The best travel technology: Power banks to portable drives
With smartphones, cameras, computers, tablets and more, travel technology threatens to add weight and bulk to any travel bag. Our travel technology guide will show you what we use and why with buying recommendations for compact and light power banks, battery chargers, travel adapters and portable drives.
The best travel technology will not become a burden or a distraction to your travel experience.
Yes, we know that the idea is to unplug on vacation, but there is these days so much tech we inevitably pack along to “enjoy” that vacation (reading, staying in touch with family, checking the weather, etc.). And that requires packing all the chargers, cables, plugs, adapters, which can get a bit, well, complicated. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The gear we list below highlights the best travel technology (some hi-tech, some decidedly low-tech) that we have found essential to our travels, anywhere we go in the world.
Portable Chargers | Power Banks
Traveling with an array of mobile devices – smartphones, cameras and more — these days is the norm, and all are hungry little buggers, incessantly begging for energy feedings. And that requires ready access to plugs or, if on the go, external battery chargers.
If you are just out for a day, a portable charger that will recharge your smartphone battery one or two times will suffice – we use power banks from Goal Zero, Hama or Anker. If your power needs are a bit more extreme – you will be away from power for over 24 hours, and you find you might need to power your laptop too – then our choice for a charger is MyCharge. On an adventure into a remote area in Argentina, Michael had a MyCharge and was smiling while the other journalists on the trip were coveting his battery pack as their power ran dry. Therese, on the other hand, was on a short backpack trip in Patagonia and happily plugged in her smartphone to a compact power bank overnight while others moaned about empty batteries.
Travel Plugs | Adapters
We make a point of traveling only with electrical devices that can handle dual or multi-voltages requiring only an adapter plug, often carrying several adapters, including some that have both a plug and a USB attachment so you can literally piggyback two devices in one plug with one adapter. Another option is to pack along a universal travel adapter – a larger and somewhat heavier option, but one that then contains most of the plug configurations you might need for most countries in the world. Since we have so many devices that need plugging in, we’ve found this option to be too heavy and bulky for the plug-in options needed – we can pack three to four plug adapters for the countries we will be in for the same weight and size! But it does come down to individual choice and your electronics. You can research in advance the kind of adapter you will need using our Worldwide Travel Plug Guide. We always carry the adapters we will need in our carry-on luggage, too – no point in losing adapters if your luggage also gets waylaid. Don’t forget the USB cable to connect your device, and we recommend a cigarette lighter plug if you will be in a car. Taking two adaptors is always a good safety net. Take extra care to ensure you carry all the plugs you will need for every country you are traveling in — or just transiting through with an airport layover. We learned the hard way a few years ago when an afternoon in a country’s airport from point A to point B meant no power or recharging since we had forgotten to pack along the adapter plug we needed for that one afternoon. Be very careful since some international plugs look very similar. We were caught with a typical two-prong European adapter once that had a housing that wouldn’t fit into an older outlet in France. Though some sites still recommend packing converters, you honestly rarely need a true converter these days – one which takes foreign voltages and converts them to your device’s voltage (110 volts in the United States). Most laptops, smartphones, tablets and battery chargers are dual voltage, so anything worldwide will work – but do always check your destination and the devices you intend to use to confirm.
If your adventures take you off the grid, as Michael experienced on a week adventuring remotely in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one still needs to recharge camera batteries and, a smartphone too if using it as an additional camera. Enter the Nomad solar panels by Goal Zero. Or, if you want a battery backup too, the PowerMonkey Extreme Solar Charger.
Portable Hard Drive
If you are a photographer – and by that we mean taking photos or videos with a device that needs SD cards for recording – then you will need a portable hard drive. Shockproof, drop-proof, and as small and compact as possible. Which is why we are using the 2TB G-Drive Mobile SSD. We can transfer photos easily from an SD card to our computer, and also save them to the hard drive, knowing our video and photo memories are as safe as possible.
Memory card holder
Yeah, this is one of the low-tech best travel technology recommendations, but we find memory card holders essential since we both power through a lot of SD cards as we photograph and video our travels. Loose cards are no good. Our preference is a soft-sided but padded alternative like the one MindShift offers.
With the in-air risk of Lithium-Ion batteries, keeping your extras packed safely in your carry-on is always a good idea. Again, think as light and small as possible, with the number of slots you need. Think Tank offers a two-pack and four-pack version we like a lot.
So many cables, so much disorganization and potential for tangles which are no good. We rely on Nite Ize gear ties to keep all of our phone cables, computer cords, camera charging cables and more coiled and organized. In fact, Therese is the little jury-rigger and always has a couple of extras packed along for supporting power packs in tiny airplane plugs or in misaligned hotel plugs.
Then there are those niceties that aren’t necessary, but convenient: Therese ADORES her Pop Socket that sticks on the back of her smartphone. It not only serves as a grip (on the sides of mountains or on windy days, for example), but also allows the phone to stand up for a nice hands-free online chat with family or friends when traveling. Another tiny standup device, also from Nite Ize is the QuikStand – thin, slips right in many wallets too.
When traveling where plugs might be in high demand, or limited in number, a power strip becomes essential – airports, hostels, many older hotels in Europe for example. We’ve started traveling with a compact and light power strip that also serves as a surge protector. That way, we have one electrical adapter, we plug the strip into that, and then plug multiple devices to charge all at once. Sharing is good! We’ve also earned travel karma points when at an airport, and we’ve offered to share one or two empty plugs on our power strip with a fellow traveler – and that’s using the best travel technology well.
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