Earplugs, a sewing kit, and other essentials are lightweight and cheap. Keeping them in your bag all the time, even while at home, means you’ll never worry about forgetting them.

Packing is a skill, though it’s rarely understood as one. For example, a trip that’s packed well may end up being more restful and thus rewarding. Or, packing well can mean the difference between having adequate clothing, or being just a little too hot or cold all the time.

The point is that packing is the foundation of a good trip. Yes, anyone can head out the door after shoveling things into a bag, but packing technique can translate into a series of good experiences or a string of small annoyances.

Here’s one technique I highly recommend: grab the things you always use, put them in your bag, and never unpack them at home. That means you use stuff on the road, but when you’re at home your bag is always stocked with the basics. When I started doing this, I uniformly began having better trips. Here’s what I now leave packed at all times:

Ear plugs


I’m a light sleeper these days, but even when I wasn’t I spent so many nights in hotels on busy streets and loud hostels that earplugs became my go-to travel accessory. And that’s to say nothing of long flights. Ear plugs are cheap and lightweight, so everyone should have a pair in their bag at all times.

An eye mask


Similar to ear plugs, you never know when you’ll need one of these. I’ve found them especially handy on long train rides (when I’m traveling with someone who can watch my bag). Also worth noting: both eye masks and ear plugs are often given out for free on long flights; I usually save mine until they wear out.

A drain stopper


I usually only pack enough for a few days, even if I’m traveling for weeks or months. Instead of bringing more clothes, I do laundry — in the sink if necessary. A drain stopper like the one above makes that possible. I probably only use this on 30% of the trips I make, but having it all the time means I’m prepared for anything.

Cheap earbuds


I have a decent pair of ear buds that I use in my daily life and that I usually bring on trips. But they’re small and easy to forget — which has happened on more than one occasion. To solve that problem, I saved an old pair of free earbuds I got on a trans-Atlantic flight and just leave them in my backpack.

Basic toiletries

How many times have you arrived at a hotel only to realize you don’t have toothpaste or a comb. Leave that stuff permanently in your bag and you’ll never have that problem again.

A sewing kit


A sewing kit has a lot of uses. Obviously, if you lose a button or tear a shirt it’ll come in handy. But also, the needle is useful for getting slivers. And sometimes you need to repair things that aren’t clothes; for example, I once spent an afternoon sewing the strap back onto my backpack while sitting in a Brazilian mall. The lesson: bring a needle and thread.

Further reading:

This is what “packing light” actually looks like

Three tips for drying the clothes you washed in a sink

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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