23 Travel Tech Essentials That Will Upgrade Every Part of Your Trip
If we asked you to tell us what it is you travel for, what would come to mind? To meet and spend time with incredible people? To bear witness to a bit of nature’s most profound beauty? Or perhaps to finish the last course of a tasting menu knowing that you’ve just transcended beyond what it is to eat? In essence, you’re likely hoping to experience something — something new, relaxing, challenging, or truly moving in the way that only a moment of discovery away from home can be. And when the technology you bring with you functions at its best, it will enhance those experiences, not distract you from them. So in lieu of smart luggage and power converters, we’re bringing you 23 truly impressive gadgets that go beyond the usual travel tech toolkit.
The large majority of our picks have been released over the past year, some in the past few days, and they reflect the travel trends of the moment. Several of them focus on wellness, from a handheld strength trainer to a blue light–blocking screen protector for your phone. Some are meant to provide peace of mind, be it in the form of a meditative sleep aid device or a motion-activated security camera that lets you see your front doorstep from across the world. Others will help capture and share the destinations you’re touring, in multiple dimensions. And a few — like the $2 phone grip that also serves as a kickstand for in-flight entertainment — are just plain convenient.
With suitcase space always at a premium, we also sought out the best multitasking devices on the market, like portable power banks you can rely on for something more than charging up your phone battery. Think: lighting your tent at night or anchoring your phone to the dashboard as you drive or, you know, connecting you to the Internet in more than 130 countries with the touch of a button.
And though it’s essentially a sin for us to leave Bose’s QuietComfort35 II noise-cancelling headphones off a list of must-pack electronics, we tested the company’s latest product and can’t help but think you’re going to love it just as much.
So stow your tray tables and make sure your seatbacks are in a fully upright position, because this is some seriously elevated travel tech gear.
Microsoft Surface Go
Microsoft’s brand new 10-inch tablet, released August 2, is all about portability. It’s the smallest and lightest of the Surface models, weighing barely over a pound, but this doesn’t come at the cost of performance or battery life. You can get up to nine hours of unplugged use out of a single charge. It’s also got all the features you’ve come to expect from a top-of-the-line tablet: an intuitive touchscreen, crisp, bright resolution, and an adjustable kickstand for your tray-table binge-watching pleasure. We recommend getting the Type Cover, a brilliant keyboard/display protector hybrid, too.
To buy: amazon.com, $399 ($499 with Type Cover)
Fitbit has officially evolved beyond fitness trackers into full-on smartwatch territory, and especially so with the Versa. It brings all the most loved health features — like heart rate tracking, step counting, and detailed sleep analysis — to a stylish, customizable face and adds so much more functionality than its predecessors. For example, it's capable of storing hundreds of songs for phone-free Bluetooth listening. A left swipe from the main screen will access apps for weather forecasts, countdown timers, video workouts, and even Uber requests or flight status updates from select airlines. And special editions even have an NFC chip for credit card use. With the four-day battery life, we might even dare say it's a worthy (and more affordable) alternative to the Apple Watch.
To buy: fitbit.com, from $200
Even H3 Bluetooth Headphones
It’s relatively easy to find wireless headphones that deliver on either price or sound quality, but a set that achieves a happy medium between the two is rare. Developed with input from musicians and sound, software, and hardware engineers, the latest iteration of this over-the-ear set by Even is both affordable and made with the high standards music aficionados have in mind. After being paired with your device, the headphones’ app takes you through a quick quiz to determine how you hear a handful of frequencies, then creates a personalized “audio print” that optimizes music to your hearing — one of our editors was shocked by the difference. What better way to tune out plane cabin cacophony?
To buy: weareeven.com, $149
Dropping almost $300 on an e-reader is certainly an investment, but if our senior designer’s Oasis were to fall to a fiery death in the bowels of a volcano, she would, and we quote, “Amazon Prime a new one before I even got down to base camp.” Though not lava-proof, the latest Kindle does have an IXP8 waterproof rating, so you can peruse the latest beach read from your private jet–shaped pool float without worry. The new shape has a larger screen and a more ergonomic one-handed reading experience, and the battery lasts for weeks, which for us — who may not always remember every charging cord when packing — is key.
To buy: amazon.com, $280
HP Spectre x360 Touch Laptop
This stunning convertible laptop lives up to its name with a 360-degree screen rotation, turning it into a touchscreen tablet in seconds. It weighs just over four pounds and the 15.6-inch display is made with a scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla glass. If you want to go full business trip on us, HP’s got the makings of a mobile workstation to rival the one back at your desk if you add on the Elite Display, which gives you a two-screen set-up anywhere, and the Elite Presenter Mouse. With a quick twist, it transforms from mouse to clicker and laser pointer if you’ve got a presentation to give. Consider that client wooed.
Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote
If your ideal relaxation session involves a healthy dose of catch-up on your favorite series, add the Amazon Fire TV Stick to your packing list. There’s a reason this streaming stick has more than 100,000 rave reviews. Plug it into any HDTV and you’ll be able to access hundreds of thousands of channels, movies, and TV episodes from your accounts on Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, etc. all in one place. What’s more: it’s voice-enabled, so you can say, “Alexa, play Game of Thrones,” and she’ll pick up right where you left off. How’s that for vacation?
To buy: amazon.com, $40
Skyroam Solis Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot
The mobile hotspot is a relatively new category for global connectivity — outside of local SIM cards and international plans — that’s practical for travelers who only need occasional online access. Initial set-up of the Solis can require a bit of patience, so make sure it’s good to go a few hours before Mom’s expecting the grand tour of your new overseas digs via video chat. Once you power it on, a circling light will indicate progress as it searches for a network; working with more than 200 carriers in 130 countries to find the best connection can take time. In downtown Manhattan, it took us about three hours to secure access, but once we were on, the 4G LTE Wi-Fi was fast and dependable (even in notoriously service-free subway stations) for the next day. You can choose to activate a day pass, $9 for a 24-hour period, or spend $99 for a month. Then, up to five devices can use the hotspot simultaneously, with no GB limits. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention it’s also a 6000-mAh power bank.
To buy: amazon.com, $150
GoTenna Mesh SMS and GPS Device
If you’re heading off the grid, get your travel squad some GoTennas and you’ll be able to text each other and share your locations without data or Wi-Fi as long as you stay within about a three-mile range of one another. Think of them as modern-day walkie-talkies that are both Android and iOS compatible. The GoTenna app is quick to set up and simple to use, and it comes with a major bonus: the ability to download detailed maps you can use offline to navigate various countries around the world.
To buy: amazon.com, $179
Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell
This smart doorbell has a motion-activated camera that’ll detect (and deter) intruders, thieves, and any other unwanted guests. It connects to your phone via an app, so you can watch over your home from anywhere — whether it be a vacation house across the world or just your couch in the back living room. When someone rings or it senses movement within your designated zone, you'll be able to see, hear, and speak to visitors with the device’s two-way audio feature. And unlike similar security systems, you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee unless you want to be able to record. All this makes protecting your home, vetting visitors, and, not to mention, finding out what really happened to your package that was “left at the door” so much easier.
To buy: amazon.com, $100
Basu Personal Alarm
“Small in size but big in sound” is how Basu describes its personal alarms, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a travel safety device. Just pull the pin to sound the siren, and it will play for 30 minutes (or until you stop it). You can clip it onto your backpack, keychain, or turn it into a tripwire to keep your campsite secure. It’s a smart thing to have around in case of an emergency, especially if you’re looking for peace of mind while traveling solo.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Lenovo Mirage VR Camera
Travel memories become infinitely more immersive than a mid-Wednesday daydream with this virtual reality camera. It uses two 13-megapixel fisheye cameras to capture the entire 180-degree view before you, and you can even share it in real-time. The built-in Wi-Fi and LTE modem allow for instant uploads to Google Photos or live streaming on YouTube. With only three buttons — power, function, and shutter — it’s easy for anyone to use, and the accompanying VR180 app will enable your iOS or Android phone’s screen to act as a viewfinder when setting up your shot (though you really can’t go wrong).
To buy: amazon.com, $300
Xenvo iPhone Camera Lens Kit Pro
What’s worse than finding yourself in a gorgeous setting without a way to properly capture it? Lugging around a giant camera for hours on end. Xenvo’s wide angle lens is key if you want to do a stunning landscape or sunset justice — and it fits into your pocket. The macro lens takes amazingly detailed close-ups of things like flowers, and the LED light will make that food photo shine in a dimly lit restaurant. All of these compact, little items clip right onto your phone (no need to remove most cases), so you’ll have all the necessary gear for a well-rounded vacation photo shoot, without having to schlep an extra camera bag around.
To buy: amazon.com, $35
Joby GorillaPod Tripod
This easy-to-pack tripod twists and turns to fit into spare suitcase space of any shape or size, and it’s just as versatile when it comes time to keep your camera or phone steady in a tricky setting. The brand makes a range of sizes, so you can consider the GorillaPod 325 a safe bet if you’re using a phone or a compact camera that weighs less than a pound, but you’ll want something heftier like the GorillaPod 3K if you plan on shooting with your three-pound DSLR. Prop it up on an uneven surface; mount it on a chair or banister; it will work with whatever you’ve got. Then, get the whole vacation crew in your shot and thank Joby for the memories later.
DJI Mavic Air Drone
If you’ve been considering getting into the world of drone photography for a while now, the DJI Mavic Air is the drone for you. It’s easy to control, very packable, and takes stunning images for its size. While it doesn’t quite have the battery life or the camera quality of its larger cousins, the Mavic Air is perfect for short trips where portability is most important.
To buy: amazon.com, $780
Mpowerd Luci Pro 2.0 Solar Light
This waterproof solar lantern provides up to 150 lumens of reliable light without electricity or batteries, making it great for camping, hiking, and impromptu outdoor dinner parties. It lasts up to 50 hours after a charge, which takes about 14 hours in direct sunlight or two to three hours via USB. Bonus: that USB port is two-way, so you can also use it to bump the battery up a bit on your phone.
To buy: amazon.com, $35
EcoPestuGo Phone Ring Holder and Stand
When it comes to smartphone accessories, these convenient little guys are becoming just as ubiquitous as cases. After attaching to the back of your device with a strong built-in adhesive, they function as both a comfortable grip and a convenient kickstand all in one. Plus, the slim design doesn’t feel bulky in a pocket.
To buy: amazon.com, $8 for a pack of four
iOttie Easy One Touch 4 Wireless Qi Fast-charging Car Mount
The point of a windshield or dashboard phone mount is to make it easy to see the navigation while driving, and iOttie’s One Touch mount does exactly that. Easily adjustable to fit a variety of phone sizes and secure enough to actually stay upright, this is a road trip no-brainer — especially so if you’re not a fan of fumbling with charging cords while keeping your eyes on the road. This unit has a super-speedy built-in charger that starts powering up your battery on contact.
To buy: amazon.com, $50
Eyejust Screen Protector
One of the downsides to having so much incredible tech at your fingertips is the inevitable increase in screen time and thus, extended exposure to harmful blue light. Blue light–blocking glasses are one solution — especially if you’re often using your devices before bed, when they can disturb your body’s natural Circadian rhythms — but they’re just one more item to remember when packing. The EyeJust screen protector, on the other hand, puts the filtering tech right onto your screen, going beyond your standard tempered-glass scratch guard to block 100 percent of the UV light and 37 percent of the blue light it emits. It’s also anti-microbial and resistant to smudging. Right now, they’re only available for post-6 iPhones, but more device sizes are planned for the future.
To buy: eyejust.com, $25
Unlike many of the multi-functional gadgets in our lineup, Bose’s new noise-masking Sleepbuds are designed to do one thing exceedingly well: help you fall and stay asleep. They don’t stream music or connect to anything other than the accompanying app, but they do fit so comfortably in your ear that you can barely feel them, even when laying on your side. Once you’ve fitted the correct size ear tip into the center curve of your ear, it softens a bit of the surrounding noise by fully sealing the ear canal. The rest of the work is done using 10 pre-loaded “sleeptracks” that use frequency mirroring technology to render snores, city streets, or the bachelorette party in the hotel room beside you inaudible so you can drift off in peace. And when it’s time to get up? The alarm will wake only you — a feature that’s especially useful when no one else you’re staying with plans to join your hike up to the ridgeline for the best view of the sunrise.
To buy: bose.com, $250
Activ5 Portable Strength Trainer
With the advent of guided workout apps and hotels adding fitness-focused amenities left and right, travel is no longer an excuse to table your exercise routine. The palm-sized Activ5 makes strength training possible anywhere, and it’s surprisingly discreet to use. Set-up takes just a few minutes, as the app asks some basic demographics, gives instructions for how to position the device, and measures your maximum chest press power as you squeeze it between both palms as hard as you can — pretty cool, right? From there, you’re given access to dozens of short, isometric exercises that are easy to build into a full-body workout. They’re broken into categories targeting specific muscle groups and desired results, and two are specifically designed for travelers to use while in transit or in a hotel room. Fair warning: the core work in “A Bucket of Iso” is killer.
To buy: amazon.com, $120
The Pure Company Portable Purifier
This sleek, compact cylinder makes air purification packable. At just .65 pounds, it uses filter-less ionization to freshen up your hotel room or rental. The company, which just launched this summer, also makes its own custom aromatherapy blends using 100 percent pure essential oils, and the Clarity blend, with lively grapefruit and spearmint, is divine. You won’t need any water, just add 3-5 drops to the device’s aromatherapy pad before turning it on, and the scent will start sweetening the air within minutes. Plus, the quiet whir of the purifier actually makes for a pretty soothing white noise machine if you position it on your nightstand.
To buy: thepurecompany.com, $99
Dodow Sleep Aid Device
Great for the restless sleeper who typically spends the first half of a trip battling jetlag, the Dodow is sort of like meditation with training wheels. Developed by former insomniacs, it taps into a breathing technique commonly used in yoga. Place it on your nightstand and it will project a soft blue light, waxing and waning, on your ceiling. Focus on inhaling as it grows and exhaling as it disappears. After an eight- or 20-minute cycle, depending on your preference, you'll feel ready to fall asleep wherever you are (or at least noticeably more relaxed).
To buy: amazon.com, $59
Aquio Water Bottle and Bluetooth Speaker
When you really need to pack light — say, for a hike or picnic — a two-in-one gadget like this recently released combination speaker and water bottle comes in clutch. The double wall–insulated steel bottle will keep beverages hot for 14 hours or chilled for 24, and the waterproof speaker (which can be unscrewed and separated) provides surprisingly excellent sound. Fully assembled, the device might seem a bit tall at first, but it still fits snugly in a standard backpack’s water bottle pouch, making it easy to tote.
To buy: amazon.com, $70