There is nothing worse than sitting on a train or a plane, dragging out your heavy carry on luggage and going through pockets and zipper compartments to find all the little necessities to get you through your long day of travel.

While I am by no means an expert traveler, nor do I ever pretend to believe that I truly know what I’m doing when it comes to traveling (now…family and kids photography? That’s a different story!), I have been traveling a lot over the last 5 years and have certainly learned a trick or two to get me through the long days.

Traveling is grueling on the body, and while I love exploring new places, wandering with my camera and a notebook, and making small talk with the locals in whatever new country I’m in, I do not enjoy the physical act of packing, commuting, planning, and long flights. But one thing has certainly helped me and my dislike of long travel days over the years.

It all comes down to packing a travel essentials bag.

A travel essentials bag is a small and visually appealing bag that fits easily into your carry on luggage, backpack or purse and has everything necessary for a smooth travel day. These are highly individual, and you can make them yourself, and over the years I’ve found this to keep me well organized and prepared for anything! For someone that gets easily stressed out and anxious on long travel days, I’ve found an essential travel bag to keep me calm and at peace. May this also be of help to you if need be!

Here are my main tips on creating your own travel essentials bag:

Find The Perfect Essentials Bag

Choose a Bag That Fits in Most Purses or Small Carry-Ons

You’ll want to make sure this little bag is small enough to fit in a purse or backpack but big enough to hold your wallet and phone so you can use it as a clutch (if you so desired to)!

Keep it Lightweight

The whole point of keeping a travel essentials bag is to make your long days up in the air easier. Keep it easy and a breeze to take out of your carryon by choosing a simple and lightweight bag. You might choose to use sample makeup bags, as those are always small enough to carry – and oftentimes stylish and cute! Which brings me to my next point…

Make Sure You Like the Way it Looks

You’re not going to want to use the bag if you don’t actually like the style or design. I have a few sample makeup bags that I use to organize things in my luggage, but I only ever use this cute pencil pouch (from Paper Source) as my travel essentials bag because I actually love the design, feel and style! Every time I pull it out of my backpack on a flight or train, I do a little happy dance of joy! The bright colors and vibrant design are so cheerful that I can’t help but feel appreciative when I see it. 

Only pack items that you actually use

If you fill up your bag so much that it becomes stuffed to the brim with items that are not essential for your trip, you’re not going to want to use it time and time again. Narrow your essentials to 5-7 items, more if they are small and lightweight like bandaids, safety pin, tissues, wipes, etc. 

My Essential Travel Bag Items

My necessary items are lip balm, travel wipes, rosehip oil (to keep my face hydrated on flights), mineral sunscreen stick, a few hair ties, a bobby pin, bandaids and a safety pin, a reusable spork (I try to always reject using plastic utensils whenever I can), and a pen.

As a writer, I feel incomplete if I don’t have a pen and a scrap of paper/receipt/napkin to write a quick thought or observation down. I love to record and document while traveling, so my polaroid camera is also always tucked away, as well as a small travel notebook. These are always within sight!

If I Have More Space…

I also pack a tiny fold-up brush, a few small crystals for good luck, a compact mirror, and a mini mascara – in case I decide to go on a spontaneous dinner date out by myself or with my husband. 

Other Common Travel Essentials You Might Like

As a traveler you might think about including the following items depending on your personal preferences:

travel tissues, eye drops, contact case, and spare lenses, gum, hair bands and clips, hand lotion, and hand sanitizer.

I have thought about adding a small packet or two of Emergen-C to drink up during a long flight. As someone who has a kickass immune system and gets a cold maybe once every few years, I always notice that I tend to get horribly sick after a very long flight (a.k.a. Bali!!)  Coincidence? I think not. Planes are nasty. 

Carry Minature Versions

For a small travel essentials bag, just pack a mini version of each item you need.

You can pick up free sample makeup items like this Makeup Forever Mascara I got at Sephora or this mini brush I took along with me from a spa’s bathroom. My daily facial serum oil is tiny, making it perfect to pack away with me, and I love Trader Joe’s mineral sunscreen stick for easy facial coverage. 

Always Keep it Packed and Ready to Go

Restock your bag after a recent trip if necessary and keep it ready to go in your travel purse or carry-on for an easy getaway out the door! One great way to make sure you never forget your travel essentials bag is to keep two bags and two versions of each item – one for your daily bag/purse and another in your travel bag. 

Makes For Far Less Packing Stress

I always have my mini shampoo and facial wash bottles already refilled and packed away in a zip-lock baggie for my next trip out. This makes it easier for me, as all I really need to ever pack are clothes and my camera gear…which is already usually packed and sitting by the door. Using linen packing cubes and folding my clothes using the KonMari method, packing is so much more fun and less stressful! For someone who hates packing, I don’t nervously start dreading it anymore! Huzzah!

Let me know if you have your own travel essentials bag or felt inspired to create one after reading this post! What do you like to carry in your bag? Any packing tips or tricks that you use that might be of help to me and fellow travelers/blog readers? 

Happy travels, friend!

🙂 Helena


Pin and Save this Post for Later!

What’s In My Travel Essentials Bag

May 8, 2019


Comments Off on What’s In My Travel Essentials Bag


Receive my latest blog posts via email

Get access to the latest Simple Joys blog posts as soon as they're posted!

I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical moments through my lens and my pen. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I'm inspired to share the light around me. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

Hey there!

meet the blogger



Check out all my favorite photography gear, travel must-haves, resources, books I love, business hacks and so much more!

let's read 'em!

Studio Updates

from helena

Sign up for my personal newsletter where I share writings and photographs of what I've been learning lately and the simple joys of daily life. Think of this as a personal letter from me to you - but in email format! 

keep my posted!

Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.