A Packing List
inflatable travel pillow
These make sleeping (or even resting) on the plane a lot more pleasant, and may augment your hotel pillow as well. They come in various types and shapes, and are ultimately a very personal choice, dependent more on your individual sleeping habits than what the marketers would like you to believe. My own preference is for the compact, "dogbone"-shaped style, such as the apparently-no-longer-available "Hedbed" (depicted at left) and the "AirComfy", though many prefer the collar style that encircles the neck (a good one is the "Inflatable Komfort Kollar®", pictured at right), providing more head support (some find these overly warm, however). Realize also that many pillows designed to elevate the back of the neck can be rotated to other positions that you may find more supportive.
Pillows can all too easily add excessive amounts of bulk and weight if you don't choose carefully. Inflatable models — which weigh less, and pack flat — travel better than those filled with foam, buckwheat hulls, or whatever. Just be careful not to overinflate them on the ground, as they can burst when airborne (due to reduced cabin air pressure); slight underinflation usually makes them more comfortable anyway. A soft, removable, washable cover for your pillow can be a nice luxury, though it does add weight/bulk that is not strictly necessary. Always thoroughly check a new pillow for leaks before taking it on a trip.
Minimalists will want to know that a bandanna or other piece of cloth wrapped around an inflated aLOKSAK bag makes a functional pillow as well. And if you're carrying a jacket or the like, you can always just bundle that up for makeshift use.
earplugs (sleep mask?)
Earplugs can be extremely useful, not only at rock concerts (to save your hearing for your retirement years), but in situations where you're trying to get some sleep, and the party next door (or on the street) isn't. In noisy third world cities, and when you're trying to sleep on airplanes, these are pretty much a necessity. Best are the disposable foam types that you compress by rolling between your fingers; they expand in the ear canal. "Disposable" means that you don't use them forever, but if you take care to keep them clean, they will last for quite a while (actually washing them, however, seems to interfere with their ability to compress).
The two most effective products on the market — each with a superb 33dB noise reduction rating (NRR) — are the Howard Leight MAX® (shown at left; these are what I use) and Moldex SparkPlugs® (seen at right). With their slightly smaller diameter, SparkPlugs are more comfortable for those with narrower ear canals. [Note that dB is a logarithmic value: a 33dB rating is about 25% better than a 32dB one.]
State-of-the-art earplugs aren't of much help if you don't know how to use them properly; there's more to it than simply jamming them in your ears. The above video explains what you need to know.
If you're planning to sleep on long flights, during Norwegian summers, or at any time when the surroundings are overly bright, you may also find a sleep mask helpful. Like day travel bags, sleep masks are a very personal thing: what is ideal for one is a disaster for another. The Tempur-Pedic SleepMask, pictured here, is popularly recommended as comfortable and effective; it's not inexpensive, though, and some find it too confining/bulky. A less-expensive option is the moulded "Bedtime Bliss® Sleep Mask". Both of these masks have hollowed-out areas over the eyes, making for improved long-term comfort.
An even less expensive (and lighter, more multifunctional) solution is what I use: a Turtle Fur fleece, worn just over the eyes (or covering more of the head, if it's a cold flight).
sleep sack (sleeping bag? bivouac sack? blanket? tent?)
At one time, it was pretty standard for hostels to require that you use a "sleep sack" (essentially a minimal sleeping bag, made from a folded sheet; in fact, they are sometimes sold as "sleeping bag liners"). This is less true today (although some hostels still insist), but many folks like to carry one anyway, for a variety of good reasons:
- They isolate you from dodgy airline blankets and suspect hotel beds.
- They help to protect you from biting insects.
- In hot weather, they can be used in place of sheets and sleeping bags.
- In cold weather, they offer an additional layer of warmth.
- The nicer ones, made of luxurious silk, and pictured at right (which are also extremely lightweight and space-conserving), feel very nice on your skin, and can help you relax and get a good night's sleep. They come in double sizes as well.
Mine weighs 6.3 ounces (180g) and measures (folded) about 6 × 8 × 0.8 inches (15 × 20 × 2cm); it opens to 86 × 35 inches (220 × 90cm).