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My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling

A Woman in Sunglasses and denim shorts standing in front of some stone buildings one with a clock on the top of it with a distant mountain backdrop

Updated on September 6th, 2023

Over 30 years of travel have taught me a lot, including what I really cannot leave home without. I now have a very well tried & tested packing list. So, with our international travelling on hold & the Christmas period around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to share. Here you have my top 12 essential things to pack for travelling!”


A cross section map of the world not including the north or south poles and surrounding areas


My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling QuilotoaWhy?

After 30 years of travel, I think I have tried many of the best travel accessories which we are told are “essential”. Some of them have been a revelation, others were a waste of money. Those sit rejected in my drawer as I head off on my next exciting exploration. My main requirements are items which take up the least space & minimum weight. With many of us grounded for a while & the season of giving just around the corner, I felt now was a good time to share my favourites.

So, look no further if you are planning on taking that next big adventure (once you are able) & looking for a few items to request from Santa. Here are my must-have travel accessories for you to add to your list, including a few treats & some stories as to why they are always top of mine!

For gifts for your favourite traveller, look no further than my Unique Travel Gift Ideas & my 26 Gift Ideas for Travel Lovers. And for my ultimate guide on how to pack carry-on only, check out THIS LINK.

Please note that these are mostly low-cost items, which I genuinely find I cannot leave home without. You will see photos throughout the post of them in actual use. If you click the links, I may make a small commission but the cost to you will be the same. If you choose to do this then Thank You!

Packing My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Youtube video
My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling
Travel wallet

Obviously, it goes without saying that you must take your passport, insurance certificates, tickets, boarding passes, visas, money, credit cards, accommodation & travel details with you when you go! And always ensure that you have hard copies of the documents to hand. I have often been in situations where you need to prove something at border control, such as onward flight details, where I’m staying, who I’m staying with etc.

I have also been in situations where I “have that email” but for some reason my phone won’t retrieve it (never when you need it most) & the immigration hall does not have wifi. It’s time consuming, stressful & embarrassing. Always take hard copies…lecture over!”

I never claim to be the most organised person. When I travelled to Argentina with my lovely friend Manda, she clearly got a little frustrated over the number of times I used the infamous words “Can you just hold that for a minute?” Then I went for yet another rummage in my bag.

Lo & behold for my next birthday she gave me a gift & I have never looked back! Now I carry my travel wallet everywhere & that is why it has to be number 1 on my list. I believe this is one of the best travel accessories for women.

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling

Thinking of Argentina? Check out my First Timer’s Guide for everything you need to know.

Crossbody Bag
A fan of bank notes from around the world

While we’re on the subject of keeping all your important things in one place, you always need a handbag! My fellow travellers will extoll the virtues of money belts, neck wallets & bra pouches. I get why they are great for safety & have tried them through the years to keep my money up close & personal.

However, I have also experienced the drawn-out process as an obvious foreigner goes rooting around exposing herself while wrestling with her nude coloured tight belt. It’s not for me.”

Crossbody My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Crossbody Bag

My go-to must-have for travellers is always a crossbody bag. When I need to pay for anything it draws way less attention either home or overseas. I always wear it on the front & never carry everything I own, just what I need for that day. It is large enough to take my travel wallet, my guidebook, sunglasses etc. However, it is also small enough to fit under the seat in a plane without restricting my legroom. And most importantly, I have never been robbed from a crossbody bag, as long as I have adhered to all my usual rules of travel.

For more of my crucial safety travel tips, check out my 15 Top Safety Tips for Travelling Alone As a Woman

Backpack on Wheels

Staying with luggage, this is a newfound member of my travelling family. To be honest, I can’t believe it took us so long to find each other! Initially, for multicentre, ‘months at a time’ trips, I invested in my backpack. It was perfect for the times I joined tours & they specifically request you to bring a soft bag. But also, it made me more mobile. However, I usually travel with around 17kgs which, compared to some, is light. For seasoned “hand luggage only” travellers it is a lot.

For long walks, in the heat or with a frozen shoulder on the way, it’s not fun (believe me!). Last year I discovered the best of both worlds & I love it!”

Here, I give you my new supercharged backpack on wheels! To me, the perfect travel bag for those of us who need plenty of anti-ageing skin cream (hence 17kgs!), like to stay mobile but not necessarily keen on those long walks. And my go-to for travel luggage has become Osprey. I use them lots & they have so far done me proud (no sponsorship, by the way, just honesty!).

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Back Pack

If you are keen on a more traditional backpack, then I would recommend the Osprey Fairview. I love that it has a detachable day bag & it has taken me many faithful miles around the world!

A Woman in shorts and with a rucksack watches a man with a machete chop a leaf from a tropical plant
Packing Cubes
Crossbody My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Packing Cubes

While we’re talking packing, again a more recent discovery is the joy of Packing Cubes. Packing cubes are the perfect travelling must-haves for a backpacking lifestyle (I swear by this basic set from Amazon). They keep all your clothes in one place. This makes everything easy to find, pack & unpack while not taking up so much space. The downside is that whenever I unpack it looks like a bomb has gone off in my bag. This is less of a problem for me, but I am sure it could be annoying for anyone I share with! But when I arrive, I like to “nest”.

I love the photos of them included here. One is me “unpacking” them into a walk-in wardrobe, the other after my stuff was ransacked by thieving baboons in Namibia!

I prefer the ones with multiple sizes & I use one for clothes, one for underwear & one for swimwear/sports gear etc.

Check out the video above for my top tips on how to pack them for maximum space-saving!

Dry Bags

Next on my list of must-have travel accessories are Dry Bags. I discovered them as essentials when I was preparing for a sailing/hiking trip, but they are so useful, they now feature on every packing list. Dry bags are perfect to keep electrical items together & protected. In addition, they are a far more eco-friendly option than zip-lock bags. As long as they are of good quality & fastened correctly, they will protect your things from getting wet.

Alternatively, they also keep your other stuff dry should you have been caught in a rainstorm or enjoyed that final dip before getting on a plane.”

Also, they can make a great little “extension” should you need to attach them to your hand luggage for a little bit of overflow packing!

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Dry Bag

I like to have multiple sizes at my disposal.


So now we have all the luggage covered, how do you keep it all secure? For this, I discovered another packing favourite, a TSA lock. Of course, you can get any lock, but the reason I love this is that there is no key to lose. I also recommend getting one (link above and below) with a slightly longer and more flexible attachment.


I recommend TSA approved, as it means you can lock up your bag in the USA & if the authorities really want to examine it, they can, without damage. In addition, the flexible loop allows several items to be locked in one. If I leave my bags in a hotel, I will lock my valuables inside, then attach my hand luggage bag in a really awkward way. Alternatively, I lock it to something immovable. A thief cannot take it all without drawing attention. The key is to make it more challenging to steal than the persons belongings in the next room. And most importantly, up until now, it has been safe.

International Adapter Plug

I used to have an array of international adapters. One for each continent, then at least 2 I needed to buy when I forgot the one I had! And nowadays everything needs to be charged & usually all at the same time. That is why I love my new International plug! It will convert to any of the major socket types (the UK, US, Australia & Europe) & accept any of them as well. In addition, it has 4 (yes 4!) USB sockets & a charging wire which can be used for both Apple & Android devices. All held in its own little case!

The only one not covered in my experience was Namibia, so be warned if you fancy heading to Africa, check before you leave which type of socket they require.”

SueWhereWhyWhat and young Baboons, N/a'ankuse, Namibia, Africa

To learn more about my adventures in Namibia, check out my post on volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary.

Power Bank

So, what about those moments when you can’t plug into a socket? That’s when you need a power bank! For me, nowadays, I often use my phone for photography & if it’s doing that, using maps & all the other apps, it drains quickly. I chose my power bank as it’s light & slimline (my previous one was neither!). It comes everywhere now, charged & tucked in the back of my backpack, ready for when I’m in desperate need.

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Travel Manicure Set

This is not how it sounds! I am not a ‘need to have a manicure even though I’m travelling’ kind of girl. However, as I’ve got older, the thought of leaving home without a pair of tweezers fills me with dread ;). Get one for yourself using this link.

 My set comes everywhere with me as it includes nail scissors, nail file & a small pair of scissors, for good measure!”

For a comprehensive list of travel websites & apps which you will also find essential, check out the post on my favourites.

Reusable Water Bottle

Never leave home without a reusable water bottle. Choose your brand (Camelbak is my favourite), choose a collapsible one, one with inbuilt filtration straw, a bladder, or anything but buying plastic bottles everywhere you go!

It has to be an essential travel must have for everyone, for eco reasons as well as hydration ones.”

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Water Bottles

Always check whether you can drink the tap water, refill at fountains where you can & in airports before flying. Do whatever is required to get water without buying plastic. 2nd lecture is over!

The next 2 are slightly less essential but can be fun items for your travels:

Everything You Need to Know to Ride & Photograph the Hogwarts Train, ScotlandTripod

If you are planning to travel solo, then having a tripod is a huge benefit! I have a Gorillapod version which has been invaluable for numerous purposes.

It bends & can therefore attach itself to anything, be it railings or your body. I wrapped it around my leg to film the Harry Potter train recently, leaving my hands free for stills!”

I have also rested it on rocks, the ground & a wall to film, mainly with my GoPro attached. If you put your phone on a timer, it is perfect for selfies & can even double up as a stand for your phone while you try & follow an exercise routine!

Click here for more on the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland & to see my handiwork.

Wireless Speaker
My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling

If you love music, then a portable speaker can bring you joy along your journey. I looked into a few but found that many were too heavy. For me, packing is all about taking up little space & being light. A small & lightweight speaker such as this one is the perfect option & my final must-have travel item.

My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling Water Bottles

I have a lot to share in the future about how to pack & many other items to take for various different types of trips. However, I felt that in this first packing post, I just wanted to limit it to those really essential things I use for travelling. I hope I have helped you to discover a few new items for your bag & add some important discoveries to your list for Santa. Planning for that big next trip is still allowed. So, let’s dream, plan & pack together in readiness!

Interested to read more?

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This post may contain affiliate links. By using these, Sue Where Why What may receive a small commission. You will not pay any extra charges for this. My opinions, reviews and recommendations remain my own. For more information see my disclosure.

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My Top 12 Essential Things to Pack for Travelling

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  1. I love the way you travel, Sue! Most of these items are my essentials, too, though I found a few great ideas here I haven’t thought of before. I carry a cross-body bag, and I am the person you used to be. “Give me a second, I’ll find it” while everyone is waiting and waiting and waiting some more for me to find anything in my magical bag as my kids used to call it. It’s magical because it holds everything, you just need patience until I find it. So, I’m thinking now, a travel wallet might be a good gift for me, too. And that international adaptor plug might have to be my next must-have. I’m bookmarking your post for my gift list ;).

    1. Thank you Emese & I love the idea of your Mary Poppins bag! Glad its not just me but I highly recommend the travel wallet & adapter plug. Safe travels, Sue x

  2. LOL, love the photo of your luggage after being ransacked by baboons. I had a similar situation in Kenya. I’ve never used packing cubes – I keep hearing about them, still not sure if it’s me or not. But apart from the cubes, our essential packing list is almost identical:)

    1. Thank you, Sarah, & I felt the same about packing cubes (when everyone tells you to use something I tend to resist!) but now I wouldn’t be without them – especially for backpacking. Sue x

  3. We too have drawers of stuff we bought for travelling that we don’t use on a regular basis. We keep them “just in case”. I too swear by a cross body bag. Bought two in different sizes for day outings and the days for longer travel between places we are staying. I looked at packing cubes initially to save space. But ultimately keep using them like you to keep myself organized. A good checklist of essential travel items. And a good gift checklist too.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Always good to see I’m not alone & glad you enjoyed my list. Safe travels, Sue x

  4. A really good list. Most of the items and gadgets you are listing are also my must-haves – apart from the manicure set. That’s the reason why I have a small collection of nail files from around the world 😀 I also have some pieces of clothing that I’m using almost exclusively when travelling – not because of the temperature but because it puts me in the travel mode. A bit like Pavlov’s dog ?

    1. Thank you, Renata & I was the same with nail files until my discovery! The manicure set was included in a Christmas present & I just found it in a drawer, now I swear by it. And I’m the same about clothes too. There’s nothing like bringing out the old faithful clothes that for some reason you never wear at home but would never travel without! Sue x

  5. I’m one of these people who love packing .. it’s like foreplay for my actual trip. And I’d be lost without my packing cubes. I like the long narrow cubes from Amazon – their own brand, they’re fabulous. When I go on short trips just taking carry-on I have a few of those to keep all my different clothes separated. Whoever invented the cube is a genius!

    1. Thank you, Jay & I agree! I used to be a last-minute packer, now I enjoy it so much I start gathering things for 2 weeks before I go ;). After this year I’m also out of practice so my next trip I expect to be a real performance! Sue x

  6. Lots of helpful packing tips in this post. I absolutely love packing cubes as it keeps things organized and compact during the trip. Such a great tip regarding using the eco-friendlier dry bags instead of zip lock bags. I hadn’t thought about packing a wireless speaker but after reading your post, will surely consider doing so for our next trip.

    1. Thank you, Aditi, & really pleased to hear you approve of my list & I’ve added a few to yours too 😉 Sue x

  7. My next travel purchase is going to be packing cubes. They have been on my radar for quite some time but I haven’t gotten around them yet.

  8. Some great ideas there! Some of them I have definitely used, for instance the Dry Bags when you are going to be on a boat. A crossbody bag is also a great idea and keeps the bag more secure when you need your hands free to do something else.

  9. I think I told you on instagram, that I have this pink travelwallet – that look like a pink undie – I love it! And can you imagine the look on the husbands face when I leave him at the table, with the wallet, and ask him to pay? 😀

    1. I love this! Thanks for sharing Ann, I think I’d be leaving all the time & getting him to pay just for fun! Sue x

  10. That is a very detailed and well-planned post. This checklist is really very useful and handy for solo as well as all road trip travelers. Good one. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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