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I've flown over 30,000 miles in the past year — these are the 9 things I always pack

travel pillow, packing cubes, compression socks, tote, cleaning wipes
I never leave town without these travel essentials. (Photos, clockwise from bottom left: Amazon (4); L.L. Bean)

Packing can be one of the trickier parts of traveling, but as someone who's flown over 30,000 miles in the past 12 months across Europe, Africa and the United States, I’d like to think I’ve got it down to a science. Sure, clothing and accessories choices vary by locale, but I’ve found there are certain items that I pack every single time I pull out my suitcase, whether it's a two-week trip to Morocco or a quick weekend away in Vermont.

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From items that make packing a breeze to in-flight essentials that make my journey more comfortable, here are the nine items that always made my packing list this year. Shop them for yourself before your next trip — trust me, you’ll want them in your carry-on!

I love the Trtl pillow because it takes up so much less space in my bag than other brands I’ve tried in the past. The innovative accessory works similarly to a neck brace and keeps my head upright as I sleep to prevent my neck from hurting. It's padded with foam cushioning for extra comfort and the fleece material is soft and cozy against my skin.

$60 at Amazon

After many years of trial and error, I think I finally found the perfect-sized travel bag in the medium L.L. Bean Boat and Tote. I use it every time I travel because it holds all my essentials (including a full-size laptop) and fits perfectly beneath the seat on the plane. While there are open-top versions, I prefer the zippered option so I don’t have to worry about my stuff falling out. You can even customize the bag with initials or a fun phrase — mine says “Yikes.”

$45 at L.L. Bean

If you’ve ever had your phone die while traveling, you don't want a rerun of that experience. A portable charger is the solution. This tiny iWalk barely takes up any space in my tote, plus it has pass-through technology so you can recharge the device and your phone at the same time.

$26 at Amazon

These handy cubes have a hidden compression zipper that streamlines them from four inches to one. I’ve been able to pack enough clothes for a two-week trip into my carry-on, thanks to these. And they keep me organized too. Each cube has a mesh panel on the top, which lets me peek at what’s inside without having to open them all.

$46 at Amazon

As someone who gets a lot of blisters, I always have a first aid kit stocked in my suitcase. This compact version comes with just about everything you may need while away from home including bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze, safety pins, tweezers and more. The first aid pouch is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it's super lightweight, despite holding over 100 supplies.

$16 at Amazon

Even prior to Covid-19, I always had Lysol wipes packed in my carry-on so I could disinfect my seat after boarding on the plane. The wipes kill up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, so it gives me a bit more peace of mind getting on a crowded plane. These travel-size packs come with 15 wipes each and barely take up any space. 

$6 at Amazon

Another must for me: compression socks. These boast a compression of 20-30mmHg, which helps increase blood flow to alleviate swelling and leg pain. The moisture-wicking fabric keeps my feet nice and dry, and they stay in place even during long overnight flights, so there’s no need to constantly pull them up.

$21 at Amazon

An oversized scarf has always been one of my go-to travel essentials. Not only do I use it as a scarf or shawl once I arrive, but I use it as a blanket in-flight to keep warm on the chilly plane. I normally bring a soft gray Zara scarf but that’s seen better days after years of travel, so I'm upgrading to this buttery wrap for my next trip.

$44 at Amazon

I can’t sleep without a mask even at home, so packing one for travel is a must. This mask is cushioned for the ultimate comfort and features a contoured design inside that prevents my lashes from rubbing uncomfortably up against it. The mask's adjustable strap allows me to find my perfect fit, and it completely blocks out light on the plane, making it easy to fall asleep.

$9 at Target