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 packing one of these essential travel accessories.
1. 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.
2. 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).
3. This is Ground Cord Taco
- Problem it solves: Tangled cords taking over your bag
- Buy now: $25 for three; etsy.com; utility-goods.com
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Apple Airpods Pro
- Problem it solves: Noisy public spaces
- Buy now: Apple AirPods Pro, $197 (was $249), amazon.com; $225, bhphotovideo.com.
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).
8. 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.
9. Vapur Anti-Bottle Water Bottle
- Problem it solves: Staying hydrated on the go
- Buy now: $7 (was $12), rei.com
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.
10. 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.
11. Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks
- Problem it solves: Lessening the spread of COVID-19 and complying with mask regulations
- Buy now: $22, hedleyandbennett.com
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.
12. Reusable Cutlery by Snow Peak
- Problem it solves: Avoiding disposable cutlery
- Buy now: Silverware set, $26, rei.com; Chopsticks, $40, rei.com, snowpeak.com
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’s Senior 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.