Working out what to pack — and more importantly, what to leave behind — is a major hassle for travelers, whether you’re gone for a week or a year. Tech gear, in particular, is a problem: models and features change all the time; it’s fragile, expensive, and tempting to thieves; and it can easily distract from the experience you’re trying to have. Even worse, a lot of it just doesn’t work very well once you get out on the road. Here, then, are my 2017 recommendations for quality tech gear that makes your trip simpler and easier, without destroying your bank balance or luggage allowance.
A smartphone is easily the single most useful piece of technology a traveler can buy. In fact, since it replaces everything from a flashlight to a camera, a guidebook to a music player and much more, many people can (and do) get away without packing any other gadgets.
You can spend under $250 for a good budget model, or close to $1000 for a top-of-the-range version. There are benefits to spending more, of course, but not everyone needs the extra features that come with the higher price tags. These are my top picks across the range:
Budget – Motorola Moto G 5 Plus. Motorola has been making good, inexpensive smartphones for several years, and the Moto G 5 Plus continues the trend. For around $230 (less, if you get the model with Amazon ads), you’ll have a phone that does all the basics well. It’s also water resistant. The battery should last all but the longest travel days, and there’s a “TurboCharger” that gives six hours more use in just 15 minutes and you can even stick in a micro-SD card so you’ll never run out of storage space. It’s easily my top budget pick right now.
High-end – Apple iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8– Android owners with big bank accounts should pick up the Samsung Galaxy S8. It’s the sexiest smartphone on the market, with a curved “infinity” display that makes every other phone look old and boring. The S8 crams a larger screen into a smaller space than the competition, and it has plenty of storage and RAM plus a micro-SD slot for ensuring that you never run out of space. Along with its great performance, it is water and dust resistant and has one of the best cameras you’ll find on any phone. For Apple lovers, the iPhone 7 gets almost everything right, with exceptional performance and build quality, a fantastic camera, and of course, access to everything in the App Store.
With phones and tablets having more power and storage each year, there’s less need for most travelers to carry something else. If you’re planning to do more than light work from the road, though, there’s still no replacement for a good laptop.
Windows– Asus Zenbook UX330UA. The best value for money by far is the Asus Zenbook UX330UA. The company has been making very good, lightweight, $700 laptops for a few years, and the latest model continues the tradition. It gets all the basics right — 8Gb of RAM, a 256Gb solid-state drive, excellent battery life — while having more than enough power, and weighing well under three pounds. It doesn’t make silly compromises like cutting out USB ports or SD card readers, and you can even hook it up to a TV in your Airbnb apartment to watch your favorite shows.
There’s no need to fill your backpack with gadgets, but a few well-chosen accessories go a long way. Better Wi-Fi, easier charging, simple photo backup, and drowning out noisy kids (and noisier adults), improves any trip. Here are some accessory recommendations to do exactly that:
Multi-USB travel adapter – This is my single favorite travel accessory right now. It’s small and light, and it lets you charge up to four USB devices from a single power socket. It’s great in hostels and airports, comes with clip-on adapters that let you use it in 150 countries, and costs under twenty bucks.
Travel power strip – If you’re also carrying devices like laptops and cameras that need charging from the wall, use one of these little power strips instead. With two North American sockets, plus three USB ports, you can power everything at once. Just remember to pack a universal travel adapter as well.
Whatever you decide to take, consider carefully how much you’ll really use it — less is more when it comes to travel, and tech gear is no exception. The less stuff you have to get damaged or stolen, the less time you’ll spend looking after it and worrying about it.
Once you’ve made your decision, protect anything fragile with a case (they’re a lot cheaper than buying replacements), and make sure anything you really care about is covered by your travel insurance. Test everything thoroughly before you leave home, so you know exactly how it works and can deal with any problems while you’ve still got time and a shipping address.