Must Have Travel Accessories 2017

We love to travel - seeing new things, meeting new people, getting things done - but travel can be hard sometimes. Travel accessories are never going to fix a cancelled flight or a bad hotel room, but they can make everyday travel far more tolerable and even enjoyable. We’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the world and tried countless different travel accessories from tablets to travel pillows, carry-on luggage to power plug adapters.

We've segmented our recommendations into General Travel Accessories, for shorter and/or domestic trips, and Long Haul Travel Accessories, for longer and/or international trips.  

General Travel Accessories include:

  • Packing cubes
  • Leak-proof travel bottles
  • Carry-on luggage
  • Checked luggage
  • Backpacks
  • Tablets
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Power splitters
  • Battery packs
  • Electronics organizers
  • Travel water bottles

Long Haul Travel Accessories include:

  • Travel document holders
  • Universal power adapters
  • Travel pillows
  • Travel blankets
  • Sleep masks
  • Earplugs

We hope you find these travel accessories valuable and enjoy your travel!


General Travel Accessories

Packing Cubes

Before you get going you need to pack (generally at the last minute in my case) and one of the best tools for packing we’ve found are packing cubes. We were very skeptical of these for a long time but we’ve come around because packing cubes help achieve one of the primary goals of travel: never ever check a bag unless absolutely necessary. Packing cubes are great for organizing baggage into more usable sections – business attire, casual clothes, workout clothes, beachwear, electronics, and more, they take up almost no space or weight themselves. The thing I like most is when you’re looking for something in your luggage, they let you find exactly what you need quickly and then get everything re-packed and reorganized easily. 

We’ve written an entire post on the best packing cubes, but my favorites are the Shacke Pak packing cubes. They are more sturdy than most and hold their shape well, but they’re still flexible enough to squeeze into a variety of different luggage types. The downside is they are only one depth (4 inches), but that doesn’t bother me much. 

There are many different packing cubes and travel compression bags on the market, so if the Shack Pak doesn’t work for you, try another option. It will change the way you think about packing.     

Shacke Pak 4 set packing cubes

Leak proof travel bottles

Unfortunately for travelers in the US and other places, limitations on liquids you can bring in carry-on luggage are still a reality of travel. This primarily impacts things like shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, and other toiletries. We generally try to buy travel size toiletries in disposable bottles whenever possible, so we can just throw them away when we’re done and we don’t have to clean any bottles when the contents run out.

However, sometimes that’s not possible or there’s a strong preference for a particular product, so I need bottles to pack. In that case, LiquiSnugs are the best leak proof travel bottles we’ve found. They're secure but easy to open when you want to. They also have a relatively big opening at the top which makes for easier rinsing and/or cleaning as needed.

Now we move on to what to put your stuff in:

Carry-On Luggage

Reminder - we avoid checking bags at all costs, so carry-on luggage is critical. There are big debates over soft or hard-shell luggage, but in our view soft-shell is the way to go for carry-ons because they can squeeze into overhead bins and tight spaces better than hard-shells.

By default carry-on luggage needs to move easily with you through airports or train stations, so wheels are also a key factor. Bad wheels can make otherwise great luggage a bad choice. That’s one of the main reasons this Samsonite Silhouette Sphere 2 softside is our favorite carry-on luggage. Four great multi-directional, smooth-rolling wheels for upright or tilted rolling. Very durable body construction that’s expandable if needed. Strong, but comfortable handle that slides vertically with ease.  

If you prefer a carry-on duffel and/or backpack, then check out the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack - it’s a great combination of both. Large, panel load lockable zippered access to the main compartment provides easy and secure entry to the pack’s internal contents, plus numerous internal pockets for organizing. We also like the  padded shoulder harnesses with adjustable sternum strap for comfortable, supportive backpack style carry.

tortuga outbreaker

Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack

Checked Luggage

Reminder - avoid checking bags at all costs, but if you must, our favorite is the Travelpro Maxlite 4 Expandable 25 Inch Spinner Suitcase. It’s relatively lightweight for a bag this size, thanks to it’s soft but durable shell. Four 360-degree spinning wheels make it easy to maneuver and the handle is strong, but easy to telescope. Tons of room inside - you can reasonably get 10-12 days of stuff in this bag without a problem. 

If you prefer hard-shell luggage for checking, then we’d suggest checking out the Samsonite Winfield2 Fashion 28- Inch Luggage.

It’s laid out well on the inside and looks great on the outside. It's made of an injection molded polycarbonate which makes it light for it's size, but it can get scratched up over time. 

Backpacks

Backpacks are a great way to consolidate travel accessories - particularly electronics and clothing - in one bag. We like two options for backpacks: one for longer trips and one for shorter trips.

For longer trips and more volume needed, the Osprey Porter Travel Backpack (46-Liter) is a great option. It has a huge cavern for clothing and other articles, and a padded laptop pocket, plus a bunch of other “hideaway” pockets inside for other electronics and gear. It's extremely rugged and water-resistant, and the backpack straps can tuck into pockets so it can look and travel like a duffel bag if wanted. The only downside is a lack of a bottle holder/pocket on the outside.

For short trips (1-2 days), our favorite is the Ogio Renegade RSS Laptop/Tablet Backpack. In fact, I use this as a daily work bag to tote laptop, chargers, iPad, etc. It’s slim when not packed full for everyday use but can also expand to hold enough clothing and toiletries for 1-2 days worth of travel. It has a large central pocket that can fit the clothing in addition to a padded laptop pocket, separate padded tablet pocket, and multi-function pocket for other electronics and accessories. 

Tablets

We consider tablets to be must-have travel accessories - great for video, games, web access, email, social networks, and music - plus you don’t have to shut them off during take-off and landing. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, an iPad is a no-brainer, the only question is which one you prefer. Our choice is the new 10.5” iPad Pro, but if you don’t need the keyboard and Apple Pencil support, the 9.7” iPad is your best bet for travel. It's almost as powerful (most people won't notice any difference), and less expensive. 

Ipad 10.5

If you prefer Android, there are many different good options. We think the Asus ZenPad 3S 10 is the best combination of price, power, battery life and screen resolution. The 9.7” size provides enough screen real estate to watch movies and shows without squinting, plus it has a 2K IPS display (2048 x 1536 pixels) with ASUS TruVivid technology. It’s processing power is more than enough for fast multi-tasking, but also has 12 hours of battery life and the battery will charge approximately 80% in 30 minutes.

Noise cancelling headphones

There has been so much written about noise cancelling headphones that we won’t elaborate much here on the details. The choice really comes down to whether or not you like over-ear headphones or in-ear earbuds. Either way Bose is the way to go for either option. The in-ear earbuds tend to be better for air travel because they’re smaller, better for sleeping, can plug into in-flight entertainment systems, etc.

These Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are the best in-ear earbuds we've found. 

Over-ear headphones definitely provide better audio and noise cancellation and they are wireless, but they are larger, more expensive, and slightly more difficult to travel with. The other consideration is if you plan to use the in-flight entertainment, these require using the included dual-ended audio wire to plug into the entertainment system. 

These Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones are the best over-ear headphones we've found. 

In-ear earbuds

Over-ear headphones

Power splitters

We carry quite a few electronics when we travel, which of course require charging. Depending on where the power outlets are located where you are staying, it’s easy to have devices scattered all over. This 4-port USB charging station is a great solution to be able to charge 4 devices in the same place. It turns one power outlet into a hub to charge four different devices. It’s also very useful in airports when you can only find one power outlet, but need to charge multiple devices. 

If you do international travel, another option is to use a travel adapter with multiple USB ports for additional charging. This way you don't have to carry a separate power splitter that just adds an another device to carry. We like this one from Pors-Ela with 4 USB ports. It works in more than 150 countries and protects from power surges with a built-in fuse system.

Battery packs

Portable battery packs are a must have travel accessory to avoid hunting for a power outlet or having a device run out of power on a flight. There are a bunch of options for battery packs that range in size, capacity, and functionality. We’ve tried many different options and have narrowed down the list to two:

Large capacity battery pack

RAVPower Portable Charger 26800 is actually not the biggest/highest capacity portable battery pack on the market, but it’s the right combination of size, power, and price. This can power up most smartphones nearly seven times and most tablets more than twice. It has 3 USB ports to power up three devices at once if needed.

We’ve been using this one for over a year now and one of the best features is how well it holds a charge. Once it’s fully charged it holds that charge for (literally) weeks at a time, which is handy if you forget to charge it before a trip, it will likely still have power for you.

The downside is this much power is heavy. It weighs a full pound, but if you keep it in your bag it’s not that noticeable.  

Small capacity battery pack

For smaller battery pack needs, the Jackery Bolt is an interesting option, because it has a built-in Lightning connector (Apple) and micro USB (Samsung, Kindle, GoPro, Fitbit, etc.) connector, so you don’t need extra cables for this one. It has enough battery capacity to charge a large smartphone like the iPhone 8 Plus more than twice. 

Electronics organizer

All the electronics we carry means a lot of chargers, adapters, cords, cards, and more. These can easily end up in a variety of different pockets or left behind. It’s best to keep it all in one place, so we recommend an electronics organizer like the BAGSMART Travel Universal Cable Organizer. It has two zipper pockets, multiple small pockets and straps, and holders specifically for SIM and SD cards. The outside is water-resistant, nylon molded case that provides good protection. The only downside we’ve seen is that it’s not big enough to hold large chargers, like those for laptops and other computers.  

Travel water bottle

Water Fountain with Bottle Filler

Flying dehydrates people, so staying hydrated is critical to enjoyable travel. Many people don’t realize it, but a big portion of jet lag from air travel is from dehydration. Because you can’t take much (if any) liquid through security checkpoints, bringing a travel water bottle with you can help you avoid paying the ridiculous prices they charge for bottled water in airports and stay hydrated at the same time. It also helps that many airports are installing water fountains with bottle fillers like this one:

Our favorite travel water bottle is the Clean Bottle Tritan Square BPA-Free Water Bottle, primarily because it opens on both ends for easy cleaning. It also comes in several sizes and colors, and has a handle for portability. 

Long Haul Travel Accessories

Travel document holders

Most long haul travel is international, so a travel document holder can be really helpful. We’ve reviewed the best travel document holders and there are a bunch of good options. Here's a quick summary:

Our favorite for family travel is the Zero Grid Travel Document Holder & Family Passport Holder w/ RFID Blocking

For individual travel, our favorite is the Travelambo RFID Blocking Genuine Leather Passport Holder Wallet.

Universal power adapters

There are a bunch of these on the market and most of them are repackaged versions of the same thing. As we mentioned above, this one from Pors-Ela covers all the power outlet types and has four USB ports for charging mobile devices while charging other devices. Plus this has surge protection, which not all of them do.

Travel pillows

A good travel pillow is a must have travel accessory for a trip of almost any length. Whether traveling by air, land or sea, the best travel pillow can provide a feeling of well-being and the chance for rest at times when real comfort is often hard to find. We reviewed all the best travel pillows on the market so you can check out more at that link.

Our favorite is the Purefly Soft Velvet Inflatable Travel Neck Pillow, because it’s very comfortable and supportive, and it solves one of the biggest challenges with travel pillows: they take up a lot of room in your bag. This one is inflatable so it’s easy to transport when you’re not using it. 

Travel blankets

A travel blanket can be a lifesaver on a cold airplane, so we reviewed numerous options on the market and found two of the best options.

First, the Cocoon CoolMax Blanket is a light blanket with material slightly thicker than a t-shirt, but it can be just enough for travel purposes. It’s primarily meant as a cover-up, not meant for serious warmth. However, because it’s light, it packs down to a very compact size that easily fits in a carry-on bag.  

The second option we like provides more warmth. The World's Best Cozy-Soft Microfleece Travel Blanket is thicker and warmer; made of a fleece material that traps more heat and keeps you warmer. It’s a better option if you get really cold on planes or other modes of travel. The trade-off, of course, is that it’s thicker and doesn’t fold down as tightly for transport in a carry-on bag.

Sleep masks

In general we’re not a big fan of sleep masks, simply because we just don’t like having something on our faces when sleeping. However, many people who have trouble sleeping on planes or in cars swear by sleep masks to enable much better quality sleep. The Bedtime Bliss BTB01 Contoured & Comfortable Black Sleep Mask with Moldex Ear Plugs is one sleep mask that we continually hear about as one of the best, so we tried it and have to agree that it’s a great option.

Earplugs

We generally don’t like things in our ears in any situation, but long haul travel sometimes makes us want silence. Mack’s Silicone Earplugs won’t block out all sound, but it’s pretty close. And they are comfortable. They mold easily to any ear and stay in place really well. They are great for sleeping because they mold to be flush against the ear. They’re easily reusable a few times, but they are inexpensive for three pair, so you don’t have to feel bad about throwing them away after one use.

By the way, these are great for anytime you want to block out sound, not just during travel. 

Macks earplugs

We know that's a lot, but that completes our list. If you know of other must-have travel accessories, let us know in the comments below. Enjoy your travels!

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