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 travelers of all types, in 2021.
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 storage from a respected manufacturer is sufficient. Companies like Kingston, Corsair, and Sandisk have been making memory and data storage devices for decades. While you’ll get occasional failures regardless of which company you choose, they’re few and far between.
Durability and reliability are more important than raw speed and extra features for most travelers. We take that into consideration when making our recommendations.
Best Portable Hard Drive
If you’re a traveling photographer or videographer, a good portable drive is vital. When you’re generating hours of video or hundreds of shots per day, it’s the only way to quickly, reliably back up that irreplaceable data.
Unfortunately, most of the cheaper models aren’t great for travelers. They’re designed mainly to sit on a desk, not deal with the knocks, drops, rain, dust, and everything else that makes up an average day on the road.
There are a few, though, built with this lifestyle in mind. These are seven of the best portable drives for travelers, from inexpensive models with a bit of extra durability to tiny, rugged versions that are as speedy as they are expensive.
Our current budget pick is the Silicon Power A60, while the best value for money at the higher end is the Sandisk Extreme Portable+. It’s worth reading the full article, though, as there are several alternatives that may suit you just as much, if not better, depending on your needs.
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 40-70MB/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 150MB/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.
We like these cards a lot.Buy on Amazon
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 aluminum case and high-quality rubber seals, it’s shock and vibration-resistant, and handles submersion up to 200 metres (600+ feet).
If you’re looking for a drive that can deal with whatever the travel gods throw at it, this is it.Buy on Amazon
Best Storage for Mobile Devices
If you’re not traveling 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 flash drives that work on mobile devices, and don’t cost a fortune. Typically, one end can plug into your phone or tablet, while the other has a USB socket to connect to a computer.
Our top picks are outlined below, but if you’re looking for more options, we devoted an entire article to the best ways to add extra storage to tablets and smartphones.
Best Storage for iPhone and iPad: SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive
Sandisk’s iXpand drives come in a range of capacities up to 256GB, and have a USB 3.1 port on one end and a Lightning port on the other.
This makes copying files easy, whether you’re sending them between the iBridge and your phone or tablet, or to and from a laptop. The drive is very small and light, with two different options: one with a swivel cover, the other with a loop that sits behind the phone or tablet.
The swiveling model can be purchased with a USB-A to USB-C adapter, which lets you connect it to the latest laptops that only come with USB-C sockets.
The app is simple, but works well for moving photos and videos backward and forward between your iPhone or iPad and the iXpand drive. You can also set up automatic backups, and tell the app to automatically move new video files straight to the drive after shooting them.
The price is reasonable, with even the highest capacity typically costing well under a hundred dollars. That’s enough to store photos and video for all but the longest trips or most avid photographers.Buy on Amazon
Best Storage for Android: SanDiskUltra Dual Drive
Android owners haven’t been forgotten, with companies like Sandisk also making a small range of storage options for those devices. Any phone or tablet with OTG (“on-the-go”) support can use them, but it’s worth checking the compatibility chart before you buy.
The Ultra Dual drive is the best of the bunch. For those with older devices that use a micro-USB port, the M3.0 model has a retractable design that keeps the drive super-small, with a speedy USB 3.1 port for connecting to a laptop. If you need a USB-C version instead, this similar, although larger, model will do the job.
The no-frills Memory Zone app works well, although you can use any Android file management app to move your photos and videos around. Write speeds aren’t the fastest you’ll find, but you’ll likely only notice if you’re copying hundreds of photos at once.
Overall it’s an inexpensive, easy to use, and reliable way of freeing up much-needed space.
Best Cloud Storage
No matter how sturdy and reliable your portable storage is, 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 traveling. Photos, videos, and other files stored only in one place, like your 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, 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 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 many online photo and video storage options, and our top pick has changed over time. For the winning combination of generous storage, simple uploads, and useful extra features, Google Photos gets the nod in 2021.
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, you get unlimited free storage.
You get 15GB of storage for free, although that space is shared with other Google apps like Gmail and Google Drive. If you run out, you’re looking at around $2/month for 100GB, $10/month for 1TB, with larger plans if needed.
The feature that really sets Google Photos apart, however, is its searching and cataloging tools. The app and site automatically recognizes whatever 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. That includes 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.
Main image via Sandisk, Backblaze logo via Backblaze, other images via Amazon