On the traveling side of the internet, reviews for new gadgets abound. Compression bags! Fold-able water bottles! Amazing pouches that hold everything from your passport to a portable phone battery pack, which you also absolutely need! A microfiber towel that folds into almost nothing! And a second one to make up for the fact the towel is only two square feet! An electronic tracker, in case you lose the towels! (…And then we pass out.) Okay, some of these gadgets can be pretty useful. But not all of them, and not all the time. Here’s an honest look at when you might actually need some of these weird and wonderful things.
Packing Cubes: These are pretty great for organizing your suitcase,and I use them all the time. You can separate out your items, and also make them easier to access when you are unpacking. They can even help compress your clothing sections, making the whole tetris-type effort that much easier. However, it is important to remember that the packing cubes don’t magically give you more space. They force you to organize your belongings, and to pack everything tightly and neatly together. But if you packed the same way without the cube, you could technically fit more into the suitcase. The packing cubes do actually take up some space, and there are usually empty spaces between the cube and the side of your suitcase. So if your goal is fitting as much as humanly possible into your case, you could make do with careful packing, minus the cubes.
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Compression bags: Similar to the cube, but by sucking the air out of the bag, you reduce the space taken up, and are able to fit more into the suitcase. Brilliant. And… sometimes time consuming. If you are the move often, these might be awkward to manage. I would recommend this when you are traveling with soft, bulky items, like winter clothes. Think thick sweaters and down jackets. And be sure to get the kind that does not require a vacuum to use!
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Water Purifiers: There are so many options for this, from pills to lasers to filters. The quickest and easiest to use are often electronically-based, which means that you should check in advance to see whether there will be opportunity to charge it at regular intervals. A bottle or canister with a built-in filter might be the most convenient and adaptable option, or a straw with a built-in filter. Before you go hunting for iodine and activated charcoal, however: please be sure to check whether the place you will be visiting will even require you to bring one. You may well need to; however, foreign doesn’t always equate to dangerous. In some places, the fact that the tap water is unsafe means that bottled and filtered water will be available everywhere you go.
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First Aid Kit: It is always a good idea to have some kind of first aid kit around, whether you are traveling or not. For globe-trotting purposes, you will want something small, compact, and sturdy. Basics like strip plasters and antiseptic, tweezers, painkillers, etc., should be included, as well as space for any personal medication you might be bringing along. The size should depend not so much on how long you will be traveling, but rather on where you are going. If you are headed somewhere remote or underdeveloped, stock up on items you will be unlikely to find – medication especially. Be sure to also check what the regulations are for bringing these items through customs. However, if you are traveling somewhere with a drugstore on every corner, you can bring enough to get you through one scrape/headache/sprained ankle, knowing you will be able to refill your supplies almost immediately.
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Laptop/Tablet/E-Reader: Make sure that you have the lightest model of any of these. Overweight baggage is a hassle no-one needs. Whether or not you actually bring one of these is up to you. If you think you will have an opportunity to use them, go ahead – but you might be surprised how little you need electronic entertainment.
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Battery Pack: If you are going to be using a phone, I cannot recommend this enough. (You might not be, but let’s go with the odds here.) You are likely to be relying on you phone for everything from e-tickets to GPS and translation apps. Even if you are staying somewhere that allows you to charge your phone daily, you should still take a battery pack. A friend of mine was in Chicago just before Christmas one year, and got stuck in the city when the freezing cold temperature drained her phone battery.
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Money Belts/Pouches/Compartment: For hiding your passport and money, these can be great. For getting your passport and money out… not so much. The whole idea here is that you are keeping everything in an inaccessible place, like under a shirt or in a bra. So anytime you want to get to your money… you know, to pay for something, as one does… you might end up accidentally flashing everyone in the vicinity. And the more you struggle to get to your stash, the more obviously you are advertising it’s location to any would-be thieves. My advice would be to use these while traveling long distance, but once you have arrived at your destination, pay for a locker or a spot in the house safe.
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Microfiber Towel/Blanket/Sleeping Bag/Fleece: If you need any of these items, microfiber versions are pretty fantastic. Cozy, portable, and light. The towels and blankets are often sold in pouches, which make them very easy to travel with – but make sure to take the item out in the store to check it. They can be deceptively small. If you are not planning to use a sleeping bag, and know that your accommodation will be providing both towels and blankets, however, give them a miss. You might bring them for the very reason that they are light, portable, and convenient, and you might need them. But if you don’t end up using them, it’s just wasted suitcase space.
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