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Travel Gear You Don't Really Need (Trust Us)

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If you’re an optimistic traveler, you breeze into the airport with everything you need in a single carryon. If you’re a pessimistic packer, you stuff your suitcase with gear for every kind of emergency, from piranhas to pickpockets. Both kinds of traveler love travel gear that promises to make traveling easier, safer and smarter — but do you really need an RFID wallet or smart suitcase? Here are four kinds of travel gear you can safely leave at home.

RFID-Blocking Wallet

It’s bad enough that you have to worry about traditional pickpockets and thieves when you’re abroad; now there’s also the threat of RFID skimmers. These are bad guys who use electronic devices to steal your credit card or personal information remotely, via the embedded radio frequency identification (or RFID) chip in your credit card or wallet. To foil them, travel gear companies sell all kinds of RFID-blocking wallets, bags and even pants.

But this may be a manufactured threat. For one thing, your credit card probably doesn’t have an RFID chip. Less than 1 percent of them do, says security expert Roger A. Grimes (the little golden metallic square on your new credit card does not indicate RFID, he explains). “I’ve yet to hear of one criminal who was caught using an RFID sniffer or who admitted to stealing credit card info wirelessly,” Grime says. As for your passport, the only information anyone could lift is innocuous details like your name and country of origin, Slate reports.1

You might actually need this travel gear if… You know you carry RFID cards and you want that extra peace of mind — but know that keeping your credit cards in an Altoids tin works just as well.

Electronic Translator

Once upon a time, electronic translators seemed like the coolest travel tech out there. A little gray gizmo that could tell you how to say “I’d like the house wine, please” in 36 different languages? Sweet! But the limitations of this travel tech soon become apparent: a clunky interface, garbled audio and a high price tag. Smartphone translation apps, like iTranslate, do a better job for much less, although some don’t work offline.

You might actually need this travel gear if… You’re planning to spend extensive time traveling in a country where using a smartphone (and charging it) may not be feasible. Let’s say you’re on a mission trip in the mountains of Peru, or you’re trekking in Mongolia. An electronic translator may help you pick up some of the local language, and it can stay charged for weeks.

Solar Phone Charger

It sounds like a brilliant idea: When you’re traveling and you don’t have time to plug in your phone, just set your solar phone charger in the sun and zooop, your phone’s good to go again. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. While portable solar chargers are improving all the time, they still have some pretty significant limitations. It may take four to 16 hours of sun to fully charge a storage battery and/or the device itself.2 The smaller the panel, the longer the charging process. You’re better off buying a portable charger or external battery for your phone.

You might actually need this travel gear if… You’ll be traveling off the grid for an extended period of time and you anticipate having enough time — and sun — to use a solar charger.

Smart Luggage

Smart luggage began with a simple concept: embedded tech that could track your suitcase’s location in case it gets lost or stolen. Then, manufacturers began trying to outdo each other by adding more and more features: built-in batteries to charge devices, biometric locks, proximity alerts and even built-in speakers. Do you really need your suitcase to be a travel tech center on wheels? If you have $500 to spend on luggage, you may be better off investing in a high-quality standard suitcase that will last.

You might actually need this travel gear if… You’ve had your bag lost or stolen a few times before and you just don’t trust the airlines to retrieve it safely. Just remember that smart luggage isn’t enough on its own; you need travel insurance that includes coverage for baggage theft, loss or damage. Get a quote for affordable travel insurance today. Travel happy!

Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.

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