We have been travelling independently for almost 30 years, 15 of those years with kids. Backpacking, long term family travel, expat living, ski trips, short weekend getaways, annual holidays, camping trips – every type of trip pretty much.
And while each trip has unique needs (and possibly a different packing list), there are some travel accessories that become travel essentials. Travel gear we don’t go travelling without.
So apart from all the regular travel gear we carry we have 14 must have travel accessories we cannot live without when we travel. We think these items are travel essentials and worth adding to every travel packing list.
Our Travel Essentials
As a family we travel with backpacks. We find them easy to get around with and compact enough to fit anywhere. With only 4 backpacks space is precious.
So when we are planning what things to pack when traveling, every item on the packing list has to be super valuable.
When we traveled around the world for 12 months with kids, if travel gear didn’t get used, we sent it home or gave it away.
So rest assured, the travel essentials listed here are recommended because we personally use them, love them and think they make travel easier.
And while we have two older kids, most of the items on this list will be relevant to any traveller regardless of the number of extra people you travel with!
1. Packing cubes
These small lightweight storage bags have changed our life (no kidding).
If there is only one thing you buy for your next trip, buy packing cubes.
Packing cubes (also known as packing cells) have made packing, finding and storing clothes for a family of four so much easier.
And I can confidently say we will never travel without packing cubes again! To make it even easier, have a different colour set for each family member.
So how do we use them? In a small packing cell we pack underwear, socks, swimwear and hat.
In a medium packing cell we pack T-shirts, pants, shorts and jumpers.
And another tip – roll your clothes. It saves SO MUCH space and helps avoid nasty crease lines.
What makes Packing Cubes so great?
- You can fit a lot in them
- They keep everyone’s clothes separate and easy to find
- It is much easier for the kids to manage their own clothes
- It is much easier to pack and unpack cells into a backpack than ferret around the pack looking for items.
Our tips for purchasing packing cubes
- Try and check the quality of the zips (read the reviews) to make sure they are going to last
- We like the cubes with mesh on the top so you can see the contents inside
- Take advantage of different sizes and colours for different family members
- Don’t get them too big unless you have a super big suitcase.
It is also worth noting that packing cells are not only great for clothes.
They are also great for keeping all the random travel items together (you know, all those little annoying things you travel with – sewing kit, head torch, duct tape, pens).
We also use one to store our medications together and one for the kids for pens, pencils and card games.
2. USB multi-port charger and portable power bank
I know, this is two things, but they basically do the same thing!
Smartphones, kindles and tablets are great for travelling but keeping them all charged can be a challenge.
So having a good quality USB multi-port charger and portable power bank is essential.
We use our phones a lot when we travel. Looking up directions, booking accommodation, tracking costs and researching activities on the go.
It is pretty annoying when you are out sightseeing for the day and your phone dies before you have navigated your way home (at least for those of us not so good at remembering the way home)!
We love our Mi Power Bank 16000mAh with 2 ports. It can charge two devices at once and can even keep a tablet running while in use.
Unfortunately it is no longer available but the Anker 335 Powerbank has even more capacity, more charges and faster charging.CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON
Also essential is our USB multi-port charger for charging all your devices overnight.
The Anker 60W 6-Port USB Wall Charger is a great option.
With 6 ports we can charge everything together overnight. Easy.
Typically we set this up when we arrive at our accommodation so everyone can charge their various devices at the hotel or hostel.
Online access is an essential part of traveling.
We use the internet all the time when we travel, but we aren’t so excited by the prospect of others stealing our personal information when we are online.
Many hotels and cafes offer free wi-fi, but using these networks can be risky.
They are often open networks or have generic passwords that are not changed so are not very secure.
And if you need to log in to your bank account, transfer money or pay bills, you want to know that your information will be protected online when making these transactions.
You can achieve all this with a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN establishes a secure connection and gives you online privacy.
We use NordVPN to protect our personal information and data when we travel.
By signing into our NordVPN account we are able to use any open wi-fi network with peace of mind that our information is secure.
We think a VPN has become a must have travel item for anyone using free wi-fi connections and NordVPN offer one of the most extensive VPN networks worldwide.
4. Pocket knife
We travelled with the same pocket knife for over 20 years before it was confiscated at airport security in Cambodia in a silly not-thinking moment.
It felt like we were losing a family member when we handed it over!
So what do we a pocket knife for? Everything! It is one of our best travel accessories.
It comes along when we go hiking, when we sightsee in cities (for picnics in the park). It is used in our campervans to fix stuff, and by the kids to do craft.
It is great for when you need to whittle a stick by the campfire or shape one to fit in a leaky fuel tank! Seriously, its uses are endless.
There are a million different styles, but we think the Swiss Army Fieldmaster is still the best for travellers.
With scissors, knife, can opener, bottle opener, screwdriver and cork opener there is nothing it can’t do for the average traveller.
It also makes a great gift for kids who love to travel.
The pocket knife is one of our most valuable travel items. Just don’t forget to take it out of your hand luggage before you fly.
5. Olympus OM-D E-M10
A digital camera is probably a contentious inclusion in the age of top of the range smartphones.
But we are in love with our Olympus OM-D E-M10 and still take it away with us.
We used to travel with a Nikon DSLR but we found we used it less and less when traveling due to the bulky size.
We love the lightweight and compact size of the Olympus OM-D and the photo quality is great.
We now travel with a fixed lens and zoom lens and find this suits most of our amateur travel photography needs.
We store the camera in a compact little bag by Hakuba we bought in Tokyo which is easy to fit in a daypack and does a great job protecting the camera and lenses.
Although, at a pinch we will often wrap it in a jumper and put it in my handbag when going out – it is that small.
In addition to the camera we travel with a Transcend USB 3.0 SD Card Reader to transfer the photos quickly and easily to our laptop.
Taking out the SD card from the camera and using a card reader is WAY faster than using a USB cable connected to the camera.
Don’t forget to regularly transfer photos off the camera and back them up to the cloud to keep them safe.
Also, do yourself a favour and get a BlackRapid Breathe Street Camera Strap which makes carrying a camera a million times more comfortable than a standard neck strap.
When not in use the camera hangs discretely on your hip and you can quickly and easily slide it up to take photos. Go get one. You won’t regret it. Click here to check the price.
Kids (and adults) don’t need a lot of games or toys when they travel.
But, it is always good to have a couple handy for when you are waiting in airports, on trains or for rainy days.
We have tried many different games and our favorites have changed as the kids have got older.
Card games are great as they are lightweight and compact.
We also love Skip-Bo but it requires more space which we don’t always have.
Bananagrams has the advantage of being pretty fun for adults too!
We always have at least one of these games in our backpacks when we travel.
7. Kindle Paperwhite
I resisted purchasing a kindle e-reader for many years.
This may sound old fashioned, but I love the feel of a book in my hands and I didn’t want to give that up.
The problem though with books when travelling is their weight and availability.
We travelled to many non-english speaking countries on our trip around the world but:
- If we were lucky enough to find english books at our accommodation they were rarely suitable for the kids.
- If we found a bookstore with english books they were hideously expensive.
We generally take a kindle each now and have family share set up to get the most out of each book purchase.
So kindles have become our friend and we list them in our RV Gifts Guide too as a top gift idea for travelers.
8. Bluetooth speaker
We love our music and we value having a good quality device to play music when we travel.
Whether we are in the car, at the pool, at the beach or at the hotel, a bluetooth speaker has become a must have travel accessory.
We used to recommend the Ultimate Ears Round Waterproof Speaker as it is small and easy to pack, but they no longer make this version.
So now we also have the Wonderboom 3.
It is also small, has great sound quality, can be hung up and even thrown in the pool.
It gets plenty of use on a trip like:
- The kids love choosing songs from their playlists when we are on a roadtrip to pass time in the car
- When we travel in a campervan it is fun to play music in the afternoon when everyone is chilling out.
- A bluetooth connection to our phone and a Spotify membership means we have easy access to our favourite music whenever we are away.
The UE Wonderboom 3 is great for kids and perfect for travelling.
I was doubtful we would need these and it really does depend on your style of travel.
During our 12 month trip around the world we often stayed in cheap hotels, hostels and campervans. They got a lot of use.
We have used cotton ones in the past, but I love our current lightweight and compact cocoon silk travel sheets.
The silk sleepsheets are surprisingly robust, dry super fast after washing and take away any worries about bed cleanliness.
Where We Used Sleepsheets:
- Cheap hotels in India and Asia where bedding looked a little dodge;
- Africa as our only bedding when we rented a 4wd camper;
- USA in our Jucy camper for extra warmth as a liner in our sleeping bags.
I particularly like ours as they have an integrated silk pillowcase, a larger opening at the top (so you don’t feel too restricted) and a generous width all the way to the feet.
They also have a section to cover your pillow which is great.
10. Pacsafe lockable bag
Over the years we have tried many methods for protecting our valuables:
- We have used money belts (hate them)
- Lugged our valuable stuff in a day pack when going out (annoying and heavy)
- Stashed valuables away in our room and hoped for the best (risky).
Most budget places we tend to stay don’t have safes in the rooms so we need an option for securing our valuables.
The Pacsafe Travelsafe Portable Safe has solved this problem for us.
We chose the 12 litre bag but it comes in a 5L and 3L option too.
To give you an idea, we can fit our laptop, ipad, spare cash, camera, passports, valuable documents, 2 kindles and 4 smartphones in the 12L bag. That is a lot of stuff!
When do we use it?
When we go out we lock the bag to a permanent fixture in the room (often a pipe in the bathroom) and never have to worry about our stuff disappearing.
It was particularly useful in:
- hostels and cheap hotels
- our campervans in the USA and Europe;
- to secure valuables in our rental car. We figure it is much easier to smash a window and steal the contents than steal the whole car or anything fixed to it;
- hotel rooms.
To be honest we even use it when there is a safe in the room. The safes seem to malfunction so often, or we leave stuff in them or they are too small for larger items like the laptop and camera.
It is great to leave our valuables behind instead of loading up a daypack to lug around.
We use our Pacsafe portable safe all the time. We won’t travel without this bag now.
11. Elastic Clothesline and universal drain plug
We have carried our trusty travel clothesline and rubber plug with us for over 20 years.
Again, probably depends what sort of traveller you are! When you are travelling on a budget, doing the laundry yourself is a good money saver.
The clothesline is versatile and can be strung up almost anywhere.
Matt is particularly good at finding creative ways to string it up. See it here.
The plug comes in handy when washing clothes in a sink and washing up dishes at campgrounds.
The kids have even used it in some showers when they feel like a mini-bath! See the plug here.
12. Universal travel power adaptor
If you are travelling internationally make sure you also get a Travel Adapter or two so you can plug in your USB charger or laptop anywhere in the world.
It would be great if the power points were the same everywhere in the world.
Unfortunately they are not so this nifty little device is on our list of the essential things to pack when traveling.
There are quite a few different travel adaptor designs.
Our tip is to choose one that is a single piece so you don’t have to keep track of all the pieces and make sure it covers US, EU, UK & AUS plugs which will work pretty much anywhere.
Many offer USB charging ports as well but don’t worry about this as you are better off with a dedicated multi-port USB charger (see point 2 above).
13. Ziplock bags
I know, these are plastic and not good for the environment.
But, ziplock bags have a million practical uses when travelling and we haven’t yet found a good environmentally friendly alternative.
We do make an effort to purchase the highest quality ziplocks available to ensure they last. We also wash and re-use them as much as possible.
What uses do they have?
- store suncream and mosquito repellent (which ALWAYS seem to leak);
- store leftovers or use for snacks when hiking;
- keep our toothbrushes clean;
- for the kids to play games with;
- store wet swimwear.
They are such a useful travel item. We love them. Click here for latest prices.
14. Duct tape
Last and not least, this may sound weird, but we never travel without a small roll of duct tape.
We just roll some off the big roll onto a smaller roll when we want to travel light.
Our love affair with duct tape began when we were backpacking in South America.
Things would break and we couldn’t replace them.
What we use Duct Tape for:
- repairing rips in backpacks;
- keeping a pair of shorts together for just that little bit longer (yes, we have actually done this!);
- covering holes in mosquito nets;
- covering warts on fingers (gross but true);
- to fix the dodgy blinds in our campervan;
- covering holes in tents;
- holding a broken car side mirror together;
- sticking kids’ pictures up on walls…the list goes on.
You don’t need to take much. Just a little. I promise you won’t regret it! Click here to buy duct tape for your next trip.
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Before You Go
Phew, that is a long explanation of 14 little things.
Obviously there are LOADS more things on our family travel packing list, but these 14 items are our must have travel accessories that we can’t live without.
see all our recommended travel gear here.
What have we missed? What are your travel must haves? Let us know in the comments below.
More Travel Guides
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- Best Gift Ideas for Kids who Travel
- Family Gap Year – Our Around the World Itinerary
- Outback Australia Packing List
- Tips for exploring Europe in a campervan with kids
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