Published On: 2013/08/24

Normally, I’m not one for the what’s-in-my-bag kind of blog posts. But recently a friend asked me for packing advice, because after all, I am writing a travel blog, right? Well, I mentioned it here and there already: I no packing genius. I always wait until the very last second and then throw a whole bunch of unnecessary “just in case”-stuff into my suitcase. Just like you shouldn’t do.

But beside all the packing-drama-queen-ness, I know which little things I really need to pack for city trips, European getaways, or a semester abroad. And I’m willing to share my little secrets. There are a lot of fancy-schmancy travel gadgets out there, but I don’t need expensive technology, money belts, or portable speakers as travel amenities. I just need the six little household items below that will fit into any (!) kind of luggage. And although I might forget to pack towels and my hairbrush, but I would never forget any of my favorite little travel items.

1. Scissors

How many times have you wished you’ve had scissors at hand? When wanting to cut a plaster, or an annoying plastic party bracelet of your wrist for example? Scissors come in handy so often — from unexpected eyebrow situations and spontaneous travel scrapbooking to cutting off labels from a new-bought dress or saving your last bobby pin from drowning in the sink. Seriously, it never hurts to bring a pair of scissors along.

2. A Mini Wallet

I always travel with two wallets: My actual wallet with all the important things in it, and my cute little Ariel wallet where I keep my cash for the day. This way, when I’m paying at a café, supermarket or at a metro station, I never have to take out my big wallet and show everyone around me what’s in there. My dad always said never count your money in public, because observers can count along. And it’s true: I don’t want to be paranoid, but if you present a fat wallet with credit cards and bigger bank notes openly (though without being aware of it), you might imply that it is worth robbing you. Thus my Ariel wallet usually only holds a few lower bank notes and coins, nothing else.

Mini wallet at breakfast in ParisPaying my breakfast at a café in Paris

Also, I use my mini wallet as a way to control my own expenses — if I allow myself to spend 30 Euros a day, then I will only bring those 30 Euros in my Ariel wallet. Especially when I go out at night I want to have control over how much money I spend even when I’m a little tipsy: So Ariel “brings” just enough money for club admission, two or three drinks, and the cab ride home. This way I can guarantee that I won’t get wasted and that I won’t accidently spend too much money.

Use a mini wallet when going out and your head and your bank account will thank you in the morning. (Side note: A small second wallet doesn’t have to have Ariel on it, but for me Disney and travel are just undeniably intertwined.)

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is my number one travel secret. It is a mineral that our bodies need, but it is not always sufficiently provided in our daily nutrition. That’s why I always bring water-dissolving magnesium tablets wherever I go. Magnesium cures a hurting back from several hours on the night bus, slight headaches, sore muscles from climbing that church tower, calf cramps at night, neck tension, and the hangover from way too many vodka shots. Whereas taking aspirin all the time can mess up your organs, magnesium is a mineral that is a healthy dietary supplement. Very often headaches and cramps derive from a lack of minerals. Especially alcohol detracts minerals from your body. So — bring magical magnesium and you will be able to cure so many of those little annoying health issues quickly.

4. Ear Plugs

Somewhat self-explanatory: Ear plugs are a wonderful invention. From three snoring Spaniards in your hostel dorm room to the screaming toddler on your plane — with ear plugs all that becomes bearable. (And if you are worried about not hearing your alarm: I promise, you will!)

4. A Fruit Knife

I love fruit. I just have to eat fruit every day, preferably for breakfast — neatly sliced and diced, with cereal and yogurt. I’m flexible when it comes to different kinds of fruits, but I’m not flexible when it comes to quality of fruit knives. However, most hostels and most apartments (whether that’s a furnished study abroad student apartment or a vacation apartment rental) have a serious lack of decent knives. Nothing is worse than trying to slice an onion or a tomato with crappy knife with a loose handle. That’s why I always take my favorite little fruit knives with me.

Breakfast fruits with decent knivesMy beloved little fruit knives

5. A Pillow Case

I don’t know when I started bringing a spare pillow case — maybe it was when I planned to stay at a hostel for the first time and was unsure if the bed sheets were going to be clean enough for me (oh hello German DNA). Anyways, I always keep a spare pillow case at the bottom of my suitcase and I have come to find it quite useful — not only if you find weird stains on your hostel bed pillow. A pillow case can be used for your dirty laundry for example, and your hostel roommates will be incredibly thankful for you not using a plastic bag for that. Also, if have you unexpectedly have to spend the night on a bus or at an airport, you can just stuff your pillow case with cloths and sleep a whole lot better.

6. Cleaning cloth

Normally I don’t bring my glasses when I travel, but I always bring glasses cleaning cloth — because it is the quickest way to clean your camera’s lenses on the road. Particularly, when you travel in the rainy countries of Central Europe it is so very handy to have something to clean those raindrops off your lens (please do never ever use your t-shirt for that!). And little would be more annoying than have that perfect shot ruined, because you had dirt on your lens, right?

These are my favorite little travel items — what are yours?

Note: Obviously, you can’t bring scissors and knives when flying with carry-on luggage only (yet another reason to love train travel!). Also, a Swiss army knife could of course replace scissors and a fruit knife, but I know that I couldn’t handle cutting an apple with such a knife. Moreover, it’s not too painful to have a little fruit knife confiscated by customs, but a precious Swiss army knife? Ouch.