By Beth Whitman, on August 20, 2015

The best devices for travel

Gone are the days when we traveled without electronics filling every spare pocket of our luggage. In the early years of portable devices, young people with the latest tech were called flashpackers. Now it’s just normal—everybody carries some form of gear that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. 

But what do you actually need on the road? What makes the difference between electronic overkill and a practical traveler?

It’s not always an easy call. Techie travel gear can take up a lot of space in my bag. (Well, bags, as I separate my electronics based on what I might need while in flight and what I’ll need at my destination.) But here’s what I bring along and why.

First, I have a backpack that is the “personal item” I carry on flights and that slips underneath the seat in front of me. It holds my laptop, iPad®, Bose® headphones, and iPhone®. I then carry a padded case inside my larger carry-on that goes in the overhead bin. That includes my power cords, converter plugs, portable charger, GoPro, and any other electronics that need a little extra protection.

In-flight gear

Use a padded bag to protect fragile electronics


1. iPhone. I recently invested in an iPhone 6. I did so for a few reasons. First, I needed more storage so I could take photos without constantly having to save them to an external source and then delete them from my phone. Second, I wanted to download some photography apps (specifically Adobe Photoshop Express and TouchRetouch) so that I could enhance images before posting to social media. Finally, those big billboards advertising images that were shot on an iPhone 6? Those convinced me that the quality of photos taken on an iPhone were at such a point that I could retire my small digital camera and use my phone for the majority of my photos.

I say majority because while I love my iPhone, I do still carry a larger camera with various lenses when I need close-up or wide-angle shots, like the photos I took from Papua New Guinea.

Of course I would never pack my iPhone away (imagine that!), but I’m specifically recommending it for in-flight usage because I like to take photos out the window upon departure or landing. I’ve taken fantastic shots of the mountains in Washington State as well as the blue-green waters of Hawaii.

2. iPad or Kindle. I held out for a long time before I stopped traveling with paperback books. I finally caved when the technology got really simple and I realized that for a fraction of the weight (and space in my luggage), I could have a lot of books available to me on an e-reader. Electronic books (even PDFs) can be read on most devices (including smartphones with Kindle or other e-reader apps). Often these apps will sync with multiple devices, so if you’re reading on your iPad in the hotel room and then want to read a book on your phone while on a bus or train, as long as these have been synced through a Wi-Fi connection, you can pick up where you left off.

Viewfinder Tip: Check before you depart to see if your airplane offers power ports and Wi-Fi.

3. Noise-canceling headphones. Picture this: I’m on two consecutive long-haul flights. The people directly behind me have been talking for twelve hours straight (I don’t think that’s an exaggeration). I’m desperate for sleep. After those experiences, I invested in a pair of Bose headphones. These are not cheap—about US$300 for their highest-end models—but given the number of times I’ve used them, their price per wear has been well worth it for me.

Not only do these drown out the noise of nearby talkers, people coughing, and crying babies, but they also cut down on the loud drone of the airplane itself. You’ll be amazed at how quiet a flight can be with these.

Gear for your destination

1. Fitbit® Zip. I’m pretty convinced that everyone should own a Fitbit or similar device that tracks steps—with 10,000 steps as a daily goal. I fare pretty well with mine on average because I run six days a week, even when I’m traveling. As a matter of fact, I think it’s easier to walk more when traveling because your time is your own and you’re not sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. You’re out and about. 

iPhone with portable Expedia power

But there are many people who don’t have a clue as to how much or little movement they’re doing on a daily basis. Track those steps when you’re on vacation and you’ll have a new goal to work toward when you get home.

2. Portable charger. It only takes running out of power on your phone (that is now also your camera) once to make you realize you need a portable charger. These little devices get powered from an outlet, your laptop, or sometimes from solar power. They retain that power until you plug your device into its USB port. Voilà! Your phone or other USB-powered accessory gets some extra juice.

While my iPhone 6 has a pretty good battery life (for my needs), I never travel without one of these portable chargers.

What’s your favorite device to carry with you on a trip?