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7 Cheap Round-the-world Travel Gadgets


[Editor’s note – This guest post is from Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations and editor of the Practical Travel Gear blog.]

The main mistake most travelers make the first time they pack for a trip of several months or a year is to pack way too much. They are then left carrying around a too-heavy backpack on their back and then another too-heavy daypack slung over their shoulder or worse, on top their belly. If someone tries to mug them they’re toast—they can barely move. Plus they spend a lot on cool gadgets and gear that sound more useful than they turn out to be. Remember, that $50 gadget that you end up not using is equivalent to 10 nights on lodging in Southeast Asia!

They are plenty of useful items though that can make your travels easier without taking up much room or adding much weight. They don’t require maxing out your credit card at REI either. Pick up these frequently used travel gear items to pack smarter for a long journey.

Sink stopper

You’d be hard pressed to find any $1 items that come in as handy as a flat plastic sink stopper. If you’re a budget traveler, you will be almost surely be doing laundry in sinks of all shapes and sizes. This makes it a lot easier and keeps you from having to constantly send your laundry out for cleaning just because you’re out of clean t-shirts and underwear.

Rubber clothesline

You can find one of these at almost any camping or outdoor gear store. They’re like long braided rubber bands that stretch between two points in whatever kind of room your are in, with the braided rubber clasping any piece of clothing by the corner. Just be sure to get the version with loops or hooks on the end though. The suction cup ones are close to worthless.

Hanging toiletry kit

It only takes a few days on the road as a backpacker to discover that those wide marble vanities you find in nice hotels do not exist in hostels and cheap guesthouses. With a hanging toiletry kit, all you need is a hook or towel rack and you’re good to go. They hold everything you need and keep things compartmentalized, even sealing off things than can leak and having a mesh part so your toothbrush can dry. I used an old Eagle Creek hanging toiletry kit for 10 years of solid travel before I got a new one, so naturally I got another Eagle Creek one (the Wallaby) to replace it. Time and again, this relatively inexpensive item performs as one of my favorite Road-tested travel gear winners.

Hidden pocket money belt

I’m assuming everyone reading this is going to be carrying some kind of money holder that goes under your pants or under your shirt, so that’s a given. Go order one right this minute if you don’t have one and want to hold onto your money when traveling. But for an extra level of security, keep a few big bills stashed away in one of the belts that has a hidden zipper on the inside. Eagle Creek makes a few, including a nylon one that’s easy to wash. Or you can get one that’s leather and looks like any other belt from online gear companies like Magellan’s or Either way, you can stash a few hundred dollars or euros in one of these and nobody is the wiser.

Passive noise-canceling earbuds

Canceling out noise around you can be a useful thing, but not if it means packing expensive headphones that take up as much space as a book. Instead replace the crappy earbuds that came with your iPod with squishy ones that fill your ear canal. Your music will sound far better and you block out much of the noise around, no extra batteries required. The Comply NR10 ones are the gold standard (around $80), but Maxell and others make simpler versions that still block a fair bit of noise. Or just use any quality earbuds and snap the Comply squishy tips on instead.

Swiss Army Knife

Unfortunately, you have to check your bag every time now if you’re going to take one of these. It’s so useful though that unless you are packing really light and can always carry on, take it. I like the one with a corkscrew and a bottle opener (you can see where my priorities are) but there are other versions with different items.

Universal Travel Adapter

On my first trip backpacking around the world I carried a gaggle of different plug adapters in a velvet pouch. Eventually a few companies got wise and started manufacturing a Transformers-style adapter with plugs that fold out, pop out, and twist out according to what you need at the time, good for 150 or so countries. You can get a straight adapter one for under $20 (like this cool adapter from Kensington), but if you want one that converts voltage too and has a USB hub, you’ll pay $35 to $50.

Happy trails!