I won’t leave home without my….

We all have our favorite items for the road: Some popular ones from friends and colleagues are Swiss army knives (one of my top five unless I take only a carry-on), iPhones, and wheelie-bags that convert into backpacks. For me, this particular item is indispensable. I don’t even take a weekend away without it. And what’s strange to me is that most folks don’t travel with one of these – but once they do they’re completely in love.


It’s my headlamp. More than my pack, more than the skirts that have seen me through years of travel, even more than my sensible sandals that have taken me many blister-free miles, I value my headlamp. It is hands-free, easily-packed, LED-bright bliss. You might associate a headlamp with a spelunker, but these days headlamps are lightweight and perfect for reading on an all-night bus or train, digging into the depths of your backpack, or doing anything in a room lit with a dangling, dim bulb. When my bus broke down in the jungles of Laos in the middle of the night, the headlamp was passed around as men worked on the engine and women built fires.

I do have a few requirements for my headlamp: First, the light should rotate up and down. If I’m reading, I can position the light down so that I don’t have to stretch my neck so far to light the book. I learned this the hard way, when I bought a cheap light off eBay. I found that I sorely (pun intended) missed the movable-head feature.

For those with longer hair, the single-wire, retractable band that some brands use (shown in photo) can snap back and snag your hair like a rubber band. If you use two hands to remove the headlamp and then let the wire retract, you’re fine. I usually forget and just grab the light and yank it off, and then the wire grabs my hair like an angry toddler. Plus, the light is so darn tiny that I tend to lose it in the depths of my purse.

Finally – and this feature isn’t a necessity, just a preference – I like lights that have different brightness settings. I can dim it on a bus ride, and then I don’t feel like I’m blasting my neighbor with light-pollution.

My favorite light is the affordable Petzl Tikka Plus. It has a wide, comfortable band, and swivel head, and several brightness settings. The AA batteries last a long time, and the buttons are easy to press.

What won’t you leave home without?