Welcome to Tech Travel Tips, a week of travel tips for vacationers. This week we’ll show you how to keep your devices safe while traveling, what apps to download before you go, what settings you should change before leaving the house and — kicking off the week — the best travel gadgets to take with you. Let’s get started!
Must-have travel gadgets
Easy travel is all about preparation, and preparation means — today at least — having the right gear. Who wants to preload their iPad with great in-flight movies only to find that they can only plug one set of earbuds into their iPad at a time, leaving their travel partner without entertainment? And who wants plug their headphones into their ears and find that they can’t hear anything above the noise of the plane/bus/jeepney’s engine noise?
Nobody, that’s who. Take a look at the Cult of Mac travel gadget guide and you’ll be prepared for anything tech-related, all without blowing the vacation budget before you even leave.
Multi USB charger
This may be the most essential item on this list. A multi-port USB charger takes up barely more space than your iPad’s power brick, and can charge several devices at once. I have used an Anker five-port charger for a few years now, and I don’t even bother with my Apple chargers anymore while traveling.
There are several advantages to a multi-charger. It only takes up one power outlet, which is handy in airports and outlet-poor hotels, and it means carrying one box instead of five.
When you pick your charger, make sure it delivers enough juice to charge all your gadgets together at full speed (and that it can deliver more than the USB-standard 5 watts).
Your iPhone and iPad can charge over regular USB, like that provided by a computer’s USB port, but they’ll charge far faster if you give them a wider spigot. And for something like the 13-inch iPad Pro, a high-power charger is essential. Plug it in with the iPhone’s standard charger, and it won’t even reach a full charge overnight.
Headphone jack splitter
This one is cheap and amazing. It’s a simple, all-analog headphone splitter. With one of these, you can plug two pairs of headphones into one jack socket. The Lady and I use one of these to watch movies on the plane, with my giant iPad propped between two tray tables. Any splitter will do, just make sure it packs stereo inputs and outputs (most will, if they’re meant for headphones, but mono splitters do exist). I use a generic one I picked up for pennies at a local store, but something like this Belkin splitter gets the job done for less than $4.
Speaking of headphone splitters, you should consider your earbud situation. The most practical travel headphones are sealed earbuds. They have a silicone earpiece that blocks your ear canal when inserted correctly. This blocks outside noise, and means you don’t need to crank the volume of your music/movie to hear it. That’s a lot better for your ears.
Sealed earbuds are also tiny compared to big over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones, and they arguably do just as good a job of blocking airplane noise. If you and your travel companion both have a good set of sealed-up earbuds, you can enjoy very peaceful in-flight movies together. I use an old pair of Sonys that are no longer available, but you should probably find something you like them at The Wirecutter
Speaking of sealing out sound, you might consider throwing a few sets of earplugs into your gadget bag. These are great when you find out the hotel gave you the room by the stairwell, or the folks in the next Airbnb over like to party all night.
Earplugs weigh nothing, take up practically no space, and are a miraculous cure when you need them. Also consider them for blocking airplane cabin noise, helping you sleep in a tent in a busy campsite, working in a noisy spot, and protecting your ears at a concert.
I use the Howard Leight Bilsom 303L, but those seem to be expensive in the United States (I bought a 400-pack for around $28 and expect it to last me for years). The Howard Leight brand seems well-reviewed in general, though, so you should take a look on Amazon and find the set you need.
If you’re working while you’re away, you need a stand for your MacBook or iPad. And the best portable stand is the Roost. I’ve used the original Roost for years and I still love it. The only way you could make me part with my Roost would be to send me the MkII version, which addresses some of the original’s foibles (like the non-obvious mounting method).
The Roost is a collapsible scaffold that supports your MacBook (or other notebook computer) at up to 11 inches (28cm) above the desk. Ergonomically, this is important because it stops you from slouching to look down at the screen — instead it puts the screen near your eye level. The Roost is better than the competition because it is tiny and light when folded (a slim 13-inch, 5.8-ounce bar), and yet sturdy and strong when opened up. It also works with the 13-inch iPad Pro, if you’re willing to finagle it a little. This is how I use it. The Roost can be had for $80.
Speaking of working while traveling, if you use a Roost, then you’re going to need a keyboard, too. The best one I’ve found is the Logitech K811, a Bluetooth keyboard the size of Apple’s own standard aluminum keyboard — only better.
First, it boasts backlit keys. Second, it can pair with up to three separate devices. Third, it’s just plain better to use.
I use the K811 with my iPad Pro. You could use a fancy iPad-specific keyboard case, but those are obsolete as soon as you change your iPad, whereas a regular keyboard will last you until you break it or type the letters off the keys. Make sure you get the K811 and not the K810, because the latter’s Windows-specific keys won’t work with an iPad the way you want them to.
Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle
If travel is about preparation, what could make you more prepared than always having a a swig of water within reach? Forget the environmental disaster that is the disposable plastic water bottle, and grab yourself the all-steel Klean Kanteen Reflect bottle instead. The Reflect is lightweight, and tough enough to survive almost any tumble (it’ll dent instead of break, making it look cooler as it ages). The wide neck makes drinking, cleaning and filling easy.
If you’re traveling in the United States, then carrying your own bottle is a fantastic idea. Whenever I’ve visited, I have noticed drinking fountains in pretty much every public place, including airports. So instead of buying water anywhere, carry this instead. Just remember to empty it before going through airport “security” lest they try to confiscate it.
Worried about your water tasting metallic? Don’t. You might notice a metallic taste the first few times you use the bottle, but it disappears very soon. Plastics, on the other hand, can hold on to flavor molecules, which is why a refilled mineral-water bottle will get funky over time.
Leave it behind
There are a million other tech travel gadgets and gizmos you can take with you, but really, what’s the point? The whole point of getting away is to get away. Traveling light makes it easier to enjoy your surroundings, instead of worrying about your gear or schlepping heavy rolling cases around city streets. So grab what you need, and no more, and enjoy your trip!