While the Frommer's staff can most often be found under the fluorescent lights of our Hoboken, NJ, office, so far in 2005 we have also been spotted all over the globe, in places like Mexico, Africa, Brazil, China, Paris, Mongolia and Chile. If there's one thing we agree on, it's that we love to travel. When it came to compiling this list of essential travel items, however, we found quite a few differences of opinion. From alarm clocks and books to lucky talismans and queasy pops, here are our top picks.
Stretchy Nylon Dresses
- Before 2001, my most indispensable travel item was my most beloved possession: my Swiss Army knife/keychain, which I rarely left the house without and used for one thing or another every day -- until, alas, a U.S. Consulate guard confiscated it after September 11th. Post-heartbreak, I've decided to distribute my affection, among a dozen or so stretchy nylon dresses, which have become my travel uniform. They're indestructible and utterly unaffected by car, train, or plane travel. If someone paid you to wrinkle them, you'd have a hard time earning your money; you can literally tie them in knots to pack. They can go from beach to restaurant with a change of shoes. And they leave you completely unfettered, to the extent that you forget you're wearing them. (They even take a very long time to smell!) My favorites come from Weston Wear (415/550-8869; www.westonwear.com). Julie Weston is a former dancer who designs for optimum mobility and comfort, but her fabrics are also great, in solids and prints that range from muted to funky. Some better department stores carry them, as does Anthropologie and other smaller boutiques (see the website for store locators). They're typically inexpensive, so you can indulge in patterns and colors you might not want to invest in if you were paying for the stretch silk equivalent. And if an airline loses your luggage for good? What's to lose but a polyester dress ? -- Maureen Clarke
A Black Wrap
- Just as the little black dress is the item no self-respecting fashionista can live without, my not-so-little black wrap is the first thing I always pack in my suitcase. Go ahead and call it a fancy security blanket -- I promise that traveling with a wrap in tow will not disappoint. First, it braves the elements: I've used mine to bundle up in the cold, as a head scarf during windy or rainy days, and spread out in lieu of a blanket for clement-weather picnics. Second: it proves useful while in transit. Unlike the airlines, I can always rely on my wrap if I need a (makeshift) blanket or pillow. And let's not forget that the wrap can complement any outfit -- I've worn mine as a sarong on the beach and even used it as a wrap (who'd have thunk it?) for dressier occasions.
If you'd like to reward your inner Linus with your very own wrap, you'll find they come in a variety of styles and colors, and are sold at too many department and boutique stores to list here. I chose a black wrap because it makes matching easy and doesn't get dirty, and found a version at H&M (www.hm.com) that was a mere, incredibly well spent, $10. -- Jen Reilly
Gum, Pops & Drops
- I always take gum, and lots of it. My vote goes to Orbit (www.wrigley.com/wrigley/products/products_orbit.asp). Use it to freshen breath, quench thirst (and sometimes hunger), make friends (give a piece away), or suppress nausea and ear popping. For gum haters out there, pack your favorite hard candies or try Queasy Pops and Drops (www.threelollies.com). I prefer the sour-raspberry flavor.
If you've even been on a trip -- with a fixed amount of clothing and little time or desire to do laundry -- panicking as you try desperately to scrub deodorant streaks out of your last, otherwise clean, black tee-shirt, Gal Pal (www.gal-pal.com) is the must-pack item for you. These round sponges are magic -- and the stuff of infomercials -- but they work: miraculously removing those pesky white stains before you even have time to think about trying on a new outfit. -- Jenny Anmuth
An Alarm Clock
- Like many travelers, I've taken my share of early-morning flights -- and I've missed a few, too, because of failed hotel wake-up calls. It's an admittedly rare occurrence, but when the front desk forgets to ring your room, the effects can be significant. For most of us, there simply isn't any leeway when it come to a predawn departure; oversleep by just 15 or 20 minutes and you may have to wait hours for the next plane, which means you're likely to miss connections (and possibly pay penalty fees to the airline). I once had blind faith in hotel wake-up services, but no more: These days, I carry a travel-size alarm clock.
I'm not partial to any particular clock -- I've used three or four different kinds, from a fold-up model to one that sits upright (www.amazon.com has a variety of choices). Before leaving on my trip, I like to try out the clock for a night or two. And, of course, new batteries are always a good idea. While most cellphones now come equipped with alarms, they won't do you any good if you're headed overseas, and even domestically reception can be spotty. Whatever you choose as your travel alarm, not only will you make your next 6:00 a.m. flight, you'll also probably sleep a lot better the night before. -- Matthew Brown
A Good Book
- In no particular order, I give you three of my worst travel experiences: Spending the night in a third-world airport; suffering through a week in bed with dysentery and nothing to read but the "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich;" and trying to use a pitch-black hallway bathroom in a French budget hotel. As a result of these trying experiences, I have learned that the following items are non-negotiable when it comes to packing for a trip. First, a backpack. (I'm partial to L.L. Bean; www.llbean.com). Backpacks are comfortable, both to carry and to sleep on, which is key if you need a bed in a pinch, like, say in the airport. Second, a book. As we've already seen, this cannot be any book. Look for something thick (or alternatively, something you can re-read). Whether you're interested in meeting people when you travel is another consideration. (If you prefer to keep to yourself, a doorstop about Nazis probably isn't a bad idea after all.) If you're looking to strike up conversations, I'd go for something lighter. For recommendations, check out Bookslut (http://bookslut.com). Finally, a Timex Indiglo watch (www.timex.com), is indispensable at night in a strange place, lighting up brightly enough to help you navigate a French toilette, tell the time in a movie theater, or scare off a bear at a campsite.
Now that's a bad travel experience I haven't had yet. -- Margot Weiss
A Lucky Charm
- I'll admit it: as a travel editor, I'm supposed to have a grasp on the finer points of packing, not find myself in the middle of the night without a toothbrush. And yet...I'm always missing some necessity on a trip. (Ask about the time we had to stop at Walmart and buy a pair of khakis for my pantsless partner!) Still, I never take off on a long trip without a certain necklace that was given to me as a traveling talisman by a dear friend and teacher. Hanging from a chain are two round objects: the first a white crystal, the second a white moon with a smiling face carved into it. It's also a bit of a conversation piece, and I've had some interesting conversations that began: "That's a lovely necklace." I wore it when I won $50,000 on a gameshow, so while the evidence that it is lucky is anecdotal, I'm a believer! -- Kathleen Warnock
The Space Saver
- If you're a pack rat, taking a weekend vacation to a winter wonderland destination becomes a big-time luggage conundrum. How can you possibly pack just one suitcase? When you need options but want to reduce the size of those wool sweaters or thick winter coats, I suggest the as-seen-on TV Space Saver® (www.spacesavers.com/spacebag.html). This bag is built with an air-suctioning device that vacuums out all the air while simultaneously squashing the contents of the bag down to a good third of the original size. The Space Saver (r) is also great for camping or when you are packing for longer trips. Of course, although the Space Saver allows you to pack a lot more, the items still weigh the same. If you are planning to check your bag, make sure you double-check the weight before you head to the airport. -- Abby Lindenberg
The Two-Ounce Life Insurance Policy
- With two kids under the age of 12, I don't hike the way I used to, but I still always travel with my Space Saver (r) Emergency Blanket. I've taken it out and used it only once in the 15 years I've been carrying it. I was writing a book about ghost towns in the American West. The photographer and I had lost the trail, and it started to rain, a cold Colorado rain that seemed too raw for the summer. We opened the blanket, took cover under a low tree, leaned against each other, and napped. By the time we got up, the storm had passed. NASA helped develop this silvery, aluminum-based material that retains 80 percent of a person's radiated body heat. The manufacturer calls it a "two-ounce life-insurance policy." Besides helping fend off hypothermia, it can be used as a windbreak, for sun protection, as an emergency snow visor (you can see through it), and even as a large signal mirror (it unfolds to 56" by 84"). That day, I folded my blanket up and eventually brought it back to my kids, who spent the next few hours totally screen-free, playing with the Space blanket. We paired it with a clean, take-out chicken bag, the kind that has aluminum on the inside. Presto! We had two astronauts prepared for anything. You can buy it at REI ([tel] 800/426-4840 or www.rei.com) for $3.95. The company's website is also very informative (www.mpioutdoors.com). -- Naomi Black
Totable Toiletry Containers
- If you're looking to save space in your luggage (maybe for the other gadgets listed here), buy a few small, clear plastic bottles at a pharmacy and fill them with some of your toiletries. They're only $1 or so, are reusable, and save you the space of a giant tube of hair gel. Now for the free twist: If you're really cheap -- and have no shame -- go to the French cosmetic chain Sephora (www.sephora.com) and ask them for a few free samples of your favorite face and hair products, or test out some new ones. Why not try some fancy schmancy Frederik Fekkai texturizing balm while you're on vacation? They have lots of quality brands for both men and women, and the free sample containers couldn't be more totable. If you feel like a complete cheap bastard you can buy a few larger "travel-size" items while you're there, most under $10. -- Stephen Bassman
- As a traveler, I'm a ridiculously impractical shopper -- my preferred take-home buys run toward unwieldy, fragile pieces of pottery, statuary and other artwork. After dozens of trips and several unfortunately crumbled purchases, I've discovered when a shop says they "wrap for shipping," that often translates into a few pieces of yellowed newspaper, copious masking tape, and a gossamer-thin plastic bag. Now, before embarking on any journey, I stop by a local office superstore like Staples (www.staples.com) and buy a roll of bubble wrap. I open the package, fold it into a rectangle, and place in the bottom of my suitcase, where it sits until the urge strikes to bring home 12 bottles of wine and olive oil from Tuscany. The next time I'm in Buenos Aires, I plan to revisit the San Telmo Antiques Fair and add to my collection of colored-glass vintage seltzer bottles. -- Kelly Regan
- I'm not a doctor, so I can't prescribe this sedative for you, only recommend. Nothing helps me adjust better to crossing different time zones than this little pill. While it's not a cure-all for jetlag (and, really, what is?), Ambien (www.ambien.com) can take the bite out of long-haul flights. On a 12 + hour flight to New Zealand from San Francisco, I enjoyed my meal, popped one of these fast-acting beauts and slept for a full 7 hours, waking up in time for breakfast and coffee before landing in Auckland. It's not to say that I was completely chipper or fully alert for the entire day, but I felt more on schedule than my partner overall and got into the rhythms much more quickly. For shorter flights, a half dose right before bedtime in your final destination can help you transition into sleep as well. It's available by prescription only, so talk to your doctor to see if it's right for your travel needs. -- David Lytle
What's your one, must-have, can't-go-without travel item? Tell us the Frommers.com Message Boards to tell give us the what and why-for.