Let’s start with the critical item that’s going to carry all of the other commute essentials listed below. You all know my love for the Senreve Maestra, and the bag earned that love, believe me. It’s the perfect work bag (I’ve yet to meet its equal) because it’s versatile, holds everything, and manages to combine all of its convenience together with a visual presence that’s so polished and professional, it might get a promotion before you do, just sayin.’ Fun fact: The entire list below fits in my Senreve bag.
Aside from the Maestra, there are of course a million other tote bags that we all know and love, and if you’re looking for a way to keep them organized, I highly recommend one of these universal ToteSavvy bag organizing inserts.
There’s nothing that will make me turn around and go back home quite like a pair of forgotten earbuds. I’m not sure if it’s subway noise or just the fear of being alone with my own thoughts, but my commute and city walks are simply incomplete without something in my ears capable of piping in my favorite podcasts, music and/or phone calls (from my mom). They’re non-negotiable. Obviously the apple airpods are the gold standard, but I’ve been using and really loving this more affordable Amazon option.
Has anyone ever been disappointed to find one of these in their work bag? No. Keeping a bar of some kind in your bag is smart for at least 100 reasons. You never know when traffic will be terrible, when the subway will be up to its old tricks, or just when you’ll happen to get hangry for no reason at all. Always keep a bar you really like in your bag (these peanut butter power crunch bars are my all-time favorites!) to take care of sudden onset hunger pangs. It’s just smart (and also delicious).
Speaking of smart. Is there anything so genius as a Minimergency Kit? No, I don’t need to carry a full-sized bottle of Shout or an actual Singer sewing machine with me on the city streets, but when unexpected events occur, I am certainly thrilled to have tiny versions of several different problem solvers tucked inside a cute little case that’s no bigger than a deck of cards. Also one of my favorite little extras to add onto gifts.
Perhaps somewhat more essential to my fellow NYC commuters, I don’t think I need to delve too deeply into the niceties of why we need to carry around hand sanitizer, I trust we know each other well enough to just quietly nod, agree, and tuck this in our bags.
Especially in winter when cruel winds can cause all sorts of dryness, or when who-knows-what’s been done to your hands by the weird pink liquid soap in public restrooms, hand lotion is an absolute no-brainer when it comes to your daily essentials. So many high quality creams come in mini versions these days, you don’t have to settle for whatever’s in the drug store travel section. You can get something really good, in a scent you love, and never stress. Personally, I love Lano hand cream in Rose.
You know the type. The comfortable, sigh-of-relief-inducing pairs of flats or sandals that are tucked away in your bag for those emergency moments when there are zero cabs and you’re facing a fifteen block walk in your favorite, and consequently highest, heels. It’s a pretty genius move to keep a pair of backup footwear in tow for life’s little unexpected incidents (i.e. that time I broke a heel walking into a meeting). Again, one of those things that’s never a bummer to have around when you need it.
If you’re on the market for a killer pair of flats for just this purpose, check out my ultimate guide to flats here!
The easy access wallet can come in many forms, be it a card holder (my personal favorite), or a phone case with a card holder back, but it has to be something that puts absolutely zero effort in between you and your Metro (or any public transit) card. If you simply can’t break away from your big, Zack Morris phone-sized wallet, I do recommend getting something more handy like this to keep your Metro card within easy reach. Nobody likes that person fumbling around in front of the turnstile. Nobody.
I love a good refresher spray for a quick perk up when I’m tired, or just kind of dragging. A quick spritz can be a surprisingly effective solve. (Especially if you keep some in the office fridge—pro tip.) If you’re not yet obsessed with one, try Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir or one of Mario Badescu’s cult-favorite facial sprays. Both work under or over makeup and now might be a good time to give them a try, given that summer is doing it’s very best to melt our faces right off.
All I can give you is a list of essentials, I cannot control Mother Nature. (Though I have been known to plead with her on occasion.) For the worst the weather can do, keep a travel size of an effective hair spray that you’ve used and loved before in your bag (I absolutely love this one). Bring it on, weather. Actually please don’t.
If possible, keeping a small makeup bag stocked with duplicates of your most frequently used items really comes in handy inside your work bag. Post-work plans arise, sweat happens, you know the drill. This saves you from constantly moving makeup back and forth, or resorting to random (possibly really old) eyeliner rolling around in your desk drawer. I’m a huge fan of this tote-friendly Trish McEvoy Makeup Planner for keeping the essentials organized.
Absolutely mandatory for those of us with less-than-lasik eyes, keeping a spare pair of contact lenses is necessary in the event of disaster striking. Eyes get dry, random things fly around in the air, these things happen—you still deserve to be able to see.
Oh the weather is a sneaky mistress, is she not? Outsmart her. Pop a super-collapsible and conveniently-sized compact umbrella in your bag, and most of the time—just forget it’s there. Then you get to be Inspector Gadget during an unexpected downpour and whip out this genius essential while everyone else is taking an unplanned shower.
I don’t know how things are where you live, but the NYC subway loooves to not do the one job it’s literally designed to do. If you’re ever stuck underground with an unfortunate train delay, it’s smart to have ways to occupy yourself that don’t require wifi—or take up precious bag room. Make it one that you’ve always wanted to listen to, but haven’t gotten around to yet, because the last thing you want your journey-saving activity to be is meh.
Speaking of subway quirks, know how to navigate yourself out of them—and seek assistance in app form. There are great subway map apps that prevent the need for you to memorize our entire transit system. I like New York Subway MTA Map because it can be used offline to help you craft a way out of train delays, whether or not you have cell service. New York City Subway Map can also be used offline, and offers alerts for delays—but given how frequently those come up, you might only want to leave them on if you’re constantly taking the subway.
I definitely recommend a reusable bag for your day-to-day commute (you never know when the urge to make a post-work Trader Joe’s run may hit you), but you should also consider tucking a very smoosh-able reusable bag into your day bag while traveling, too. You never know what might come up (or get purchased), and it’s nice to have something reusable on-hand to generate less waste. Also, I find that a reusable tote is always the far more comfortable option for city walking with stuff in tow when compared to plastic bags. These bags have rave reviews on Amazon along with these bags which come in the cutest prints.