plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

July 22, 2009

7 travel items not to bother buying

Filed under: shopping — plonkee @ 9:17 pm

Againt on the theme of travel purchases – some things I’d suggest you don’t waste your money on.

1. Swiss Army Knife

Of all the items that exist on a Swiss Army knife (or Leatherman tool) I’ve only ever used knife blades, scissors, tweezers, bottle openers, corkscrews and nail files. On an actual penknife, the only ones I can use myself are tweezers, nail files and knife blades – and the tweezers suck.

All of those items except bottle openers will definitely be confiscated at Heathrow. Emery boards are cheap and light, I have a very cool bottle opener key ring, and when travelling I either drink wine in a restaurant or bar (where they open the bottle for you) or stick to beer. As I said, the tweezers on Swiss Army knives suck, so if I can, I’ll bring separate ones anyway.

That just leaves knife blades and scissors. In my regular day to day life I do occaisionally need one or the other of these items. However, a simple penknife costs only a few £/$ – a lot less than a complicated multitool – and a pair of scissors even less. If I’m checking a bag, or not flying, I’ll usually put in a pair of nail scissors – they do most jobs if they need to. If I’m doing carry on only, I do without and haven’t had a problem yet.

2. Sewing kit

This might just be a personal one. I rarely have buttons come off stuff disastrously, nor do I regularly rip my clothes. It takes me forever to mend things when I’m at home, so I’m not going to waste my holiday doing the same. At British airports sewing kits are sometimes confiscated, which kind of defeats the point, and if something becomes unwearable, I’m probably in a place where I can pay someone to fix it for me or get a replacement, or make do until I get somewhere where I can.

3. Compass and/or Whistle

One of the fundamental rules of travel should be that if you don’t use it at home, why on earth would you use it whilst travelling. Compasses and whistles are cases in point. Outside North America, many/most cities are not arranged on a regular grid pattern, and it’s just as easy to navigate with a map, particularly if you are not a regular compass user.

Similarly, whistles are only useful in a few tiny situations – if you’re mugged then you should just handover your cash, if you’re attacked then the whistle needs to be round your neck already, and preferably in your mouth. Which is just a recipe for falling over and knocking your teeth out, or swallowing it.

Naturally, if your trip is in a wilderness area, or you use these items in your day to day life, feel free to disregard my reasoning above. Otherwise, save your cash.

4. Inflatable travel pillow

I have a (short) list of things wrong with these:

  • the look stupid
  • they aren’t very comfortable
  • they get punctures
  • they are a pain to blow up
  • Overnight flights tend to have pillows available anyway. If you really need a pillow for a long bus or train journey, get a compressible one and then you can use it for an emergency regular pillow. Alternatively use clothes as a makeshift pillow – I appreciate that this doesn’t work quite as well if the air conditioning is so cold you need to wear every item of clothing you possess.
  • 5. Immersion heater

    Ok, I don’t have one because I only drink hot drinks from time to time (I’m not a proper Brit either – I don’t like tea). But in any case, pretty much anywhere you want to go there will be coffee on sale, most places can do hot tea, and if you can get coffee, you can get hot water.

    Otherwise if you take one, you’ll also need the right plug adaptors, and a mug that won’t break whilst you boil the water. Also a fire and electrical hazard.

    6. Travellers cheques

    Only worthwhile if you are going somewhere where you can’t rely on ATMs. And that people, is almost nowhere – Mongolia, Burma, some of the ‘stans’. Everywhere else, travellers cheques (or travelers checks) are more limiting.

    Outside the US, travellers cheques are not like regular cheques. You can’t normally use them in hotels, restaurants, etc. So, to use travellers cheques, you tend to need regular office hours. (Inside the US, just use ATMs like everyone else.)

    Travellers cheques are replaceable, but that is quite a hassle – there aren’t Amex / Thomas Cook offices on every street corner. Also, especially in places where the script does not use the Latin alphabet, your signature will need to match exactly in order to cash them. In Thailand, I once had to sign my name about 15 times before they would give me any money.

    7. Special travel clothes

    These are really good. They wash and dry quickly, have millions of pockets, come in a myriad of sensible colours,…

    Except that they tend to be ugly, styled to suit men and in colours that I really, really hate and will refuse to wear. They make you stick out like a sore thumb, in the same way that that middle aged men in shorts stick out in Paris. Wear your regular clothes. If you wouldn’t wear travel clothes on a day trip in your home area, or to the shops, (assuming the weather is right) then why would you want to wear them whilst away?

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