Best Travel Accessories 2021 | Travel Essentials

Staff, Courtesy of Matador

As someone who flies at least once a month—or did, prior to 2020—I’ve felt the pain of being in the middle seat for a 16-hour flight. But it doesn’t take nearly that long to make a flight feel uncomfortable if you’re bored, sore, and forced to listen to the sounds of nearby kids squabbling or your fellow flyers chewing a bit too hard on their complimentary pretzels. The right travel accessories can make you forget all about the roomy business-class seats you walked by on the way to the back of the plane.

I also know the right gear can make hotel stays more comfortable and explorations of a new city on foot easier. Whether it’s airplane pillows or toiletries, I’ve tested a lot of gear and have some dedicated favorites that make both international and domestic travel far more enjoyable.

What to Consider When Buying Travel Accessories

The best travel accessories eliminate the inconveniences and annoyances of life on-the-go. For me, this includes headphones that drown out engine noise (or crying babies) and carrying containers that allow me to bring my favorite soap and shampoo on the road. Consider what you value most and look for accessories in that space.

No matter what you’re looking for, don’t overlook size and weight. The TSA limits the amount of liquid you can carry on to a plane. Look for containers that hold less than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and pack them into one quart-sized bag. As for luggage, make sure any travel bags you intend to carry on are less than 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Checked bags must weigh 50 pounds or less. Even if you aren’t checking a suitcase, you’ll have an easier, more comfortable experience with less to lug around.

Finally, a word on price. Some travelers don’t want to spend too much money on items they might accidentally leave in a seat-back pocket, whereas other people tend to take better care of things that cost more. I generally recommend ruling out the very cheapest items in most categories, lest you find your shampoo bottle started leaking mid-flight.

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Travel Safety During COVID-19

After months of being cooped up at home, many of us are ready to visit family, friends, and get back to our adventurous lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying domestic travel until you are fully vaccinated, which is two weeks after receiving your final dose. Per CDC guidelines, people who aren’t fully vaccinated should get a COVID-19 test one to three days before their trip. Rules and recommendations vary for international travel. Be sure to check with the authorities at your destination prior to departure.

Regardless of your vaccination status or destination, you are required to wear a face mask on planes, buses, trains, and other public transportation, as well as while inside airports and stations. You can also help stop the spread and avoid contracting the infection by practicing social distancing and frequent hand washing.

How We Selected

In addition to my own experience using these products as a travel writer and gear tester, I weighed consumer reviews, market research, and thorough evaluation of their price, features, and overall value. If you’re looking for stuff to make your next trip easier and more comfortable, start with this list.

Best Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM3B Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones with Adapters

Key Specs
Weight: 9 oz
• Packed Size:
7 x 9 x 2.5 in.

Anyone who’s been on a train ride, flight, or public transportation with loud kids or someone blasting their cell phone knows the beauty of good noise-canceling headphones. These popular Sony cans are well-worth the space in my carry-on, especially because they fold in half. This kit comes with adapters and cords for double and single audio ports on airplanes, letting me switch between my iPad and in-flight movies without changing my headphones. The battery life is also impressive, at around 30 hours per charge.

  • Excellent noise canceling
  • Fold in half to save space

Best Compression Cubes

Tripped Travel Compression Cubes

Tripped Travel
amazon.com

$52.95

Key Specs
Weight: 9.9 oz
• Sizes: 10 x 7 in., 14 x 10 in., 12 x 4.5 in., 18 x 13.5 in.

There’s no reason not to use packing cubes for travel anymore, especially given how easy they make it to separate your clean and dirty laundry. The Tripped Compression Cubes are especially helpful for saving space and reasonably priced. Fill the cubes, then zip the compression zipper to get them down to about half the size. This six-piece set also comes with a laundry bag, though I use it more often for dirty shoes.

  • Extra compression to save room in your bag
  • Some items compress more than others

Best Toiletry Containers

Cadence Weekender Bundle

Cadence
keepyourcadence.com

$70.00

Key Specs
• Weight:
0.6 oz each
Packed Size: 2 x 1 in.

Carry-on-only travelers are familiar with packing small amounts of their favorite toiletries, but mini squeeze bottles can make it challenging to use gels and creams, because those can stick to the bottoms. Avoid that issue with Cadence’s magnetic honeycomb-style containers, which don’t take up much space. Buyers can customize the label on each container, which are made with ocean plastic cleaned from beaches. I recommend this six-pack for carrying both hair and skincare products.

  • Magnetic containers with custom product labels
  • Holds less than 1 oz per cube

Best Backpack

Matador Freefly16 Packable Backpack

Key Specs:
• Weight:
5 oz
Packed Size: 4.8 x 2.8 x 2.8 in.

As an outdoor product reviewer, I’ve used dozens of packable bags, totes, and backpacks, but the one I always come back to is the Freefly Pack from Matador. It’s waterproof, lightweight, folds to the size of an apple, and has a few small pockets for my keys or phone. I use it instead of a purse while walking around cities, as a day pack when hiking, and as a second carry-on for return trips if I buy more than my suitcase can hold. Matador makes a few different packable backpacks, all with similar features.

  • No padding on back panel or shoulder straps

Carry-On Luggage

U.S. Traveler Rio 2-Piece Carry-On Luggage Set

U.S. Traveler
walmart.com

$66.00

Key Specs:
Weight: 6 lbs 9.6 oz (overhead), 1 lb 4.8 oz (small)
Size: 21 x 13.5 x 8.5 in. (overhead), 14 x 10 x 6 in. (small)

If you need new carry-on luggage to hold all your travel accessories and clothes, the U.S. Traveler is one of my favorites. It has a reputation for making affordable and durable luggage, and the Rio Expandable Set is no exception. It includes two carry-on bags: an expandable soft-sided roller for the overhead bins and a smaller tote to tuck under the seat that still leaves plenty of space for your feet.

  • Tote bag is too small to use alone

Best Travel Pillow

Cabeau S3 Evolution

Key Specs:
• Weight:
11.2 oz
Packed Size: 5.5 x 6 in. 

These pillows are simply phenomenal, and many reviewers claim that they’re the only way they can ever get some sleep when crammed into a middle seat. An adjustable headrest strap keeps the pillow upright and in place, and the comfortable foam never seems to lose its shape. Although most people wear it around the neck, the S3 also work as a traditional pillow for side sleepers—the gap in the middle leaves room for bulky over-the-ear headphones.

  • Not inflatable, so it can be a little bulky

Best Power Bank

Moskiz Solar Power Bank and Charger

Key Specs:
• Weight:
1 lb 3.2 oz
Packed Size: 7 x 3.7 x 1.2 in.

In an age of flight cancellations and crowded airports, it’s hard to understand why anyone would risk traveling without a backup charger. They’re useful in hotel rooms with minimal electrical sockets and for juicing up in a restaurant or museum. The Moskiz solar power bank has built-in wireless charging so you don’t need to fish out a cord, though it has three USB ports for charging additional devices. Expect three or four full iPhone charges off one cycle, and it can also charge your phone with the attached solar panels.

  • Wireless solar or plug-in power bank

Best Travel Sunglasses

Ombraz Dolomite Armless

Ombraz
ombraz.com

$140.00

Key Specs:
• Weight:
0.9 oz
Packed Size: 6 x 2.5 x 0.5 in.

I’ve broken more than a few pairs of sunglasses by shoving them in the pocket of an overstuffed bag or sitting on them at dinner after a day of sightseeing. On travel days, I always carry Ombraz as my sunglasses. They have a soft adjustable cord in place of arms, so they’re nearly impossible to break or bend. They slide into a flat padded case and come in three unisex styles.

  • Polarized
  • Nearly impossible to break

Best Liquid Shampoo Alternative

HiBar Maintain Shampoo and Conditioner Set

Key Specs:
Weight: 6.1 oz
Packed Size: 6 x 2 x 6 in.

If carrying a mere 3 ounces of shampoo won’t get you through a whole trip, consider using a solid shampoo and conditioner bar, which won’t raise any eyebrows going through the TSA checkpoint. HiBar makes five different sets for different hair types, and all are safe to use for color-treated hair. Be sure to toss them in a plastic bag if you’re planning to pack them before they’re dry.

Best Relaxation Tool

Travel Sloth Foot Hammock

Travel Sloth
amazon.com

$29.97

Key Specs:
• Weight: 8 oz
• Packed Size: 9 x 8 x 1 in.

This foot hammock is probably the nerdiest travel accessory on the list, but it’s been a lifesaver for me—or should I say leg saver. The adjustable-length hammock attaches to your tray table and eases pressure on your lower back, knees, and glutes. I’m much less stiff after flights when I use the foot hammock and have never noticed it bothering the person in the seat ahead of me, even while making adjustments. It comes with a drawstring pouch for easy portability.

  • Helps alleviate back and leg pain on long flights
  • Packs up small
  • Requires tray table to be down

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