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Samantha Brown's surprising travel essentials

By Samantha Brown, Special to CNN
Samantha Brown takes in the sights in Florence, Italy. The popular TV host hast some unusual travel must-haves.
Samantha Brown takes in the sights in Florence, Italy. The popular TV host hast some unusual travel must-haves.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Road warrior Samantha Brown shares items that make her travels easier
  • Noise-canceling headphones can be stolen, so try disposable ear plugs instead
  • Rubber balls can make you feel like you've had an expensive massage
  • Brown brings her own meal on a plane -- even in First Class
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Editor's Note: Samantha Brown is the host of several popular series on the Travel Channel and travels some 230 days a year. She is also the spokeswoman for Nature Valley's National Parks Project. We asked her what some of her travel essentials are.

(CNN) -- I, of course, travel with a smartphone, an iPod and a laptop, but the rest of my list is an unconventional one and lacking in anything that needs to be charged.

Here are my top travel must-haves:

1. Ear plugs

I had the expensive $250 noise-canceling headphones. They were great, but they were stolen so I replaced them with the disposable foam type that cost 25 cents a pair and do a nice job of creating a palatable noise level.

I find that what makes airports most stressful is the noise level. If I can minimize that, then the crowds seem less overwhelming. They certainly don't block out all the noise, but they do take the edge off of screaming babies, barking CFOs and the 43 announcements made in the terminal and on the plane that don't concern me.

On a fashion note, I prefer the bright orange ear plugs you find at the hardware store to the boring beige plugs found in airports -- something about them being for construction workers gives me more "street cred." Also, no one steals used ear plugs.

2. Pinky Balls

If you have kids or have ever been in a toy store, you have seen these Pepto-Bismol-pink rubber balls the size of tennis balls. They are $1.75 apiece and have been the first item in my luggage for 10 years.

When every muscle in my body aches from a redeye, an Asian hotel bed (think futon hard) or a day on my feet, I place the pinky balls down on the floor and lay down so that the balls are resting in between my shoulder blades. Then, I push up at the knees putting all my weight onto the balls and move so they roll down my back. Turn over and repeat on legs.

Then I stand on them to soften my arches. This works out all the kinks, knots and soreness of the day. You feel like you've had a $150 massage. Note: look for the solid foam rubber Pinky Balls that are very firm. If you can squeeze it like a racquet ball, that's no good.

On the road with Samantha Brown

3. Food

Even before airlines stopped feeding us, I would bring my own meal on a plane -- even in First Class. I travel for three weeks at a time, which means I will eat out 63 times before going home, so it's my last homemade meal.

There's also something second-grade-field-trip about bringing my own bag lunch that makes me look forward to the plane ride more.

But the most important reason is that an in-flight meal is an albatross. Once you've eaten, you now have to stare at the detritus of your meal until flight attendants remove it, which won't be for another 20 minutes since they haven't even served the last seven rows of the aircraft. You can't bring out your laptop and you can't turn the page of a newspaper without getting yellow mustard on the Arts section, which will inevitably transfer to your shirt.

And the worst thing? You can't leave to get to the bathrooms before the line forms.

Never travel without your own snacks. My favorite (going on 35 years now) is the peanut butter Nature Valley granola bar -- of course there are a lot of flavors, but granola bars pass my ultimate travel test: I can sit on it and it still tastes good. So, BYOF and you're in charge of your own destiny.

Some of my favorite homemade sandwich combos are:

Eggzit Row

Your basic egg salad made with a touch of Dijon and Worcester sauce. Mix in capers and put on French bread. A harder roll is imperative, as softer bread will just become mush as you wait in a security line.

Spicy Hippy

Muenster cheese, avocado, crunchy sprouts, tomato, a few slivers of red onion, cayenne pepper mayo on 7-grain bread. Cayenne pepper mayo is easy to make, I just flavor some mayonnaise with hot sauce.

Jr. High

Ham, cheddar cheese, white Bunny Bread with a layer of potato chips under the cheese and ham.

Note: while I love a tuna sandwich, it is not polite to bring on board.

Food fight: Meals are tricky in the sky

4. The "I love New York" T-shirt

This idea came from a producer of mine who would bring a stack of "I love New York" T-shirts with her on our shoots in Asia. She would give them out as gifts to the people who went out of their way to help us. She would, of course, tip when it was appropriate, but sometimes it's not.

There are times when I want to show my gratitude beyond a $20 bill, but buying gifts is tough when time is limited. I once got someone in Switzerland a box of Swiss chocolates. You can imagine how well that went over.

In every country of my 11 years of being on the road, there has always been that one person (maybe two) who helped me find my way and showed me kindness. The road warriors out there know who they are. Those people who, when asked for directions, take you by the hand and lead you there themselves or show you a friendliness and warmth that cuts through the alienation that travel can bring.

So it's nice to have something to give -- one or two T-shirts from your own hometown is a great place to start. They don't take up a lot of room in your luggage or add on much weight.

When you travel, you always depend on the kindness of strangers and it's nice when you can show your thanks to that person who made being away from home less strange.