10 Small Travel Items That Make a Big Difference

By Brad Benson

I’m typically a pretty light traveler, but there are a few things that I insist on carrying along. These items aren’t necessities, but I find having them creates an exponentially more enriching travel experience …and they’re easy to fit!

  • Dryer Sheets
    They keep your clean clothes smelling nice, and your dirty clothes smelling nicer –which is especially important if the two sets are sharing the same bag (pro tip: bring a collapsible bag to separate your dirty clothes). I’ve also laid a couple smaller strips in the soles of my shoes as I traipsed miles & miles through new terrain, and though my dogs were barking, they smelled much nicer!
  • Handkerchiefs/Bandanas
    They’re cheap. They’re small. They’re versatile. I’ve used these as a sweatband, to secure a tote to my backpack, and even for some extra support for my knee while hiking the seaside cliffs on the Isle of Sark (when I forgot my knee brace back at the AirBnB). Better yet, a few take-up no space at all, so why not?


  • Digital Photographs of Important Documents
    I take photos of my Passport, Drivers License, and the backs of my credit cards (i.e., the emergency contact number) but also screen grab hotel/tour/restaurant reservations for easy access. Now bare in mind: you do have to use some common sense here (as at home) by using a passcode and keeping a hand on your phone at all times, but I’ve found this makes things very convenient when filling out Customs forms, completing registrations on-the-fly, and just having piece-of-mind that in the event of actual document loss, you have digital records.
  • Workout Attire
    I’ve always said the best way to get a feel for place is on foot. Believe it or not, during my last trip to Stockholm & Copenhagen, I walked over 87-miles over the course of 1-week! If you’re a runner like me, you get to combine exploration with fitness; and, you’ll probably come across shops & restaurants you wouldn’t have found otherwise (and can return to later in your trip).
Workout Clothes

Workout Clothes

  • Topical Reading
    I read The Da Vinci Code while backpacking Europe. I browsed The Peru Reader (a collection of Peru-focused short stories & essays) while hiking the Inca Trail. I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in the Channel Islands (they were the only occupied British territory during WWII). Whether fiction or non-fiction, literature provides valuable context and backstory to understand a place and its people.
  • Refillable Water Bottle & Carabineer
    I’m pretty green-minded, and I use this hack every day –whether I’m traveling or not. Doing so ensures you always have a refreshing swig on-hand, which definitely comes in handy when you’re in a place where shops & restaurants are expensive or few & far between. It also keeps you hydrated at a time when you may be so preoccupied with doing & seeing that you forget to drink up.
Water Bottle

Water Bottle


  • Downloaded Google Maps
    Currently, you can specify an area in the Google Maps App and save it locally on your phone to access anywhere –even without connectivity. That means you can search addresses and view city layouts without paying for an international data plan. As an added bonus, if you plan ahead and star/save locations while at home (you need connectivity to save), these are retained on your local version! More directions via Google’s website (link: https://support.google.com/maps/answer/6291838?co=GENIE.Platform%3DiOS&hl=en ).
  • List of Addresses Back Home
    Postcards are a lost art. In contemplating how I could leverage my journeys to instill a love of travel back home, I landed on postcards; my niece & nephew keep a box full of each and every one, and I love imagining their excitement on the day they receive my note from across the globe! I keep a list of all addresses with my passport for easy access, and better yet, on quick trips I print out labels that can simply be adhered to each postcard to save time.


  • Music
    When friends had listened to thousands-of-minutes of music according to Spotify’s 2015 retrospective, I had listened to tens-of-thousands. I’m a music guy –in a big way. With a little research before your trip, you can be prepared with local traditional and popular music that sets the tone of your travel experience (and gives you an “in” with the locals you meet). Ambient music –with minimal phrasing and context- also lends itself easily to the soundtrack of your trip; I’ve always traveled with a Moby album on-hand, and hearing his music years later still takes me back to very specific travel experiences!
  • Travel Journal
    This is my absolute, number one, must-have item on my travels. At the end of each day, I set-aside 15-minutes to record my experience. When you’re in the moment, you imagine you’ll never forget the specifics, but sure enough another amazing moment comes along and takes priority. I have kept thorough notes of every trip, and reference them to provide recommendations to other travelers, leverage them in creative writing projects, and read them simply to reminisce.


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