Our recommendations for travel tech essentials stand up to the needs of full-time travelers, business road warriors or holiday weekenders.
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Technology can enhance or hinder a quality travel experience. For us, travel tech essentials need to be dependable, versatile, lightweight and save space. We look for electronic devices which perform multiple functions without sacrificing quality. In accessories, we look for well-made, durable items which can stand up to heavy use. With other things to worry about while traveling, we want our technology reliably functioning day after day, easily accessible, and intuitively designed.
Fortunately, today’s tech landscape offers lots of options to satisfy the needs of different types of travelers. Business road warriors and holiday weekenders have overlapping needs in travel tech essentials. Our list of suggestions includes things which we currently use and recommend, planned purchases because we know they’ll perform better than what we currently use, and one item to which we aspire. Each and every one is appropriate for any kind of traveler.
Reader or Tablet?
Two distinct choices exist for travelers in terms of electronic reading devices: the tablet that doubles as a reader, and the reader which doubles as a tablet.The iPad Mini and Air models are tablets first, readers second. The Kindle, on the other hand, we think of as a reader which can also be used as a tablet. While the two attributes seem interchangeable, your expectation as a user will ultimately determine how happy you are with your device.
If you’re an iPad fan like we are, you probably have the Kindle app as well as Apple books. If you’re like us, you’ve added the Nook app from Barnes and Noble, too. We started out with Nook readers years ago, and while it pains us that the Nook appears headed for oblivion, we were happy to import our individual libraries onto our iPads when we began traveling full time. Before we had our iPads, we had high hopes for Nook’s app features; B&N was actually first to adopt these additional capabilities. We had visions of using our Nooks as tablets, but the reality didn’t measure up. When I got my iPad Air, I felt as though every one of those long-held wishes had finally been granted.
1. iPad Mini. Fans of the iPad mini prefer it to the Kindle because it interfaces with other Apple products they already have, such as the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or iPhone. They also cite its faster browsing capabilities. While many see the Mini as a shrunken full-size iPad, it occupies solid ground in functionality for those who prefer a mid-size screen. Available in wifi and wifi + cellular configurations.
2. iPad Air. Apple’s classic flagship tablet got a recent makeover, slimming its profile as it shed a pound. This makes a big difference in user experience. This newest version connects, synchs, downloads and browses noticeably faster than its predecessor. I couldn’t be happier with my 64GB wifi version.
Kindle users are just as excited and loyal about their devices. Rather than start a war, we’ll give you a reasonable discussion and you decide which is best for you. (And yes, we do realize there is an entire other subset of travelers which uses Windows tablets; we’re conveniently ignoring them in this post.)
3. Kindle Paperwhite. Billed by Amazon as a “next-generation reading experience” due to an exclusive new font and typesetting engine combination, the Kindle Paperwhite offers comfortable lighting and brightness to eliminate eyestrain in any reading environment. It can easily be read in bright sunlight (a noticeable and annoying fail beach and pool-loving users decry on the part of regular tablets). A single charge of this elegantly simple reader can last up to six weeks depending upon your usage pattern. It seems to us as though the Paperwhite would offer the best alternative to a traditional paper book experience.
4. Kindle Fire. Kindle dominates the e-reader niche and for every good reason you’ve heard from every possible source. Amazon set the standard and blew other competitors back to single digit presence (including my beloved Nook) in the competitive marketplace. Now the Kindle grows up from a reader to a tablet, with a microSD card slot to render storage expandable to up to 128GB, rugged durability, free apps and updated user interface, and offline video subscription streaming for Amazon Prime members.
Up to date travel tech essentials enable us to take a better look at what we’re seeing. Remember the old “view finder” toys with the disc of sequential photographs? Grown-up view finders such as our picks help us discover, compose and focus in on the vistas we encounter, whether we choose to remain in the moment, or record it in the form of a photo or video for sharing and ongoing enjoyment.
1. Selfie Stick. Love it or hate it, the Selfie Stick is here to stay, and this one is sleek and stylish while loaded with the features you want: A tiny 18cm when closed, it extends to 80cm, and weighing only 126g, it takes up little space in your tech bag. Bluetooth shutter switch, sturdy extendable arm, and a spring-loaded phone mount for flexibility in adjustments. Battery goes for 20 hours on a charge, compatible with all smartphones.
2. Binoculars. There’s nothing worse than getting there and not being able to see what you came for. We’ve often wished for a pair of compact binoculars which wouldn’t compromise high-quality viewing. Pentax has risen to the occasion with the UP 8-16×21 model. The single housing synchronizes eyepiece movement and minimizes the opportunity for moving parts to fail. All parts of the field of view are bright and sharp, with reduced glare and flare. At only 1 pound, this model is easy to use, and positioned perfectly at the intersection of price and quality.
3. Mirrorless Camera. While we travel with our iPhone 5 and 6 cameras, our iPad cameras and Pete’s “big boy” DSLR, we’ve discussed whether a step above point and shoot would make sense for those times when we want a high-quality digital product out of a compact, lightweight housing. The Samsung NX3000 Smart Camera would fill the bill. We like it because its vintage design is at once familiar and intuitive, but its contemporary features such as wifi and NFC connectivity expand sharing and allow for smartphone-activated remote control. The 16-50mm power zoom lens, flip up display and full HD video recording capabilities, customizable lens function control, programmable shortcut keys , and included Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 make this camera a little dynamo. It might even replace the DSLR altogether!
4. LED Flashlight. We often rely upon our iPhones’ built-in flashlights, but occasionally we’d have been much happier with a more intense, longer-lasting option. Weighing 3.5 ounces, and less than 7” in length, Lexon’s Mezzo chargeable light might be a good option. Whether you’re navigating dim streets back to your Airbnb, or venturing down a wooded path for a night of stargazing, this would be a great assist.
The biggest challenge with tech while traveling is keeping things organized and accessible. Whether it’s having a sufficient number of outlets or ports, adapting to different configurations, or distinguishing between cords and cables that all look the same, these little helpers have been specifically chosen to make life on the road easier.
1. Little Monster Power Strip. The little “Monster” Outlets to Go portable power strip gives you four AC outlets in an ultra-compact, ultra-flat design which includes cord management for even better space saving. In a new hotel room, this little guy is exactly what you need to get powered up reliably and conveniently.
2. Universal Adapter. Adapters of some sort or another are a necessary evil when traveling with electronics. One similar to this caught our eye in an airport lounge, where everyone is anxious to recharge as many devices as possible between flights. The dual USB ports make it a more versatile piece of gear than other all-in-ones we’ve seen.
3. USB Hub. If your notebook is short on USB outlets, you’re going to want this 4-peripheral hub to be your port(s) in the storm. We travel with cellphones, iPads, thumb drives, card readers, and one of us uses a corded mouse. This is an inexpensive little workhorse which can support low, full and high-speed data transfer. The connections are solid and the blue LED indicators show power status for each port. Note this unit will only sync an iPad, as opposed to charging it.
4. Handy Mesh Bags. Keeping tech organized includes some sort of method to avoid tangling cords and cables. Color-coded mesh bags are perfect in a backpack or briefcase, with the diagonal zipper ideal for easy access. Use a bag to corral small electronics for airport scanning purposes, pens and pencils, laptop and camera accessories, chargers, cables, etc. Clip it into a binder or inside a handbag. A reviewer said these were “organizational crack,” and it’s easy to see how we could become addicted to using them.
Which travel tech essentials do you already travel with or plan to add to your packing list?
Check out additional items Amazon recommends: