It’s that time again when every traveller starts planning their trips for the following year… and friends and family of those travellers start wondering what the hell they’re going to buy them for a present. With the ideal gift needing to be small and light, durable and most of all useful, it’s not exactly easy to find.
As we do every year around here, then, we’ve come up with a bunch of travel tech gear options in different price brackets for you. Whether you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, a splurge-worthy extravagance or something in between, you’ll find it in this list.
Even if the person you’re buying for is already on the other side of the world, we’ve got a few options for them as well.
Gifts Under $50
Powermod All-in-One Travel Charger ($25)
Sick of carrying around a bunch of different chargers when you’re on the move? Yeah, aren’t we all.
If you’re taking a road trip any time soon, pick up one of these inexpensive little Powermod gadgets. It’s a car charger and wall charger in one. Just stick it in the accessory socket when you’re driving, then fold out the prongs when you get inside.
There’s even Quick Charge built-in for devices that support it, which cuts charging time by up to 70%.
Sandisk 64GB Ultra Dual USB Drive ($21)
Running out of space on your phone after all those sunset selfies? Want to copy a bunch of TV shows to your tablet before a long flight? Sandisk’s Ultra Dual USB Drive offers a cheap and cheerful way around the problem, at least for those with Android devices.
Extend the micro-USB port to let you copy files off your mobile device, then switch to the full-size USB port to put them on your laptop. The reverse works, too. It supports USB 3 speeds to and from a computer, and there are even cheaper versions with less storage if you really don’t want to spend much cash.
Just double-check your phone or tablet has OTG support before you buy: many do, but not all.
eyn Phone Cases ($30)
Often when you’re exploring a new city, heading to the beach or going out for the night, you don’t want to take a whole bunch of stuff around with you. Bags, purses, wallets — they’re all something extra to look after or lose.
The eyn (“Everything You Need”) smartphone case helps with that. There’s a storage compartment that can hold your money, cards, and hotel room key. It protects your phone at the same time, and there’s even a mirror to confirm you’re looking extra-sweaty after walking round in the sun for hours. Handy.
The company makes cases for every iPhone model since the 4S, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Griffin iTrip AUX Bluetooth ($35)
Maybe it’s just the kind of cars I tend to rent for road trips, but I often find the entertainment options pretty lacking. Bluetooth is rare at the low end of the range — about the best I can hope for is plugging my phone into an auxiliary port.
That’s fine, as far as it goes, but I don’t love having to keep the cable plugged in all day, especially if I’m trying to use the phone for navigation as well. Between that, some kind of mount and a charging cable, the dash starts to look like the discount bin at Best Buy.
Griffin’s offered some version of the iTrip seemingly forever. I remember buying an FM transmitter model to go with my first iPod, and this version keeps the idea going.
You just plug it into the accessory socket, connect the cable to the aux port on the car stereo, and pair it with your phone or tablet. You can keep your phone wherever you like at that point, including your pocket. No cables necessary.
It’ll automatically reconnect every time you get back in the car. You can quickly switch between devices if passengers get upset about your 19 hour Taylor Swift marathon.
GekkoPod Smartphone Mount ($20)
Many travellers (myself included) have switched to a smartphone for taking some or all of their trip photos. Decent tripod options, though, are few and far between. That’s a shame, not least of all because most phones are poor in low light and need all the help they can get to eliminate blurry shots.
That’s why I was surprised to see the price of the GekkoPod. For around twenty bucks, you get a universal mount for iPhones and many Android devices, plus GoPros and even (small) standard cameras. It’s flexible enough to be set up in almost any position and wrapped around whatever happens to be nearby.
Four of the five legs have grip-enhancing pads to help it stay stable, and there are a few different mounting positions, including vertically for phones. Small, light, inexpensive and flexible in form and function, there’s a lot to like about the Gekkopod.
Gifts Under $100
SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick 64GB ($55)
If you need to move files around between tablet, phone and laptop, but the cheap and cheerful Ultra Dual USB stick mentioned above doesn’t cut it for you, this wireless version is a slick alternative.
It works with a wider range of devices, including those from Apple, making it easy to share and stream files over its own wireless network or a standard USB port.
The rechargeable battery in the Connect Wireless lasts several hours, and up to three devices can connect at once. If you’re looking for an easy, lightweight way to manage your files across a bunch of different gear, it’s well worth a look.
TYLT 6K charger ($79)
We featured an earlier version of the TYLT charger in last year’s guide, and this year’s model is even better. The basic idea is simple: a wall charger for your USB gear that’s also a portable battery. Just plug it into the wall socket, connect your phone or tablet, and come back in a few hours to two fully-charged gadgets.
This 6K version triples the capacity, and also comes with UK and Europe/Asia plug adapters so you don’t need to carry a separate one.
With sensible features like charging the device before itself, and including an inbuilt micro-USB or Lightning cable to avoid packing (or losing) a separate one, it’s a handy piece of kit for travellers.
(or direct from the company, since it’s currently cheaper!)
It’s not easy to find a lightweight tripod that’s stable and easy to set up no matter where you want to use it. The Pakpod changes all that. Marketed as an “all-terrain tripod”, it works as well on the side of a mountain or underwater as a flat pavement, yet still weighs under a pound.
The tripod’s feet have flip-out spikes to keep it anchored on soft and uneven surfaces, and the legs adjust and lock in place at almost any angle.
Invented by an underwater filmaker to fit his own requirements, the tripod can be used on “rock walls, sailboat masts, bike handlebars, jungle vines, car hoods, fences, under kayaks, and more”.
In short, if you’re an adventure photographer, you’ll want this tripod.
Zolt Charger Plus ($99)
We’ve been waiting a long time for this. The Zolt Laptop Charger was first announced almost a year ago, and the idea of a tiny replacement for large laptop power bricks was seriously appealing. What’s the point in buying a slim, lightweight travel laptop when the power brick weighs half as much again?
Well, the Zolt is just about to start shipping, and it’s just as great as we’d hoped. At 3.6″ long by 1.3″ wide, it’s four times smaller and three times lighter than most other chargers.
It will charge most 40-65W laptops, including 11″ and 13″ Macbook models with the optional Magsafe connector. The two spare USB sockets let you simultaneously charge a phone and tablet as well.
This tiny charger will save a bunch of space in your carry-on, and prevent the annoying ‘heavy-charger-falling-out-of-wall-socket’ problem that is the bane of my travelling life. Definitely recommended.
Gifts Under $300
Kindle Paperwhite ($120)
We really like the Kindle Paperwhite — it made our gift guide last year, and it’s a shoe-in this time around too. Of the various models of Kindle Amazon’s released over the years, this is by far the best. It’s slim and light, competitively priced and easy to use, but it’s the inbuilt reading lamp that makes all the difference.
After I spent five weeks in hostel-style accommodation when walking the Camino de Santiago earlier this year, and jealously watched others being able to read after lights-out without disturbing everyone around them, I vowed to replace my older Kindle as soon as possible.
Forget lugging round heavy paperbacks and trying to find a book store in the middle of nowhere. The Paperwhite is one of our must-pack travel gadgets.
BrydgeMini Keyboard for iPad Mini ($129)
One of the biggest complaints about travelling with a tablet computer is that, well, they kind of suck to type on for more than a few minutes. When you’re trying to get any kind of work done, or even just typing out a Facebook update more than a few sentences long, tapping away on the screen gets very old.
If you’ve got an iPad Mini 1,2 or 3, the BrydgeMini will be right up your alley. It’s a premium Bluetooth keyboard for Apple’s smallest tablet, all machined aluminium and matching colour schemes. More important, though, is how it functions for travel.
Adjustable to deal with cramped spaces like airline tray tables, with months-long battery life and normal-sized, backlit keys with plenty of travel, it’s one of the few tablet keyboards that don’t feel like a huge compromise over using a laptop.
There’ll be a new model early next year that handles the latest iPad Mini 4, and the company also makes a larger keyboard for the iPad Air. If you want to travel without a laptop while still having an enjoyable typing experience, check it out.
Fitbit Charge HR Fitness Tracker ($140)
Walking round new cities for hours can be great fun, but when it’s hot, cold or wet outside, motivation can be lacking. Sometimes all you want to is curl up in your hotel room and take a nap… which isn’t ideal when you’ve got limited time in a place.
Certain writers for this site (ok, yes, me included) have recently started wearing a Fitbit Charge HR every day. Whether it’s our competitive natures or the regular app reminders, we’ve found ourselves spending a LOT more time out exploring as a result. Being able to run challenges with friends and family around the world also helps bring us a little closer together, which we love.
We wrote a full review of the Charge HR recently, but in summary: it’s a great way to track and improve your fitness, both on the road and while dreaming of your next trip. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try and hit 50,000 steps for the day…
The Egg 64GB Personal Cloud Device ($199)
Created by a couple of ex-Intel engineers, the Egg (yes, that’s its name) calls itself a ‘handheld personal cloud device’. It’s a place to store all the photos and videos you take during your travels, then share them with whoever you like without having to upload them to social networks or other cloud services.
It’s also a media server, so you can dump a bunch of music, movies and TV shows on it, to watch on whatever device you’re travelling with. If your holiday snaps are using up the space on your phone, just move them all across to the Egg instead. We’d still recommend backing them up somewhere online as well, though.
You don’t need an Internet connection to use the Egg yourself, only to share with friends elsewhere in the world. It can join existing wireless networks, or create its own hotspot if required, and multiple devices can connect to it at once.
There are also higher-capacity versions available, up to 256GB. It’s currently in pre-order, so just double-check the shipping date if you need it now.
SOOT ElectroPack 2 ($249)
For modular luggage with a difference, check out the Soot ElectroPack 2. It offers a bunch of different options for carrying and powering your gear, in a sleek and practical package.
The ten litre Mini Messenger bag is handy for round-town use or keeping your valuables close on buses and trains. The 24 litre Commuter daypack is aimed more at overnight and weekend trips. Both bags include a 10,000mAh battery with two USB sockets for keeping your gadgets charged.
Combine the two bags for a 34 litre carry-on that powers four devices at once, and provides enough space for several days of travel — or, if you’re a hard-core “carry-on only” traveller, several months.
The bags are strong, made from ballistic nylon and marine vinyl, and include protective sleeves for laptops and tablets. There’s also an optional rain cover — handy during the wet season in Thailand!
Bevy Smart Photo System ($299)
With all the different devices we’re taking photos on these days, managing and storing them all is a hassle… and that’s just for one person. Try doing it as a couple or family!
The Bevy Smart Photo System is a device and app combo that lets everyone securely upload, view and manage photos and videos in one place, no matter how they took them. Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS apps automatically back up over Wifi, and you can plug SD cards and USB sticks straight into the device as well.
The Bevy connects to your TV to view travel memories on the big screen, and organizes everything by date and user. Photos and videos can be viewed from anywhere by anyone with the right permissions. Thankfully the device also allows for secure backups to both an external drive and the cloud.
It comes in both 1TB and 2TB versions, so if you’re looking for a way to manage your family’s ever-expanding photo collection, it’s well worth checking out.
ASUS ZenFone 2 Smartphone, 64GB ($299)
If you need an unlocked smartphone to travel with (and we highly recommend it), it’s hard to go past the Asus Zenfone 2 right now.
It’s fast and far from ugly, with large amounts of memory and storage and a good camera — all for $299 unlocked, which is great value. You’ll get a bunch of features that are difficult to find on other low to mid-range phones. The phone has LTE support, dual SIM cards, a microSD slot to add even more storage, and fast charging (zero to 60% in under 40 minutes)..
There’s a cheaper version that’s slower and has less storage, but if you’re hitting the road, this is the model we’d go for.
Asus Zenbook UX305 ($639)
Many travellers are ditching notebooks in favour of tablets and smartphones, but if you need to get real work done, you’ll still be lugging round a laptop. If that sounds like you, but you don’t want to spend a small fortune on something powerful and lightweight, check out the Asus Zenbook UX305.
It comes with 8GB of memory, 256GB solid state drive and up to 11 hours of battery life, while being just half an inch thick and weighing under three pounds. The screen’s nice and bright, the speakers don’t suck and even the lower-spec Core M version has more than enough power for everyday computing tasks.
For under a hundred bucks more, you get the faster Intel i5 chipset instead — a worthy upgrade for most travellers. No matter which one you buy, though, this is an excellent travel laptop at a very reasonable price.
Sony DSC-RX100M IV ($948)
There’s no doubt Sony knows how to do two things well: make amazing point and shoot cameras, and charge a lot of money for them. For years now, the RX100 has been the best choice for travellers who want a pocket-sized camera that takes great shots in almost any conditions. As long as those pockets are suitably deep, at least.
This, the fourth version in the range, continues the tradition.
For close to $1000, you’ll receive what is, simply, the best point and shoot camera money can buy. It’s close to being the best compact camera of any size, which is a big complement given just how tiny this thing is.
The 24-70mm equivalent zoom lens is pin-sharp across its range. The Rx100 shoots clear, detailed stills and video in conditions that would leave many budget DSLRs struggling.
When even jaded professional camera reviewers start raving about a point and shoot, you know it’s something remarkable. If you want a camera that’s small enough to take everywhere yet will give amazing shots every time, bite the bullet, spend the cash and buy the RX100.
Already Travelling? Go Virtual!
12 Month Crashplan Subscription ($60)
I’ve been using Crashplan to back up my data on the road for three years now, and so far, it hasn’t failed me. Everything gets sent to secure online storage automatically and, as long as I remember to plug in my portable hard drive, to local backup as well.
I don’t need to think about it, which is the key to any successful backup routine. Let’s face it, we’ve all got much more exciting things to do while travelling. For five bucks a month, or free if you have a computer at home to send your data to, it’s inexpensive, simple peace of mind.
12 Month Tunnelbear VPN Subscription ($50)
If backups are boring, data security isn’t much more interesting. Keeping your information safe on dodgy wireless networks is vital when travelling, though. Here’s why.
There are dozens of VPN companies out there, but Tunnelbear is one we regularly recommend. It has good speeds, simple software and fast, friendly customer service.
There’s a free plan that might be enough for light users, and the paid options are competitively priced. You can even sign up for a month-by-month plan to cover you for short trips if you’d rather, rather than paying for a year up front. Nice.
Amazon Gift Certificate
Buying for someone on the road is tough — my friends and family remind me of this every holiday season. My answer is always “get me an Amazon voucher”.
It’s not the most exciting of gifts, but it means I can buy downloadable products from anywhere, and physical items when I do actually have a shipping address for a while.
Trust me, the traveller in your life will appreciate it. I know I do.
All product images via their respective vendors