The best travel gadgets and gear

July 29, 2018 9:00 am

Whether you’re heading out on a day trip or embarking on a two-week vacation, having an enjoyable trip is all about the gadgets and accessories you bring with you. We’ve put together a list of some must-have products, along with a few other travel tips and hacks that should make getting there half the fun.

A quick couple of caveats, though, before we delve in: We’re assuming you’re already traveling with a and — if necessary — a and a good standalone , so they’re not on the list. And just to be clear: Not everything on this list is a necessity. Pick and choose what works for you and your needs. 

Start with a great backpack

Before we talk about the stuff you’ll want to carry on your travels, let’s figure out a place to put it all. I like a medium sized backpack — one that counts as a “personal item” for air travel and can fit under the seat. Look for one with plenty of pockets and compartments, as well as built-in sleeves that will fit your laptop or tablet.

For me, this AmazonBasics Backpackdoes the job nicely. It fits laptops up to 17 inches, and has external mesh pockets (for water bottles or umbrellas), and costs just $30.

See it on Amazon

But there are dozens of other great choices, too: Check out some of our favorites below.

Wireless headphones

Whether you’re listening to audio on a phone, tablet or computer, you’ll love the feeling of freedom that wireless headphones deliver — especially if you’re in the cramped confines of a coach-class airline seat. To keep out the drone of an airline’s engine noise, you’ll want either noise-isolating in-ear headphones (with a tight fit in your ear canal) or a full-size around-the-ear model. Preferences vary, but the in-ear models are smaller and travel better.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones fold down for easy packing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Step up to active noise-cancelling models if you want the best-in-class solution (unless, like me, you have sensitive eardrums). Some favorites for each are below, along with links to the CNET best lists if you want to check out alternatives.

See it on AmazonSee it on AmazonSee it on AmazonSee the Bose on Amazon
See the Sony on Amazon

Wired headphones, too

Nearly all larger wireless headphones — such as the Tribit, Sony and Bose mentioned above — include a standard 3.5mm cable that converts them to wired models. But not all of them work in wired mode once the battery konks out.


It never hurts to have an extra set of wired headphones, like these $12 Panasonics.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And small earbud or fully wireless headphones (such as the Jabra above, or Apple’s AirPods) can’t be connected to wired systems, making them useless for in-flight entertainment systems and the Nintendo Switch. For that reason, you might want to pack a pair of wired headphones, in addition to or instead of wireless models. And don’t bother with the Lightning-enabled EarPod headphones that come with newer iPhones — they can’t be plugged into standard 3.5mm jacks, either.

See it on Amazon

Around-the-ear wired: Sony MDR-7506 ($100, no in-line microphone for calls)

See it on Amazon

A wireless speaker

If you want to listen to some tunes (or podcasts) while you’re in your hotel room, don’t settle for your phone’s tiny built-in speaker. Plenty of wireless speakers are now available for as little as $30 to $50 — and many are even water-resistant.

JBL Clip 2 ($40): The newer Clip 3 sounds a bit better, but I’ve had the waterproof Clip 2 for years and love it. And it’s still available for about $20 less than its newer sibling.

See it on Amazon

A tablet (maybe)

First, a caveat: If you’re happy watching video on your phone, or you’re already traveling with a laptop, you don’t really need to add a tablet to your travel bag. That said, the current entry-level iPad is a traveler’s dream: 9.7-inch screen, long-lasting battery, zillions of games and every entertainment app under the sun, as well as basics such as web browsing and social media apps.


With an accordion-style cover that folds into a stand, the 9.7-inch iPad becomes a personal in-flight entertainment system.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want something more affordable, Amazon’s Fire HD 10 and Fire HD 8 tablets — with 10- and 8-inch screens, respectively — have many of the same key apps.

Load up on downloadable Netflix and Amazon Prime movies and TV shows before your trip, and you’ve got your own personalized in-flight entertainment system. Just be sure to also get a folio-style case that can keep the tablet propped up on the tray table (or the hotel nightstand) for easy viewing. And if you want to do light work, you’ll need a keyboard or keyboard case too.

See it at Best BuySee it on AmazonSee it on AmazonSee it on AmazonSee it on Amazon

For traveling gamers: Nintendo Switch


Unlike the PS4 or Xbox One, the Switch can go everywhere.

Josh Miller/CNET

See it on AmazonSee it on Amazon

Multiport USB charger

Rule number one about traveling with gadgets: Get a generic charger with multiple ports. Models with two, three or even four ports can juice up multiple gadgets such as your phone and a pair of wireless headphones simultaneously. (Don’t worry if it gets a little toasty while charging, it’s fine.)


The Anker PowerCore Fusion doubles as a dual-USB wall charger and a battery pack.


Note that you’ll need a charger that supports at least 2.4 amps to recharge most tablets, while the Switch and newer laptops need “power delivery” (PD) USB chargers, which are bigger and pricier because of their higher wattage. Whichever you choose, make sure it has foldable prongs, so you can toss them in a backpack or purse without a second thought.

See it on Amazon

Anker USB-PD charger ($30): Charges Nintendo Switch, USB-C laptops and larger tablets — assuming 30 watts is adequate to do so for the latter two — as well as smaller items via a traditional USB port.

See it on Amazon

Portable battery pack(s)

Between summoning an Uber or Lyft, checking for connecting flights, storing digital boarding passes and keeping in touch with friends and relatives through messaging or social media, you can’t afford to have your phone’s battery die while traveling. And even though modern planes are brimming with USB and three-prong power ports, there never seems to be a free (and working) outlet at your seat. Thankfully, you can bring your own power with you.

Carry at least one battery pack with you, and you’ll be able to juice up anywhere — even if it’s 39,000 feet above sea level. (Just make sure to keep these battery packs in your carry-on luggage — airlines are increasingly barring them from checked baggage.) Sizes range from as small as a tube of lipstick to something larger than your phone. The higher the battery’s “mAh” (milliampere hours) rating, the more charge cycles it will deliver — but the heavier it will be.

See it on Amazon

Anker PowerCore Fusion (5,000mAh, $26): This battery pack also doubles as a wall charger, with foldable prongs built-in. I’ve had this one for more than a year, and I really like 2-in-1 convenience.

See it on AmazonSee it on Amazon

International outlet adapter

Here’s the good news: With a few exceptions (such as hair dryers) nearly all portable electronic devices these days — from laptops to phones to all manner of accessories — will work everywhere in the world. If the device says “100-240 volts, 50-60Hz” — and nearly all of them do — you’re good to plug it in nearly anywhere. All you need is an international outlet adapter, which are widely available in airports and drugstores. But you’ll save money if you get one before your trip.

JMFONE International Travel Power Adapter

You’ll get the most flexibility with one that offers input and output for the four major plug types. A built-in fuse — to avoid overloading the outlet — and a USB port or two are nice extras to look for.

See it on Amazon


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