I'm not privy to the contents of many suitcases other than my own, but I suspect that my strategy of packing minimal clothing, toiletries, and electronics into a single carry-on bag isn't all that unique.
However, after a couple years of heavier-than-usual travel with the same cramped bag, my strategy has been failing in a key area: I leave little or no room for travel accessories. On several trips lately, I have found myself wishing that I had packed some item or other that I had rejected simply because I couldn't be bothered to pack it, or find it in a convenient size.
In that spirit I made a list of those things that I’d rather not travel without, all ten of which are small enough to pack in almost any suitcase, personal bag, or jacket.
Credit Card USB Flash Drive ($9.99): While conventional USB thumb drives aren’t much bigger than an over-sized wad of gum, I often lose track of thumb drives in my luggage or find that I never have the drive in the right pocket at the right time. This wafer-thin drive is the size of a credit card, as the name suggests, and the USB plug easily exposes when you fold down one side of the card. Keep this one in your wallet or purse wherever you roam, and you’ll thank me.
Antibacterial Toothbrush Cover ($10): I’m still not convinced that a single square of toilet paper, clumsily wrapped around the head of my toothbrush, isn’t just as sanitary as a plastic toothbrush cover, but this is a battle I have fought with my wife and lost, so my cover of choice reportedly has an antibacterial substance built right in and has a suction cup on the back in case you want to suspend your toothbrush out of reach of housekeeping when you leave your hotel room.
Zinc lozenges ($6.99): While there’s no scientific evidence about how zinc ions fight the common cold, in my experience a combination of sucking on a zinc lozenge and a little positive thinking has made me feel better when I’m fighting a cold on the road.
Sunscreen towelettes ($3.95): From hand sanitizer to bug repellent, you can buy almost anything in the form of a pre-moistened towelette these days, and all are convenient for travel. After several trips where I've encountered unexpected blazing sun and had no protection (sorry, mom), I began seeing the merit of keeping a single-use sunscreen towelette on my person. Because you never know.
Stain-removing pen ($3.29): Jerry Seinfeld is no doubt correct in suggesting that if you’ve “got a t-shirt with blood stains all over it, maybe laundry isn't your biggest problem right now,” but after discovering both blood from shaving cuts and coffee stains on business shirts once-too-often, I have gotten on board with having a stain-removing pen on me when I travel.
Mini Duct Tape Rolls ($3.96): Wiser minds than mine have come up with clever ways to use duct tape while traveling, though my favorite use lately has been taping a rogue pant-leg cuff that had become undone before a business meeting. And since a conventional roll of duct tape – even one that’s half-used – feels too unwieldy to pack, I’ve come to appreciate that they come in these mini sizes.
Credit card flashlight ($9.00): If you agree that having a wallet-sized USB drive on your person is a good idea, then you’ll probably also see the merit of carrying this gizmo, which has a 5-year shelf life. It’s also housed in a waterproof casing, convenient when you’re walking to your rental or motel room on a rainy night.
Clothespins ($3.99): A little old-school, sure, but given the limitations of trying to hang hand-washed garments in some hotel bathrooms (especially those without shower-curtain rods or bathtubs) I’ve been throwing a few clothespins into my bag. And should you need a makeshift clothesline, consider packing an extra pair of shoelaces, says REI editor T.D. Wood.
Little alarm clock ($17.00): This item is potentially the bulkiest of my tiny items at 3¼ x 2 x ½ inches, but I like that it works with a single AAA battery and has a flip stand. I warmed to the idea of packing a portable clock after having wake-up calls, hotel clock radios, and smartphone alarm clocks fail for one reason or another.
Empty film canister (free): Tiny plastic film canisters with lids aren’t as easy to find as they used to be, but you can usually get one for free (without buying film) if you sweet-talk someone in a camera store or pharmacy. As with duct tape, the creative uses of film canisters are many, but my favorite for travel, as suggested by this cartoon, is handling that one thing I don't pack but often return home with: loose change.
What handy – and small – accessories do you pack when you travel? Share your tips in the comments!