Despite the uncertainty with the Delta variant, many vaccinated travelers are forging ahead with their summer vacation plans. European countries like Italy, France, and Greece currently have open borders and remain wildly popular. That said, the paperwork and logistics required to enter each can be complicated so for the most up-to-date travel intel check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comprehensive list of COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination. The CDC currently recommends anyone who is not fully vaccinated stay home and get inoculated, and warns that even vaccinated travelers are still at risk for contracting and spreading virus variants.
If you’re sticking by your bookings, the same rules throughout the rest of the pandemic apply: BYO face masks (N95 or KN95s are ideal) and hand sanitizer, and do your best to maintain social distance. That includes dining outdoors whenever possible and avoiding crowded bars, clubs, and transportation hubs.
To help you get ready, I asked 14 seasoned travelers, all of whom either recently returned from Europe or are abroad right now, which items from their packing lists were the most useful and why. (Having just returned from back-to-back work trips in Denmark and Iceland myself, I’m including some of my own VIPs as well.) What follows are 25 suitcase superheroes, certain to improve whatever summer adventures await you on the other side of the Atlantic.
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Compression Packing Cubes
“Compression packing cubes are a packer’s best friend,” says Jeremy Scott Foster, the Escondido, California-based CEO of TravelFreak. “They have a compression zipper to shrink their size, and you stay organized and save space at the same time.” He used three cubes on a recent trip to Germany and says they “literally doubled” the space in his suitcase.
A Lightweight Travel Adapter
When Philadelphia-based food and travel writer Adam Erace was touring Croatia in May, this lightweight adapter was a lifesaver. “I had a panic moment when I went to recharge during my layover in Frankfurt and my phone wouldn’t charge—but it turned out it was just the airport’s outlets,” he says. “This converter worked perfectly, and the twin USB ports were really helpful for charging my phone, iPad, and computer all at once.”
Good Tea, Because Plane Coffee Sucks
“Since plane coffee is often shit, I always stash a couple bags of After Dinner Mints herbal tea in my backpack,” says Erace, an avowed coffee guy. “I’d rather have a really aromatic, uplifting cup of quality tea than one of weak, insipid coffee, and this caffeine-free blend of spearmint, peppermint, fennel, and ginger works as well when you’re settling in for a bedtime movie as it does when you’re waking up on the other side of the Atlantic.”
A Fancy Smelling Travel-Sized Perfume
Diptyque is my go-to parfumerie whenever I want to feel fancier than I am, and this 0.41 oz. bottle is ideally sized for travel. The refillable dispenser is available in four fragrances; my favorite is figgy-sweet Philosykos, redolent of lazy summers in Greece. I also like that the bottles — inspired by the vintage split-flap displays at ye olde train stations — can be customized with a short phrase or mantra.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
“When you are already squished in your seat, the last thing you want assaulting your senses is noise pollution: crying babies, loud talkers, and clueless snorers,” says Marisel Salazar, a New York City-based food and travel host, writer, and cook who visited Porto last month. “Even if you don’t want dead silence, these headphones enhance the clarity of ‘voluntary’ audio, like songs, podcasts, or movies, and have a long battery life, which is especially great for long-haul flights.”
Body Wipes, in Case You Can’t Shower Immediately
Salazar regretted forgetting to pack these super-sized wipes on her trip to Portugal. “Sometimes there is a period of several hours between when you land and when your hotel room is actually ready, “ she explains, “After a seven-plus hour flight, I am itching—quite literally—for a shower. These handy dandy sheets are made for just that: Wipe yourself down and feel freshened up to explore your new destination.”
An Easy Way to Refresh Hair
I’d like to pretend I’m one of those carefree women who dives off rocks on the Amalfi Coast and then roasts topless on the beach, but I am absolutely not that woman. And yet I can pretend to be her every time I pack a travel-sized bottle of this Swedish Sea Salt Spray. Spritz it on dry hair, tousle with my fingers, and — bam! — instant beach babe. My locks look perfectly disheveled, like I spent the afternoon skinny dipping with sun-baked Italians.
Sandals That Can Handle Lots of Walking
“This is the summer Tevas got cool again and I couldn’t be happier,” says Arielle Benedek, a Brooklyn-based product manager at Spotify who spent six weeks in London and Majorca earlier this summer. “Instead of packing three types of sandals or walking shoes, my Tevas handle it all: comfy for a full day out, no slippage, and they can be dressed up or worn to the beach.” Also, Benedek notes, they’re easy to wash after a muddy hike or if you accidentally drip ice cream onto your toes—a not uncommon occurrence on a European vacation.
Lavender Scented Hand Sanitizer
“This is my new favorite hand sani,” adds Benedek. “It’s under 3 oz., so great for your carry-on, and allows you to avoid the sticky, thick, industrial-grade hand sanitizers in airports.”
A Fancier Hand Sanitizer
For a higher-end hand sanitizer, Hong Kong-based brand manager Cindy Ng swears by this travel-sized bottle from Aesop. “Its mild formula doesn’t damage my skin,” says Ng, who travels to France several times a year, and says she appreciates its “balanced woody and citrus scent.”
A Fluffy Travel Pillow
“Like a wearable cloud” is how Ng describes this patented travel pillow. “It’s fully adjustable to any resting position, and the bamboo fabric feels super soft and cool,” she notes. “Plus it’s entirely machine washable.”
A Reusable Face Mask
Ketti Wilhelm, the travel and sustainability blogger behind Tilted Map, jumps frequently between her home base of Boston and Italy; she also visited the Czech Republic and Spain earlier this summer. One thing she wished she had packed but didn’t was a new LastMask from the Danish brand LastObject. “It’s an easy, compact backup to keep in my bag and know that I always have an extra face mask and hand sanitizer with me,” says Wilhelm of the triple-layer mask and refillable disinfectant. “Since COVID cases are rising again in lots of European countries, and average vaccination rates are still lower in Europe [than the United States], you always have to be prepared. In my experience, norms and laws can change quickly, especially in Italy.”
An Added Layer of Protection for Your Mask
When Chicago-based travel journalist and photographer Yulia Denisyuk wanted extra protection on her 10-hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul, she wore a cloth mask on top of a disposable mask and slipped one of these activated carbon filters in between them. Says Denisyuk, “It made me feel better about taking this long flight, during which many people didn’t wear masks.”
A Calming Essential Oil
“This is another item I don’t board a plane without and it proved particularly useful on my latest flight to Barcelona,” says Denisyuk. “I was stressed seeing all the people who ignored the mask-wearing rules onboard and rolling this blend of lavender, orange, chamomile, vetiver, sage on my forehead and wrists helped me relax and even catch a few zzzs.”
Biker Shorts With Pockets
Atlanta-based art director Andi Crumbley is spending her summer tooling around Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia. “In the hot weather we’re enjoying, I have loved bike shorts with pockets under dresses,” she says. “Metro ticket in one pocket and phone-wallet in the other. Your hands are free, with nothing to leave behind on the beach or a restaurant chair.”
A Giant Scarf
“This scarf is my favorite thing I packed for Italy,” says Kate Schneider, a New York City-based market research consultant who has spent the last few weeks bouncing around Rome, Milan, and Lake Como. “I brought a few solid-colored rompers and dresses with me, and this matched all of them! It was perfect as a shawl in the evenings or on chilly trains, planes, and buses, and to drape around tank tops before going inside the beautiful cathedrals where you aren’t allowed in if you are showing too much skin. Also, it doubled as an emergency beach blanket and was great to tie over my hair on Vespa rides!”
A Portable Second Screen
This easy-to-lug monitor was Schneider’s other most essential item. “I’m working remotely while traveling and knew I couldn’t be fully productive without a second screen,” she says. “This portable monitor has been a lifesaver in Italy, allowing me to transform a dining room table in any B&B, hotel room, or villa into my home office.” Other notable features: It’s lightweight and, like an iPad, can stand up with a folding case.
A Grab and Go Toiletry Organizer
Behold Schneider’s favorite toiletry bag, which allows her to “easily spread out all of my makeup items on any toilet seat cover, comforter, or wherever I’m getting ready, and then zip them back up without making a mess.”
A Water Bottle With Filter
Dutch copywriter and photographer Stephanie Broekarts is in the midst of a six-week, 12-country motorcycle trip from the Netherlands to Albania and back. “While tap water is drinkable in most European countries, it can be questionable in some places,” she says. With this filtered water bottle, she avoids single-use plastic water bottles, noting that “it’s also great to bring on hikes to safely drink from natural sources.”
A Concentrated, Unisex Natural Deodorant
“As some old towns are only accessible by foot, I like to pack light and share a backpack with my partner,” explains Broekarts. In addition to packing cubes, she relies on natural, cruelty-free toiletries that go the extra mile. “Nuud deodorant is very concentrated, so you only need to use it every couple of days,” she says. “It’s also unisex and comes in a perfect travel-sized tube that’s easy to share.”
A Quick Drying Hair Turban
Twin Cities-based travel writer Jessica Adza gets around: This summer, she has already visited Greece, France, and Italy this summer. Her packing essentials always include a fast-drying hair towel. “As someone with long, thick hair, it just takes way too long to blow dry,” explains Adza. This super absorbent, easily packable microfiber turban gets the job done in half the time.
A Unique Camera Harness
Fine art landscape photographer Allison Davis has shot in France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, and all along the American West Coast. “When traveling, hiking, or exploring a city, you want your camera easily accessible,” she explains. “But the greatest benefit of this fashionable, well-made piece is that it takes the pressure off your neck and allows your hands to move hands-free.”
An iPhone Strap
Kimmie Conner, the Barcelona-based travel blogger behind Adventures & Sunsets, has spent six years on the road but only recently discovered her new favorite accessory: the iPhone cord. “I had seen them around for years but never thought to try one until moving to Barcelona, which is famous for pickpockets,” says Conner. “Rather than constantly getting my phone in and out of my bag or putting it in my pocket, why not attach it to myself with a strap? I feel so much safer having it slung across me like a purse.”
A Sturdy, Investment-Worthy Suitcase
Jaclyn Sienna India, founder of ultra-luxe lifestyle and travel company Sienna Charles, plans trips for CEOs, billionaires, and A-list celebrities. She’s on the road more than 200 days a year and recently returned from a multi-country scouting trip in Europe. Anytime she crosses the Atlantic, she is never without this oversized Rimowa suitcase. “It allows me to pack a variety of silk shirts, non-wrinkle pants, and multiple jackets,” says India. “I’m also shoe obsessed and bring about 10 pairs whenever I travel to Europe—even for a weekend getaway. The Rimowa suitcase is durable and the perfect size to pack a variety of clothing and shoe options.”
A Stylish, Oversized Tote for the Plane
India always pairs her Rimowa luggage with this spacious Etro tote, noting that she’s “able to fit my laptop, passport, wallet, phone, and a few small bags that contain my toiletries, jewelry, and makeup for easy access in flight.”