Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
The average person will spend $1,200 on travel per year—or up to 9 percent of their household budget. That number includes expenses like plane tickets, transportation, food, and lodging, which means there’s not a lot of cash left over to go crazy on gear.
That’s why I decided to do a little experiment this summer to see what items qualified as a true travel essential and that, as such, warranted a bigger investment. These are the five products I came up with.
A Good Suitcase
A good suitcase is one of the best travel investments I’ve made. If you’ve ever looked outside the window of a plane and seen the crew chucking bags around, you know what I mean. You will pay more for hard-sided luggage, but it will be worth your investment when it comes to protected belongings.
Young companies like Away have soared onto the luggage scene, thanks in part to their Instagram-worthy looks and slick technical features. Then, of course, there are the kings of suitcase brands, like Delsey, Samsonite, Travelpro, and Tumi. Here are a few tips of mine for choosing the right luggage to meet your travel needs:
- Buy a color that is anything other than black. Everyone seems to have a black suitcase, so it’s really easy to get them confused. If you’re going to buy a black suitcase, put some sort of distinguishable feature, like a sticker or a bow, on your bag.
- Consider your travel needs. Do your research before you hit the buy-now button. There are lots of sizes and dimensions, depending on whether you prefer to carry on or stow your luggage.
- Plan to spend at least $200. I have not found a suitcase that lasts for more than a few years or protects my stuff for less than this.
A Memory-Foam Pillow
If you’ve ever fallen asleep on a plane only to wake up with the most horrific neck pain, then you’re a good candidate for a memory-foam travel pillow. Every time I travel to Europe, I somehow pick the seat that doesn’t seem to recline properly or has a headrest that feels like it swallowed a rock.
While a memory-foam travel pillow is not necessarily a blow-your-budget item, it will seriously change your travel life to get a decent one. I’ve tried many different pillows over the years and even committed the cardinal sin of buying an overpriced pillow in the airport. The best one I’ve found is the Cabeau Evolution S3 ($40).
Not all travel pillows are created equal. Expect to spend somewhere between $24 and $50 for a good-quality memory-foam pillow. Also make sure you buy your pillow from a place that allows returns if it doesn’t feel right on your neck. Comfort is key.
Here’s the thing: travel insurance is cheap compared to the price of your trip. You should expect to spend anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of the purchase price of your trip. So if your trip costs $3,000, you should expect to spend around $120 to $300 for a travel-insurance policy. Seems worth it to me.
Travel-insurance policies cover things like trip interruption, trip delay, and lost baggage. They can also cover medical emergencies, including everything from a checkup to an ER visit. Some plans even cover medical-evacuation costs.
Do your research before you choose a travel-insurance policy to make sure you know what you’re paying for. Some plans exclude preexisting issues, like pregnancy, from their policies. Here are my go-to websites when I’m shopping for travel insurance.
A Collapsible Water Bottle
Stop buying throwaway plastic bottles; not only are they bad for the environment, but they’re expensive to replace at every airport and hotel.
Many airports now offer clean water dispensers where you can easily fill up your water bottle preflight. When I began looking for a water bottle worth my money, I knew I needed one that was collapsible, portable, leakproof, made of BPA-free plastic, and could easily fit in my backpack or purse.
Whether your definition of adventure is glamping for a night or you’re a serious adventurer who plans to go far into the backcountry, you need a good travel backpack. This can be a big chunk of your travel-item budget; however, there are many different makes and models for you to choose from. When I was searching for my perfect bag, I considered a few features to be important:
- A laptop compartment
- A cord pass-through for headphones
- A bottle pocket
- Durable, waterproof fabric
I came across a few contenders that had most or all of these key features.
I ended up purchasing the Nomatic Travel Bag and can say that it’s living up to its expectations.