There’s the usual: laptop, smartphone, deodorant, toothbrush — the stuff that goes with me no matter where I go. Most of those familiar things probably are on your packing list as well. But there are a few other items I always include that may not immediately come to mind. Here are my seven must-have travel essentials.
• Earplugs. I loved my fancy $250 noise-canceling earphones, but after they were stolen, I switched to those foamy plugs that cost about 20 cents and are preferred by construction workers around the world. They certainly don’t block out all the noise (you still need to hear things), but they do take the edge off when I’m in range of screaming children, barking CFOs and the 37 announcements in the terminal that don’t concern me.
• Eye mask. Sunlight, the enemy of sleep, can be blocked with a simple eye mask, which also places a relaxing, gentle pressure on your eyelids. An eye mask allows me to catch sleep in some of the most difficult situations: well-lit planes, noisy trains and hotel rooms that don’t have black-out shades. Just be sure to get one that’s not too tight or you’ll wake up with those embarrassing lines across your face.
• Melatonin. An eye mask isn’t the only sleep aid I travel with. A bottle of over-the-counter melatonin has always had a place in my luggage, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my “Tony.” Melatonin, a hormone that occurs naturally in your body, doesn’t completely knock you out like a sleeping pill. It just relaxes you, as though you’ve just had a nice hot bath.
• Pinky Balls. Want to know how to feel like you’ve had a $100 massage for about 4 bucks? Pinky Balls! You can usually find these toys-turned-massage therapy tools in toy stores, but if you can’t find them, tennis balls will suffice. When every muscle in my body aches after spending all day on my feet, I put the balls on the floor, lay my aching back on them, and push up with my knees so my weight is pressed down on the rosy rubber orbs. I then roll them down my back, under my legs and past my calves, slowly working out all the kinks and knots.
• Comfy socks. As soon as I get on the plane, my shoes and socks come off (discreetly, so as not to send my seatmate running), and then on go the cuddly wuddlies! Your feet really do swell on a flight, so it’s good to give them some breathing room. Of course, never walk into the cabin restroom without your shoes – that bathroom floor is pretty gross.
• A jar of peanut butter. For me this is survival food. I always seem to be arriving at a destination late, when restaurants are closed and there’s no room service. But you can invariably find something that goes with peanut butter – and if you’re really desperate, you can just eat stick your finger into the jar. The world outside the United States generally doesn’t know about peanut butter, although I always seem to be able to find jelly. Funny story: When I was shooting my TV travel series in China and Peru and needed to break the ice with our mainly foreign crew, I made them all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I told them that every American grows up eating PB&J sandwiches. At first they all thought the combination sounded disgusting, but once they ate it, they really liked it. Pretty soon we were all laughing and sharing stories of our favorite childhood treats. Who knew the lowly PB&J could be such a useful diplomatic tool?
• A gift. When you travel, you often depend on the kindness of strangers. Sometimes you want to say thank you, but a tip just doesn’t seem like the right gesture. For this purpose, I always bring a few gifts from home. I bring nothing too heavy or that takes up much room in my luggage: maybe a T-shirt or some regional candy. When I travel internationally, my gift of choice is an “I Love NY” T-shirt. It’s a phrase known around the world, and, flying from New York, I can always pick up a few of these shirts at the airport.