What HGTV Editors Can't Travel Without

Brave the busyness of travel season with our editors' tried and true packing essentials.

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May 21, 2024

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Whoever coined the phrase, "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey" clearly has never experienced a busy airport during peak travel time. We've all been there: vigorously shoving clothes from your overweight checked suitcase into a carry-on, rummaging through the nooks and crannies of your bag for your ID, struggling to take your shoes off at security, dragging heavy luggage all the way to your gate (it always ends up being the farthest one) — all just to sit on an uncomfortable airplane for hours, let alone in the dreaded middle seat. Every mode of transportation, whether in the sky or on the road, are getting busier than ever, making it harder than ever to have a painless travel experience.

Our editors included have had their fair share of travel nightmares, which is why we've gathered our top travel essentials that make the journey from the packing process all the way to stepping out of the plane, car, train or cruise a little more bearable. Between packing organization, must-have travel-size items and luggage with never-ending compartments, this is what we use to make travel more manageable and help us breeze through our journey like a pro.


It's not always about what to pack, but how to pack. If you're trying to save money on checked bags or just aiming to be as hands-free as possible, the ability to fit everything you need in as little luggage as possible can make all the difference in your travel experience and strain on your body, for that matter. This can require compression bags, fun-sized everything and separating loose items in small containers that make it easier to only bring enough for your needs (I'm talking to you, over-packers).

$24.99 $20.98

"Once you go cube, you will never go back! Packing cubes have transformed the way I organize and pack when traveling solo or as a family. I personally like the Shacke Pak Set of 5 Packing Cubes with a mesh window to see what’s inside without unzipping. The set includes an X-Large, Large, Medium and Small cubes along with a laundry bag. You’ll realize they can hold way more items (up to a 14-day vacation), and unpacking is a breeze. However you like to organize, packing cubes are my #1 travel hack that I cannot travel without." — Jennifer Cicatelli, Senior Manager, Commerce Analytics

$20.99 $15.99

"This makeup bag set makes it easy for me to carry all of my toiletries, hair care, medicine and extras I need for every trip whether I’m taking a road trip or getting on a plane. The different sizes are versatile, and the plastic material keeps everything dry all the way to my destination. Plus, they’re clear and a great size if you need to take your liquids out when going through airport security." — T.K. Brady, Senior Editor

$19.99 (Pack of 5)

"I just discovered these last year and I’ll probably never travel again without them. I was able to fit a lot more clothes (and souvenirs) in my luggage. When I first used them, I was concerned that my clothes would be more wrinkled than normal, but not the case. My clothes were actually less wrinkled because they weren’t moving around inside the luggage. Having the bags also helped keep me organized during the trip — I used them for dirty laundry and to separate my stuff from my husband’s. Also, they’re easy to use, no vacuum needed. In fact, you don’t even need a lot of muscle to get the air out of the bags. They’re reusable and well worth the $20 price tag." — Jackie McGilvray, Editor


"It’s so annoying to discover lint all over a cute outfit before heading out to a nice dinner or work event on a trip. That’s why I love this compact retractable lint roller from the brand Flint. It twists like a lipstick to reveal a roll of adhesive and retracts back when you’re done, meaning the adhesive doesn’t collect lint when not in use, like when stored at the bottom of a purse. It’s the perfect lint roller for quick touch-ups on the go." — Laura James, Editor


"Traveling with liquids can be such a pain, but Cadence travel containers are a lifesaver and eliminate single-use waste. They're standard size, so no need to worry if you've gone over the liquid limit, plus they are leakproof. I know because mine have been put to the test more than once. All sets are customizable. Choose colors and labels that fit your travel style for a fun organizational element. My favorite feature, however, is that all containers are magnetic, so I never have to worry about losing one." — Caroline McCarley, Editor

$44.95 $31.95

"I like to pack light and am a sucker for a compression bag. This set of compression cubes has been a game-changer for packing my carry-on, so I don't have to check a bag on short trips. I love that they're made by a top outdoor brand that prioritizes both durability and sustainability." — Kelly Smith Trimble, Senior Editorial Director

$5.99 (Pack of 10)

"These tiny spray bottles are perfect for those items you just need a little of. On a recent trip, I filled one with rubbing alcohol to clean my phone, red light therapy mask and other devices throughout the trip, and I was so impressed how much it held without taking up valuable space. Alternatively, I found these squeeze bottles and these larger spray bottles ideal for products I needed a bit more of but didn't want to waste a full 3 ounces worth of bag space on." — Keri Sanders, Editor


"It’s imperative to me to have all my important cards, cash and passport in one spot when I’m traveling. I love using this travel wallet because it’s built with RFID-blocking technology to ensure my personal information is protected. If you’re traveling as a family, the larger version is ideal for keeping everyone’s documents in one safe space." — Morgan Faulkner, Editorial Assistant


Having a trustee travel bag that holds all your belongings no matter the length of your trip is always worth the investment, especially if it's good quality and can last a lifetime like our luggage picks. From backpacks that hold as much as a suitcase and bags that expand into a literal closet, these pocket-galore options are the real deal.

$178 $124.6
Lo & Sons

"I’ve owned this canvas duffle bag for nearly a decade and have used it for everything from weekend getaways to weeklong African safaris. It’s roomy enough to fit all of my outfits and toiletries in the main compartment and the shoe compartment comes with a waterproof liner that ensures my footwear stays dry. I often use it with my trusty Away Carry All because it has a pass-through sleeve that makes it easy to use with hard luggage. And when it gets a little too dirty from regular travel, I can machine wash and dry it to keep it good-as-new." — T.K. Brady, Senior Editor

$179.99 $54

"The name of this backpack is pretty self-explanatory, but even so it deserves all my praise. I originally bought this backpack for my study abroad semester, where most international airlines charge extra for carry-ons (which became a bit costly as a student). To save money on airfares I resorted to the Mother Lode, which counted as a personal item yet is essentially a full carry-on on my back. It opens like a suitcase (pictured), revealing a main roomy compartment for packing cubes and a convenient mesh pocket for shoes. There is also a padded laptop sleeve, a deep front zip compartment (with even more interior pockets) for easy access to items without opening the entire bag, two additional 'quick grab' front pockets for a passport, phone, etc. and a side water bottle pocket. Everything I needed for a long weekend trip fit in this backpack, while still being compact enough to comfortably fit on my back, under my seat or in the overhead compartment. I didn't think I'd be using The Mother Lode much after my international travels, but boy was I wrong. It is the ultimate one-bag solution." — Julia Morlino, Editorial Assistant

$325 $275

"I love this Solgaard suitcase – I have the carry-on, and packed a week’s worth of clothes for a wedding in Italy. I don’t use the closet system, but my husband does and enjoys it. A few of my favorite features: the hard shell with a lock (creates a great “sit on and close” experience), the charging port with an integrated USB and the four wheels on the bottom for easy movement. My husband also has the backpack – it was the perfect travel companion for a weekend at Oktoberfest in Germany." — Virginia Moon, Managing Editor

$480 $269.9

"While I’ve used and loved Away’s carry-on suitcase for six years now, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to splurge on a matching checked bag that costs around $350 for a recent international trip, especially since I don’t need a checked bag very often. Enter Quince. I decided to try this suitcase bundle that features a 20-inch carry-on and a 24-inch checked suitcase that nest inside each other when stored for just $269 (though you can purchase separately, too) – that’s two suitcases for almost $100 less than one Away checked suitcase. While I was a little hesitant about the quality living up to my Away suitcase, I was pleasantly surprised! The checked suitcase from Quince glided through the airport and came out of baggage claim with minor wear. Lighter colors like the tan will show black scuffs easily, but it comes with a melamine eraser that removes them like a charm. The Quince suitcases feature 360-degree wheels, polycarbonate shells, laundry bags, compression panels, TSA-friendly locks, free shipping and 365-day returns. If you’re looking for stylish, high-quality luggage on a budget, I highly recommend them." — Laura James, Editor


"I genuinely don’t travel anywhere without this backpack. It’s great for overnights at my boyfriend’s house, or as a carry on paired with a checked bag for a longer trip. It fits under an airplane seat and can be stowed in the overhead compartments. The best part: It has SO MANY pockets — including a separate pocket at the bottom for a pair of shoes, which is great since shoes are often dirty and germy. While I never quite figured out how to use the charging port, the pockets built into this backpack allow me to stay super organized while traveling. Overall, this bag is a steal. (After two years with my current one, I’m ordering another one in a different color.)" — Caroline Alkire, Managing Editor


"I don’t go anywhere without my Patagonia Black Hole backpack (I have the 32L, but the 25L is very roomy, too). I can fit everything I need for myself and my 4-year-old for a long weekend trip, and for longer trips or airplane travel I use it as my personal item — it holds a ton but fits easily under the seat. It’s comfortable and durable and easy to keep organized. In addition to the huge main pocket, it has a separate flat pocket for laptops and two separate front pockets: one I fill with snacks and the other with toys and crafts for easy access (some no-mess favorites are colored masking tape and this dough that doesn’t dry out)." — Michelle Buffardi, VP, Multiplatform Digital Content


"If you’re traveling somewhere you plan to shop for souvenirs, this fold-up duffle bag is so useful. The bag packs down and zips up to about the size of a notebook or iPad, but when you unzip it, it transforms into a stylish full-sized duffle bag. I recently traveled to Paris and packed this zipped-up bag in my one-checked suitcase. To make room in my suitcase for the clothes, vintage art and other goodies I purchased during my trip, I transferred non-fragile items from my checked suitcase into this duffle and used it as my second carry-on bag on the return trip. While this duffle doesn’t have the structure to stand up on its own, it works well as a weekend or gym bag, and I love that it comes in several colors and can be personalized — it’d make a great gift!" — Laura James, Editor


While you may believe technology doesn't deserve a spot in your luggage compared to clothes and toiletries, it really can upgrade your trip from zero to 100. And no, we don't mean to bring a bulky iPad that takes up all your space. Think a mini steamer for last-minute touchups or a neat waterproof phone case to capture a tropical vacation. And don't forget everyone needs a pair of compact noise-canceling headphones to drown out crying babies or barking dogs on your travels.


"A compact steamer makes it so easy to de-wrinkle and refresh clothes when traveling, but one thing to keep in mind when purchasing is that some steamers can’t be used internationally because they don’t use the proper voltage (and a lot of outlet adapters don’t convert voltage). I recently bought this Conair steamer that can be switched from 120V to 240V for worldwide use. It worked great on a trip to Morocco! The water reservoir is a bit small, but I found it to be large enough for a quick outfit touchup." — Shannon Phillips, Managing Editor


"This adapter is perfect for international travel (works in 150 countries). It has two USB ports so you can charge three devices at once — two USB and one in the socket. With the two USB ports, you also don't have to bring multiple chargers for phones, tablets, etc." — Rashidah Bashir, Director, Audience Dev & Editorial


"When traveling on a plane or train with young kids, you need to pack them comfortable headphones. Whether they are connecting to the plane TV or a personal device, a comfortable pair of headphones will save you the headache of a complaining child or nearby passengers. On a recent trip my son wore my Soundcore Bluetooth Noise Cancelling Headphones, and it was the most blissful travel experience as a parent. The headphones are lightweight, with a memory foam padding surrounded by a soft leather comfortable for anyone to wear." — Jennifer Cicatelli, Senior Manager, Commerce Analytics


"Whether you’re traveling to a theme park with water rides or going snorkeling in the ocean, you need this waterproof phone pouch. I recently took it on a cruise and was able to capture some beautiful underwater photos from our adventures — all without damaging my phone. Tip: Ensure your pouch is completely watertight before first using it by putting a dry paper towel inside and submerging the pouch in water. If the paper towel comes out dry, then you’re good to go." — Morgan Faulkner, Editorial Assistant


"This personal safety alarm from She’s Birdie gives me a bit more peace of mind traveling as a woman. Pulling on the top of the alarm will activate a very loud (130 decibels!) siren and flashing light to create a diversion and alert people around you you’re in danger. Beyond travel, I keep this alarm on me in my everyday life, too. The brand also now offers a smart version of this alarm called Birdie+ that can connect to your smart phone and allow access to a 24/7 emergency support line via a subscription service." — Laura James, Editor

Airport & Airplane Hacks

Trust us. The following items are probably ones you've never thought of but won't be able to travel without. Whether you fear the haste of security checks or find it impossible to avoid the painful change in cabin pressure, we've got hacks that make life easier on the ground and in the air.

$16.99 (Pack of 2)

"Last year, on a flight to Phoenix, I had the most excruciating ear pain on descent. I truly thought my head was going to explode! If you've been there, you know. Since that flight, I've been using these ear plugs which come with a case so they can be easily stored in your hand luggage. So far, no more issues for me." — Rashidah Bashir, Director, Audience Dev & Editorial


"I've taken this pillow on so many flights, and I am constantly recommending it to people. It folds up small enough to fit in the side pocket of my backpack and blows up quickly and quietly. The material is super soft, and the internal padding is a plus. In my opinion, it's ideal for window seats and is one of the only ways I can ever get real sleep on a plane." — Keri Sanders, Editor


"This Lululemon belt bag is truly the perfect size for all the essentials you need on hand in the airport: A wallet, phone, passport, charger, chapstick, hair ties, hand sanitizer and more. It's easier than ever to reach for these small items in my fanny pack rather than sorting through a large carry-on or backpack (you never want to be the one to hold up the security line because you can't find your passport). It also gives me peace of mind knowing all my important travel documents are right in front of me, and I love that I can get away with wearing this in addition to a personal item. There are definitely more affordable dupes out there, as any roomy fanny pack can serve as a great companion in the airport." — Julia Morlino, Editorial Assistant


"Slip-on sneakers are a travel must-have for me, particularly when I’m flying. It’s so much easier to get through airport security when you don’t have to untie and retie your shoes. I have a pair similar to these Dr. Scholl’s that are super comfy for trips with a lot of walking, and I like the loafer style versus a more athletic-looking shoe. I’m actually due to replace them because I’ve worn them on so many vacations." Shannon Phillips, Managing Editor

From $15.99 (Pack of 3)

"My feet swell up on long flights so I always wear compression socks. I have these and my sister, who is a nurse, also bought them. Great if you stand or sit for extended periods." — Rashidah Bashir, Director, Audience Dev & Editorial

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