Don’t buy the fear that some travel-goods makers are selling

The average travel goods catalog makes most of its product pitches based on raising your fears, then handily offering safety in exchange for unnecessary and often-overpriced goods.

Are you really at such high risk of being caught in a hotel fire that carrying a smoke hood makes sense? Are so many travelers having their purses slashed open that shelling out $200 for one reinforced with steel mesh is a good buy? Is the news awash in tales of adventurers killed by toothbrush bacteria, leading the CDC to recommend an $11 antibacterial cap? No, no and no.

Most trips just aren’t that risky. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Here are five free ways to solve or avoid some actual common travel problems.

1) Leave nonessentials at home: In other words: Clean out your wallet. You don’t need your Social Security card, your store loyalty cards, your work ID badge or most of the rest of what’s in there. Strip it down to your photo ID, a couple of credit cards, your insurance cards and a few business cards. Leave the rest home, where it can’t be lost or stolen.

2) Don’t outsmart yourself: Say you’re walking around far from home with no identification in your pocket. How will you prove who you are to an officer? If your cash is all locked up in the room, how will you pay for dinner when your credit card gets caught in an international-use glitch?

3) Don’t trust yourself: Being rapidly flung around the planet is discombobulating. You’ve probably lost sleep and are definitely out of your element. So don’t rely on your memory. Are you headed for the Marriott Park Place or the Marriott Park Point? Are you supposed to be going to Heathrow or London City or Gatwick airport? Are you sure? Write down vital information or keep track of it with your smartphone.

4) Keep an eye on your stuff: Both times my husband and I have been victims of petty road crime (pickpockets), we were to blame. Not to blame for the crime, but for being easy marks. We know how to avoid pickpockets and simply didn’t use that knowledge. Expensive lessons learned (but still not as expensive as those fancy anti-theft devices the industry is trying to sell you). And never turn your back on your luggage, which is easier when you pack light — one bag per traveler.

5) Take care of yourself: Staying healthy on the road is much like staying healthy at home. Sleep enough, drink enough water, watch your step, eat reasonable meals and drink responsibly. No charcoal filter face mask needed ($22.85, for real).

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Lisa Schwarz

About Lisa Schwarz

By day, I'm a St. Cloud Times editor guiding coverage of politics, government, public safety and business beats. By night, I'm leading the cubicle jailbreak as the Times Traveler. Follow me on Twitter at and on Facebook at
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