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Are travelers the worst people in the world to buy gifts for? Probably. Everything needs to be small, light, robust, reliable, and useful. That’s not much to ask, right?
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, we’ve tried to only include genuinely great stuff in this guide. No gimmicks or filler, just the gear and services we would and do use on the road ourselves.
Since we’d all like to save our travel budget for memorable experiences (or cocktails, or memorable experiences involving cocktails), we also try to keep the prices down. You won’t find any $1000 phones or $2000 laptops here.
Most of the items in this guide are under $100, and there’s nothing at all over $350. Quality travel gear and services don’t need to cost a fortune.
Gifts Under $100
Anker PowerCore 13000 Portable Battery
Taking photos, looking up directions, sitting in a transit lounge for hours. Travel’s hard on smartphone batteries… and let’s face it, they’re usually not that great to start with.
Packing one of these compact Anker portable batteries means one less thing to worry about, since it can charge most smartphones several times over, and even juice up a tablet.
Smaller than a wallet and weighing under nine ounces, it has two USB-A ports, and can output up to three amps (total) to quickly charge your phone, tablet, camera, or other USB device.
Anker has built its reputation on reasonably-priced, high-quality batteries and chargers, and the PowerCore 13000 is no exception.
iKits 4-Port USB Wall Charger
I’ve recommended this 4-way USB charger for a while, and for good reason. It’s one of the most genuinely useful tech accessories for travelers, at a very reasonable price.
Rather than messing around with travel adapters and multiple power sockets, you simply choose the plug type you need, click it into place, and plug it into the wall. The included plugs work in 150+ countries around the world.
You can simultaneously charge a couple of phones or tablets at high speed, or up to four devices that don’t need quite as much power. It’s compact, lightweight, and one of the first things I pack for any trip.
Anker Powerline+ Extra-Long Charging Cable
You can’t get much simpler than a charging cable, right?
They’re the kind of thing nobody thinks too much about, until they stop working somewhere you can’t buy a replacement, or don’t reach from the power socket to anywhere useful. Sadly, both of those problems aren’t exactly uncommon.
Anker’s been making great charging gear for years (like the battery pack mentioned above), and its Powerline+ cable range is no exception. Built with Kevlar fibres and reinforced in all the right places, they’re made to last, and come with a handy travel strap or pouch to stop them getting tangled up inside a daypack.
Grab the six or ten-foot version, so that even the most stupidly-placed power socket doesn’t leave your phone dangling down the wall or sitting on the floor all night.
PowerCube Portable Power Strip
While many travelers will be fine just packing a multi-USB charger like the iKits one above, for others, there’s no getting away from a wall socket. Many laptops, cameras, and other gadgets and appliances still have their own dedicated chargers — and that’s where this little power strip comes in.
Unlike many others, it can handle 110-240 volts, so it won’t blow up when you take it overseas. With four (North American-style) AC sockets, plus two USB sockets, it’ll be enough for all but the most gadget-obsessed traveler — and best of all, it comes with its own clip-on plugs to deal with most power sockets around the world.
The design makes a lot of sense, with sockets on four sides of the cube so they don’t crowd each other out, and the USB sockets on the remaining side. It’s small, light, and works how it should. Now that’s a rarity.
UE Roll 2 Portable Speaker
For those who prefer to listen to their music with friends, there’s an endless supply of portable Bluetooth speakers out there. Most of them are awful… 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 a similar size, 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, rather than just alongside it.
Bluetooth range is a very solid 20 metres (60 feet). The Roll 2 has an attractive slim design that makes it easy to fit in a day bag, and doesn’t weigh much either. It’s an absolute winner.
Amazon Fire HD 8
Amazon’s Fire range dominates the low-cost tablet market, and the Fire HD 8 is the pick of the bunch for travelers.
Easy to carry while still having a large enough screen to comfortably watch movies on, this 8″ model gets up to ten hours between charges, and comes in a range of colors.
It has a micro-SD slot for adding extra storage, but for most people it’s worth paying the small extra cost to double the internal capacity from 16 to 32GB.
It’s easily our choice for the best budget travel tablet of the year. A few variations are available with smaller or larger screens, and there are kid-friendly versions as well.
Glam Hobby OURLINK AC600
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 boosters 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 Glam Hobby model ticks all the boxes: it’s small, powerful, and is one of the few that works on current (and older) versions of Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Just plug it into your laptop’s USB socket and away you go.
Need something with even greater range, or that boosts the Wi-fi for multiple devices at once? We’ve got several other recommendations here.
HooToo Wireless Travel Router
The HooToo Wireless Travel Router promises a lot. As well as giving all your devices a stronger Wi-fi connection, it’s also a portable battery, media streamer, and a way of copying files to, from, and between your mobile devices.
The biggest surprise? It actually does everything it’s supposed to, at a remarkably good price, without being too big and heavy. We’ve used ours on multiple trips, and it’s been rock-solid every entire time.
HooToo 6-in-1 USB-C Hub
Laptops are getting smaller and lighter all the time, but to achieve that, manufacturers have started to leave out connection options that most of us still use, replacing everything with USB-C ports.
Sure, you can buy individual adapters to attach your USB sticks, keyboards, SD card readers, and whatever else — but they’re easy to break and even easier to lose on the road. For those who work from the road in particular, dongle hell is real.
There’s a much better option, though — a little hub like this Hootoo 6-in-1 unit. Weighing just a couple of ounces, it’s small enough to drop in a bag and forget about it, yet provides three extra USB-A ports, an Ethernet socket for wired networks, and an HDMI port for running an external monitor.
Connect a USB-C charger, and the hub will even power the laptop it’s plugged into. Handy!
Shure SE215 Sound-Isolating Earphones
I traveled with Shure SE-215 earphones for years, before sadly leaving them behind on a long-distance bus one day. I ultimately decided to replace them with noise-canceling headphones, but if you don’t want to spend over a hundred bucks on a set of travel earphones, I still think these Shures are as good as it gets.
They had fantastic sound quality for the money, blocked out a remarkable amount of outside noise, stayed comfortable in my ears even on extended plane rides, and were robust enough to handle being thrown into a daypack and stuffed into a back pocket day after day.
With replaceable foam earpieces and cable, wearing out or breaking one part doesn’t mean replacing the entire thing, and there’s even a universal remote with microphone and remote on the cable so you can keep your phone safely in your pocket while making calls or listening to music.
Gifts Under $200
GlocalMe G3 Worldwide Mobile Hotspot
Unless you’re with one of a very small number of cell companies, roaming overseas with your phone is typically very expensive.
Local SIM cards save a bunch of money, but buying them can be a hassle. International SIM cards work everywhere, but they’re often not that much cheaper than normal roaming. Neither approach works if your phone is locked to your carrier from home.
There are a bunch of companies offering solutions to this problem, but GlocalMe’s hotspot is one of the most elegant we’ve seen. Unlike the competition, the G3 gives the choice of inserting a local SIM, or buying data from the company at between €7-30/GB depending on where in the world it’ll be used.
That’s the best of both worlds, really — you can get connected as soon as you land in a new country, but then switch to a local SIM to save money if you’ll be there more than a few days.
The hotspot comes with 1GB of global data (100+ countries) to get started with, lets you connect up to five devices simultaneously, and unlike most hotspots, gives up to 15 hours of usage. You can even use it to charge your other USB devices if you need to!
We’ve been recommending some version of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader for travelers since the earliest days of this site, but in recent years there’s only been one model worth talking about: the Paperwhite.
An updated model has come out just in time for the 2018 holiday season, and it turns what was already a very good device into a great one.
The biggest change is the addition of proper water resistance — an hour in up to six feet of water. As someone who once killed a Kindle by dropping it off the side of a yacht, this excites me a lot.
Other useful extras include more storage space (8 or 32GB) and support for listening to audiobooks via Bluetooth headphones.
Despite the upgrades, the price has barely changed, so the Paperwhite remains just as good value for money as it always was. We’re (still) huge fans.
G-Technology G-DRIVE R Portable Drive
There aren’t many companies making good portable solid state drives, especially ones that can take a beating, but G-Drive is onto a winner with its R series.
Available in capacities from 500GB to 2TB, the “R” stands for rugged, and this drive definitely is. It can handle being crushed, dropped onto concrete, submerged in three feet of water for half an hour, and keep out dust and dirt probably longer than you can.
USB-C powered and super-fast, it weighs just three ounces, and fits in the palm of your hand. When it comes to portable drives for travel, this is about as good as it gets.
Portable Office “Starter Kit”
If someone in your life works from the road or is thinking about it, do them a favour and sort them out with a proper portable office setup.
As I’ve discovered, having the right setup makes a huge difference to both productivity and comfort. Since switching last year, I get more work done, with far less neck, back, and wrist pain, than I ever did before.
My base setup consists of a travel-friendly laptop stand, a quality keyboard, and a comfortable travel mouse. For the stand, I use the Roost, and love it: it’s height-adjustable, super-stable, and folds down to almost nothing on travel days.
The keyboard (which I use whether I’m traveling or not) is the Logitech K810, which I’ve found very comfortable even for extended typing sessions. It uses Bluetooth, so there are no cables, and the battery lasts several weeks between charges. Mine is the Windows version — for Mac owners, go for the Apple Magic Keyboard instead.
Finally, I use a Microsoft Sculpt mouse, which I really can’t fault. It’s pretty basic, but does everything I need, has survived being bashed around in my bag for many years, and typically costs less than twenty bucks.
All up, you’re looking at under $200 for the complete kit, and less than two pounds of extra weight. It took me far too long to make the switch after deciding to work from the road, but now, I’d never go back.
A standard portable battery (like the Anker mentioned earlier) is ideal for charging small electronics like phones and cameras, but when you need some serious recharging power, they aren’t going to cut it.
Enter the Jackery PowerBar, which has enough juice to power a laptop or pretty much any electronics you’re likely to be carrying. Yes, even a 15″ Macbook Pro is no match for this thing — the PowerBar can deal with anything requiring 85W or less.
It’ll fully charge most 13″ laptops from the North American-style AC port on the side, or iPads and other tablets several times from the various high-speed USB ports.
At 1.5lbs (690g) it’s relatively hefty, but for someone who needs to keep working far from the nearest power socket, that’s a pretty small price to pay.
Gifts Under $350
Azule Access3 Mini PC Stick
Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, there can be times where you don’t really need to carry a laptop, but a phone or tablet doesn’t quite cut it either.
“Stick PCs” have been around for a little while, packing the internals of a complete Windows computer into a little device that fits in a pocket and plugs directly into the HDMI port of a monitor, television, or projector.
Azulle’s Access3 comes with 32 or 64GB of storage, Ethernet and wireless networking, plus Bluetooth and a pair of USB-A ports for adding whatever accessories you might need.
Whether you’re presenting to a client, keeping your kids entertained with their favorite shows back at the hotel, or doing anything else you’d usually require a computer for, throw a tiny foldable keyboard or remote control in your bag and you’re good to go.
Huawei Mate SE Smartphone
Huawei makes a range of great-value phones, and for travelers, it’s very hard to go past the Mate SE.
Why? Basically, because it’s an attractive, all-metal device doesn’t make the same annoying compromises as other inexpensive phones. Performance is surprisingly good, helped by 4GB of RAM, and there’s loads of storage (64GB, with a micro-SD card so you can add more.)
It’s unlocked and dual-SIM, so you can use local SIM cards to save money while still keeping your home number active, and you’ll get a full day out of the battery unless you’re really pushing it hard.
There’s a headphone jack, increasingly a rarity even on far more expensive devices, and the camera — often a letdown on budget phones — isn’t bad. It’ll take perfectly usable photos in good lighting conditions, although don’t expect amazing low-light shots.
There’s no fast-charging or water resistance, but if you can live without those, this is a stylish, powerful, and remarkably-good travel phone for the money.
Sony WH-1000XM3 Noise-Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones feel like they were made for travelers. If you’ve ever spent a dozen hours trapped in an airplane cabin with a screaming child, you’ll likely agree.
If you’re looking for the best mix of sound quality, noise-canceling ability, battery life, and features, you can’t go past the Sony WH-1000XM3.
I’ve been extensively using the previous model for the last several months. They’ve been fantastic, and the XM3 is even better.
Noise-cancelation is the best on the market, but unusually, sound quality remains high, with a warm, natural tone. Battery life is exceptional, at up to 30 hours, and the headphones are super-comfortable to wear even for hours at a time.
Volume and playback are controlled via a quick tap or swipe on the right earphone, while cupping your hand over it lets you quickly listen to what’s going on around you.
The headphones fold up into a compact travel case, and charge quickly via the bundled USB-C cable.
When it comes to noise-canceling headphones for travel, these are as good as it gets right now.
If you travel with a laptop, losing irreplaceable data in a theft, accident, or hardware failure is a real concern. I know several people who’ve had exactly that happen to them — and it sucks. A lot.
Don’t let that be you, or someone you know. Backblaze is our current pick of online backup services. It provides a simple, affordable way of making sure everything is safely stored in the cloud, unaffected by whatever the road happens to throw your way.
It’s equally useful at home, of course, making it a solid investment even for irregular travelers.
A good VPN is essential for almost any traveler these days, whether they’re protecting their data security, avoiding unnecessary censorship, or just trying to watch TV shows from back home.
I’ve been recommending Tunnelbear for a long time, but while it’s still a great, easy-to-use option, I’ve been particularly impressed with VyprVPN this year. It’s one of the few VPN services that still works with BBC iPlayer, and the company has been particularly fast and effective at working around the increasingly-strong blocks put in place by the Chinese government.
Speeds are extremely good, and the range of servers available (over 700, in 60+ countries) is more than most of the competition. They’re running a special offer at the moment as well, offering an additional 25% off the annual plan.