Sure, you could shell out $400 for a Tumi or Osprey bag. Because that’s the only way to prove that you’re serious about travel. Well, at the very least, you’ll look stylish.
Traveling is about learning that less is more; although truth be told, certain tools can make your life a whole lot easier. I’ve gone through periods of time where I would have given Lonely Planet’s Shoestring Guide a serious run for its money and times where I’ve happily dined breakfast at The Peninsula Hong Kong. Sometimes, there are a lot of different ways to achieve the same purpose.
I try to take the same approach when I’m reviewing a piece of gear. There is no ‘best’ anything: different products will have different aims. Instead, I try to focus on a few key universal factors which are based on how practical a product is. ‘Practical’ doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘the best,’ ‘the most expensive,’ or the most ‘beautiful-looking.’ Kudos if it happens to be some of those things.
(The ‘best’ product may not be the most compact. It could do its intended function the best but be the least compact, thus making it impractical. Likewise, it could be four times the price of another similarly designed product that does the job three-quarters as well. There's the argument that ‘the best’ would encompass all of these considerations; but a lot of reviews tend to fail to account for the actual annoying act of traveling.)
Usually, there are a few basic principles I take into account when I review a product. The first thing I usually consider is the device’s footprint and weight, because this is single-handedly the most important thing for packing light. In my review of the Kindle Paperwhite, I quickly explained what this is:
A device’s weight is pretty self-explanatory: the lighter you pack, the more mobile you’ll be. A device’s footprint, however, is not something everyone always thinks about. It is quite literally:
The surface space [and volume] occupied by a structure or device when laid flat.
Therefore, a gadget’s dimensions (particularly the length and width) play a huge role in how much space you can save in your luggage. This is particularly important when you’re trying to maximize available packing space in your bag. Thinness, while sexy, isn’t necessarily the biggest selling point here.
The product’s design and functionality is another consideration. How easy is it to use? How well does it do its intended function? Does it annoy me? Someone once showed me a $20 Japanese travel adapter he swore by. It looked like a swastika on crack. I played with it for about 10 minutes and still couldn’t figure it out. In the end, I just wasted a lot of time for a whole lot of nothing.
Then there’s that whole money thing. Those who travel for business will have a lot less flexibility, in an effort to keep up appearances. You just don’t have a whole lot of choice there but I try to approach each product with the idea that I’m spending my hard-earned money. (Actually, for just about all of these reviews, I did; I’ll let you know when a company sends us something.)
Every extra dollar I funnel into buying a $25 travel adapter is another dollar that I lose out on another trip, another experience. In fact, sometimes the knockoff, non-brand version—which I’ve bought at a fraction of the cost in some second-world country—sometimes wins out over the branded version. I still long for a collapsible backpack I picked up in Shenzhen for one dollar: it could literally fold up into the size of a dollar coin. It also made my $30 REI collapsible daypack look like an asteroid.
The other thing to consider its that sometimes it’s better to pick up particular products when you go abroad instead of buying them at home. This should be obvious: imported items are always going to cost more and you’re probably gonna go to some of these other places, no? Don't shop overseas for stuff made at home. Buy American products in the States. Buy Japanese or Asian products in Asia. When do you think I stock up on my Muji travel gear?
The durability issue is integral, as well as the price point-to-value ratio. Obviously, my expectations are going to be a lot different when I spend $1 on something versus $450 on something else. People can be funny about money, especially when it’s their own dime. Nothing beats putting pedal to the metal and seeing how a product holds up in real time — even if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations sometimes. You've got to beat it around a little bit to see how it holds up.
Remember, the question, you want to be asking yourself is this: what will help me get from point A to point B, with the least amount of hassle? Cause that’s what it’s really all about.
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Some people argue that this creates a bias toward reviewing products, but you may want to check out some arguments regarding affiliate marketing programs versus traditional advertising first. There’s also no real incentive for us to recommend something that sucks: if you buy something and return it, we make nothing from it.