Worn Passport
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The Five Most Useless Travel Products?

“T ravel gadgets. Some are truly useful, but most of the time, many so-called ‘must have’ items get lost at the bottom of my carry-on, left in a drawer, or just tossed out.”

The above statement is what starts this article written by Chris McGinnis of TravelSkills in which he listed the five most useless travel products, in his opinion — but do you agree with him?

The travel products he mentioned are listed below — along with my comments…

1. Neck Pillows

“The paper-thin, questionably clean white rectangles that airlines pass off as pillows are not the greatest.” This statement — especially the “questionably clean” part — reminds me of this now-classic discussion pertaining to the pillows of one particular airline posted on FlyerTalk.

Although you will never catch me carrying a neck pillow with me due to their bulk and the fact that I prefer to carry as little as possible when I travel, I disagree that “those cushy, or inflatable neck pillows you see stuffed into (or tied onto) carry-on bags serve little purpose other than to identify the user as a novice traveler.” Some people simply find that they are more comfortable — which, of course, helps the flight become significantly more pleasant.

Awaiting me in my seat is a blanket, headphones, an amenity kit, and a pillow which you are encouraged to tear up that middle slot so that you may wear the pillow around your neck. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Awaiting me in my seat is a blanket, headphones, an amenity kit, and a pillow which you are encouraged to tear up that middle slot so that you may wear the pillow around your neck. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Then again, if you happen to travel as a passenger seated in the economy class cabin of Etihad Airways, you will be greeted with — amongst other items — a pillow which can be used as either a regular pillow or a neck pillow when you arrive at your seat, as I discovered on my first flight as a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Etihad Airways. I would personally like to see more airlines adopt this idea.

2. Passport Covers

“Passport covers serve no real purpose. Does a passport really need that much protection?”

Despite my passport showing definite signs of wear and tear with the way the cover is fraying — as evidenced by the photograph of the front and back of my passport shown at the top of this article — I have no interest in purchasing a cover for it.

For me, that wear and tear — along with all of the stamps on the pages inside — is part of the story of my travels. If my well-worn passport looked shiny and brand new in appearance, the extent of my travels would not be as believable; but hey — that is simply my humble opinion.

“The covers only delay you when approaching the airline check-in counter or immigration desk (or kiosk) since they must be removed for scanning.” I have no reason to doubt that that statement is true; and it is a good point to consider. Travel is better when it is done as unencumbered as possible — even regarding something as minor as a delay due to a cover on a passport. Those little irritations do add up towards potentially degrading the overall travel experience…

3. Bulky Headphones

“You won’t find too many truly frequent travelers toting, or worse, wearing, those oversized, bulky headphones that seem to be all the rage these days. Their biggest drawback is that they are so difficult to pack. And they get in the way and bang into things when wearing them in small enclosed spaces like airplane cabins.”

I have no argument with that statement, as I completely agree.

Audio Technica bulky noise canceling headphones
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

A good friend of mine gave me noise-cancelling headphones which work so well that when I attempt to use them while talking to someone using my mobile telephone, I can barely hear what I am saying; so they should be quite effective at enjoying music during a noisy flight — but they are just too bulky for me to consider having them travel with me.

“Noise canceling earbuds or slimline headphones are much better.” I know what I am about to say will rattle some audiophiles; but I am fine with the earbuds given out by airlines for passengers to keep during international flights. They were better than those annoyingly uncomfortable and ineffective air tubes from yesteryear — having to listen to audio sounds through a conveyance which was nothing more than a cheap hollow double plastic tube with little sponges that you stuffed into your ears. It was like listening to the adults speak in Charlie Brown cartoons, with their muffled gibberish. I could not understand a word anyone was saying — especially when the tubes had a kink in them. Those “headphones” were probably designed by the same sadist who devised the modern armrest. Thank goodness those hollow tubes are long gone.

If I recall correctly, the cost to use those air tube headphones was $5.00; and unlike the earbuds distributed by some airlines, you could not keep them — not that you would want to keep them, as they were useless outside of airplanes. Unlike those old air tube headphones, at least the current earbuds are equipped with a universal jack which you could use on a plethora of electronic devices — including music players and “smartphones.”

4. Seat Back Organizers

“These carefully constructed organized pouches that strap to the seat in front of you are just plain annoying. Do you really need to bring that many gadgets, paperwork, and electronics to set up a full-on executive desk in an economy class seat? What happens when something mistakenly falls out when your seatmate escapes to the bathroom?”

I have to say that I have not seen these products in use during a flight; but I certainly do not need one. My belongings are organized in either the bag with my personal belongs or my small camera bag — both of which I carry aboard the aircraft…

…and when necessary, I can usually fit my small camera bag into the other bag.

I agree with this one — but that is merely my opinion.

5. Camera

“It used to be that a big bulky and expensive camera was a status symbol. Now it’s a relic. While it sounds surprising to even include this popular item in this list, most smartphones now provide excellent picture quality. So lugging along a separate camera is increasingly a waste of precious space. Sure, professional photographers can’t do without their full repertoire of equipment, but for the rest of us, why bulk up your bag?”

I was ready to vehemently disagree with this last item — until I read that last sentence. As a person who has worked as a professional photographer for years, mobile telephones — despite their advances in technology — are not always adequate to get that good photograph.

When I travel, I combine the aspects in professional photography with the archival potential of an image to document where I have been. I carry one single-lens reflex camera with two adjustable lenses; and although I could always use a good wide-angle lens, I strive to keep what I carry with me at a minimum. This means no heavy or bulky items — such as a full-sized tripod, for example.

Although I have never tried one, I understand that a good compromise is what is known as a mirrorless camera, which incorporates many of the functions of a single-lens reflex camera — including the ability to change lenses — but without the bulk.

If you just want a simple camera to document your travels, then your mobile telephone or portable electronic device — most likely already equipped with a camera function — should suffice; but if you are looking to up the ante in terms of the quality of your photographs and you are willing to spend some money, consider investing in either a mirrorless camera or a single-lens reflex camera.

Bonus: Armrest Products

Three arguably useless — or useful, depending on your perspective — travel products which attempt to solve the ongoing armrest “wars” are presented in additional detail and images in this article written by me on Thursday, 


For me, the mantra is to carry as little as possible whenever I travel — but if the value of any of the aforementioned items outweighs less weight and bulk with regard to traveling light, who is to say that those products are indeed useless — especially if they do not inconvenience or irritate fellow passengers?

All photographs ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. My passport cover is great for keeping all of my travel documents together. It’s easy enough to slip off. Besides, I don’t need to use my passport as a status symbol. If I really want keepsakes of my travels, photos work pretty well.

    Also worth noting: some customs agents have been known to reject a damaged passport. I’m sure fraying around the edges is fine but water damage or rips? Nope.

    1. I cannot argue with that excellent point, The LA Lady.

      All of the passports I ever had have never reached that point of damage; so I never experienced any of my passports being rejected by customs agents.

      Thank you.

  2. Meh – when you carry a passport in your travel vest in a hot humid location which causes the silkscreened lettering on your Nikon camera strap to rub off and your red shirt to bleed all over, a cheap, clear plastic sweat proof passport cover comes in quite handy. But an opaque one is better for those trips to Africa where you need to store bills for tipping the border control staff.

    1. Those are good tips, AlohaDaveKennedy; but that made me wonder whether or not a simple plastic zippered sandwich bag would not serve a similar purpose for a passport…?

      1. Baggies certainly cheaper and might work in the Scottevest, but not in the Eddie Bauer vest or the ventilated, multipocket fishing shirts. Snack size zipperless press seal baggies are best for carryon meds, currency stashes, minitoothbrushes, tissue paper, candies and mints and other items. They also can be used in hat, flip flop, and cargo pants pockets. For water on the move, you want those thin expandable plastic bootleg flasks that can stash in cargo pockets.

        1. Thank you for the clarification and recommendations, AlohaDaveKennedy. You have definitely imparted some great advice — especially when it comes to any possibility of being in water on the move.

          Please feel free to impart your specific recommendations for thin expandable plastic bootleg flasks.

  3. I agree with most of this. I do think there is a place for neck pillows. I’m ashamed that I will take a neck pillow on long haul flights and usually in lay flat seats. My reason is that I’m a side sleeper and the airline pillows (even in premium cabins) are lacking so I need the extra height. That said I try to hide my neck pillow in my carry on so I won’t be judged 🙂

  4. Not a photographer, but I do like the ability to take good night shots, so I still bring a bulky dSLR. This came in handy during our trip to Iceland in December, where I was able to get some decent captures of the Northern Lights. Those weren’t happening with the camera on my phone…

    1. Absolutely, Kenny.

      While a portable electronic device equipped with a camera can serve and fulfill many general purposes in photography, there are those situations where that bulky digital single-lens reflex camera just cannot be beat — such as capturing the Northern Lights, depending on the conditions.

      The ability to control time exposure, aperture opening and choice of lens are only three of the many advantages of shooting with a digital single-lens reflex camera.

      There is one thing on which we can all agree: a few storage cards are certainly much better to carry and use than those blocks of film…

  5. I got a mirrorless camera after travelling with a bridge/superzoom Fuji for a few years. I didn’t want the bulk of a dslr. I went with a canon eos m (I know there are better ones out there, but the price was hard to pass up). I had the kit 18-55 and picked up a 55-250 as well. Well, after a year I ditched the 55-250 and got a lovely Tamron 18-200 as I hated carrying and changing the lenses. I pack the 18-55 in case I have an accident with the other lens but don’t carry it on outings. I’ve gotten some fabulous night shots. I’m also one of those weird people who doesn’t own a smartphone! (We do exist!). Hoping to upgrade to the eos m3 buy the end of the year as it has some nice updated features.

  6. Agree 100% with Brian. Cut the clutter crap people. Just because they sell at Walmart or you read it in a magazine means you need to be a lemming and use it. Bunch of useless crap. 🙂

  7. I’d nominate the rolling garment bag. They’re either too big to go as a carry-on or too small to carry anything more than a suit and a few shirts. They don’t actually do a significantly better job of preventing wrinkles than just rolling up the suit and putting it in a carry on (which will leave much more space for other stuff). And most are two-wheeled, making them very unwieldy around airports (too wide to maneuver around obstacles, particularly those that tend to be placed in front of escalators or moving walkways).

  8. Is it just me or is Brian’s head really misshapen? Every time I come on this boarding area website. I see Brian’s head. It just looks weird. I think the head to neck ratio is imbalanced, I don’t know. I would suggest putting a photo of Louie Anderson, seems to be the only sensible thing really. Maybe even Andrew McCarthy. 80s Andrew McCarthy. Now we are talking 😉 Make it happen Brian!

  9. I like my passport cover. Not entirely sure that RFID blocking is actually worthwhile, but it can’t hurt if I’ve got my credit card in there as well. And I’m sure I’m in a minority, but I don’t particularly like people knowing my nationality at a glance from a distance. If it’s something they need to know, I’d prefer they interact with me first.

    1. I never really thought about concealing my nationality, Nemaihne — not that I flaunt it, either.

      Then again, I only take out my passport when I need to use it — otherwise, it remains obscured in a pocket of my pants.

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