first Tuesday second Monday of each month, Dave Dean from Too Many Adapters gives us great tips and advice on travel tech and gear. This month’s column is about gadgets worth taking on the road.
It’s surprisingly hard to find travel gear that delivers. There’s the tiny solar charger that took five days to half-charge my phone, the wind-up flashlight with a handle that snapped off the first time I used it, the travel mouse that chewed through batteries in a week, and the countless others I’ve tried and discarded over the years.
When space in your bag is limited, travel gear really has to work hard to justify its place on your packing list. To start with, they have to be able to go the distance — getting dirty, wet, jammed into backpacks, dropped, knocked around, and plugged into terrible electricity supplies. If they can’t, they’ll break in a hurry.
They also need to be small, light, and genuinely useful. Something you’ll use frequently and that noticeably improves your trip in some way.
With criteria like that, it’s no surprise there aren’t many tech gadgets I recommend for travel. But, now and then, I do come across something that bucks the trend and hits the sweet spot in terms of price, function, weight and reliability. Here are my current favorite pieces of gear for the tech traveler:
If you asked almost any smartphone owner what they want more of, it’s battery life and storage space.
The Mazzo Powerdrive deals with both problems at once, in an elegant and reasonably inexpensive device. I first came across it during its Kickstarter campaign and had the chance to use it earlier this year. It’s about the size of a deck of cards and weighs 7.5 oz. (around 215g). That’s not super light, but it’s not heavy enough to put you off keeping it in your daypack.
Inside sits a 7800mAh battery pack, and between 16Gb and 128Gb of storage. You can charge two USB-powered devices from it at once, and the battery is big enough to charge an iPhone 6 up to three times. The storage is designed for iOS, but I was able to get it working with my particular Android devices as well with an extra cable.
You’ll pay between $79 and $249 on Amazon, depending on the amount of storage.
This is an awesome device for those looking for extra storage space and power.
Monster Travel Power Strip
Charging my devices when I travel used to be a major pain (I have a lot). I have several devices from around the world, which means a mixture of different plugs and adapters needed whenever I want to charge a device… plus, lots of sockets!
I swapped out all of my non-US power cords then bought a Monster travel power strip to plug them all into. It’s lightweight and only around six inches long, and the cable wraps lengthwise around the strip to stay in place when I’m on the move.
I opted for the one with three US sockets and a single USB port, but there’s also a version that has four US sockets. Yet another variation has three sockets and two USB ports, and plugs directly into the wall.
Regardless of which option you go for, this lightweight power strip allows you to charge multiple devices from one outlet without the hassle of having lots of adapters too!
Chargers, Adapters, and Cables
Speaking of travel adapters, there are a lot of overpriced junk ones out there. I’ve seen country-specific adapters going for as much as $20 at airport stores, and they looked like the kind of thing that wouldn’t last a week.
Unless you know for certain that all the countries you’ll visit on your trip use the same plug type, buy a universal adapter. I’ve been using a super cheap model (four bucks on Amazon!) for four years — I had to replace it once when it stopped working, but I figure $2/year isn’t a bad investment.
I also like multi-part adapters — they’re more expensive but tend to have more options. Some models also includes a USB socket, which is a nice touch.
It’s also worth packing a USB charger. If your phone or tablet didn’t come with one, a decent dual-port charger will set you back around $10 — just be sure that at least one port is rated at 2.1 amps so tablets will charge properly.
Corsair Flash Survivor USB stick
A USB stick is useful for travelers as it’s the easiest way to share video files or lots of photos, and to get things like boarding passes printed out without logging into email on dodgy computers in hostels and internet cafes.
The Corsair Flash Survivor is a shockproof, waterproof, dustproof USB stick that comes in capacities up to 256GB. That’s enough space to back up photos from even the longest trips, as well as store enough music and movies to keep you entertained. That means you won’t need to carry a separate portable hard drive for backups, which often break and take up a lot of space.
You’ll pay a little under $100 for the 128Gb version, or around $150 for the highest capacity. That’s not bad for an almost-unbreakable, multipurpose backup device that fits in your pocket.
The key thing to remember when picking travel tech is don’t get carried away — easy to end up with far too much in your luggage. Pick a few accessories that combine two or more different functions into one device. Look for things that will save frustration, time, money, and space in your bag.
If you do, you’ll have an easier, more enjoyable trip — without carrying 20 pounds of electronic junk in your backpack.
For more advice and tips on the best travel gear, visit this page.
Dave runs Too Many Adapters, a site devoted to technology for travelers. A geek as long as he can remember, he worked in IT for 15 years. Now based out of a backpack long term, Dave writes about travel and tech from anywhere with half-decent Internet and a great view. You can also find him talking about the life of a long-term traveller at What’s Dave Doing?