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17 Tiny Items to Bring Traveling for Massive Quality of Life Improvement

17 Tiny Items to Bring Traveling for Massive Quality of Life Improvement

Some items to bring traveling are obvious: backpack, flip-flops, sunglasses, chargers, etc. You wouldn’t think twice about starting your journey without them. Other things are less obvious. What really fascinates me are the tiny things that add a ton of value to your travel experience but that take up hardly any space at all. Little treasures that might be considered outside the box and perhaps hardly mentioned in popular packing lists.

This is a collection of 17 tiny items that immediately came to mind as I reflected on what offers a massive quality of life improvement while traveling. We’ve been traveling permanently for over 4 years and have highly streamlined our luggage based on what’s useful and what isn’t, adding stuff and leaving stuff behind constantly.

Most of these are “splurges” in the sense that you want to be traveling with checked luggage before considering most of them. You could probably get by without these things, but lacking them might lead to recurring frustration, stress, and discomfort. You want to be spending your time having fun and enjoying the world, not pulling your hair out and wasting time, right?!

 

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Laptop Stand

Whether you use your laptop for work or just play, chances are you spend a lot of time in front of that screen. Without really realizing it, you may suffer from HOLS (hunched over laptop syndrome). Symptoms include:

  • Neck aching
  • Muscle soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Pain in your shoulders, arms, back, and legs
  • Tingling that runs down your arms and into your hands

Most nomads are probably aware of these problems but suffer them as a cost of the lifestyle. I know I greatly missed my standing desk after leaving the office to travel full time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrounged around like a troll for cardboard boxes to prop my laptop on before coming to my senses and buying a proper laptop stand. Like a lot of items on this list, it’s something that is easy to dismiss as “unnecessary” until you actually buy one. Then you wonder how you’ve ever lived without it! 10/10, would recommend for frequent travelers or nomads.

We like the Nexstand for its compact size, light weight, and excellent value. The Roost is another popular option if you’re willing to shell out a bit more to shave off a few grams. Here are the specs for the Nexstand:

ManufacturerNexstand
ModelNexstand Laptop Stand
Weight250 grams
Dimensions36 cm x 4 cm x 3.5 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$39.12 USD
Link to purchase

Please be aware that if you buy a stand like this, you’re almost certainly going to want a wireless keyboard and mouse to go with it. Trying to type and use a trackpad hovering your hands 20 cm in the air is uncomfortable for prolonged periods.

Knife Sharpener

How many times have you been at an Airbnb and tried to cook something, only to open up a drawer full of dull knives? The agony of trying to cut vegetables with dull blades is enough to make anyone reach for their phone and order Uber Eats.

For about two years, we carried a really nice chef knife with us since we checked bags when we flew anyway. This was fantastic for cooking, but we ultimately decided it was a bit too much of a splurge. We just couldn’t keep justifying bringing such a heavy and dense item with us given airlines’ trend of further restricting luggage weight.

So we eventually arrived at a middle ground of just keeping a tiny, portable knife sharpener (which, of course, we needed for our own knife anyway). This has been a lifesaver pretty much everywhere we’ve gone; I imagine hell would freeze over before Airbnb hosts sharpen their knives.

Smith’s makes a great little portable knife sharpener that weighs practically nothing at all. Here are the specs:

ManufacturerSmith’s
ModelPP1
Weight9 grams
Dimensions8 cm x 2.75 cm x 1 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$8.78 USD
Link to purchase

Luggage Scale

Don’t be the person at the airport check-in frantically rearranging items into different bags and tossing stuff out to meet airlines’ weight limits. It’s not a good look. Neither is ponying up hundreds of dollars in predatory overage charges to fly your overweight bags as-is.

If you only travel occasionally for vacations, sure, you can get away with hopping on your scale at home and subtracting your own body weight. But for frequent travelers (especially nomads), it’s much less hassle to just buy your own portable luggage scale and keep it with you.

We’ve been happy with the simple Camry EL10. It has one job to do and it does it well. Just sling the cord around your luggage handle, clip to the metal triangle, and hold in the air for a quick and easy measurement.

ManufacturerCamry
ModelEL10
Weight91 grams
Dimensions13 cm x 4 cm x 3 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$9.99 USD
Link to purchase

HDMI Cable

This one is simple but worth its weight in gold if you ever want to stay in and be a couch potato occasionally. Come on, we’ve all been there. Nowadays nearly all hotels and Airbnbs come with a flat-screen TV, and HDMI is still the standard interface for signal input. So with this cable, you can easily connect your laptop to the TV and watch shows or play games comfortably.

The key variables here are the length of the cord and which type of port you have on your laptop. The standard 6-foot (1.8 meter) cable should be fine for travelers. You could even get away with a 3-foot (0.9 meter) cable in most cases. The only tricky situation you might run into there is if the TV is mounted high up on a wall, a 3-foot cable won’t be long enough. But as with everything, it’s a trade-off between utility and portability.

Make sure to check what kind of port you have on your laptop. Bigger laptops often have standard HDMI Type A ports (the same as most TVs). For these, you can simply buy a standard Type A male to Type A male cable:

HDMI Type A cable
By D-Kuru – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8892716

Ultra-compact laptops might have a Mini DisplayPort jack, in which case you would need to buy an HDMI to Mini DisplayPort adapter cable:

Mini DisplayPort Cable
GlenwingKyros / CC BY-SA

There are thousands of HDMI cable manufacturers and honestly, any of them (even the cheapest) should work fine. Here are some rough specs based on a simple but effective HDMI-to-HDMI model:

Weight142 grams
Dimensions183 cm x 2 cm x 1.3 cm (full length)
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$7 USD
Link to purchase

Portable Hammock

I have a confession to make: I am flippin’ obsessed with hammocks. They are one of the simple comforts I missed most when first starting to travel. My idea of a perfect afternoon involves lounging in a hammock by the sea for hours reading a good book or listening to a podcast. It got to the point where I was subconsciously seeking out Mexican beach towns to travel to so I could encounter hammocks more frequently.

In fact, the one single item I’ve kept with me longer than any other is an old, trusty portable hammock (11 years and counting). For years I refused to justify packing such a “frivolous” item when space and weight were of high concern. Eventually (after I got over my ultralight phase), I came back around and took ol’ reliable out of storage. I’ll never quit you again!

The beauty of the portable hammock is that it’s just fabric and two pieces of rope, making it lightweight enough to pack. The tricky part is finding two trees or other solid posts to sling the ropes around. Once you find those, you simply attach the fabric on each side with metal hooks – no knot-tying required. Your body is held up by the friction of the ropes against the trees. Setup and take-down take only about 20 seconds each.

Here are the specs for the hammock I’ve had for over 11 years:

ManufacturerGrand Trunk
ModelUH-02
Weight204 grams
Dimensions20.3 cm x 12.7 cm x 10.1 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$29.95 USD
Link to purchase

Collapsible Food Storage Containers

Have you ever cooked too much food at your Airbnb and had no good options for storing leftovers? I think I can remember maybe ONE time out of hundreds when our Airbnb host provided any sort of food storage containers (“Tupperware” for us Americans) whatsoever.

We bought a 4-pack of lightweight, collapsible, silicone food storage containers a couple of years ago and now they travel with us everywhere. We left behind the two smallest ones for space reasons, but these things really come in handy often. Not only are they stackable, but they are microwave and freezer safe, which is very useful.

They also double as bowls for eating things like muesli and soup out of. I am absolutely astounded at the consistent lack of properly deep bowls at apartment rentals throughout the world. Maybe it’s an American thing, but I really hate eating certain dishes (like soup) out of super shallow bowls. These containers work perfectly for this – no fear of spilling.

ManufacturerYagote
Model4pcs-multicolor1
Weight350ml: 100 g
500ml: 138 g
800ml: 185 g
1200ml: 250 g
Dimensions350ml: 13.5 x 10 x 6.6 cm
500ml: 16 x 10.5 x 6.8 cm
800ml: 18.5 x 12 x 7 cm
1200ml: 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.6 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$16.27 USD
Link to purchase

Plastic Pan Scraper (for Dishes)

I love this one because it is so simple and tiny that even an ultralight packer could find space for it. I actually had no idea these things existed until my mom introduced me to them a few years ago. Now I can’t imagine living without them. I’m talking about a plastic pan scraper: a durable, square piece of plastic smaller than a credit card that helps immensely when washing dishes, especially pots and pans that inevitably get burnt gunk on them. The plastic is inclined ever-so-slightly so that you can dig in and lift off even the most tenaciously caked-on food particles.

Amazon sells them in packs of 2 or 3, but you really only need one when traveling (just don’t lose it!). Here are some details:

ManufacturerPampered Chef
Model SYNCHKG014946
Weight9 grams (per scraper)
Dimensions6 cm x 6 cm x 0.1 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$7.50 USD (3-pack)
Link to purchase

Extension Cord

Like the HDMI cable, this one is fairly generic and utilitarian. You just can’t be certain that your apartment rental will have A) enough electrical outlets and B) outlets close enough to where you need your devices. In fact, I would estimate that the majority of times this has been true for us, especially with regard to laptops on kitchen tables. As I’m typing this, the outlet is so far away that I need two extension cords, one plugged into the other, to reach my laptop on the kitchen table.

Obviously, the type of extension cord will depend on what country you come from and their standard plug type. You also generally don’t need anything “heavy-duty” or designed for outdoor use. Modern cords often come with flat plugs that save space behind furniture and braided fabric which reduces tangling. Try to find a cord with these features if possible.

Another option is to find an extension cord specifically designed for travel. K-Century’s travel power strip (pictured above) is great in that it is lightweight, retracts into a very compact shape, and includes USB charging ports. The main downside to these is that they tend to have shorter cords than the more typical indoor extensions cords. K-Century’s 5-foot (1.5 meter) cord seems a little short to me; I’d recommend something closer to the standard 8-foot (2.4 meter) cord to cover the most common situations.

Here are some specs for a more typical 8-foot (2.4 meter) cord that won’t break the bank:

ManufacturerGE
Model38433
Weight385 grams
Dimensions20.3 cm x 11.4 cm x 4.6 cm (compact)
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$10.74 USD
Link to purchase

Steripods

I imagine most travelers have some sort of toothbrush protectors of some kind, but we really like the Steripod brand ones. Every time we go back to the States, we stock up on these little guys. They utilize Thymol as an active ingredient (found in many mouth wash brands) to keep your toothbrush sterile for up to 3 months. This doesn’t directly contact the brush but instead is slowly emitted as a vapor. Of course, the hard outer plastic protects against dirt, sand, and other airborne particles.

They also have a clip-on razor protector (pictured above) that I only discovered relatively recently but have been loving. This one features a zinc strip to keep your blades sharper for longer.

Here are the specs for the standard 2-pack of Steripod toothbrush protectors:

ManufacturerSteripod
Model 92001
Weight14 grams
Dimensions4.3 cm x 4.5 cm x 2.3 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$6.51 USD
Link to purchase

Packing Cubes / Shoe Bags

I was lucky enough to come across packing cube technology when I first began researching gear for my nomadic trip in 2015. Since then, they’ve earned a permanent place in my luggage and something I would consider essential if you want any semblance of organization to your packing.

Packing cubes are exactly what you’d expect based on the name. They are nylon “bags” (cubes) in square/rectangular shapes that zip open and hold anything inside, primarily clothes. Personally, I keep all my below-the-belt clothing in one cube, my shirts in another, my socks and underwear in another, and my “dress” clothing in the last one.

A special variation is the shoe bag (pictured above), specifically designed to protect shoes (and everything else from your shoes). These waterproof bags are a little more heavy-duty and don’t have the see-through mesh bit (the weakest part of normal packing cubes).

There are a huge number of manufacturers selling packing cubes these days, but you can’t really go wrong if you go with one of the top brands. Just make sure that the total quantity, volume, and dimensions approximately match what you need. You might even want to buy two 3-packs if you have a lot of stuff.

Here are some specs from the popular eBags classic model (3-pack):

ManufacturereBags
ModelM13032
Weight221 grams
Dimensions44.5 cm x 32.5 cm x 8.1 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$29.99 USD
Link to purchase

Sewing Kit

File this one under the “glad to have it when you need it” category. Sewing kits pack a lot of utility into a small, 100-gram case. If one of your clothes develops a small tear, it’s much better to perform a little repair than throw it out and buy a new one. Besides being a waste of money, it’s bad for the environment to keep doing this. I know I would feel guilty.

One way to maximize your repair capacity is to have mostly black clothes and black thread to repair them with. Then you don’t have to worry about having the perfect color thread to match your clothes.

In addition to thread and needles, these kits often come with scissors, measuring tape, safety pins, and seam rippers. You can ditch what you don’t need, but these can also come in handy in other situations. Even the needles can double as first aid for splinters in a pinch.

Here’s a cheap and lightweight sewing kit option:

ManufacturerCoquimbo
Model4337015739
Weight100 grams
Dimensions12.4 cm x 12.4 cm x 2.3 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$8.99 USD
Link to purchase

Flexible Cutting Boards

Here we have yet another item to make up for common deficiencies of Airbnb hosts. Cutting boards are a bit of a dice roll. Sometimes they are fine, but many times they are either gross or not supplied at all. While negligent on the hosts’ part, we think it’s not worth the effort to bother them about certain things they’re lacking when you can easily take control by bringing your own boards. Picking your battles and all that.

That’s why we travel with three extremely light and thin flexible cutting boards. Each is barely thicker than a sheet of paper and small enough in dimensions that we can easily pack it along with the rest of our kitchen stuff. You have to be careful researching these on Amazon because the vast majority of flexible plastic cutting boards are what we would consider too big to travel with easily.

The boards we bought are no longer available on Amazon as of March 2020, but this 4-pack by Tovolo appears to be a fine alternative:

ManufacturerTovolo
Model61-33597
Weight77 grams
Dimensions29.2 cm x 19.1 cm x 0.2 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$11.99 USD
Link to purchase

Leatherman Wave

One of the more unconventional products on this list, the Leatherman Wave is something that I owned before traveling. I figured it would come in handy on the road, and sure enough, it has proven super useful in a variety of situations. Basically, this is a high-quality “Swiss Army Knife” that contains 18 tools in one. Some of the most useful tools include the knife, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, and bottle opener. I have used it for everything from tightening fry pan handles to opening difficult packages while traveling.

The Wave is very compact but dense. You can feel the quality just holding it in your hand. But if weight is a concern, there are some lighter, more barebones alternatives for multi-tools. Standard disclaimer that you also must be traveling with checked luggage to consider bringing this with you.

ManufacturerLeatherman
ModelWave (Plus)
Weight363 grams
Dimensions11.5 cm x 6 cm x 4 cm (in case)
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$99.95 USD
Link to purchase

Sleep Mask

If you’ve been traveling long enough, you’ve come across a situation where you needed to sleep on a plane or train – or just during the daytime in a bright environment. This can be very difficult without a quality sleep mask. We’ve had our Alaska Bear sleep masks for over 3 years now. Even though they’re inexpensive, they really stood the test of time and are still going strong. They’re also very comfortable – the natural silk material doesn’t chafe or scratch when nodding off to catch those Z’s.

ManufacturerAlaska Bear
ModelAB-EM-001
Weight18 grams
Dimensions12.7 cm x 12.7 cm x 1.8 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$9.99 USD
Link to purchase

Ear Plugs

These go hand-in-hand with the sleep mask to aid sleeping or even just hearing protection in noisy environments. When you’re slogging through an overnight bus ride through Mexico and they’re blasting a dubbed action movie on full volume at 5:00 a.m, you’ll be super thankful to have these by your side.

There are two main categories of ear plugs: foam and silicone. The foam plugs are the cheapest and often come in packs of 50+ since they get gross after a few uses. You compress them down with your fingers and let them expand to fill the space of your ear canal. Silicone plugs are meant to be washable and reusable, so they typically come in smaller quantities. They can be used underwater and on airplanes to help with pressurization in addition to all the other usual environments.

Ultimately, the best plugs for you come down to personal preference. I recommend trying both types if you can before traveling, since some people love one kind but hate the other. Personally, I like these silicone plugs because they come with sturdy plastic cases and, being washable, I never have to worry about running out or carrying extra bulk:

ManufacturerNnrly
Model6 Packs Reusable Silicone Ear Plugs
Weight7 grams per pack
Dimensions3.5 cm x 3.5 cm x 1.7 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$6.99 USD
Link to purchase

Passport Wallet

One of the safest places you can keep your passport on a travel day is around your neck. Thieves have an extremely difficult time pick-pocketing something hooked around your neck and so close to your chest. The Venture 4th travel pouch that I’ve happily used for years also has space to keep credit cards and other important documents. It has RFID blocking technology to protect your cards from unwanted scans by electronic thieves. In addition, it’s breathable so you can tuck it under your outer shirt or hoodie without it getting overly moist and sweaty.

There are many excellent options for secure travel wallets – just do a bit of research to see what features you require and what fits your style. The Venture 4th product that I use has the following characteristics:

ManufacturerVenture 4th
ModelV4-01-NP-BLK
Weight68 grams
Dimensions21 cm x 15 cm x 0.5 cm
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$17.95 USD
Link to purchase

Travel Towel

Better safe than sorry. Having your own compact travel towel can come in really handy sometimes, especially if you stay at hostels often. Microfiber towels aren’t the most comfortable, but they dry fast and are the lightest, most compact option by far.

Counter-intuitively, it’s best to get the largest size microfiber travel towel possible (XL or XXL). There are several reasons for this. One, small towels can’t easily be worn around your body on the way to and from the bathroom. Two, it’s hard to dry yourself with very little surface area, especially when that surface area gets fully damp right away. Finally, having a large towel gives you the option to use it at the beach as a makeshift beach towel or on grass as a makeshift blanket.

ManufacturerRainleaf
ModelMicrofiber Towel (XXL)
Weight391 grams
Dimensions192 cm x 102 cm (XXL, fully open)
Price (Amazon, March 2020)$20.99 USD
Link to purchase

Always looking for more

Phew! That’s a lot to think about. And really, this just scratches the surface of quirky, unique travel items that are worth their weight in gold. We’re always keeping our eyes open for the latest and greatest gadgets to streamline our travel experience.

17 Tiny Items to Bring Traveling

What tiny items do you not leave home without, and why do you love them so much? Let us know in the comments below!


17 Tiny Items to Bring Traveling for Massive Quality of Life Improvement
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Tyler Kimble
Tyler Kimble
Tyler has been traveling the world nonstop since Fall 2015. Originally from Wisconsin in the U.S., he discovered his passion for travel thanks to his wife Linda. He is very analytical and keeps detailed notes for every place he and Linda visit together, especially cost of living data. As a co-founder of Travelitic, he is excited to share his wealth of travel knowledge with the world!
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