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I’m a world traveler and these are my 16 holiday packing essentials, starting at $3

towel, neck pillow, sandal, battery pack
Pack wisely with these travel gear picks I swear by.

While gift shopping is about to ramp up, so is the headache of holiday travel. The airports are almost always a hot mess, which means your packing game has to be tight. And if anyone knows how to pack a suitcase, it’s me … because I live out of one! As a remote worker, I spend much of my time abroad. Trust me: Understanding how and what to bring can make or break a trip. As a rule of thumb, it helps enormously to have things that conjure comfort, safety and a sense of familiarity (no, it’s not all about cute outfits!). Some of my essential pieces of travel gear are totally unexpected — like an HDMI adapter and sunscreen for my hair — scroll to see what I mean.

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This Travelpro 20-inch suitcase is the perfect carry-on pick. It’s a softside, which I prefer for a carry-on because it's more expandable than a hardside, meaning I can jam more stuff in. It has an external USB port and a dedicated power bank pocket (I'll share my Anker portable charger recommendation below), and on the outside, a waterproof coating keeps everything inside safe.

$365 at Amazon
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$529 at Bloomingdale's

In this connected world, it just makes sense to travel with a piece of luggage that also charges your phone; it’s so helpful when you’re stuck at an airport gate or on a long bus ride. Flight attendants and pilots swear by Travelpro luggage, and if you take a look at what they're rolling through the airport, you'll almost always see this brand. I use it too now, and I'm happy with the quality, roominess, compartments and maneuverability of my luggage.

As for what to put inside? I consider the following pieces of travel gear indispensable.

This smart toothbrush not only removes up to 10 times the amount of plaque that a regular toothbrush does but also alerts you if you're pressing too hard and lets you know when it's time to replace the brush head, thanks to built-in sensors. There are four modes to choose from with three intensities. A handy traveling case keeps things hygienic.

$200 at Amazon

When I started using an electric toothbrush, it was a game changer. After having some dental work done, I knew I didn't want more — so a serious toothbrush was a must! I travel with the Philips Sonicare 9900 Prestige Rechargeable Electric Power Toothbrush with SenseIQ, a next-level toothbrush that removes up to 20 times the plaque of my sad, old manual toothbrush. It has a slim, portable charger and a cool carrying case, and I feel it's well worth the investment in my oral health.

But Philips makes lots of top-of-the-line electric toothbrushes, like the incredibly popular Philips Sonicare ExpertClean 7500, which you can get at Amazon right now for less.

Ditch your plastic bags and toss this rugged, nonporous, odor-resistant gem in your luggage. It'll hold all your dirty laundry until you're ready to wash it. And when you are, just flip the bag inside out. The clothes will stay in the mesh compartment within, and you can just wash them right inside!

$28 at Amazon

I hate to admit it, but there have been times I've been on the go without ample time to wash my dirty laundry, so inside the suitcase it went with all my clean clothes! Perhaps you've had the same conundrum with sweaty gym clothes, or — if you're a health-care worker — your used scrubs. The solution for all of this is Stnky laundry bags, which are so impenetrable they create a shield between my dirty and clean clothes. And you can toss the entire thing — bag and all — right in the washer! It's so convenient.

Take this tiny speaker anywhere! At a mere six ounces and just over four inches wide, the JBL Go2 is so portable that you'll be shocked at how powerful its audio is. The waterproof wonder streams effortlessly via Bluetooth connection to your phone, tablet or laptop for five hours on a charge.

$33 at Amazon

Here's a hack for making any hotel room or Airbnb instantly feel like home: Bring a Bluetooth speaker along to fill the space with your favorite tunes, podcasts or audiobooks. My constant companion is the JBL Go2 speaker, which is so lightweight, I often forget I'm carrying it. I also bring it with me to the pool or on beach outings, because it's waterproof to the point of full immersion. Amazon customers have given this little red beauty nearly 31,000 five-star ratings, so I'm not alone.

These No. 1 bestselling compression socks are a comfortable way to ward off airplane-induced swelling in your ankles and feet. With 360-degree stretch, you can move your legs freely but still know that everything is circulating properly. The high-performance nylon/spandex blend regulates temperature so you won't have sweaty feet.

$14 at Amazon

Sometimes after a long flight, I would notice my ankles were swollen and would stay that way for a few days. Edema, or foot and ankle swelling, is a common side effect of airplane travel and happens when you're sitting in one spot for too long and fluid accumulates in your extremities. It's not too dangerous but it's pretty uncomfortable and unsightly. So now I wear compression socks on most flights, and I prefer Amazon's popular Charmking brand because they make compression socks in regular black, white and gray options — but they have fun colors and patterns too if you prefer that!

This button-down is ideal for travel for myriad reasons. One is that it has the gauze-like appeal of linen but is actually constructed of cotton, so it's much more practical for stuffing into suitcases, bags and washers. It's also just the right weight to be a shirt or a beach cover-up, and just the right length for both.

$30 at Amazon

Just like you have certain things in your closet that are your go-to items, I have certain things in my luggage. And, if you've got a tropical escape on your itinerary, one thing you will thank yourself for packing is Hotouch's gauze-y white button-down blouse with sleeves I can roll up or down. It's perfect to throw on over a tank top and lightweight enough to toss in your tote bag when it gets hot. I tuck mine into jeans for a walk around town and throw it over my swimsuit on a beach day. Pro tip: Get one that's machine washable and doesn't wrinkle easily.

The top-selling Anker PowerCore charger is compact enough to fit in your purse and juices up an iPhone about three and a half times at high speed and an Android phone about two and a half.

$26 at Amazon

A portable charger, or power bank, is an indispensable travel item that's going to save the day, so don’t don't leave home without it. Why? Because now that we mainly use our smartphones to take pictures, get directions and even pay for things, it’s important to have that phone always juiced up when you’re out sightseeing, on a boat trip, on a long hike — there are a million scenarios in which your phone can die. I would be stranded without my Anker power bank. Anker is one of the leading names in portable technology, and this particular charger is a hit with nearly 54,000 perfect ratings.

These popular slides are made of cushiony EVA, a rubberlike material that provides ample shock absorption for all-day walking. The footbed is contoured to cradle your foot and provide arch support.

$25 at Amazon

I like to spend as much time as possible in beach towns, and I practically live in these Funkymonkey EVA beach slides. They’re basically Birkenstock dupes for a fraction of the price, but just as comfortable (they're heaven, in fact), and they’ve never given me blisters or pain of any kind. It speaks volumes that these flip-flops have more than 40,000 five-star reviews.

Ditch the bulky hotel towel and tote this super-absorbent beauty to the pool. It's made of 100% Turkish cotton with no toxic chemicals at all — only softness against your skin. It dries fast, rolls up thin and stores away neatly — and it's so pretty.

$14 at Amazon

I thank myself all the time for buying a Turkish towel four years ago. It’s durable, highly absorbent, ultra-thin and takes up about the same luggage space as a pair of pants. I got mine in Croatia, and it’s been my constant companion all over the world, holding up impeccably through countless beach days, road trips and machine washes. This 100% cotton Turkish towel by Realgrandbazaar is identical to mine. It’s super cute and doubles as an on-the-go blanket.

This ultra-hydrating moisturizer uses some pretty potent, dermatologist-recommended ingredients including squalene and hyaluronic acid, plus omega fatty acids (which plump up your skin) and ceramides, an important ingredient for protecting the skin's barrier from moisture loss.

$19 at Amazon
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$20 at Sephora

The low humidity on planes is notorious for drying out skin, and then there are the elements, jet lag and forgetting to hydrate on your actual trip. They all take a toll on the skin. I constantly have a small stash of skin care with me while I travel, and a lightweight yet deeply hydrating moisturizer is absolutely essential. I’m loyal to ingredients, not brands, and this top-rated Biossance moisturizer contains two of my favorites: plant-based squalane and hydration superstar hyaluronic acid.

Keep yourself hydrated and healthy with this stainless steel double-wall insulated bottle that's BPA-free and food-grade. It's leak-proof, which is so important when you're on the go and stashing it away in your bag. It keeps water cold for a full 24 hours.

$24 at Amazon

Here’s another great way to keep your skin — and your whole body — hydrated while you travel: Drink water! Novel idea, huh? It's even more important if you're walking a lot, touring ancient ruins or doing anything that puts you in the blazing sun all day. This top-rated, vacuum-insulated, reusable Takeya Ocean Originals water bottle makes it easy: It has a loop handle that lets you hook it onto a bag or a belt and carry it hands-free.

Enjoy plug-and-play streaming of your favorite entertainment from your smartphone or laptop to any HDMI-enabled TV, monitor or projector for both video and audio transfer with this tiny, unassuming connector.

$10 at Amazon

Not everyone considers an HDMI adapter essential, but I do, and here’s why. A lot of hotels and vacation accommodations offer smart TVs, but that means you have to log in to your own Netflix, Hulu and other accounts. And then you forget to log out, which is a security risk. This QGeeM HDMI adapter connects your iPhone, Android, Macbook, Chromebook or a host of other devices to any flatscreen TV with its HDMI cord attached and mirrors whatever’s on your screen. I don’t travel anywhere without mine.

These AirPods have up to two times the noise cancellation, which is the best I've found in any earbuds. These give you a lot of control too: Swipe the stem to adjust the volume, press it to play and pause music or to answer and end a call, or hold it to switch between active noise cancellation and adaptive transparency.

$101 at Amazon
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$169 at Adorama$169 at Walmart

My AirPods Pro wireless earbuds are always in my electronics travel pouch. They have superior noise-canceling and audio abilities — I even sleep with them in if I'm in a noisy neighborhood — are sweatproof and waterproof and have seen me through long trips on planes, trains, automobiles ... and boats! A fully charged case will give you 30 hours of performance.

These foam earplugs fit so comfortably inside your ears, you'll sleep like a baby. They're made to mold the shape of your ear canal so they're suited to activities such as going to concerts, attending parades or anything where you're moving around in loud places.

$3 at Amazon
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$3 at Walmart

One of the least predictable things about travel is sleep quality. Will you get noisy neighbors? Construction? While staying in Bali, I had a rude awakening — I was literally awoken by the sound of roosters every morning at dawn. Lesson learned: Now I never travel without foam earplugs. They're absolute game changers and this box of 10 pairs of Flents earplugs is just $3. If you're not an earbuds person or just can't sleep with yours in, just invest in these: You’ll thank me later.

This purse, by respected brand Travelon, looks like a classic crossbody but hides lots of brilliant anti-theft features like a locking main compartment and RFID-blocking card and passport slots, so your personal info can't be scanned by thieves.

$54 at Amazon

I never advocate fear-based travel advice. But pickpocketing and card skimming are real, so I advocate the best safety precautions so you can enjoy your trip with a clear head. This Travelon Anti-Theft shoulder bag is a perfect example of a smart purse. It converts into a crossbody bag, which keeps your stuff close to your body and in front where you can see it, and RFID technology protects all the cards in your wallet. It’s got lots of handy compartments too, so you don’t have to dig through a bottomless pit to find your keys, wallet, phone and all your little accessories.

This popular travel pillow is adjustable for all different sleep positions. And it does important work: It keeps your head from tilting forward when you fall asleep, protecting your neck from what could be a pretty bad crick. The cover comes off and can go right in the washer.

$48 at Amazon

Neck pillows are a dime a dozen, and yes, they do make travel so much more comfortable. But I also get back pain from traveling so sometimes I need pillows in other places. This Bcozzy travel pillow is one of my best Amazon finds, and it comes with its own travel case. It’s flexible so you can conform it to your shape and for different sleeping and sitting positions. That’s probably why it’s Amazon’s No. 1 bestselling travel pillow.

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