The Opportunity Cost of Brand-Name Travel Gear

The Opportunity Cost of Brand-Name Travel Gear

You might think that shelling out the Franklins on brand- name travel gear will ensure an enjoyable trip. I bought nice things once, and only once, for my bicycle tour.  My enthusiasm for this sport that I’d never done- and the ordained conclusion that I would love bicycle touring- provoked my purchases of only the very best equipment. I bought Ortlieb panniers, a Big Agnes air mattress, a four season tent, a $50 knife, and a cult- followed Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle.

Notwithstanding my father’s warnings, I didn’t test out any of this gear and flew straight to Nicaragua, where I quickly learned that I in fact did not love bicycle touring and that everything I brought with me was either defective, or not suitable for the tropical heat. My panniers ripped, my air mattress had a malfunctioning valve, the tent was too hot to use (DO NOT bring a winter tent to Central America) and required fifteen stakes to keep upright, the safety lock on the knife fell off, and my bicycle’s tires were too thin for the gravel backroads.

Good ole’ REI gave me a full refund on all my returns, but there was no getting back all those sleepless nights on a flat air mattress in the inferno of a tent, or the days taken off my estimated lifespan thanks to my remorseful attitude.

Lesson learned here: Know what you’re doing before you buy. The highly- rated brands didn’t work for me, partly because of bad luck, and partly because I assumed that the most expensive items could handle my destructive nature… leaving less money to be spent on the actual trip. Realistically, everything in my possession is fated to be destroyed, so I’d have done better to buy the cheaper panniers, the cheaper knife, the cheaper tent…

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You can almost always get by with generic and used gear (unless you’re climbing Everest).  If you’re not rich, then don’t worry about buying the best. If you can’t afford an Arcteryx raincoat, then get a North Face raincoat. If you can’t afford a North Face raincoat, use a trash bag. Ancient yogis didn’t need Lulu Lemons to do yoga. You don’t need the omnipresent Osprey to go backpacking.

The Golden Rule of Packing is to gather everything that you think you’ll need, and then get rid of half. The stuff you bring doesn’t make or break the trip, but the trip can definitely break the stuff. Expensive stuff is extra heavy because it becomes emotional baggage.  The opportunity cost of the unaffordable is emotional, financial, and physical freedom. Don’t shackle yourself with the burdens of debt and attachment, especially if you travel to feel free.

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