Travel has been made easier by travel electronics. I remember the days of lugging several pounds of books, reservations and camera gear with me. Now I can use my phone to do the same tasks as all of those things, and there are even more options beyond phones. If you’re looking for a gift or to upgrade your gear, the sheer abundance of travel electronics will make your head spin. Based on what I’m using and have seen on the road, these are my top picks and wish list.
I bought the iPhone 7 last fall and I am happy enough with it that I wasn’t even remotely tempted to upgrade this year. My phone is my office–it runs my tours, my Etsy shop, my blog and my social media, as well as my communication with friends and family. If you have a good phone with service that works in all countries (like TMobile) you really don’t need any other travel electronics. I’ve tried several brands (including Android) and I am convinced that the iPhone universe is best for me.
The 7 has a big, clear screen, which has made it easier to do tasks I would normally need a laptop for. The camera is very good, even if I have some envy of the iPhone Plus models with the dual camera. If you have any previous version of the iPhone, this is a worthwhile upgrade, it’s a big leap in durability and technology.
My only gripe is that you need an adaptor to plug in headphones, as it has only one opening for both charging and headphones. That’s great if you drop it in the toilet because it is more watertight (not publicly admitting that I may have done that) but it makes it impossible to charge and use headphones at the same time. Is it smart to buy an outdated model? I think so. I don’t see the 8 as being much better, and you can get an unlocked 7 for a great price. Look for refurbished phones for an even better deal.
The camera on the iPhone has been enough for me for my low level of photography. I’m more interested in challenging myself to find good composition than in fancy schmancy gear. But I have a project coming up that needs better quality photographs, so I have a new camera on my wish list. My requirements are pretty simple- it must have excellent low light capabilities, it needs to zoom well and it must be able to link up to my phone, all in a tidy, lightweight package.
My reading and research has led me back to the same place, the Sony RX100 mV. This camera performs as well as the big DSLR I own with all the lenses, but fits in a pocket. The resolution is excellent, and it takes fantastic low light photos. As I take most of my shots quickly on the fly, this camera’s super quick focus is ideal.
It’s outrageously expensive, which is why I don’t own it yet. I have heard that the earlier versions of it are less expensive and lighter, so that may be the better route to go. So if Santa’s got some cash to burn, this tops my list.
Of all the things my phone can do, ebooks would be what it does worst. I hate reading books on my phone or iPad. The display is just not suited to long term reading.
I have had at least five Kindles, and my abusive lifestyle has killed them all. I was hesitant to go back to that well, but there really is not better device for reading. A driving factor in my purchase is that I need reference books with me on the road. I also suck at returning library books, and the Seattle Public Library lets me check out books in Kindle format. That means that it’s really a cost saving measure. Think not of the cost of the device but of how much I’ll save in book fines!
I looked through all of the models available and chose the Paperwhite. I looooooove the gentle backlight. It looks more like white paper than a screen and is fabulous on airplanes. The more expensive versions are lighter and faster and whatnot, but I don’t need those bells and whistles. Considering that I’ll probably destroy it within a couple of years, choosing a lower priced model is smart. My advice: get a good, solid case for it.
I wouldn’t recommend buying a separate video camera if you’re just a normal traveler without a YouTube channel. There are far too many travel electronics to tempt you to buy something solely for one purpose. You may, however, be the kind of person who has crazy adventures where whipping out your phone is either impossible or idiotic. I am one such person. I’ve whipped out my phone while riding a Vespa, bicycling, kayaking, bouncing up and down in a Jeep on a volcano. Not real smart. So I bought a GoPro.
GoPros are kind of a cult, like that InstantPot thing that everyone is suddenly talking about. If you don’t have one, you’ve probably not noticed them. They are little cube cameras that you can mount anywhere–on a hat, on your chest, on the dashboard. It takes just a second to push the button and start filming, so you can do it with messy fingers or even with your elbow. Some models are waterproof, which I’d strongly suggest.
You may think that this is something only for 25 year-old base jumpers with dreadlocks, and you may be right. But I’ve had a blast playing with mine. I’ll be using it in lots on my Thailand tour, filming my underwater snorkeling adventures, wild tuk-tuk rides and bathing with elephants. GoPros are reasonable, I think I paid about $200 for mine with some small accessories. Not bad for a fun toy, and not so much that I’ll be sad if a monkey steals it.
If you are shopping for the travel electronics enthusiast that owns everything, here’s a fun choice. I had a guy on a tour this year that carried a metal stick with him everywhere. He’d raise the stick above the crowds, and it had a thing on the end like a remote control. It just took him a minute, then he’d lower the stick. I was so curious about it, I thought it was an elaborate selfie stick (or narsissistick, as my delightful employer calls it).
Turns out that the stick was a 360• Camera, for taking virtual reality shots. Once the shots from this little camera are uploaded to your phone, you can move the phone all around and look at pictures from every angle. If you get cheap VR glasses for your phone, you can look all around like you are actually in the space. It is COOL. Yeah, I know, you really don’t need this. But it’s so fun and would make a great present for the photo nerd or avid traveler in your life. It’s so little, it even gets the packing ninja seal of approval.
Charge it up!
All of these travel electronics require charging, and finding outlets in foreign hotels is like searching for the holy grail. I have two pieces of advice on this front. First, buy long, durable charging cords for your devices. The kind with mesh cords and rubber connections last much longer. I suggest the 6′ length as it will always reach your bedside table.
Second, buy a charging base that has USB sockets in it as well as plug outlets. This saves you having to bring the base for every device you own.
Travel gift of the season: an extension cord power strip. This nifty one has everything you need, just add a simple plug adapter and you’re set. At about $16, this solves many problems for little money.
What travel electronics are on your Christmas list? Comment here or on my Facebook page.