Updated: May 30, 2019
Remember when it was Hawaiian shirts, khaki shorts and socks and sandals that were the dead tourist giveaways? Well, since then a new era of sarong, hiking sandal and money belt wearers have emerged, and the best way to describe these are as the new Hawaiian shirts. These days there is a much broader range of items that are dead tourist giveaways and they should be ditched for the very reason that all in all they aren't typical every items you would use at home and thus make you look like you are not at home a.k.a. a tourist and make you stand out more as a target. In optimal situations we are trying to 'blend in,' which doesn't necessarily mean looking like people from that place, more so it means looking like you're somewhat at home in that place. Additionally a disclaimer must be made as a lot of people worship these items and as life goes, do whatever floats your boat. Nevertheless I hope to dissuade you from the clichés and give you a fresher and more balanced outlook.
Things to ditch...
1. Ridiculously Sized Backpacks (and suitcases)
Now I won't harp on too long about minimalist travel and how much easier it is, but it is. Honestly I can't help but chuckle when I see people walking down the street with these crazy 70-80L hiking packs, particularly when they have those brightly coloured rain covers on. Three main reasons you don't need these a) you can do laundry b) you're probably not going into the wilderness and need heaps of camping gear and c) you look like someone could literally tip you like a turtle aka they make you overwhelmingly vulnerable. Now look, taller people can carry larger size packs while still maintaining dignity but still anything more than 55L-60L is unnecessary.
Before you gather your stones, hear me out. The number of times I have read the word 'sarong' on a recommended packing list or a top travel essentials post and the number of situations in which I have felt like I needed or wanted to buy said sarong are equivalent to about 100 to 0. Coming back to the whole minimalist travel thing, when you think about it sarongs just come to be an 'extra' or 'luxury' travel item, which you already have other items for the same use. For example as a 'beach cover-up,' you have clothes to cover up, as a scarf, a scarf that big is just ridiculous, as a beach towel, use your actual towel? As a blanket, towel can also be used as a blanket. Basically if you would wear a sarong to the beach at home then go for it, or if you're taking a 1 week beach vacation, also go for it. But as a modern traveller, there really is no need for it.
3. Travel Microfibre Towels
This brings me to my next item which is the beloved microfibre towel. It does do what its designed to do which is great however there are just better options out there like Turkish Towels, like this one from Mayde, that also have the same great qualities as their microfibre co-parts. Turkish Cotton Towels are equally super absorbent, quick drying, durable, lightweight and versatile. I've used mine many a time as a beach and bath towel, a blanket on a cold air conditioned bus and a picnic blanket in the park. I also found that as long as I dried it thoroughly, which of course doesn't take long, it lasted a while between washes. Also Turkish cotton towels come in an array of designs and colours and look more like the typical beach towel.
4. Hiking boots
This item is after all at your personal discretion but I would seriously reconsider taking them, unless you’re doing two or more hikes that specifically and definitely require hiking boots only, it doesn’t seem worth it to bring them for the weight and size that they are. You can find plenty of durable running/training shoes out there these days which do the job just fine. For example I hiked 6 hours up a volcano in Reebok Club C 85’s and although they weren’t hugely supportive or grippy I still did it, and maybe next time would pick some slightly more durable training sneakers but hiking boots were definitely not necessary. Also who likes walking around in clunky boots when you aren’t hiking?
5. Elephant Pants
Another beloved backpacker favourite, also know as aladdin pants, India pants etc. These cheap colourful pants are and always have been more of a novelty than a practicality or necessity for many people and one again fall into the extra item category. Also let me ask you when was the last time you saw any locals wearing said pants? Enough said.
6. Head lamp
Since the invention of the torch on smartphones many other forms of compact torches have become obsolete, including the head lamp. In this case unless you are doing special caving or hiking activity which requires you to use a head lamp then I would deem it an unnecessary item. They say they’re good for finding things in your bag at night, but have you every had someone turn around and shine it in your face and wake you up? Well I have, and it was just as bad as turning the whole room light on. Smart phone lights can also be a culprit of this but at least you can just pop them face down to quickly solve the problem.
7. Black leggings
I feel like this one is going to upset the loyalists more than the sarong but for me it’s really the same principle, do I wear them on an everyday basis? No. And if you do, good on you. I personally don’t find them comfortable or flattering, and I would most certainly never ‘wear them under a dress when in a colder or more conservative place’ or 'dress them up or down'. Instead get yourself some lighter linen pants for conservative places that have hand a lightweight pair of sweats for travel days and jeans for colder weather. Boom, sorted.
P.S. This also somewhat goes for other sports specific active wear that should be worn for activities like hiking not just because it’s hot outside. In parts of the world wearing activewear or gym gear is not the norm and it can be too casual for some places that have a dress code.
8. Travel specific gear
I’m looking at you ugly zip off pants. Again these clothes are made for specific activities like hiking and camping, where you don’t have the luxury of changing in a bathroom or doing laundry. If you’re walking around town or evening going on a boat trip for the day you do not need these (or should you want them). Opt for pants like I mentioned above. This also goes for hiking sandals, ‘I love wearing my hiking sandals out to bars for drinks’ said no one ever.
9. Sports bras
Onto something a little more general and less tourist specific, I know lots of people rave about sports bras and how comfortable they are and how they practically live in them, which is great. But personally I really don’t find them comfortable, because for me if I want them to be supportive then they have to be quite well fitted which means they dont actually feel comfortable for more than a few hours. So basically what I’m saying is that you don’t need three plus sports bras unless you want them, bring one if you know you’ll use it for high impact activity and then bring a comfortable bralette for lounging around in instead.
10. Money belt
Ah the highly debated money belt, equally loved and hated by travellers. This is a cliché travel item that should almost certainly be ditched. In terms of practicality it fails 75% due to its uncomfortable nature and visibility under tight tops, and then overtness when needed to be used. Imagine being in a crowded market place or an elegant European boutique and lifting up your shirt to retrieve your money, I don’t think you could look like any more of a tourist than that. Instead if you’re worried about petty theft, get a secure bag that blends in or a jacket with secure inner pockets, it’s much more inconspicuous than exposing your belly every time you want to pay.
11. DSLRs and other big cameras
Many people buy these large cameras before a trip and they end up taking up large amounts of space which could be avoided because most people don’t need these types of ‘professional’ cameras. Unless you’re job requires professional photography you don’t need a DSLR and you’re much better off just using your smart phone, which most take incredible pictures nowadays or some kind of compact digital camera. Again save yourself some time and effort and simplify your camera set up, and reduce your risk of theft.
Nevertheless there is definitely some cliche travel gear that should be embraced in order to travel simpler and smarter...
1. Thermals, fleeces and puffer jackets
The cold is no joke and no one is having fun when you’re freezing because you didn’t bring warm enough clothes. Pick whatever suits your style, thermal under layers, a cashmere sweater or a puffer vest, whichever cold weather gear you choose you’ll be thankful you did. Like this Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket.
2. Solid Toiletries
This trend has only come into focus as the age of sustainable living has evolved, but not only does it help the planet but it helps our wallets and carry-on baggage as well. Many companies these days are producing these products at an increasing rate. You can now get, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body butter, even face serum in solid form. I would do your research before buying but one company I love and use is Ethique, it’s a New Zealand company that makes all forms of skin, hair and body care in solid form. Another popular company is Lush, however until their recent release they used SLS in their shampoo bars, which is why I didn’t buy from them. Nevertheless there are plenty of countries out there and I would encourage you to look locally and find one that’s near you.
3. Packing cubes
I know a lot of people preach about packing cubes but it’s with good reason. When things are organised it makes everything that much simpler. If you have all your clothes in one and toiletries in their bag and tech gear it it’s own organiser you know where everything is and making it much easier to notice if something’s missing. They keep your sh*t together both literally and figuratively.
4. Hanging toiletry bags
This one is just something that comes in handy more than you know, it doesn’t have to be a ridiculously sized one just something small to organise your stuff. On the flip size, if you’re a minimalist traveller like me those typical hanging toiletry bags with the larger big open compartment are not really that useful unless you’re taking larger bottles of shampoo/conditioner etc, which I assume you won’t be if taking it carry on. Therefore maybe choose something with multiple smaller pockets that fit your items more ergonomically.
5. Miniature cosmetics
A plethora of your favourite makeup and skincare items come in mini sizes now, even your favourite Hoola bronzer. I’m not saying to go out and buy everything in mini, or hoard crazy amounts of samples you get, but if there are a few more luxury items (non-essentials) that you would love to bring those are the ones you should get. For example I love doing a face mask every now and again so a mini of the Glam Glow Supermud Cleansing Mask was perfect. It’s little things like this that help you stay sane that are totally worth the extra packaging.
6. Reusable water bottles
Just get one, so good for the plane and buses and everything, save some plastic and money and refill when you can. If you’re in a country where you can’t drink the tap water and your hostel doesn’t have a tank to fill up with, then try to buy one of those larger bottles which you can refil from. I found that when I did this I drank way more water than when buying smaller individual bottles.