Are travellers the worst group of people in the world to buy for? Probably. Everything needs to be small, light, robust, reliable and useful. There’s no room for gear that might come in handy now and again, or doesn’t really do what it’s supposed to. It’ll just get left behind or thrown out in a hurry.
For that reason, there’s only genuinely great stuff in our gift guides. No gimmicks, no junk, nothing that’s not worth the room in your backpack or on your device.
From simple yet practical gadgets like USB wall chargers and Wi-fi extenders, to budget smartphones, portable speakers and much more, we included just the gear and services we would (and typically, do) use ourselves.
Since we’d all like to save our travel budget for memorable experiences (or cocktails), this year we’re keeping the prices down. Half the items on our list cost under fifty bucks, most of the rest are under $100, and there’s nothing over two hundred dollars at all. Quality travel gear and services don’t need to cost a fortune.
Gifts Under $50
aLLreLi 4-Port USB Wall Charger
So much of our tech gear now charges over USB, but there’s no need to carry around a whole bunch of wall and travel adapters to keep everything powered up. This 6.8amp Allreli unit charges up to four low-power devices like phones or e-readers at once, or a couple of tablets.
It’s small and light enough to drop in a daypack and forget about it, and in a nice touch, removable power plugs for most of the world are included. At this price, it’s one of the most useful tech accessories we’ve come across for travellers.
Speaking of charging, what is it with hotels and inaccessible power sockets? Is it really so hard to put a socket beside the bed, rather than, say, halfway up the wall or behind the television?
Until hoteliers sort that particular issue out, there’s the LampChamp. It’s simple and kinda ingenious: just remove the bulb from your bedside lamp, replace it with the LampChamp, then screw the bulb back on top. Just like that, you’ve got a 2amp USB charger (and a light that still works).
Rugged enough to live in a suitcase, cheap enough to be a stocking stuffer, useful enough to justify carrying. We like.
Panda PAU06 Wireless Range Extender
Great news! The hotel has free Wi-fi! Bad news! Your room gets one bar of signal… if you hang your laptop out the window and hold your tongue in just the right position. Oh well, who doesn’t enjoy waiting twenty minutes for Facebook to load, anyway?
We’ve been recommending Wi-fi range extenders for years now. They’re an easy way of getting faster Internet while travelling, or connecting to networks your laptop can’t even usually see.
This Panda model ticks all the boxes: it’s small, powerful and works on current (and older) versions of Windows, MacOS and Linux. Just plug it into your laptop’s USB socket and away you go.
Kenu Stance Smartphone Tripod
Smartphone tripods are a dime a dozen, but Kenu’s version is a step above the competition. Plugging into the phone’s charging port, the Stance keeps the phone stable in both portrait and landscape mode. A ball-and-socket design lets the phone rotate to get the perfect shot, without having to move the tripod itself.
Made from a lightweight zinc alloy, the Stance weighs little over an ounce, and folds up to just three inches long. There’s a ring for attaching it to your keys or a caribiner, and one of the legs acts as bottle opener. It’s important to always be able to open a beer at the end of a long travel day, after all.
With versions for pretty much every phone, taking photos, making a video call or watching a favourite show just got easier.
KnowRoaming SIM Cards and Stickers
For travellers who want to stay connected without spending a fortune, KnowRoaming came top of our recent international SIM card comparison.
The company’s SIM cards and stickers offer coverage in 200 countries, with up to 85% off roaming charges. There’s free use of WhatsApp for voice and texts around the world, and unlimited data in 90 countries for around eight bucks a day.
It’s simply a better, more affordable choice than the competition. Extras like free US and UK phone numbers seal the deal.
Hootoo Wireless Travel Router
Speaking of staying connected, this little travel router really impressed us this year.
As well as making crappy Wi-fi far much more useful, it’s also a high-capacity portable battery for charging mobile devices. The Hootoo also makes it easy to copy photos and other files between your devices, and streams your favourite shows from a USB stick to a phone or tablet.
All that, in a compact and remarkably well-priced gadget. Seriously, we can’t think of a traveller who wouldn’t use this on their trip.
Roku Streaming Stick
We’ve used and reviewed the Chromecast for travellers in the past, but frankly, Roku’s streaming stick is a better option.
Watching Netflix, Amazon or Hulu on the hotel room TV is super-simple, due in part to travel-friendly features like “Hotel and Dorm Connect” mode. It’s designed for those annoying logon screens that stop the Chromecast dead in its tracks on many accommodation and airport Wi-fi networks.
There’s a physical remote, but you can use an app on your phone or tablet instead. If you want to use headphones, audio can be streamed to the app as well, so you can still watch the TV while plugged into your mobile device. That’s pretty cool.
Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth
When you’re backing up vital documents like passport scans, itineraries and trip photos on a USB stick, you want something that’ll survive whatever travel throws at it. We’ve been recommending the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth for years now, and with good reason.
It comes in capacities up to 256GB, so there’s enough room for all your photos and videos. 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.
Aircraft-grade aluminium case and high-quality rubber seals make it shock and vibration-resistant, and waterproof to 200 metres. When it comes to important files, why take chances?
Anker PowerPort Solar Lite
I’d always thought solar chargers weren’t necessary for all but the most off-grid travellers… until I went to Nepal. As a power cut in Pokhara entered its third day, all of my gadgets ran out of juice and shut down. I was very happy to be able to set up my charger in the beating sun and kick my phone and Kindle back into life again.
Whether on a lengthy hike or trip to a developing country, Anker’s PowerPort Solar Lite is one of the best travel-friendly solar chargers out there. Four hooks make it easy to hang off a backpack or tent, and it’s priced better than much of the competition.
It folds up small enough to keep in a day pack, but puts out enough power to charge a portable battery, phone or e-reader easily. Coupled with sunny days, the PowerPort Solar Lite can keep mobile gadgets running pretty much indefinitely.
Oaxis AirScale Luggage Scale Power Bank
Luggage scales have been around for a long time, but they’re the kind of thing that’s hard to justify packing when space is tight. That’s not much help when you’ve bought a bunch of souveniers and just know you’re pushing the airline’s weight limit.
The Oaxis combines a digital scale with a portable battery, making it much more useful and easy to justify taking on the road.
The 6400mAh battery will charge a phone two or three times at high speed. The removeable hook clips onto the scale and suitcase when needed, and stays in your bag the rest of the time. It’s a well-designed, sleek and useful travel accessory.
Gifts Under $100
Hedgren Connect Framework Backpack
Most smart luggage comes in suitcase form, so it’s nice to see a manufactuer adding tech smarts to other types of luggage. The Hedgren Connect range also includes messenger bags and other styles, but it’s the Framework daypack that we particularly like.
There’s physical security in the form of lockable zips and padded storage compartments, and an RFID-blocking pocket for passports and credit cards. The dual-charging system inside is driven by a portable battery that can itself be charged by a built-in retractable cable. There’s no need to even take it out of the bag.
Large enough for a weekend away, or to use as a day bag during a longer trip, the Hedgren Framework strikes the right balance between tech features and travel usability.
Dart Laptop Charger
Laptops are getting smaller and lighter with every new version, but the chargers that power them typically aren’t. That’s a real problem with many Windows laptops in particular — for example, the charging brick for my Asus falls out of wall sockets at the slightest provocation.
Apparently equally sick of retrieving their charger from the floor, the folks at FINsix crowdfunded the Dart. Billed as the smallest laptop charger in the world, it’s compatible with the latest Macbooks, and most Windows laptops, that use a 65W charger or less.
I’ve been testing one for weeks, and it’s been rock-solid — both in terms of powering my laptop, and staying put in the wall. There’s also a single USB socket built into the cable, which works equally well.
It’s significantly smaller than the competing Zolt charger we reviewed at the start of the year, and more reliable too. Windows-loving travellers, this one’s for you.
1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones
A good pair of earbuds is one of the best travel accessories I’ve ever owned, and I wouldn’t travel without them. Noise is everywhere, from airports to hostels and overnight buses, and being able to drown it out is a godsend.
This 1MORE triple driver in-ear model is one of the best for both sound and value. Effective noise isolation means there’s no need to crank the music up to keep the outside world at bay. That’s more chance of sleeping, less chance of hearing damage.
The three button remote makes it easy to answer calls, stop, skip and change the volume of whatever’s playing without touching whatever it’s connected to. That’s good for both safety and ease of use, and the one thing tempting me to switch from my long-time favorite Shure SE-215’s.
UE Roll 2 Portable Speaker
For those who prefer to listen to their music with friends, there are around eleventy-billion portable Bluetooth speakers out there. Most of them are terrible… but the UE Roll 2 isn’t. In fact, it’s pretty great.
The 9+ hour battery life is better than almost anything else of this size and weight, with more than enough sound quality and volume for a good-sized outdoor party. It’s waterproof, and even comes with an inflatable ring so it can be used in the pool, not just beside it.
Bluetooth range is a very solid 20 metres (60 feet). The Roll 2 has an attractive design that makes it easy to fit in a day bag, with a size and weight appropriate for travel. It’s an absolute winner.
GoPuck 6XR Portable Charger
GoPro’s can take incredible travel footage, but battery life is, well, less than great. To make things worse, most portable batteries aren’t anywhere near as rugged as the action cameras they get plugged into — but the GoPuck is different.
As well as being able to handle dirt, dust and vibrations, the GoPuck 6XR is designed so it can clipped to a belt or strap, or mounted directly underneath a GoPro. It locks solidly in place, and the whole setup can be attached to a tripod or anything else with a standard screw type.
It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, but the 9000mAh capacity is more than enough to get through a day of filming. Other gadgets can also be charged at the same time, thanks to dual USB ports.
Gifts Under $200
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
The days of needing to lug round heavy books in your luggage have well and truly passed. E-books are a far better option for travellers, and with a huge range of books and great reading hardware, Amazon owns the market. Sure, you could use the app on a phone or tablet, but the battery life and glare-free screens make a dedicated Kindles a better choice.
We’ve used and reviewed several different models, and the recommendation is easy: buy the Paperwhite. Battery life is better than the base model, words on the screen are crisper, and most usefully, the front-lit screen can be used in the darkness of overnight flights and shared acommodation without waking up everyone nearby.
Motorola Moto G 4
Think you need to spend several hundred dollars to get a decent unlocked phone for travel? Think again. Motorola has been turning out some of the best budget smartphones for years, and the fourth version of the Moto G lives up to that reputation.
For under $200, you get a water-resistant smartphone with good battery life, a camera you’re actually happy to use for travel photos, fast charging, and a micro-SD slot to add extra storage as needed.
It’s got an unlocked SIM card slot (two of them, if you buy the European model), meaning you can drop in local SIM cards for cheap connectivity while travelling. If we were buying a low-cost smartphone for ourselves these holidays, the Moto G would be it.
Already Travelling? Go Virtual!
12 Month Crashplan Subscription
Backup is incredibly boring… until you lose your trip photos, documents and every other file you care about. All of sudden, keeping more than one copy of everything seems like a much more interesting idea.
We’ve tried a bunch of different backup systems, and settled on Crashplan. It’s completely automated, saving whatever collection of files you like to the cloud, a hard drive, USB stick and more. Setup takes a few minutes, and you can completely ignore the app from then on… until the day comes when you need to get your data back.
It’s cheap, easy peace of mind.
12 Month Tunnelbear VPN Subscription
While on the topic of “boring but neccessary”, let’s talk about data security and VPNs.
Of all the VPN companies we’ve tried (and we’ve tried a lot), we keep recommending Tunnelbear for most travellers. It’s fast, with one of the easiest apps to use, and the customer service is quick and friendly.
The free plan is enough to for those who don’t use the Internet much, and paid options are competitive. Unlike some companies, you don’t need to sign up for a year if you don’t want to — there’s a month-by-month plan for short trips if you’d rather.
Priority Pass Lounge Access
I’ve been using the Priority Pass for over a year now, to gain access to airport lounges around the world. It’s a highly-affordable way to find a few hours of peace and tranquility (as well as Wi-fi, showers, food, drink and power sockets) on long, stressful travel days.
The accompanying app is useful as well, giving details on how to find lounges in each airport, plus a virtual membership card that can often be used in place of the physical one.
For those who don’t get lounge access through loyalty schemes or credit cards, the Priority Pass is a no-brainer. I recently renewed my membership, and now, wouldn’t be without it when travelling.
Note: the button below gives 10% off your purchase.
Amazon Gift Certificate
And finally, if none of the above grab you, there’s always an Amazon voucher. Sure, it’s not the most exciting of gifts, but it means travellers can buy downloadable products like e-books and movies from anywhere, and physical items when they’ve got a shipping address for a while.
Available in any amount you like, it’s what I always tell my friends and family to buy me whenever I’m on the road at Christmas.
All product images via their respective vendors