When it comes to travel products, we like the nice things. Little things. Lightweight things. Things that we don't have to think much about once we've unpacked and settled in, but that can make or break an in-transit moment (like a great pair of headphones or a reliable WiFi connection). For the latest installment of the Fathom Travel Awards, our year-long celebration of our favorite places, people, and products in the world, we're rolling out the red carpet for the essential items that make traveling more efficient, effective, well-designed, and fun.
Though the Fathom editors have different travel styles and varied packing philosophies, this list of Fathom's 15 Essential Travel Products is a pared-down compilation of the actual items we agree are wonderful/necessary to pack, check, carry-on, and schlep around the world again and again. We looked at price, quality, design, function, and materials for this less-is-more list. If you're in a shopping mood, you'll also want to take a look at our favorite 20 Best Travel Products Under $20 for fun extras like chill pills, cozy socks, and a water-free toothbrush.
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Essential Travel Products That Make Travel Easier and More Stylish
Leatherology Passport Cover, $55
We find that precious cargo deserves protection. Passports see significantly less wear and tear when stowed away in a leather case. We like Leatherology's Deluxe version for its two side pockets (for tickets, cash, credit cards, IDs) and a wide variety of colors with a polished finish.
Tidy Packing Cubes
Paravel Packing Trio, $55
We could all use a little more strategy when packing. Our favorite space savers compress and organize, which is especially useful when traveling to multiple hotels on a trip (therefore making it hard/annoying to constantly pack and unpack). Little viewing windows help you quickly identify what's in each packing cube. (Pro tip: pack cubes by day or by specific items — like undergarments, workout gear.)
Rimowa, from $675
For those looking to invest in a fine piece of luggage, the 120-year-old purveyor's line of stylish, masterfully crafted, check-in suitcases go the distance in a durable polycarbonate shell and glide like a dream (thank you, German engineering).
Universal Travel Adapter
Flight 001 5-in-1 Adapter, $35
Nearly everyone in the Fathom office uses this gobstopper of a travel adapter. Brightly color-coded and brilliantly compact, it powers devices in more than 150 countries and has two USB ports, so you won't have to look up the specific nation you are visiting or waste time rooting around in a junk drawer for the right adapter for the right country.
Cuyana Leather Travel Case, set of two $110
We've had enough with the grimy Ziploc bags. So we hide ours in these beautiful pebbled leather cases, which are slender and sophisticated enough to be used as a clutch. Make-up, toiletries, jewelry, and small electronics all do well stored here.
Portable Travel Steamer
PurSteam Elite Powerful 7-in-1, $25
Even the packing minimalists among us can appreciate this super handy gadget which quickly and easily restores clothes to tip-top, pre-suitcase shape. Light, compact, and affordable, it heats up in about 90 seconds. If you needed to use it in an airport bathroom in a pinch, you certainly could.
A Mobile Hotspot
Skyroam Solis, $150
From the hectic streets of Hanoi to the rainforest beaches of Tofino, this portable internet hotspot and charger has kept us connected without any hiccups or surprise phone bill charges. A $9 day pass provides up to five devices with unlimited WiFi in more than 130 countries worldwide.
A Charge Cable
Native Union Belt Cable Twin Head, $40
Of the countless charge cables we've accumulated, this one consistently makes it into our carry-on because it's long enough to reach badly placed airport outlets and durable enough to withstand non-stop travel. Added bonus: It charges both Apple Lightning and Micro-USB devices.
Muji Well-Fitting Neck Cushion, $20
Those ubiquitous U-shaped foam neck rests that don't fit anywhere but are often slung over carry-on bags and dragged around the airport feel anathema to smart travel. That's why we keep coming back to Muji's microbead version, which is understated in shape and can lie flat or mold around your head and neck, giving you more options for use (like for lumbar and side support or face-down sleeping). Plus, it can be smushed to fit into any odd shape in your suitcase.
Arlo Skye Polycarbonate Carry-On, $450
Created by alums of Louis Vuitton and Tumi, it is no surprise that the suitcase is stylish and functional. The carry-on size is a Fathom favorite for its innovative design details: a lightweight and unbreakable shell, buckles instead of zippers (which feels like an upgrade), and a built-in (but removable) charger — nearly a necessity in this day and age.
Sony Premium Noise Canceling Lightweight Headphones, $59
Unless you're the kind of person who can sneak in a cat nap nearly anywhere anytime (we know some people with this gift!), noise-canceling headphones will make life on a plane, train, bus, or long car ride so much better. This version works just as well as the Bose models that cost eight times as much.
Alternative Travel Pillow
Trtl Travel Pillow, $30
The travel pillow for people who don't believe in travel pillows. Think of it like a head wrap (or head burrito, if you will) that cradles your cranium upright during a snooze. All sleep, no neck pain, and, as a bonus, no post-nap dry mouth (it snuggles part of your face, too).
Blunt Metro Umbrella, $60
Umbrella breakers, rejoice! This New Zealand-made number is the only one you'll ever need. Expertly engineered, travel-friendly, and rip-resistant, it won't poke anyone's eye out in a crowd and can withstand winds up to 55 mph without blowing out.
Anker PowerCore II 20000, $60
There are plenty of portable packs that do good work juicing up devices, but when days run long and outlets are far and few between, this sleek, travel-friendly power bank never lets us down. It holds enough charge to keep us in the green for days on end and is far from an eyesore.
Apple Airpods, $160
Say what you will about the price, the fit, and the fear you have of misplacing them, but we carry these petite Bluetooth earphones everywhere. Their minimal design and sleek charging case make us feel as free as a bird. For the cost-conscious, these knockoffs are a low-commitment alternative.