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15 essentials you should always pack, according to a travel writer

The must-have travel gear for whatever getaway you're taking.
TODAY Illustration / Amazon / LL Bean / Nordstrom / Cotopaxi
/ Source: TODAY

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Whether you hit the road once a year or you're a frequent flier with premium status, traveling is stressful, especially when you don't have the right travel gear. Even when you're not in the middle of a pandemic there are countless elements outside of your control, like security lines, bag check and finding space in the plane's overhead compartment storage, just to name a few.

Fortunately, you're in charge of what you bring. For example, a best-in-class carry-on that actually fits in the overhead bin can be all the difference between an easy getaway and a worrisome one. Then there are all the game-changing accessories — many designed by travelers, for travelers — that can elevate your trip from good to great. From compression bags that allow you to pack twice as much to a stow-and-go organizer that keeps everything in its place, here are 14 must-have travel gear picks for 2022.

Must-have travel gear

Hibag 12-Pack Roll-Up Space Saver Storage Bags

Until you try these Shop TODAY writer-approved compression bags you'll never know how much air you're inadvertently packing in your suitcase. Even full, this set — which include six medium bags and six large bags — can take up as little as 20 percent of the space your things would normally take up, the brand says. The best part is there's no need for a vacuum or pump. Simply zip the bags shut, they're airtight, and then roll them up. On Amazon they have a 4.4-star average rating from more than 5,200 reviews.

Stow-N-Go Small Travel Organizer

If packing cubes aren't your thing for staying organized while traveling, consider this collapsible shelving unit that will keep your clothes where they're supposed to be (and wrinkle-free). Thanks to two hooks it easily hangs in any hotel closet. There's even a zippered compartment at the bottom for shoes or dirty clothes you want to keep separate from the clean stuff.

Personal Organizer Toiletry Bag

This beyond-durable toiletries bag isn't new. It's been a bestseller at L.L. Bean, where it has a 4.8-star average rating, for years. The handle is designed to "withstand breaking force of 300 pounds," according to the brand. They also shared built-in-hook can hold up to 25 pounds, and the YKK zippers will last 20,000 zips and unzips! It comes in 11 colors and three sizes including a family size. They all feature plenty of pockets and a removable mirror and shower caddy. For an extra touch of personalization while you travel, you can monogram it with your initials for an additional $8. (It also makes a great grad gift.)

Shacke Pak Packing Cubes

These flight attendant-approved packing cubes have an impressive 4.8-star average rating from nearly 15,000 reviews. They come in seven colors and are made of quality materials. In other words, you won't have to worry about tears or broken zippers after heavy use. Each set includes a laundry bag and four cubes: one small, medium, large and extra large. "In the XL cube I was able to pack 4 pairs of jeans, 2 sweaters, 8 pairs of underwear, 2 sets of running compression pants, and 2 pairs of basketball socks," writes one reviewer.

Anker Portable Charger

There are still plenty of planes out there without charging ports. And sometimes, the ones that have them don't work. That's why it pays to pack this portable charger. On a complete charge it is capable of fully charging a tablet, an iPhone 13 twice and a Galaxy S21 1.6 times, according to the brand. At just 0.5-inches wide, it's one of the slimmest portable chargers out there. It's also designed to be durable with a three-feet drop test and safety features like overcharge protection, short circuit protection and temperature control. On Amazon, it has a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 45,000 reviews.

Pillow Slippers

If you're looking for a pair of slippers to throw in your travel bag for the hotel room, quick walks out to the pool or the beach, these No. 1 bestselling pillow slides are perfect. Pillow slides are not only super trendy right now, but this lightweight pair is designed to be quick-drying and washable, so you shouldn't mess up your clothes if you're just throwing it in your suitcase or backpack.

Kizik The Madrid Eco-Knit Slip-On Sneakers

When you're preparing for the airport, you should think about your shoes. Lightweight options that are supportive enough for long walks to the gate, but are easy off and on for TSA lines, are best. These super popular (they've gone viral on TikTok) options are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles, according to the brand, but that's not the biggest selling point. They are designed with a "rebound heel" so when you slip them on, the back will easily pop up — no readjusting or catching on the back of your foot.

Hydro Flask

Since a bottle of water at the airport can easily set you back $5, this uber-popular insulated bottle pays for itself after just seven trips. It comes in an array of colors and has tons of 5-star reviews from Hydro Flask fans who love that it keeps cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to six hours.

MZOO Sleep Eye Mask

Even when they dim the cabin lights there's no guarantee your seat-mate won't have their reading light on. That's where a quality eye mask comes in handy. Arguably the best one out there, the MZOO Sleep Eye Mask has a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 63,000 reviews. What makes it great is its memory foam padding, fully adjustable strap and its unique 3-D design (so there's no pressure on your eyes). Don't want to spend $20 on an eye mask? Consider this Shop TODAY-approved eye mask for just $10.

Brazilian Joia Dry Shampoo

It's easy to skip a shampoo or two when you're on the road (or a long-haul flight). That's why a dry shampoo can easily become a traveler's BFF. This is the travel-size version of the Shop TODAY-approved Sol de Janeiro dry shampoo. Just shake and spray on your roots to absorb any accumulated oil and dirt. It elevates your hair from flat to full in seconds and leaves it smelling fresh — Sol de Janeiro's signature Cheirosa '62 scent. According to the brand, it also contains Pro-Vitamin B5 so it won't dry out your scalp.

The Essential $75 Cashmere Sweater

One of Shop TODAY's favorite cashmere sweaters under $100, this wardrobe staple is warm enough for even the coldest of airplane cabins. Yet, it's also incredibly lightweight so it doesn't take up half of your bag the way a hoodie would. On the soft scale, the 100 percent cashmere used comes in at "heavenly soft," according to the brand. So even if you're stuck in a middle seat, you'll at least be in something soothing. Choose from 20 colors in sizes XXS-XXL.

Cacala Turkish Beach Bath Towel

This Shop TODAY-approved Turkish towel is about as versatile as it gets. Use it as a blanket on the plane, a scarf on the street, a prop during yoga and of course, as a towel at the beach. It's packable: taking up about half of the space a terry cloth towel would take up. And because it's made with longer fibers that get smoother with each wash, it's about twice as soft. While there are a lot of great, affordable Turkish towels out there, the Cacala Turkish beach Bath Towel comes in 38 gorgeous colors and boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 3,600 reviews.

Baboon To The Moon Sling Bag

This sling bag is great for just carrying around the necessities. It is designed to be waterproof and double-stitching to be durable, whether you're using it as a personal item for the plane or as your go-to bag for city excursions. It can pack more than 1L worth of personal effects, and has an adjustable strap to keep it comfortable and safely close to your body.

Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Del Dia Travel Pack

This overachieving 42-liter travel pack with a 4.9-star average rating will make you a Cotopaxi convert for life. Why? For starters, it has a torso strap and adjustable hip belt, so weight is designed to be distributed evenly (preventing back pain). It also has three padded sleeves for electronics, YKK security zippers to prevent pickpockets and a handy rain cover.

Monos Carry-On

Originally $281, the self-proclaimed "iPhone of carry-ons" is now marked down to $225. This sleek, sophisticated suitcase comes in eight colors, all of which feature serious upgrades. Think the quietest of wheels, a virtually unbreakable polycarbonate shell and the most ergonomic of handles. The designers went above and beyond on the inside, too. They used durable, waterproof and even anti-bacterial fabric to line the interiors.

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