5 Surprising Travel Gear Essentials

We spent months planning our packing list and making sure we had everything we'd need for our trip around the world, but within two weeks we'd tossed out numerous gadgets and articles of clothing that turned out to not be worth carrying. Along the way we discovered that a few of the items we brought as an afterthought were things we'll never travel without again.

Check out 5 of these surprising essentials below.

Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow

Jess initially received a camping pillow from her sister before we left. It seemed unnecessary to me. We weren’t camping much and even when we were, it’s a simple matter to stuff my down sweater into a packing cube and make myself a comfy down pillow. I’m a convert now. A few things that make this an incredible addition to not just our bag, but to my daily carry bag:

o   Packability: the pillow collapses into a bag smaller than my fist but still expands to a pillow fully as wide as my shoulders.

o   Versatility: I hadn’t thought about the number of situations that benefit from a pillow. Buses, beaches, and just about every bed we sleep in. We encounter a wide variety of shitty pillows. With my blowup pillow I can always be sure to have the support I need in sleep comfortably.

o   Filling ability: the gauges on the pillow are incredibly well designed and allow you to easily move the pillow from full stiff support to half inflated cushiness. It’s the best valve system Ive ever seen on an inflatable anything.

Check out the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow on Amazon

UE Mini Boom Bluetooth Speaker

This is another of Jess’ additions. We both bought refurbished macs before we left and it seemed to me that those speakers would be fine for music and movies over the course of the trip. Jess was the one who made sure we purchased the Bluetooth speaker.

The Bluetooth is easy and quick to connect which means watching movies or TV shows or just tossing on some music is easy. I can go from working out listening to a podcast to playing it over the speaker while I'm in the shower.

Perhaps most importantly, the speaker allows us to sleep no matter how loud the hostel or guesthouse is. Put on a fan noise track, put in your earplugs and all you hear is the white noise.

Check out the UE Mini Boom Bluetooth Speaker on Amazon

Ziploc Gallon Freezer Bags

Though Gallon Ziploc Freezer Bags are the most useful, I keep a constant supply of plastic bags in the side pocket of my backpack these days. Things we’ve used random plastic bags for the last few months: impromptu garbage bag, storing wet beach stuff, smaller temporary toiletry bag, packing space for full size toiletry items (contact solution, shampoo), refillable laundry soap container, stinky socks isolater, electronics water proofer, transportable leftover container and much more. Plastic bags are incredibly light, take up very little space and are endlessly useful. I strongly recommend picking up a few and keeping them stashed in your bag.

Get some Ziploc Gallon Freezer Bags on Amazon


We knew this was going to be an important way to reduce our foot print while traveling. What we didn’t know was just how convenient and easy it was to use. Past water filtration or filtering systems I have used are something of a project. You usually set them up and then do a bunch of water at once. It’s something you might do in a hotel room or hostel when you had a few minutes. Not so with the Sterilite. It's so fast and so easy to use that I frequently find myself spontaneously cleaning a single glass of water. I can do it half asleep and frequently do if I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night.

Check out Steripen on Amazon

Alaska Bear Silk Sleep Mask

I’ve slept with ear plugs for years, since I was a Peace Corps volunteer with a bedroom next to a chicken coop with roosters. What I hadn’t used before was a sleep mask. They seemed intrusive and uncomfortable: who can sleep with something strapped to their face? Of course, you can get used to anything and if earplugs are a shield against interruptions, then the combo of earplugs and sleep mask is like tank.

It’s more than the reduction in noise and light, it’s the fact that over time your body begins to associate the physical experience of the two items with sleep. You put on your eye mask and slip in your ear plugs and you’re already half asleep. 

Check out the Alaska Bear Sleep Mask on Amazon