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If you’re an avid traveler, then you know that every day there is a new product or service available that is marketed as an essential item for your trip. However, we’re often faced with the dilemma of packing light and avoiding unnecessary travel items that add to the clutter. In fact, I would argue that many of the items that are marketed as essential might not be as important as you think. So, in this video/post, I want to share my top 12 unnecessary travel items. I’ll also cover what you should pack instead.
Space is limited
I have to admit that I’m often guilty of overpacking. This has only gotten worse since I started my channel, especially when it comes to my video gear. At times, I’ve carried two digital cameras, accessories, and even a drone! My situation might be unique, but I also notice a lot of folks who are carrying unnecessary or cumbersome items when traveling.
Top 12 unnecessary travel items
1. Power converters:
I get a lot of questions from folks asking whether they should invest in a power converter for their trip. The short answer is no. For most people, a power converter is completely unnecessary and bulky. Since most devices, like electronics, accept a wide range of voltages or frequencies, all you need is a cheap adapter set since your device should be able to accept the local power.
Now, there are some cases where you might need a power converter, especially if you’re packing a personal care appliance like a hairdryer or iron. The best way is to check your chargers to see what they are able to accept. You’ll usually find it in the fine print on the chargers. And if your device doesn’t accept a wide range of power, it might make more sense to find that device at your destination rather than investing in a heavy and clunky power converter.
2. Multiple chargers:
Carrying a separate charger for your phone, tablet, earphones, and whatever else you’re carrying can be cumbersome. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when you have a laptop with its own proprietary charger. However, I’m a fan of consolidating as much as possible, especially with chargers that have multiple USB ports. There are many brands out there with this type of product. If you’re looking for a brand recommendation, I’ve had some great experiences with Anker. These devices not only allow you to save space but can often charge your devices faster than the traditional USB chargers.
3. Laundry lines:
When I traveled through Europe on my own several years ago, I was determined to do my own laundry along the way. I got the idea from backpacker blogs that I read at the time. I brought detergent packets and a laundry line, thinking I would end the day washing my clothes in the sink or bathtub and then hanging them in my room.
While it’s doable, I don’t think it’s a good use of time or energy, especially when you’re on vacation. I think it’s much better to ask your hotel if they offer laundry service or finding a laundry place in the area that you’re visiting. In some places, like in Southeast Asia or Central America, it only costs a few dollars per load and can save you so much time. Plus, you don’t have to worry about packing wet clothes that didn’t dry in time.
4. Heavy coat:
If you’re traveling to a place with cold weather, then you’ve likely found that a heavy coat takes up a significant amount of space in your luggage. You definitely want to stay warm and comfortable, so I recommend getting a compressible jacket made with real or synthetic down material. For example, I have a compressible down jacket from REI. It’s perhaps the warmest and lightest jacket that I own. It can also be compressed, making it easy to fit in my luggage.
The other option is to wear your heavy coat on the plane. Since I live in LA, this is usually not a good option for me. I also dislike carrying loose items on the plane since I tend to forget about them when I’m deboarding the plane.
5. Passport covers:
I see a lot of people using passport covers when traveling. While I think they look cool, I think a more useful item is a passport organizer or wallet. These types of organizers allow me to pack back-up credit cards, currency, and even plane tickets. I have one from Zero Grid that I enjoy using. It also includes a compact travel pen, which is so useful for filling out customs and immigration forms.
6. Travel books:
This one might be a bit controversial. I love travel books, but I think they are often a bit cumbersome to carry, especially if you’re traveling to several places and are carrying multiple books. I recommend carrying the eBook version when traveling. You can often find the same or similar tour book in eBook format at your local library using an app like Libby.
7. RFID wallet:
For the past ten years, I’ve seen a lot of travel and wallet companies add RFID protection to their products. RFID protection is meant to stop thieves from stealing information from IDs that include an RFID chip. This includes things like contactless credit cards and passports.
To be honest, I don’t think that the threat of RFID is really a widespread problem. When I researched the issue several years ago and even recently, I couldn’t find any documented cases of people who had their information stolen through an RFID reader. In my opinion, it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t quite exist, or at least not to the degree that seems to be implied.
But if you happen to have purchased a wallet, organizer, or bag with RFID protection, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t hurt to have it. Though if you are presented with the option when purchasing a new item, then you can probably skip the RFID protection.
8. Travel backpacks:
This one is also a bit controversial. I think large travel backpacks are great for those traveling to places where you might encounter unpaved or uneven roads. That’s because trying to roll a bag in these places is usually an awful experience and will likely end up destroying a suitcase’s wheels.
On the other hand, I sometimes see people using a large backpack when I business travel in the US. While I appreciate the rugged spirit of it all, I think for most non-adventure travel, it’s better to use a rolling suitcase. You’ll not only have a more optimized space for your belongings but also save your back in the process. I pulled my back a few years ago while lifting a heavy backpack off the ground, and it was not a fun trip.
Again, if you think you will encounter situations where you’ll be traveling with your suitcase over uneven surfaces, then a backpack is a no-brainer. But when I think of the trips that I’ve taken in the last five years, I’ve only used my large backpack on three of them. Every other trip was with a rolling suitcase since it’s more convenient.
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite with this one, especially since I’m usually carrying a lot of video gear, but that’s because I need to collect b-roll for the videos. However, I meet a lot of people who purchase a DSLR or mirrorless camera right before a big trip in hopes of catching amazing photos. For most people, the added weight and hassle of a large camera is not worth the effort, especially when you have a capable photo and video camera on your smartphone.
If you’re someone who is an enthusiast and wants more control over your photos and videos, it makes complete sense to bring a dedicated camera. I know that my smartphone is still not the best way to capture footage, especially in low-light conditions. But for everyone else, I would encourage you to use the camera that you have and are accustomed to. You’ll not only save money but also have less to carry and worry about when traveling.
When I went on a group tour to Cambodia and Vietnam, we were told to bring a flashlight, especially since we were visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City. However, a flashlight can take up room and add weight to your pack. For most people, you can probably get away with using the flashlight function on your smartphone. And if you’re actually planning to explore caves or tunnels, then I recommend carrying a headlamp instead. It’s not only smaller and lighter but is also more useful since it frees up your hands.
11. Money belt:
I’m not a fan of money belts. I know some people swear by them, but I find them to be awkward to use. I just think there are better options out there that are more comfortable and effective.
I think most people can get away with a front pocket wallet. For example, I carry my front pocket wallet every day, so I’m more accustomed to using it and also noticing when it’s not there. And for women, I would recommend carrying a purse with zippers rather than a flap. You’re still susceptible to pickpockets though, so you’ll need to remain vigilant.
Getting cash for your destination before your trip is something I see and hear about all the time, though it can be difficult to do when you’re going to less-traveled locations that have a unique currency. And you definitely want to avoid the currency exchange booths at the airport since the rates and fees are usually unfavorable to travelers.
Charles Schwab debit card
A better option is to get a debit card that reimburses you for ATM withdrawals. I have a Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account that doesn’t charge any fees and offers a debit card that reimburses for ATM transaction fees, even when traveling abroad. I’ll transfer some money from my primary checking account into the Charles Schwab checking account, then use that debit card to get money from the ATM. If the card is stolen or the account is compromised, the risk is confined to that account rather than my primary checking account. And if the bank needs to do an investigation, I don’t have to worry about my account getting locked or frozen.
I also like this approach since I can use the ATM card more often to retrieve smaller amounts of money, rather than just using the ATM once and getting a large sum of cash. I’ve had cash stolen twice while traveling, so I prefer to carry less of it whenever possible.
Don’t use a debit card for purchases while traveling
Also, remember to avoid using your debit card for purchases when traveling. There are many reasons why a credit card is much better for this purpose. Just be sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
What do you think about my list of unnecessary travel items? What other things have you found to be not useful in your travels?