When I first started traveling on my own, it took more than a few packing flubs to figure out what worked well on the road. I’ve overpacked for Ryanair flights, been denied entrance to Swiss Discotheques because of my clothes, and (more than once) totally forgot some basic thing like a converter or a band-aid.
Lucky for you, the team at Tortuga has spent years testing and writing about travel gear. We have more than a few favs. If you’re just beginning to ramp up your travel game and want to invest in some better gear — be it a wrinkle-free blazer or a new travel backpack — start with this list.
Whether you’re studying abroad or taking your first international trip, you’re likely still testing the waters with this whole travel thing. You’re on a budget, maybe don’t pack as light as you’d like to (yet), and don’t need the same luggage a frequent business traveler. The Setout was made with you in mind.
Unlike other backpacks, it unzips along three sides — like a suitcase — making it easy to access through your stuff. Unlike a suitcase, it’s easy to carry up several flights of stairs or wander cobblestoned streets without making a ruckus. Last, but not least, it’s carry on size so you can spend less (re: zero) money on checked baggage fees and more money enjoying your trip.
Airport and In-Flight Essentials
While no amount of travel gear (other than a pen and your smartphone) can help you navigate an airport, flights are a different story. Here are the items seasoned travelers wish they’d had as beginners:
If you’re looking for an affordable bluetooth option, look no further than the Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds. “They just plain work,” says Tortuga writer, Shawn Forno in his list of the best bluetooth headphones. Just keep in mind, most airlines haven’t caught up to the technology. While these headphones will help with personal device entertainment — which more airlines are moving towards — you won’t be able to use them for back of seat entertainment.
“The U-shaped travel neck pillow is totally useless,” claimed a recent article in The Atlantic. Fortunately, the Trtl Soft Neck Support Pillow is designed with the U-shaped pillow’s flaws in mind; it actually supports your head as you sleep. Still prefer a U-shaped pillow? No worries, there are a few good ones out there. Find them in our list of travel pillows and in-flight accessories.
Choosing multi-purpose gear is key to packing light — which is why I love blanket scarves, for keeping warm on planes or wandering around town. Zara almost always has a solid line of options.
No matter where you’re off to, you’ll need a water bottle — and that water bottle may not be the same one you use at home.
For most adventures, we recommend one of the Vapur collapsible water bottles. They’re especially nice for times when your water bottle isn’t full (like going through airport security).
If you’re going somewhere where you need to filter your own water, the Grayl Ultralight Purifier is what you need. Check out the full list of travel water bottles.
The Best Travel Clothing
While you can build a functional and stylish travel wardrobe from your closet, sometimes you just need a piece of clothing built for travel. These brands keep the needs of travelers in mind.
“The Bluffworks tailored fit chinos might be the best pair of pants I’ve ever worn—travel pants or otherwise,” says Tortuga writer Shawn Forno. They’re fitted, stylish, and durable — everything you need from a good pair of travel pants.
“If the price tag is a little high,” Shawn advises, “just remember that quality gear pays for itself over time.” But if you’re on the fence, take a look at the rest of his travel pants suggestions.
We love these shorts because they’re a stylish hybrid between streetwear and swimwear; a two-for-one if you will. Also, “they’re incredibly comfortable,” says Shawn.
Not your style? (Not a dude?) Check out the full list of travel swimsuit recommendations.
Traditional blazers and suit jackets can be a huge pain to travel with. The Bluffworks Gramercy Travel Blazer, however, is not that blazer. “This wrinkle-free travel blazer fits great, looks awesome, with all the right stretch and give to take everything from airport lounges to after hour raves,” says Shawn. Also, it’s machine washable.
“Don’t show the world your underwear,” says writer Emily Gaudette. “Buy a pair of black leggings meant for athletics, and you can throw them on under a skirt or dress if it gets cold, or wear them to bed.” Whatever side of the leggings-as-pants debate you’re on, you have to admit: they’re versatile.
Down jackets are the way to go for travel. “If you want to take your winter jacket to the limit, the even slimmer Patagonia Nano Puff travel jacket ($200) is the way to go,” says Shawn.
Beginners not ready to invest $200 in a coat should consider the Craghoppers Compresslite Jacket ($65). It’s “a great entry level, easy to pack winter jacket.” For more, peruse all of the best winter jackets for travel.
Hands down the best containers for your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and other liquids are the ones by GoToob. They’re easy to fill, clean, and use. Seriously, there isn’t even a link to other options for this piece of travel gear. This is it. You found it.
Best Travel Gadgets and Electronics
To pack lightly, you should always try to limit your electronics. Especially since many electronics serve multiple purposes. Can you get away with just your iPhone as your camera instead of bringing both? Electronics are an easy place to cut back. Still, a couple of our go-tos:
Anker PowerCore 20100 ($40)
The Anker PowerCore 20100, “Holds a ton of juice, and continues to demonstrate reliability after being put through some rough conditions.” It’s also pretty lightweight — all great features for an external battery pack.
Your Phone, Unlocked
It doesn’t matter what provider you have, they will all unlock your phone for international usage for you — if it doesn’t already come that way. Once in a new country, swap out your SIM card for a local one.
Alternatively, you could get on T-Mobile International Plan, which covers 140+ countries (most other international cell phone plans are a rip off).
Other Travel Accessories
While different destinations warrant different wallet needs, the Nomatics BASIC Minimalist Travel Wallet works well for most. It gives you easy access to your card, has a stash pouch for small things (like your Airbnb key. It ranks high on our list of the best travel wallets.
Looking for a travel towel? Whether you’re staying in hostels or plan to spend time by the beach, travel towels can come in handy. Whatever you do, though, don’t pack a normal bath towel: they take up way more space than they need to. Instead, opt for a micro-fiber towel like the REI multi-towel.
If the REI multi-towel doesn’t work out for you, writer Stacey Ebert has plenty more towel recommendations and shopping tips.
While most of the items you already own will do just fine for most trips, there are a couple of pieces of gear you should invest in as your starting out. Your luggage will be the most important (and biggest) investment — so choose something that can meet all of your diverse travel needs, like the Setout. Other items to look into:
- Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds ($26)
- Trtl Soft Neck Support Pillow ($30)
- Flight001’s eye masks ($16)
- Blanket scarf from Zara ($30)
- Vapur water bottle ($14) or Grayl ($60) water bottle
- Toms and Sperry’s for shoes
- Patagonia Men’s Stretch All-Wear Hybrid Shorts ($69) as a swimsuit
- Bluffworks Tailored Fit Chino ($125) for pants
- Bluffworks Gramercy (Slim Fit) Travel Blazer ($295)
- Nike, Athleta, or Lululemon leggings for women
- Smartwool socks
- Uniqlo and Smartwool for layering clothes
- Patagonia Nano Puff travel jacket ($200) or Craghoppers Compresslite Jacket ($65)
- GoToob Travel Bottle ($3+) for toiletries
- Dr. Bronner’s as your 18-in-1 shampoo, body wash, and more
- Converter: Apple’s World Traveler Kit ($34)
- Portable Charger: Anker PowerCore 20100 ($40)
- Canon EOS Rebel or Nikon D3400 for camera
- Nomatics BASIC Minimalist Travel Wallet ($20)
- REI multi towel ($10)
Next up: learn how to pack a carry on
Want more like this?
Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.