Most travelers these days put a lot of focus on their tech gear while on the road—cell phones, Wi-Fi, iPads, etc. I’d argue that my non-tech gear is just as important (if not more so) than my tech gear when I travel. After all, nothing I can plug in is going to help me avoid a crick in my neck or make my packing more efficient.

Therefore, I keep a checklist of items that have to come with me on every trip—no batteries required.

1. Neck pillow. Go ahead and hate me. I’m one of those people who fall asleep on a plane before we’ve even left the tarmac.

If I’m lucky, I can sleep through quite a bit of a flight. But if I don’t have an inflatable neck pillow at the ready, I end up getting a crick in my neck from trying to keep my chin in my hand while my elbow balances on the armrest. 

With an inflatable neck pillow, which accompanies me on any flight longer than a couple of hours, I can sleep pretty well without becoming a bobblehead, and I arrive at my destination relatively refreshed.

Compression bag

2. Compression bag. I never pack for a trip without at least one compression bag. These heavy-duty, zip-shut bags allow you to put your clothes inside, squeeze out the air, and reduce the size of your clothes by at least one-third. 

For longer trips, or when I need clothes for both warm and cool weather, I use two bags. The one caveat is that they become so firm after being compressed that you can’t pack delicate items (like electronics) in between your clothes. But the amount of space they save makes up for this shortcoming.

3. Padded packing cube. Because you’ve now basically created a brick out of your clothes, you need a way to pack your electronics so they stay safe. I use padded packing cubes from Eagle Creek. These come in numerous sizes (and colors) so you can easily keep track of which items you’ve placed where. Some have movable dividers so you can keep your items separate within the cube while others are just a large padded cube. I tend to use ones without dividers because I can pack more into them.

4. Spork. I never travel without a spork. My obsession with this combination fork/spoon comes from my habit of carrying oatmeal on all my flights. I avoid airplane food, but know that I can (almost) always get a cup of hot water. I therefore add my oatmeal—instant with walnuts and cinnamon—to that cup of water and use my spork to eat a healthy in-flight meal. (Imagine that!)


5. Eye mask. The glow from the TV screens or reading lights that are found on most flights can interrupt a good sleep. Even if your screen is turned off, your neighbor’s might still be on. Wear an eye mask (or a blindfold as the flight attendant on my most recent flight from Bali called them) and you’re most assuredly in for some good rest.

6. Vicks® VapoRub® travel tin. Someone I met on my travels suggested this as a way to combat body odor. No, not your own body odor, but that of the person sitting next to you on a flight. I couldn’t believe how brilliant an idea this was and that I hadn’t thought of it previously! Shortly after learning this trick, I was on a flight with such a person sitting next to me. I found that rubbing this a couple of times under my nose throughout the trip helped me get through what would have otherwise been an unpleasant encounter.

7. Sleep sack. These mummy sacks aren’t meant to replace a sleeping bag, but they’re great if you’re at all squeamish about possibly suspicious bedding at your lodging choice. And with outbreaks of bedbugs on the rise, these are no longer just for backpackers sleeping in hostels. 

I use one if I’m doing a homestay somewhere, which is usually at least once or twice a year. Silk is great for warm-weather travel (for me that’s Thailand and Papua New Guinea) while cotton is best for cooler weather.

Viewfinder Tip: It’s an easy thing to forget, but don’t pack items you need during the flight in your checked luggage.

8. Money organizer. These large wallets are particularly useful if you’ll be traveling to more than one country where the currency is different. A good organizer will have zippered pockets so you can separate your money, keeping euros and British pounds in different pockets, for example.

9. Luggage locks. These relatively cheap (and easy-to-carry) locks are invaluable for keeping your items safe. I use the TSA-approved locks to hold zippers together when I check my luggage and also when I leave bags in my hotel room. Let’s face it, thieves look for easy targets. If you have a luggage lock on your bag, thieves aren’t going to want to spend extra time trying to pry it off. Instead, they’ll move on to the next bag that’s easier to break into.

What’s your favorite non-tech gear to travel with?