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8 Travel Luxuries Even Cheap People Should Splurge On

I’m not ashamed to admit it. When it comes to travel—and life in general—I’m cheap. I drive a 10-year-old Corolla (which I bought used), I’ve never even considered paying for an airline upgrade, and I’ve been using the same, somewhat battered toiletry bag for nearly 20 years. After all, the more frugal I am, the more travel I can afford. But I’m old enough to have discovered a few travel luxuries that I am willing to spend my hard-earned money on.

Which Travel Luxuries Are Worth Paying For?

[st_content_ad]Every traveler has their own priorities and their own idea of which “travel luxuries” are worthwhile. For some, that might be spa visits or hotel upgrades. For me, the most important travel luxuries are those that keep me comfortable, ensure that my vacation goes smoothly, and preserve my trip memories for years to come.

A Good Carry-on

eagle creek expanse carry-on.

When the handle of my last carry-on, which I purchased for less than $40, stopped retracting after only a couple of years of use, I decided it was finally time for an upgrade. I generally don’t check a bag, so my carry-on has to be roomy enough to hold everything I’m bringing on my trip and sturdy enough to get me through multiple flights a year. This time I’ve invested in the Eagle Creek Expanse, which is made with high-quality materials and has a lifetime warranty.

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Nonstop Flights

girl with glasses staring out plane window.

Am I willing to shell out an extra $1,000 to fly in business class? No way. But if I have a choice between a connecting flight or a nonstop, I’ll pay an extra hundred or two to get where I’m going more efficiently. Airport connections add stress and uncertainty to a trip, and I’d rather spend the extra time exploring a new place.

High-Quality Hiking Boots

hiking boots in front of mountain and lake.

It doesn’t matter how stunning a landscape you’re hiking through; if your feet hurt, you’re not going to enjoy it. High-quality hiking boots are pricey, but they’re also built to last. Look for options with good arch support and a waterproof coating; I prefer a higher-cut boot that supports my ankles as well.

Reliable brands include Vasque and Timberland, but it’s worth shopping around and test-driving multiple boots to find the one that works best for your feet.

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Global Entry

TSA precheck line at Reagan airport.

Several years ago, a U.S. immigration official asked me what I did for a living as he was checking my passport. When I told him I was a travel writer, he raised his eyebrows.”Why don’t you have Global Entry?” he asked. Why, indeed?

A year later I enrolled in the program, and now every time I step into an expedited security lane or bypass a snaking immigration line after a long international flight, I consider it the best $100 I ever spent. (Membership lasts five years.) Even better, some travelers may be able to get Global Entry for free.

Waterproof Clothing

woman in waterproof clothes standing by waterfall.

It only takes one rainy hike in New Zealand (or Ireland, or Alaska…) to learn the difference between clothes that are water-resistant and those that are waterproof. Water-resistant clothes are fine if you’re dashing between buildings on a drizzly day—but not so much if you’re doing extended outdoor activities like hiking or biking in a climate prone to downpours.

As the old saying goes, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Stock up on waterproof pants and jackets before such trips.

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A Beautiful Travel Journal

paperblank lined journal.

Documenting the day’s experiences each night at my hotel is as vital a part of a vacation to me as trying new foods and exploring neighborhoods on foot. While I could easily scribble my thoughts in a two-dollar notebook from Target, my travel memories are precious, and I’d rather have them preserved in a more attractive place—like these gorgeous journals from Paperblanks.

A Versatile Coat

columbia bugaboo interchange jacket.

Unless you make every vacation a beach vacation, you’re going to need a good coat when you’re out exploring. I prefer investing in versatile jackets with multiple layers you can customize to suit the day’s weather. Examples include Columbia’s Whirlibird IV Insulated Interchange for men and the Bugaboo II Fleece Interchange for women. Both have a lightweight waterproof outer shell as well as a warm and cozy liner. You can combine them for maximum warmth or wear the shell or liner on its own.

While these coats aren’t cheap, the price is easier to stomach when you remind yourself that you’re basically getting three jackets in one.

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Photo Books

family photo book from shutterfly

It’s all too easy to share a few snaps from your trip on Instagram and then leave the rest of your travel photos to linger, unorganized and neglected, on your phone or computer for years on end. But as with my journals, I prefer to spend a little money to preserve my travel memories in a more visually appealing way.

After every trip, I create a photo book with Shutterfly. The service lets you customize photo layouts, backgrounds, cropping, and more. Other popular photo book providers include Snapfish and Blurb.

Which travel luxuries are most important to you?

More from SmarterTravel:


Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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