This past year, we’ve taken the time to refine our must-have travel kit. As such, we’re fairly confident that we’ll be walking into 2015 with some great travel gear.
Truth be told, we’ve been having a great time testing new tech toys and some great new gear that will make our future travels a lot easier.
We also have a few tried and true things in our backpacks that have stood the test of time and a lot of hours on the road.
Here are some of our very favorite travel things of 2014, from apps to camera cases to on-the-go phone and tablet chargers.
We personally use and recommend each and every thing on this list.
Portable Luggage Scale
For the longest time, I thought a luggage scale wasn’t a real travel necessity. That was before airlines started dinging travelers huge fees for overweight bags (RyanAir, we’re looking at you and your 50 Euro fees here).
It’s also nice being able to distribute our weight around ahead of time instead of frantically repacking while standing at the check-in counter with a dozen people waiting behind you.
My favorite luggage scale weighs 0.2 pounds and fits neatly into the palm of my hand, so it doesn’t add a lot of extra bulk or weight.
It’s definitely nice to be able to weigh our luggage before we head out to the airport without the hassle of trying to find a scale, or the worry that our bags will be over weight limits.
We use the little Tarriss Jetsetter Portable Digital Luggage Scale (it’s shown below weighing our camera case), which costs about $18.99 USD on Amazon.
External battery chargers
Finding a place to plug in our iPhones, the kids electronics and our tablets was getting to be a constant hassle, so we decided to try out an external battery charger… or four. What can we say, when we try something, we make a thorough job of it. 🙂
The results surprised us a little… not only did we love using the chargers on the road, but we use them constantly at home as well.
All four of the highly rated chargers we tried were great at charging our electronics. Here’s a little more on the four we tried and what makes each of them special.
If you’re looking for only one, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Just make sure they fit your lifestyle and needs.
For a size comparison, all of the chargers are taken next to our son’s iPod Touch 5th Gen which is the same size as the iPhone 5 and 5s.
Anker 2nd Gen Astro Mini 3350mAh Portable Charger
I keep this tiny charger in my pocket for quick trips around town.
This lipstick sized charger has enough juice to charge my iPhone about one and a half times, which is all I ever need most days.
You can pick up the bestseller Anker 2nd Gen Astro Mini 3350mAh Portable Charger for about $20 USD on Amazon. It comes with one micro USB cable, a cute travel pouch and an 18 month warranty. It weighs in at a lightweight 2.8 oz/8.0 g.
Intocircuit 15000mAh 4.8A Dual USB Portable Power Bank
Since we travel with a few devices (probably way too many), and this can charge 2 devices at the same time, we really liked the Power Castle for longer trips. It has both a 2.1 and 1.0 Amp plug in and can charge a tablet and a phone at the same time.
We love the LCD display in front that shows you what percent of charging power you have left. It’s very handy to know when it’s time to recharge. We wish all of them had that. It also has a nice little built-in flashlight by the USB ports.
Though it has the weakest of the three higher outputs, it’s the heaviest at 10.9 ounces (309 g) and though the metal casing is nice, the plastic ends feel a little inferior to the other chargers.
You can pick up the Intocircuit 15000mAh 4.8A Dual USB Portable Power Bank for about 26.99 USD on Amazon. It comes with one micro USB cable and a carry pouch.
RAVPower 16750mAh 4.5A Dual USB Output Portable Charger
Of all the chargers we’ve tested, this has the most power, at 14,000mAh (meaning it should be able to get the most charges for your devices). Like the Power Castle it comes with two USB charging ports (2 A and 1 A), a built in flashlight and 4 LED’s that tell you it’s remaining power.
It has a nice feel and seems well put together however it is also the widest charger we tested so fitting it into your pocket is going to be a problem.
It weighs in at a slim 10.2 ounces/289 g.
You can pick up the RAVPower 16750mAh 4.5A Dual USB Output Portable Charger for about 29.99 USD on Amazon. It comes with two micro USB cables of different lengths, a 30 pin Samsung adapter, a mini USB adapter and a travel pouch.
Anker Astro E7 26800mAh Ultra-High Capacity 3-Port 4A charger
I used the Anker charger on our recent flight to Calgary, and it performed like a champ.
It comes with two USB charging ports and 4 lights to show it’s remaining power. The Anker Astro E4 is a lot sleeker than the others and has a nice solid feel to it. That being said, it’s a lot longer than the others as well so though it might fit in your back pocket, it’s going to stand out quite a bit.
It’s LED flashlight is also the brightest among the 3 chargers we tested and would be great when you need a spot of light.
It weighs in at a middle of the road 10.4 oz/296 g.
You can pick up the Anker Astro E7 26800mAh Ultra-High Capacity 3-Port 4A charger for about 29.99 USD on Amazon. It comes with one micro USB cable, a travel pouch and an 18 month warranty.
Canon EOS Rebel SL1
As a family of four, with two little kids, we’re constantly struggling to keep our travel gear as light as possible.
As travel bloggers, we knew we needed to upgrade our camera to something better than the point and shoots and iPhones we carry.
So, we opted for one of the smallest and lightest DSLR cameras on the market: The Canon EOS Rebel SL1. It weighs less than a bottle of water, and the camera body fits neatly into my hand.
Our photography has really improved with the DSLR, and I love being able to get good shots in low light and when objects are moving quickly.
We use both a 18-55mm IS STM lens and a Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens.
The pancake lens makes the camera easy to carry around and less obtrusive, and we love it for on-the-go shots.
Even with the two lenses, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 fits neatly into our camera case.
Timbuk2 Sneak Camera Case
You know those folks who walk around with a huge DSLR camera and a camera case the size of most carry on luggage?
Yeah, that’s NOT our style. With two little kids, and plenty of gear to carry already, we like to keep our camera and case as small and unobtrusive as possible.
Plus, to avoid making ourselves targets for thieves when we travel, we don’t like our camera bag to advertise that we have expensive gear inside.
Enter our Timbuk2 Sneak camera case. We wanted a case that was tough enough to last on the road for a couple of years, that would hold our DSLR (with two lenses), extra batteries, and memory cards and lenses.
We’ve been using our Timbuk2 Sneak daily for around three months now, and love that it’s so lightweight and comfortable to carry. Plus, since Charles and I take turns carrying the camera, we love that the case looks great as both a men’s or women’s accessory.
You can pick up the Timbuk2 Sneak camera case for around $45 USD on Amazon.
We’re always using our smartphones on the road. Smartphones are an indispensable travel tool for us, acting as maps, translation devices, for booking hotels and flights, and even just for pure entertainment (Spider Solitare, I’m talking about you here).
Of all the apps we use, the most indispensable are Google Maps and Google Translate, along with City Maps 2Go (free!). If you download the city map you’re interested in ahead of time, City Maps 2Go lets you see the map (including attractions, restaurants, hotels and the like), (this is important!) it works EVEN IF you don’t have a Wi-Fi or data connection. When you’re offline, City Maps 2Go works with your phone’s GPS to let you track, real time, where you are on the map (gotta love that little blue dot). There’s also a pro version of City Maps 2Go ($6.99) if you’d like to get rid of the ads..
We’ve also had a lot of fun with the Kamino walking tour app the last year. I wouldn’t say it’s indispensable, but since we spend so much time exploring on foot, I would definitely miss it!
You can find more of our favorite apps in our 25 Free iPhone Travel apps post.
Apps for the kids
We’re training our little ones to find their way around using Google Maps (and they’re getting pretty good at it), but we mostly use apps to amuse our little ones on long flights or in long lines at the airport.
Because we work online as we travel, having a good WiFi connection is an absolute must for us.
Unfortunately we’ve run into more than a few hotels that fall short on their promise of fast, reliable WiFi. Sometimes the WiFi signal is weak, sometimes the hotel only offers a wired connection, or even worse, sometimes the hotel charges per device for a WiFi connection.
To combat these WiFi problems, we’ve been traveling with this little TP-LINK Portable 3G/4G Wireless Router. It’s small (it fits easily in the palm of my hand), lightweight, plus it just works.
It also takes only a tiny bit of power so you can run it off the included USB charger as well as any USB charger you have with you (including the battery chargers above). You can also just plug it directly into your laptop.
Our compact TP-LINK Portable 3G/4G Wireless Router fits squarely into the palm of your hand and connects quickly to a wired WAN/LAN or existing wireless signal. You can also use this portable router with a 3g/4g USB mobile data stick or via the data on your cell phone.
We also use it to strengthen a weak WiFi signal and have been known, on occasion, to leave it plugged in the hallway to boost the signal from the hallway into our room.
Ultra portable, at around $31 USD, it’s also pretty easy on the wallet.
You can buy the TP-LINK Portable 3G/4G Wireless Router from your local tech store or on Amazon.
Rechargeable two way radios
Admittedly, a two way radio may seem like an odd choice in the age of smartphones.
What we like abut two way radios is that they don’t require a cell signal, making them great for when we’re hiking or somewhere remote. They’re also really useful in countries where we don’t get a cell plan for both of our phones. They even come with a built in weather station feature.
They also double as a fun toy for the kiddos, as they’re tough enough to handle a few drops. We’ve traveled with these radios for around four years now, and they’re still going strong.
We each carry a radio in our day pack, and they come in really handy when we’re separated while walking around town or hiking. Depending on the terrain, they can broadcast for miles in any direction.
You can buy a three pack of the Motorola MH230TPR Rechargeable Two Way Radios we use for around $75 USD on Amazon. They also sell a two pack for a little less. They run either on 3 AAA batteries or the included rechargeable NiMH battery.
These days, with four passports to carry, we don’t use our neck wallets as much as we used to, since they’re just too small to carry all four of our passports, cards and cash in one.
That said, we do use the neck wallets in areas where there’s a lot of petty crime and pick pocketing, with Charles and I splitting up the passports, cash and cards between the two of us.
When we do wear one, we both use an Eagle Creek Travel Gear Silk Undercover Neck Wallet. It’s lightweight, and is hard to see under a shirt. The silk makes it cool and comfortable against the skin. While other people use money belts, we find them bulky and uncomfortable, and find that the neck wallet is a great help for keeping money and passports safe.
The Eagle Creek Travel Gear Silk Undercover Neck Wallet costs around $26 USD on Amazon.
We’ve had the same Petzl Tikka RXP Headlamp with us for the past eight years. In that time, we’ve let both kids play with it, used it camping, during home renos, to find our way around strange cities after dark, and carted it around on five continents.
We often use a headlamp instead of a flashlight because the headlamp lets us keep our hands free. The Tikka we use takes three AAA batteries, and lasts us months. It fits neatly into this Petzl Tikka 2 Case, and is lightweight enough that we carry it with us in our day bag everywhere we go.
You can pick up the Petzl Tikka RXP Headlamp for around $95 USD on Amazon.
The almost indestructible waterproof camera
We spend a lot of our travel time outdoors or on the water.
While we absolutely love our new little Canon DSLR, it’s pricey enough that we don’t want to chance ruining when we’re on the water or somewhere it could get dropped easily.
When things get wet or rough, we still take out our trusty Canon PowerShot D20 Waterproof Digital Camera (check out our review here). We’ve had the PowerShot for close to two years now, and it’s still going strong, even after our adventures in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia and swimming with endangered sea turtles in Akumal, Mexico.
These days, the D20’s been replaced with the Canon PowerShot D30.
We also carry a Sandisk Ultra 32 gb SDHC Class 10 SD card to store our trip photos, which holds hundreds of photos and videos.
You can pick up the Canon PowerShot D30 for around $299 USD on Amazon.
The XShot for group selfies
To be honest, we don’t use a selfie stick like the Mpow iSnap Y One-piece Portable Self-portrait Monopod. It fits both IOS and Android phones, telescopes out to over 30 inches, and lets us take good self portraits of the entire family. The four of us won’t fit into the frame when we hold a camera at arm’s length, so a selfie stick has been a great addition for us.
A portable surge protect for our gadgets
With four people traveling together, we usually end up having more gadgets than we have places to plug them in or to recharge them.
So we bring our little 3 outlet Belkin Mini Surge Protector/Dual USB Charger wherever we go. The Belkin can swivel and has a few extra outlets, which are fantastic for hotel rooms that never seem to have enough, and two built in USB charge ports (this newer model is identical to ours however it now has 2.1 Amp USB output compared to our older 1 Amp model).
The Belkin is only rated for 120V however we’ve used it in more than a few countries at 220V/240V and haven’t had an issue so far.
The 3 outlet Belkin Mini Surge Protector/Dual USB Charger costs around $16 USD on Amazon.
Odds and ends
In addition to the Belkin, we have a few other little tech essentials, including a headphone to RCA Y splitter cable (to push sound to the TV or to a stereo receiver), and a headphone splitter with varying headphones for all of us. We also have a few chargers for our iPhones and tablets as well as several laptops.
We’ve also been known to travel with a 2nd gen Apple TV with XBMC on occasion (especially when we knew we’d be hotel bound for a part of it) and purchased an Amazon Fire TV about a year ago to replace it, and we’re loving it.
If you have any questions about the gear we use or suggestions on even better gear we’d love to hear it.
So what are your favorite travel items? Let us know in the comments below.