When it comes to travel, I am overall anti-gadget; like many independent travelers, I’d rather pack light than lug tons of stuff around in an attempt to carry every convenience of home with me on the road.
That said, there are some travel gadgets that are essential to just about every packing list. Besides your smartphone—which is a given for just about all of us—I’ve come up with the 12 best travel gadgets that deserve inclusion in your carry-on.
Universal (All-in-One) Plug Adapter
After years of thrashing through a bag of adapters before every international trip, I was thrilled when all-in-one adapters started appearing on the market—that is, until I tried to use one in actual wall outlets.
Some outlets are recessed, requiring an extender that seemed not to be included in most adapter sets. Some adapters didn’t seem to correspond to the shape that you found in the guidebooks for the country you were visiting. Others were poorly made and came apart after a few days’ use.
That is mostly over, as today’s all-in-one adapters address most of these issues with a built-in extender on the European adapter plugs. Most have enough options that you will never be out of luck, and they tend to be better made to boot.
“Noise-canceling headphones were probably the best travel investment I have made,” says pro photographer Erik Dresser, who logs tens of thousands of air miles each year for his work. Dresser notes that the headphones let him shut out the general din of the aircraft so he can relax more easily, permit him to sleep in flight without getting woken up by chatting passengers and crying babies, and signal to others that he is not up for socializing.
USB Flash Drive
A USB flash drive (also known as a thumb drive) can come in handy on any number of occasions while traveling, such as sharing a document with the hotel front desk so they can print it for you or accessing a photo of your passport if it’s lost or stolen.
Portable Phone Charger
On two separate occasions in the past few years (a company party and a fundraiser), the “party favor” was a small, rechargeable USB phone charger, probably the most useful and welcome party favor in history. The only thing about “party favor” quality chargers is that they tend to fail pretty quickly, so purchasing a good one is probably worth the money.
If you will be renting a car, bring a car charger/adapter. Recharging your stuff while driving helps combat the “not enough accessible outlets in the hotel” factor and allows you to use your device to map your route, play a podcast or distract your kids in the back seat without running down the battery.