Before going on a hiking trip through the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Balkans with her husband, contributing writer Margaret Magnus made a list of 15 must-have travel gear items for summer. After taking the trip and putting the gear to the test, she took a second look at how each item held up on the road. Keep reading to discover what she found, and what two additional items she needed.
The Travel Vest
Earlier I had recommended a travel vest (my husband and I used the Scottevest) as an easy and convenient way to carry and protect our valuables and other on-the-road necessities.
The travel vest was terrific. The ease and comfort made it a worthwhile gear investment. It was particularly useful when the weather was moderate to cool or cold.
However, when the weather was warm too hot, a vest was too much to wear. Instead, I suggest having alternatives to protect and carry valuables and must-have items on your daily sightseeing.
Before any trip, I pare down the essentials to: a passport, two credit cards, a bank card, my health card, a second ID or driver’s license, and cash.
Even with the vest, I separate my cash, IDs and credit cards: one set for easy access in my vest, and the second set in a money belt. My husband does the same, only with a money pouch.
This way, the items in the vest can be stored in zippered pockets (pants, shirts) or a small security purse (VaultPro, Pacsafe, Baggallini). Fortunately, I had tucked in a very small, cross-body bag to use instead of the vest which could also hold my glasses and mobile phone. My husband had sufficient zippered pockets in his pants and shirts.
We wore our sunglasses on a cord around our necks, and we had eyeglass cases that clipped to our belt loops. It was kind of nerdy but convenient.
One note—regardless of the weather, we wore the vest in transit from city to city. I have found nothing more convenient, hands-free, and lightweight for keeping everything accessible.
Before the trip, we purchased RFID blocking sleeves for our credit cards and passports. We chose this option over an RFID blocking wallet for greater flexibility. They were easy to use, whether we were carrying them in a vest, a purse, our pants pockets, or a money belt.
We’ll never know if they foiled a theft because nothing was stolen, which makes for a great trip.
Plastic bags proved the best way for organizing our documents by destination, for sorting clothes in our luggage, and for bringing home wet bathing suits after our last day of kayaking in Dubrovnik.
Yes, we needed an umbrella. But it only works if you are carrying it, and it is not sitting in your hotel room.
On the last day in Budapest, my husband said, “It’s going to rain.” I said, “No, it’s not.”After all, we’d had unseasonably warm weather, and I just couldn’t believe it would rain.
We didn’t take our umbrellas and, of course, it rained. As we stood there cowering under a partial awning, I envied those who had brought their umbrella and continued visiting the grounds of the BudaCastle. We headed back to our hotel at the first sign of a break in the weather—all the more maddening because we were prepared…sort of.
Before our trip, I decided not to buy an e-reader for myself. Next time, I’m only using an e-reader. I lugged too many books around for 28 days. I still recommend Longitude Books as a source for good travel books, I just hope they have electronic book options in the future.
Inflatable Foot Rest
Airline travel–particularly in coach–only gets more uncomfortable as time passes. The inflatable foot rest made sitting in a cramped space for the 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Zurich more bearable.
I was too cheap and too sentimental to retire my old daypack, which was a mistake. We went on an 11-day hiking trip in Montenegro, and I wished I’d thought this one through a little bit better.
Newer daypacks have ventilation, chest and hip belt or waist straps, a built-in rain fly, and features to better attach other gear (water bottles, hiking poles) to the outside. Even for city use, many of these features are definitely worth the investment.
The selling features on the collapsible water bottles were their weight and the small space they required in the suitcase of the daypack. We definitely used the water bottles on our hikes and on the train.
In a couple of the cities–Sarajevo and Dubrovnik–there were public fountains with excellent drinking water. During our walking tour in the heat of Dubrovnik, we joined the other tourists in refilling our water bottles at the fountain. We will take them again on future travels.
Swiss Army Knife
The Swiss Army Knife is still my sentimental favorite piece of travel gear. On this trip, the only time it was needed was during lunch on our Montenegro hiking trip. In the time it took me to remember that I hadn’t transferred it from my check-in luggage to my daypack, somebody else pulled out his knife and finished the task at hand.
Then, a discussion ensued about how many Swiss Army Knives had been lost to airline screening because hikers had forgotten to take them out of their daypacks before going through airline security. No problem if you’re traveling by train.
Laundry Soap Sheets & Other Aids
Somewhere around day eight, we lost the packet of laundry soap sheets (the only thing we did lose on the entire trip). Thus, I can’t truly assess their effectiveness.
Fortunately, my husband packed Campsuds concentrate, and we used that for the remainder of the trip.
We also found that we needed plastic hangers (or inflatable hangers) for drying out shirts and other items. Fortunately, I had brought one. Next time, I’ll bring a couple more. The hotels generally had wooden hangers, which aren’t the best option for wet clothing.
Also, we learned to start doing a little bit of laundry each day. That way, the laundry did not build up, and there was enough space in the bathroom to hang it all up to dry.
Our one adapter worked without a problem. However, I’m researching additional options for charging multiple devices simultaneously. If we wanted to charge the e-reader and the mobile phone or use a curling iron at the same time, one adapter wasn’t enough.
Hiking poles were an absolute necessity for us on the Montenegro trip. Obviously, the need for hiking poles will vary by destination and type of trip. But if you’re thinking of any type of day hike, take them along.
First Aid Kit
Fortunately, other than a couple of band aids, the first aid kit didn’t get a real test. We always take a first aid kit, because when we need a band aid, a low-level pain killer, or sinus medication, we won’t be near a store, it will be after hours, or we’ll be on an airplane or train.
Using the travel tray to hold our coins, keys, glasses, and mobile phone worked so well I’m thinking of getting an additional one so we can have “his” and “hers” trays.
Since we were hiking, the sock liners were absolutely necessary. I still recommend them for cold weather in the city to put under regular socks to keep my feet warmer. If we’re traveling where you have to take off your shoes to go into temples and shrines, I slip these on to avoid going barefoot.
A flashlight was not on my original list, but my husband insisted that we each take one. It was a good idea. He always carries a small key chain flashlight to use for reading menus in dimly light restaurants—it comes in handy more often than you would think.
I took a slightly larger flashlight. It was helpful when we were in a dark, unfamiliar hotel room and I wanted to get up in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to disturb my husband by turning on all the lights to see where I was going, but I did not want to stumble around in the dark. The flashlight by the nightstand was the answer. Plus, I had one in case of an emergency.
Luggage Tags with Itinerary
Years ago, I read somewhere to tape your travel itinerary to the inside of your suitcase. That way, if your luggage is lost, you can be located during the trip. I followed this advice until I found Magellan’s Retriever Tags. This vinyl luggage tag invites baggage agents (in eight languages) to read the itinerary I have put inside the luggage tag. We did not lose our luggage, but we had a backup plan.
For more can’t-miss travel gear items, check out:
- 11 Best Traveler Tested & Approved Travel Pillows
- Must-Have Gadgets That Improve Coach Seats
- How To Pickpocket Proof Yourself This Summer
By Margaret Magnus for PeterGreenberg.com