A Retired Delta Pilot Reveals the 1 Genius Item He Never Travels Without — and You Can Get It at Amazon

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After 43+ years in flight, this pilot is sharing an illuminating travel tip.

<p>Travel + Leisure / Reese Herrington</p>

Travel + Leisure / Reese Herrington

I never really paid much attention to what my dad, a professional pilot, put in his carry-on while I was growing up … that is, until I became a professional travel writer and started realizing he might have some tips up his airline-issued sleeves. He earned his wings before I was born, flying for the United States Air Force before switching to the airlines in 1987. By the time he retired as an international captain from Delta Airlines, he had logged more than 43 years as a pilot.

During his time with the airlines, my dad taught me the importance of good travel shoes and having solid reading material on hand, but it wasn’t until I was hiking with him recently in Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park that I found out his best packing tip ever: bring a headlamp — like this Petzl Aria 2 RGB headlamp — everywhere you go.



To buy: amazon.com, $60

Why bring one? Well, for starters a headlamp is a small but mighty emergency preparedness tool, one that my dad packed for inflight as backup lighting in case the power was lost (but that can also apply to power outages at say, a hotel). And over the years, it became so useful for other things — a reading light by the hotel bed or inflight, or lighting hiking trails while keeping his hands free — that now he always travels with one and tells everyone he knows to do the same.

“I started traveling with a headlamp sometime in the last 20 years or so,” says Mitch Brown, retired international captain with Delta Airlines (a.k.a., my dad). “Back then, as pilots, we were supposed to carry backup light sources with us in the flight kit, and I always thought a headlamp was the best choice because, if we lost power, I could put it on and illuminate my gauges.”

Related: The 10 Best Headlamps of 2023

Thankfully he never had to use it inflight, but he quickly discovered many other opportunities during his travels when having a headlamp came in handy. “Generally, airplanes have decent enough reading lamps, but hotel lighting isn’t always as easy to navigate,” he explains. “Like how the lights by the bed are either just out of reach or aren’t easy to switch on or off in the middle of the night.”

His favorite travel headlamps are made specifically for hiking because they cover every scenario he’d encounter while traveling and are often at least water-resistant. The Petzl Aria 2 RGB is fully waterproof — you could wear it in the shower if you had to, but it also won’t get ruined if your liquids bag leaks.



To buy: amazon.com, $60

My dad likes that the headlamp comes with a lock function to keep the headlamp from turning on and draining its battery in transit (it uses either three AAA batteries or a CORE rechargeable battery that charges via a USB port). Plus, the headband is detachable (and washable!) and holds the plate in place as it tilts smoothly up or down to focus the light where it needs to go.

He says he likes how easy the Petzl Aria 2 RGB is to use. There is a single button that controls the levels of brightness (three white lighting levels) and color (three color options). Although the RGB (red/green/blue) settings were designed for outdoor applications, like preserving night vision, facilitating map-reading, helping to identify animal tracks, and improving visibility in water, my dad has found that the settings prove useful indoors as well.

He uses the red light to preserve his night vision while walking through his hotel room at night but likes having the option of a green light in case of emergencies (like reading an evacuation map in a hotel hallway during a natural disaster or power outage) and the option of a blue light for walking through dense fog in dim parking lots. And let’s not overlook the fact that this tiny tool is compact at ‎1.69 inches by 2.68 inches by 2.17 inches — meaning it barely makes a dent in your carry-on space.



To buy: amazon.com, $60

There’s a reason Petzl’s Aria 2 RGB headlamp doesn’t have anything less than five-star ratings at Amazon, and that’s because it’s one of the most versatile headlamps on the market. “It’s always good to have lights while traveling,” Brown adds. “I’ve been thankful to have a headlamp more times than I can count, and it’s proven useful for big events like power outages or just walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night.” He continued to say, “Being able to illuminate what I’m reading in bed without having to reach over to search for a hard-to-find lamp’s off-switch is a bonus.”

There you have it. The Petzl’s Aria 2 RGB headlamp is the pilot-approved travel essential we all need for hikes, emergency preparedness, and lighting the way hands-free, and you can grab one at Amazon right now to upgrade your travels. I guess you could say it was my dad’s bright idea.

At the time of publishing, the price started at $60. 

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