My Must-Have Items for International Travel

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| At the Prado in Madrid |

Our family just spent a wonderful eight days in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, during the kids’ spring break. We’ve been wanting to take the kids to Europe for awhile, but have had a hard time aligning my husband’s work and deployment schedule with their school breaks, and have just kept putting it off. This year, we decided to make it happen no matter what, and it was well worth every penny we spent and every scheduling challenge we surmounted.

Over the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the highlights of our trip, and all the details about the online company we used to book our reservations.  We had a great experience with them and definitely would recommend them.

Chris has been to over thirty countries, most recently to Vietnam in January, but I haven’t been overseas for sixteen years (!). A lot has changed since then when it comes to tackling international travel.  It’s definitely a different experience than just hopping on a domestic flight, and planning ahead is the key to a successful flight and trip.

We flew Air France into Madrid on our way over, connecting in Paris at Charles de Gaulle, and then we flew KLM home from Barcelona, connecting through Amsterdam.  Both airlines are far superior to our US airlines (sorry, but it’s true) when it comes to taking care of passengers.  The food on both was delicious, something I never thought I’d say about airline food, although I think I actually liked KLM’s offerings better.  They also had more legroom in their economy seats, which is a big deal when you’re sitting for twelve hours!

Both airlines were wonderfully attentive and I felt like someone was always offering me a drink (wine, champagne and aperitifs are all complimentary on both), a hot towel, or even ice cream.  I also prefer Amsterdam’s airport to CDG, mostly because it was cleaner and seemed more logically laid out.  That’s important when you’re trying to navigate customs and get to your next gate in a foreign country with just a few minutes to spare!

I’m also going to share a list of the things that I packed that were helpful to have both on the plane and during our trip, along with links on where I found them.

My must-have items for international travel | 11 Magnolia Lane

Our posts contain affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking on these links, we will earn a small commission, which helps to keep our content free.  You don’t pay a cent more than you would otherwise, since that would be tacky! Read our full disclosure policy {here}.

Here are my must-have travel items, from top left:

Tile Mate Bluetooth Tracker: never worry about your luggage going missing again!  Just pop a Tile in your bag, download their app to your phone, and you can track your luggage around the world.  Once your bag has safely arrived at your destination, put the Tile on your keychain, or in your purse and wallet, to track those items should they be stolen or misplaced. (Obviously this is handy when you’re not traveling, too)  Lost your phone?  Just hit the button on the Tile and it will ring your phone for you–even if it’s on silent.  I love this little gadget!

Saddle Bag:  Sadly, Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of Europe, and we had no desire to be one of their statistics.  My daughter and I carried cross body purses with zipper or foldover tops and had no issues.  We also left our passports in the hotel safe and carried photocopies of the front page in my purse, and never put wallets or phones in our pockets.  We didn’t need a money belt, although I did take one, but I would definitely recommend a cross body purse.  Luckily, there are tons of cute options out there, or you can pick one up in Europe–Spain is known for their high quality leather goods!

(Tip: when you’re copying the front page of your passport, take a photo of it with your phone and save it to your “favorites” folder.  Text the photo to others in  your traveling party and ask them to do the same.  If your passport is lost or stolen, you’ll have an electronic copy immediately available)

Tory Burch Minnie Travel Ballet Flat:  You will never see me wearing sneakers unless I’m running; I just don’t like wearing them at any other time.  I also noticed that only the tourists were wearing sneakers; Europeans tend to dress far more conservatively and formally.  For the 8-10 miles/day that we walked, ballet flats were my go-to shoe choice.  I have these Minnie travel ballet flats in black, and love them.  They fold up in their little dust bag and you can pop them in your purse or backpack.  I usually wear my boots on the plane, so I don’t have to pack them, but then I like to put ballet flats on while we’re in the air.  These were perfect!

(For Tory Burch flats, you’ll want to size up 1/2 to 1 full size as they run small.  If they’re too pricey for you to buy new, try a previously loved pair on eBay or Postmark, or try Rothy’s–they’re about half the price, made from recycled plastic water bottles, and SO comfortable.  HERE’S a $20 off referral code).

Foldover cross body bag:  I only took one bag with me, but if you were going for awhile, it would be nice to have one in brown and one in black.  Or do what I did, and just buy a second one in Europe! 🙂

Portable power bank/external battery charger for iPhone:  Most trans-Atlantic airplanes have built in USB ports these days, so you can charge without issues, but for shorter flights and navigating in the city, I definitely recommend an external power bank.  They’re no bigger than your phone and not heavy at all.  We added an international plan to my phone while we were in Spain and used it to navigate, buy tickets, make restaurant reservations, and take photos.  The kids and my husband brought their phones, but only used them with WiFi and left them in the hotel room during the day.

Microbead travel pillow:  This travel pillow will keep you from developing a tremendous pain in the neck while sleeping on the plane.  The microbeads are so squishy and comfortable, too! I just hooked mine onto the strap of my carry on tote bag when I wasn’t using it. Use it with this: Memory foam eye mask and ear plugs and you will sleep like a baby on the plane (even if there’s a baby crying right behind you)!  We also needed our ear plugs in the hotels at night, because everyone stays up crazy late in Spain, even during the week!

Tip: if you’re prone to ankle swelling or DVTs, or if you’re pregnant, consider packing a pair of compression socks to wear on the plane.  I flew to Germany when I was five months pregnant and these were a life saver!

Rick Steves Travel Guides (Kindle versions available, too):  Rick Steves is our favorite guide book for European travel; be sure to download his app, too.

RFID card case/holder:  I carried a debit/ATM card and a little bit of cash in this, while my husband carried our credit card and a little bit of cash in his wallet.  It is sad that people will go to such lengths these days to try to lift your credit card information, but this is one more layer of protection (plus it’s cute!).

Adapter/charger/surge protector/USB port:  This little baby does it all and is big enough that you probably won’t forget it in the outlet at your hotel!

Fringed ScarfA scarf is key for layering.  Airlines can be cold, and even if the days are warm while you’re traveling, you might need a wrap in the evenings.  This one comes in tons of colors and I love the fringe.

I’m off to do two dozen loads of laundry–the price that must be paid for any vacation.  Do you have any must-have items that I missed?  Please let me know in the comments if so, and thanks for stopping by!

Final New Christy headshot 2015


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  1. Debbie Nelson says

    Perfect timing, Christy! i’m excited to read and see more of your wonderful trip! We are planning a trip to New Zealand this summer, and I look forward to reading all your travel tips! Keep them coming!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Rick Steves is the absolute best for European travel.

  3. Pamela Williams says

    Hi Christy, thanks so much for sharing the must have items for European travel! Would you mind sharing where you stayed in Barcelona? And, what were your must see places – especially traveling with teens? Would love to hear more about your trip!!!

    • Hey, Pam–

      Absolutely! We stayed at the Hotel Tryp Apolo in Barcelona, on Av. de Parallel. It was very nice and just feet away from a Metro stop. Their breakfasts were to die for, too! I can’t tell you what we paid nightly since it was part of the package we purchased, but I will be talking about the company we used in my next post. It is coming–I promise–I’m just bogged down with prepping for our move right now.

      In Barcelona, the kids loved the Sagrada Familia cathedral, La Boqueria food market, Las Ramblas (watch for pickpockets!), the Chocolate Museum, and almost everything in the Gothic Quarter. We walked a ton and used the metro the rest of the time–it’s easy to use and very clean and safe.

      The Rick Steves pocket guide to Barcelona is well worth the $10 you’ll spend on it. Send me more questions as you think of them, and I promise I’ll get the trip written up soon!

  4. I recommend a “Baggolini” crossover bag as they are extremely light weight and Have many interior and exterior zippered pockets.. Camaleer in Culpeper sells them.

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