Tag Archives: travel planning

7 Must-Have Affordable Travel Accessories

26 Feb

If you’re like me, you always see articles proclaiming the things every traveler MUST have. And then you click on the link and find that it contains a $300 carry-on, a $70 neck pillow, $250 noise-canceling headphones, and probably an $800 portable white noise machine (“for silencing the obnoxious noises of warmed nut bowls clanking against the porcelain china when you’re sitting in first class!”).

But never fear – you can find affordable travel accessories that will make your life infinitely easier, whether on the ground or in the air. These are some of my favorites:

1. eBags Packing Cubes: $23-36

packing-cubes

These things are amazing. A former boss and excellent friend of mine got them for me when I was packing to spend six months in Israel and expounded on their virtues to an unbelieving Past Allie, just like Current Allie is doing to a likely unbelieving Current Reader. But seriously, they make my life so much easier when I’m traveling. I have the set of three large cubes, but you can buy them in any size combination or color choice.

The brightly-colored part is super durable and super thin nylon, and the darker part on top is mesh – so you’ll never have to force your underwear into a 2-gallon Ziploc bag and squeeze all the air out as hard as you can before zipping it ever again. These squish down when there’s room to squish down, but stay intact when you want them to stay intact. Since two of these fit comfortably in your average suitcase, my brilliant strategy is that I fill one with shirts and the other with socks, bras, and underwear. Then, when I’m going home at the end of the trip, I reorganize to fill one with clean laundry and the other with dirty. It makes my life so stupidly simple, both while traveling and when I get home.

2. A good water bottle: $13-18

water-bottle

You know what they say: a good water bottle is hard to find. Or something along those lines, anyway. I always bring an empty reusable water bottle with me to the airport, because once I’m through security I can fill it for free, potentially saving myself several dollars per year! …And it helps the environment. At O’Hare, they have those automatic water bottle refill stations that count how many plastic bottles have been saved by using them, so I always feel good about myself.

Anyway, a good water bottle for air travel has to fulfill several requirements. It has to be leak-proof or spill-proof (why, oh why, do airlines not provide cupholders?). It can’t be the kind with a straw that you bite to access (because, as I discovered once, the change in pressure will send water shooting into your mouth as soon as you bite and thus drown you or drench your face and shirt). It probably shouldn’t be one without a cap (considering the number of things your water bottle will be rubbing against in various bags and seat pockets, you really don’t want to put your mouth directly on something unprotected). I’ve had excellent luck so far with the Camelbak Chute, but you can play around with whatever fits your needs best.

3. Travel jewelry wallet: $8-35

jewelry-wallet

I once read that to pack necklaces and prevent them from tangling, you should wrap them around a pencil. After attempting this several times, I concluded that the suggester has never experienced gravity, as necklaces would just slide right off. Taping them seemed silly (and bad for the necklace), and then they usually fell off anyway (what? I tried it!).

So many, many moons ago, my mom got me a jewelry wallet, at the time from The Container Store. After I lost it due to intense flea-related cleaning (a lot of our stuff accidentally ended up in the garbage that week), we searched high and low for a new one, but it always evaded capture. Somehow, my mom found it again a few years ago – but I am unable to track down a good link to provide you with myself. But if you search “travel jewelry wallet”, you can find many excellent options.

Anyway, this is a must-have if you’re bringing multiple necklaces and/or earrings. Individual slots let you clasp necklaces through them so that they can’t tangle in transit, and a strip of leather with holes poked through makes for a perfect earring holder. Mine also has a zip pouch in the middle, which is great for bracelets and other items that are too big for the other sections. Plus, when you close it, it looks like a large wallet (hence the name) and slides easily into a backpack for travel.

4. Drawstring bag: $5-20

drawstring-bag

I love traveling with these for lots of reasons. They fit the entire contents of my purse as well as a water bottle, travel guide, and any other required accessories. They’re much more thief-proof than a backpack, as the bag’s own weight keeps it closed when it’s slung over your shoulders. And, the best part – I can make my boyfriend take turns carrying it, instead of just me carrying everything in my purse for everyone.

To be honest, I’ve never paid for one of these in my entire life – I always get them as swag, thanks to college, a job, and a sporting team. But you can find an entire category of them on Amazon with every logo and color and price you can imagine.

5. Organizer: $12-25

organizer

These are a requirement for any traveler who has basic hygiene needs. I use one of these for my toothbrush, toothpaste, contacts, glasses, medicines, deodorant, comb, etc. I highly recommend getting one that is squishable (so it doesn’t take up unnecessary room in your carry-on), has a flat bottom and a zip around the top (this is personal preference, but I like having the top stay open when needed), and is made of a material that can get wet and not be destroyed (since it’s probably going to hang out next to the sink a lot). You can find these at any drugstore or beauty store. The one pictured above is from Ulta.

I love having all of the necessities in one small bag with a handle, so I can just yank it out as needed. Easy to find and easy to use!

6. Earplugs and sleep mask: $5-20

Plane travel. Screaming children. Loud passengers. Drink carts. Need I say more?

7. Seat back pocket protector: $20-30

seat-back-pocket.png

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually used one of these, but my boyfriend got one as a present for my aunt and uncle and it seems awesome. This thing goes in the seat back pocket in front of you on the plane, and you can put all your stuff in it instead of in the pocket itself. Not only does this seem more hygienic (I always feel gross holding my phone up to my face after it’s spent a few hours in that pocket), but it seems like you’re less likely to forget your stuff. If you’re like my mom who left a portable charger, or my boyfriend who left a water bottle, or my dad who left an iPad and a book, or my grandma who left a Kindle, you might want to invest in one of these.

We found this one at Macy’s for $28, but I’m sure you can shop around and find other options as well. Think bright colors so you won’t forget the entire thing!


If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Travel Tip: Making a Custom Map

2 Feb

Every time I’m mid-planning for a big trip, I reach a point where, after my head has been buried in a Fodor’s guide and my subsequent notes for hours, I suddenly look up, remember to inhale, and mutter, “How am I ever going to remember all this??”

Because despite my best attempts, other than a couple of main sights to see and food to eat, I feel like I forget most of what I’m planning, or I don’t know where things are in relation to each other. I write everything down, but I don’t want to spend vacation time poring over notes. Perhaps I’m missing the best restaurant in the city because I didn’t realize it was between the museum in the morning and the tour in the afternoon! It’s SO STRESSFUL.

I always put sticky flags all over the guide books, but then I’m stuck carrying the heavy travel book (along with all of the other crap I end up carrying for myself and everyone else). And I can’t easily flip to exactly the page of restaurants that I want. Besides, restaurants are usually arranged in the books by price and general area, not Exactly Where Allie Is At This Moment sections. (But Fodor’s, seriously, that would be really helpful.)

Elad and I found a site one time that aimed to help you plan your route when traveling, and it was so close to being helpful. It ended up being extraordinarily cumbersome and difficult to work with, and caused us more headaches than it was worth.

So as I’ve been planning our upcoming trip to Spain, I’ve been shaking my fist at the Internet for want of the exactly perfect travel planning app/website that does everything I want. But today I realized… I haven’t exactly searched for one. Oops. So I searched for the phrase “map lets you mark points of interest”. Not one of my finest search queries, but it got the job done. Because I discovered… Google’s My Maps.

madrid-map

It’s beautiful!

(I know I’m late to the game on this. In fact, I used a custom Google map for years when working at Chicago-Kent because an excellent librarian made a custom of nearby restaurants. But it never occurred to me to make one myself – until today!)

The essence of the site is that you can create pins on a Google map pointing to places of interest. You can color-code them, you can give them different symbols, you can add notes and photos to them, and you can make them in layers to be turned on or off at will.

This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Instead of getting stressed about trying to remember which tapas restaurants are recommended near which museums, I have it all laid out for me. Everything I’m interested in is highlighted, it’s on a trustworthy map, it’s color-coded, it’s got my notes, and it’s PERFECT.

To give you an idea of what I mean, check out my map for Madrid. (And if you have suggestions for my trip, let me know!)

I decided to have different layers for activities, my hotel, and restaurants – so if we want to see just one or two of the sets of pins at a time, it’s easy to turn off the others. I color-coded them by type (red for restaurants, blue for activities) and by priority (the darker color means we HAVE to go, the lighter color means it’s on the list). I added notes, and now that I’ve played with the photos function, I’m considering taking photos of the relevant pages from my travel guide to attach to more complex pins.

If you’d like an excellent step-by-step tutorial, you should check out this one. You can skip the “how to access it” part at the end, though. You can share the link (to edit or to view) just like you would with any Google Drive document, and send it to yourself to have on your phone.

For the organized traveler who likes to plan ahead, I cannot recommend this strategy enough. The only potential downside I see is making sure we have data when we’re out and about. But even that can be sidestepped through screenshots, regular wifi access throughout the day, and planning at the hotel in the mornings or evenings.

I’m so excited to use this! Any other amazing travel apps/sites I need to know about? Tell me in the comments!