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Why You Don’t Need These 5 Popular Travel Gadgets

It may not be your fault. Particularly if you are doing a big trip, it’s not uncommon for well-meaning friends and relatives to give you utterly useless items – because everyone takes them right? If you are lucky they will give them to you far enough in advance you’ll have a chance to quietly sell them on eBay in exchange for that most useful of all Bon Voyage presents: cold, hard cash.

If you are unlucky they may hand over the offensive item at the airport just as you leave for the security screening area. Discrete disposal air side is about your only option. I guess that’s one thing that we can thank the TSA for – not even Great-Aunt Maud will give you a wrapped package to be hidden in the bottom of your bag – without you knowing what’s in it!

So what in my experience are the top five most useless travel gear items?

Pacsafes (TM)

pacsafe - useless

Photo (c) Sleep”R”Us via flickr

What is a Pacsafe (TM) you may ask if you tend to have your luggage dealt with by the porter rather than carrying your own. A Pacssafe(TM) is a metal mesh which can be had in several sizes and which are designed to attach over the outside of a pack, and can also be secured to an item of furniture or a luggage rack with a lock. The idea is that it stops people slashing your bag and stealing your bag when your back is turned. The reality is a little different.

What’s wrong with a Pacsafe(TM)?  They fail the Lis practicality test on four points:

  • price
  • weight
  • usability
  • stupidity

Pacsafes  aren’t cheap. You don’t want to waste your cash on useless gadgets when you are going on a trip. Cash is for travel not gadgets, which add only weight to your bags. Which brings me to my second point – these suckers are heavy, and the whole reason to have a pack is that they are light and easy to carry. Plus how many times do you want to unlock the thing every time you want to get into your pack for something important – like your rain jacket now that the heavens have opened? Oh and reality check, I’ve NEVER met anyone who has had a backpack slashed, I’m sure it happens sometimes – it’s just not very common.

But locking your bag to something that’s a good idea yes? Well I don’t know about your hotel rooms – but I  don’t  stay in many with  iron bars cemented into the concrete floor,  maybe you do?

Most hostels provide lockers,hotels have room safes,  and frankly if people want to search my dirty underwear than they can have it. My valuables I keep on my body or in bag with me, the rest doesn’t matter that much.

Most important though – the stupid things about Pacsafes(TM) is that they advertised to the world that either you have valuables to steal or you are a nervous traveler who will make an easy target.

I carry more valuables than many including an expensive computer and a good quality camera. But they go in an old scruffy, battered bag which looks like its done everyone one of the many trips that it has. Security through obscurity is a valid, and extremely effective and low-cost alternative to keeping your gear safe.

Water Purifying Systems

water bottle art

Water Bottle Art Installation by by Стефан Симов
Bulgaria – photo (c) Klearchos Kapouts via flickr

Now to be fair to Steripen and similar devices these have a purpose. If you are hiking remote back country wilderness then they can be quite useful. However you are going on a vacation you are unlikely to be doing unsupported trekking, if you are going to be going with a company, it can be assumed that they will provide safe drinking water in some form or other.

For the rest of us. Every country in the world either has:

  • tap water  safe to drink;
  • tap water  not safe to drink.

In the first situation – common in the entire developed world and far more of the rest of the world than many inexperienced travelers believe, buy a plastic bottle of water (or wine, gin or coke if you prefer). Drink its contents. And then refill with water from tap. Its low-cost and easy, and when you don’t need the water bottle any longer you toss it.

In the second situation – you buy bottled water, not the fancy mineral water brands you can get at home. Just normal bottled water which will available everywhere the locals get thirsty. Drink and repeat.

Not hard. Not expensive. No gadget required.

Travel Hair Dryer

travel hair dryer

Image (c) yourbartender via flickr.com

Cute, usually pink, folds into itself, dual-voltage. A waste of space at the very best. At worst can cost you a fortune in damages when plugging it in results in a blowing up the hotel’s electrical system.

Hair dryers are heaters, they take a lot of power, they do not work well with dual voltage. if you must have one – buy one when you arrive in the country.

Which takes me to the next point – really, is it really that important to blow wave your hair every day? That’s like 20 minutes a DAY of travel time WASTED on pimping your hair? If you are that high maintenance  then you’ll probably spending a bit on hotels, most fancy pants hotels, yes even those overseas, will provide hair dryers.

Sheet Sleeping Bag

Comes in cotton or silk, beloved of backpackers who want to keep the bed bugs at bay. The idea in itself is not bad – but they are a lot of space and weight to devote to a single use item. I use a sarong (aka parero or lava-lava) for the same purpose. But my sarong doubles as a night dress, a skirt, a carry bag, a laundry bag, a picnic cloth and a beach towel. Plus it’s colored and patterned and therefore doesn’t show the dirt as much.

The whole bed bug thing is over-stated too. If you are seriously worried a sleeping, sheet or otherwise or a sarong won’t help you – unless you soak them in insecticide, which is a slight bit of overkill. Bed bugs are unpleasant but that’s all, they don’t carry serious disease like mosquitoes.

Swiss Army Knife

swiss army pocket knife

Image (c) pennuja via flickr.com

I used to carry one of these, but I never replaced the last one I lost. Unless you actually happened to gradate the Boy Scouts it’s unlikely that you will find much use for the 47 essential tools these things include. Plus they are heavy. Plus they are fiddly, so that when you do need to get out the scissors to make the tourniquet  for your snake bite, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find it and/or extract in time to stop the venom.

Plus if you can’t take one if you are travelling with carry on luggage only – but that’s a whole other article.

About Elisabeth Sowerbutts

Lis Sowerbutts has written 32 posts in this blog.

Born in England Elisabeth has lived in: England, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Canada. She holds three passports but calls Middle Earth home, for the moment. Travel is her passion, and she has travelled to every continent in over 30 years of independent travel. She now makes a full time living as a successful writer and on-line entrepreneur.

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