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I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to Europe almost two dozen times, and spending that much time in airports and on planes has taught me the right gadgets can make a huge difference when it comes to comfort and safety when you travel.
That means keeping a tracker in my wallet so I know the minute it goes missing, and a spare charging cable in case the one I bring frays or gets lost. It also means taking a Kindle instead of paperbacks and bringing a tablet to get my work done instead of a computer. I’ve learned that stuffing my bags to the brims with tech makes little sense, so these gadgets are the ones that have really earned their spot.
Whether you’re in coach or business class, have a smooth experience or miss your connection, sleep for a couple of hours or need a distraction, you’ll find the best travel tech I’ve used in the slides below.
Noise cancelling headphones
Between the sound of the plane’s engine, a crying baby, and people having a loud conversation next to you, getting sleep on a plane can seem almost impossible. That’s why I always pack a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
The best pair I’ve tried are Sony’s WH1000XM2s, which sound great, block out an incredible amount of noise, and have earpads that make the headphones comfortable to wear for several hours. The right ear cup on the headphones is touch sensitive, and placing your hand on top of it will lower your music and turn on the WH1000XM2’s microphones, so you can hear airline announcements and talk to your airplane’s staff without taking them off.
An external battery pack
Anker PowerCore 15600, $39.99, available at Amazon
A couple of years ago, I missed a connection and had to spend the night in a German hotel. I’d left my power adapter with some friends who were staying abroad longer, and had no way to plug my phone in to charge it.
Thankfully, I had one of Anker’s battery packs, which had enough juice to keep my phone alive through the night, and my international flight the next day. This one has enough power to fully recharge an iPhone around six times and offers two USB ports so you can charge multiple gadgets at the same time.
Modern planes have outlets, so you can charge your tech while you travel, but that won’t help you if you get stuck, or your phone dies midway through the day while you’re out exploring.
A travel adapter
Travel Smart by Conair All-in-One Adapter with USB Port, $20.59, available at Amazon
A power adapter plugs into the outlet in a foreign country and allows you to charge your US gadgets, and it’s an absolute travel essential. This is the updated version of the adapter I’ve been using the past few years, which has worked flawlessly.
This adapter can be used in mainland Europe, England, South America, Australia, and Japan, and has three plugs, plus a USB port. You can charge four gadgets through it at once, which is a lot more efficient than carrying around multiple single-use adapters.
One thing to keep in mind is that this adapter will not convert voltage, so make the gadgets and appliances you travel with are designed to handle both 110 and 220 volts of electricity, or you’ll burn them out.
A video game system
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Nintendo Switch, $299.99, available at Amazon
In-flight entertainment has come a long way, and it’s been years since I’ve gone on an international flight that didn’t have a screen at each seat, but I still bring my own fun. The Switch is Nintendo’s latest game console, and its biggest selling point is you can take it anywhere.
The system has its a 6.2-inch HD touchscreen, with two controllers (called Joy-Con) on either side of it. Nintendo has had portable systems in the past, but the Switch is different because it’s a lot more powerful. You can take epic, hundred-hour games like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey” with you anywhere, then connect it to a TV when you’re home.
The Switch even has a kickstand, so it you can set it down on the tray table in front of you, instead of holding it the whole time. I’ve been traveling with a game system for over 20 years, and the Switch is the best yet.
Kindle Oasis, $279.99, available at Amazon
Kindle Paperwhite, $119.99, available at Amazon
I resisted getting a Kindle for 10 years, but getting one has been a traveling game changer. The Kindle Oasis holds hundreds of books, has backlights so I can read in the dark without bothering the person next to me, weeks-worth of battery life, and dedicated page-turn buttons, all while being lighter than a single paperback.
While I’m a huge fan of the Oasis, the Kindle Paperwhite has many of the same features but costs $160 less. It’s lighter than the Oasis, but doesn’t have dedicated page turn buttons and isn’t waterproof. If you can live with those concessions, the Paperwhite is a great choice.
Fire Tablet HD 8, $59.99, available at Amazon
iPad Pro, $949.99, available at Best Buy
Despite packing an e-reader and a game console, I still bring a tablet with me when I travel. It’s partially to keep me entertained — downloaded Netflix shows and Bejeweled can help time fly on a flight — but also to get work done.
I bring an iPad Pro because its big screen, powerful specs, and large app library have made it my primary computer even when I’m home. Since getting the iPad Pro I haven’t had to travel with a laptop, which has lightened my load significantly.
If you’re only interested in a tablet for watching video and playing games, the Fire Tablet HD 8 is a great choice. It’s even thinner and lighter than the iPad Pro, has a big HD screen, and apps for popular streaming services like Spotify and Netflix (which let you download movies, TV shows, and music for offline enjoyment). It doesn’t have as many productivity apps, though, which could be a problem if you need to do work and don’t have a computer.
Totally wireless earbuds
Stephen Lam/Getty Images
Airpods, $159.99, available at Apple
Noise-canceling headphones are a lifesaver when you’re on your flight, but they’re clunky and uncomfortable to wear in the airport and once you’ve reached your destination. I always keep a pair of earbuds on me because they don’t take up much space and are easy to keep in your pocket when you’re not using them.
My current go-to earbuds are Apple’s Airpods, which are a joy to travel with. The buds weigh next to nothing, they don’t have a cable that can get tangled while you’re on the go, and returning them to their case quickly recharges them.
A wallet tracker
Tile Slim, $28.88, available at Amazon
I don’t have to pack the Tile Slim tracker, because I never take it out of my wallet, but it’s a gadget that does come in handy when I’m traveling. The tracker is connected to my phone over Bluetooth, and I receive a notification when I step out of its range.
In my case, receiving that notification means I don’t have my wallet, which is a big problem. Tile’s app will show me the last place the tracker was my connected to my phone, so I know exactly where to start looking when I try to find it.
When you’re traveling, it’s easy to misplace a bag or wallet because so much is going on around you at once. The Tile Slim prevents me from walking around a foreign city for half a day without realizing my wallet is gone.