The very best travel gear to stuff in your bag

Jason Cipriani and Jason Perlow, the two hosts of ZDNet's Jason Squared video series, discuss which accessories and devices they make sure to pack for vacations, work trips, and regular daily outings.

Best travel tech: Cables, chargers, batteries, and more

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. 

Every person has their favorite brand and ecosystem and random gizmo and gadget that they feel help make their particular journey easier and way less stressful. Here's what we -- ZDNet's Jason Cipriani and Jason Perlow -- bring when we travel. Keep in mind we're freelance writers, so our list of gear is mostly tailored to our work lives.

Also: Weird gadgets that are actually really useful

Check out the video above, or read the transcript below. If you don't have time to watch or read right now, then skip to this bulleted list of every item we mentioned:

Best travel tech to stuff in your bag

Jason Cipriani: So, both Jason and I travel quite a bit for work. I don't travel near as much as I did in the past, but still, hitting the road is part of the job. And today we're going to talk about what technology, what gadgets we take along with us while we're on the road to kind of make our lives easier. I'm Jason Cipriani. This is Jason Squared, and we're talking Travel Tech. 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. Obviously, my current employer issued me a MacBook Pro, and you know, of course, it's the 2018 model and that thing charges with USB-C. So USB-C is kind of now like my basis of like 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.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, absolutely.


Anker cables (in various colors)

Jason Perlow: Yeah. So, I mean, now of course, obviously, I'm an iPhone user and an Android user, so I carry straight through USB charging cables. The one that you know that's certified to work on a hundred-watt Apple Direct USB-C, the USB-C cable, a Lightning cable, whatchamacallit, a Thunderbolt cable, will 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, right? [Crosstalk 00: 01: 23]. It's insanity. So now you've got at least two cables, but now, of course, if you've got an accessory that's older 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 happen to like to go with Anker brand just because I think they have a really good quality cable. The Power Line 2, it's got extra reinforcement on the connections, on where the bend area is.

And they come in a couple of different colors, which is what I like. So you don't want to have like four different white cables in your bag because when you're trying to figure out which one is which, and so I usually keep a yellow and a red and a white and a black and at least, orange or green, whatever I have, and I know that that particular color is associated with that kind of a connection and makes easy to spot inside the bag. And they're about 12, $13 apiece. Got to have your cables, right? Now, of course, I wish there was only one kind of cable. I wish we just had USB-C to USB-C. That would make life a lot easier, but that's what we got to deal with right this point.


Mophie Powerstation XXL

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. I actually, because we receive so many gadgets and phones and other stuff for a review, I just kind of borrow cables from the boxes from that. But getting color-coded cables, actually, I think that's a pretty good life hack right there. So I also carry with me a portable battery. That's kind of like the staple of what goes into my-

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's $70. It has a nice fabric finish to it that I like. I actually 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 and it's actually one of the most efficient packs I've ever tested. So $70, you're getting your bang for your buck because you're getting all of the juice out of it that you can possibly get, depending on the situation. It has the USB-C port with power delivery, I believe and has a couple of USB ports. It's well-rounded. It's very portable, it's well designed and that being able to charge while I'm on the go, whether it's on the plane or riding in a taxi to the hotel after I've been on the plane is key to me. And yeah. So portable battery pack.

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

Jason Perlow: Well, here's the thing. So 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 ports. They're older, two-watt ports. If you're low on juice and then you need to go to the hotel and change, and you need to juice up, those are not the best possible use. They're not bad for overnight usage, but they take a long time. And they generally don't work great with iPads and things like that that use 10- or 15-watt power draws. It'll take you, your device will draw faster than you can charge with those ports.


Multi-port power brick

Jason Perlow: So I happen to like, you're going to want at least one good multi-port power brick, right? So again, Anker, Ravpower, SETechy, there's a couple of good ones on Amazon. Generally, you want something that's in the 45- to 70- or 100-watt range with like, I would say, three or four USB-A 10 watt ports. You can also get the quick charts 3O ports and those USBs. But now you got ones with the USB-PD ports as well. I'd like, there's like one or two in the market that have multiple USB-PDs. Typically I like the blocks that had their own little charging cord at the end because then you can go into an AC receptacle that's tight and then string the power cord out and then put the block on the desk and then put everything you want.


Gallium nitride chargers

Jason Perlow: Those are good to have for the hotel room or for your office desk or wherever you're going. But for, on the go, if you don't know where you're going to be, I happen to like the small gallium nitride chargers that are in the 30- to 45-watt range that Anker RavPower make. They've got like five or six different models. Now, some with single USB-PD outputs, some with multiple USB-PD or a USB-PD and a USB-A. Those are good because they're flat, they're low profile. They fit very, very well in the bag. If you've got one of these small bags like I do with this one of these Timbuk2s. It fits really nice in one of the small pockets. It doesn't take up a lot of space.


Portable surge suppressors

Jason Perlow: The other thing I like to have are portable surge suppressors. Now Tripp Lite has some good models. There's a couple others that I saw on the web that are newer. Belkin has a nice one with three AC adapter connectors and two USBs and a rotating AC connector plug. 

So like if you're in one of these tight areas where you can't quite get the plug in on like the back of a bed or something, 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 at $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 a room amenities usually.


International charging adapter

Jason Cipriani: And even at that I don't touch it. So that's interesting. I've never thought of a surge suppressor or protector to take with me when I travel. But as far as power goes, because we've covered quite a bit. International travel, I have a little gadget that is like a Swiss army knife of electric adapting.

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

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, because you never, 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, kind 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. And then it has a couple 110-volt, normal US plugs on it as well as four USB ports. Now it's not the fastest charger, but usually, when I'm charging, it's overnight in the hotel room, and I don't need to top off real fast. I do have a couple of those Anker chargers you were talking about, as well -- 45-, 60-watt chargers if I'm in a hurry. But that international adapter, I think it's like $12 on Amazon, and it takes away any pain of, hopefully, I brought the right connector depending on what country I'm in.

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 though that I've had to make some very special considerations for charging.

Jason Cipriani: What's that?


Apple Watch magnetic charging cable

Jason Perlow: This thing, right? Because you know the charging cable for this guy is a magnetic circular 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. You can just go zap it's done, right? You have to have Apple special charging connector, right, which is theirs. 

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. Now what they do have is this little cases that look like AirPod cases and you put the cable inside it and then what you can do is, 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 and it keeps secure. It keeps it from falling off. So this way it'll charge good.

Jason Cipriani: So you take your watch off while you're traveling, throw it in your bag, let it charge up and then 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. But it's also a reason why Apple needs to roll out reverse wireless charging with the iPhone 11, right. But Samsung has with the S10 and now the Note 10 reverse or wireless power share, whatever they want to call it, where you could use your phone as a wireless charging pad to quickly top off your watch. So, yes, we need that in the next iPhone. Eliminate having to carry around that magnetic cord with you wherever you go because it is a very specialized connection.

Jason Cipriani: And I agree with you. Apple's is the best. WatchOS 6 beta launch back in June. It's a third-party charger every night in my room to charge my Apple watch. And during the first five betas, I could not use that charger. My watch would constantly restart. It would send it into a boot loop as long as it was connected to that charger.

Jason Perlow: And then what special magic are they doing in this charger connectors that the Watch knows the darn difference between an Apple connector and --

Jason Cipriani: And no error message on it at all. Right. So it just, all of a sudden it just, it's dinging every 30 to 60 seconds and I'm going, "What the heck's going on?" And it took me a couple nights to figure out if I moved it to an official charger, it was fine. It was a weirdest thing. So when it comes Apple Watch, yes. Stick with --

Jason Perlow: Their proprietary cable.

Jason Cipriani: Get it great straight from Apple because you never know when a software update is going to break it, which is weird because it's a magnetic charger that connects.

Jason Perlow: It's very odd. Very odd.


Microsoft Surface headphones

Jason Cipriani: What do you do for listening to music, watching movies, that kind of stuff?

Jason Perlow: So I know a lot of people like AirPods and the smaller headphones and the things that hang down and all that kinda stuff. I'm a old school over-the-ear guy, so recently I've started using these great things. The Surface headphones, which are really nice. They got some great noise cancellation technology. They fit over the ears really comfortably and they completely will knock out like any external noise you can imagine.

Jason Cipriani: Really?

Jason Perlow: Great on an airplane when you got that background hum, that engine sound and [inaudible 00: 00: 12: 00], whatever. You just want two people out and watch a movie in peace. They're great. They were very expensive before. They were over $350, I think, when they originally launched them. Now they're down to $243 on Amazon. So that is a very good buy.


Apple AirPods

Jason Cipriani: That is a good buy. I actually 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 mind crying babies all that much unless it's like absolute hysterical. So it doesn't get under my skin all that much. 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 kinda 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 normal 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. But Galaxy Buds work great with Android devices. Once in a while I'll take my Beats Solo 3s, I think they're called. They have the noise cancellation. They have the same W1 chip that the AirPods have so you get all that extra stuff. But that's very rare just because they're so bulky. 

I'm very minimal when I travel. I don't like to carry a ton of stuff with me. Just 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.


12.9-inch iPad Pro

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

Jason Cipriani: Well, I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro with touchbar. It was the first one they launched.

Jason Perlow: OK.

Jason Cipriani: It's the absolute worst Apple product I've ever owned. The touch bar is pointless.

Jason Perlow: I don't even touch the one I'm on. Mine's permanently closed sitting on my desk. I don't think I've ever seen the screen on my MacBook.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, the touchbar is not what Apple said it was going to be. Developers did not adopt it. Just Touch ID is the best part of that whole thing. I love being able to log in just by -- but wait till they get Face ID and then I'll be all over that.

Jason Perlow: [inaudible 00: 14: 40].

Jason Cipriani: You got me, man. You got me to say I love Touch ID. Are you happy?

Jason Perlow: There you go. OK.

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 iPad Pro with me. I have a 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Jason Perlow: I love the 12.9. I actually just sold my existing one, my previous one, and I'm waiting on the new model. But the 12.9 for me is the perfect size just because you can do real work on it. And yeah.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah. I mean there's one little thing in the browser I'm not able to do right now that's kind of put it in a cramp in my style.

Jason Perlow: Yeah, I know which one you're talking about. That one's a pain in the butt.


Nintendo Switch

Jason Cipriani: Yeah. But, hopefully, Apple gets that fixed and I'm able to use that solely as a full laptop replacement. So I'd say 50% of the time, iPad goes with me. MacBook stays home. But another thing that's a 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 always 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. I think 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 expensive and they've got a decent game ecosystem so I can certainly understand the appeal of that.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah. $300. Games are, you could get some really fun 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.


Kindle Oasis

Jason Perlow: My Kindle Oasis. There are much cheaper Kindles you can get. What are they, like $50 now or something like that for the basics. I'm saying it's perfectly fine for most human beings. I happen to like the Oasis. It's so tiny. I had the first generation of Oasis. I know there's a newer generation. Those are like 400 bucks. But honestly to be able to just put the gadgets away that are bleeping and notifying and all that garbage. Right. Just to be able to sit down with a nice book, cup of coffee, 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 awesome to be able to do that.

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


Cleaning cloth

Jason Perlow: Like I said, all the different types of charges. I do have a cleaning cloth that I keep for my smartphone because as we know with these phones, these [inaudible 00: 18: 02] on these things. First of all, I have a glass screen protector, which is going to get smudgy. I use the Alpha Glass from OtterBox though they call it a different product now. They have a new 3M Corning system that is better for outdoor full sunlight for polarization and stuff that's really cool. 

But the cameras, the selfie camera and the sensors in the back here, they get smudged up a lot, especially where I live in Florida, where we have high humidity environments. You walk out of the air-conditioned room and then you go outside. Suddenly, first of all, my main glasses go completely, 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 being in and out of environments, right, I need to go take pictures of food or people, whatever it is, you want to clean that lens off. And a tee shirt is not necessarily the right kind of fiber to use or a dress shirt. You want to use something that's really optimized for cleaning lenses. So I usually keep a fiber cloth with me at all times.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, that's all that I-


Joby Gorilla tripod

Jason Perlow: And a tripod, a little tripod.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, a little Joby Gorilla.

Jason Perlow: Yeah, one of those things.

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

Jason Perlow: It can be big, but --

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 really thought about picking up a cloth. But that's a solid point as well.

Jason Perlow: Jason, we've gone over a bunch of the travel gadgets and accessories that we like to carry. There are obviously much more seasoned travelers than me and I used to travel 42 weeks a year when I was at IBM. It was a grueling job and I needed to have virtually everything with me. But like you, now, I try to travel light, but we're always kind of traveling. We're always going out during the day in and out, and we are always going to have to have our electronic stuff with us.

Hopefully the battery technology, the next generation of smartphones and tablets improves, or at least the power draw on these things improve because I'm just getting tired of carrying around, 20,000MAh batteries plus just to keep my two or three things charged up all the time. And now I'm at the point where I'm carrying two cell phones and I'm carrying my Android and my iPhone in my bag at all times just so that one of them can be charged up at all times, which is kind of crazy. But if our readers have some interesting accessories, let us know in the comments because I'm always looking for new stuff.

Jason Cipriani: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. I carry two phones as well and I actually carry an extra SIM card and in case something happens to one of my phones, to my mainline, I carry a backup AT&T SIM card that's not activated that I'm able to activate, which is totally random. But just one of those things I do.

Yeah. I would love to hear what other people take along with them. Any gadgets, any technology that you have with you that you have to have on the road. Like Jason said, we don't travel as much anymore. I used to travel every two weeks or so. Now it's probably once a quarter, maybe a little bit more than that. So thanks again for watching Jason Squared. I'm Jason C0priani.

Jason Perlow: And I'm Jason Perlow.

Jason Cipriani: Have a good day.

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