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International travel, from a distance, can seem like one big graph — replete with peaks and valleys. The peaks are almost exclusively confined to the trip, and the deep valleys occur in the preparation, airport, and ensuing jet lag.
But thanks to my work as a product reviewer, I see a high volume of great tools and products designed just to make traveling easier. And on my recent trip abroad, I decided to put a few of them to the test. What I got was a trip that was markedly easier — and more enjoyable — from start to finish than any other I've planned before.
Below, you'll find 15 purchases that made my last international trip a breeze — just in case any of them might be helpful to you, too:
Reliable, impressively affordable Wi-Fi that goes where you go
Skyroam Solis was probably the number one most helpful thing I packed. It's a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that offers unlimited 4G LTE service without having to worry about cell data overages or big fees. The device itself is $149.99 on Amazon and the Skyroam "day passes" for wifi are $40 for 5 days ($8 per day). For the $8 per day, you can hook up to five devices at a time to the Solis. If you're traveling with family or friends, that means that one day pass will cover everyone's data for the day. Over our five-day trip, it worked almost flawlessly.
Part of the joy of international travel is not always having wifi, but we really only used it for necessities like Google Maps and looking up more information on the sights we were enjoying. It allows you the considerable luxury of being flexible with your choices, and can save a closed restaurant, museum, or unfortunate turn of events from ruining your day.
A website that plans your trip for you for $25/day, complete with booking hotels and making your reservations
Before I remembered Journy, I was so stressed out by the details of planning the trip (researching restaurants abroad, mapping out must-see sights to group them by neighborhood, and allocating time for all the activities we wanted to include) that I wasn't even enjoying the anticipation of a big trip.
For $25 per day of your trip, Journy basically takes care of all of the travel stressors so you can relax without missing out while you're gone. You work with a seasoned concierge who designs your itinerary, books hotels, makes restaurant reservations, and keeps your priorities and preferences in mind. In other words, it's a huge relief. If you want more details, you can find a full review here.
A phone case that keeps cards and IDs within reach at all times
Both myself and Insider Picks editor Ellen Hoffman are longtime fans of Incipio's lean but functional Stowaway card case. It keeps my debit card, ID, and metro pass within easy reach instead of zipped in my bag or loose in my pocket while I'm traveling, which is a real lifesaver.
A carry-on with 360-degree rotating wheels and an ejectable battery to charge your devices
I usually swear by the Allpa 35L ($200) from Cotopaxi (it's far superior to other iterations I've tried), but I wanted something more traditional on hand for this trip. I got the Away Bigger Carry-On ($245), and I was viscerally grateful for it at just about every step of the way.
The shell is tough but flexible, and the two internal compartments make packing easier — one side for clothes, one for hard objects like shoes and toiletries — and you can fit a surprising amount (I had quite a few spare outfits for a five-day trip). The 360-degree rotating wheels made it a breeze to roll the case along one-handed and without exerting much effort. The external battery,which can charge any phone up to 5x, helped me at the airport, on the airplane (which, surprise, didn't have outlets), and throughout the trip as my go-to battery pack. The internal nylon laundry bag helped me separate dirty clothes from clean, and it made unpacking easier once I got home.
The suitcase also comes with a pack of adapters for charging the battery, and I used that throughout the trip as well as a spare.
$245 is more than I'd normally spend on a carry-on, but the convenience is worth it.
Truly wireless earbuds that take up almost no room in your bag
I usually travel with headphones, but big over-ear models require a lot of space, and I hate having to shrug them off and on whenever I'm carrying a bunch of bags every time I need to answer questions at security checkpoints.
In contrast, the Jaybird Run earbuds ($179) come in a carrying case that's smaller than a pair of rolled socks and can easily be tossed into a pocket. I originally got them for running, but they're so convenient and work so well that I now use them for pretty much everything. They're compact, water-resistant Bluetooth earbuds that stay put comfortably without ever budging and isolate noise nicely. I've reviewed them and we've compared them with Apple Airpods (Jaybird won).
In case you forget to charge them before leaving for the airport, they've got an 8-hour playtime, and 5 minutes of charging in their case translates to an hour of listening time, which is pretty easy to do at the gate.
Plus, it's nice not having what is essentially a structured, hot foam scarf permanently hanging around your neck while you hustle through the airport.
A well-organized backpack that can be used on the trip itself
The Dakota Backpack ($175) from Dagne Dover was ideal for international travel. It's well organized by design, encourages light packing, and is fashion-forward enough to be an accessory with both practical and stylistic use on the trip itself, not just at the airport. Though it's a regular size, it makes great use of space: it has a pocket for everything, a key leash, many compact internal pockets, a laptop/iPad sleeve, and smart zippered compartments at the back for anything you want out of the way/hidden.
And aside from functionality, the Dakota Backpack gets big points for being both stylish and unique while still maintaining a clean (and versatile) look. Every time I wear mine, someone stops to ask me where I got it from — which probably has something to do with its memorable Neoprene material and the signature rich colors.
A reading app with offline reading
For in-flight entertainment, Scribd ($9 per month for unlimited reading) is my go-to. You don't have to waste space or energy on a hardcover, and you can switch between a large library of books if your mood changes.
I love Scribd because it's affordable, the selection is full of books I actually want to read (and in ebooks as well as audiobooks), and you can download them for offline reading and highlight and annotate sections easily. It's one subscription service I've been loyal to for years.
A passport case that simplifies finding your passport and ticket
An underrated travel frustration is fumbling to find your boarding ticket and passport at every checkpoint, causing the 60 seconds of paranoia thinking that you set it down at Starbucks when you ordered. These passport holders are elongated to fit the modern ticket size, are just tall enough to meet the edge of my purse (making it easy to see and grab in one motion), and come in stylish leather that will gain character with age and can even be monogrammed. I've written about this case before, but I stand by it being one of my best travel buys if only for the peace of mind.
Solid, TSA-friendly beauty bars
If you're headed somewhere that you might enjoy having either shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or self-tanner at and don't want to check a bag or risk liquid spilling, you should be aware of Ethique— a beauty brand from New Zealand (shoppable on Amazon) that makes solid beauty bars.
A bonus is that you also won't be contributing to the 80 billion plastic bottles dumped into the ocean annually because of shampoo and conditioner, and everything is naturally-derived and vegan. The bars also last two to five times longer than liquid products, which rely on a lot of water. You can read my full review here, but there's an option for pretty much everything.
A manual toothbrush with helpful upgrades
This Kickstarter-funded toothbrush has quickly replaced more expensive electric models as my go-to option both at home and when I travel. It doesn't need to be charged, isn't bulky, and the rubber-like material feels both gentle and effective. Plus, it's antimicrobial, which makes a lot of sense for, you know, oral hygiene. I've waxed poetic on it before, but suffice it to say it's a really great buy for $12.
Perfectly portioned makeup essentials that are all of the same consistency and color
Stowaway Cosmetics makes minimalist collections of makeup that are perfectly portioned to actually be finished — in other words, consciously the opposite of the mountain of half-used lipsticks you probably own.
I have an Every Day Kit from Stowaway (BB cream, concealer, lipstick, cheek/lip rouge, eyeliner, and mascara) which comes in handy for travel. It has all the cosmetic essentials, they're small and easy to toss together into a suitcase, and since they come as a collection from one brand, they happen to color-match well. I don't waste time making sure my concealer is blended or waste space on my big toiletry bag of all the makeup I own.
A fast, easy blemish fixer
Travel can mess with your skin. What began as a tentative peace agreement between you and it can break out (literally) into an all-out war after one day in an airport and an 8-hour flight to a different climate.
To make sure I was prepared for any surprises, I packed Mighty Patch, which is basically a box of hydrocolloid stickers that you place over whiteheads for a minimum of 6 hours to draw out impurities without breaking the skin or irritating the area. They work quickly and exceptionally well, so you can put one on at night and wake up minus the bump the next day.
"Barefoot" shoes that roll up to the size of a pair of socks
If you love saving space and traveling light more than you absolutely love arch support, then Vivobarefoot is the name to know. I'm partial to their Kanna barefoot sneakers, which breathe well, weigh next to nothing, and roll up to a ball slightly bigger than a pair of socks. They're technically "barefoot" shoes, but, stylistically, they look like everyday sneakers.
The most comfortable and supportive socks ever made
It might seem silly to have a favorite pair of travel socks, but to be fair, they're my favorite pair of socks for anything, thanks to smart updates like a honeycomb arch support system and blister tabs. While traveling, you're more than likely going to be on your feet for hours (the first day we walked 11 miles) and comfortable socks mean you won't have to ultimately decide between tears and blisters or getting to see everything on your list.
A drink with melatonin, magnesium, and vitamin B6 that helps you get to sleep faster
Som Sleep is a drink formulated with melatonin, magnesium, vitamin B6, GABA, and L-Theanine that was created to help you get to sleep faster and, hopefully, sleep better. It helped get to sleep early enough on my return date to avoid the worst of the jet lag. You can see our full review of the drink here to decide if its right for you.