Ostrich Pillow
Ostrich Pillow

Travel Companions

Are there one or two items you've found indispensable to have on hand while traveling? We posed that question to some globetrotters. Here's what they told us.

Saving Your Neck

No matter what the climate is at my destination, I always pack a large scarf. This accessory, which can easily fit in any purse or backpack, has at least a dozen uses. I can fold it to create a small pillow behind my back for lumbar support or a neck pillow for sleeping. The long length makes it great as a blanket or a shawl. In Istanbul, I used a scarf as a head covering, to drape over my shoulders and to wrap around my waist to cover my knees when entering mosques. At the pool, a scarf in a lightweight fabric can double as a sarong. Pairing scarves with neutral clothing can stretch a wardrobe for days. Finally, a scarf is a great way to wrap up and cushion a bottle of wine or any other breakable treasure in your luggage.—Kimberly Button

More Power to Ya

Electricity is a blessing—and its absence can be a curse. That’s why—after suffering my share of dead laptop batteries—I’ve come to rely on something called the AlphaSmart when I’m traveling. It’s a word processor that runs for many hours on its rechargeable battery or a set of three off-the-shelf AAs. It helped me to meet a deadline during a flight that lasted much longer than my laptop’s battery would have, and after that, I was sold. The full-size keyboard rivals that of any desktop computer and beats any laptop I’ve encountered. For larger screen size and alternate storage, the AlphaSmart (available from Renaissance Learning, a British company) can connect to a tablet, laptop or PC via USB or IR. Mine is the now-discontinued Dana model. The current Neo2 is aimed at students rather than writers and loses some of the Dana’s features, such as SD card slots. However, it boasts an amazing 700 hours of use on AA batteries. For writing and note-taking away from power sources, it’s the best thing going.—Don Douglas

A Shut-eye Facilitator

When I’m traveling, any noise or movement results in me being unable to fall asleep. As such, I’m always an early adopter for any product that looks as if it might be able to help. The Ostrich Pillow gave me pause because it looked terrible, but I didn’t pause long, because it kept me warm, cut down on ambient sound and really did help me sleep. I’m glad to report that you can derive the same benefits from the newer Ostrich Pillow Light, which is more portable and looks considerably more dignified.—Chris Allsop

A Briefcase for Tech

Where in this suitcase did my extra batteries disappear? And where did I stash my noise-canceling headphones? I no longer ask myself such questions now that I carry Twelve South’s leather BookBook Travel Journal, which contains handy compartments for an iPad, high-end headphones, power adapters, earbuds, extra batteries and more. Like the company’s excellent BookBook cases for MacBooks and iPhones, it is designed to look like a vintage hardcover book. The company claims that this makes the contents less susceptible to theft. That may or may not be true but there’s no question that this mini-briefcase helps keep me organized, and the stylish packaging turns heads and attracts compliments wherever I go.—Jeff Burger

Hard Copy

I never leave home without paper copies of important travel information. Storing addresses, phone numbers and itinerary details on a phone or laptop can make the data easier to access—but only if technology doesn’t fail due to low batteries, rural locations, software problems or severe weather. When I was delayed in Germany with no Wi-Fi or cellular service, I couldn’t find the phone number of the ship that I needed to call to reschedule transportation. At times when my travel plans couldn’t continue without a vital piece of information—whether it’s an address or a passport, credit card or phone number—I’ve been happy to have a paper record of the details in my carry-on luggage.—Kimberly Button

A Different Kind of Laptop

One item I never travel without is a small leather-bound journal. Cracking open the sturdy cover to record my insights on the day’s adventures, I feel like an adventurer from a bygone era. More importantly, it’s ideal for jotting down random thoughts and ideas that flit into my mind on a long airplane or car ride. There’s no need to worry about battery capacity or signal strength—just crack the journal open, grab a pen and write. The other great thing about it is that it allows me to relive my experiences years later. An old scrawling about unique experiences and interactions can bring back a flood of visceral memories (including smells, sights and sounds) in a way that characters on a computer screen could not.—James Ullrich

Silence Is Golden

I never travel anywhere without a set of Mack’s silicone moldable earplugs. (Forget the plastic stopples; they don’t work nearly as well.) Last year at a hotel in Saint-Emilion, France, where my room turned out to be over the kitchen, I would have gotten little sleep without them. Nothing short of anesthesia will block out all annoying sounds, but a conversation you’d rather not hear or the TV playing in the next hotel room become tolerable, and sometimes close to nonexistent, with the aid of this simple device.—Jeff Wieand

Brush Away Your Troubles

Traveling light is great—until a stain ruins the appearance of the only dress slacks in your suitcase. A clothes brush may solve the problem. When traveling for two or three days, it is better to have one clothes brush than an extra suit. My own brush has saved my day often enough that my wife has stopped laughing at me when I pack it. Many stains, once dry, can be removed easily by rubbing the fabric for 20 or 30 seconds. Don’t hesitate to choose a relatively hard brush—it will be more effective and there is no risk of damage. On Amazon, you can find clothes brushes that also serve as shoehorns and lint removers.—Thierry Dubois 

Sound Idea

I don’t like traveling with large headphones because they take up too much room, and I prefer a smaller pair to use while working out. The ideal solution is my Challenger C earphones, which completely eliminate outside noise, give me stereo sound and are made from a super-soft silicone material that provides my ear canals with a complete seal. To order them, I went to an audiologist for a mold of each of my ear canals, picked different colors for my left and right ears (so I’ll never confuse them) and sent the package off to the Ear Plug Company. I originally bought them because they fit flush under a helmet when I’m riding a motorcycle or bicycle, but now I also employ them in my airplane seat to watch a movie, and with my iPhone and iPod, while I’m running or out for a walk.—Margie Goldsmith 

Ancient Inspiration

I make a habit of never traveling without a small square-cut stone engraved with the quote, “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.” Found while browsing in a little antique shop in rural Illinois many years ago, it sits on the nightstand beside any bed I sleep in, so it’s the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning. The quote from ancient Greek historian Thucydides reminds me that rewarding experiences don’t always come easy. The words inspire me to keep pushing against my comfort zone, and that good travel, like life, often requires the motivation to challenge myself.—James Ullrich

10 Gadgets in One

One item that always makes my packing list is my Swiss Army knife from Wenger, called the Traveler. At 3.25 inches, it’s loaded with 10 gadgets that come in handy on the road, among them a corkscrew, tweezers, a toothpick, a nail file, a 2.5-inch blade, a key ring, a can opener and 2.45-inch springless scissors. This is an item that takes up almost no space in a suitcase but can be extremely useful in a pinch.—James Ullrich 

A City in Your Pocket

I find Luxe Guides indispensable. No encyclopedic histories here—just the bare, best essentials to ensure you get the most out of 32 global destinations. Unlike larger tomes such as the Lonely Planet guides, which I find are the tourism equivalent of painting a bull’s-eye on my chest, Luxe Guides are available as an app and a concertinaed hard copy petite enough to fit into a breast pocket. You can easily peruse and pick from a city’s best high-end, smart/casual and relaxed places to eat, drink and dance and get insight into the best spa options and ways to spend a day; the city’s best shopping areas are broken down into walking tours, art galleries, interior décor boutiques, places to pick up locally crafted products and standout stores.—Gemma Price

Jump for Joy

Sometimes my travel schedule is so packed I don’t have time to go to the gym; other times I might be stuck in a hotel with no gym and it’s too cold or wet for an outside run. To make sure I don’t miss my workout, I always travel with my jump rope, which takes up virtually no room. Just five or 10 minutes of jumping has me huffing and puffing more than if I were running or spinning or on a treadmill. I don’t like plastic or beaded ropes because the plastic beads constantly whack me in the shins. Leather is smooth and the rope hits the floor and pavement loosely. I can also go faster if I want. I like the King Athletic leather skipping rope because it’s light and durable and the wooden handles are comfortable. It even has a five-year guarantee, though there’s not much that can go wrong with a jump rope.—Margie Goldsmith

Worry-free Watch

During a four-month, round-the-world honeymoon in 2008, my wife watched as I contrived to lose not one but two stand-in wedding rings. For Christmas the following year, she gave me a retro Casio F-91W-1XY watch. “Thank you,” I said, without enthusiasm. “I think I had one of these when I was eight.” She explained her reasoning: the lost rings, my talent for leaving items in hotel safes, my frequent traveling. Understanding dawned: what a wise choice of wife I’d made. The Casio has been my traveling companion ever since, generating no interest from thieves worldwide while allowing me to set alarms and check the time without having to expose my smartphone. I’ve yet to lose it but I’ve also yet to worry about doing so.—Chris Allsop 

Two Perfect Carryons

I love nostalgic images of the bygone era of travel—all those leather-bound, monogrammed suitcases stacked high on transcontinental train platforms, shrouded in engine steam. But even if I had a team of porters to carry my cumbersome vintage cases every step of the way, the inevitable gamut of modern-day security lines would make them impractical. Still, I carry one little piece of functional, personalized luxury with me whenever I travel: my monogrammed Louis Vuitton Pegase 55 business carry-on. I love the separate pockets for my laptop and phone as I’m always writing/calling/e-mailing up to the last second and can slip my devices out whenever I need them. Two interior zipped pockets and clothing-protection flaps allow me to find things quickly; the garment cover with hanger makes stowing my jacket a breeze. Heirloom-quality craftsmanship means my case will go the distance.—Gemma Price

Others like the trendy hard-sided, four-wheel spinners, but I prefer a soft wide-body case so I can squeeze in more, especially on the way home from a trip. Briggs & Riley’s soft TU222XW Transcend 20-inch model weighs just 8.4 pounds and with its shorter and wider configuration, I can shove it in feet-first into the overhead. Inside are nylon garment-securing panels, but I never use them. What I do use are the top mesh packing panels, which not only keep items separate but let me see what I’ve got. I like the water-resistant wet/dry pocket for final workouts prior to leaving for home, but what I like best are the two outer compartments: one for my computer and one for my liquids, so I can pop them out at security. The bag never bumps into seats in the airplane aisle because it spins sideways and it has tilt-resistant front feet so it doesn’t fall over.—Margie Goldsmith