Packing efficiently is an art that all traveling teens should master early. With some thoughtful planning and a bit of parental supervision, young adults will find their journeys — whether it’s with family, friends or solo — more liberating if they concentrate on essential items, eliminate clutter and fine-tune their organizational skills.
Of course, packing can be a challenge for even veteran globetrotters, so establishing good habits early will help teens feel more confident and travel savvy as they begin to spread their wings and travel independently.
Certainly, apparel (and luggage choice) will depend on the destination, the type of trip, climate and mode of transportation. But, whether it’s that first school trip to Europe, a summer sleep-away camp or a family beach vacation, there are certain products that will help alleviate unnecessary stress and challenges for young travelers.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
Here are 10 essential items to help equip your traveling teen for a life of exploration.
Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Travel Pack
If you choose well, a backpack should streamline the airport process, have plenty of pockets to stay organized, be extremely durable and be easy to stow on planes, buses and trains. It should also be comfortable enough to carry through cities as well to strap on for more rugged, off-road adventures.
Cotopaxi’s Allpa 42-liter bag is the kind of backpack a teen can live out of. It has all the key attributes required for both city vacations and outdoor adventures: comfort, durability and lots of interior mesh compartments that help messy young travelers organize and access their items fast.
The fun, colorful design stands out on the luggage carousel or in the hotel lobby and with four reinforced grab handles, it can be carried in myriad ways if you just don’t feel like strapping it to your back. It also features a sturdy, padded laptop sleeve (ideal for teens who generally fare better with just one bag to worry about). The 42-liter capacity comfortably holds everything a teen would need for a two-week trip.
Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones
Teens tend to lose items, especially when they’re out of their element, so an expensive pair of headphones can be a gamble. At under $200, Beats Solo3 headphones have top-notch quality, more than 40 hours of battery life and “fast fuel” recharge, which provides three hours of playback after just five minutes. With a cool design and variety of colorways, they are also a nice fashion accessory for teens. The ergonomic fit works well on smaller heads and it folds up neatly into a large pocket or the included soft case, which has a carabiner that can be attached to a carry-on if space is tight.
The Beats Solo3 does not have active noise canceling, but if that is your priority you can upgrade to the Beats Studio3 version — in doing so, you sacrifice 18 hours of battery life (which is key for traveling kids and teens) and pay around $150 more.
Airports can be a stressful experience for everyone, especially teens traveling solo who are concerned they’ll miss their flight due to long lines at immigration and security. If your child travels internationally at least once each year, Global Entry is a worthy investment. It provides all the benefits of TSA PreCheck — zipping through airport security without having to worry about removing shoes, jackets, laptops and liquids — along with expedited entry into the US via automatic kiosks when arriving on an international flight.
To enroll your teen (or yourself) in Global Entry, you’ll need to create a Trusted Traveler account, complete an online application and submit a $100 membership fee that will provide membership for five years, if you are approved. If your application is conditionally approved, you’ll be able to schedule an interview at a Global Entry enrollment center. Membership is for five years and if your child’s passport expires during that time, Global Entry status can easily be transferred to their renewed passport.
Many credit cards will reimburse your Global Entry application fee; typically once every four years.
These are TPG’s top picks for low-annual-fee cards that offer a Global Entry application credit:
Here are some of the best premium cards that offer this benefit:
Children all of ages can apply for Global Entry and only one parent is required to attend the interview, which involves a background check, interview and fingerprinting. For a teen, you can expect that interview to take less than 10 minutes.
Related: 13 things you need to know about Global Entry
BAGSMART CABLE ORGANIZER
When packing for a trip, teens will prioritize their devices and tech paraphernalia over pretty much anything else. The idea of packing cubes may not excite (or work for) teens, but they’ll appreciate a system that helps keep their cables and electronics organized. A compact cable organizer bag avoids the simmering frustration of trying to match seven cables to one device in a tent, on a plane or while jet-lagged in a new hotel room far from home.
The market is saturated with products to choose from at fairly consistent price points (around $20). The main appeal of the compact Bagsmart Cable Organizer is that it’s lightweight, durable and has multiple pockets of varying sizes to fit cables, plugs, chargers and hard drives.
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
Whether your teen is camping or staying at a fancy resort, a headlamp is a simple but indispensable item. It extends the time spent exploring outdoors, it can function as a reading lamp and it helps them navigate unfamiliar hotel rooms in the middle of the night when they can’t figure out the light switches.
It’s also a great safety net if there is an unexpected blackout or they need to navigate ill-lit streets at night. The Petzl Tikkin is an especially versatile option for teens. It has a simple on-off button, a 60-meter beam and a really comfortable headband (which is key for teens). Extra accessories are also available, such as a bike helmet mount and core rechargeable battery, which add to its versatility.
It’s strange, but teens can forget to drink water … until they really need to drink water.
A reusable water bottle that retains hot and cold temperatures provides the necessary hydration nudge and is one of the small but meaningful ways teens can play their part in eliminating single-use plastics. There are a ton of options on the market, which range in price, weight, size and material. Of the many we have tested, the most durable and functional is the ThermoFlask. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors and it has two interchangeable lids and a carrying handle. Made from stainless steel, its double-wall vacuum insulation keeps drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot for around 12 hours.
4-in-1 Multi-Port Charger
If you travel with teens, you know that fighting over outlets and debating whose cellphone is more important is one battle you just don’t need. This 4-in-1 Multi-Port Charger consolidates all your charging needs into one convenient and durable cord and allows you to charge multiple devices (fast) at the same time.
There’s a lightning port, USB-C, micro and magnetic Apple Watch charging pad. It’s universally compatible, so you can charge iOS, Android and Bluetooth devices at once. It’s significantly more durable than your average cellphone cable and with a 4-foot cable reach, it’s especially useful on road trips.
Carhartt Travel Kit
With a simple, durable design, Carhartt’s toiletry kit is the perfect size for teens to store and organize their grooming essentials — especially when they’re traveling solo. Made from polyester, it’s affordable, water repellent and designed to survive spills, impact and rugged conditions. It’s especially useful for camping trips, sleep-away and sports camps, and when packing light is a priority.
It will easily fit four Transportation Security Administration-approved 3.4-ounce travel-size bottles, as well as a comb, toothpaste and toothbrush. It’s compact enough for teens to throw in their carry-on and the waterproof lining makes it easy to clean up any leaks.
Bose SoundLink Flex Bluetooth Speaker
Bluetooth speakers are great travel accessories for teens who like to stream their music and audiobooks from their tablets, phones and laptops, wherever they roam — at the beach, the campground or even in their hotel room shower. For traveling teens, durability, portability and sound quality are key, and Bose’s latest SoundLink Flex Bluetooth speakers has it all.
It adjusts has a generous base, around 12 hours of battery life and is dustproof and waterproof; it even floats in water and keeps playing. It has excellent connectivity, and can be paired with a second device in “Party Mode.”
We’ve written extensively at TPG about how Apple AirTags (a digital tracking device) are an essential travel accessory, especially when it comes to missing luggage and airport mishaps. for teens, AirTags can provide peace of mind when traveling solo with valuable personal items or certain equipment that requires checked luggage, such as snowboards or scuba gear.
In addition to tracking luggage, AirTags can be attached to anything they own — keys, wallet, headphones — and their device will keep track of its location whenever it orbits a nearby Apple device.
Additionally, if they have lost an item and know it’s close by (at home or in a hotel room), there’s a “Find Nearby” feature that guides them to their AirTag. Teens and parents should be mindful of safety concerns that have arisen over recent months with AirTags.
Certain items can be a game changer for teenagers who are packing, carrying and taking responsibility for their own luggage. First-time trips, whether close to home or abroad, can be challenging enough for well-traveled adults, especially amid the travel chaos that became the new normal this year.
These tried-and-tested travel products can help teens become much more efficient packers and enjoy a more positive airport experience. They can also provide them with the much-needed organizational tools that liberate them so they can focus on the joy of travel.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, click here.