With the cost of data storage coming down all the time, there’s little reason to not have enough of it when you travel. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to keep all those TV shows to watch on your iPad, a bigger memory card for your camera (or a drive to back up the thousands of photos you’ve taken with it), a safe place to store everything in case the worst happens, we’ve got you covered.
These are our picks for the best portable and cloud storage options, for travellers of all types, in 2017.
Best Portable Storage
Portable storage comes in all shapes and sizes — tiny USB sticks, speedy solid state drives, rugged hard drives, wireless versions of everything, plus any number of different cards to put in phones and cameras.
Other than a few specialized cases like high-end video work, buying mid-level or better storage from a respected manufacturer is sufficient. Companies like Kingston, Corsair and Sandisk have been making memory and data storage devices for decades, and while you’ll get occasional failures regardless of which company you choose, they’re few and far between.
Durability and reliability is more important than raw speed and extra features for most travellers, and we take that into consideration when making our recommendations.
Best SD Card: Sandisk Extreme
Available in sizes up to 256GB, the Sandisk Extreme line of SD cards is fast, reliable and well-regarded by professionals. Write speed maxes out at 40-60MB/sec depending on the version you buy, so you can shoot HD video and take burst-mode photos without a problem. Reading from the card is even faster, at up to 90MB/sec, so you’re not waiting around forever for files to copy.
They’re shockproof, waterproof and x-ray-proof, and designed to handle extremes of hot and cold temperatures. Sandisk’s lifetime warranty and reputation are among the best in the business, which matters when you’re taking those irreplaceable shots.
You’ll pay very little more for fast, reliable storage like this — and trust us, you’re not going to care about the few dollars you saved when your no-name card corrupts your photos. The Sandisk Extreme range also comes in microSD and USB versions, so you can use them in anything from your phone or GoPro to your laptop.
We like these cards a lot.
Best USB Drive: Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth
USB drives are a dime a dozen, and if you’re not using them to store anything important as you travel, you can just take one that’s lying around the house. If you’re saving vital documents like passport scans, travel itineraries and the like, however, you’ll want something more robust.
We’ve been recommending the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth for years now, and with good reason. It comes in capacities up to 256GB, so you can use it to back up all your photos and videos, not just for copying a few files between devices. Transfer speeds are quick, thanks to USB 3.0 support, and it’s one of the most durable USB drives we’ve ever come across. With an aircraft-grade aluminium case and high-quality rubber seals, it’s shock and vibration-resistant, and waterproof to 200 metres.
If you’re looking for a drive that can handle whatever the travel gods throw at it, this is it.
Best Portable Hard Drive (HDD): Transcend StoreJet
USB drives are small and highly-portable, but if you need loads of storage space, hard drives are still where it’s at. Costing about the same as its competitors, the Transcend Storejet range adds plenty of extra reliability. It’s fast, at up to 90MB/s over USB 3.0, with a simple one-touch backup system if you use the included software.
Most useful for travellers, though, is the ‘military-grade shock resistance’ and three-stage drop protection. Knocks and drops happen all the time when you’re on the road, and are the easiest way to kill electronics with moving parts, so it’s a very welcome addition.
Most people will find the 1TB version enough for their backup needs, but the 2TB model also offers good value if you’re shooting loads of photos or video.
Best Portable Solid State Drive (SSD): Samsung T3
If you’re looking for the fastest, lightest and most durable way to store large amounts of data when you travel, you need a solid state drive. There aren’t many companies making good portable versions for travel, but Samsung is onto a winner with the T3.
Available in sizes from 250GB to 2TB, you’ll pay roughly double what you would for a hard drive of the same capacity. In return, you’ll get a drive that’s up to five times faster, weighs two ounces and is about the same length and width as a business card.
Because they have no moving parts, solid state drives are naturally much more resistant to being dropped and bumped. The T3’s case and frame is rated to handle drops of over six feet. Right now, it’s the gold standard in portable storage for travellers.
Best Storage for Mobile Devices: Sandisk Connect Wireless Stick
If you’re not travelling with a laptop, backing up to a portable drive has long been a challenge — you’ve typically need dedicated, often expensive accessories to connect it to your iPhone, iPad or Android device. Thankfully, companies have recently started coming out with wireless drives that work across a range of different devices, and don’t cost a fortune.
Our pick is the Sandisk Connect Wireless Stick, which can be used wirelessly or plugged directly into a laptop. It creates its own wireless network, to which you connect the devices you want to use. The accompanying app lets you automatically copy photos from your device, or you can manually move files backward and forward as needed.
You can also stream video directly from it, which is useful if you’re short on space on your phone or tablet. If you want to copy files from the stick to a laptop, or vice versa, there’s no need for an app — just plug it directly into the USB port.
Sizes range from 32-200GB, with even the highest capacity coming in under a hundred dollars. That’s enough to store photos and video for all but the longest trips or most avid photographers.
Best Cloud Storage
No matter how sturdy and reliable your portable storage is, unfortunately bad things can happen to it. Loss, theft, fire and other damage can easily part you from your electronics, and if your backup device is in the same place as your laptop, phone or tablet… well, you’ve got problems.
To get around that issue, we recommend the use of cloud storage. Some or all of your files are copied over the Internet to a company’s servers, where they’ll remain unaffected by whatever is happening on your travels. This type of storage isn’t a replacement for a portable drive, as slow or non-existent Internet can mean lengthy restore times and no backups for days or weeks, but it’s a necessary companion.
Best Cloud Backup: Backblaze
Backups are boring, yet absolutely essential, especially while you’re travelling. Photos, videos and other files stored only in one place — your camera’s memory card, phone or laptop — are files you don’t care about. Without proper backups, it’s only a matter of time until theft, loss, damage or failure permanently separate you and your data.
We exhaustively tested several cloud backup services earlier this year, and while none came without flaws, the best option for most travelers is Backblaze. While it has frustrating limits around automatic removal of deleted, ‘missing’ and older versions of files, there’s also plenty to like.
At $5/month or $50/year for unlimited storage, it’s a cost-effective way of keeping your files safely backed up in the cloud. The app works well, unobtrusively backing up files without using all your system resources to do it. The restoration process, while undoubtedly clunkier than it needs to be, is equally speedy and works just fine.
For extra security, don’t forget to also configure Time Machine or one of the inbuilt Windows backup tools to back your files up to a portable drive as well, especially if Internet connections are slow or infrequent when you travel. Other than that, with Backblaze, you’re good to go.
Best Photo and Video Cloud Storage: Google Photos
We’ve tested out plenty of online photo and video storage options, and our pick for the best of them has changed over time. For the winning combination of generous storage, simple uploads and useful extra features, Google Photos gets the nod in 2017.
With apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, copying new photos to Google’s service is simple and automatic. If you’re happy to save photos at a maximum of 16 megapixels (most phone cameras are less than this), you get unlimited free storage.
If you take photos at higher resolutions and want to keep them that way, you get 15GB of space, shared with other Google apps like Gmail, Google Drive etc. If you run out, you’re looking at around $2/month for 100GB, $10/month for 1TB, and larger plans if needed.
The feature that really sets Google Photos apart, however, is its searching and cataloging tools. The app and site automatically recognises what is in your photos, grouping them by things like ‘sunset’, ‘dog’, ‘mountains’ and much more. You can also search for whatever you want to find, including dates, places, geography and pretty much anything else you can think of.
It’s faster and more powerful than any other photo management tool we’ve found, online or offline. Finally, the inbuilt Assistant tool has some useful features, including creating usable panoramas from several shots of the same general scene, collages and animations. Overall, it’s a winning combination, at an unbeatable price.