The items that should always be in your carry-on, according to travel experts

When packing for a trip, you may be tempted to pack as many items as possible that you use in your daily life — and then some. After all, who knows if you’ll go dancing, so you’d better pack your new shoes, and when you can’t decide between which pair of jeans to bring, you pack them both. And, it may rain, so why not pack your parka, too? But, chances are, no matter the circumstances you probably have one item you cannot travel without.

Regardless, as more and more airlines tack on baggage fees, you may choose to pack light and leave certain items behind. “My advice is to take fewer items than you think you need,” Don Chernoff, president of SkyRoll Luggage Company, said in an email. “You can wear things more than once, you can do laundry and you can buy almost anything else while on your trip.” He said that people also tend to pack way too much stuff. “A carry-on bag is all you ever need,” he added. “Also, synthetics that dry quickly are best; avoid cotton if you can, as it takes a long time to dry.”

So, when all is said and packed, what’s the item you have to bring with you when traveling? Here, we interviewed 26 travel experts via email and they revealed their must-haves.

Some experts say all you need to travel with is a carry-on bag.

1. Travel insurance

“The one thing that I always bring traveling overseas is a travel insurance policy. … Regardless of age, having travel insurance that covers at least medical expenses and evacuation is pretty much essential. A few years back, my sister’s arm was brushed by a minibus in Mozambique while the driver was trying to avoid potholes. She had an X-ray at the local hospital, but because the gear was so outdated, it didn’t pick up a fracture. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, in Hong Kong, where the fracture was discovered. Her travel insurance paid for all the medical costs and a business class seat home; it’s about providing peace of mind in case the unlikely does happen. I personally don’t care about insurance for items, as they’re easily replaced — but you can’t replace your health if it’s compromised! If you can afford to travel, you can afford travel insurance!” —Anthony Bianco, founder of The Travel Tart

2. Universal adapter

“A universal adapter is number one, so I can use it all around the world.” —Anna Paniagua, founder of LaTravelista.com

3. Power bank

“We live in an age when our mobile phone is our most treasured and important asset; without it, we lose access to important details, such as maps, notes and our emergency contacts. However, keeping our phones charged when we travel is challenging, especially when we travel for long periods and to remote destinations. Because of this, I never travel without a good power bank to keep my phone charged while I’m on the move. When shopping for one, make sure you focus on buying one which has the capacity to fully charge your phone multiple times rather than buying one which is pocket-sized; as long as the power bank fits in your bag, it will be easy to travel with.” — Chris Wain, a sales director at Africa Travel

4. PowerCube

“As a travel blogger, I bring a lot of tech equipment on trips — two smartphones, a drone, stabilizer, GoPro, laptop, power banks, pocket WiFi devices, etc., all of which have to be recharged at the end of the day. But you’d be surprised by how many hotels have just one or two outlets! I used to stay up way later than I wanted to just so I could plug that last gadget in, until I started bringing along the Allocacoc PowerCube. The one I have has four outlets and two USB ports, so I can charge six gadgets at once. It’s been a huge timesaver for me and something I would never go anywhere without.” —JB Macatulad, founder of Will Fly for Food

5. All-in-one combo utensil

“The travel product that I bring along on every trip is an all-in-one combo utensil (a fork, spoon and knife, all-in-one). … I use it for myself and my dogs. The utensils are great for road trips, scooping out dog food or for serving impromptu dog meals in airports. (I always use them for peanut butter and yogurt, or for dining in a rush.) They’re lightweight and super easy to pack — just throw one in a bag or purse. You never know when you’ll need a utensil!” —Candy Pilar Godoy, founder of the pet travel blog BoogieThePug.com

A resistance band can help you work out when you’re traveling.

6. Resistance band

“A resistance band is great to travel with. It’s difficult to find a gym on vacation, so instead, you can do workouts from whatever hotel room or accommodation you are staying in. Even if you’re doing a road trip, with a resistance band, when you pull over to stretch, you can turn it into a mini workout. The best part is, they’re so easy to pack.” —Sadakat Hossain, a community manager at GAFFL, a travel buddy web app

7. Binder clips

“I always carry binder clips, the office supply item that is usually used for securing stacks of papers. They pin up clothes for drying, pinch bags of travel snacks tight, temporarily (or longer!) repair a torn hem or busted luggage strap, hold electronic cords neatly, tightly close shower curtains and, of course, keep all my papers organized. They do anything that duct tape, clothespins, those Baggie clip thingies or safety pins do — and more.” —Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva

8. Hand sanitizer

“I know it’s not glamorous, but hand sanitizer is essential when you’re traveling and don’t have access to soap and water — let’s say you trip and catch your fall, you accidentally touch something gross that rubs off onto your hands or maybe your destination is just unsanitary as a whole! … You’ll be thankful that you brought such a simple, yet overlooked, item with you.” —Michael Ryan Anderson, founder of PassportExplored.com

9. Rubbing alcohol

“The one item I always bring when I travel is a purse-sized spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol. It be used for: sanitizing hands, spraying and wiping down surfaces before eating and even for cleaning public toilets before using them.” —Tangela Walker-Craft, founder of Simply Necessary, Inc.

10. Saline eye drops

“As a tour leader, I travel a lot, and the one thing I never leave home without is simple saline eye drops in the smallest container I can buy. After a long flight, a day in meetings or a day out seeing the sites, it is remarkable how squeezing a few drops in your eyes refreshes you and even improves your appearance. It’s so easy to pack and have with you!” —Patricia Hajifotiou, owner of The Olive Odysseys

11. Noise-cancelling headphones

“I always fly with noise-cancelling headphones; they greatly reduce fatigue, especially on long overseas flights. Until you wear them, you don’t realize how much all the engine and wind noise tires you out.” —Don Chernoff, president, SkyRoll Luggage Company

Dry shampoo is a convenient item to travel with, especially when water is scarce.

12. Dry shampoo

“The travel item I always take along is dry shampoo; it’s one of the best kept secrets and a travel must-have! … This will minimize the time you spend getting ready and maximize the precious time you can spend exploring and engaging with locals. Plus, in areas where water is scarce and you need to conserve and stretch out the time in between showers (or bucket baths), it’s especially useful. And if your face is feeling extra oily, you can put a dash of the powdered dry shampoo on your face to reduce the stickiness and shine.” —Jordan Bishop, founder of Yore Oyster

13. Reusable water bottle

“I love to bring a reusable water bottle when I am traveling and one of my favorites is the Hydro Flask (which keeps cold liquids cool for up to 24 hours). … We all know how important hydration is while flying (and your skin will thank you). Plus, by using a reusable water bottle, you’re also doing your part to help cut down on plastic use.” —Louise Canton, Asia travel expert at Scott Dunn

14. Water purifier

“We all want to travel the world and stay healthy and safe while minimizing our impact on the places we visit as much as possible. With this in mind, the one item that I always travel with is a water purifier. That way, I have a water bottle with fresh, clean water at all times and without having to use single-use plastic bottles. It’s a win-win and, for me, the must-have travel item. I recommend the GRAYL water purifiers, but there are several good ones available.” —Glenn Murray-Prior, founder of ACTION CULTURE, an adventure travel agency

15. Foldable bag

“I always pack a foldable bag that packs flat because I need the extra space, whether it’s an item of clothing or souvenirs. Paravel has a great one, but my favorite is the Longchamp Le Pliage foldable luggage.” —Erina Pindar, managing director of SmartFlyer

16. Small ergonomic travel pillow

“Both at home and when I travel, I use a small ergonomic travel pillow to guarantee a good night’s sleep. Since every hotel pillow is different, I take my pillow wherever I go. It rolls up, and when I am on flights, I often lean on it, too.” —Carrie McDougall, founder of Cultural Crossroads

Travel pillows and sleep masks can help you be more comfortable on your trip.

17. Sleep mask

“If you are sleeping in a hostel dorm room with others, then leaving the light on isn’t a problem when you are wearing a sleep mask; you can have an early night and not be disturbed. You can also use it for night buses, overnight trains, flights or even during the day if you are feeing weary from traveling.” —Lisa Imogen Eldridge, founder of Girl about the Globe

18. Cashmere wrap

“Now that I’m retired, I travel about half the year for long periods of time in multiple climates and seasons. My must-take item is an oversized cashmere travel wrap, at least 85 inches. I use it as a wrap, blanket, barrier between me and sheets if I don’t like the bed linens, scarf and extra layer using one side on the front around my neck and down my back. I have several different colors. … and use my wrap nearly every day in one way or another. It’s kept me warm as I walked the windy streets and alleys of little Isola Magdalena in Sardinia and I snuggled up in it with a great book in a chalet in Switzerland.” —Pattie Haubner, @30secondvacation

19. Croc CitiLane shoes

“My must-have travel item when I go on road trips, international adventures or even city escapes are my Croc CitiLane shoes. They’re my go-to tennis shoe for traveling because they are springy, easy to clean and look like a regular tennis shoe so they can go with any outfit. I like them so much I have them in brown and in white. They are perfect for the traveler that wants to walk all day and not look like they are hiking in the wilderness.” —Bianca Karina, travel blogger at Biancakarina.com

20. The Point it: Traveller’s Language Kit book

“The Point it: Traveller’s Language Kit pocket-sized book was a godsend when I traveled to non-English speaking countries, such as China. … When I needed to find a restroom, all I had to do was flip open the book to a photo of a toilet and point to it. The book is as small as your hand, making it compact and easy to carry around in your pocket. It ranges from photos of food to transportation, maps and more.” —Trang Pham-Nguyen, founder of Travel With Trang

21. iPod Touch

“My iPod Touch has been an invaluable tool for me as I travel the globe — I essentially have 10 pounds of travel tools in a device that is featherlight and fits in the palm of my hand. I wouldn’t travel without it; it has everything from travel apps and currency calculators to Google Translate and communication tools, such as Skype and FaceTime. … I also use the installed tools to work on freelance writing projects, then easily convert them into file formats my clients can read. … Best of all, I never get unexpected overage or roaming charges and the iPod Touch is cheaper than an iPhone. If I want to travel light, I can leave both my laptop and phone at home.” —Charish Badzinski, travel blogger at RollerbagGoddess.com

Duct tape can be used as a quick fix when you’re traveling.

22. Duct tape

“I always travel with duct tape — and so should you. It’s a quick fix for everything that might get broken during your travels, from shoes to camera bags and backpack strings, or even car parts. It prevents leaks in your liquids: I tape my perfumes, toners, shampoos and other cosmetics before air travel. I’ve also taped poorly constructed and leaking windows in Africa and Asia to keep warm on chilly nights. I’m currently traveling in Namibia, where I’ve used duct tape to fix broken tent poles and a car navigator holder. (Here in Africa, even car windows are duct taped after a crash, sometimes so well that there doesn’t need to be a reason to change windows at all.)” —Niina Lehikoinen, founder of BizarreGlobeHopper.com

23. Small fan

“I’m a full-time traveling musician, staying at a mix of hotels and friends’ places. … The one thing I must have on the road is a small fan. I’m a light sleeper, and any small noise (or dead silence for that matter) will keep me awake. I turn on the fan and go right to sleep, generally never disturbed by anything.” —Mark Rust, traveling musician

24. Trail Wallet app

“One item I must bring along when I travel: My phone with the Trail Wallet app, which helps me stay on a budget, so I am fully aware of my costs and know when to splurge and when to save a bit of money. I have been traveling full-time for three years with my partner, Anna, and the app is one reason we have our finances under control.” —Matt Kiefer, co-founder of Hostelgeeks

25. Credit card

“I assist people with their travel plans every day. … When you travel, you must have a major credit card (not a debit card). You’ll need it if you have an emergency overseas and need to return to the states immediately.” —Mary Barrett, Cruise Brothers independent travel advisor

26. Door lock

“I recommend traveling with a door lock, like this one by Addalock. This is so: no one with a key walks into your room while you are sleeping; you can secure your things inside your room while you are away; you can lock people out of the lavatory while you are using it; and, mostly, so you feel secure.” —Sheryl Hill, CEO of DepartSmart.or