Anker PowerCore Fusion

  • Problem it solves: Keeping phones and other electronics charged
  • Buy now: $26, anker.com

A portable charger for your electronics can be a lifesaver—especially on long days of sightseeing or outdoor adventures. Among Anker’s line of travel-ready chargers, the Power CoreFusion stands out for its versatility: The dual-port, credit card–size, two-in-one charger works as a wall charger and a portable battery. Swap out your usual charging block for the CoreFusion, then toss it in your day bag while out and about.

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Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.

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