Travel Tech Essentials

Our recommendations for travel tech essentials stand up to the needs of full-time travelers, business road warriors or holiday weekenders.

Disclosure: Travel tech essentials recommendations in this post contain affiliate links. Should you purchase using our link we will receive a small commission which doesn’t affect the price you pay. This post is part of our Travel Shop series – check out our luggage and packing recommendations, passport security covers, and unique bag tags.

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?

travel tech essentials

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.

 View Finders

travel tech essentials view finders

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.

Little Helpers

travel tech essentialsThe 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:

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Travel Tech Essentials

Comments

  1. says

    This is a useful list. In trying to travel light these days it’s the tech stuff that gives me the biggest trouble. We have a great LED flashlight that has become a regular item we pack. I recently bought a portable charger (works for my phone and iPad) which is very useful if I wind up away from a power source for a while or in power outages. I am relatively new to DSLRs and love my camera, but my next camera will be a mirrorless one because of its lighter weight. The mesh bags you’ve shown look great – I need some of these to get cords and accessories more organized.
    Donna Janke has an awesome blog post here: Thousand Polleras ParadeMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – Yes, I didn’t include portable chargers (we tend to use freebies that we get at conferences and they last until the next one) or our external hard drives in this roundup, and I probably should have. The mesh bags are really fun and handy.

  2. says

    So timely. I just purchased a new ‘carry’ on tote bag with wheels because I can’t keep lugging all the tech equipment on my shoulder and can’t pack it in checked bags for fear of loss. We have plenty to carry with our Surface and two cell phones, camera and charging equipment for all . . .I recall a time not long ago that getting ready to leave meant only changing and making sure we had kitty litter to last in our absence; now it is counting chords, plugins and batteries.
    Jackie Smith has an awesome blog post here: Israel – Where Reality trumped ImaginationMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jackie – So true! I always like to have extra USB cords for the chargers, too. It seems like we always have at least one that isn’t working, and of course you can never figure it out without trying them all!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – Yes, that little power strip is so much nicer than big clunky ones. Hotel rooms are getting better about their outlets, but still it’s nice to have something like this when the rechargables start to add up!

  3. says

    I like the flat power strip – although we find that we need the length of an extension cord as well as the multiple plugs. I’d love to be able to consolidate even more than we do – that mesh bag of cords in my carry-on takes up too much room, but is essential! But what a pleasure it is to stay connected wherever I am – I remember when we had to wait weeks for a letter when we lived in South America decades ago!
    Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets) has an awesome blog post here: Wowed by Bordeaux!My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anne – Yes, life was simpler then, but I really like being connected with family and friends on a daily basis. 🙂

  4. Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel) says

    I’m in the market for an iPad Air so am happy to see you get a lot of use out of it. I’ve been lugging around my MacBook Pro and it’s just become too unwieldy. Cameras are my biggest issue – I travel with a Nikon DLSR with multiple lenses, a Lumix point and shoot, an underwater camera, an iPhone and an extra portable charger. What a pain! I’ve tried to leave some behind and always regret it. But add a notebook and a purse and you can see I’m far from travelling light!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – I am definitely not a minimalist when it comes to my Apple stuff: phone, iPad and MacBook all go wherever I do. To be fair, my iPhone is my camera, but still. It’s a challenge to keep things light enough to comply with airline rules, too.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Sue – I’m still debating the camera thing, to be sure. I really wish that Pete would take more photos but he usually opts not to bring the heavy DSLR. It seems as though the iPhone is always convenient.

  5. says

    Nice, this is a fantastic overview for anyone thinking about travel abroad for short or even extended timeframes and still being able to be compact and digitally prepared to capture, entertain or document all those amazing travel experiences.
    noel has an awesome blog post here: Cherry Blossoms in Berlin GermanyMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Noel – Thanks! Lugging a bunch of stuff around isn’t fun, so we look for things that are multi-functional.

  6. says

    Like you, I LOVE my gadgets, especially my Apple products. I just sold my MacBook Pro as I found it too heavy (and old) and love my MacBook Air. I tried blogging with my iPad 2 but it just was too limiting. The hardest part about travelling is carrying all my gadgets as they weigh so much–phone, laptop, camera with lenses, and the cords/plugs etc! I’ve heard such great things about mirrorless cameras but now I’ve invested so much $$ in my DSLR, I couldn’t give it up. Great review of the key accessories.
    Janice CHung has an awesome blog post here: Unusual Experiences Renting A Home In FranceMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Janice – Like you, I wondered would I be able to blog with the iPad and the answer was no. App-based word and photo processing and the need for an external keyboard made it easier to just bring the MacBook Air along.

  7. says

    The handy mesh bag, USB hub, the selfie stick (that goes to tiny) – wow, just some of the things I need to get. What a fabulously useful post – and it’s also great to see what works for other people too. I wouldn’t be without my iPad, my Samsung Galaxy and my Mac Air but could definitely ramp up a bit on the gadget side of things. (By the way, clearing the cache worked for me – thanks!)

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jo – Yes, it seems the basics besides laptop are tablet, smartphone with camera and accessories, visual aids and an organizational system. Glad the suggestion worked!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Karen – Yes, we have both the Nook and Kindle apps on the iPad. On more than one occasion a book I’ve wanted hasn’t been available except for Amazon. 🙂

  8. says

    Great list, Betsy! I especially like those little mesh bags to keep travel tech organized! I’ve been keeping all the various cords in a toiletry bag, but they still get tangled up. As for a tablet, I’m very satisfied with a Surface. It’s windows-based and has a proper keyboard, so it replaces both a laptop and a reader. As you suggest above, I plug in a USB hub so I can use a small travel mouse at the same time as a USB stick. I have both kindle and kobo on the Surface, so I can read all my e-books. You’re right, though, that tablets don’t allow for reading outside in the sun!
    Rachel Heller has an awesome blog post here: Medieval Churches in the Val d’Aran, SpainMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cathy – Yes, the selfie sticks can be annoying in crowded venues, can’t they. But, we’ve found ours helpful not just for selfies, so it’s a keeper. 🙂

  9. says

    Great list Betsy! One of our heaviest items always seems to be our electronics bag! We have tried to purchase items that use the same charging cables, bought the “air” versions of our fave Apple products, and find mutli-use products as well. I think I have given up and will take one less outfit to make sure the electronics make it!
    I love the mesh bags as I am all about organization and making it easier to pack, find, and make sure nothing s forgotten.
    Cheryl has an awesome blog post here: Swiss Chocolate Train: The Perfect Eurail Pass Add-onMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Cheryl – Yes, the electronics are the heaviest. I don’t think I could lug a MacBook Pro around now that I’ve gotten used to the Airs. It’s an ongoing challenge, though, as the items keep multiplying. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Denis – Yes, the battery chargers are a life-saver. We have our favorites and those will be grouped in a different post we have planned. 🙂

  10. says

    So timely for me! I’m in the market for a Mac Book Air, my Pro is just too heavy to keep crying around with my camera. Makes the carry on too much! I do have a MYCHARGE battery boost that I love-and it always seems to have enough juice to power anything I need. I would be thrilled to find a tablet to be able to travel with that would get me through a two week trip, but I can’t seem to find one yet that allows me to write as productively as lugging the computer.
    alison abbott has an awesome blog post here: Mediterranean Inspired Lentil PastaMy Profile

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