For six years I traveled all over the world, inclinside – and more recently, a around the US. As a digital nomad, I tend to travel light with a backpack or a bag . There are some essential gadgets that I can’t leave the house without.
So, no matter where you’re going or how long you’re going, these are a few things you should definitely bring with you.
No matter how good your phone is, after a long day of snapping photos and using Google Maps to navigate some amazing space, its battery is going to be toast. USB battery packs will often charge your phone several times. The smaller ones fit easily in a pocket, and the larger one in a purse or backpack. They’ll charge anything with a USB port, meaning your wireless headphones and probably your camera too.
I upgrade myself every two years. This appears to be time stretching as the size decreases for a given capacity or as the capacity increases for a given size. Models with built-in cables are very convenient, although the cable is always a weak point — it’s likely to strain after months or years of frequent use. That said, if you’re only using it for travel, the extra comfort is probably a bigger issue than its overall longevity.
Anker is one of the biggest names in USB battery packs. I’ve owned several different sizes over the years, trading in my old ones for newer, higher-capacity models. The Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux is actually the newer model in my backpack right now. It can charge your phone to 100% multiple times and even give some laptops a few extra hours of use. It can fast charge most phones that can fast charge.
For more options, check out our guides on the best portable chargers and power banks for Android and the best portable chargers and power banks for iPhone.
In all my years of travel, the things I have had to replace more than anything else are USB cables. No cable is designed to withstand constant plugging and unplugging, twisting and unplugging, and repeated pressing, even if accidental.
Perhaps most annoyingly, if one of your cables dies while you’re on vacation, the overpriced ones you find in tourist spots probably won’t allow you to charge your phone quickly.
I bring a mix of cables, most of them short for convenience, but at least one longer, six-foot (2m) cable that I hope will reach between my bed and the horribly placed outlet in the hotel. or a dormitory. Braided cables are a bit more survivable for me, so I usually go for those. The associated cable is USB-C to USB-C, which is fairly common these days with phones and adapters, but you may need a USB-C to -A or Lightning listed below.
However, don’t overpay. They are all it will eventually break. No need to spend a fortune.
If you have an Android phone (or other non-Apple gadget), choose a USB-C or Micro-USB cable. These are all from AmazonBasics:
Since the vast majority of hotel rooms have very few outlets, it’s best to have multiple devices and an adapter that can charge quickly. Not all chargers perform the same. Be sure to check the amp’s rating and aim for one with at least 2.4 amps per output. If your phone or USB battery pack has fast charging capability, make sure you get a charger with at least one outlet. In CNET’s tests, the RAVPower Dual-Port charged a MacBook Air from dead to 65% in an hour. If you have more USB devices you want to charge at once, there are similar models with additional USB outputs. A foldable plug like this RAV is an added bonus.
For more options, check out our guide to the best USB-C PD chargers.
The vast majority of electronics you own do not need voltage converters. Almost all adapters automatically convert the incoming voltage (ie from the wall) to the voltage needed to operate or charge the electronics. Look at the fine print on the adapter. It will probably say “Input: 100-240V, 50-60Hz”. This means you can plug it in anywhere in the world… as long as you have an adapter to fit it into local sockets. In this case doesn’t say you probably won’t be able to use it overseas. Hair dryers and straighteners are two common items that may not work in a different country (although almost every hotel and hostel will have at least a hair dryer).
I prefer simple and cheap plug adapters. I know a lot of people adore all-in-one travel charger cubes that give you a block with sliding options for outlets around the world, but I’m not a fan. They are bulky, often surprisingly fragile, and worst of all, often give you only one outlet for their large size. Plug adapters are small enough to fit on the end of your charger and take up almost no extra space. They have no moving parts, so they are almost impossible to break.
If your trip will cross areas with different types of traffic jams, take another one and throw it in your bag. If you have more than one thing to connect, again, it’s easier to have a few of these with you than a lot of all-in-one bricks. For example, you can have three plug adapters for three different chargers and never have to change sockets like you would with a travel charger cube. Not only is it more convenient, but it’s probably cheaper.
I have traveled with Ceptics plug adapters for years. For sale is a five-piece set with a small travel bag that I use to store them when I’m at home. I only bring the plugs or plugs I need for that particular trip, as usually one type of plug will be enough for most of the continent. But be sure to double check before embarking on a multi-country adventure. And for a complement, there’s a $22 set with just about every chip type in the world.
I was on the fence about calling these “vital” or just “optional”. If you need money, definitely the latter. That said, I bring a pair of noise-canceling headphones with me on every trip. From airplanes to buses and trains, they reduce the hum and hum that can make travel so tiring.
However, there are two important things to know about noise-canceling headphones. The first is that they do not “silence” the world around you. They reduce some of them sounds, namely low-frequency droning sounds like jet engines and tires on pavement. They won’t disturb crying babies or chatty neighbors. Another is that not all noise-canceling headphones work as advertised. Features are mostly meaningless. Two headphones that both claim to reduce sound by “15 decibels” can perform radically differently.
I know some people like the better isolation of over-ear headphones for travel, but most of them are a deal breaker for me. CNET Executive Editor David Carnoy likes the true wireless Sony WF-1000XM4, which he says has “superior noise cancellation and sound quality.” In the first case, it is equal to, or perhaps even better than, its more famous counterparts from Bose. Sonys sound better.
For more options, check out our guide to the best noise-canceling headphones of 2022.
Unless you’re traveling constantly or traveling for longer than a typical American vacation, you probably won’t need a dedicated “travel laptop.”
That said, if you’re looking to be away for longer, or know you’ll be doing a bit of work when you’re gone, something small and light is worth considering. A full-sized laptop with bulk and countless cables is the kind of hassle I want to avoid. There is no “thing” that can make traveling easy, but there are many little things that make it difficult. A heavy, annoying laptop is part of the latter.
Yes, many travelers love their iPad or iPad Pro, and for good reason — but their software situation still requires jumping through a lot of hoops to get the job done. After years of cheap (and excruciatingly weak) laptops, I finally upgraded to the Microsoft Surface Go. It’s about the size of a tablet, but runs a full version of Windows. It’s still fairly low-powered compared to most laptops, but if you spec it with 8GB of RAM, it can run well with a bunch of Chrome tabs open. I edit most of my photos with it for my various CNET travel tours and even did a little video editing with Premiere. But if you do a lot of the latter, I wouldn’t recommend one of these.
While it’s not for everyone, the vast majority of people have more laptops than they really need, and the Go’s size and battery life make it a better travel companion than something larger. The latest version, Go 3, has faster processors than the original Go that I’ve used (and loved) for years. If you don’t edit a lot of videos or want to play on the go, one of these will work great.
If you think you’ll only be doing a little work, maybe answering a few emails, consider getting a keyboard for your tablet.
At first glance, this seems like a trivial addition, since you can read books on your phone, tablet, or in ancient carbon-based analog form. Tablets and phones are difficult to read in direct sunlight. At night, even in night mode, the light from the screen can affect sleep. Paper books are great and I prefer them, but for any long trip you’ll need to carry a lot of hard copies.
A dedicated e-reader is a great compromise thanks to its e-Ink screens. They work great in direct sunlight and require very little power (they only need to be charged every week or two). At night, you can either read using a bedside lamp, or if you don’t want to disturb your partner, most models have built-in lighting. The latest Kindle Paperwhite models check all the boxes and they’re waterproof, which is a good idea for poolside reading.
Check out our guide to the best e-book readers for more options.
In addition to covering television and other screen technologies, Geoff has covered nuclear submarines, giant aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips and more. including photo tours to cool museums and places around the world. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a best-selling science fiction novel about city-sized submarines, along with its sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and YouTube channel.