10 Small but Useful Things to Pack for Every Vacation
Without a good small item packing checklist, you may well forget something super useful on your next trip. When it comes to packing, I am not a big supporter of “just in case” or “what if.” That is the fastest way to over pack. Plus, you end up hauling around a bunch of stuff you do not need and/or want. There are stores all over the world and it is easy enough to pick up the things you have forgotten or the things you did not realize you would need. That said, there are a few exceptions.
Below is a list of 10 items that I take on nearly every trip. I do not always need them, but I am sure grateful I have them when I do. What makes them worthy of being hauled around on every major trip I go on? First, they are small and light. Critical components of things you put in your bag that you might not use. They are also things that might be harder to find in a foreign country. Or maybe they are easy to find, but you have to buy a lot of them. Finally, they are things that when you need them, you need them now! You have better things to do on your vacation than track down these miscellaneous items.
I have never regretted packing the following 10 items. In fact, more often than not, I am grateful I had them in my time of need. Below the following list is a free printable of my small item packing checklist to help you remember these useful items the next time you go on vacation.
Small item packing checklist
Broken zipper? Lost button? Tear in your coat? There is a tiny but mighty solution for an array of wardrobe and gear malfunctions. In certain situations, a safety pin = lifesaver. They are small and weigh next to nothing. If you never use one, great! But if the need arises, man, you’ll be grateful for one of these little dudes. I have fixed more than one broken strap on a bag with a safety pin. I have even used one to keep the drapes in my hotel room closed (there is nothing worse than two inches of light shining on your face when you are trying to sleep). Grab a few, hook them together, and throw them in your bag.
I like to keep a couple plastic baggies of different sizes tucked away in my bag. They come in handy for repackaging food, holding a wet swimsuit or gathering beach glass. They lay flat so a back panel or pocket is the perfect place to tuck them. You can usually pick these up on the road from any grocery store, but you typically only need one or two and not the whole box.
R is especially good at packing wipes. Lately, she has been busting them out as soon as we sit down on the plane to wipe down our trays and such—which are particularly germ-ridden. However, there are countless situations on the road where a wipe can help you with a quick clean up and there is a particular wipe for almost every situation. Stain? Tide has you covered. Makeup remover? No problem. I am more of a general-use kind of girl, but packing a couple of different kinds of wipes is a good idea.
For example, there was this time in Australia when a bottle of purple nail polish broke in my toiletry bag. Not only was there purple nail polish all over everything in that bag, but I ended up with it all over my hands while trying to clean it up. It was a disaster. R busted out a little nail polish remover wipe and after just a couple of minutes, my hands and bag were in relatively good shape. That little wipe was a lifesaver.
Never, ever travel without earplugs. They are not foolproof, but they can certainly make an unpleasant experience more bearable. Trying to sleep on the plane is hard enough. Doing it without earplugs and with a crying baby behind you? Impossible. I use them on the plane, in hotels with thin walls, at concerts, on long bus rides, etc. There are many shapes and sizes to choose from, but they will all be small and lightweight. Most will be very affordable as well. Because they are so pack-friendly and crucial, it is a good idea to pack an extra pair.
This one might seem strange, but I cannot tell you the number of times having nail clippers in my bag has come in handy. Hangnails are a bother and can even be painful. Nail clippers take care of them in a jiffy. In a pinch, nail clippers can also work as scissors for cutting things like threads and price tags and opening packages. I have never regretted putting them on my small item packing checklist.
It never hurts to have a bill or two stashed somewhere in case of an emergency. This is separate from the cash you plan to spend on the trip. It does not need to be a lot. Just $20 or so in a pocket you rarely use or hidden within your toiletries could really come in handy.
A good friend of my dad tucks money into the owner’s manual of his car in case of an emergency. I like this idea a lot. So much so that I started doing the same thing. You just never know when a $20 bill will come in handy…assuming you remember you stashed it…and where you stashed it.
We have talked before about the types of medication you should pack for vacation. If that is not your thing, I recommend you carry some sort of pain reliever at the very least. There are small packages that do not take up much room and when you unexpectedly get that headache, sprained ankle or sunburn, you will be grateful for that small package of ibuprofen.
Too often, I over pack when it comes to snacks. I am not entirely sure why. Unless you are roughing it, there is really no need to weigh your bag down with all of your favorite treats. It is way more fun to find new, foreign treats anyway. However, it is a good idea to pack something in case of emergency like a granola bar, fruit leather or bag of nuts.
There was this time in Indonesia where the day just got away from us. We had good intentions to get some food, but one thing led to another and before we knew it, it was past dinnertime and we still had not stopped to eat. As we waited for a bus to take us back to town, I started to feel light-headed. I checked my bag and there in the bottom was a small bag of peanuts. I dug in and I must say, peanuts have never tasted so good! They were able to tide me over until we got a proper dinner later that night.
Tweezers are a lot like nail clippers—more of an afterthought. You may pack these anyway for some eyebrow maintenance. But if not, I suggest you start considering it. I have had a couple of sliver situations in which I was eternally grateful to have a pair handy. They can also untangle necklaces and tighten loose screws on glasses. Normal-sized tweezers do not take up a lot of room. However, there are mini, travel-sized tweezers on the market that take up even less room and are perfect for my small item packing checklist.
Do not pack an entire roll of duct tape (obvs). But a small amount can really come in handy the same way those safety pins do. In fact, between duct tape and safety pins, you should be able to fix just about anything…at least temporarily. I only recently replaced a fan that I like to take to warmer climates whose duct-tape fix has held up for years. You can buy small, travel-sized rolls or you can roll a bit of your own. (Unroll the desired amount and tear it off the roll. Then start at one end and tightly re-roll your strip.) How much you need really depends on how prone you are to breaking things. I find carrying around 10-12 inches adequate to handle most jobs. Anything bigger is going to necessitate a trip to the store for a whole roll.
Recently, R and I’s small stash of duct tape came in very handy. The doorknob to our place in Bruges, Belgium broke and the owner was unable to fix it until the next day. Duct tape provided a temporary solution. I am actually not sure what we would have done without it and I am so glad it is part of my small item packing checklist.
Bonus item: collapsible bag/tote
A collapsible bag is not necessarily something you should pack on every trip. However, I have found it to be more useful than not. More and more, I find myself not only packing one, but using it while on the road. A bag like the BAGGU reusable folding bag is a great option. It is good-sized and sturdy, but it folds up small and flat.
When packing for a trip, it can be easy to overlook the small things. But it is often the small things that help to make a pleasant journey. Luckily, the 10 (plus one bonus) items listed above can easily be packed without adding too much weight or bulk. And you will be grateful for your little lifesavers should an unfortunate travel situation arise.
Please enjoy a free printable of my small item packing checklist: Janes_Sees_the_World_Packing_Checklist_Small_Things