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10 things you should never go on vacation without

Saving your vacation, one practical item at a time.

The world's major landmarks. Credit: Getty Images

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Friday, 4:57 PM: counting the seconds until you can flee your workplace and embark on a desperately needed week of vacation. Maybe you’re headed to visit relatives, or maybe you’re boarding a cruise ship for an exotic getaway. Maybe you’re very brave (and/or hopelessly optimistic), and you’ve combined the two into a booze-cruise family reunion.

Unfortunately, regardless of what you’re doing with your blessed work-free time, there are a number of hurdles and practicalities you have to clear before you can really enjoy your vacation. These items will help you spend less time dealing with lame traveling minutiae, and allow you to spend more time reclining on a sunny beach, conquering a difficult hiking trail, or ruthlessly checking your email and Facebook while your friends and family try to get you to put your phone down.

1. Inflatable neck pillow

Credit: AirComfy

I too have laughed at people at the airport wearing neck pillows like fashion accessories. Usually though, 20 minutes into my flight, I’m cursing myself for not buying one. Because airline seats were clearly designed by members of the Spanish Inquisition, there is not one comfortable way to nap on a plane unless you have either an accommodating spouse/friend/relative/total stranger sitting next to you with a handy shoulder to lean on, or a neck pillow.

An inflatable neck pillow, however, is a genius compromise. In its deflated state it takes up minimal space, and it can be hung around the outside of your luggage rather than take up precious real estate on the inside. You inflate it by repeatedly pressing a button on the outside of the pillow, and presto! You can now fall easily into the arms of Morpheus without looking like a fashion victim in the airport.

Buy now: Inflatable neck pillow — $23 on Amazon

2. Portable battery charger

Credit: Amazon

It is really difficult to unplug these days, regardless of where you’re headed for vacation. There’s always emails to check, selfies to share, or something going down on the internet. Instead of watching your battery drain with increasing dread, use this portable battery charger to give your devices some juice when you’re on the go.

This battery pack only takes about 13 hours to charge, and then it can provide days worth of charge for three USB devices simultaneously. This charger may just save your sanity if you need to reel in hyperactive kids with some quiet time watching Sesame Street on your iPad.

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Buy now: Portable USB charger — $45 at Amazon

3. A water bottle that closes securely

Credit: Amazon

Well, duh. Of course everyone wants a water bottle that closes securely. Who loves spilling water all over themselves?

For all that this seems very obvious, I’ve had water bottles that close with a latch, and they still manage to explode water all over the place with the least provocation. This water bottle opens with a push-button mechanism, accompanied by a lock. Sliding a switch over to the “locked” icon means that even pressing the button won’t open my water bottle. This has proved infinitely useful when I’m on the go; I no longer have to fear that dropping my water bottle will make myself or my fellow travelers look like extras from Free Willy.

Buy now: Zulu water bottle — $11 at Amazon

4. An international SIM card

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There are a few ways you can get cell service on your phone when you go abroad:

  1. Do nothing, and run up an immense data bill, if your phone works at all
  2. Talk to your provider, and add international calling and data for the time that you’re out of the country
  3. Get a second SIM card that will work where you’re vacationing

Caveat: for option 3, you need a phone that is unlocked, has a SIM card port, and is on a GSM network. Read the specs for an international SIM card before you buy it to ensure that it's compatible with your phone.

The SIM card in your phone (if you have one) is the equivalent of a driver’s license for your phone. It gives you permission to get on the network, and gives the network unique identifying information about your phone. When going abroad, a passport will serve you better as a means of identification and access than a driver’s license will, just as an international SIM card will allow you to get on foreign networks when you’re out of the country.

You’ll have to open an account and set everything up, but most international SIM cards have reasonably-priced data plans or are pay-as-you-go.

Buy now: International SIM card — $60 at Amazon

5. Poncho

Credit: Getty Images

Let’s just get this out of the way: it is impossible to look cool or sexy in a poncho.

However, whether you’re at a water park, or your romantic gondola ride turned into a re-creation of the Great Flood, having a poncho that can cover you and any small children or luggage will save you from a drenching, followed by a slow, soggy shuffle back to wherever your extra clothes are.

Like the inflatable neck pillow, it can be squished down into a small bag for better portability. Yes, you will probably look like a serial killer, but it will prevent you from becoming a surprise contestant in a wet t-shirt contest.

Buy now: Poncho — $12 at Amazon

6. International power converter

Credit: Amazon

If the worse case scenario comes to fruition, and your portable battery charger dies, you’ll need to use an actual outlet to power your devices. If you’re outside the US, then the different voltage and amperage outputs at wall outlets could, at minimum, fail to charge your devices and, at worst, actually damage them.

To make sure that you can get power wherever your travels take you, think about investing in a travel power adapter. This particular adapter has two USB sockets, in additional to a regular plug, so that you can still check out Reddit on your newly-charged tablet when you get back from exploring the beautiful beaches of Hawaii.

Buy now: Power converter — $25 at Amazon

7. Packing cubes

Credit: Amazon

While these containers seem to be the sort of thing given out as the grand prize in a neat freak tournament, anyone and everyone who’s ever had to waste precious vacation time digging their luggage to find a toothbrush can appreciate these packing cubes.

Separating your items into these packing cubes means that you know exactly where everything is. Repacking is a breeze, especially after TSA discovers your dastardly attempt to sneak 16 ounces of exotic beard oil past them.

Buy now: Set of 4 packing cubes — $22 at Amazon

8. Black bed sheet

Credit: Getty Images

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating bringing your own sheet set with you on vacation. The recommendation for a black bed sheet came from one of my coworkers, who has been cleverly using it to help his toddler sleep longer in hotel rooms with cheap curtains by tacking it over the window and blocking out sunlight.

Even if you aren’t a small child used to waking your parents up at ungodly hours, putting a sheet over the window will definitely cut down headaches (hangover-induced or otherwise) exacerbated by rays from the early morning sun digging into your eyeballs.

Buy now: Black bed sheet set — $25 at Amazon

9. A travel first aid kit

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It’s all fun and games until someone on the beach gets a head wound from a rogue Frisbee.

Having a travel-sized first aid kit, complete with bandages, tape, aspirin, tweezers, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant will save you a lot of grief. Besides the fact that a lot of things in a first aid kit can be used for non-first-aid purposes (i.e. using tweezers to do a hard reset on a misbehaving phone), it’s always good to have these basics on hand.

In addition to giving you peace of mind on your travels, having a kit like this is also very convenient, because going to the hotel concierge every time you get a paper cut can get old real quick.

Buy now: Travel first aid kit — $15 at Amazon

10. Where’s Waldo? Travel Collection

Credit: Amazon

I don’t know about you, but unless I have a project to do or a book to read, traveling on a plane is deadly dull. It’s not enough for me to listen to music; I need something that occupies my eyeballs as well.

The creation of artist Martin Handford, Where’s Waldo?, does the job admirably. Each scene, which is always a seamless weaving of fact and fiction, challenges me to find specific objects, people, or scenes; I often get distracted from my hunt by the myriad hilarious visual puns. Where’s Waldo? is the perfect way to pass the time for anyone over the age of seven.

The Where’s Waldo? Travel Collection has many different fun scenes, and is travel-sized, which makes it easier to carry on long journeys.

Buy now: Where’s Waldo? Travel Collection for — $11 at Amazon

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