6 essential travel accessories

There is a multitude of travel accessories on the market. What do you really need and what should you look for? We’ve got some advice.

Eye mask
You can’t control the sun or lighting conditions on a flight, but you can still give your eyes a much-needed break. An eye mask can dull the light or block it out completely to help you sleep or give your eyes a rest.

Choose a fabric and weight that suit your preferences. Lighter versions of this product allow some light in, especially around the bridge of the noise. If you like complete darkness or suffer from headaches, try a thicker padded version instead.

Earplugs can be a boon on long flights or train rides, and can help restless sleepers block out the noise in unfamiliar hotel rooms. Not to worry: most earplugs dull noise but don’t completely block it out. You will still be able to hear an alarm or someone speaking to you.

Before you travel, try out some different types to see which will be most comfortable. Many prefer the cone-shaped, orange-coloured variety readily available in drug stores. They are inexpensive to purchase but easy to lose, so bring some spares.

If you have sensitive ears, a product called Earplanes can help reduce the effect of pressure changes on flights. They come in both adult and children’s sizes and are also available online or through a travel store.

If you’re traveling with a small appliance such as a battery charger or other electronic device, you’ll need to compensate for the fact that other countries use different plugs and voltages. Converters and transformers change over the flow of the electricity from 110V to 220V. What’s the difference? You’ll need a converter for an electric device like a hair dryer. Electronic devices such as a CD player that have a microchip or more advanced circuitry will require a transformer.

What to look for when you shop? If you’re purchasing new appliances, look for ones that have dual voltage as a feature – then all you will need is a plug. Your local store will have a master list of what’s needed for your destination. If you are traveling throughout Europe or visiting multiple countries, a more affordable option is to buy an adapter kit that contains all five plugs commonly used throughout the world.

Adapters can be found in most luggage and travel stores. If you’re looking to save money, try borrowing one from a friend.

Document holder
If you are flying and have layovers, a document holder will keep your boarding passes, passport and any other security documents you may be carrying together in one place. The holder can easily be slipped in your carry-on luggage and retrieved quickly if needed. For instance, security officials often require a doctor’s note for certain medications. You can make the security experience faster and easier by having this document at hand rather than rummaging through your bag.

If you only have a few documents, look for a holder with a couple of pockets to allow for some organization without confusion. Families with kids may want more compartments to keep each person’s documents separate. Both fabric and leather models can have a pocket on the outside to hold your boarding pass for convenient access.

Money belt
Many travellers face the challenge of where to keep their travel documents and cash when they’re on the road. Many countries require by law that passports, visas and other I.D. be carried at all times. However, tourists are often targeted for pick pocketing and theft, and many areas have cash-only economies.

While jewelry and other valuable items should be left at home or stored in a hotel safe, a money belt can discreetly hide under your clothes the things you don’t want people to know you are carrying – like a passport or credit card. It’s not meant for cash or other items you will need to access regularly.

When you hit the stores, look for a belt that is thin and light weight so it will lie as flat as possible under your clothes. Many packs now come with a moisture-wicking fabric backing to keep skin cool and dry. It’s also important to consider your travel wardrobe. Depending on your skin tone, lighter colours are easier to camouflage under your clothes. Ladies: beware that an around-the-neck version may show when you wear a lower-cut neckline. Don’t be afraid to try them on with some paper stuffed in the compartments.

Luggage security
Theft from luggage is a serious problem in airports across the globe, even in Canada and the U.S. The effectiveness of security devices is still debated, but you can discourage theft by preventing easy access to your luggage (we lock our cars and houses for much the same reason). You’ll also want to know if your luggage has been tampered with so you can report the crime and file a claim.

If you prefer to use a lock, don’t trust the ones that came with your luggage. They are easy to break and the keys are often interchangeable. Be aware that security may have to cut off locks for inspections, so consider a TSA-approved lock. Transportation Security Administration officials have a “master key” to open the locks rather than cutting them off if they need to inspect your bag. Not all airports have master keys, so you may want to carry a spare pair of locks in case your original ones are destroyed.

A less expensive option is disposable security tags or seals that hook through the zipper pulls. They are cheap to replace and you won’t need to worry about keys or combinations. One new product, Tell-Tag allows travellers to see if their zippers have been used to access the luggage or re-zip the bag after a breach.

Luggage straps and shrink wrapping services are also available. An additional advantage of the luggage strap is that it can make your luggage easily to spot and identify, and can be used to hold luggage together if a zipper breaks. Luggage wrapping can be done at the airport, but will need to be redone for each leg of your journey.

The best protection is to avoid packing jewelry or valuables in your checked luggage. Carry such items with you, or leave them at home. You can by-pass airport security and avoid the risk of a lost or stolen bag by shipping your bag to your destination ahead of time. There are many shipping services worth a second look.

Travel accessories are easy to find both in stores and online. The Internet makes it easy to compare costs, but watch out for shipping charges that can add to the price. Some items such as clothing and money belts may require a trip to the store first. Shop around for the best buys or borrow items from friends for extra savings.

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