While the contents of your suitcase may look quite different if you're headed to Alaska in winter versus a final summer getaway on the Mediterranean, there are some essentials you will want to have no matter where your next travels take you. Take a look at these five items to keep in your luggage at all times so your bags will be ready to go for any last-minute adventures.
This may seem obvious, but packing is so much easier if you don't have to spend the final moments before your departure filling three-ounce bottles from the larger ones in your shower, and then cleaning up the inevitable mess. Have a quart-sized bag ready to go with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap, contact solution, and whatever else you use so you won't be scrambling at the last minute or dependent on the hotel's offerings. Pro tip: find travel-sized bottles with lids that screw on instead of flipping up, and you won't have to worry about leaks.
Other items to keep in your toiletries bag? Deodorant, lip balm, safety pins, ibuprofen, and nail scissors. The latter can be useful in a variety of situations, from their intended purpose to snipping the tags off a new top that you want to wear to dinner. If you know how to use them, a needle and thread can be handy to keep in this bag as well.
Reusable Water Bottle
Irritability is the first sign of dehydration. Fortunately, there's a simple solution to ensuring good spirits while traveling: bringing your own water bottle. You can use a collapsible one that folds up into your suitcase when you're not using it, or you can find one that clips to the outside of your bag to leave maximum space for all your other essentials. Fill it up whenever you have the chance, and you'll never be caught thirsty — or grouchy.
Not only will you be doing your traveling companions a favor, but you'll also save money by not having to buy bottled water, and you'll be taking a key step towards staying healthy while traveling. You can even get a water bottle with a built-in filter if there are any concerns regarding the tap water where you're headed. No matter which kind you have, just be sure to empty it before going through security.
Odds are good that wherever you go, you'll be spending more time outside while traveling than you do otherwise. Whether you're exploring a city, hiking, or just getting some much needed rest and relaxation poolside, make sure you are protecting your skin appropriately. Keep a small bottle of sunscreen in your carry-on bag so you won't be tempted to go without it when you arrive. Depending on the length of your trip and how much skin you'll be exposing — think swimsuit versus long sleeves and pants — bring a larger bottle in your checked bag.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above. They also note that using sunscreen is especially important if you are going to be around water, sand, or snow, as all of these surfaces reflect the sun's rays.
On this note, if you are at all inclined to wear hats, having one along is another great way to provide some extra sun protection to your face. You'll also be prepared for the day when you want to head out for coffee before showering, or if you just overslept and want to cover your bedhead.
A plastic bag, such as one from a store, or even a giant Ziploc, takes up essentially no room in your suitcase but offers a myriad of uses. You can use it for dirty laundry to keep it separate from your clean clothes, or you can use it for wet swimsuits, rain-soaked clothing, or items you washed out in the hotel sink that didn't have a chance to fully dry before check out.
You can also use a plastic bag as additional protection around fragile souvenirs. If you're traveling by car, keep an extra one tucked in a seat pocket or hanging from the back of a headrest for an easy way to keep all your trash in one place.
Bonus: A reusable cloth bag can also be a great item to have along. Like a plastic bag, it takes up very little room, but its sturdiness can be especially convenient if you are backpacking or are otherwise limited on space. It doubles as a purse, and you can use it for day trips or beach visits when you don't want to bring an entire backpack along.
Plus, if you pack your suitcase until not an inch of space is wasted, an extra bag can save you from having to repeat this feat of engineering every time you change hotels: just toss whatever items don't easily fit — or whichever ones you might want to access more easily in transit — into the reusable bag, and you're good to go.
Even if you're going to the Caribbean, you will want to have some kind of extra layer along. Weather can always be unpredictable or your plans may change, and you don't want a lack of preparedness to prevent your full enjoyment of your destination. Maybe that just means a hoodie for the airplane, or a feather-light rain jacket to protect against an unexpected tropical storm — either way, you'll be glad to have something warmer when the need arises.
There are plenty of jacket options out there that can easily be strapped to the outside of a backpack or that fold up into themselves to take up minimal room in your bag, with maximum benefits when you need it.