For six years I traveled all over the world, inclinside — and recently, a around the US. As a digital nomad, I tend to travel light with a backpack or a . There are some key gadgets that I never leave home without.
I’m not a fan of specialized and often unnecessarily expensive disposable devices. Traveling is expensive enough without piling on frivolous, fancy fluff. And since I travel light, I don’t want anything bulky or heavy: simplicity is the name of the game here, but there are a few things that are valuable enough, in terms of their use, to be worth having regardless of size or price.
So no matter where you’re going or for how long, these are a few things you should definitely take with you.
No matter how good your phone is, after a long day of taking pictures and using Google Maps to navigate some amazing location, its battery is going to be very good. USB batteries will charge your phone’s battery, often several times. The smaller ones easily fit in a pocket, the larger ones in a purse or backpack. They’ll charge anything with a USB port, including your wireless headphones and probably your camera.
I upgrade mine every two years. It appears to be the period of time in which the magnitude decreases by a given capacity or the capacity increases by a given magnitude. Models with built-in cables are super 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 added convenience is probably a bigger concern than its overall longevity.
Anker is one of the biggest names in USB batteries. I’ve had a few different sizes over the years, trading in my old ones for newer, larger capacity models. The Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux is actually a newer model than the one currently in my backpack. It can charge your phone up to 100% multiple times, and even give some laptops a few extra hours of use. It can quickly charge most phones that are also capable of fast charging.
For more options, check out our guides to 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’ve had to replace more than anything else are by far the USB cables. No cable is designed to withstand constant plugging and unplugging, winding and unwinding, and being stepped on repeatedly, even if accidentally.
Perhaps most frustratingly, if one of your cables goes off while you’re on vacation, the insanely overpriced ones you’re likely to find in tourist areas probably won’t let your phone charge that quickly.
I carry a mix of cables with me, most of them short for practicality, but at least one is longer, six feet (2 meters) that will hopefully reach between my bed and wherever the hotel or hostel outlet is terribly located. Braided cables have lasted me a bit longer, so I usually go for them. The associated cable is USB-C to USB-C, quite common among phones and chargers these days, but you may need USB-C to -A, or Lightning, which is also linked below.
However, don’t overpay. They are everything will eventually break down. No need to spend a fortune.
If you have an Android phone (or other non-Apple gadgets), opt for a USB-C or Micro-USB cable. These are all from AmazonBasics:
Since the vast majority of hotel rooms are largely without power outlets, it’s better to have an adapter that can charge multiple devices – and fast. Not all chargers work the same. Be sure to check the amp’s rating and aim for one that has at least 2.4 amps on each output. If your phone or USB battery has fast charging capability, make sure you also get a charger with that capability on at least one outlet. In CNET’s testing, the RAVPower Dual-Port charged a MacBook Air to 65% in an hour. If you have several USB devices that you want to charge at once, there are similar models with additional USB outputs. A collapsible 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 your electronics need to run or charge. Look at the fine print on the adapter. It will probably say “Input: 100-240V, 50-60Hz.” This means you can plug it in almost anywhere in the world… as long as you have an adapter that allows it to fit into local outlets. If no Say that, you probably can’t use it abroad. Hairdryers and flat irons are two common items that may not work in another country (although almost every hotel and hostel will at least have a hairdryer).
I prefer simple and cheap plug adapters. I know a lot of people love the all-in-one travel cubes that give you a block with pull-out options for outlets around the world, but I’m not a fan. They’re bulky, often surprisingly fragile, and worst of all, often give you only one outlet for their enormous size. Socket adapters are small enough to stay 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 plugs, grab another one and throw it in your bag. If you have more than one thing to plug in, again, a few are much easier to carry around than multiple all-in-one bricks. You can, for example, have three socket adapters for three different chargers and never have to change sockets like you would with a travel charger cube. Not only is this more convenient, but it’s probably cheaper.
I have traveled with Ceptics plug adapters for years. For sale is a five-piece set that includes a small travel bag that I use to store them when I’m at home. I only carry the plug or plugs I need for that particular trip, as usually one type of plug will suffice for most continents. However, be sure to double check before embarking on a multi-country adventure. And for the completists, there’s a $22 set that’s almost every type of plug in the world.
I was on the fence about whether to call them “vital” or just “optional”. If you don’t have enough funds, definitely the latter. Additionally, I bring a pair of noise-canceling headphones with me on every trip. From planes to buses and trains, they reduce the hum and roar that can make travel so exhausting.
However, there are two important things to know about noise canceling headphones. The first is to not “silence” the world around you. They reduce some sounds, namely low-frequency whirring sounds like jet engines and tires on pavement. It won’t block crying babies or chatty neighbors. The second is that not all noise-canceling headphones work as advertised. The specs 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 their size is an issue 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 case of the former, it is equal to or perhaps better than their more famous Bose counterparts. However, Sony’s sound better.
For even more options, check out our guide to the best noise-canceling headphones in 2022.
Unless you’re traveling constantly or for longer than a typical American vacation, you probably don’t need a separate “travel laptop.”
However, if you’re looking for a longer stay or know you’ll be doing a bit of work when you’re gone, it’s worth considering something small and light. A full-sized laptop, with its attendant bulk and countless cables, is exactly the kind of hassle I want to avoid. There is no one “thing” that can make traveling easier, but there are many little things that make it difficult. A heavy, boring laptop is part of the latter.
Yes, many travelers love the iPad or iPad Pro, and for good reason—but their software situation still requires jumping through too many hoops to get things done. After years of cheap (and painfully weak) laptops, I finally upgraded to a Microsoft Surface Go. It’s about the size of a tablet, but runs a full version of Windows. It’s still pretty underpowered compared to most laptops, but if you spec it with 8GB of RAM, it can run well with a bunch of Chrome tabs open. Along with that I do most of my photography for my various CNET trips and even did a little video editing with Premiere. However, I wouldn’t recommend one of these if you do most of the latter.
While it’s not for everyone, the vast majority of people have far more laptops than they really need, and the Go’s size and battery life make it a far better travel companion than something larger. The latest version, the Go 3, has faster processors than the original Go that I’ve used (and loved) for years. Unless you do a lot of video editing or want to play on the go, one of these will work just fine.
If you think you’ll only be doing a little work, maybe just answering a few emails, consider getting a keyboard for your tablet.
At first glance, this seems like a frivolous addition, since you can read books on your phone, tablet, or in that ancient carbon-based analog form. Tablets and phones, however, 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 will need to bring an awful lot of paperbacks.
A dedicated e-reader is a great compromise, thanks to their e-Ink screens. They work great in direct sunlight and require very little power (only needing to be charged every week or two). You can read at night with the help of a night 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 are waterproof, which is a good idea for poolside reading.
For more options, check out our guide to the best e-book readers.
As well as covering TV and other display technology, Geoff leads photo tours of interesting museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile journeys and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his travels and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and on his YouTube channel.