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Holiday travel doesn't have to be terrible. Here's everything you need

Traveling for the holidays? Check out ZDNET's tried and true travel essentials, from Bluetooth trackers to power banks.
Written by Gabriela Pérez Jordán, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Allison Murray

While incredibly exciting, traveling can also be extremely stressful and overwhelming--especially if you're doing it over the holiday season. Not only are there extremely long lines everywhere you turn, but surprise weather, larger crowds, and unexpected situations are more likely to take place because of the busy season. 

The right gear diminishes travel anxiety and makes your trip as smooth and comfortable as possible. ZDNET's tried and true tech gadgets ensure you are not overweight when checking in luggage at the airport, lose your wallet during your trip, or run out of your smartphone battery when you are about to show your boarding pass. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to plan a vacation

These products also easily fit in any weekend bag, carry-on, or checked luggage – meaning you can improve any upcoming trip you may have, no matter your mode of transportation or destination. And if you are still unsure what to get that special someone, these items make for great holiday gifts! 

A power bank

Power banks are one of those things everyone should have, especially when traveling. They take up little to no space, are often lightweight, and can quickly give your phone the extra juice it needs to survive for just a few more hours. Whether it is a $15 or a $200 power bank, these tiny but mighty devices can and will save your device's life when you need it most – plus, you can always use it after your trip. Here are some of our top tested and recommended power banks. 

Anker recently released its latest addition to its Anker Nano line, including the Nano 22.5W Power Bank, which packs a foldable USB-C port, a 5,000mAh capacity, and weighs just a bit more than 3 ounces. The charger itself is incredibly small and "puts the portable in a portable charger," says ZDNET's Sabrina Ortiz, who tested the latest power bank and found it to be the same size as her go-to lipstick. 

If you have an iPhone 12 or higher and have been enjoying the benefits of wireless charging ever since MagSafe appeared on the iPhone, then the Baseus 10,000mAh magnetic portable charger is your best choice. You can stay free of unnecessary wires during your trip and can rely on the two full recharges this power bank will give to your iPhone. If your travel partner is also running on empty, the Basesus magnetic portable charger can also recharge both of your phones simultaneously. 

Also: The best MagSafe battery packs you can buy

The Anker 737 power bank has an incredibly powerful battery and can quickly charge your phone up to 70% in just 30 minutes. The power bank supports three different devices at the same time due to its two USB-C ports and one USB-A port, which means you can charge your phone, AirPods, and laptop all from the same power bank during your travels – talk about efficiency!

A Bluetooth tracker 

What would my life be without a Bluetooth tracker? I rely on these tiny devices as much as my morning coffee. They track my checked luggage at the airport, they tell me when I leave my ID, passport, or wallet behind and they help me locate my keys when they are nowhere in sight. But, beyond saving my life countless times the best part of Bluetooth trackers is their versatility. Here are some of the best Bluetooth trackers we recommend.  

Apple AirTags are my favorite Apple product. The coin-sized tracker uses a built-in U1 ultra wideband chip for precision finding and is powered by Apple's Find My Network. You can use them with your other Apple devices like a MacBook or AirPods, or you can secure one to your backpack

Review: Apple AirTag

Tile devices are top-of-the-line Bluetooth tracking devices. Not only are they compatible with both iOS and Android devices, but the Tile Pro offers twice as much tracking range as both the Apple AirTag and the Samsung SmartTag. Easily attach the Bluetooth tracker to your keys thanks to its incorporated keychain hole, and stay stress-free knowing that if your keys accidentally get wet, your Tile won't suffer any damage since it is water-resistant. 

If you specifically want a Bluetooth tracker to track your wallet and want to avoid the awkward bulk Apple AirTags or Tiles add when placed inside a wallet, then the Chipolo Card Spot is a great alternative. Shaped just like a credit card, this Bluetooth tracker connects to Apple's Find My network and can be placed in your wallet like any other card. The tracker is 0.09 inches thick and can be tracked within a 200-foot range. 

Review: Chipolo Card Spot

A pair of headphones 

Headphones have become as essential in my bag, especially when I am traveling. Whether you are traveling by car, plane, or train, the best headphones can help you tune out loud conversations, play smooth melodies while you nap, or even provide you with entertainment as you partake in your journey. Whether you prefer headphones or earbuds while traveling, here are some of our expert-tested and recommended picks. 

The Sony WF 1000XM5 are top-of-the-line earbuds that cut out noise as if they were a pair of over-ear headphones without the over-ear bulkiness. When traveling, you can use these earbuds to tune out unnecessary noises, thanks to their impressive noise-canceling capability, or you can wear them during long walks and workouts since they have an IPX4 rating (meaning they are water-resistant) and perform well even on the sweatiest of listeners.    

Review: Sony's new WF-1000XM5 may just be the best premium earbuds right now

Bose's latest headphones are for those who seek the best immersive over-ear headphone experience during their travels. If you want to cancel out all noise throughout your flight or simply play music for hours on end, the QC Ultra gives you the utmost comfort with "clear, balanced, and detailed" sound quality, as described by ZDNET's headphones expert Jada Jones. 

Plus, their battery life lasts 24 hours (or 18 with ANC and Immersive Audio on), which is plenty of time even for those long international flights.

ReviewBose QuietComfort Ultra: A rightful heir to the ANC throne

Ever since their release in 2016, AirPods have become some of the most popular wireless earbuds. Out of the four current models available, the AirPods Pro(2nd generation) is "the most easily recommendable," says ZDNET's editor-in-chief Jason Hiner. They have better sound quality, and an improved transparency mode than previous generations, and carry four ear tip sizes so you can always ensure a snug fit within your ear. 

Review: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

A travel VPN

In the same way that you probably wouldn't leave your passport lying open in a public place, you shouldn't leave your personal online data up for grabs when traveling abroad. Online privacy should be your utmost concern during your trip, and connecting to Wi-Fi in an airport, hotel, or cafe just puts your financial information or login credentials at risk of exposure or theft. We recommend keeping your connection safe and secure at all times by using one of the top Travel VPNs

NordVPN id the best travel VPN due to its 30-day money-back guarantee, fast connection speeds, and high reliability. ZDNET's VPN expert, Charlie Osborne, ran several tests on the service, in addition to testing it herself during her travels, and found NordVPN to be one of the most reliable connections out there. Currently, NordVPN offers three plans available: Complete, Plus, and Standard, and is running a promotion where you can get three months of access for free when you choose a one or two-year plan. 

Review: NordVPN

If you want a VPN specifically to use on your phone, Express VPN can support up to eight simultaneous devices and operating systems. While it is more expensive than competitor VPNs, Express VPN has at least 160 server locations and works in 105 different countries, making it an easy and seamless VPN to connect to no matter where you are traveling. 

Express VPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee; however, according to Osborne, you'll need to set some time aside if you are planning to cancel since customer service is friendly and polite but persistent in customer retention. 

Review: ExpressVPN

A luggage scale 

I can't tell you the amount of times I have fearfully arrived at the airport, unsure whether or not my luggage will pass the weight check. To avoid the constant dread, a couple of months ago, I decided to get a portable weight scale, and I can't deny that it has probably been one of the most game-changing travel gadgets I have ever used. My weight scale gives me peace of mind before I arrive at the airport and often keeps me accountable when packing. Here are some of our recommendations. 

The Freetoo Portable Luggage Scale can give you peace of mind before you even begin your trip. This scale holds up to 110 lbs or 50 kg and comes in three colors: red, grey, and black. It has a green backlight display, making it incredibly easy to read no matter the lighting conditions, and it can easily be stored within your belongings due to its sleek and lightweight design.  

This luggage scale can handle a maximum of 110 lbs or 50 kg, which is twice the weight allowed by most airlines (50 lbs). This luggage scale is simple, sleek, and minimalistic. It only comes in one color (black) and does not have a backlight display. However, the luggage scale is lightweight and can easily be placed in a backpack, carry-on, checked bag, or even a purse. 

A travel adapter

If you are traveling to another country, there is a high possibility you will need a travel adapter for your chargers and devices. So you are not caught by surprise when you arrive at your destination and realize you don't have a way to plug in your phone, my recommendation is to always carry a universal travel adapter during every trip. These top travel adapters are all-in-one devices that constantly keeps you prepared for whatever charging or electrical needs you may encounter. 

Stay plugged in no matter where you go with Eplicka's Universal travel adapter. This all-in-one adapter will give you power in over 150 countries due to its four different plugs and can charge your phone, laptop, and headphones all from the same spot. Just pick which of the USB-A, USB-C, and AC options you'd like to use and plug up to six devices to simultaneously charge from the adapter. 

Keep in mind this adapter is not a voltage converter and only holds up to 240 volts. This means you should not use this adapter with items such as your hair dryer, straightener, or others.  

The Ceptics World Travel Adapter Kit is a hefty yet powerful portable adapter. The adapter has six ports with a small LED indicator and can power a maximum output of 140W, which, according to ZDNET expert Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, is more than enough to charge a 16-inch MacBook Pro. While on the pricier side of portable adapters, Kingsley-Hughes recommends this adapter to individuals who want to replace old charges and declutter their desks. 

Designed with safety in mind, this adapter has a resettable fuse that acts as temperature control and utilizes GaN technology to keep things compact, cool, and safe. Charge your phone, camera, headphones, and tablets with one of its six ports, including 4 USB-A ports, 1 USB-C port, and 1 AC socket. 

And if you run out of battery halfway through your day, you can rely on Ceptics' adapter to quickly recharge all of your devices before moving on to your next adventure. 

You might also need: 

What is a must-have travel item?

Of all the items on this list, I'd say a power bank is the most important item to have on any trip (besides your phone, wallet, and personal identification, of course). The truth is the longer you have your phone, the shorter the battery will last you throughout the day. And especially when you are traveling, your phone just always seems to die quicker, since you are constantly using it to take photos, follow directions, or search the most recommended food spots in the area. 

What should I pack when traveling internationally?

When traveling internationally, you should always pack a universal travel adapter. Different countries have different electrical receptacles and while you can get an adapter for the specific country you are visiting, you are most likely to get a better bang for your buck if you can just get one adapter that works in all countries, rather than individual ones for each location. 

Plus this also prevents you from forgetting to bring the adapter, losing it, or bringing the wrong one. 

What are the busiest travel days of the holiday season?

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), historically, the busiest days to travel during Thanksgiving are the Tuesday and Wednesday before and the Sunday after. This means that traveling on the Monday before, as well as the Friday and Saturday after, will be better bets to run into less crowds. 

For Christmas, TSA says to avoid the Wednesday before Christmas and the day after Christmas and instead, opt for different days. 

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