There are so many gadgets out there that claim they will "make traveling easier". While some of these things are so helpful, there are many that are just a waste of space and not worth the price tag!
Since your luggage space and money for traveling is very precious, it's important to know what's worth getting - and what's totally not - while you're preparing for your trip. Luckily for you, we have traveled A LOT and are willing to share all of our tips.
Are you debating whether you want to volunteer abroad for a semester? Check out what a day in the life of an ILP volunteer looks like. Warning -- it'll probably convince you to go!
Travel items that are NOT worth it
- Luggage Tags
- Passport Covers
- Portable Straighteners/Dryers
- Travel Pillow (not to be confused with a neck pillow)
- Packing Cubes
- Travel Books
- Travel Sized Umbrella
- Travel Sized Steamer
Don't waste your money. Luggage tags are notorious for falling off in all the hustle and bustle of switching planes. You can easily just get the paper ones at the airport supplied by your airline (where you check in at the kiosks — they attach via an elastic loop. And speaking honestly? I've have the same paper tags on for a couple of years, while my purchase luggage tag got lost the very first flight I took it on. Go figure.)
Did you know that most airlines don't really even look at the luggage tag? Those long stickers that they print out and put on your bag is really what matters - they have an image that can be scanned so that your bag can be tracked if it gets lost. They'll always look for that first, not your luggage tag.
Passport covers are cute, we totally get it, but they are not necessary. As long as your passport stays safe and protected you'll be fine without one.
You may have heard not to bring your straightener or blow dryer from home, but you may be wondering about the little tiny ones that are supposed to work anywhere in the world. I hate to say it, but they're totally a waste of money and suitcase space. They are compact and would save you more space than your normal straightener and hair dryer, but they don't work very well (it takes me 4 times as long to do my hair with a travel sized straightener versus a regular one).
If you're worried about your hair while you're traveling abroad, just invest in a straightener or dryer once you get there. It will save you money and time (and maybe hair) not trying to use one that is meant to be used in the US.
Or ... just go natural while you're traveling! Trust me, it's so nice to take a break from worrying about what your hair looks like every day. Just let it air dry, braid it, put on a cap, or let your curls hang loose and go.
A travel pillow is a tiny version of the pillow you use at home. Some ILP volunteers have brought travel pillows to use as their normal pillows on their semester. Just so you know, you almost never need a pillow -- your ILP school provides them, most hostel, hotels and Airbnbs provide them, so you're set! If you absolutely hate the pillow you're provided wherever you're staying you can always run to the store and purchase one as a backup (and that will work so much better than a travel pillow). Save money and space and leave them at home. Bring a neck pillow though — they really are lifesavers.
Ever heard of a packing cube? It's essentially little bags of different sizes with compartments to help you organize everything in your suitcase. It's pretty handy if you want to know where everything is at a quick glance. Some people swear by them, and others are fine without, so this is a bit of a controversial topic.
If you love organization, you may want to invest in some, but they are not necessary. In a pinch, I've used large multi-gallon Ziplocks to achieve the same thing (but these are very loud and obnoxious to use in hostels - don't be that person who wakes up the whole room by zipping and unzipping your Ziplocks!) If you're okay with packing light and have a less-organized bag, you can save and skip the packing cubes.
You know those big thick travel guide books that tell you the best places to eat, sleep, and play in whichever country you're in? Don't waste your money on those because there's a little some thing called the internet and you've also got the ILP blog for travel tips. Those two sources will give you WAY more relevant information that travel book will, you won't have to lug around a heavy, bulky book in your backpack, and the best part is they're free.
Unless you're going somewhere like Thailand or Costa Rica during the rainy season, leave the umbrellas at home. Umbrellas are one of those things that will likely sit in your suitcase unused. If it does rain while you're abroad and you feel like it's actually worth it for your destination, they are cheap and easy to find all over the city.
We think a better pick is a rainproof jacket or pull over instead of an umbrella.
Many people worry about their clothes getting wrinkled in their suitcase, especially nicer items, which is valid ... but don't waste your money on a travel-sized steamer.
Unless you're bringing suits and fancy wear -- do not bring a steamer. Get some Downy wrinkle release and you'll be good to go. Unpack as soon as you get there and let your clothes hang up for a while to help release wrinkles. You can also hang up wrinkly clothes in the bathroom while you take a hot shower to help "steam" things out.
Now that you know what not to bring, you may be wondering what you should actually bring or just buy there. We can help you out there too!
Are you ready to apply to be an ILP volunteer? Click that button below and get started. Not only is the application easy, you'll also have an ILP representative walk you through the whole process!