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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, I’ve only included 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 three hundred dollars. Quality travel gear and services don’t need to cost a fortune.
Gifts Under $100
Anker PowerCore 20100 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 not that great to start with.
Packing one of these slimline Anker portable batteries means one less thing to worry about, since it can charge most smartphones five times or more. It weighs under a pound, and comes with a pair of 2.4amp USB-A ports to quickly charge two phones, tablets, cameras, and many other USB devices.
Anker has built its reputation on reasonably-priced, high-quality batteries and chargers, and the PowerCore 20100 is no exception.
aLLreLi 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+ 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 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.
Kenu Magnetic Phone Mounts
When you’re using your phone for directions on a road trip, a good mount is worth its weight in gold. When it comes to tech gear, it’s also typically the least-interesting thing in your suitcase.
Kenu’s trying to change that, with a new range of premium mounts. I had a chance to test them on a recent road trip, and while the clip-based ones worked well, it was the magnetic ones I was impressed by.
A thin magnetic strip sticks to the back of your phone or case, which then attaches solidly to the vent or dash mount. Not having to mess around with clips was a definite time and frustration saver, especially since I was using my phone as a camera, and getting out of the car to take photos all day, every day.
The vent mount is tiny, which is ideal if you’re traveling light, while the dash mount can serve double-duty on a desk when you’re at home or in the office. The phone stayed solidly in place with both mounts, even when driving on bumpy dirt tracks or through roadworks.
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.
HooToo Wireless Travel Router
The HooToo Wireless Travel Router promises a lot. As well as giving you 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 been using one on every trip for the last year and a half, and it’s been rock-solid the entire time.
Dart Portable PC 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 heavy 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 built the Dart. Billed as the smallest laptop charger in the world, it’s compatible with most Windows laptops that need 65 watts or less.
It’s absolutely tiny, at 2.75” by 1.1” (7cm x 2.8cm), and weighs just 3oz (85 grams). The cable adds a little more bulk, but it’s minimal.
I’ve been using one in coffee shops and on the road for the last year, and it hasn’t skipped a beat (or fallen out of my travel adapter) the entire time. There’s also a single USB socket built into the cable, which works equally well at charging a phone and other small devices.
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!
iStorage datAshur Personal 2 Flash Drive
Flash drives are super-useful when you’re traveling, whether you’re using them to save important documents, back up all your photos, or just to take a copy of your boarding pass to the nearest print shop.
They can be a bit of a liability, though, when it comes to personal information. It’s great to have passport scans and insurance details easily accessible in an emergency — but what happens if someone else gets hold of the drive?
This iStorage drive deals with that issue nicely, using an inbuilt PIN pad and 256-bit encryption to keep your data out of the hands of others. Unlocked, it’s the same as any other drive, but until then, everything on it is simply inaccessible.
With capacities up to 64GB, it’s a quick and easy way to keep your personal info secure.
Shure SE215 Sound-Isolating Bluetooth Earphones
I’ve traveled with Shure SE-215 earphones for years. They have fantastic sound quality for the money, block out a remarkable amount of outside noise, stay comfortable in my ears even on extended plane rides, and are robust enough to handle being thrown into a daypack and stuffed into a back pocket day after day.
The only problem with them? They don’t have a microphone, or remote to answer calls or control music playback, both of which are something I’ve increasingly wanted to have.
I lost my earphones on a recent bus journey in the US, and for a fleeting minute, considered buying something different to replace them. Thankfully, Shure has added a “special edition” 215m+ model to the range, along with a Bluetooth equivalent, that has both a mic and remote, but keeps all the other great features the same.
Samsung T5 Portable SSD
There aren’t many companies making good portable solid state drives, but Samsung is onto a winner with the T5.
Available in capacities from 250GB to 2TB, it’s up to five times faster than a standard hard drive, weighs just a couple of ounces, and is about the same length and width as a business card.
With no moving parts, it deals much better with the knocks and bumps of travel, and can handle drops of over six feet. When it comes to high-capacity portable storage, the T5 is where it’s at.
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.
Gifts Under $300
Motorola Moto G5 Plus Smartphone
Motorola’s Moto G range keeps topping our budget smartphone picks year after year, and if someone you know needs a new phone to travel with, the latest G5 Plus is a great option.
Why? Basically, because it doesn’t make the same annoying compromises as other inexpensive phones. There’s a useful amount of storage (32 or 64GB), with an micro-SD card so you can add more if you do run out of space.
You’ll get a full day out of the battery unless you’re really pushing it hard, and the included “TurboPower” charger takes just fifteen minutes to give another six hours of juice.
It’s unlocked, so there’s no problem using local SIM cards to save money, and it’s even water-resistant, so getting caught in the rain won’t result in its untimely demise. Unlike, say, a certain more-expensive phone I once used to own.
Even the camera — so 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.
The 64GB model costs a little more, but also comes with 4GB of RAM for much snappier performance, so that’s my pick of the two.
ChargeTech Portable AC Battery
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 Chargetech Portable AC battery, which has enough juice for pretty much any electronics you’re likely to be carrying. Yes, even a 15″ Macbook Pro is no match for this thing — the battery can deal with anything requiring 85W or less.
It’ll charge laptops 1-2x depending on their size, or iPads and other tablets several times from the high-speed USB ports. Unusually, the battery is also very fast at charging itself back up once flat. It usually takes just a couple of hours — other similar-capacity batteries can take many times longer.
It’s pretty hefty, both in weight and bulk, but for someone who needs to keep working far from the nearest power socket, that’s a small price to pay.
Asus Zenpad 3S 10 Tablet
Unless they’re working from the road, most travelers don’t need a laptop. A quality tablet does almost as much, with much lower impact on both luggage allowances and bank balances.
The Asus Zenpad 3S 10 has impressive technical specs and a premium feel, at half the price of the iPad Pro. With 4GB of RAM, and a blazingly-fast processor and graphics card, there’s almost nothing it can’t handle. Watching shows, playing games, or just surfing the web, it’s very hard to make the Zenpad stutter.
The 5900mAh battery is impressive, and you’ll get through even lengthy flights on a single charge. The inclusion of fast charging technology is also very welcome — it’ll get back up to around 80% in half an hour with a Quick Charge 3 charger (not included, sadly), which is super-useful on tight layovers.
Oh, and if the 64GB of storage space isn’t enough, a micro-SD slot makes it cheap and easy to add more. It’s just a great option for travel, at a very reasonable price.
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. While it costs a little more than some other services, you get noticeably more for your money as well.
Netflix Gift Card
Sure, most of us don’t go traveling to sit inside binge-watching the latest season of Stranger Things, but I’ll happily admit to sometimes curling up in front of my laptop at night to watch a favorite show after a long day of exploring.
Netflix is the biggest game in town when it comes to streaming video, and it works on a wide range of devices, pretty much anywhere there’s a decent Internet connection.
If you’re buying for someone else, just remember to purchase a gift card in the appropriate currency for their account, as they aren’t transferable across currencies.