Red suitcase

Photo by chispita_666

You know that feeling of opening up your closet, staring blankly at the mounds of clothes and thinking, “oh, my god, I have nothing to wear”?

Okay, okay… ladies, you know what I mean?

Well for some reason, that feeling only seems to magnify when you’ve got a vacation looming.

After all, you’re going somewhere new and exotic and nothing you own feels appropriate. You have to go shopping for some new stuff, right?

The way I see it, the answer is both yes and no.

In deciding whether you need to invest in new gear for your trip, you need to first step back and consider what kind of travel you’re about to do.

If your upcoming trip is brief and mostly leisurely – say a one-week luxury beach vacation in Hawaii – you probably don’t need to go out and buy more stuff (you’ll likely want to shop while on vacation anyway!).

But, if you’re on a longer trip, are an adventure traveler, or need to pack extremely lightly, it’s worth putting a bit of thought into what you take. After all, when heading to remote destinations or putting a lot of strain on your belongings (or body, for that matter) you want to make sure that what you’ve packed will hold up to the abuse.

Clothes are often the first thing many people (women in particular – I know I’m guilty) think about when it comes to pre-trip shopping. But the reality is that unless you’re an extremely unusual size, clothes can be found and purchased all over the world, and what you can buy in your destination is probably better suited for that climate and culture than what you would have bought back home (it’s often cheaper too). Not to mention the fact that clothes tend to wear out on longer trips and have to be replaced anyway. So barring specialty clothing, or a few key items (see below), clothing wouldn’t be my first choice for investing your dollars.

With that in mind, here’s my list of the travel gear that I think is worth putting some real thought and money into:

1. Backpack. A good backpack can make an incredible difference in how heavy or light your belongings feel, just by the way the bag disperses weight and where it places that weight on your body. If you have any back injuries, or are susceptible to them, it’s even more critical to choose your bag carefully. This is one item you’ll use over and over again, so don’t settle for something that’s likely to end up ripping or breaking a strap halfway through your journey.

2. Shoes. No matter what kind of holiday you’re going on, prepare yourself for a lot of walking, and for goodness sake, invest in good shoes! I can’t stress enough how much less miserable you’ll be if your feet are comfortable, so take the time to research, purchase and break in a good pair of shoes before you leave home. Look for sturdy shoes with a thick outsole, good grip, breathability, arch support if you need it, and waterproofing if possible. Of course if you plan on doing any trekking or hiking you’ll have other considerations to factor in as well, like ankle support, construction and weight. I think it’s really important to get this one right, because if your shoes end up hurting your feet unbearably or falling apart during your trip, finding a replacement abroad might prove impossible – especially if you have particularly large feet, a limited budget or are searching for quality shoes.

3. Jacket/coat. Longer-term travelers generally travel with just one jacket or coat, which means it has to be all things for all situations. It’ll need to be warm enough for the coldest of climates you’ll encounter; lightweight and easily packable so it can go into your luggage when you hit the warmer destinations; a neutral color so you can wear it over and over again without looking strange (unless you don’t care what others think, in which case, good for you); casual enough for day-to-day wear but dressy enough to be worn to a non-formal evening out; and easy to layer (some people have jackets with a fleece and wind-proof shell that can be worn zipped together or separately, for example).

4. Camera. It’s not always practical to bring home heavy or bulky souvenirs from your travels, but without a doubt, the best souvenirs you’re likely to collect anyway are your photos. Therefore, it’s imperative to purchase the kind of camera that best suits you and the kind of travel you typically do. If you know you’ll be putting your camera through the wringer because you do a lot of adventure sports or are just plain clumsy, pick a camera that’s waterproof and rugged enough to withstand being dropped. If you’re going on safari, make sure you bring a telephoto lens. For those who plan on diving or snorkeling, underwater housing for the camera can be a good investment. Either way, pick a camera you love and that works for your photo-taking ability and traveling lifestyle, because replacing a camera on the road – or replacing blurry photos after the fact – is not always possible.

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, and if you check out my gear posts, you’ll see there are a million things you could spend your money on during a pre-trip binge. Specialty travelers for example, will no doubt want to investigate things like moisture-wicking socks, or other quick-dry travel clothing – and while those things are useful for general travelers too, they’re by no means absolutely necessary.

So, as your pre-trip excitement builds and you get that urge to go out and buy something for your vacation, I definitely recommend investing in the four products above first. Save the non-essentials, like the personal airline seat cover or this uber-attractive wearable sleeping bag, for later.

What do you think? Are there other products you recommend splurging on? Have you traveled with something cheap or poorly made and ended up regretting it?