My Travel Essentials

(The is from my newsletter, The Magnet. Here’s how to get the first year for 50% off.)

After many years of business and personal travel, I’ve developed a system to prepare and pack everything I need for a trip quickly and without a lot of thought. You shouldn’t copy my system exactly, of course, but if you personalize it for your needs, you might find it handy, too.

Here’s how it works:

Packing list

A few days before I leave for a trip, I’ll print a copy of this packing list and keep it on my desk. It has everything I need for a trip lasting a week or more. If I’m taking a short domestic trip, I’ll cross unneeded things off the list (like international power adaptors and my passport).

Luggage and Clothes

I’ll start packing by putting my clothes into my suitcase. I try never to check my bag because I hate waiting for my baggage to arrive in the baggage claim area, and airports have lost my checked luggage more than once. I have a Briggs & Riley Domestic Carry-on Garment Bag with Wheels. It’s a whopping $650, but it is rugged and well-designed, and they offer an incredible lifetime guarantee. And if you want to fix a broken bag yourself, you can order a free repair kit to be sent to you. (This sounds like a paid testimonial, but it’s not. The Magnet contains no advertising or affiliate links other than Magnet T-shirts.)

Six Zipper Bags

The next items on my list are six mesh zipper bags, each of which is filled with my essential travel gear. When I get home from a trip, I replenish the consumables (like toothpaste) and then store the bags in a drawer in my bedroom. This makes packing for a trip easy.

I use these Zipper Mesh Pencil Pouches. An 8-pack with four small and four large bags costs between $8 and $12, depending on how much Amazon’s algorithm charges that day. I like these bags because they’re durable and see-through.

This bag isn’t a mesh zipper bag because the TSA requires a clear plastic bag. I bought this TSA-approved plastic zipper bag to hold gels and liquids. It’s sturdier than a Ziploc bag.

Weight: 1 lb 3 oz

  • Chapstick
  • Tide to Go — It looks like a Sharpie with a felt tip, but the liquid inside removes stains like tea and coffee.
  • Lotion
  • Shaving cream — It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I trim the sharp corners off of plastic tubes of lotion, hair gel, shaving cream, etc. This keeps them from damaging the bag or my fingers when I reach into the bag to retrieve something.
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Hair gel
  • Toothpaste
  • Wipes — these flushable Dude Wipes are like a portable bidet but can also be used to clean hands and things like cafe tables that have the previous customer’s crumbs on them.

Weight: 9 oz

  • Chocolate — Lindt 90% Cocoa bars are barely sweet but very satisfying and creamy. The best way to eat them is not to chew them. Pop a square in your mouth and let it dissolve on your tongue.
  • Beef sticks — I like Chomps Spicy Japaneno Beef Jerky Sticks. Each stick has 9g of protein and no sugar. It’s made from grass-fed beef.
  • Kind bars — The Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt bars only have 5g of sugar per bar. They help a lot when I am really hungry, and I can’t get to a restaurant.
  • Instant coffee — If I’m not able to get to a local coffee shop for a caffeine fix, these Starbucks Via Instant Coffee Packs are second best. The powder dissolves in cold water if hot isn’t available, and it is very strong. I find a half pack to be plenty. (I use a clip from my tools bag to seal the half-consumed packet.)

Weight: 8 oz

  • Book — In 1995, Penguin celebrated its 60th anniversary by publishing a series of miniature books, each about 60 pages. They cost $2 each. I only bought two, and I regret not buying more. This book is my backup if I end up with dead batteries on a flight or get tired of screens.
  • Reading glasses
  • Eyeglass cloth
  • Glasses — a spare pair
  • Sunglasses

This is a catch-all bag of things, some of which I use a lot and some of which I rarely use but am grateful to have when I need them.

Weight: 1 lb 6 oz

  • Sharpie
  • Pencil
  • Pencil
  • Nail file
  • Flashlight — The Streamlight 73001 Nano Light is tiny but much brighter than a phone’s light. It’s only $6.
  • Gerber shard — A rugged $8 tool with screwdrivers, a bottle opener, and a pry bar. TSA safe.
  • Spork — The Eat’N Tool is $7. It has a spork (combined spoon-fork), a flat screwdriver, and three metric wrench reliefs (10 mm, 8 mm, 6 mm).
  • Utili-key — Yet another multi-tool. This one has more screwdrivers plus a tiny blade which I use at least once anytime I go somewhere. It costs $12.
  • Mosquito bite clicker — This gadget delivers a small electrical shock to a mosquito bite, making the itch stop. It uses a piezoelectric crystal to create the spark, so no batteries are needed. According to the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, the shock (which in my experience is less painful than a static electricity zap) “acts on the skin of an insect bite victim to reduce excess production of histamine, and the associated redness and itching.” Many kinds are available. This one is $7.
  • Toothpicks — Thanks to my friend Bob Knetzger for introducing me to Doctor’s BrushPicks Interdental Toothpicks. They have a thin flat pick on one end and a between-the-teeth brush on the other, perfect for flossing. They come in a neat little clear plastic dispenser. Refills are cheap.
  • Clips — Good for closing hotel blackout curtains, so no early morning cracks of light wake you. There are many other uses: emergency zipper pull, repair clamp to hold Sugru’d together parts, hotel room cable management, etc.
  • Razor
  • Eustachi — Nothing is worse than ears that plug up on a plane and stay that way after you’ve landed. I’ve tried pinching my nose and trying to force air pressure to open my ears, but it’s painful and feels dangerous. This $60 gadget is magic. It painlessly pops clogged ears, even if I’m getting over a cold.
  • Notebook
  • Sugru — Moldable, curable silicone putty that sticks to almost anything. I used it for quick repairs of small things.
  • Toothbrush
  • Styptic pencil — If I nick myself shaving, this instantly stops the bleeding. Cheap and available at any drug store or online.
  • Backpack — This is my favorite item in the bag, if not all the bags. The Ultra-sil Nano Day Pack ($30) weighs 1 oz, has an 18-liter capacity, and folds into an attached pouch the size of a chicken egg. I use it all day, every day, when I travel. It holds clothes, a portable charger, things I buy while shopping, my laptop, and a water bottle. (I usually buy a large plastic bottle of water at my destination and refill it during the entire trip.)
  • Playing cards — These are a fun way to pass the time practicing card magic sleights.
  • Earplugs — Foam earplugs don’t work for me. They work their way out of my ears. Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs ($4 for six pairs) are like Silly Putty. They fill my ear canals and block sound almost completely. Sleep savers!
  • Black-out stickers — Use these stickers to cover annoying LED lights on devices in your hotel room. They can be removed and reused.
  • Hangnail clippers (not pictured) — I use my Tweezerman Mini Hangnail Nippers ($13) every time I travel.
  • Nail clippers (not pictured)

Weight: 1 lb 6 oz

  • Spare lightning cable — Lightning cables tend to break, so I always bring along a spare.
  • Micro USB cable — I like these reversible Micro USB cables. Both the USB A plug and the micro plug can be inserted without regard to the orientation, like a USB C plug. There is no “right side up.” A 3-pack is $11.
  • Bluetooth speaker — The Dodocool Rechargeable Wireless Speaker is just a little bigger than a wine cork. It weighs next to nothing and is loud and clear. $13.
  • USB flash drive — This is a Victorinox flash drive, which looks like a Swiss Army knife. I don’t think they make them anymore, which is a shame.
  • USB portable charger
  • AirPods Pro — I put mine in a silicone case and attached a Tile Bluetooth tracker to it because it’s so easy to misplace.
  • USB wall charger — I got one with 2 USB ports to charge two things at once.
  • Kindle (not pictured)
  • International adapters (not pictured)

Weight 5 oz

  • Zyrtec — For bouts of hay fever
  • Benadryl — For really bad bouts of hay fever and an in-a-pinch sleep aid
  • Sudafed
  • Advil
  • Imodium — my nightmare is to get diarrhea on an overseas flight. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m ready!
  • Rx meds — I’m healthy, but I do take a lot of prescription drugs!


After putting the six bags in my case, I have three more checklists. One is called “Docs,” and it’s a list of paper documents I need to bring with me. They include boarding passes, tickets to events, a printout of the itinerary that TripIt generates, any work papers, and visas for overseas travel if needed.

Before leaving

A day before my flight, I go through a short checklist:

  • Check in to flight
  • Confirm hotels
  • Tell bank where I’ll be — a couple of times, the bank has frozen my account because they think my card was stolen or closed. It happened once in Japan, and it took a while to get the card reactivated. You can go to your bank’s website and add a travel plan,
  • Buy mobile phone data
  • Reserve airport parking — I hardly ever drive to the airport anymore. I take a Lyft or Uber. But if I decide I need to park near the airport, this checklist item reminds me to reserve a spot.

Out the door

The final item on my packing list is a checklist of things I absolutely can’t forget (and most of which I’ve forgotten at one time or another):

  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Phone
  • Apple watch/charger — I could get along without the watch, but it is great for TripIt updates and for buying drinks from vending machines and food from cafes, and rides on public transportation,
  • Laptop / charger

Phew! That’s it. I should add that I’ve been evolving this system for many years, and I keep changing and refining it as I learn about new gear, new policies, and new services. I’m sure there are ways to improve it, and if you have better ways of doing things, please share them in the comments.

The above is from my newsletter, The Magnet. Here’s how to get the first year for 50% off.



Research director at Institute for the Future. Co-founder, Boing Boing, editor-in-chief of Cool Tools. Read my newsletter,

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Mark Frauenfelder

Research director at Institute for the Future. Co-founder, Boing Boing, editor-in-chief of Cool Tools. Read my newsletter,