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My tech secrets to stress-free travel: 9 essential gadgets and how I track everything

During my travels this year, I've streamlined and fine-tuned my process - and I'm ready to share it with you. Here's the kit I use and how I pack it.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Leaving, on a jet plane... don't know if I'll see my luggage again!

Leaving, on a jet plane... don't know if I'll see my luggage again!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Unless you're particularly chilled, or spend most of your time on planes, trains, and automobiles crossing borders, travel has its stressful moments. For many people, the main pinch point is getting to a port -- whether by air or sea -- and boarding their chosen mode of transport. There are passports and paper or digital boarding passes to juggle.

I've been working on streamlining this process as much as possible. Based on how my last few trips went, my approach seems to work well. Here's the kit I use and how I pack it.

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I divide the kit I carry into two categories:

  • The essentials I don't want to lose
  • Everything else

Let's dive into these two categories.

The essentials

These are things I must have on me when traveling -- passport, smartphone (lots of tickets and boarding passes are now digital, not to mention credit/debit cards), my essential keys (I thin down my keys as much as possible before travel, so there's less to carry and lose), wallet, earbuds, any medications I need, a power bank (I generally find that I have space for a 5,000mAh magnetic wireless charging power bank for charging on the go and a backup 10,000mAh power bank in case of delays), charging cables (for my phone and Apple Watch), and a universal adapter.

If I'm traveling with a laptop or drone, these devices also come with me, along with any specific chargers.

Keep tech as simple as possible. Remember, you'll get your kit out for X-ray trays at security points. The less your stuff looks suspicious, the quicker you'll be through security and on your way.

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If I have space, I'll throw in a folding toothbrush and a couple of those magic compressed washcloths -- just in case.

I also attach (hidden, if possible) an AirTag to the bag I'm carrying my stuff in, and I have a modified AirTag in my wallet, for if I get separated from my stuff.

When it comes to carrying my stuff, I recently switched over to those chest/shoulder sling bags that you can find on Amazon and other online retailers. 

These sling bags are roomy and comfortable to wear.

These sling bags are roomy and comfortable to wear.


These bags are comfortable, have several pockets to keep things organized, and are water-resistant against showers. I have no idea about the origin of these bags, as the market is filled with companies selling the same thing. I went with a bag from a company called Waterfly because the reviews were good. Thankfully, the bag has lived up to those reviews. I modified the bag by cutting off the pullers on the zips because they rattled, and replaced them with cords with glow tags on the ends.

My Waterfly chest/shoulder sling bag

My Waterfly chest/shoulder sling bag.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The idea with this bag is that I'll be OK if I end up in a foreign country with only the clothes I'm standing in and the bag I can take on board. I'll have my phone and can keep it charged to make plans.

Everything else

This category covers literally everything else -- clothes, toiletries, and more. It's all the stuff made in factories every day that is easily purchased and isn't essential to my travels. I don't want to lose this stuff, but once it's been handed over to staff to be put in hold, it's out of my control.

All my toiletries are in tough Dyneema bags (these bags are super thin, feel like paper, and are tougher than Kevlar). I even have a spare one for dirty laundry.

Also: The best travel gadgets of 2024 

I have AirTags in my luggage to keep track of things.

As for luggage, I have replaced my bags and suitcases with Peli Air cases. I have the smaller Peli Air 1535 for short trips, and break out the bigger, beefier Peli Air 1615 for longer trips. Both cases are watertight, dustproof, and crushproof, are kitted out with wheels and comfortable retractable handles, have locking points with stainless steel protectors, and tough double-throw latches.

My trusty Peli Air 1535 case, with a lot fewer stickers on it than it has now!

My trusty Peli Air 1535 case.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Both my 1535 and 1615 are bright orange and are plastered with reflective tape and stickers. They're easy to spot among all the drab black and brown cases at collection points. Their distinctiveness eliminates misidentification and puts off thieves grabbing them.

I've also modified my cases by replacing the original latches with TSA-compliant lockable latches (less to do with security, because all TSA-compliant locks are garbage, and more about preventing accidental opening), hiding an AirTag inside the retractable handle, and swapping out the stock wheels for smooth-glide versions from a company called ColorCase.

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Each case has a removable card holder. In there, I have a Trace Me tag that should help me become reunited with my bag if it goes missing.

These cases are about as tough as luggage gets. Yes, there's a weight penalty (the Peli Air 1535 and 1615 weigh 8.7 and 14.1 pounds, respectively), but this is an acceptable tradeoff for me.

Final thoughts

Remember, these are personal recommendations based on my experience and preferences. It's important to customize your travel essentials based on your own needs and destination.

Additionally, have a good think about what you can leave at home. Sure, it's comforting to think that you have everything packed and ready, but I'm amazed at how often I return from a trip and find a load of stuff I didn't touch.

Then there are the things you should leave behind -- knives, fireworks, and more. 

Also, every time you travel there's a risk of something being lost, stolen, or damaged, and if you have to travel with expensive stuff, it's a good idea to ensure it's insured. 

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