Best Travel Gear Picks from a Constant Traveler (2023)
Whether you're new to traveling or just looking to update your travel gear, it can be overwhelming deciding what to purchase. It's hard to know what's worth spending extra money on and what isn't, especially for those of us on a budget.
I'm an avid traveler who's been traveling the United States and Europe pretty much non-stop for the last few years, and during that time I've refined my travel gear to a near-perfect system. I've purchased so many different versions of each travel accessory on this list, tested them out, selected the best ones (considering overall efficacy and price), and I'm here to share the results with you.
So without further ado, here's my personal list of the best travel gear and travel accessories in 2023. I'll always be upfront with which ones I've tested personally versus just researched, in cases where I couldn't find my exact travel item online.
This list skews slightly toward the best travel accessories for women (hello, comfortable women's travel shoes!), but most of the travel gear on this list is totally gender-neutral.
Skip ahead to:
Don’t forget to pin this post for later:
As always, this post may contain affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you, shopping from them may generate small commissions to support the operations of this blog.
Best Carry-On Luggage
When it comes to deciding what luggage to bring with me on a trip, I try to bring the smallest amount I can manage. That's for a few reasons: I save money paying for checked bags, and I have less to haul from location to location as I travel. That's especially wise when traveling in Europe, where most sidewalks and streets are cobblestoned and elevators are far from a guarantee.
Your luggage is definitely an item of travel gear I recommend investing money in. Samsonite is one of my go-to brands. I've also personally had good experiences with Kenneth Cole Luggage. For both brands, my luggage has withstood 8-12 trips a year over several years and is still holding up.
What to look for in carry-on luggage: I prefer hard-sided luggage (you may prefer cloth, that's a personal preference), but what's more important to me than ANYTHING is that it has 4, 360-spinner wheels. This makes an ENORMOUS difference when going through airports or walking distances while traveling and tends to set apart the best travel luggage from the cheapest.
Pro travel gear tip: Looking for the largest size luggage is not always the best route. Different airlines have different carry-on size requirements, particularly budget airlines. Budget airlines tend to have smaller carry-on size guidelines, and they are also the most likely to actually measure and charge you for going over the allotted size.
Best Travel Backpacks
My favorite travel backpack, which I've used for years all over the United States and Europe, is a Bondka laptop backpack. It has held up so well for me over the years on trips to Greece, Hawaii's Big Island, London, and beyond, and is one of my best items of travel gear. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find that exact backpack online.
I've included a few here that I haven't personally tested, but when I need to replace my current backpack, these are the ones I'll be turning to, based on a combination of the features I love about my current backpack along with customer satisfaction based on extensive reviews.
What to look for in a travel backpack: I look for a large main compartment with a zipper that goes about 3/4 of the way around, so it's easy to access your clothes or other items you'd be packing here. I also look for a travel backpack with pockets that are close to the back/body (passport and other important items go in there, not in the outside zipper where they can be easily stollen). I also like my travel backpack to have a large water bottle pocket on the side, back padding, and a chest clip (this helps when you're walking around with a fully loaded backpack). Some smaller outside zippers are also nice, because I can put my Kindle and books in these and access them easily.
Best Travel Purses
While you'll often hear concealed money belts recommended in travel books, I really don't think that's a practical or secure way to carry money while traveling, especially in Europe.
Think about it. If you need to purchase something, that requires removing your money belt in plain view of others, letting any potential thieves know exactly where you're keeping your stuff. It also screams, "I'm a tourist! Rob me!" Tons of locals are walking all around you with their normal bags, and you can, too.
In my opinion, the best travel purse is a cross-body bag when traveling in Europe and elsewhere. The cross-body part is important, because this keeps the bag more secure to your body as a deterrent to thieves. If you're traveling when it's cold, wear the cross-body purse inside of your jacket, and you can feel relatively secure in hanging onto it.
Here are some cross-body travel purses to consider for your next trip:
Fossil is one of my personal favorite purse brands. This small cross-body bag would make a great travel purse. It's durable, neutral, and large enough to fit essentials without being too large and heavy to carry around on long travel days.
The North Face is a good quality brand, and this cross-body bag would make a great travel purse. They make a variety of cross-body bags in cute colors and prints. I love this floral print, but there are lots of more neutral varieties as well. This could also be worn around the waist, but I'd keep the bag in the front, not the back, if you go that route.
This Adidas cross-body bag is made from recycled materials (environmental bonus!) and is a great way to keep your phone, wallet, and other small items safe and secure while traveling.
I have a similar model to this by Gaiam that I use when I need a little bit more space to carry things around in than my smaller cross-body travel purse.
Best Packing cubes
Packing cubes are one of my absolute favorite travel accessories. I don't know how I ever traveled without them! Now, I keep a healthy stock of about 30 packing cubes in my house. They are the perfect way to organize your travel bag or suitcase so that your clothes stay organized throughout your trip. They are also great if you're traveling as a family and sharing bag space, as you can keep clothes separate for different people.
If you love traveling and haven't bought packing cubes, trust me when I say you need to remedy that immediately! Packing cubes are some of the best travel accessories you can invest in.
The sizes I find most useful are the medium and small sizes... medium is perfect for tops and/or bottoms, and the small ones are perfect for bras, underwear, and socks. I don't often use the largest size packing cube, so take that for what it's worth.
I suggest buying some packing cubes with mesh so that you can see what's inside each without opening them.
This set of packing cubes comes with all medium sizes, if you know that's what you'll use the most often.
I have bought multiple brands of packing cubes, and honestly, I haven't noticed a significant quality difference in any of them. My recommendation is to buy the ones that are priced well and are the sizes you most need.
Cute and Comfortable travel shoes
Travel tends to include a lot of walking, even when you haven't planned a walk into your day. You walk to and from your hotel, public transportation, across the airport, and so on. If you haven't made a smart shoe choice, you're going to be regretting it, and quickly.
There are so many different recommendations out there for the most comfortable travel shoes, but here are my personal picks.
Bare traps sandals are one of my favorite travel shoes and walking shoes in general. These are seriously so comfortable, even right out of the box with no breaking in. They have a squishy sole that's still supportive, and they look so much cuter than the shoes you find most tourists walking around in. They get one of my top pics for the best women's travel shoes if you're going someplace warm.
Any time you search for the most comfortable travel shoes, you'll find a thousand people who swear by Birkenstocks. There's a good reason for that. Once you break them in, the leather upper of Birkenstock's is soft and comfortable, and the soles are very supportive. That being said, if you go with Birkenstocks for your travel shoe choice, make sure you have plenty of time to break them in, as the leather can be a little stiff for the first couple weeks.
All-white sneakers are a staple travel shoe option. If you want to go this route, I recommend getting genuine leather so they hold up against the weather, and make sure you've broken them in before your trip. I have worn these all-white Puma sneakers all over Europe. They are a great travel shoe for women because they are cute, comfortable, and incredibly versatile. I've worn them with shorts, pants, and dresses.
Back-up battery pack
One of the most rookie travel mistakes you can make is to overestimate the battery life of your phone. Even if your phone battery usually lasts all day at home, when you're traveling you tend to use it much more frequently.... for photos, navigation, translation, pulling up reservations... You don't want to be out and about and suddenly find yourself with a low battery.
The easy solution is to carry another of my picks for the best travel accessories, a portable battery. They can fit easily into your small cross-body purse. Just make sure you pack a charging cord, recharge it at night in your hotel room, and you're good to go.
If you know you're one who forgets to bring charging cords, buy a battery pack with built-in chargers like this one
If space is an issue, you can try out one of these ultra-compact phone chargers like this one (I've never personally tried this style, so use at your own risk, but reviews seem positive!)
Travel Cord organizer
Another of my travel accessory staples is a charging cord organizer. You might roll your eyes and call me a Type-A, and you wouldn't exactly be wrong, but trust me, having a travel cord organizer makes travel life so much easier. You can keep all your chargers for multiple electronics in one location, neatly displayed, so you can always do a quick scan to make sure you have everything.
I use one like this one. think it's the perfect size to fit your essentials without taking up too much space. I've also tried the roll-up style of cord organizer, and this zipper style wins for me hands-down. The roll-up style fit way less but still took up significantly more bag space.
Because I travel several times a month, I just keep an extra cord of each type in my cord organizer. That way, when I'm going on a trip, I don't have to go through the mental list of every cord I need. This really is one of my favorite travel accessories.
Don't forget to add a travel adapter if you're visiting another country.
Best Toiletry bag for travel
Travel toiletry bags come in all types, shapes, and sizes. If you're looking for the best women's travel toiletry bag, I think this model is it. I've tried out so many variations, and I think this toiletry bag has the best of everything: a built-in hook so you can hang it just about anywhere in a hotel room or bathroom, multiple compartments to fit all your stuff (with clear covers so you can see what's in them), and it folds up into the most compact and packable shape I've found in a toiletry bag. I've thrown out my others and always use this one.
In this toiletry bag I fit my hairbrush and accessories, skincare products, and makeup, and it never takes up too much room in my bag.
I also use a reusable see-through bag for liquids. I've found in European airports in particular, they are strict about removing all liquids for security, so having your carry-on liquids and gels already packed in a bag makes the security line go more smoothly.
If you take daily medications or supplements or just like to have a supply of basic medicines on hand when you travel, this pill organizer is a great item to add to your travel gear.
I used to use the daily compartment pill organizer when I traveled, but I found it got confusing, especially when my trips lasted more than one week. And I couldn't always remember which pill was for morning versus night. I switched to these pill organizers for travel, combined with home-printed labels for each section. Each compartment is for one type of pill. It's compact and a great system and travel accessory.
Travel tip: Make sure you bring a couple of days' extra of your medications when you travel. I have had the experience of being on a trip and then needing to fly elsewhere for a family emergency, and that couple extra days' worth of medication was absolutely necessary until my doctor could send a new prescription to my temporary location.
Travel Water filter
If you're traveling to a country where the water quality is questionable, you should always purchase lots of bottled water or save the planet and the money and invest in a travel water filter.
I swear by the Sawyer Micro Squeeze, which is so compact, light, and easy to use, you can literally screw it right onto the cap of a disposable water bottle (for example, you can use a Smart water bottle and keep refilling it, because the filter will take care of the water quality.
Bonus: It's almost ridiculous how affordable this water filter is!
Recommended Travel Luxuries
Up until now, I've covered what I would call relatively essential travel gear (obviously I know nothing is essential but food, clothing, shelter yes yes, but you know what I mean). But here are some of the best travel accessories that are less essential but can make travel life just a little bit more comfortable.
I love me a good Hardcover or paperback book, but when you are short on luggage space, an e-reader can really come in handy as a travel accessory. I personally take my Kindle Paperwhite on pretty much every trip I take. It also gives me a variety of books to choose from, because I'm a hardcore mood reader.
Read my detailed review of the latest Kindle Paperwhite e-reader and decide whether it's the e-reader for you.
This blog is all about literary travel, so I've got to cover the must-have travel gear for book lovers! I love bringing my Kindle with me on trips, but I also love having a paperback or hardcover (or 2 or 3 or 4). I just hate seeing them get damaged in my travel bag.
I've started keeping my books in a book sleeve when I travel. I typically use one I got in one of my Literary Book Club subscription boxes, but it's similar to this one:
Noise-cancelling headphones were one of my best splurge travel accessories. If you've ever been bothered by other people's loud conversation, annoying chewing, or the crying of a grumpy baby on an airplane or elsewhere, do yourself a favor and invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Lots of cheaper headphones profess to be noise-cancelling, but this is one travel accessory where you definitely get what you pay for. My Bose noise-cancelling headphones were definitely worth the investment for me. The noise cancellation is some of the best on the market.
One of the ways technology has improved travel is AirTags. They're not just for your lost keys and wallet; you can use AirTags when you travel! Take your travel game to the next level and put an AirTag inside your luggage and track where it is. If the airline claims to have lost it, you might just be able to track it down before they do.
AirTags are so seamless to use if you are already an Apple product user. You can set it up in seconds and track it easily from the "Find My" app on your phone or iPad.
Waterproof fanny pack
If you're going to a beach or pool destination and don't want to worry about your keys or phone getting stollen, a waterproof fanny pack is a great solution. When you go out into the water, you can keep it secured to you instead of stealthily hidden under your towel where NO thief would EVER think to look.
I've tried the necklace lanyard style, but they constantly broke and weren't reliable, plus they only have space for a phone. These waterproof fanny packs are one of the best travel accessories for any destination where you'll be back and forth to the water. There are essentially 3 separate ziplock style seams at the top, then you roll over and velcro the top. It makes it very water tight. I've used these countless times when snorkeling and free diving in Hawaii.
GoPro Action Cam
With my GoPro, I was able to capture some really unique experiences underwater, like encountering sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins, sharks, and manta rays in the wild in Hawaii. Those experiences were unforgettable no matter what, but being able to also record them allows me to relive those memories in a special way.
GoPros are so easy to use and even better, it's so easy to transfer your pictures and videos onto your phone (wirelessly!). It's a travel accessory to really consider, especially if you're going on a lot of water-based vacations.
Hopefully this list has given you some ideas for where to invest and where to save and what the best travel gear is for someone without endless cash. All of these items are ones I've used personally or very similar to my own, and it's stuff I actually recommend because I actually use it.
If this list has helped you pick out your travel gear, pin it, tweet it, share it so others can find it, too!
And don't forget to subscribe to my blog so you don't miss any new posts.