10 Essential Travel Items Every First-Time Traveler Needs to Win at Traveling

Congratulations! You’re going on your very first trip! Woohoo! Traveling is a wonderful thing, but it can be stressful for the unprepared.

Even more so if you’re on a budget and unprepared.

Been there.

Cheap luggage, a lost boarding pass, and a dead phone: good grief!

Learn from our mistakes and avoid many of the pitfalls of being an amateur traveler. These 10 essential travel items will make your first trip a breeze!

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate and associate of other programs, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Essential Travel Items for First-Time Travelers

1.  Sturdy Luggage

Trust me on the sturdy part. I can’t stress this enough.

You need a quality, hard-side suitcase and I recommend you get a set if you can swing it, like this Samsonite set.

Purchasing a set covers your bases: a large checked bag, a small carry-on bag, and one for in-between needs.

If you only budgeted for one suitcase, then make your large checked bag your good suitcase.

Checked bags get beat up the most.

You may be on a tight budget and tempted to disregard this. Why am I starting this list with a pricey item?

(Don’t worry; the other items on this list are not in this same price bracket.)

Pro Tip: Overstock resellers, like TJ Maxx, sell name brand luggage at a good discount. I got my Samsonite luggage at a TJ Maxx, but you don’t have much control over which design or color you get.

Luggage can get expensive, but it is not a good item to buy generic. It’s literally the one piece of essential travel gear that you can’t go anywhere without.

That’s not to say that all soft-side bags are cheap. In my experience they just can’t handle the beating they get behind the scenes at the airports.

Soft-sided suitcases don’t stand a chance against airport conveyor belts, baggage handlers, or the weather.

I replaced my luggage way too often and ended up spending much more in the long run on multiple soft-sided suitcases before I finally learned my lesson and got a hard-side suitcase.

I’ve had soft-side suitcases slashed, zippers ripped off by conveyors, and contents get soaked when my bag was left out in a downpour for too long.

Seriously: avoid all that and get a quality hard-side suitcase.

Get a Reputable Brand and Verify the Size

It’s worth mentioning, too, to purchase a reputable brand. This goes back to the cheap price = cheap quality lesson.

I’ve had good luck with Samsonite, but there are other good brands out there.

Whatever brand you choose, check reviews first.

Then, double check the luggage size is within airline requirements for standard size.

Generally, all the major airlines are in the same ballpark for dimensions. But the airlines also love to charge extra fees for oversized luggage.

Know luggage dimension requirements before you show up at the airport with a too-large bag and get stuck paying fees.

2. Packing Cubes

Packing cubes will save your sanity.

Keep your clothes and accessories organized and easily findable in your luggage.

I have these packing cubes because they have a mesh window in each cube so I can see what’s inside and so the clothes can breathe. (Plus, I love the color!)

  • The small bag is great for accessories (scarves, etc.) and underwear.
  • The medium bags hold tops and bottoms like a champ.
  • The large bags are the perfect size for business clothes or any bulky items you need like sweaters, rain jackets, or jeans.

If you’re a heavy packer/overpacker and looking to save space, get compression packing bags.

I’m a pretty minimal packer so I’ve never needed compression bags, but they are game changers for those of you that want options when you travel. Try these or these.

3. Shoe Bag

The bottoms of shoes are pretty gross when you think about it.

And then you put them, unprotected, in your suitcase with the rest of your clothes, right next to your underwear? No thanks.

Packing cubes help separate your clothes (unless you have mesh windows in your packing cubes like me), but it’s better to contain your shoes all by themselves.

A dedicated shoe bag is especially great for shoes that get dirty: sandy flip flops, muddy hiking boots, sopping wet running shoes.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t skip this cheap but essential travel item.

These waterproof bags are straightforward with no personality and can hold up to a men’s size 13 shoe.

If you’re looking for something more colorful, try these cute shoe bags.

Pro Tip: Sometimes packing cube sets come with a matching shoe bag. Beware of the drawstring shoe bags! They will not stop water, mud, or sand from getting out.

4. Digital Luggage Scale

If you are in the aforementioned heavy packer/overpacker group, then a basic digital luggage scale is an essential travel item for you.

Airlines are serious about checked luggage weight restrictions, and the fee for an overweight bag is frustrating. Especially when you’re only over by like 5lbs!

Weigh your bags before you get to the airport.

If your checked bag is overweight, shift some items to your carry-on or to a travel partner’s bag that has some extra room.

Souvenirs can add unexpected weight if you’re not careful. Think about how you’re going to get your souvenirs home before you purchase them.

5. A Carry-on Bag with All the Pockets

The right carry-on bag can make or break your airport experience. This is one of those essential travel items, though, that is pretty subjective.

I know people that only use carry-on bags so they want maximum capacity, and I know other people that try not to bring a carry-on bag at all.

Personally, I’m a backpack person because I need pockets and space for books.

I use one similar to this bag because it has a spot for all my things.

  • Cord and document organizers are easily reachable in the front
  • Padded spot in the back for my laptop
  • Dedicated pocket on the side for my reusable water bottle

Everything has a place, and I can reach most of it without completely taking off the bag.

6. Travel Document Organizer

Keep everything handy and in one place. This travel document organizer goes in the same pocket of my carry-on on every trip I take.

  • It’s secure: RFID blocking so no one steals your info in the airport.
  • It’s got a spot for boarding passes, passports, cards, cash, a pen, you name it.
  • And it comes in every color under the sun!

What about mobile boarding passes? We use and love mobile boarding passes, but we’ve learned the hard way that it’s always good to have a physical backup.

One trip home, the airline lost our connecting flight reservation while we were in the air on our first flight home.

We went to board our connecting flight and they had no record of our reservation for the second flight.

No mobile boarding passes, either, because the reservation didn’t exist in their system anymore.

But we had our physical boarding passes we’d printed that morning when we’d checked in before our first flight.

That was the only proof we had that our itinerary had been there that morning and had somehow mysteriously disappeared while we were on our first flight.

Another reason a document organizer is an essential travel item: it came in super handy when sprinting through the Orlando airport to catch a flight.

With the organizer, you’ll arrive at the gate, winded from sprinting, and know exactly where your boarding pass is so you can hop on that plane right away.

Without the organizer, you’ll arrive at your gate, winded from sprinting, pull out half the contents of your carry-on bag before finding the book that you stuck your boarding pass in at the last airport, hand the boarding pass to the attendant, and then have to shove everything back into your carry-on willy-nilly before you can hurry up and get on the plane already.

Don’t let this happen to you. (The disorganized part.)

If you travel often enough, eventually you will have to either sprint through an airport or miss a connection, through no fault of your own. 

7. Electronics Cord Organizer

Stop pulling out a tangled mess of cords in the middle of the airport. Get a cable/cord organizer.

This electronics & cable organizer is amazing: portable, padded, and waterproof!

It has 2 compartments: one side for all the cables and the other for small electronics like a mouse, mini-tablet, or a Kindle.

8. Portable Charger/Power Bank

Most airports, but not all, have charging stations where you can plug in and charge in between flights.

But they are often separated, not necessarily at every seat or even every gate.

If you’re traveling with a group, you will almost never find 3 or 4 free charging ports in a row.

Save yourself the worry and hassle, and get a compact portable charger, for just in case.

Another essential thing to pack for traveling because I mostly use offline Google maps to get around when I travel.

So if my phone is dead, I’m lost in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language.

9. Travel First Aid Kit

You’d be surprised how handy this can be, and you can customize it to your needs.

I keep a spare tube of chapstick and emergency ibuprofen in mine, in addition to the bandages and everything else.

It’s pretty easy to make your own travel first aid kit, but if you’re less of a DIY person and more of an “order online” person, then this mini first aid kit is for you.

Warning: The scissors included in this kit are theoretically small enough to be allowed through airport security, but that can be up to the TSA agent.

If you want to guarantee no issues at security, leave the scissors at home.

10. Reusable Water Bottle

You can’t bring water through security, but you can bring an empty water bottle.

Many airports have water fountains with contactless water bottle refill stations.

Staying hydrated is key to having a good flight. Airplane air is dry, and drink service isn’t always guaranteed. Keep a drink with you.

This insulated water bottle will keep your liquids cold for 24 hours and hot for 6 hours. I haven’t actually tested it for the 24 hours, but I can confirm it keeps cold for at least 8 hours.

The lid protects the mouthpiece from germs, and the lid lock keeps it from accidentally opening. There’s also a loop handle attached to the lid.

If you’re looking to conserve space, try this collapsible silicone water bottle which also has a loop for a carabiner.

Would you add anything to this travel essentials list? What is your must-have travel item?

So there you have it: 10 essential travel items for first-time travelers!

Each of these items has made my traveling life so much easier while I check off items on my bucket list, and I hope they work for you, too!

Happy Travels!

Headshot of Rachel Means at Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

About the Author: Rachel Means

With six-figure student loan debt and only 10 PTO days per year, Rachel started traveling the world. A decade later, she’s paid off her loans, changed careers, and been to 36 US states and 14 countries. She’s an expert at planning and budgeting for travel and loves to help others do it, too! Read her full story here.

Share it!

10 Essential Travel Items Every First-Time Traveler Needs to Win at Traveling

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. One Second Journal

    Packing cubes, shoe bags, reusable water bottle are a must for us! Tons of great tips for new travellers 🙂

  2. Krista

    I only recently came across packing cubes and I have to say they are a big game changer!

  3. EvBeing

    A good list to save you time, money and keep you safe! I always have power bank, travel first kit and water bottle! Shoe bag is needed too!& travel document organizer to make sure you will have your docs safe!

  4. Keena

    Great options for all travelers . A suitcase is so important and I love all the details you put in .

  5. Venaugh

    Great options! I hate to think about the prices of samsonite suitcases, it’s such an investment. Packing cubes and the shoe mesh….would help with the amount of plastic bags I use lol

    1. Rachel Means

      Haha, I definitely used plastic bags too for a long time before upgrading. And agree luggage can get expensive, but I’ve wasted an equal amount on bags that got destroyed. Find the brand that works for you for the long term!

  6. Julie

    These are all great ideas! My two additions would be noise-canceling headphones and a thin roll-up travel blanket or blanket scarf that I have been able to use way more often than I ever expected. I use one to stay warm without lugging a bulky jacket on the plane, block the sun, roll up into a pillow, protect fragile souvenirs in my bag, shield myself from unexpected rain, and many more!

    1. Rachel Means

      Ooo, noise-canceling headphones is a good one for long flights! And sounds like you’ve found the perfect travel blanket! I’m all for multi-use gear!

Comments are closed.