I have been traveling internationally for almost five years now. In that time, I’ve purchased a lot of travel items that I regret — and some that I adore and still use. The difference between the two has always come down to my ability to look past the clever advertising and marketing lingo and assess my actual travel needs.
If you are a frequent business flyer or an adventure-seeking backpacker, your needs are probably going to be very different. But for the average traveler, here are some travel accessories I’ve found that aren’t worth the money — and some better alternatives for getting more bang for your travel buck.
1. Luggage: Skip the high-tech route.
Hard pass: Motorized suitcases
Smart luggage has been on the scene for a few years now with varying degrees of utility. Most American airlines have not been too pleased with the various developments in luggage technology, going so far as to ban many bags that don’t have the right type of batteries or other features. Somehow though, that hasn’t stopped Modobag. For a modest $1,495, you can ride your suitcase like the world’s most uncomfortable scooter through what are, based on the promotional videos, some of the world’s emptiest airports.
But honestly, if you’re running so late that you feel the need to turn your suitcase into a vehicle, you’re better off investing in a quality alarm clock.
Worth it: A reliable carry-on
As checked luggage fees increase, more and more people are joining Team Carry-on. While I’m new to the lifestyle myself, the last few trips I have taken were made infinitely easier by having a quality carry-on suitcase. I’ve waxed poetic about my luggage struggles already, but in short, I look for three main features when shopping: a hard shell, 360-degree spinner wheels, and a built-in TSA lock. My current carry-on is this Kenneth Cole 20-inch that I got for half-off at Marshall’s.
While the term “carry-on” tends to denote a certain size, the specific dimensions can vary a lot depending on the airline you fly with. To be on the safe side, I recommend referencing the allotted carry-on sizes for your preferred airlines and making sure you buy something that is safely within those parameters.
2. Gadgets: Keep it simple.
Hard pass: Portable Bluetooth speakers
I have nothing against Bluetooth speakers in general. However, they aren’t a great travel accessory. They are the most unwelcome devices in any airport, and no one in any hotel or hostel wants to hear your music coming through the walls, no matter how good your taste is.
Unless you know for sure that you’re going to be renting an entire house to yourself and throwing some kind of party once you reach your destination, don’t bother with a Bluetooth speaker. Your phone or laptop should be more than enough.
Worth it: Universal travel adapters
One small thing people tend to forget when traveling internationally is that outlets will not be the same. Adapters are a must if you have any devices that will need power at some point during your trip. So why not get one that will be useful no matter where you go?
A good universal travel adapter will have an assortment of prongs to allow it to plug into outlets in Europe, the UK, US, Australia, and Asia, and be able to fit cords from all of those places as well. Almost all of them also come with several USB ports for charging smaller devices. For $15-20, these are easily worth their weight in gold. I recommend taking two.
3. Clothing: Your jacket doesn’t need to do everything.
Hard pass: All-in-one travel jackets
While I certainly understand the desire to keep things close to you, having every valuable you own stored on your body is not as convenient as you might think. Jackets that come with a dozen different pockets and compartments and are meant to fit bulky items like tablets and water bottles can get heavy and uncomfortable really fast.
They also force you to be annoyingly mindful of your body at all times. God forbid you bump into something — suddenly you’ve got a cracked tablet pressed against your torso. Prices from over $200 for a lightweight jacket and almost $150 for a sweatshirt don’t sit well when you consider how little they’ll do to keep you warm.
Worth it: Travel scarves
While the jackets might be overkill, the premise still holds some weight. As a general rule, if you keep your stuff close to your body, it’s hard for someone to grab valuables without you noticing.
I have a Waypoint Goods travel scarf that, in addition to being a nice outfit upgrade, has a hidden zipper pocket that can easily fit my phone and wallet without being the slightest bit noticeable. At $40, it’s a very cute and quality accessory that is well worth the money. While there are cheaper ones on Amazon, they are often made of cheaper material that can be very thin and see-through. This can cause them to either show your belongings through the material, or sag really heavily as soon as you put something in them.
4. Security: Padlocks might be counterintuitive.
Hard pass: Padlocks
When I first started traveling, I was paranoid about all of my stuff. I tried to stay secure by throwing a small lock on every bag I had. This was well before I knew about TSA locks. I just used regular old combination and padlocks on everything, and I absolutely loathed having to keep track of those tiny keys.
As it turns out, in many cases a lock can actually make you more of a target for theft. It indicates that your bag contains something valuable, which can be enticing for thieves that are more prone to either the ballpoint pen trick or slashing through your stuff with a knife. Suitcases with built-in locks alleviate this problem somewhat by making it impossible to re-seal the bag — meaning you will at least notice right away that it has been tampered with.
Worth it: Anti-theft bags
In Milan a few years ago, the strap on my cheap crossbody bag broke. I went to replace it the very same day, but the brief moment of time when I was storing my wallet in my very non-secure backpack is exactly when it was stolen on the metro. Thankfully there was no cash in it because I had just spent the last of my money. Nevertheless, the moment scared me into making sure I consider my options carefully when it comes to investing in these types of bags for travel.
Among my favorite fashionable options is the Arden Cove mini crossbody. Keeping a bag close to your front with a secure strap that can’t be easily snatched off by thieves is essential to avoiding pickpocketing. Cut-proof and waterproof material is also a nice key feature for both the bag itself and the strap.
For bulkier items, I really love the XD Design Bobby backpacks. These have the zipper in the back as opposed to the front or the top, so the opening is actually pressed against your back and inaccessible when worn. At about $100, there are cheaper anti-theft backpacks out there, but I personally think the Bobbys are among the best-looking. If you’re in the market for something less expensive, I highly recommend getting a backpack with similar hidden access.
All things considered, shop as smartly for travel as you would anything else. It can be easy to get overwhelmed if you’re new to traveling. It can feel like you have to buy every specialized item out there. Instead, take your time. Compare brands, read reviews, and don’t be afraid to call on that refund policy if the item you thought you couldn’t survive without ends up being a dud.
Casira is an avid traveler who is always saving up for her next trip. When she’s not writing, she’s working on her goal of becoming a polyglot. Follow her on Instagram @cejayce.
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