Modern humans love a packing list. Maybe it’s down to our natural inclination to believe in the quest narrative: If we’re embarking on a long journey, we want to be prepared along the way—whether it’s with camels and blankets or wet wipes and an extra phone battery.
But I’m beginning to think we’ve been getting the packing lists all wrong. Maybe the trick is not to keep a list of things to pack, but rather, a list of things to never unpack. These are the things that may be easy to find at home, but if you’re caught without them, result in a far grimmer, less comfortable, or monumentally boring flying experience. Or even worse: They’ll mean you spend your first night in your destination trying to find a 24 hour chemist. Don’t be that traveler. Go forth and pack these things—and then never unpack them.
A really, really good moisturizer
Okay sure, most people include moisturizer as part of their regular packing routine. But traveling can take an unusual toll on your skin, so sometimes your usual moisturizing routine doesn’t quite cut it. Plus, there’s something quite nice about using a more premium version of an everyday product when you’re traveling. I, for one, am fond of Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer. You could also go for Clinique’s Moisture Surge. Both are readily available in Duty Free.
All the cables and plugs
It’s true that remembering to pack the right assortment of cables and chargers can be a challenge even when you’re heading across town to the office. But when traveling, time is short and Amazon Prime is a less viable option, so making sure you’re set up for every eventuality is key. So buy a set of spares, put them in a zipper pouch in your carry-on, and revel in knowing you’ll always be plugged in.
- USB cable (an extra-long one, like this from Anker, is nice for strangely-configured hotel rooms)
- A universal adapter (one with USB plugs, so it doubles as a phone or device charger)
- A pair of earbuds with a regular headphone jack, because AirPods (or Apple’s Lightning connection earphones) won’t help you with in-flight entertainment
- A mobile battery pack, such as those from Mophie
- A game-changer for frequent international fliers: Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit.
A low-key, lightweight pharmacy
It’s true that every country in the world probably has over-the-counter painkillers, but when you have a splitting headache at 1am, finding those painkillers is another matter. Stock a basic first-aid kit with the things below that will eliminate a confusing trip to a pharmacy to find what you urgently need (unless it’s for buying exotic skincare products, which is a worthwhile hobby in itself).
- A painkiller like ibuprofen (Advil)
- A fast-acting antacid like Maalox or Tums
- An anti-diarrheal like loperamide (Imodium)
- Antibacterial ointment + bandages
- An antihistamine
- A sleep aid like melatonin (along with some ear plugs)
It’s surprising how often having another bag in your bag comes in handy. Maybe you use it for laundry, buying groceries abroad, an impromptu trip to the beach, or to stow your laptop on a quick trip to the cafe. These are all times where it might be inconvenient or overkill to tote around a proper carry-on bag. I tend to roll up and stash a tote bag which doubles as a laptop bag when I arrive, but nylon zipper bags, or super lightweight backpacks are always a good stand-by. Baggu and Muji both have good options
A stowable jacket
Here is a universal truth about commercial air travel: The temperature at your point of origin or arrival has no bearing on the temperature of the cabin. (And you can no longer count on complimentary in-cabin blankets to warm you up, either). That’s why it’s helpful to always travel with some form of warmth, that packs down to nothing so you can forget about until the very moment you need it. A lightweight down option (like the ones sold by Uniqlo) isn’t going to be your main shield against the elements, but by never removing it from your carry-on you will always be equipped with the minimum level of preparation.