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Travel, like life, is full of complications. It’s possible to be too organized in life, wielding spreadsheets and carefully labeled compartments as talismans against disaster. Luckily, it is impossible to be too organized while you travel. Sure, you can over-schedule and suck the spontaneity out of your trip, but knowing that everything in your bag has a place is helpful when dealing with a twin-barrel shot of jet lag and disorientation. It’s definitely possible to be too prepared for situations that arise, as that can lead to some extreme overpacking, but a few carefully selected items can multitask and make life on the road a bit easier.

Supplies, photo by deannanmc

1. Mead Five-Star pencil case = document/electronics/multiple passport holder

Remember how I needed to be able to carry eight passports with me? Well, now I can! For less than $5 I can fit four passports in each of the two front pockets, important documents in the back pocket, all my cords and a charger, and an extra pen and rubber bands. (Does anyone else randomly need rubber bands while traveling but never at home? Just me? Okay then.) If you’re traveling solo, this will hold an iPhone/iPod plus a cord in the front, a standard Kindle in the back, and extra memory cards. It’s not padded, but the interior is soft enough that I wasn’t worried about a scratched screen, and it doesn’t take up a lot of room in my bag.

2. Peppermint oil

This is a great oil for people who suffer from motion sickness and who are doing a lot of walking on vacation. I bring a small handkerchief to act as a diffuser if I get a headache or queasiness en route–a few drops and a few deep breaths later, I’m usually okay. If you buy oil that is high-quality and graded for internal use, a drop or two in a glass of water will settle your stomach or, in a pinch, will work as a mouthwash. I like to use it as a foot rub: soak my feet in the coldest bath water I can stand, then take a wet washcloth with a few drops of peppermint oil on it and give my toesies a vigorous rubbing. It was 80 degrees when we backpacked in Portugal and I was six months pregnant, but thanks to a little peppermint love every night I never once swelled. The best part is that the standard 10ml bottles take up next to no room in your liquids bag and it’s so concentrated that you’ll only need 1-3 drops at a time, max. That frees up a LOT of space, and so does…

3. …Solid/dry toiletries

There’s really nothing like a bar of soap. But a bar of soap that can be your shampoo AND conditioner AND is about the size of a cookie? That is how you win at travel, folks. I like the Godiva solid shampoo bars from Lush, which is three products in one (and four, if you find the conditioner moisturizes your skin too). If you need an extra moisturizer for your skin, their massage bars are also great but only for cooler climates since they are designed to melt on the skin. Baking soda is a great multipurpose toiletry kit item too–some people swear by it to wash their hair, exfoliate their skin, and brush their teeth. Just don’t put a bunch of it in a baggie–all that white powder might attract some unwanted attention at security.

4. Color-coded gear

This one is for the groups and the families. My kids have an assigned color (that sound you heard was my mother rolling her eyes). One has purple, the other has aqua blue. From packing cubes to their stuffed baby dolls to their napping mats that a friend of mine made for them, each one sticks to the same color. If I need a quick change of outfits for the girls, I know the shirt I need is in a specific cube and we can avoid the “Honey, where did you put…?” game. I hate that game.

5. Extra baggies and a Sharpie

Snack-size, one quart, and one gallon zip-top plastic bags: you really can’t have enough. Roll them up inside a shoe or lie them flat; it doesn’t matter, just bring them along. They keep your soaps separate, your liquids isolated, smelly socks (with a pinch of that baking soda!) from contaminating your other clothes, and in a worst-case scenario if the peppermint oil fails, the gallon-size ones can act as a sturdy motion-sickness receptacle. As for the Sharpie? You never know when or why you might need one…but trust me, you will.

What’s your favorite packing tip?

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