In a world of slimline suitcases and increasingly restrictive carry-on rules, it might seem like packing less is more. But there are some items a well-seasoned traveller would never leave home without.

Jill Starley-Grainger is commissioning editor for the Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Each month she'll be musing for us on some of the finer things in life when it comes to travel. This month, she's sharing her packing list.

I hate packing. Who doesn’t? Choosing what to wear today is bad enough. Imagining what I might need for the next week – taking into account weather variables, potential daytime activities and nightlife possibilities – is downright tedious.

But my go-to kit pretty much lives in my bag, no matter where I’m going. Even on short-haul flights, my carry-on bag always has noise-cancelling headphones, a sleep mask, ear plugs and a wrap-around neck pillow. This might seem a bit much for an hour-long trip, but I’ve been trapped next to that squealing baby on a flight to Paris, blinded by glaring overhead lights on a jaunt to Lisbon and exhausted and in need of a short nap after a whirlwind weekend to Berlin.

Yes, whether I’m snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, skiing in Val d’Isere or having a house party in Ibiza with friends, there are a few extras that can make or break every trip.


Airline headphones are pretty tinny and crackly – even in Business. Good noise-cancelling ones aren’t cheap, at £200 or more, but are worth every penny. Once on, they create a virtual cocoon, drowning out the engines and chatter.

I’ve tried a few of the latest models, from pretty Parrot Ziks to sensible Sennheisers, but the two pairs that came tops are both by Bose. Their in-ear QuietComfort 20i model is perfect for short-haul packing - small, but still with good noise-cancelling and sound quality.


But in-ear models start to feel uncomfortable after a couple of hours, so for long-haul, the around-ear Bose QuietComfort 15 is your best bet.


Sleep Essentials

Airline in-flight sleep masks are nearly as bad as the headphones. They let in too much light and press on your eyes, making them puffy and wrinkly. Go for a model with moulded eye cups and contoured nose section. My favourite is the Bucky 40 Blinks, which has a wide, adjustable strap and is soft and light. The eye cups are cleverly moulded so eyes can open and close while they’re on. They also come in brighter colours and designs that are easier to spot when digging through your carry-on.

Bucky 40 Blinks

The foam earplugs the airlines provide are fine for many people with large ears, but I can never get them to fit properly, so one inevitably falls out, jolting me awake halfway through an eight-hour flight. I like the Ohropax Soft Earplugs, but even they can’t beat the custom-made versions. Visit Boots or Specsavers, and they’ll take an impression, then order some that fit your ears like a glove.

Pool party

Going to a villa with your mates or family? It’s rare for the in-house speaker system to be up to much, so I pack the Marley Chant portable speaker. About the size of a cricket ball, it doesn’t take up much room, but blasts out powerful sound, links to my phone using Bluetooth or a cable, and is made from environmentally friendly materials. If you’re worried it might get wet, the Jam Street speaker is bulkier, but splashproof.

Marley Chant portable speaker


Paris has some of Europe's greatest museums. A personal favourite is the Musée d'Orsay on the banks of the Seine. This disused 19th century railway terminus has been reworked as a modern art museum with an impressive collection including Van Gogh's Starry Night and Rodin sculptures.


Jet-lag busters

According to one of the NHS’s leading sleep specialists the secret to helping reduce jet lag (you can’t eliminate it) is light. Once you reach your destination, you want to be in bright sunlight until about 2pm, then pop on your darkest sunglasses and close the curtains the rest of the day. (Caffeine is key, too – drink it in the morning; avoid it from afternoon onwards.) The problem comes when you can’t lounge around in bright sunlight all morning. Maybe you’re in meetings, or the weather is poor. That’s where portable SAD lights, like the Philips GoLite Blu Energy Lite, come in. I use it for half an hour in the morning on long-haul trips, and find it really does perk me up. It stimulates the hormones in your body that tell you it’s time to be awake and energetic – just like the sun, only easier to pack.

Lighten your load

And the one bit of ‘essential travel tech’ that I no longer bother with? A camera. On several recent trips, I dutifully packed it, then left it in my hotel room every day. Unless you have David Bailey aspirations, the quality of smartphone cameras is fine, and far more convenient for uploading pictures to social media. On my last trip, I didn’t take a separate camera – and I never missed it.

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