Updated: Oct 8
I bought a new one.
And that’s what I have learned from forgetting everything under the sun: credit cards can solve just about any travel challenge you have.
That time I forgot pajamas? There was a sporting goods store a block from the hotel so I bought some new workout clothes that doubled as pjs. And the cell phone charger? You should see the collection of chargers that I’ve acquired from Washington’s National Airport over the years. I recently started giving away neck pillows to my house guests who were in need to downsize my collection because when faced with choice of suffering through a 6-hour red eye without a neck pillow or buying a new neck pillow, I always buy a new neck pillow.
For many things you forget, you don’t even need a credit card. You’d be surprised how many products hotels keep at the front desk if you just ask. Definitely toothbrush and toothpaste. Often also shaving cream, hair spray. Sometimes even stuff like contact solution. Never hurts to ask.
I say this all as encouragement to de-stress when you’re packing. If you leave home without a coat, that’s a great excuse to go shopping at your arrival destination. Didn’t bring those copies you needed for the important meeting you’re attending? Well, you can use the credit card to relax with a beverage and when your flight lands, go to the hotel’s business center and print new copies. Or find your neighborhood FedEx or UPS store if you need better quality materials. Some hotels even have a FedEx in them – those are the best.
A credit card, valid ID, and cell phone are my three essentials for packing. Don’t leave home without them. Otherwise you’ll be fine. You may waste money on your 10th cell phone charger, but you’ll be fine.
Should you be looking for a handy list beyond that, below are my “non-essential essentials” for domestic and overseas travel. Obviously you should pack clothes too, but hopefully I didn’t need to tell you that.
Non-essential essentials for domestic travel
TSA pre-check: just do it, it’s worth it, and many credit cards will pay for it
CLEAR: even more worth it than TSA pre-check if you travel frequently and your home airport has a CLEAR line. It's even accepted at some sports venues!
Cell phone charger
Neck pillow for red eye or any flight where you plan to sleep - I use the Trtl
Proper outerwear (light jacket or sweater if you get cold on planes, check the weather forecast for rain, etc.)
Glasses, contact solution, and a contact holder (pro-tip: you can use plastic cups in the hotel as a backup if need be, not that I’ve ever had to do that...)
Any medication you need (pro-tip: with a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens you can get your prescriptions transferred to any branch in the country, not that I’ve ever had to do that...)
Non-essential essentials for international travel
Domestic list plus
Global Entry: if you take even one international trip a year, it’s worth it. Many travel credit cards will pay for it, and you also get TSA pre-check
Adapters/Converters (cell phone charger doesn’t do any good if you can plug it in or your electronics run on different voltage). Check what type of plug the country uses and what voltage are they on. Then make sure your electronics are dual voltage. Most cell phone chargers are dual voltage so all you need to worry about is the plug adapter. Many salon items like straightening/curling irons are not dual voltage so if you don't have a converter you will fry your iron. For blow dryers, I would buy a travel one specific to the voltage or use the one available locally at the hotel
Eye mask and ear plugs
Debit card for ATM withdrawals (that’s where you’ll get the best exchange rate)
Something to keep your passport safe (passport holder, purse that zips, etc.)
International data plan for your phone: For example, AT&T’s current international data plan is $60 for 30 days and comes with 1gb of data, unlimited texting, access to wifi hotspots, and discounted international calling. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to make a call, but the texting and access to things like google maps and yelp are critical
Passport (for international trips, that’s your valid ID)
Visa rules change from time to time, so also make sure you know what the country you’re visiting requires. Here’s a good, recent article on that from The Middle Seat by Scott McCartney at the WSJ
Vaccinations: the CDC is a good resource for checking on what you should get before you travel to certain countries