the smell of my desperation has become a stench

On the road again

Friday morning I’m heading out of the country again (more on that to come), and while going over the list of things I need I realized just how far I’ve come in terms of streamlining the whole process. I used to put it all off until the night before/morning of/ten minutes before I’m supposed to leave, an inadvertent game of Let’s See If This Will Trigger A Heart Attack. Turns out that procrastinating packing is just as bad for you as a steady diet of waffle fries.


There are basics I have collected over the years that go with me on every trip, and now I can pack my carryon without altering my cholesterol levels. I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned here in case you’re racking up more mileage and want to compare, or you’re looking for ideas this holiday season as to what the hell to get your friend who spends half of her month in different cities.


1. Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Expandable Cube $22

I have these travel cubes in three different sizes, and I use each one for a different item of clothing: one for pants, one for shirts, one for socks and underwear. They make re-packing (my least favorite part about traveling) super easy, and if you’re going to be staying at more than one hotel or guest room they are a must. It’s like traveling with a set of dresser drawers.

2. Presh Striped Oslo Compression Socks $24

My very good friend Kathy (remember Kathy? SAY JESUS!) started this company when she realized that compression socks could look just as good on you as they are for you. Whether you’re a runner or a frequent traveler (raises hand) or waddling around toward the end of a pregnancy, these have all the healthy benefits of your mom’s ugly compression socks without all the ugly.

3. Steve Madden Patent Leather Ballet Flat $44.99

I am guilty of wearing shoes with laces through security at the airport, but RARELY. Flats will put you and everyone around you at ease because you can slip them off and not hold up the entire line. It normally takes me four or five wearings to break in a pair of flats but these fit perfectly the first time. I’m thinking of buying several pair of them so that I always have my favorite airport shoe. Yes, that is a thing. A favorite airport shoe. Hi. I am a privileged white person with way too many options and a raging sense of entitlement.

4. Luxfeel 100% Pure Silk Filled Sleeping Mask $6.99

I bought one of these after I stayed in a guest room that had a wall of windows with no curtains. It’s one of those just-in-case items that isn’t a bother to pack because you can roll it up to fit inside your pocket. It’s also great for giving the hint on a flight that you’d rather be taking a nap than listening to the person next to you talk about how Obamacare is the cornerstone of evil.


5. Ole Henriksen Truth To Go Vitamin C Wipes $15

These wipes remove makeup. They can also double as hand wipes. They can also double as another kind of wipe if you are the type of person who can relax enough inside a hotel bathroom to lead a normal life. If you are that type of person then I’m pretty sure you can also see through steel and fly.

6. Revlon 1875w Travel Hair Dryer $45

“Hi, I’m going to be staying with you next Friday and I’m wondering if you have hair dryers in your rooms.”


“Are you sure?”


“Like, if I don’t have a hair dryer and my hair gets wet I’m going to look like a Persian cat who has very recently been electrocuted.”

“We have hair dryers in every room.”


7. 21 Drops De-stress Essential Oil Rollerball $29

Hotels are systematically removing minibars.

8. Epiphanie LONDON Backpack $224.99

What do you do when you are allowed only one carryon piece of luggage and one personal item? You have to find an invention that holds both your laptop computer plus your DSLR and lenses. And hope that invention doesn’t look like it was designed by a scientist who who spent his entire adolescence playing video games in the basement where he is still currently living.


9. Revelation Pant $98

I cannot swear by these pants enough: SHIT DAMN DAMN DAMN SHIT DAMN HELL. Right after Marlo was born I bought two pair of them and loved them so much I bought two more pair. That was over four years ago and I still wear the same four pair all the time. Super durable, super comfortable. I can work out in them and then camouflage that they are a workout pant with a dressier shirt.

10. Samsonite Auto Open Travel Umbrella

Remember when I was in New York and that wall of water came out of nowhere and suddenly I was swimming in a pond with all my clothes on? Lesson learned.

11. Mrs. May’s Cranberry Trio Bars (Pack of 24) $23.99

LARABAR Fruit & Nut Food Bar, Blueberry Muffin, (Pack of 16) $19.39

People ask me all the time how I stay on my diet when I travel and the secret is that I pack my diet with me. I buy these bars in bulk and stuff them in every open space of my luggage. This means I don’t have to eat airport food or airplane food or ROOM SERVICE IS CLOSED FOR THE NIGHT food. You can ask my boyfriend (oops! Did I just mention him? I did. Well, what’s done is done.) how neurotic I am about this, about how I’ll open my suitcase and NUT BARS ARE FALLING OUT. LITERALLY.

12. Travel Smart Travel Bottle Set $12.90

These have been the most life-altering additions to my packing ritual. Instead of gathering up all my beauty products each time I travel, I just grab this set of bottles and throw it in my carryon. Sometimes I have to replenish a bottle or two, some conditioner here, some moisturizer there. But it’s already packed. Done. Finished. I can use all that extra time to think about how much time I just saved.

13. Visconti Passport Holder/Wallet $24.99

Whenever I travel I clean out my wallet which has invariably reached George Costanza proportions. Combining a passport holder with a wallet helps reduce the amount of space I’d have to keep unnecessary crap (“Show this card at any participating Orlando-area Exxon station to get your free Save the Tiger poster.”) It’s compact and helps me keep track of the most important things I travel with: passport, driver license, credit card, Java Joe’s Frequent Sipper Card.

What are your travel essentials?

  • pearldoor

    2013/11/13 at 11:46 am

    I bought those Revelation Pants (or ones EXACTLY like them) at Target for $17.99 🙂

  • Keri

    2013/11/13 at 11:49 am

    Do you wear those flats with or without socks? (I hate stinky feet but does it look bad with socks?!)

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/11/13 at 11:59 am

    Oooh! Awesome. Are they durable?

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/11/13 at 12:00 pm

    Without socks. But I only wear them when I fly. I’m in other shoes with socks when I get to my location.

  • JudithNYC

    2013/11/13 at 12:05 pm

    No, you didn’t.

  • HeatherNC

    2013/11/13 at 12:31 pm

    I work for an international non-profit and do lots of traveling. I love that Passport/Wallet combo, but I can’t seem to find anything with RFID blocking that is that cute! I am going to have to check out those essential oils because there is nothing worse than getting off a 20 hour plane ride and still smelling like the developing country you left THE DAY BEFORE.

  • Marie

    2013/11/13 at 12:33 pm

    Those patent leather flats are cute and look very practical. I might have to buy a pair, maybe even two pairs. Speaking of pairs, when it’s plural, it should be “pairs.” I know this is nit-picky but it’s SUCH a Utah thing to say “pair” no matter how many pairs you’re referring to (“I got me three pair of pants on sale at the Dillards!”).

  • Torchness

    2013/11/13 at 12:33 pm

    A must is earplugs. I’m the lightest sleeper, and if you’re going abroad, Europe be LOUD in the mornings. I don’t like the passport wallet b/c I don’t like to carry my passport around, town I’d rather lock it in the hotel safe. I bring the combo iphone/wallet that has space for only 3 cards and some cashola– that’s all you need. I also recommend taking a pic with your phone of your passport and emailing it to yourself in case you lose it.

  • Michael Mathews

    2013/11/13 at 12:35 pm

    I have a zip bag from Kiehl’s and little containers that I refill. I never have to think about anything except the toothpaste and my disposable lenses. I know everything else is always in that bag. I also have a little routine for taking things out of the closet and I can usually go from starting to pack to ready to leave in 45-60 minutes. I can repack faster because all I have to do is check all the drawers, closet and bathroom and I know how I arranged it on the outbound.

  • Nancy B.

    2013/11/13 at 12:38 pm

    Stupid question here: Do you put the travel cubes inside your suitcase? Those look awesome. I’m not traveling as much as I used to for work, but you never know…

  • Leanne

    2013/11/13 at 12:53 pm

    I am a flight attendant and compression stockings are my must have….. now seeing these I can’t wait to get some that actually look good for personal travel as well 😀 Thanks!!!!

  • darkfoxx

    2013/11/13 at 12:56 pm

    I’m a big fan of the Yes to Cucumbers wipes, lots of exciting plane snack options (usually chili lime nuts + some sort of ridiculous jerky (like Krave chili lime) + something that feels like a vegetable (butternut squash hummus is fantastic) – I also love Steve’s paleo goods for plane snacking, and Evian face spray. Yep. Spritzer water for your face that costs $7 a tiny bottle. I fall asleep any time I’m in motion and this stuff really wakes me up. Plus peppermint stress relief roller balls – I’m crazy smell sensitive and nobody needs to deal with my wretching because of bad plane miasma

  • Shana Anderson

    2013/11/13 at 12:59 pm

    You said boyfriend again. .good god heather! Heh

  • theboldsoul

    2013/11/13 at 1:01 pm

    OMG I’m so glad you said that because $98 is too steep for me. But Target prices? Perfect!

  • Windy Pixels

    2013/11/13 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve been in the process of making my travel more minimalist and awesome. I have an ugly Kata backpack that serves the DSLR/laptop function (why I ordered yellow to save $10 is beyond me). My next step has been sticking to outfits that will work with one pair of shoes, rather than having to pack brown/black/heels/etc. I have eliminated a lot of the “extra” clothing I don’t ever use. Plus I leave my camera accessories like flashes and remotes at home.

    My toiletries used to take up a HUGE bag, but with travel versions of everything, including flat little gel toothpaste samplers, it takes up next to nothing. Love it.

    Now I just need a good carry-on bag. I love the cube idea!

  • Kimberly Wydeen

    2013/11/13 at 1:18 pm

    I keep an extra cell phone and laptop charger in my carryon. I also keep a contact case, filled with solution, and an old pair of glasses just in case I misplace or break my contacts and/or glasses.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/11/13 at 1:19 pm

    Yes, the cubes go into the suitcase. Makes the whole thing organized.

  • Pamela Wik-Grimm

    2013/11/13 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Heather! Just bought a couple pairs of the pressure socks — that’s been on my list for a while but I hate the medical beige ones. Can’t wait to get them!

  • JennC

    2013/11/13 at 1:52 pm

    My best travel life-saver is a fully stocked toiletry kit. It has travel-size bottles of all my favorites (shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, moisturizer, etc) and all the beauty/grooming supplies I use regularly, plus common meds (tylenol, sudafed, cough drops, etc). It even has a small sewing kit. Whether I’m staying at hotel, with a friend, or even camping, I just gave to shove it in my suitcase and I know I have everything I need. When I return from my journeys I refill/replace as needed, and I’m good to go when the next adventure comes around. I love it so much I made one for each of my kids last Christmas. Now I don’t have to worry about packing their stuff either – BONUS!

  • JennC

    2013/11/13 at 1:55 pm

    Old Navy has similar pants as well for around $25. Very thick spandexy fabric, and come in long and cropped length. I’ve had 4 pair for about 5 years now, and though they are a bit faded they are still going strong. LOVE!

  • Jen M.

    2013/11/13 at 1:56 pm

    More than I hate having to take off lace-up shoes at security, I hate walking around security barefoot. But they are much cuter than what I normally wear on the plane.

  • jen

    2013/11/13 at 2:07 pm

    Please, please, please can you make a airport rule guide? Like don’t wear perfume on the plane, don’t spend 30 minutes putting your shoes and belt when your bag comes through the screener (pick that stuff up and move to a bench, you’re backing up the line!), take your jacket off BEFORE you get on the plane, wait until your zone is called before rushing the door (I could go on and on…I fly twice a week)

  • kmpinkel

    2013/11/13 at 2:20 pm

    Why can’t I see #9 – #13? dang it! and yes, earplugs are a must! What do you use for your toiletries once they are in your containers? I can’t find a toiletries bag that does not take up an unreasonable amount of space…..

  • Danalan

    2013/11/13 at 2:49 pm

    I travel enough that I now qualify for pre-check, which is awesome. The security procedure I’m subject to is essentially identical to pre- 9/11 security. Shoes – on. Laptop – in bag. Pockets – full of stuff. The only thing I need to worry about is metal on my person (metal detector) and liquids.

    As far as ‘things’ I recommend for the frequent traveler? Decent noise-canceling folding headphones; 4-wheeled luggage. Of course, I always check a bag, so YMMV.

  • Julie

    2013/11/13 at 3:41 pm

    Your comment about the Epiphanie London Backpac made me chuckle. I’m in constant searches for good camera/laptop bags that don’t look masculine or butt-ugly.

  • chuck

    2013/11/13 at 3:48 pm

    I like the passport holder wallet bc of the colors however i use the RFID blocking wallet/passport holder for security reasons. a little pricier but it is also larger so it holds more stuff. thx.

  • Jo DeBell

    2013/11/13 at 3:49 pm

    Wipes always! I wipe down my arm rest and tray and window if I’m going to rest my face on it because yes, I do have OCD and I can’t stop picturing all the other people and their bathroom hands. Also extra socks and underwear in case I have to spend an extra day somewhere or I work out in the gym.

  • Andrea Shipman

    2013/11/13 at 4:09 pm

    What?! The SOCKS?! With the compression!? I am 7.5 months pregnant and a (sidelined for the moment) runner. HOW HAVE I NOT HEARD OF THESE?! Bless you Heather. BLESS YOU. Those cubes are genius.

  • jawnbc

    2013/11/13 at 4:32 pm

    I travel a lot, often long-haul, through all sorts of countries. Things I would add to your list:

    earplugs – for the flight and for sleeping in strange hotels

    noise cancelling headphones – for the flight. For sleeping on planes I put in the earplugs then the headphone with the noise cancelling turned on (no music)

    Body Shop teatree oil zip zapper (not what they call it). Seems flying and jet lag make me spotty. This little stick dries ‘em out in a day or two

    slippers – the psychology of slippers is amazing. I have some LL bean flannel ones that take up almost zero space

    mini wifi router – for hotels with either no wifi or crap wifi, but the room has an ethernet cable. Plug it in and all my devices are on wifi

    400mg gelcap ibuprophen – migraines, rubbery legs from hours of walking, it’s all good.

  • Nanette

    2013/11/13 at 5:06 pm

    My husband and I traveled through the UK and Jordan with a 2 year old, and those packing cubes helped make our junk-show slightly less spectacular. 🙂 The other thing I love when traveling are those little tiny speakers that you can hook to your phone or ipod or whatever. I downloaded some nice ocean wave music and it helps drown any outside noise.

  • Anna B.

    2013/11/13 at 5:21 pm

    I am a big fan of the ziploc bag while travelling. I use them for everything. Toiletries, snacks, socks and underwear, activities for the kids, and so on. If stuff leaks in them you can just throw them out. I also use them to pack my kids daily outfits, so while away we can just pull a bag out of the suitcase with that day’s clothes get dressed and away we go! But I love the look of those cubes too!

  • EM

    2013/11/13 at 5:58 pm

    I am an UNAPOLOGETIC privileged white person with way too many options and a raging sense of entitlement.

    Fixed it for ya.

  • EM

    2013/11/13 at 5:59 pm

    “smelling like the developing country”…..really?

  • Donna

    2013/11/13 at 6:03 pm

    thank you for posting the link to those flats! Steve Madden had a very similar pair called ‘keepsake’ that were my favorite and now cannot find. I finally threw out my last black pair, under duress!

  • Jay Pfaffman

    2013/11/13 at 7:18 pm

    A super-geek acquaintance (the kind of person who builds RFID readers that will work at 50 feet) did tests of every RFID blocker on the market and said that you were at least as well off just wrapping it in a few layers of aluminum foil.

  • Litenarata

    2013/11/13 at 7:22 pm

    Books to read.

  • Amy

    2013/11/13 at 8:11 pm

    My sister 🙂

  • Cheryl

    2013/11/13 at 8:20 pm

    Link or it didn’t happen!

  • Dana

    2013/11/13 at 8:55 pm

    I love this list. I am too lazy to ever google “how to make packing/travel easier/better,” so, yay!

    However, I’m never traveling again now that mini-bars are going away.

  • Kimberly Zingale

    2013/11/13 at 9:48 pm

    Great list! If you’re looking for a laptop/DSLR bag, you might also want to check out ONA bags.

  • Kathleen

    2013/11/13 at 10:38 pm

    I wear the same pair of pants every time I travel! They look like khaki skinny jeans, but they are mostly linen with a little lycra. I got them at Benetton years ago. So they look slightly nicer looking that jeans, but are super lightweight and feel like I’m wearing pjs!

  • Carla King

    2013/11/13 at 10:49 pm

    You said wipes. I can handle wipe. I wipe every day. But I can’t stand wipes.

    Now it’s time for a quick rap.

    Hey, yo. Hey.
    It’s goes like this.
    I got big gripes.


    Major huge gripes.


    Blah blah blah. Rhymes with wipes and I gotta go eat. Too tired to wrap the rap.


  • Judealou

    2013/11/14 at 9:50 am

    To go with the great pants, a great lightweight knit sweater for travel is a necessity for me. I alternate between an Anne Klein long buttoned cardigan with a cute self-tie and 3/4 sleeves and a black long sleeved knit “jacket” I actually picked up at Costco! Putting one of those on at the end of a long flight makes me feel instantly put together presentable, especially in Europe. Endlessly versatile especially with a scarf.

  • Kate H

    2013/11/14 at 11:00 am

    My perfect pair of black ballet flats came from, of all places, Walmart for $10. They were an emergency buy five years ago when I went to my mom’s for Thanksgiving and forgot to bring the right shoes. I have to put gel insoles in them, but they don’t scuff and are holding up nicely even though I wear them constantly.

  • Jen Wilson

    2013/11/14 at 1:28 pm

    I just did a 10-day trip with just a carry-on and a personal item and it was so freeing! Especially going through customs.

    I’m so excited you’re going to Haiti! My husband’s family goes there often to work with Haiti Arise (I think they’re in or near Port-au-Prince), which right now has a school and such but is in the process of building a Children’s Village. Looking forward to hearing about your time there!

  • Luciana

    2013/11/14 at 7:35 pm

    Are you being ironic, or did I miss something? Traveling to raise funds for “Haiti for Hope” with $608 of “essential travel items” ?… Then again, maybe PIH should be stocking up on those destress essential oil rollerballs. They could come in handy with some of those Haitian mothers. Darn those stressful high risk pregnancies.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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