Must-Have Travel Essentials: From the Basics to the Splurges

Option A:

Step off the plane smelling a few days old, wearing wrinkled clothes with a wine stain, with bags under your eyes from lack of sleep, and a pale, drawn face.

Option B:

Step off the plane smelling passable, looking a little tired, but surprising pretty good.

I’ve spent years trying to achieve Option B, because I often have to walk right into an introduction, meeting, or meet a driver who would really rather not smell me for 40 minutes.

After much trial and error, I’ve perfected the perfect travel kit of parts to look almost passable upon arrival. Also, when I travel with carry-on only (almost always—here’s why), space is of the essence.

Start with the basics:

  1. Advil PM. Everyone reacts differently (and sometimes dramatically) to prescription meds and even Unisom for drifting off. The sleep-hangovers I’ve gotten from Advil or Tylenol PM seem much milder after field-testing almost everything on the market.
  2. Wisps for brushing your teeth.
  3. Aquaphor as an undereye moisturizer (on long flights, apply about 2 hours before landing; for overseas flights, slather on before sleeping).
  4. Shout wipes, to use in case of an accidental drip.
  5. Downy Wrinkle Releaser, travel size. Spray and rub/flatten. Your life will never be the same.
  6. Wet wipes. I should have stock in these. You can never have enough.
  7. Olay Mist Ultimate Hydration Essence—it’s cheaper and available at most drugstores. A little hydration is always needed after flying.
  8. Personal preference—but I always do a quick swipe of deodorant as well. Secret Clinical Strength Clean Gel in Lavender always works, and meets the “smell test” to make you feel a little fresher.

Then add a face-repair kit (for chics, mostly) that fits in your carry-on for easy access:

  1. SimpleHuman compact mirror, so you can repair your face almost anywhere there may be a bathroom line (everywhere).
  2. Thrive Cosmetics eye brightener. It works.
  3. Undereye concealer. My favorites are Cle de Peau and Giorgio Armani Maestro—worth the splurge for the effects.
  4. A mild bronzer and highlighter (be cautious of anything too heavy-handed, especially if you’ll be applying in transport). My favorites are Hourglass Ambient Powder or the Bobbi Brown Brightening Brick for just a touch of glow and color.
  5. If you wear mascara, the two best and longest-lasting are Thrive Cosmetics or YSL Baby Doll.
  6. For lips, I favor tinted lip balm for hydration and color so I don’t look too “made up,” like Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer or Sugar Fresh in nude or pink.

Wear the right clothes and shoes on the plane:

  1. Pants: Think about how celebrities look walking through airports and use it as inspiration—comfortable, chic, and never wrinkled. My must-own travel pants are by Avenue Montaigne. They don’t wrinkle, look office-appropriate, and are incredibly flattering, but also manage to be stretchy and comfortable.
  2. Scarf/Wrap: A quality cashmere scarf that can double as a blanket, a wrap, or a scarf can dress up an all-black outfit and really completes the airport-chic look. (My current love is a Vince cashmere in a subtle gray/green color.)
  3. Shoes: As for shoes, comfort and the ability to race through airports is key—but that doesn’t mean you have to be sloppy about it. My favorite “fashion shoes” are Miu Miu and Opening Ceremony black platforms, followed by a Stuart Weitzman sock sneaker with platform. For a dressed-up tennis shoe, you can’t beat the Nike Air Force Sage Low, or the Vandal 2K for a much higher lift. White sneakers just scream “white sneakers.” Black sneakers look much sleeker.

Always invest in a good bag:

Easy-to-roll, hard-sided luggage is a must (Tumi or Away), but a simple large tote bag is really key. I keep a stylish wallet or clutch stashed inside a big, simple, clean-lined tote bag (my current favorite is Cuyana), along with any other things I need quick access to, including a laptop. The clutch is quick to grab and go, which is especially handy when you have to head right to dinner, while the bigger luggage heads to a hotel room. The more bells and whistles and bling and branding you have on your tote, the more it dates itself and looks like you’re trying too hard. Style should always look effortless.

Optional:

Scent is conditional and should never be overpowering. The best subtle, clean smell without a perfumey hangover is Jo Malone Red Roses or Orange Blossom. A quick spritz under your shirt is just enough