Of all the non-glamorous travel accessories out there, cutlery has to be close to the top of the list. It may not be very exciting, but that doesn't mean it's not useful when you're away from home.
Long the domain of backwoods campers, a small set of utensils is surprisingly useful for all kinds of others travelers as well. There's nothing particularly exciting about small, portable sets of spoons, forks, and knives, but depending on the type of travel you do, you could find yourself reaching for them a lot more often than you'd expect.
The biggest reason to take your own cutlery on vacation is simply convenience. While you're unlikely to have too many problems if all your meals are from restaurants, it's a different story when you're eating takeaway food or self-catering.
Disposable plastic utensils often don't cut it (quite literally), and shared kitchens regularly run out of cutlery as other guests break things, or decide they'd rather take the one decent knife with them when they leave.
The other issue is hygiene. If you enjoy street food and small local restaurants, it's not a bad idea to have your own cutlery to hand. While the food itself is almost always safe (and delicious), the same can't necessarily be said of the utensils.
In places where tap water isn't safe to drink, and flies and other insects are a way of life, your cutlery can often make you sick more easily than whatever you've ordered. Keep a travel pack of alcohol wipes to hand to wipe down your utensils as needed.
Travel cutlery can be broken down into three main types. They're all useful in different situations, and because they're small, light, and you don't need to spend much on them, there's no harm in picking up a couple of varieties.
Probably the most common type of travel cutlery, multi-piece sets are just what the name suggests. You'll typically get a knife, fork, and spoon, often around two-thirds the size of standard utensils.
The knife is typically lightly serrated without a sharp point, and is appropriate for cutting softer items. The spoon is intended for yogurt, soup or similar, although most can perform double-duty as a teaspoon if necessary. A few sets come with a separate teaspoon, however, if that's something you expect to use regularly.
Better sets come with a pouch or other holder, making it easier to keep the individual items clean and together, rather than at the bottom of your suitcase. They're made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, bamboo, and titanium.
Due to the minimal serrations and lack of sharp blade, most multi-piece travel cutlery can be taken through TSA checkpoints, but if you're worried, keep it in your checked luggage.
Most commonly known as a "spork", single-piece travel cutlery has been around for a while. It's typically a spoon on one end and a fork on the other, often with one serrated edge that can double as a knife.
Cheaper models are made from a hardened plastic, while more expensive ones are usually titanium or stainless steel. Some have a fold-down handle, to let them take up even less space when not in use.
This type of cutlery is most useful on an occasional basis. While the fork and spoon components usually work well, the knife is rarely good for much beyond cutting soft items, especially since you've usually got nothing except your hand to stabilize whatever you're slicing up.
Still, given the choice between that and scooping up hot soup in your hand, it's not a difficult decision to make.
If you're vacationing in countries where chopsticks are commonly used, you may find you don't get much value out of a knife and fork. Pack a small pair of travel chopsticks instead, and use them whenever you're preparing your own food, or uncertain about the cleanliness of the utensils wherever you're eating.
Many travel chopsticks are collapsible for easier transport, especially the metal versions. There's a wide variety of materials–as well as stainless steel and titanium, you'll often find wooden, plastic, and others. Wooden chopsticks are typically a little easier to hold and use, but they can be harder to clean.
Again, it's worth throwing a small pack of alcohol wipes into your day bag along with the chopsticks, to easily clean them up after use.