View looking up the spires of the St. Louis Cathedral.

St. Louis Cathedral © 2012 Laura Martone.

Whenever I’m working on a travel guide, there’s always come a time when I have to consider the packing requirements for that particular destination. With Moon Florida Keys, for instance, I thought that anyone interested in swimming or sunbathing on one of the region’s numerous beaches should be sure to pack a pair of beach shoes. With Moon Michigan, on the other hand, I figured that golfing enthusiasts might want to bring along their own clubs; after all, there are plenty of remarkable golf courses in the Great Lakes State. Now, while finishing the third edition of Moon New Orleans, I realize that comfortable footwear is a must, as most tourists spend a lot of time meandering through the French Quarter, Garden District, and other parts of this pedestrian-friendly city.

Of course, your intended destination and activities can make a huge impact on your packing decisions. For example, the contents of your luggage will vary considerably if you’re planning a weeklong backcountry excursion to Yosemite National Park versus a romantic weekend in New York City. No matter where you intend to travel in the United States, however, there are certain items you’ll almost always want to pack. Besides obvious essentials – such as proper identification, currency, maps, toiletries, underwear, a camera, and the like – there are 10 items that I never leave home without. While most of them can be easily (and cheaply) purchased in towns and cities throughout the country, I find that my trips begin a lot more smoothly if I have the following 10 items from the start:

  1. My smartphone and a pair of earbuds: Not only is it helpful to have a cell phone with me wherever I go – especially in the case of emergencies – but I also find that having my iPhone allows me to look up information, get up-to-the-minute directions, take high-resolution photographs (like the one pictured above), record video clips, and pass the time during long waits, thanks to its wide array of music apps, downloaded books, and, yes, amusing games.
  2. A hooded sweatshirt: No matter the season, I always come prepared for cooler weather – and the possibility that my traveling companions (like, ahem, my husband) might have the urge to crank up the A/C on occasion; at such times, I’ve often found that a hooded sweatshirt makes the ideal coverup.
  3. A compact umbrella: Regardless of what meteorologists might predict, rainstorms can occur at any moment, and while I normally don’t mind getting a little wet at home, it’s no fun traveling in soggy clothes, which is why I never depart without an easy-to-pack umbrella.
  4. A bathing suit: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to swim – and there’s nothing I relish more while traveling than the sudden opportunity to take a dip, whether in a heated saltwater pool or a frigid mountain lake – so I always find room for a bathing suit or two.
  5. A hat: Since my adolescence, I’ve been extremely sensitive to sunshine – and heat in general – so I find that wearing a wide-brimmed hat, especially one that can be secured under the chin and therefore worn on a windy boat ride, makes heat exhaustion a much less likely outcome; by the same token, I always don sunscreen, my sunglasses, and a dampened bandanna on outdoor explorations.
  6. A notebook: As a travel writer, I’m compelled to record my thoughts, observations, and experiences on every trip I take, whether or not I’m working on a specific project; besides a handy notebook, I often bring a portable recording device as well, which can be especially useful on bumpy jeep or boat rides, where writing legibly is nearly an impossible feat.
  7. A refillable water bottle: Given my lifelong sensitivity to heat, it’s imperative that I have a water bottle with me at all times – and that I make sure to fill it with potable water whenever possible.
  8. Granola bars: Whether I’m hiking near the Grand Canyon or exploring the attractions of Baltimore, it’s not always possible to eat on schedule; at such times, it helps to have a few granola bars in my backpack or purse, if only to maintain my energy between meals.
  9. Dramamine: Since winding roads – and my stubborn efforts to read while in the car – can make me incredibly dizzy (and often downright ill) on long trips, I find that bringing a few chewable tablets of Dramamine ensures a much smoother ride.
  10. A pair of earplugs: Unfortunately, I’m not as heavy a sleeper as I once was, so I’ve learned that having a pair of wax earplugs with me can make it easier to block out troublesome sounds, such as loud air conditioners, constant traffic noise, the rustling of forest creatures, or the snoring of fellow travelers.

For even more ideas of what to pack, especially for road trips in the United States, consult my previous posts about tools of the trade, diversions on the open road, and essentials for a U.S. road trip.

So, which must-pack items are on your list?