Travel

Science-Backed Guide to Choosing the Best Travel Gear (+15 Practical Travel Tips)

Whether you’re going on a short city excursion or embarking on a major adventure, the gear that you choose to take along with you could make or break your trip. In general, your belongings should make your travels more comfortable and efficient while not weighing you down unnecessarily.

In most cases, you’ll be able to pick up anything you forgot when you arrive at your destination so there’s no need to worry excessively. With that said, here’s a list of some essentials you should bring according to the trip you’re taking.

As you read along, you’ll notice that there are some items you should always pack regardless of the kind of trip you’ll be taking such as at least one warm piece of clothing and a reusable water bottle (if you’re flying, make sure it’s empty).

Backpacking

Backpacking is more than a way of travel; it’s a shared experience, a lifestyle. Long bus rides, packed dorm rooms and budget options are just a few aspects that the majority of backpackers can attest to. There is not only one modus operandi when different individuals set out to backpack but many choose this route as a means to see more and/or travel longer for less money. More and more, backpacking is becoming a common right of passage and whether you are exploring one country or gallivanting across several nations, there are a few key staples that may make your experience more pleasant.

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Large-capacity backpack

Whether you are travelling for a week or several months, your backpack will become one of your closest allies in tackling any adventure that comes your way. Housing all your worldly possessions and providing you with efficient access is no small feat so you want to choose your companion wisely.

Experts say that your bag’s capacity, features and fit are the most important factors to consider. Here, we’re focusing on a large-capacity backpack as you can scale down based on your personal preferences. There are various features such as external pockets, raincovers and padding that can have a significant impact on the overall enjoyment of your trip. Easy access to your camera, jacket and dry belongings should not be taken for granted. Finally, your torso length and hip size are very important in determining which pack is best suited for you. Accounting for these two measurements may reduce the likelihood of an achy back and allow you to travel greater distances while wearing your pack.

Best for: longer term trips, packing bulkier items and (winter) clothes

Reusable waterbottle

Hydration is the name of the game when it comes to surviving 10+ hours on a hot bus. Thankfully, there is an extensive variety of reuseable waterbottles on the market. If you’re still buying packaged water, check out this study that highlights the huge burden bottled water places on our environmental resources. If you are boarding a plane at any point, be prepared to empty your bottle of its contents before you’re allowed through security. Let’s look at your waterbottle options by examining the most commonly used materials.

Hard plastic waterbottle

Hard plastic versions are the veterans of the reuseable bottle market. Known for being lightweight and low cost, there is a seemingly endless array of colours and sizes due to how long these bottles have been in demand.

One of the drawbacks to using a plastic waterbottle is the evidence from countless studies documenting the harmful effects of bisphenol-A (BPA) found in many plastics. While the entire scientific community cannot come to a consensus on the safety of BPA, it’s best that you check out some of the studies and decide for yourself. Many manufacturers have eliminated BPA across their product lines to accommodate for these revelations.

Best for: lightweight, low cost hydration

Soft collapsible waterbottle

Similar to hard plastic versions, soft plastic may contain BPA so be sure to educate yourself (links to studies above) and read the label on any product you’re considering. Collapsible, foldable bottles are extremely handy in situations where you want to maximize available space in your pack. Many versions can pack almost completely flat save for the mouthpiece.

Best for: space conscious travellers

Stainless steel bottle

Stainless steel bottles are durable and do not transfer smells and tastes between the various liquids that you may pour into it. Production and recycling of stainless steel is less taxing on the environment than similar processes for a plastic bottle.

Best for: durable, multi-beverage container

Insulated bottle

Whether you have a full day of exploring in the heat planned or you just like your water ice-cold, an insulated bottle is your best bet. Most designs contain a vacuum layer in order to keep heat out and minimize condensation on the bottle’s exterior.

Best for: keeping drinks cold, travelling to hot destinations

Eye mask

If you’re like most backpackers you’re likely on a budget. As such, you’ll probably find yourself in a hostel dorm room with eight other travellers at some point. More likely, this will be a common occurrence. What to do when your roommates need the light on and you want to sleep? Enter the eye mask. Usable in dorm rooms or in an airport on a long layover, this simple contraption has been proven by various studies to improve sleep quality by reducing an individual’s exposure to external light sources.

Best for: enjoying a dark sleeping environment in any situation

Headlamp

A headlamp is a handy tool in many travel situations beyond just camping. Small and compact, it’s easy to pack and offers hands-free lighting whether you are reading beside sleeping tent companions or finding your way to the bathroom in the woods.

Best for: hands-free lighting

Festival

Music and arts festivals are a fantastic way to see several of your favourite artists back to back, discover new musical acts, let loose and meet new people. Especially at a multi-day festival, chances are high that you’ll spend full days in the sun as most of these events take place outdoors in the warmer months. You’ll also find that there is no shortage of intensive partying taking place. With those two things considered, here are a few products that will help ensure you have as much fun as you want to while staying mildly responsible.

Ear plugs

There’s only so much fun even the hardiest partier can have on limited sleep. It can be hard to snooze when your neighbours in the tent next door start to party early (or haven’t stopped partying) or you can hear the festival from the campgrounds. So how do you select the right kind of ear plugs for you?

Some products will display their Noise Reduction Rating which informs consumers how effective they are at reducing sound. Some doctors recommend wax or silicone ear plugs as foam versions can expand too much and not achieve the proper fit. There are even ear plugs designed for side sleepers so they do not get pushed too far into the ear canal. Beyond using ear plugs to help you nod off, this study makes a case for wearing ear plugs at concerts to protect your hearing. If this is appealing to you, high fidelity ear plugs are designed for musicians and music lovers alike to preserve the music quality at a lower volume.

Best for: getting some rest, preserving your hearing while enjoying the music

Sun hats

Picture this: you’re having the time of your life at a festival and while you can’t imagine it not being sunny, you could use a break from the rays constantly beating down on you in those wide open fields. Not only will a hat provide you with much needed shade, it can also pull your carefully curated festival outfit together and earn you serious style points. When it comes to what you’ll don upon your head, there are plenty of options ranging from hats with built-in sun protection to your basic baseball cap. Keep in mind that not all hats are created equally in terms of fabric and coverage. Therefore, they do not all provide the same level of sun protection. That said, it’s certainly better to wear some sort of hat than nothing at all.

Best for: keeping the sun off your head, face and neck

Sunscreen

By now, we all know the benefits to slathering on a layer of sunscreen before spending time out in the sun. For consumers, it boils down to understanding how to buy sunscreen and knowing how much to apply and how often. This is a good start but by no means the full story as there are many other nuances to smart sun protection.

Best for: helping reduce likelihood of sunburn and future sun-related diseases

Sun gazebo

At this point, we’ve hammered home the importance of sun safety. If you’re at a camping festival, a portable sun gazebo is tantamount to enjoying your time away from home. Not only will it provide you with shade but it will turn into a nice place to hang out and relax when you want a break from the main festival grounds. After all, you can only get so much of a breeze into your tent and a portable gazebo offers the best of both worlds: enjoying the warm summer air while offering shade to those who wish to be sheltered. Throw in a few camping chairs and you’ll have a great lounge set up perfect for hosting new friends.

Best for: enjoying summer in the shade

International travels

Layovers, recycled cabin air and crossing the international date line are all part of international travel. Those are just a few things that make international travel completely different from short haul travel. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear, therefore, that there are a few products that may make your 20-hour journey feel more like a domestic flight. Almost.

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Melatonin

Whether you’re travelling internationally for business or pleasure, jet lag is a nuisance. Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone in the body and among other things, regulates sleep. It is available as a supplement in the vitamin aisle in most drugstores. Studies show that melatonin can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and help individuals sleep longer and better. Taking melatonin on the plane can help you get a jump start on adjusting to your destination’s time zone. As with all supplements, it’s best to consult your healthcare practitioner to ensure this product is right for you.

Best for: getting ahead of jet lag

Neck pillows

Pack a travel pillow if you want to sleep while sitting upright on an airplane, train or bus or on a long layover. Experts recommend using a pillow to support the natural curvature of your spine while you sleep.

Best for: travellers with neck issues

Warm clothing

It can get chilly flying upwards of 30,000 feet and sometimes the airline blankets are not enough. To avoid being cold, pack a warm layer that is also lightweight such as a large cashmere scarf or a micro-down jacket.

Best for: regulating your temperature on a climate-controlled flight

Facial wipes

After a long flight, these wipes are an easy way to refresh your skin and spirit. While it’s not as lovely as a hot shower, they are an easy to pack item that many travellers tout as an essential for long-distance travel.

Best for: freshening up after an international flight

Travel clothing

Dressing properly for the occasion can make a huge difference in your camping experience and any other adventure for that matter. Not only will packing the right items reduce redundancy, it will also ensure you are styled appropriately for the situation at hand and take care of comfort so you can focus on any tasks you may have and enjoy your trip.

Best for: being prepared for all adventures

Travel jackets

In case of inclement weather, it’s smart to pack a sensible jacket. Depending on how wet your location will be, you can choose between a water-resistant version or a full-on waterproof jacket. Be sure to look for a breathable jacket with a venting system so that you are not only dry but also comfortable.

Best for: protection from rain and wind

Travel shirts

A long-sleeve shirt is always a good idea no matter your destination. More material means greater protection from sun exposure and insects. There are many options that are suitable for camping and city exploring which would make for a more sensible long term investment. Best for: protection from sun and bugs

Travel pants

As with your choice of shirt, it’s wise to have a lightweight and breathable pair of long pants. Pants are more versatile than shorts as they are acceptable in more situations thereby a smarter purchase in the long run. Many travel pants are also convertible into shorts.

Best for: versatile cover up from the elements

Travel socks

As with all articles of travel-appropriate clothing, the material of your socks matters. Wools and synthetic materials are less likely to cause blisters and are lower maintenance than cotton.

Best for: keeping feet dry

Business travel

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Electrical adapter

Especially important if you’re traveling for business, you’ll want to pack an adapter to ensure you can charge and use your electronic devices abroad. In this day and age, almost everyone has a smartphone that they can’t live without so don’t overlook this small piece of equipment.

Best for: travelling with electronics

Travel clothes steamer

Despite your best efforts and intentions, some of your clothes may end up wrinkled when you unpack at your travel destination. Whether you have an important meeting or simply enjoy looking your best, a travel steamer is a handy way to ensure all of your outfits will be wrinkle-free. While some fabrics are better suited to a traditional iron, one key benefit of a clothes steamer is that it’s gentle enough for delicate materials such as silk.

Best for: looking polished and put together

Travel iron

If you’re more comfortable using an iron, you’re in luck. There are travel versions that are more compact and feature a fold-down handle. The technology behind the travel version is the same as the full-size appliance. It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re staying in a hotel, most establishments provide an iron in each room. You can call ahead to make sure in order to save space in your luggage.

Best for: the ability to adjust the temperature depending on your fabric

Wheeled carry-on suitcase

Opt for an ergonomically designed rolling suitcase when selecting your luggage. Instead of bearing the weight on your body, you can comfortably wheel your suitcase in front of you or beside you. Look for one with padded handles and 360 degree maneuverability. A carry-on version is likely appropriate for the short nature of most business trips and will save you the time and money associated with checked baggage.

Best for: reducing strain on muscles and time in the airport

Messenger bag

Popular with couriers and those on the go, a messenger bag is one of the more fashion-forward options to carry your work belongings. They are typically characterized by a large front flap that folds over all of its internal pockets. Due to demand, most messenger bags sold today will include a designated section for your laptop that may be zippered and/or padded for additional protection. There is usually space for non-work related items that you may require during your work day such as a light sweater, lunch, snacks and water.

Best for: quick access to your belongings; the style-conscious set

Laptop bag

Most laptop bags are similar in style to the messenger bag but often feature slimmer openings and as a result are less roomy. Most are designed to accommodate your laptop along with flat, work-related materials such as stationery, notebook and files. As with the messenger, keep in mind how carrying your possessions on one shoulder can impact your back over time. Of course, there are bulkier versions of the laptop bag with more compartments for your things. These larger styles sometimes come with wheels so it can be easier on your back.

Best for: larger, heavier laptops

Laptop backpack

A backpack is designed for an improved carrying experience and prioritizes an even distribution of weight across the core muscles of your body, your back and abdominal muscle groups. If you have a lot of items to carry on your business trip, a backpack can be a good alternative if you are adverse to wheeling around your belongings.

Best for: having to carry your things over longer distances

Briefcase

Although similar to a messenger bag in that it can be worn on one shoulder, a briefcase is a more formal option and is identified by its classic silhouette. Often carried in one hand, a briefcase is traditionally rectangular and rigid in its shape and almost always made of leather.

Best for: formal professions; executives

Disposable razor

Whether you are shaving your face or your legs, a disposable razor is a portable way to maintain your grooming rituals while on the road. Consider purchasing mid-range disposable razors instead of the cheapest versions. They may have a longer lifespan thereby reducing the amount of waste. Many of the mid-range disposable razors have replaceable heads so that you do not need to buy an entirely new razor each time the blades become dull.

Best for: maintaining your personal grooming routine while travelling

Day Trips

Visiting a big city is always exciting. With seemingly endless things to see and do, you may find that your daily agenda will be jam-packed. You’ll likely leave your hotel or hostel in the morning and not return until the evening to maximize your time. City trips also tend to be shorter in duration than backpacking trips hence leading to a common, feverish pace. With that in mind, there are a few pieces of gear that will make you more savvy in your urban surroundings and help your body out as you hit the concrete.

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Backpack

One of the key pieces to enjoying a city trip is a comfortable bag to tote around all of your belongings such as your guide book, reusable water bottle, camera and maybe some snacks. Backpacks are commonly associated with those in school but the truth is, backpacks are a practical way of carrying your belongings when you’re out and about. They are a good way to evenly distribute the weight of your essentials on your body. While backpacks are not without potential risks if you are carrying too much weight, they are still one of the best choices for your back. Keep in mind these helpful tips when selecting the right bag for you.

Best for: travellers who want to avoid back pain

Gel insoles

Chances are that you’ll be walking a lot more during your city getaway than during your usual routine at home. Picking up a pair of gel insoles from your local drugstore to provide your feet with extra cushioning and support from the long days spent in the concrete jungle.

Best for: preventing achy, tired feet

Smart phone

Your smartphone is truly an incredible device. Packed with more features than the average person needs, the savvy traveller will be able to put some of these regularly unused applications to use. Your phone will likely be your watch (to keep track of the time at your current location and back home), your camera, your map, your communication device and best of all, your gateway to plenty of great travel apps. These useful guides are usually condensed, geo-targeted versions of their printed counterparts and can help you find a restaurant, public hangout space and let you know what’s going on in the city that evening. Many are free to download.

Best for: staying up-to-date and connected

Instant camera

Cameras that capture your image and instantly produce a print are often referred to as Polaroid cameras after the corporation inextricably linked to the popularization of instant photography. An instant camera uses film that contains additional layers with the chemicals needed to develop your photo on the spot. These types of cameras are perfect for instant gratification and an excellent way to provide newfound travel friends with a memento of your time together.

Best for: developing photos instantly and on the spot

Travel router

Most of us travel with multiple electronic devices that require an internet connection. Instead of spending time connecting all of these gadgets to the hotel Wi-Fi, you can simply connect one thing: your mobile router. Mobile routers act as a travelling home network since they operate in similar fashion to your router at home and can be saved as a known network across all of your devices.

Best for: travelling with multiple devices; sharing one paid internet connection

Travelling with the Elderly or Disabled

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Knee walker

Used as an alternative to crutches for those with lower leg impairments or injuries, a knee walker is cited as being more comfortable and allows for greater independence than crutches. One can travel greater distances with less strain on the upper body and some knee walkers also have the added benefit of a basket to carry your possessions.

Best for: weight-bearing relief for those with lower leg injuries

Wheelchair

For those unfamiliar with wheelchairs, these assistive devices come in many shapes, sizes and designs for various occasions. There are portable travel chairs that are foldable, made from lightweight materials and feature smaller wheels.

Best for: when walking is difficult or impossible

Travelling with children

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Travel high chair

Bringing your own seating for your baby can make your dining experiences away from home more enjoyable, more sanitary and safer. You may not be able to rely on the condition of the restaurant’s high chairs or booster seats. If you forget all of your research when buying your child’s travel seating, just remember to select an apparatus that puts safety first. Other considerations may include its footprint (to accommodate for the various sizes of different spaces) and portability. The four main types of portable seating for babies are travel high chairs, booster seats, fabric seat harnesses and clamp-on seats.

Best for: ensuring your travel dining experience with baby is safe and enjoyable

Travel crib

Like most baby products, safety should be at the top of the list when comparing travel cribs. Travel cribs are different from portable cribs in that they include a mattress, are often compact and light enough to carry onto a plane and usually not designed to double as a playpen. Depending on your priorities, either a travel crib or portable crib may be best.

Best for: having a light and portable sleeping arrangement for your baby

Travel car seat

Depending on your child’s age and weight, you may need either a booster seat which allows for proper lap and shoulder use of a seat belt or a car seat with its own securing mechanisms. Some travel car seats include a foldable cart that allows parents to easily push their car seat at the airport or over short distances.

Best for: ensuring your child travels safely in a variety of vehicles

Travel stroller

Compact and lightweight are the top considerations for most parents looking to purchase a travel stroller. The marketplace is filled with products that offer a range of features but specifically for travel, you may be interested in those with larger wheels to navigate various terrains, versions that are car seat compatible or adaptable (for versatility) and strollers that offer a fully reclining seat as you may need your child to sleep during a full day outing, long layovers etc.

Best for: taking your child out on your adventure with you

15 practical travel tips

1. Less is more

Resist the urge to take everything you initially feel you need. Lay out everything you wish to take with you and then trim the fat. Think: do I really need this? Will it be impossible to pick up a replacement if I find I really do need it? Of course, being prepared is a smart move if you are travelling into a remote region where supplies will be hard to come by. The benefits to packing lighter? More room for souvenirs you’ll inevitably buy, saving on potential extra baggage fees and if you’re able to only carry-on, foregoing the need to check baggage and thereby, spending less time waiting in the airport.

2. Always pack a sleep mask and ear plugs

You never know when you’ll need to sleep in less than optimal scenarios. Smart travellers know how to pack small items that pack a lot of punch. The winning combination of a sleep mark and ear plugs can turn a noisy airport terminal into the location of your next great snooze. Especially when traveling, don’t underestimate the power of being rested and its impact on your mood and decision-making ability.

3. Stay hydrated

For most of us, we don’t think about drinking enough water in our daily lives as we have built this habitual behaviour into our routines without much thought. When you’re travelling however, you may have to consciously remember to drink enough water. Staying hydrated is especially important in hot weather but it also keeps appetite at bay and helps keep your mind sharp and alert. In addition, drinking enough water while travelling can keep your immune system strong and avoid the airplane cold. One key way to getting enough water is bringing along a reuseable water bottle.

4. Wear a hat

The sun is draining. There’s nothing like sun or heatstroke to put a damper on your adventures. Avoid that possibility by packing and actually wearing a hat when you’re out in the sun. With a large spectrum of sunsmart and stylish options, you’ll be sure to find something that suits your style, the occasion and your budget.

5. Bring a travel guide book

Guide books are incredibly handy in almost all travel situations. Whether you’re in town for a few days or a few months, are travelling alone or with your best friends, there are several reputable publications written by seasoned travellers to help you make the most of your time in a new place. Often filled with historical references, a social backgrounder, museum-guide worthy storytelling and recommendations for everything from shopping, eating and things to see and do, a travel guide is a worthwhile investment. You can also lend it to friends down the road.

6. Don’t hang around the bus station

Trust the locals on this one. While this tip may be more relevant in third world countries, if the locals in your town dispense this advice, best to take heed. In many towns and cities around the globe, the bus station is often in a seedy part of town and the location for petty, sometimes violent crime. If this is the case in the town you’re visiting, try to avoid staying in nearby accommodation and avoid walking alone at night in this part of town.

7. Always keep an eye on your belongings

It’s easy to fall in love with a new place and feel instantly at ease. The reality is that no matter where you are in the world, there are crooked individuals on the lookout for tourists who drop their guard and make a mistake. Instead of saving a table or seat with your bag, don’t. Keep your belongings with you at all times or secure at your hostel or place of accommodation. This becomes more of a pain when you’re travelling alone but the price of losing your valuables is not worth the benefit.

8. Be confident and stay alert

While the ink of tip #7 is still drying, it’s also important to travel confidently and don’t be afraid to explore. Make eye contact with people, take note of your surroundings while enjoying them and stay alert. People who might otherwise do you harm may have a harder time doing so if you appear as though you belong in the neighbourhood, move with purpose and your eyes let them know you see them. As an added precaution, you may choose to carry your backpack under one arm or carry your cross-body purse near the front.

9. Give yourself extra time

This tip actually applies to your overall expectations of the trip. Understand that everything takes a little more time when you’re travelling. Unfamiliar surroundings to navigate, time to enjoy the scenery and sometimes, new money to figure out. The sooner you accept that you’ll probably get lost at some point, the better. It’s always better to build in extra time to reduce the stress that comes with rushing, running late and the setting sun when you’re trying to set up camp in the woods.

10. Pack your gear dry

When you come home after a long trip, you may be tempted to just relax and reflect. Just make sure you clean, air out and ensure your gear is dry before storing it away. This is especially relevant for camping gear as for example, packing away a damp tent can lead to a permanent, unpleasant odour and even mold or mildew. Taking a few extra moments when you get home to take care of your gear will prolong the lifetime of your investment.

11. Be open

One of the simplest ways to make the most of your travels is to be open to new situations and say yes. If you’re travelling alone, stay in a hostel so you can meet fellow travellers and make new friends. Most people like to share their travel plans with others so it’s a great way to learn about attractions and activities that you might otherwise not have known about. You may even find yourself travelling with like-minded people for the day or longer. New experiences and friends are always out there; you just have to be open to the possibility.

12. Keep mementos

Take photos, jot down notes in a travel journal and keep those museum tickets. These are all good techniques to remembering your travels and the things you experienced and felt after you’ve returned home. Even if you don’t think you’re a sentimental person, chances are low that you’ll think capturing your travels were a waste of time. It’s better to have the mementos and discard of them later than to regret not having any at all.

13. Know the rules

Some rules are made to be broken but in the case of air travel, the rules are unwaveringly rigid. Before you leave home, make sure you know what you can and cannot take on board with you and the list of things that are never allowed to travel with you. Similar logic applies to some attractions as museums and holy sites.

14. Learn the local language

Conversing with locals is an easy and extremely pleasant way to get to know a new place and its culture. Save for a few exceptions, most people appreciate travellers who take the time to learn their language and are more likely to offer help if they can communicate with you. Being immersed in a foreign language is one of the best ways to learn so why not take advantage of your situation.

15. Have fun!

Remember that travel is a luxury and enjoy it. Live in the moment and try to leave your everyday worries behind at home. Follow your impulses and instincts to do what you want. Even if you think you’ll return in the future, don’t delay visiting any attractions or doing something you want to do. You never know what the future holds and how time can change any given location. Here’s to your next adventure!

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