21 Items to pack on every trip


I subscribe to various travel industry newsletters, which means that I get an average of 27 emails from Travel & Leisure (T&L) every day. Mostly I just skim the headlines, but occasionally something will snag my interest and I’ll give it a read. This happened a couple weeks ago, with a headline that read: “21 Items to Pack on Every Single Trip”. I was curious as to what the T&L found to be the 21 most important and versatile travel items–and, well, I wish you all could have seen my face when I read what made their list. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to troll T&L, but their list is ridiculous. It did, however, get me thinking…what would make my list?

Thus, “GATA’s 21 Items to Pack on Every Trip” was born. While a few of T&L’s items did make our list, I think it’s safe to say that GATA and T&L are not catering to the same market. Here’s our list, followed by a link to T&L’s list–see how we compare, and let us know what your most essential packing items are!

Rain coat
A good rain coat is like travel armor and an absolute necessity for any and all trips. I personally do not take a step outside my house without my raincoat packed. It is worth investing in a good one, preferably gor-tex; and I recommend ordering a size up, regardless of the brand, to allow for ample layering underneath. I also put a premium on pockets when it comes to raincoats. My number #1 pick for a raincoat is the Arcteryx Beta AR, but if you’re on a tighter budget, REI brand usually has some decent and affordable options.

Yes, dental hygiene is important; no, that’s not why floss makes the list. Floss is incredibly versatile and very small and packable. Read this to learn just a few of the many non-dental uses for floss! https://urbansurvivalsite.com/27-prepper-uses-for-floss/


Water filter
Regardless of where you are traveling, drinking water from unknown or untrusted sources is never a great idea. It is also logistically challenging as well as environmentally and financially irresponsible to only drink bottled water. Simple solution: take your own water filter everywhere you go. I recommend Sawyer water filters–I always have one that can screw onto any basic water bottle or faucet. It’s lightweight, about the size of bratwurst, and filters 99.9999999999% of the bad stuff. Whether you’re camping in the wilderness or exploring a foreign metropolis, you’re covered.

No, your cell phone flashlight is not sufficient. Headlamps provide hands free illumination for whatever you are doing–whether it’s spelunking, trying to start a fire in the rain (so frustrating), reading in a dark crowded dorm room, or trying to change a flat tire on your rental car in the middle of the night. Take a headlamp. Always. My personal favorite headlamps are made by Petzl, followed by black diamond.

Bandana or buff or similar light cloth scrap like accessory. You can use it for sun, wind, or cold protection for you head, ears, and/or neck. It can serve as a towel in a pinch, a rag for cleanup, a hankie, an eye mask, a dust/pollution mask, keep your hair out of your face, tourniquette; the uses are limitless. I once used a bandana as a fishing net to catch fish in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Tie it on the outside of your bag–takes up no space.

Essential pills
I always travel with a small plastic container about the size of a ping pong ball with a few of the following meds:
That should take care of 95% of your traveling ailments.

Hiking boots
Footwear is vital, and if your raincoat is your body’s armor, hiking boots are armor for your feet. I put my hiking boots on and I am invincible–my feet are comfortable, protected, and can take on any terrain any place any time. The key is to get quality boots that fit you well. Not all hiking boots are created equal, so choose carefully. Again, I always recommend gor-tex for waterproofing. I am currently loving these Ahnu boots, because they are durable, have good ankle support, comfortable, waterproof but also lightweight. I love my old school Vasques too, but they are much heavier and more rigid, so I reserve them for my more rugged mountain climbing excursions, whereas my Ahnu’s are my go everywhere boot.

Extra socks
Wet socks are the worst–don’t ever wear wet socks. Your feet will stink, you’ll ruin your boots, and you’ll get blisters and fungus and all sorts of gross stuff. It’s worth it to always pack 2 pairs of socks more than what you think you will need. Just do it.

Cliche? Maybe. Still, I live in my Chacos. Plus, you really can’t get away with traveling anywhere with just one pair of shoes (hiking boots), so you really need a comfortable, breathable option that is still functional enough to get you around town in. Chacos are the solution. You can wear them in the water, you can hike in them, you can wear them with a dress, or–my personal style go to–wear them with socks! Chacos + socks = Sockos–the ideal airplane/airport footwear choice. They are durable but comfortable, and when you are freezing in your tent in the middle of the night but really have to pee, you don’t want to be trying to get hiking boots or even sneakers on….no, you just stumble into your Chacos and hit the bush–quick and easy like.


Warm layer
No matter what, even if you are going somewhere tropical and warm, be prepared for cold. This could mean a lightweight down jacket, or an insulated long sleeve layer or a fleece–but bring something cozy and warm. First of all, warm clothes are like a comfort item–it’s always good to have something snuggly when you’re far from home. Second, even if you aren’t wearing it, you can use it as a pillow. Third, even if you’re not expecting cold weather, you never know AND sometimes we get chilled even when it’s warm out. Example: sunburn–the night after you get roasted to a crisp in the sun, you will get chilled. Also, sometimes we don’t get warm showers — nice to have something to warm you up after a frigid shower or dip in a glacial lake. Don’t argue, pack at least one warm item of clothing no matter where you’re going.

Baby powder
Baby powder is another versatile and underrated product. Shoes stink? Blisters? Chafing? Ran out of deodorant? Greasy hair? Sweaty nooks and crannies? Baby powder has you covered. It is the catch all solution for when you are stinky, dirty, greasy, and/or sweaty but don’t have the resources at hand to actually clean yourself. I once hiked the entire Annapurna Circuit in Nepal using only baby powder as deodorant. Truth.

Blisters are debilitating. No matter how tough you are, blisters will disable you. Best to avoid them by using proper footwear and good socks, but sometimes that’s just not enough and blisters happen. Moleskin is the solution. It is a lifesaver–do not leave home without it.

Fishing hook
Is fishing fun?–most of the time. Is that why a fishing hook is on this list?–no. In an emergency survival situation, a fishing hook can be combined with that floss you will always bring with you to actually catch fish. That’s cool and could potentially save your life in the wilderness….assuming you are near a body of water. But a fishing hook can also be combined with that floss to use as a needle and thread to mend clothes and gear. Here’s how.
It’s another small, multi use tool that could come in handy or even save your life–pack it!

Collapsible water bottle
Obviously for a water filter (mentioned above) to work, you need a water bottle. While there are all sorts of trendy stainless steel water bottles out there, I highly HIGHLY recommend a collapsible water bottle. I swear by Platypus. Why collapsable? Because when it’s empty it doesn’t take up any space…duh. Or, if you only need a little water, you can fit it into a daypack or purse with small dimensions. Rigid water bottles make no sense. I like the platypus bottles because they fit with my Sawyer water filter (and most other filters), they are durable, you can get a bite hose attachment (think camelback style),and they have a small opening which makes drinking easier and spillage less likely.

I hope I don’t need to explain why sunscreen is important. I personally like to travel with sunscreen sticks–solid form, like giant tubes of chapstick. I go with the solid so that a)I don’t have to worry about exceeding 3oz of liquid in my carry-on and b)I don’t have to worry about sunscreen explosions in my bag. I will say that you should take care not to leave a solid sunscreen stick in direct sunlight, as it will melt.

Dr. Bronners
A travel sized bottle (or bar) of Dr. Bronner’s Soap will go a long, long way. It is environmentally friendly, all natural, no synthetics, no detergents, no foaming agents, organic, fair trade, etc etc etc; and you can use it for everything. Wash your body, your hair, your dishes, your clothes, your gear, your floor, your dog, your boat, your car, your whatever…Dr. Bronner’s does it all, and a little bit goes a long way! Check it out here.

Duct tape
As we should all know by now, duct tape is magical. Fix things, create things, stick things together–you should never be without duct tape. I recommend wrapping a little bit around a pen or marker so that you don’t have to haul around an entire roll of duct tape…just enough in case of emergencies.

External battery
While we’d like to pretend like electronics and technology aren’t vital….they are, for most trips at least. Don’t get caught with a dead phone or ebook or camera–bring a power bank. They are small and affordable, and can save you in a pinch.

A daypack is essential on all trips. Whether you go for a small, lightweight backpack, a comfortable and functional purse, or a minimalist fanny pack; your essential items need a home–water, sunscreen, phone, camera, snack, raincoat, etc. I personally like to pack bags within bags–so I have my backpacking pack with all my stuff in it…inside that I have a lightweight backpack with my daily items inside, including a small fanny pack with my most essentials–passport, phone, sunscreen, cash.

As the former director of a library (long story), I love books….real books, the kind with paper. That said, ereaders have their place in this world–and that place is in my bag when I’m traveling. It is not reasonable to haul a half dozen books around with me whenever I travel…one little Kindle with hundreds of books on it?–That makes sense. I use the Kindle Paperwhite.

Waterproof stuff sack
It always pays off to have a waterproof stuff sack of some sort and size on hand. Even if you just have a small one, at least when it starts pouring rain you can through your phone, camera, passport, etc. in there and don’t have to worry about it getting wet. If you have a larger one, you can keep you clothes, shoes, and/or sleeping gear dry. I know packing cubes are all the rage these days, but I would take a waterproof sack every time if given the option. I pack all of my gear in waterproof sacks, so when it rains, I don’t have anything to worry about.

So that’s our list–see how we compare to Travel and Leisure here.

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