Travel bag backpack for travel

21 Best Travel Bag Essentials for Travel

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Update 1/4/2022

Are you wondering about what to pack in your personal travel bag (or handbag) for travel? Think of your travel bag as your “home away from home” as you begin your travel adventures.

Choosing Your Travel Bag

When choosing your personal travel bag, you want to be sure that you:

  • Are mindful about what you take with you
  • Follow TSA regulations for travel bag items. Your goal is to go through security without incident
  • Have your essentials close at hand while flying
  • Streamline your list of must-haves so it is not full of extras that you won’t use or that could be packed in your luggage
  • Invest in a high-quality backpack, hand bag or travel bag

As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This page may contain affiliate links. I would love your support through clicking on the links. Read the full disclosure here.

If you are using a hand-me down backpack as your personal travel bag, it is time to find something that is designed just for you. Do you need lots of pockets? Space to accommodate a camera? Padding to ease the strain on your shoulders and neck?

The right kind of backpack will make such a difference.

The NorthFace Recon Backpack for Women and Men [affiliates] are perfect as travel bags.

Must-Haves for My Travel Bag

If you are looking for a hand travel bag, do a little research and make a list of your must-haves. Not sure exactly what your must-haves should be? Here are a few features to look for:

  • a travel bag or backpack that is designed specifically for men or women
  • a padded laptop section
  • a large middle section for a camera insert
  • lots of interior and exterior pockets
  • expandable side pockets for a water bottle, easily accessible hand sanitizer, and Blistex
  • a mesh front pocket
  • a sternum strap
  • a waist belt

You can find all of these features in The North Face Recon Backpack [affiliate]. They have designs specifically for women and men.

The North Face Recon backpack works as a camera bag and as a personal travel bag, so if you are into photography, you might be interested in outfitting your backpack to pull double duty. Check out these 15 Popular Photography Gadgets for travel. Always invest in quality products for travel.

The standard version of The North Face Recon Backpack[affiliate] works great as a travel bag for men. It is even perfect for taller torsos.

Just remember, when you arrive at your destination, you don’t have to carry everything in your backpack or travel bag around with you as you sightsee. Your back will thank you if you remove all of the non-essentials and leave them at the hotel, Airbnb, or your accommodations.

Here are some backpacks that are a little more fashionable that would be fun to try as well. They are designed specifically for traveling with your photography equipment while still allowing extra space for your other carry-on essentials.

BagSmart Camera Backpack, Anti-Theft and Water Resistant Canvas

Brevite Compact Camera Backpack[affiliate]

Travel Bag Packing List

Are you a list maker?

If that is how you function best to “try” not to forget all the things you need to pack, you’ll appreciate this travel bag packing list that includes many of the items you need to remember to put in your bag. Your list may vary a little.

These are 20 of my must-have items and accessories plus one surprising but cute add on.

Camera and Accessories

If you are all about photography when you travel, then your camera will be #1 on your travel bag list. Check out the Canon 6d Mark II[affiliate] camera if you are looking to upgrade.

Canon 6d Mark II DSLR camera
Check on Amazon

If you don’t have camera equipment to worry about, just think of all the extra space you will have in your travel bag and how much lighter it will be!

Camera equipment can get HEAVY!

The North Face Women’s Recon Backpack isn’t designed specifically for transporting camera equipment, but this handy dandy camera insert[affiliate] on Amazon transforms the inner section of the backpack.

The camera insert has three sections, and the size of those sections can be easily changed as the dividers velcro in place.

Leave the middle section of the insert for your camera and fill the two outer sections with lenses.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens – This lens may be attached to your camera body for the majority of the time when you travel.

Canon Nifty Fifty Lens – A second lens that is compact and lightweight enough to include in your camera insert.

Extra Camera Battery – Bring along a second backup battery just in case you use up all of the juice in your first battery. You don’t want to miss any great shots!

Battery Charger – Leave the charger in the hotel once you arrive and be sure to charge everything overnight so that it is ready to go in the morning.

Waterproof Backpack Cover – Have you ever experienced a sudden downpour? This waterproof backpack cover is essential.

Lens Pen – Store this in the pockets of your insert or in one of the zippered pockets in the main storage area of your backpack.

SD card[affiliates] – If you carry more than one SD card in your travel bag, you can also store these in the camera insert if your insert has a zippered pocket on the lid flap for small items.

NOTE * Most of the links here are specific to a Canon 6d Mark II[affiliate]. Click through any Amazon product link in this post and search for the accessories designed specifically for YOUR camera.

iPad and Accessories

Do you love having your Apple iPad handy when you travel just as much as you love having your camera readily accessible. These tablets help time to pass on long international flights as you read, to watch movies, or to catch up on your journaling.

Tablets are useful to have in your travel bag for these additional reasons:

  • Store all information related to your vacation—dates, locations, activities, booked flights, hotel, and transportation
  • Review in the evening for the next day
  • Unwind or relax while reading an eBook
  • “Facetime” with family at home
  • Watch a downloaded movie
  • Journal throughout your vacation
  • Blog on the long flight home

On a side note * You can use Evernote on your iPads as a note-taking tool. It is a handy app for everyday use that allows you to catalog your ideas, keep track of to-do lists, and for your vacations, manage your travel information.

In the vacation planning stages, Evernote can be synced between more than one device so that others can both see and add to the same travel research files on their individual devices or computers.

If you have a basic (free) Evernote plan, you will need to have WiFi access in order to update or sync files. Upgrade to a paid plan to allow access without an internet connection.

Evernote can also be accessed via a mobile phone, but can be more challenging to make updates with the smaller screen and keyboard. (You do not have to have a paid subscription to plan and sync your notes; however, when you are on the go, you will not be able to access notes without WiFi.)

NOTE * Be sure to charge all of your devices and portable chargers the night before you leave for your trip. Also, password protect ALL of your devices.

Accessories to pack in your travel bag with your iPad may include:

iPad cover – Protect your investment from accidental bumps.

Apple Pencil – If you need to distract your kids while flying, an Apple Pencil is great for drawing. It can also be used for taking notes in the Noteshelf App as you travel.

Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad – An external keyboard is so much easier than using the keyboard on the iPad.

Charging cables/cubes – Don’t forget to bring your Cables and Cubes and Adapters[affiliates]. Check out “Wall Chargers and Cables” in 14 Genius Tech Gadgets for Travel for what you might need.

In fact, investing in a Travelon Tech Accessory Organizer[affiliate] would be convenient for organizing all of your cables related to your electronic devices.

Your iPad or tablet will fit perfectly into the laptop sleeve of The North Face Women’s Recon Backpack. Tuck a paper copy of your itinerary here as well.

Cell Phone

A cell phone, whichever brand you choose, is invaluable when you travel. If you are still in the camp that doesn’t own a smart phone, now is the time to invest in one and learn how to use it.

The Apple iPhone 11 has an awesome camera! (And they keep getting better).

Don’t forget about finding an iPhone 11 Case to protect your phone from accidental drops and bumps. Accidents happen. And tuck your retractable cables[affiliate], cables and charging cubes or blocks in with your iPad cables in your travel bag to keep everything together and accounted for.

TIP * Get in the habit of charging all of your electronic devices each night. Your phone is your lifeline when you travel.

Portable Charger

If you are using your phone throughout the day for taking photos, getting directions, checking maps, figuring out transportation, or researching on the internet don’t forget to pack a Portable Charger (or two) so you can recharge your phone when needed.

If you are using your phone for all of those activities, you will most likely use up your battery before the end of the day.

Portable chargers range in size and shape from the size of a tube of lipstick to a cell phone to something larger. Portable chargers are convenient and easy to pack into your travel bag as you sightsee each day.

When you read, “Bring along a portable charger or two…”, take that to mean two if you have kids who use up all of their cell phone battery playing games and using social media and want to charge their phone.

Having two, means there is one available for you so you can map the train schedules back to the hotel. That’s only somewhat important right?

And…don’t forget to bring your charging cable.

Headphones

As you are flying, headphones are great for watching movies, blocking out noisy babies and chatty seat mates, or cancelling out noise as you try to sleep. You have options, so discover what will work best for you.

Do you ever listen to Rick Steves Audio Tours or podcasts as you travel? If so, headphones are a great listening option.

Corded earbuds – If you have smaller ears, headphones that are too large are either uncomfortable or they just don’t fit. Try Skullcandy Ink’d 2[affiliate] earbuds.

As a bonus, if they do happen to fall out of yours ears, at least they are connected by a cord and you won’t lose an expensive AirPod earbud.

You may also need to travel with an Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter [affiliates] in order to plug your headphones into your iPhone. It is a necessary gadget!

Don’t forget to add it to your travel bag if you have corded headphones.

AirPods – You would probably love the convenience of Apple AirPods[affiliate]. They have a handy little feature where you tap twice on the earbud and it pauses your audio. Don’t forget a Silicone AirPod Case[affiliate] with Keychain.

Apple AirPods Pro[affiliate] with the accompanying AirPods Pro Silicone Case with Keychain[affiliate] are great if you are also looking for a noise-cancelling option.

Beats Solo3 – Though these are not quite so compact and easy to travel with as smaller headphones, the Beats Solo3[affiliate] are an over-the-ear option that works quite well if you choose to sleep in them while flying or simply prefer that style of headphone. Because they cover the whole ear, they are quite effective as noise-cancelling devices.

You will need to charge the AirPods and Beats, so don’t forget the charging cable!

Passport Wallet

The Travelon Passport Wallet is awesome for keeping track of all of the passports in one small zippered pouch.

The wallet has some great features:

  • Blocks RFID readers and prevent unauthorized access to your identity
  • Features a passport window
  • Offers card slots for credit cards and ID window
  • Has zippered currency and coin compartments
  • Zips closed to secure all of your travel documents
  • Comes in a timeless style with colorful options

Sunglasses and Case

Optometrists would strongly encourage everyone to wear Sunglasses[affiliate] everyday when you are outside, in your travels, and on adventures. As you travel, you aren’t always mindful of the amount of time spent outside in the sunshine all day long. Take care of your eyes.

Don’t forget this important accessory—sunglasses are fashion and function all in one!

No doubt you will also need a Microfiber Cleaning Cloth and Lens Spray for cleaning your sunglasses and glasses while you are away. The cloth can also work double duty to clean screens and carefully clean camera lenses.

Pen & Paper

Sharpie Pens[affiliate] are great for work at home in your office as well as when you travel and take notes. Write down the places you visit, the funny things that happen, and record memorable moments.

A Travel Journal is compact enough to pack in your travel bag. Some people simply love being able to record daily events using paper and pen.

Water Bottle

A water bottle is super nice to have on vacation and to include in your travel bag. Just make sure it is empty before going through security at the airport!

Staying hydrated is always important. In fact, bring along some small single-serving packets of Crystal Lite, Electrolytes, or Zipfizz to add a little flavor or energy boost to your Water Bottle[affiliates].

Light Jacket

Bring a Light Fleece Jacket[affiliate] with you when you fly. The air on the plane often cools and a light jacket keeps the edge off the coolness of the air conditioning. Having a jacket that is foldable and rollable without wrinkling is a nice consideration as well.

Snacks

No doubt you will get hungry in your travels and will want to bring snacks to have with you as you travel each day. (If you are flying with children, pack a duffel bag for snacks for your entire trip and slowly replace the snacks with mementos as the snacks are eaten.) Include a few snacks in your travel bag just in case.

If you haven’t tried these Built Bars[affiliate] (Double Chocolate Mousse is a favorite) you might just be in for a pleasant surprise. They have great flavors, a nice texture, and are quite delicious.

Bonus * Use Code SJTRAVELS at checkout for 10% off your Built Bar purchase.

Are you a Gum[affiliate] chewer. Bring a package large enough to last the entire vacation. Sure, you could buy more in country, but it is just nice to already have a brand and flavor that you like.

Applesauce Pouches – the person who invented these pouches was pure genius.

Almonds in convenient To-Go packs are great to travel with and perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. Drop a few of these packs into your travel bag for a quick and healthy snack.

Toiletries

Hand Sanitizer* is definitely a must-have in any personal travel bag, especially in this time of Covid. Carry a larger hand sanitizer pump with your toiletries which can be used to refill the travel-sized container as needed. Be sure to use it regularly as you are traveling.

Check out the 20+ Amazing Amazon Must-Have Toiletries for Travel to discover items to pack in your toiletry bag.

Use TSA Approved Clear Bag[affiliate] to organize all of your toiletry items from your travel bag into one place.

Items with an * are items you will definitely want to include in this bag if you are required to remove it from your travel bag while going through security at the airport.

Travel bag essentials

Make sure all liquids, lotions, and gels are under the 3.4 oz TSA fluid requirement or they may be confiscated.

Blistex*[affiliate] is an essential must-haves in any carry-on.

No doubt after an uncomfortable night of sleeping on an airplane, your hair is going to need a little fixing to greet the day in a new country. Pack a travel-sized Hairspray* to add to your TSA Approved toiletry bag and include a Small Pick or Comb and a Scrunchie (if you use one).

Ladies, you may wish to do a little face touch up as well to be fresh for a new day with this IT CC+ Airbrush Perfecting Powder with SPF 50+ after you wake up.

Gold Bond Lotion* is great for the dryness that always seems to happen to hands while traveling.

Who wants to be without Facial Tissue when a big sneeze comes on? Neither you nor any of your seat mates! Tuck in some small travel packs to your carry-on.

You can find Travel-sized Toothpaste and a Toothbrush* which are nice and refreshing.

Don’t forget to pack Eye Drops* in your travel bag as well. They are helpful for dry eyes or for allergies that begin to act up.

Medicine

Here’s a handy tip for your carry-on: Buy a small container or two (or twelve) of Tic Tac Mints. When the container is empty, fill one with your Advil and Excedrin tablets (they are different enough in appearance that you won’t confuse the two) and another container with your Unisom[affiliates].

Be sure to mark with a Sharpie what is in each Tic Tac container along with the dosing instructions.

Airborne [affiliate] comes in its own small tube. Who wants to be sick on vacation when you have planned for and looked forward to travel for months?

A good rule of thumb is to ALWAYS pack two to three days worth of any prescriptions in your travel bag in case you are separated from your luggage. A small, travel-size Container with a Twist Lid will do the trick for storage. It is also a good idea to mark the contents with a Sharpie as well.

Baby Fingernail Clippers

This is a surprising but handy item to add to your travel bag. These Baby Fingernail Clippers are tiny and quite sharp and work perfectly on the go.

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Ultimate travel bag packing tips

Final Thoughts on the 21 Best Travel Bag Essentials for Travel

Well, it is a long list, but if you are planning to be away from home for any amount of time, having a few little comforts close at hand is essential.

You may not wish to include all of the items in your travel bag; consider what would work best for you and use this list as a general guideline. It might just spur an idea of something else.

Be sure to tuck your airline ticket into your travel bag and Bon Voyage!

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24 Comments
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Kristen Callihan
1 year ago

Great recommendations! We are going on a trip in a few weeks and this is very helpful!

Amber
1 year ago

Thank you for the helpful list. In a few years when our kids are out of toddler stages, I look forward to traveling and lists like this will be a must! I will need all the organization tools available. 🙂

Kait
1 year ago

This is a great list! I feel like once I do start traveling again I will be so out of practice that I’ll need this kind of resource. I always carry on my camera equipment as well, and I like to bring an extra change of clothes too, since I have gotten my luggage lost way too many times.

Sarah Butterfield
Sarah Butterfield
1 year ago

These are great suggestions! I love the water bottle you linked to!

Lauraconteuse
1 year ago

This is a great list! Once we’ll be able to travel again, I’ll get back to it. 🙂

Lisa
1 year ago

These are great recommendations! I always try to pack a travel journal with me. It’s so fun to look back and read the details of great family vacations that I would’ve never remembered without the journal!

Sydney Hooten-Rynone

Great list of travel essentials! I am definitely going to purchase the clear TSA bags! Those will be so helpful when going through security! Thank you for the great recommendations!

Livia
1 year ago

Thank you for mentioning Rick Steves Audio Tours! I definitely need to check those out. I listen to history podcasts like The China History Podcast and The History of Rome.

Sarah
Sarah
6 months ago

Love these recommendations! I’m always looking for carry on friends lenses and gear.

Daniella
6 months ago

Such a comprehensive list of items, I’m glad to see you included a travel journal – as a writer it’s one of my must-have items; especially as writing helps me manage my phobia while flying.

Sarah Gilliland
Sarah Gilliland
6 months ago

This is very thorough list! Thank you for putting it together.

Shelly
6 months ago

Great packing tips thanks!

cosette
6 months ago

Great list of essentials. Does it go well with the baby nail clipper in your carry-on. Years ago we had on accident a nail clipper in our carry-on and it got confiscated. Has that changed?

Elyse
4 months ago

It’s so important to have the right gear with you when you travel, I think especially camera gear lol. This is an awesome list, thanks for putting it together