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Best travel tech 2021: Gear to stuff in your luggage

Jason Cipriani and Jason Perlow have tested hundreds of mobile tech gadgets, and these are the handful of devices and accessories they make sure to pack for vacations, work trips, and even daily outings.

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Perlow and Cipriani compare their favorite travel tech.

If you're like us, you won't leave the house for hours at a time without bringing something to charge up your smartphone. And if you're headed out of town for a few days, you're probably packing a dozen different devices so you can still get some work done while on the go. Deciding which things to bring, however, is a very personal choice. 

Everyone has their favorite brand and ecosystem and random gadgets that they feel help make their particular journey easier and less stressful. Here's what we bring when we travel. Keep in mind we're freelance writers, so our list of gear is mostly tailored to our work lives.

Jason Cipriani: Jason, what's one of your favorite things that you take on the road with you?

Jason Perlow: I don't have a favorite, but there are some certain things that are essential if you're going on the road, especially with all the gadgets that we carry nowadays. My current employer issued me a MacBook Pro; it's the 2019 model and that thing charges with USB-C. So USB-C is now my standard for everything that I like to carry just because of the complexity. You don't want 15 different types of cables to carry with you.

Charging cables

Anker Powerline

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Amazon

Jason Perlow:  I'm an iPhone user and an Android user, so I carry straight through USB charging cables. That includes a hundred-watt certified Thunderbolt cable, which will also work with Android phones. It'll just step itself down. But of course, with the iPhones, it's a little bit more complicated because you have to have USB-C to Lightning. It's insanity. So now you've got at least two cables. If you've got an older accessory that uses USB micro, you've got to have one of those. So you're going to carry a couple of different cables anyway. I like to go with the Anker brand just because I think they have an excellent quality cable.

The PowerLine series has extra reinforcement on the connections, on where the bend area is. It has a maximum wattage of 100W, so their USB-C to USB-C version can charge an Android Phone or an iPad Pro and a Macbook or an Intel laptop. The USB-C to Lightning has a maximum wattage of 60W.

They come in a couple of different colors and styles, which is what I like. You don't want to have four other identical white or black cables in your bag because then you're trying to figure out which one is which. 

Jason Cipriani: That's a good point. I used to have these little magnetic color wraps that went around my cables, but those things would come off in my bag, and it would make a mess. Because we receive so many gadgets and phones and other stuff for a review, I borrow cables from the boxes. But getting color-coded cables, I think that's a pretty good life hack right there. So I also carry with me a portable battery.

View Now at Amazon

Portable battery

Mophie Powerstation or Anker Batteries

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: Got to have a battery.

Jason Cipriani: And right now, what's in my bag is Mophie Power Station XXL. It's their newest portable.

Jason Perlow: Great product, little pricey for the money, but very high-quality product, very reliable product, I've found.

Jason Cipriani:  It is a little pricy, but It has a nice fabric finish to it that I like. I test and review battery packs and put them through a whole gamut with gadgets hooked up to them to see how, their kilowatt, or not kilowatt-hours, though that'd be a strong battery pack. Their milliamp hours and how everything stacks up are some of the most efficient packs I've ever tested.

Jason Perlow: I have no complaints about Mophie. But if you want something more value-priced, I would look at Anker's battery pack line; they are excellent and come in different sizes and configurations.

View Now at Amazon Anker Batteries

Multi-port power brick

Anker Multi-Port, Anker Nano Gan Charger

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Amazon

Jason Cipriani: What do you do for power, though, Jason? Once you get to the hotel?

Jason Perlow: Well, here's the thing. The more modern hotels will have USB-A ports built into some of the desks and some of the light lamps, but they're not high output. They're not like 10-watt or higher ports. They're older, two-watt ports, and they aren't USB-C. So if you're low on power and need to go to the hotel and change, and you need to juice up, those are not the best possible ones to use. They're not bad for overnight usage, but they take a long time. And they generally don't work great with iPads and devices that use 10- or 15-watt power draws. Your device will draw faster than you can charge with those ports.

So you're going to want at least one good multi-port power brick, right? So again, Anker. I happen to be partial to their 100W model with twin USB-C and twin USB-A, and it is powerful enough to charge a laptop, a phone, a tablet, and whatever else you have. There used to be other brands we recommended, but Amazon recently brought the hammer down on many of these mobile accessory companies for posting fake reviews. So, for now, I would stick with the Anker desktop chargers.


Those are good to have for the hotel room or your office desk or wherever you're going. For on the go, if you don't know where you're going to be, I happen to like the small gallium nitride Nano chargers that are in the 30- to the 65-watt range that Anker makes. 

View Now at Amazon Anker Nano Gan Chargers

Portable surge suppressor

Belkin

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: I also like to have a portable surge suppressor. Now Tripp Lite has some good models. Belkin has a nice one with three AC adapter connectors, two USBs, and a rotating AC connector plug. 

These are useful if you're in one of these tight areas where you can't quite get the plug inserted on the back of a bed because some of these older hotel rooms are not retrofitted at all -- If you've got a place that was built in the 80s or 90s or something, it's not necessarily up to date with all the latest stuff. If you're a $100-a-night place and you're not going to get the same amenities as the $200, $300 a night place. With expense accounts and major corporations, they're kind of driving it down as to what we're allowed to stay at. So it's good to have the ability to work around some of these issues.

Jason Cipriani: I pay for my own travel as a freelance writer, and I have a very tight budget when it comes to travel, and I've stayed in some very shady places.

Jason Perlow: Yeah.

Jason Cipriani: Not intentionally, not knowing. I just thought, "Hey, all right when I'll make it work when I get there."

Jason Perlow: A free breakfast is usually the priority over room amenities.

View Now at Amazon

International charging

MingTong Travel Adapter

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Amazon

Jason Cipriani: I've never thought of a surge suppressor or protector to take with me when I travel. But as far as power goes, for international travel, I have a little gadget that is like a Swiss army knife of electric adapting.

Jason Perlow: That thing is cool because the receptacles pop out with a button. It's like a little cube thing. It's neat.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, because you never know. I've been to Europe once, I've been to Japan once, and I'm not familiar with what kind of charging standards are or what kind of electrical ports standards are over there. And this little thing is a cube, sort of about a Rubik's cube size, and it has little buttons on it you press, and the right kind of connector comes out of the bottom, and it has labels next to it, which country you're in or which standard you're using.

Jason Cipriani: OK. So we've covered charging our gadgets, which is a huge part of being on the go.

Jason Perlow: Do you know what kind of gadget I've had to make some very special considerations for charging?

Jason Cipriani: What's that?

View Now at Amazon

Apple Watch magnetic charging cable

Mophie

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Apple

Jason Perlow: The Apple Watch! Because you know the charging cable for this guy is a circular magnetic connector that goes to the back of this, but it pulls right off in a bag. Because if you've got stuff moving around and your watch is low, and you need to charge it, and it takes like a good hour and a half to charge the thing, there's no real fast charge. There's no USB-C port connector. So you have to have the Apple proprietary charging connector.

You can get third-party charging docks that use a similar type of connector, and it'll work. But, honestly, Apple's charging cord is still the best one. They also have cases that look like AirPod cases, and you put the cable inside it, and you put the watch in the case, and it's secure, and you zip it closed with the cord coming out, and you plug it in. It keeps it from falling off. So this way it'll charge well.

Jason Cipriani: So you take your watch off while you're traveling, throw it in your bag, let it charge up, and then it keeps going.

Jason Perlow: Yeah, that's right.

Jason Cipriani: Cool. Yeah, I've never had to do that. I usually just wait; even if it dies, I just wait till I get back to the hotel room. That's good, though. So when it comes Apple Watch, yes. Stick with  their proprietary cable. Get it great straight from Apple because you never know when a software update will break it, which is weird because it's a magnetic charger that connects.

Jason Perlow: And you know what other kind of magnetic charger cable you should also probably have on hand? A Magsafe cable if you have an iPhone 12. With an air conditioner vent mount and 12-volt connector if you need to drive with it. I happen to like the ones from Mophie that just got released.

View Now at Apple Mophie MagSafe Automotive Vent Mount

Headphones

AirPods or Soundcore

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Amazon

Jason Cipriani: What do you do for listening to music, watching movies?

Jason Perlow: I know many people like AirPods and the smaller headphones and the things that hang down and all that kind of stuff. I'm an old-school over-the-ear guy, and in terms of what is currently considered the gold standard now for Bluetooth 5 headphones, it has to be the Sony WH-1000MX4. And they deliver phenomenal audio quality and noise cancellation. 

For really nice value-oriented headphones and earbuds, I happen to really like what is coming out of Soundcore, which is, again, an Anker product line. Exceptional feature set and quality for the price.

Jason Cipriani: Those are a really good buy. I use Apple's AirPods; I don't mind the background noise and the hum of the plane. And as a dad of three kids, I honestly don't care about crying babies all that much unless the kid is hysterical. So my AirPods are with me because they're light, they're portable, the battery life is usually good enough for my flights. 

I'm in Colorado, so a five- or six-hour flight is very rare for me. I'm very centrally located. But when I'm carrying an Android, sometimes I'll use AirPods; once Samsung launched the Galaxy Buds, I switched to those.

Jason Perlow: How do AirPods work on an Android?

Jason Cipriani: AirPods work just fine. You don't get the magic of taking the AirPod out, and it pauses your music and all of that. But battery life is still there. There are apps, third-party apps you can install that recognize you're connected to an AirPod, and it will add some of that magic flavor back in, that Apple magic. But otherwise, they're just regular Bluetooth earbuds, and battery life is the same. They're just little tiny things. You can't double tap on it and stuff like that. 

I'm very minimal when I travel. I don't like to carry a ton of stuff with me. My backpack is usually what has my clothes in it as well because I go on overnight trips. I don't make it three- or four-day trips. So the less I can put in my bag and still get my proper amount of work done and have all the tools I need to do it, the better for me. So yeah. AirPods, Galaxy Buds, whatever's compact and lightweight that I can take with me.

View Now at Amazon Anker Soundcore

How big is your laptop?

iPad Pro 2021 5G + ZAGG keyboard

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: Now, how big is your laptop? Do you have a 13-inch laptop, or do you have a 15-inch laptop?

Jason Cipriani: Well, I have a 13 inch MacBook Pro M1. 

Jason Perlow: Cool.

Jason Cipriani: So that goes in my bag. But actually, I would say 50% of my trips; I don't even bring that with me. I take my 12.9- inch iPad Pro with me.

Jason Perlow: I love the 12.9. Especially the new model with the 5G, the connectivity is fantastic. I've brought it on my last trip, and honestly, you can do a lot of work with a keyboard. I happen to like ZAGG's keyboard case for this particular use case.

View Now at Amazon Zagg

Toys for gamers

Nintendo Switch or OtterBox

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Amazon

Jason Cipriani: Another staple in my bag when I travel is my Nintendo Switch. And growing up --

Jason Perlow: You're a gamer, and you like your toys.

Jason Cipriani: Well, yes, but growing up, I gamed a lot. Once I had kids, I kind of quit. The Switch is what got me back into gaming because it's so portable and easy to use. So I tinker with that. I went to Europe last summer, and I played Fortnite with my kids while sitting in an airport in Italy.

Jason Perlow: And you liked that better than your iPhone for playing Fortnite with --

Jason Cipriani: I hate my phone battery draining. And even though we've talked quite a bit about having batteries and stuff like that, I hate having to constantly worry about what percentage it's at and trying to do, "Well, do I have enough to get me to this point to charge." And worry about cables and all of that. 

So I'd rather have a dedicated gaming device. I do wish there was plenty of upgrades for the Switch. What they released this year is just kind of a holdover until we get to Switch Pro, if you want to call it that next year.

Jason Perlow: But they're not super expensive, especially if we are talking about the Switch Lite, which is $100 cheaper, and they've got a decent game ecosystem, so I can certainly understand the appeal of that.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah. The original is $300. You can get some entertaining mobile-like games for under $5 and entertain yourself for hours. And if you want to play with your kids, play some Fortnite, that's there too, which we do. What about you? So you have your MacBook Pro.

Jason Perlow: Although OtterBox just released that cool new stand and case for iPhone, which basically turns it into a game system when you pair it with an XBOX controller, too. 

View Now at Amazon OtterBox

Just read a nice book

Kindle Oasis

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: So when I want to chill out, I take out My Kindle Oasis. There are certainly much cheaper Kindles you can get. I personally like the Oasis. It's so tiny, and its screen is super high quality and sharp for an e-ink display. 

But honestly, it is great to put the gadgets away that are bleeping and notifying and all that garbage. Just to be able to sit down with a book, a cup of coffee, and chill out at your hotel room in bed. Turn the light, dim the lights down with a little bit of incense and a little bit of background lighting on the Kindle. Just read a nice book. It's fantastic to be able to do that.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, being on the road can sometimes be tough, especially away from family. And so, having a few moments to zone out and escape the grind that it is, is nice to do. Anything else you have in your bag?

View Now at Amazon

Device protection and maintenance

MagicFibre and PurePort

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: I do have a cleaning cloth that I keep for my smartphone because, as we know, with these phones, we get a lot of schmutz on these things. First of all, on my iPhone 12 Pro Max, I have a screen protector, which naturally gets smudgy. I use the Amplify glass protector from OtterBox -- they have a new 3M Corning system that is better for full outdoor sunlight for polarization so that it is easier to see, and it provides excellent anti-scratch protection.

The selfie camera and the sensors in the back of the phone get smudged up a lot, especially where I live in Florida, where we have high humidity environments. Typical scenario: you walk out of an air-conditioned room, and then you go outside.

First of all, my glasses go completely fogged, but the iPhone or any other smartphone that I have gets completely fogged, too. So you want to make sure that when you go in and out of environments, you want to clean that lens off. And a t-shirt or dress shirt is not necessarily the right kind of fiber to use. You want to use something optimized for cleaning lenses. So I usually keep a fiber cloth with me at all times.

I also like to carry a smartphone port and cable cleaning kit, the one from PurePort. You would be surprised how often USB-C and Lightning ports need to be cleaned out and how the USB-C and Lightning connectors on cables oxidize and need to cleaning. Sometimes, when you think you need to replace a cable, you just need to clean off the connector, and it will be as good as new.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, I admit I'm one of the people that clean stuff with my shirt. I probably shouldn't, but it's just one of those things that I've done and haven't thought about picking up a cloth. But that's a solid point as well.

View Now at Amazon PurePort

A little tripod

Joby Gorilla

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Amazon

Jason Perlow: And I also like to carry a tripod, a little tripod.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, a little Joby Gorilla.

Jason Cipriani: I used to take these, but as I said, I try to go minimal now, and I just try to fit.

Jason Perlow: It can be a big addition to your kit bag, but -- if you want to make those nice stable shots, you kind of need one.

View Now at Amazon