12 Upgrades I Always Pack for a Trip or Vacation

12 Upgrades I Always Pack for a Trip or Vacation

travel packing upgrade essentials

Tips, tricks, and products to make your travel easier and more stylish from Primer’s very own travel ninja.

Written by Stillman Brown / Photos by Andrew Snavely

Swap buckles and belts and get a better fit, all backed up with a lifetime guarantee with Anson Belt & Buckle. We're proud to team up on this post. Click here to upgrade your belt.

In my mid-20s I landed a dream job in TV: working as an associate producer for a company that made a bunch of shows for Travel Channel. Every month or two I was on an airplane to California, Scotland, Georgia, or Pennsylvania for work and I figured out pretty quickly …

There’s a right way to pack for travel and a wrong way – and I was doing it wrong.

I overpacked and overlooked essential travel items, like an external battery charger or hardshell luggage with wheels. I didn’t think about style items that could double up for work or socializing.

More seasoned members of my crew did it right with a small carry-on containing everything they needed. Their luggage was durable, their clothing versatile, and their entertainment weighed nothing – most listened to audiobooks or played mobile games. As a result of packing light, fast, and smart their travel was smoother and more… professional than mine.

Over the years, I’ve improved my travel workflow with smart upgrades here and there but I have a long way to go, so I spoke with Primer founder and travel ninja Andrew Snavely about what he brings on a weekender, for business, pleasure, or a mix of both.

anson belt

1. Anson Belt

Determining what clothing to take on any trip can be the hardest and most annoying part. Not only do you need to try to account for the different levels of dress and types of commitments you need to prepare for, but you need to do it while packing as little as possible to prevent carrying around clothes you won't end up wearing.

But what makes that even harder are classic style rules that don't go out the window just because you're getting dressed away from home: Metals should match metals, leathers should complement leathers, you shouldn't wear a casual belt while dressed up, and so forth.

Anson Belt & Buckle makes the perfect belt for traveling light. In fact, saying they make “the perfect belt” is inaccurate – they make the ideal belt system.

It’s the interchangeable belts and buckles that really shine during travel. What if leather and metal color, and dressy or casual could be swapped in and out as needed?  By bringing a single leather belt with two or more buckles, you’ve suddenly got multiple style options with a single belt. By being interchangeable, Anson belts and buckles remove the need to bring both casual and a dressy belts, gold and silver belts, and black and brown belts, when your carry-on space is at a premium.

Their box set is the best value and gives you 6 possible belt combinations.

anson belt system gift box

Anson’s track-and-groove mechanism allows for infinite adjustment, meaning you’ll always have a snug, secure fit as you wear a variety of different pants and layering configurations without having to jump up or down to a different belt hole – crucial when traveling in different climates from your home. Plus, it easily accounts for weight gain and loss.

With a lifetime guarantee and great customer service, you can invest in Anson knowing they’ve got your back – and have lightened your load when you’re getting through airport security.

Check out Anson here.

2. Travel Steamer

How much you pack and how well you pack it becomes much less of a headache if you add a travel-size clothing steamer to your kit.

pure steam hand steamer travel

Here at Primer we’ve hand-tested several steamers and found one with over 4,000 reviews and a four-star rating on Amazon that’s become our workhorse. We use it for photo shoots, on trips, and as an all-around traditional iron replacement. Andrew literally packs it on every trip he goes on, long or short.

A steamer is the perfect tool for de-wrinkling clothes after they come out of a suitcase, and it is ideal for refreshing a piece that’s clean (or mostly clean) but picked up a few wrinkles.

Check out our in-depth steamer review, Never Iron Again: The $30 Steamer That Works, where you can see video of how it literally melts wrinkles!

fabric refresher

3. Fabric Refresher

What’s the perfect companion to a travel steamer? Fabric Refresher. With these two items working together, you’ve essentially got a mobile dry cleaner.

I hadn’t heard of fabric refresher until Andrew introduced me to it, saying, “Packing light means wearing clothes repeatedly and without access to laundry, you’ll need to keep things fresh.” Fabric refresher works by eliminating odors and imparting a fresh laundry scent to give shirts and pants a second life on the fly.

It’s no substitute for laundry, of course, but it’s not meant to be – if you need to stretch an item for an extra wear, this is the ideal secret weapon. Pick up some travel-size Febreeze fabric refresher on Amazon or a full size bottle and a $1 spritzer bottle from the travel section of Target. We also enjoy the travel-ready Nomad Refresher from Frey.

chambray shirt dressed up and casual with shorts

4. The Chameleon Chambray Shirt

We’ve sung the praises of the humble-but-versatile chambray shirt before, but it’s on this list because it can easily replace three shirts when space is at a premium in your suitcase.

Dress it up like an oxford or make it casual with a pair of shorts – the weight and texture of chambray means it can quietly anchor many a different look.

If you don’t already own one, here’s a solid option on sale right now: Banana Republic Slim-Fit Chambray shirt.

samsonite hardshell carryon

5. Hardshell Rolling Suitcase

If you’re going on a real trip consider a real bag. Yes, they’re everywhere – for a reason!

Having one that’s easy to manage through long airport commutes and up AirBNB staircases will make your day significantly less stressed. 360-degree swiveling wheels make threading your way through crowded food courts a breeze and allows you to pull, push, side-slide or spin your cargo with barely any effort..

And premium contemporary hardshells come with super handy extras like USB charging ports.

The trendy option is Away’s aptly named The Carry On. If you’re not into spending north of $200, check out this Kenneth Cole piece with over 1,300 5-star reviews.

outlet splitter travel carryon

6. Outlet Splitter

Isn’t it crazy that a $4 item you probably have in your tool box can make you the hero of the airport?

Never run out of juice for your phone or laptop again. Never squat next to the only available outlet, jealously guarding it like Gollum. Throw one in your bag and you’ve instantly tripled the outlets available to you and everyone else at the gate. Alternatively, use it in your hotel or Airbnb to keep your devices consolidated in one place.

external laptop battery charger

7. External Laptop Battery

Outlet splitters are life savers, but what about all those long flights or car trips without access to an outlet? Don't let this be dead time, stay productive with an external laptop battery.

We’ve tested and own this 4.5-star laptop battery charger from Jackery and several Anker PowerCore products. You can’t go wrong with either.

As recently as a few years ago external batteries were expensive, heavy, and were only really useful for emergencies, as they didn’t carry more than a full charge or two for your device. Now, however, they’re cheaper, lighter, and more power than ever before. The result: you’re freed from outlets for days on end.

bluetooth portable speaker

8. Bluetooth Portable Speaker

Nothing’s like getting to your hotel, Airbnb, or friend’s place after a long day of travel and meetings, tossing your earbuds in a corner, and listening to some music or podcasts out loud.

Sound can instantly make your temporary digs more homey, and you can even use a portable speaker linked to your phone as a white noise machine to help you sleep in a strange place.

The Oontz Angle offers 30-hour usage time and Bluetooth connectivity for under $30. If you’re looking for a bit more sonic richness, consider springing for the Primer tested JBL Flip.

shawl collar cardigan shorts summer outfit men

9. Shawl-collar Sweater

Like the chambray shirt, a shawl-collar sweater can anchor a variety of outfits for a range of social settings. You can dress it up for a smart casual office or wear it as a light jacket in the evenings with shorts if you’re somewhere warm.

Check out J. Crew’s shawl-collar cardigan sweater, on sale now.

12 week year audiobook

10. Audiobooks

Put all the commuting and waiting involved in travel to productive use and load up your phone with all the books you’ve been meaning to read. Not sure where to start? Check out our picks for 5 motivational and business-centric books, as well as advice for getting audiobooks 100% free through your local library.

face moisturizer

11. Moisturizer With SPF

A trip means you're going to be out and about, getting from place to place, and hopefully seeing some sights too. Most sunburns happen when we don't realize we're getting sun – and that's embarrassing when you thought you'd get a tourist trap day in before your business event. Especially handy when you're on vacation, remember to bring moisturizer with sunscreen included. It will both protect your face and prevent you from feeling crispy after hours in the sun. We’ve tested and recommend the following:

curbside baggage

11. Curb Check Your Luggage

While not technically a material upgrade, curb check can be a huge boost to your travel experience. It’s free (with a tip) and if the check-in lines are long or you’re running late for a flight it can speed your way to the gate.

anson belt with suit

Special thanks to Anson Belt & Buckle for partnering with us on this post

Check out their full line of interchangeable micro-adjustable belts and buckles – their $100 gift box gives you 6 different belt options!

Do you have a favorite travel upgrade that makes traveling significantly better? Share it below!

Stillman Brown is a writer and TV producer who has created prime time content for National Geographic, Discovery, Travel Channel and many others. His interests span science & the natural world, personal growth, and food. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.