I brought two massive suitcases on my first ever solo trip. As I dragged them over the uneven pavement to my shared apartment in Barcelona, their wheels nearly broke off. My spirit nearly broke, too.
So I started dumping crap.
Then I started fine-tuning. I tried and tested tons of different products, clothes, bags, and shoes to find the best.
Over ten years of travel later, only a precious few true essentials. They come with me no matter where I go. Of those, the following fifteen are the travel essentials for women I recommend most.
Travel Essentials for Women
The Obvious Travel Essentials
The following travel essentials for women are so boringly obvious that I'm going to list them for you quickly and move on:
Passport, sunscreen, underwear, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, travel visas, birth control, tampons/diva cup, water bottle, cash, sunglasses, razor or wax strips, tweezers, hairbrush, and a suitcase or backpack to pack it all into.
Now, with those out of the way, let's get to 15 travel essentials for women worth getting excited about, which I've broken down into:
Apparel Travel Essentials for Women
1. Lululemon Fast and Free Leggings
My Most Essential Travel Essential
Yes, I'm an activewear woman:
I love how they're so thin, quick-drying, durable, and have functional pockets sewn into the sides. And Chris likes me in them, too. They may be my favorite of all the travel essentials for women on this list.
Check them out at Lululemon.
2. Ecco Soft White Sneakers
These Shoes Are Made for Walking
Tired, sore feet suck.
I eliminate this problem by getting shoes I can walk in for hours, and still feel decently stylish wearing.
My Ecco Soft White sneakers do the job perfectly. They're high quality, deep fitting (so your heels don't slip out and there's space for orthotics), match almost every outfit, and despite the white color, easy to clean.
Check them out on Zappos.com.
2. Hannah Lavery Drift Linen Shirt
Winnin' in Linen
I've developed a weird obsession with linen (somewhat similar to Chris' with merino wool).
Did you know linen's made from flax?
I guess that's irrelevant. What's relevant is that my white linen shirt keeps me cool and dry in warm weather and can be dressed up or down and can look effortlessly chic with a naturally worn-in look.
3. Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Too Practical Not to Pack
Not the most stylish, but the most useful, I love my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket.
Because whether I'm going to the highly air-conditioned movie theatre in humid Panama or visiting Cape Town where the weather changes in a matter of minutes, this lightweight and packable but surprisingly warm jacket always has my back.
5. Wide Leg Aritzia Nanterre Pants
Genie Pants with Style
Do you remember when hippie genie pants with a super low crotch were a thing among travelers?
Maybe they still are. They look comfortable. But I can't stand how they look, otherwise.
I'm so happy I found my Aritzia Nanterre pants instead. They are practical in warm weather and loose, have handy pockets, are incredibly comfortable for walking around the city or sitting on a 14-hour plane…
…and they don't make me look like I haven't shaved my armpits in weeks!
I can even dress them up by wearing a tighter fitting top and a necklace. This versatility makes them a true travel essential for women.
Check them out at Aritzia.
6. Google Maps Saved Places
My Travel Treasure Maps
Google Maps Saved Places lists are my travel treasure maps.
I save all the restaurants, cafes, attractions, and photo ops spots I want to visit. I can also save notes for each spot (like what day of the week a restaurant has a special deal or when a museum is free) and share my lists with others.
Then, when I'm traveling, I just open Google Maps on my phone and try to hit as many as I can. Best of all, I can access it all offline!
Read How to Unleash Google Maps Saved Places to build your skills at using this travel essential for women.
7. Travel Credit Card
More Money for Me
Who likes giving away free money? Nobody.
Well, if you're using a regular credit card while traveling abroad that's what you're doing. And you're giving your money to banks.
Keep that money for yourself with a zero foreign-exchange fee travel credit card.
With our HSBC World Elite travel card, Chris and I save 2.5% on all transactions in foreign exchange fees, as much as $100 per trip in travel insurance, and get $100 a year in free upgrades. AND it pays us up to 3% cash back.
Read our What Makes the Best Cards for Traveling? section of our credit card post for the basic info you need to know.
8. Travel Insurance
A Wise Waste of Money
This is the only thing on this list of travel essentials for women that I hope will be a waste of money for you.
But you need it because, no matter how many lucky charms you ate as a kid, accidents happen.
If you haven't left for your trip, follow these 8 Easy Steps to Find the Best Travel Insurance.
Already traveling? Here's how to find the best and cheapest post-departure travel insurance ASAP.
9. Packing Cubes & Ziploc Freezer Bags
To Organize Is Wise
Maybe it's the Japanese in me, but I find organizing my belongings, especially when I travel, to be extremely rewarding.
I organize my clothes with packing cubes to separate them by type (pants, shorts, tops, bras/underwear/socks, etc) and to keep my dirty laundry separate. This makes unpacking and finding specific items easy.
I also pack an assortment of Ziploc freezer bags for separating and packing toiletries, waterproofing electronics, carrying leftover food, and… so many other things.
10. Longchamp Le Pilage Tote
The Versatile Stowaway
I've considered leaving my Longchamp bag at home on so many occasions but it somehow squeezes its way into my luggage every time.
And every time I end up using it almost more than any other bag I own because it's so lightweight, foldable and versatile.
Check it out on Amazon.
11. Travel Sized Containers
For Not-So-Heavy Hygiene
Recently, I witnessed my friend unpack two full-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner from her suitcase. I was stupefied. Either her hair gets super dirty on vacation, she's planning on using the bottles as weights, or she packed poorly.
Small travel-sized toiletries are enough. The ones pictured above can easily last me 2-3 weeks, and if they run out, I buy new product.
I've invested (ok, "invested" like $8) in high-quality containers with simple lids so they don't explode in my bag and can be refilled and cleaned easily.
Quick Tip: Get a plastic spray bottle (10-15ml) for your perfume instead of carrying around a heavy glass bottle!
12. Workout Resistance Bands
Bands Make Her
Maybe not all women consider staying fit while traveling essential, but I do.
I use them to stretch, activate muscles before a run or a workout, make exercises harder or easier, and for partner exercises Chris and I sometimes do.
13. Plantronics Wireless Headphones
Without time to buy a replacement, I was stuck getting tangled in and untangling my old-school wired headphones that barely stay in my ear properly.
I swear by Plantronics Wireless headphones because they stay put during sweaty workouts, have a long-lasting battery, and are very durable (as long as you keep them away from scissors).
This time I'm buying their new true wireless model so there's no wire to slice in half.
14. Relefree Travel Towel
Boring But Worthy
A travel towel is a boring item to include on a list of travel essentials for women, I know.
But somehow it keeps finding new ways to be useful for me, so I can't help but give it a shoutout.
I use my travel towel for working out, to cover my shoulders in Muslim countries, at the beach, and to cover cheap apartment rental chairs in warm weather so my thighs don't sweat. The list goes on…
Check them out on Amazon.
15. Gifts from Home
A Trick to Connect With Locals
This travel essential is a trick Chris and I picked up from Korean guests we had back when we were Airbnb hosts in Vancouver.
When they arrived, they surprised us with a pair of wooden ducks. In their culture, they explained, the ducks symbolize partnership and, depending on your mood, you position your duck differently.
Because of this funny and memorable gift, we connected better with our guests and made extra sure they had an awesome stay with us. And we really want to visit Korea for more than a layover.
Since then, we always pack gifts from home to similarly connect with people we meet on our travels.
As Canadians, our go-to gifts are smoked salmon, maple syrup, local wine, and dried foraged mushrooms.
Think twice about packing these non-essentials on your travels. Leaving them at home will save you the hassle of lugging these things around, save money, and save the planet.
- Bulky towel
- Security belt
- Full-sized toiletries
- Travel-specific clothing like zip-off pants