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Just as the fitness industry wants to sell you equipment and supplements that you don’t actually need, the travel industry likewise promotes plenty of products that seem intriguing. If you’re new to travel, it’s easy to think you’ll need them, but in most cases, save your money — and room in your suitcase.
Here are some of the most overrated pieces of travel gear that rookie and veteran travelers alike should skip.
A new pair of 'travel shoes'
Imagine the busiest errand-running day of your life. You wake up early to take the dog for a walk before driving your kid to soccer practice. Then, you head to the store to buy supplies for the car wash fundraiser later that afternoon. Afterward, you go out for ice cream, all before heading home for another dog walk.
What shoes did you don? Those are the ones you want to bring on vacation. Pack the pair you’re comfortable walking miles in, the ones that can trudge through the mud when you're chasing after your dog, that can handle getting wet from the car wash and that won’t leave you with blisters before you arrive for ice cream.
Some travel blogs will say you need special “travel shoes” to withstand the cobblestones of Europe while still feeling comfy on the long flight there. But unless you’re buying hiking boots to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (and surely you’ve already trained in those same shoes), purchasing shoes specifically for a trip is a recipe for foot pain.
» Learn more: 7 tips for first-time flyers
And on that note, don’t fall for thinking you should buy new clothes. There are some circumstances where you might need different clothes: Southern Californians might purchase a snow jacket if they’re heading anywhere cold, or you might require loose, light and long-sleeve tunics for countries that have conservative cultures and hot weather. But in most cases, there’s no reason to buy a special wardrobe.
“Travelers get sucked into buying another travel dress, another pair of hiking pants and another big suitcase,” says Katherine Leamy, the light-packing expert behind The 5 Kilo Traveller, a packing and travel website.
“There's this false idea that you need special travel gear.”
Wear the clothes you’re already comfortable in — and don’t need to spend more money on.
A passport case
They’re cute — and usually unnecessary. In most cases, passport cases turn out to be more cumbersome than crucial, given that most customs officers will ask you to remove your passport anyway.
If you find passport cases an aesthetic asset — or you’re seriously concerned about getting the original book cover dirty — then go for it. Otherwise, save your money.
What you should bring, though, is a copy of your passport. Both a digital copy on your phone and a paper copy packed in a separate place than your real passport could come in handy if it gets lost.
A document organizer
Back in the day, a document organizer might have been helpful for wrangling all your pre-printed MapQuest directions or for storing the phone numbers of your friends back at home. These days, most of that information is already on your phone, so you can probably call document organizers a thing of the past.
“The only thing I ever need when traveling is a passport, and that fits perfectly in any of my backpack pockets,” said Kassandra Flores, a blogger who writes about both travel and minimalism. “Any other documents, like boarding passes or hotel reservations, are now digital, so I believe that an organizer is overrated and will only occupy valuable space.”
While it doesn’t hurt to have a print copy of digital documents, a bulky, leather-bound organizer is probably overkill. A basic, paper pocket folder should do.
» Learn more: 5 tips to succeed at carry-on only travel
Fancy toiletry bags
Reconsider that fancy toiletry bag — with all the pouches and pockets — which only tend to take up more space.
In most cases, save money (and suitcase real estate) by putting your toiletries in a regular plastic bag. What’s more, plastic bags better let you separate toiletries. That way, if your toothpaste explodes on the flight, it’ll make a minty mess only in the 1-cent plastic bag rather than your upscale toiletry bag.
Most toiletries, hair dryers, portable steamers and towels
You probably don’t need to pack (or buy) as many toiletries as you think; most hotels offer everything you need, from shampoos and lotions to small electrics like steamers and irons.
Even if the hotel didn’t leave out cotton swabs on the counter, it’s probably an effort to reduce waste. Especially due to COVID-19, many hotels made amenities available by request only in an effort to cut down on the number of potential touchpoints that need to be cleaned. Typically, hotels still have those things at the front desk; you just need to ask.
Worst case — unless you’re camping in the middle of nowhere — you can easily buy shampoo at the corner store if you didn’t pack it and your hotel doesn’t have any either. And hey, you end up with a nifty souvenir of foreign shampoo.
Unfamiliar camera gear
If you’re a photographer, then traveling can be one of the best ways to indulge your hobby or career. But if you’ve never used high-tech camera gear before, then you’ll likely find the extra zoom lens, tripod and GoPro to be more confusing than enjoyable. Ultimately, they’ll weigh down your suitcase while generating a tangled web of cords.
If you’re just looking to document visual memories of the trip, your smartphone’s camera is probably sufficient.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
The bottom line
We’re not saying you never need to pack the above gear. Depending on the nature of your trip, you’ll certainly need to buy special equipment at some point. A backpacking trip might require upgrading your day pack to a full backpack, and a safari might warrant bringing a zoom lens for your camera.
Bear in mind that niche travel gear exists to delight exactly that — a niche crowd of people. Be judicious about what gear you bring, as overpacking is an easy way to bog down your trip and your budget.
Don’t get suckered into buying all the stuff that travel magazines and blogs make you think you need. Instead, save your money for the vacation itself. Splurge on drinks at the rooftop bar overlooking the city. Book the cooking classes and surfing lessons. Those memories will be worth it. The memories of squashed toes from travel shoes you thought you needed won’t be.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card