Holiday Gift Ideas: Ten Travel Accessories I can’t live without

We’re getting down to the wire for holiday gifts, and if you’re like me, there are always a couple people that are hard to shop for. So I wanted to pass along my top travel accessories, in case one of them would help fill the bill:

 

  • Scottevest: I never leave for a trip involving airplanes without my ScotteVest. It has two huge benefits in these days of heightened security and crowded planes. First, you can put all your small items into it and put it on the conveyor belt when going through security, making it quicker, less stressful, and much less likely you’ll leave something behind at a checkpoint (I speak from experience here). Second, once on the plane, you can stash your bag in the overhead and simply keep the vest with you. It has pockets for your phone, tablet, headphones, and even a nice one for a small camera. This last trip I even kept a crushable Mountain Hardwear jacket in a pocket so I’d have it if I needed a pillow or some warmth. Slit pockets on the outside are ideal for passport checks, or travel binoculars once you’ve arrived. There are a few models (including one with sleeves), but the basic one I have works very well for me and is worth the $135 for the Mens’ version or the Womens’ version.
  • Petzl Zipka headlamp: A good headlamp is amazingly versatile. Aside from the obvious use of helping you walk back to your hotel after dark, it is key in power outages, underlit hotel rooms, or even for reading small-print menus. The great thing about the Petzl Zipka is that the cord retracts so it can live in a purse or pocket easily. At $40, including both a narrow & wide beam setting, plus a flasher, it is a no-brainer.
  • Tylt Energi 5K+ external phone battery: There are plenty of external power sources for smartphones on the market, but this one by Tylt is the best-designed I’ve ever seen. It is about the same shape and size as a modern smartphone, and has integrated microUSB and Apple iPhone cables. That means you can attach it to your phone while your phone is in your pocket or even while you are using the phone (you wind up with a double thickness phone while you are using it). It’s not cheap at $89, but it is the best you can buy. Tylt also makes an excellent “slide-on” external battery that I take when I need even more juice for long days running the GPS & mapping software.

  • USB multi-port Charger: Especially for photographers, USB-chargeable accessories seem to be multiplying at a rapid rate. Having a small, high-performance, multiple charger is becoming a must (at least if you don’t want to have to get up every few hours during the night to switch devices out on your charger, or carry a bunch of small chargers that each require their own outlet). I always travel with at least a 2-port charger, and often use a 4-port model if I’m going to be making extensive use of my phone, tablet, and external battery packs each day.
  • PacSafe RFID-proof, passport-friendly, travel wallet: By now you’ve probably realized I’m a bit obsessive about my travel gear. My travel wallet is no exception. I’ve tried out quite a few while looking for one that could store my passport, odd-sized international currency, credit cards, and was safe from electronic scanning (especially important with the various new chips in passports and credit cards). There was only one that fit the bill and still fit in my pants pocket. The PacSafe Rfid-Tech 150. I’ll admit I don’t carry it around at home, as I don’t need my passport then, but I am never without it when traveling overseas (technically, one should carry their passport with them when traveling abroad, and this is by far the easiest way). The wallet also has a small zippered compartment where I can keep international SIM cards and any medicine I need while on long flights. NOTE: The original version of this article referenced the PacSafe 50, which is also a very nice wallet, but is not large enough to accommodate a US passport.
  • IronKey secure USB flash drive: Not only does the IronKey protect my most valuable documents with hardware-based encryption, it provides a secure channel from my laptop back to the US for when I need to login to questionable WiFi networks. If I need to use a public computer, its method of storing and entering passwords also keeps me safe from keylogging hackers. You can get them in various sizes but I’ve found the 8GB personal S250 to be perfect for my needs. NOTE: There are lots of less expensive models if you don’t need the secure network connection, but personally I really like having that given how dangerous using untrusted WiFi networks can be. 
  • Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphones: I’ve been through several pairs of these, but to save size and weight am currently using an excellent “in-ear” (ear bud) design that goes in my ears when the plane takes off and stays there until we land (well, okay, they do come out when I need to listen to someone on the plane). They are also not that expensive at $42 for the QuietPoint model (I’ve left headphones on planes before). They have great sound quality for music or videos, and do a good job of reducing the background noise that makes flights extra stressful. If you have room for an over-ear pair, a good one like the XXX will do an even better job.
  • Keen closed-toe, easy-adjust, sandals: I’ve tried a wide variety of sandals over the years, and these are by far my favorite for travel. The closed-toe makes them useable in a wide variety of situations (with or without socks), while the quick on/off capability makes them perfect for security checks, onboard planes, or even for countries where politeness dictates that shoes come off frequently. When I travel to Africa or Asia, these are often the only shoes I bring (which is a great way to save weight when packing!).
  • Ex Officio travel shirts: These probably aren’t for everyone, but I love having pockets when I travel, and these shirts have a couple nice ones, plus offer roll-up sleeves for versatility. They are comfortable and quick drying. I’ve tried at least six brands of travel shirt, and these have come out on top. We use them for our logo shirts for safaris and photo tours, including some with the insect repellant added at the factory.
  • Multi-outlet extension cord: This one is a cheapie, but still very useful. Often hotel rooms have too few outlets, and put them in awkward places. This cord allows me to plug devices in where I want, and in any number I need. There are lots of other versions that work equally well, but if you are planning to travel outside the USA, make sure to get one that does not include a circuit-breaker (usually that means 3-outlets or less), or that is world-ready, so that the 220V power mains don’t cause it to turn off.