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Top 5 Most/Least Useful Travel Items

by Globetrooper Todd | 16 Responses
Top Travel Items Gear Gadgets

I guess I’m what you’d call an anti-hoarder. I love to get rid of things. Whether I donate them to charity, sell them on eBay, gift them to friends, or send them straight to the bin, I just can’t stand having useless things around me.

That means my backpack contains only what I think is necessary for work and travel. Of course it has taken many months on the road to get it to this state, so I thought I’d share my top 5 most AND least items for travel.

But I’ll need [insert item] if…

This is the usual argument for using a bigger backpack and keeping more items. I’ve rarely had this thought, so can’t really give advice on it. All I can say is you can buy most necessary stuff cheaply in most countries.

Oops, I shouldn’t have ditched [insert item]

My biggest mistake was in Bolivia. As I repacked my bag for another move, I questioned each and every item I owned. I looked at my Australian power adapters, thought to myself, ‘Ha, it’s going to be a long time until I return home’, and then binned them all.

Fast forward 24 hours, after a long bus ride into Argentina, and there I am, unpacking my bag hoping to pull out my laptop to check my email. Completely aghast, I notice that Argentina, for some extremely frustrating reason, has the same power outlet configuration as Australia. After a string of expletives, we spent the next 4 hours looking for adapters. Of course, it was siesta time and everything was closed. But this rarely happens, and not nearly enough to carry ‘seemingly’ useless items.

Top 5 Most Useful Items for Travel

  1. A Pair of Jeans – Many travel websites warn you against traveling with jeans. I agree when it comes to mountaineering, but for most other trips, jeans are bulletproof. If you like them at home, then why leave them there? Technical travel clothing can be a real pain, especially when you don’t feel yourself in it.
  2. Rain Jacket – A functional rain jacket can double as a wind stopper, which is especially useful in cold climates. They’re good for rain too. We’ve spent almost a month in up to -20C temps with mostly summer clothes and a rain jacket.
  3. Skype Software - It’s cheap, universal, easy, and doesn’t weigh a thing. We call Australia for about 2 cents per minute from anywhere in the world. That’s cheaper than most local calls I’d make in my own city using a traditional phone. As you convert people back home to Skype, you’ll enjoy lots of video of them (and their pets) on a regular basis.
  4. Thin Notepad and Short Pen – Okay, that’s two items, but they’re useful as a pair. Make sure the notepad is thin, small and has flexible covers. And make sure the pen is short, thick, with a good pocket clip for your jeans. Here’s my favourite Moleskine for the job.
  5. Semi-dress Shirt – Have your favourite dress shirt altered by a tailor to be a little more casual before you leave home. You can then use it for weddings, business meetings and the odd night out at a trendy bar or restaurant.

Top 5 Least Useful Items for Travel

  1. Cell Phone - our last post (a review of the HTC Desire HD vs iPhone 4) was all about buying a new smart phone. So this may come as a surprise: we very very very rarely (i.e. never) use the phone features. With Skype being miles cheaper, a cell phone is probably the most useless thing I’ve carried for the longest period.
  2. Sleeping Bag – after the phone, my sleeping bag is the next most useless thing I’ve carried for the longest period. Unless you’re camping regularly, it’s not needed. You can hire them in most places for $20. Which is a small price to pay for carry-on baggage bliss. They’re simply too big and heavy for the amount of utility they provide the average traveler.
  3. Rain pants - not nearly as useful as a rain jacket, and the pants are never with you when it matters. There are some exceptions, like long treks in wet areas, but for most travel they’re way in excess of needs.
  4. Business Cards – Biggest waste of money, even though we arguably have the coolest business cars on planet Earth. They serve no other purpose than providing personal details, which a notebook/pen can do, in addition to many other things.
  5. Anything Designed for Travel - except for my backpack, most of my travel-specific items have become newly acquainted with the bin. That includes luggage locks, passport holders, airplane paraphernalia, travel clothing, travel food, copies of documents, day packs, whistle (ha!), maps, guide books, etc.
Posted in Adventure Travel, Gear & Gadgets | January 29th, 2011

16 Responses to Top 5 Most/Least Useful Travel Items

  1. I go back and forth on jeans. I missed them terribly when in South America so I bought a pair in Lima and almost wore through them in Argentina and Chile. But, now that I’m in Southeast Asia I haven’t pulled them out once in almost three months because they are just too hot. But, I know I’ll want them when we get to Europe again…

    I’m completely with you on “anything designed for travel” – you can usually either avoid it all together or find a regular non-travel item (with a smaller pricetag) that does the trick.

  2. I’ve been debating over the cell phone thing. I mainly use my IPhone for different apps and as my MP3 player. I can also use Skype on there without having to drag out my laptop.

    I think I’ll take my IPhone, or maybe get an IPod touch.

    • Hey Nick, I think it depends where you go. I suspect the iPhone will come in handy in India where Internet is best accessed using 3G. Could easily buy a dongle, but iPhone sounds like a better solution if you already have one. But will write about our experiences in India in the coming months. For South America, we didn’t need a phone at all. Lots of WiFi.

      • I have always found a cellphone (a smart phone is much better) really useful. I travel 90% of my time to other countries. When the weekend comes my colleagues and I go to different places, some like to shop, some like museums; but is easier to text each other to agree in a meeting place. I use it with my wife also, when for some reason we get separated, to meet faster.

        And smart phones can have skype, internet access and all that…

        Also, my cell I use it as an alarm clock, (that and and actual alarm clock, and my watch, and the hotels wake up call service… you can never be too sure when it comes to and early morning flight in an unknown country)

  3. And here I am looking at your awesome business card!

    • You’re using it as a beer coaster in Scotland, aren’t you? :)

  4. Good list guys, but we have very different travel styles:) Funny how what works for some doesn’t work for others, but now, I have to put in my two cents because I am annoying that way….
    Business cards – Love having them. we use all the time. It is so much easier to give to friends on the road than finding a pen and paper. And we have kept in touch with many people that we. We have our personal facebook accounts and emails on them which has been excellent for swapping.
    Cell Phone – Can’t travel without it. We use our cell phone all the time and couldn’t travel without it especially as a travel blogger. We set up a lot of trips through it, and arrange meetings and pickups. Setting the blogging aside, we still cant’ live without the phone. We arrange hotel pickups, taxis, we call ahead to our next destination, use our google maps to show taxi drivers where we’re going and follow along if they are lost. We also arrange meeting other travelers for dinner. We love our cell phone:)
    Jeans- we never wear and never pack, we are those cheesy trekking pants people that you see all the time:)
    Raincoat – rarely use, but carry our gortex shell for trekking and cooler weather.
    Pens- I carry a lot of pens. full size. I like the feel of a really good pen.
    You two are way better packers than us though and you are our travel packing gurus! One day we will be able to travel with a carry on only. Just like you:)

    • Hey Deb, after your explanation of how you use your phone, it makes me wonder how Lauren and I get anywhere without one. :)

  5. EAR PLUGS! You never know what noisy room you may be staying in.

  6. My list is like Deb’s! I guess it just depends on what you’re in to when you travel.

    If you plan to use couchsurfing, a cell phone is pretty much essential for setting up meets and keeping in touch with hosts.

    • Hey Dustin, we use Skype for all calls. It’s cheaper and works without having to organise a SIM card. Of course it requires a Wifi connection, but that hasn’t been too much of a problem yet. Though we’re heading to India on Monday, so I suspect I’ll have to take back those words :)

  7. It is always interesting to read what has and hasn’t been useful for travelers. I think I’m sold on the notebook and pen, but like Deb I need a regular full sized pen. I already know that when I head out my Mac is taking a long time siesta and the netbook is going on the trip. As for the business cards I am still on the fence about them but we’ll see when I set off which way I go.

  8. I too have never really understood why people travel with cell phones. Then again, I barely use mine domestically, so that probably has something to do with it.

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