Travel Gadgets Worth Buying
While many travel gadgets will do nothing but drain your wallet and take up valuable space in your luggage, there are a few highly practical items that will give you a lot of bang for your buck. No item on this list costs more than $20, and you can purchase every item here for about $115 before tax and shipping.
1. Handle Scale. This is a small device that you can use to weigh your luggage without a scale. You attach one end of the scale to your luggage handle and you pull up on the other end to get a weight measurement for your bag. If you are a chronic overpacker, with today's decreased weight and baggage allowances, the $10 or less you'll spend on one of these scales will pay for itself and then some when you avoid fees of $25 or more per bag that exceeds the weight limit. The key to saving money here is to stick with a $10 model and not blow money on a $25 model.
2. Luggage handle extender. Another relatively inexpensive item at around $15, this item prevents you from having to stoop over to pull your suitcase. It's just not worth it to not have to strain yourself to drag your luggage around. I'm not particularly tall, and yet I find that the luggage handles on rolling suitcases are always too short for me. Flying is uncomfortable enough as it is -- there's no need to add to that discomfort by awkwardly hauling your luggage around and straining your back and neck when the solution is so cheap.
3. Money belt. Your best bet is to get the smallest size for your needs so it won't be as uncomfortable or bulky under your clothes. Also, you'll want to get one made of a fabric that won't get drenched in your sweat -- no one wants your sopping wet Euros, and you don't want any of your important documents getting soggy. Though I haven't used it myself, I hear silk is a good fabric choice. If you already have a cotton money belt like I do, just store your belongings in a small ziplock and then put the ziplock in the money belt to keep your belongings dry and save $20.
4. Dual voltage travel hairdryer. I got one at Walgreens for $10 a few years ago, and it's so effective and durable that I have been using it as my regular hairdryer for the last four years. Travel hairdryers are 1/2 to 1/4 the size of regular hairdryers, which saves lots of space and weight in your luggage. You often won't know ahead of time if the place you're staying will have hairdryers available, and traveling with wet hair in cold weather can be pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, if you're going to be traveling in warm weather, I say forget the hairdryer altogether and let your hair air dry. It will save you space and weight in your luggage, save time getting ready, and it's better for your hair.
5. Travel duct tape. Some travel stores will sell you a miniature roll of duct tape for $3. While I agree with them that duct tape can be invaluable for repairing broken shoes and torn luggage when you're on the go, you'll save money by purchasing an entire gigantic roll of duct tape for $6 and making your own miniature travel rolls. Plus, you'll still have some left over for use around the house.
6. Microfiber towel. Particularly if you're hosteling, the available towels are likely to be small and scratchy, and sometimes you'll even have to pay for the privilege of borrowing them. Microfiber towels really do live up to their highly absorbent claims. They also dry quickly and don't take up much space. If you bring your own regular towel with you, it will take up a ton of room in your luggage and, if you're moving from city to city, it will often still be wet when you want to use it because it won't have a chance to dry fully before you have to pack it. Drying off with a damp, mildewy towel or an overly small, scratchy towel is no fun. Bringing a larger towel of your own can also be especially useful in hostels, where bathroom and shower privacy is often limited and you probably don't have a bathrobe to cover up with.
7. LED light. These are very inexpensive, small, lightweight, long-lasting, and highly effective. They'll light your way in a power outage or allow you to stay up and read when your roommates want to sleep. Opt for one that you can turn on and off rather than the kind you have to squeeze constantly. I have one with a clip attachment. I can attach it to my book for reading, or attach it to a cloth headband for an instant headlamp.
8. Personal safety alarm. For women, children, and anyone with limited strength or mobility, a small personal safety alarm that you can keep in your pocket or clip to your purse can give you extra peace of mind and scare off people who try to harm you. Make sure you pick a model that is difficult to set off by accident while still being easy to set off in an emergency. Expect to spend around $10 - $15 for one of these. If you're concerned about your safety while you sleep in your hotel room at night, for a similar price they also make doorstop alarms that will both make it more difficult for an intruder to open your door and also set off a loud alarm. Me, I would probably just keep my personal safety alarm under my pillow rather than buying both.
9. Silk sleep sack. These are small, lightweight, effective, and can be purchased for around $20 on eBay (as opposed to $40 from a travel shop). If you're hosteling, sleeping bags are generally verboten and you'll often have to pay to rent sheets for your bed -- stiff, scratchy sheets, at that. Having your own sleeping gear that fits hostel requirements will save you money and ensure that you have a comfortable place to sleep. Even if you aren't hosteling, this product can provide extra warmth in hotels and on airplanes and trains. Silk keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter while also weighing very little and being very compact.
10. Compass. Foreign cities are often not laid out in the convenient grids that many of us in the U.S. are so accustomed to. Rather than being distracted by an awkward map and making it apparent to ne'er -do -wells that you're lost, learn to navigate with a compass. It's easy to check discreetly and learning to get around using cardinal directions will ultimately improve your navigational skills much more than memorizing a string of left and right turns. You're much less likely to get lost when you know which way is north, and on overcast days you won't be able to rely on the sun for clues.
Many of these items are best purchased on eBay or from national mass retail chains rather than from expensive specialty travel stores. However, some items aren't any cheaper on eBay, and in some cases you may save money by buying the items from a travel store because you'll only have to pay for one large shipment instead of ten smaller ones. You may even be able to get free shipping if your order exceeds a certain threshold.
These travel gadgets can be very helpful, but if you're traveling on a tight budget, you can still get by just fine without them. If you can afford a few minor luxuries, though, these items can make your travels a little safer and more comfortable for a very reasonable price.
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