I’ve been asked: What’s your ultimate travel packing list? Do you have any sort of travel checklist? What are your go-to travel essentials? What’s in your bag?
Here’s how I answer, given learnings from high-travel gigs like the military and management consulting combined with my personal interest in EDC (everyday carry) and luggage.
Below are some favorite, time-tested, packing list essentials:
1. Zeiss Lens Wipes
There’s little upside to being a glasses-wearer. I’ve recently discovered one, and that’s the deep and daily satisfaction from cleaning dirty lenses using this product. There are other products like it, but this is the Real McCoy. I’ve got boxes of these everywhere – in my kitchen pantry, in my car, at my desk at work, in my dopp kit, and in my travel bag accessory pockets. They are the solution to that un-findable (and dirty) microfiber cloth you get with every pair of glasses and sunglasses (there must be billions of these things in the world and I haven’t a clue where they’re all hiding). Pro tip: wipe your iPhone screen and watch face afterwards. $20 for a box of 200.
2. Tom Bihn Travel Tray
My hotel room routine: I walk in, kick off my shoes (easily because they are likely Sid Mashburn loafers – see #10), and then I take my hotel key, the contents of my pockets, and my wallet and I throw them all into this handy dandy little travel tray. It’s the small things in life. Tom Bihn, if you don’t know, is as cult of a brand among luggage geeks as it gets. I could add their entire catalog to my packing list. But if I had to start somewhere, I’d start here. $22-25 depending on size.
3. AmazonBasics Packing Cubes
Of all the items on this packing list, these probably offer the greatest “change-your-life-factor per $ invested.” Packing cubes just work. They allow you to carry more, and by compartmentalizing three or four groups of things, they prevent the volcano-of-clothes-in-an-open-suitcase effect in your hotel room after you’ve dug around for that one item you needed before rushing off to a team dinner. I’ve tried the REI ones, the Eagle Creek ones, even Muji ones…and these are my favorite. $23 for a set of four.
4. Uniqlo Merino Navy V-Neck Sweater
Let’s call cashmere sweaters out: most pill like crazy, and when they start getting fuzzy, they read weekend, not work. As someone who wears navy blue on top, in blazer or sweater form, nearly every single work day, I can attest that Uniqlo’s is the best work and travel sweater for the money. The merino is sturdy (handles a bag being slung over your shoulder at the airport without getting all wrinkled and “gooey”). You can wear this hard (roll it up and throw it in your suitcase without worrying about wrinkles), and at $40 you have found a unicorn in modern apparel retail: quality at a great price.
5. Aer Cable Kit 2
Laptop charger, iPhone charger, battery bank, charging cable for the battery bank with the tip that’s different than my iPhone charger tip, wireless mouse, USB drives…the electronics accessory packing list reads longer than a CVS receipt. Like many of you, I’ve cycled through iterations of cable organizers. In truth, I will probably cycle through many more as the cables and the tips and the things keep changing. But right now, I think this is your go-to. Unlike other tech pouches, this one is small enough to throw in a backpack or work bag auxiliary pocket while being spacious enough to carry what you need. Added bonus: having something from rising-star luggage brand Aer. Comes in black only, $50.
6. Samsonite Tech 2.0 Hardside Spinner Luggage (set from Costco)
I’ve owned a lot of luggage, and in over- and under-paying for an endless stream of black wheeled boxes, what counts for me are the following: four wheels that rotate 360 degrees, a good telescoping handle, and light weight. Optimizing for those things, I believe the merchants at Costco have identified an incredible bang-for-buck luggage situation. In my closet, I have many carry-on choices: Away, Rimowa Topas, Andiamo Valoroso (a defunct line that is absolutely bomb-proof), Victorinox, etc. These days I always seem to grab the cheap and cheerful Samsonite I bought at Costco, not the thousand-dollar Rimowa carry-on (in fact, I sold the Rimowa on Craiglist – it lost its spot on the team). Maybe it’s because this suitcase weighs 6.5 pounds, and a basic Tumi carry-on weighs over 10. Maybe it’s because the design doesn’t scream “look at me.” Either way, if you see me at an airport with a rolling carry-on, chances are it’ll be this one. $170 for a set of two.
7. Tumi Leather Dopp Kit
Twenty years ago my wife and I started dating. That year, she gave me this for Christmas. And despite the fact that it has been a companion on every single trip…for twenty years…it looks as though I bought it two years ago. I like classic Tumi; it’s the luggage equivalent of a 185-yard drive straight down the middle. Not life-changing, but satisfying, and nobody should knock it. Along the same lines, this dopp kit has near perfect utility, and in black leather its longevity is…well, at least twenty years. $275 in black leather, $150 in ballistic nylon.
8. Alchemy Equipment 30L Daypack
I could write for days about daypacks. For me, it’s a fascinating space with an exciting surge of innovation, giving EDC (everyday carry) and luggage nerds plenty of content to nerd out on. This daypack is my “ultimate all-rounder” for the following reasons: it has enough capacity for an overnight trip, the material choices (waxed and PU-coated denier) make it appropriate for everything from semi-formal workplace daily carry to a weekend in the woods. It has all the right “luggage geek compartments and design features” (waterproof YKK zippers, separate laptop section with false bottom, quick access pocket), and the brand Alchemy Equipment is under-the-radar cool (New Zealand backpack company, anyone?). If you want to go full-out luggage geek, get the Carryology x Alchemy Equipment AEL222 version. $250 for standard version.
9. Seiko SARB033
Watches are an uber-personal thing. But timeless classics have broad appeal, watches like a vintage Rolex Submariner (Ref. 14060M), the Casio G Shock (DW5600), the Swatch Once Again (GB743), the Apple Watch, and my grail watch, the Rolex Explorer I (Ref. 114270). When searching far and wide for watches that meet the Swiss quality standard at reasonable price points, I came across Japanese Domestic Market Seiko automatics (known as “JDM Seikos” among watch nerds). These aren’t sold in U.S. brick and mortar retail stores, and it’s a shame because many of them are the perfect marriage of quality and restraint. Among them, I believe the Seiko SARB033 is the single best all-around watch under $500. It works in nearly every setting, from a Vuori-clad coffee at Starbucks to a Brooks Brothers boardroom. Oh, and for you scarcity lovers – it’s been discontinued by Seiko, so grab one where you can! $500 but varies these days given the market.
10. Sid Mashburn Italian Suede Penny Loafer
I’m a strong buyer of this shoe for its looks (the higher vamp, chocolate suede that parties with navy suits, charcoal dress pants, and my 501s), but then when I do the math on how many times a year a loafer prevents the need to bend down and unlace/re-lace at TSA security, it surges in its essential-ness. The coup-de-grace is when it rains: Sid cleverly designed the soles to be a combo of leather and rubber where it counts, keeping it plenty formal while letting you walk a few blocks during a shower without soggy socks. No-brainer, best travel shoe of all time and 1st team ultimate packing list squad. $495, available at Sid Mashburn shops or online.
11. Porter x Monocle Boston Weekender Bag
There’s this romantic idea I have about “throwing-a-few-things-into-a-bag-to-take-off-for-a-quick-weekend.” It’s a mix of the bright side of impulsiveness – a whim – and the serendipity of travel. In that vision, my things are thrown into this bag. There are probably over a million weekender options, and I’ve tried several including this one. Premium price tag-aside, for the person who wants under-the-radar cool, maximum utility, and simplicity (Porter is an understated Japanese luggage brand with simplicity driving its design language), this is your weekender. $585 for non-Monocle subscribers, $527 for subscribers.
12. Sid Mashburn Navy Blazer
I’ve searched far and wide for the right navy blazer (must travel well, must work with dress pants and jeans, must not be boxy and shoulder paddy), and believe me this is it. The open weave fresco fabric (Dallas summer-friendly) and subtle details like a ticket pocket have served me well, from Midtown Manhattan client meetings to Savannah summer rehearsal dinners. I’m so committed to this thing that I own four (they’re all I wear). There is no better navy blue blazer in the land, and no I am not getting paid to be this passionate about Sid Mashburn – the man just gets it right. $1250, available at Sid Mashburn shops or online.
13. Rimowa Topas Stealth Carry-On
For some reason, black paint on a classic ultra-luxury travel item produces a different form. One that flies a little more under-the-radar, one that garners a little less attention from those attuned to status symbols (be they normal civilians or opportunistic bad guys). To wrap up this packing list, yes, this suitcase is ridiculous in price for most people. But here’s my pitch: if you’re going to buy a Rimowa Topas suitcase anyway, consider it in black (or as they call it, stealth). Maybe .0001% of people in the world will notice, and that’s kind of the point, but when they do you’ll get a very satisfying nod that says, “Rimowa in black — nicely done.” $1500 for the 22 inch carry-on (yikes).