My must-have tech accessories when traveling

Confession time: I used to be (and still often am) a terrible packer. Despite a lifetime of cross-country flights, I always found myself either bringing too much or too little, bumbling around with too many bags or forgetting something crucial by packing too light.

In the last few years, I've had to get a lot better at this; I took 29 plane and driving trips for work and roller derby in 2016, and while it was utterly exhausting at times, it also gave me great perspective on what in my bag was necessary — and what could probably have been left at home.

So when I packed for my annual two-week holiday trip to California this year, I chose wisely. Here's what I'm not going without during the holidays — may it help you with your own holiday packing struggles.


Travelpro Luggage

Last year, after having a piece of luggage fall apart on me in the airport, I begged my mother for a set of good luggage for Christmas, and she delivered. 11 months later, I now have no idea how I survived without a set of Travelpro bags before 2016 — I certainly wouldn't have made it through myriad plane trips without them.

There's a lot of good to be said about the Travelpro brand: They're durable, have bountiful pockets, and the Spinner series is heaven for anyone who's ever had to tote heavy bags from one end of an airport to another. (Seriously. I used to privately mock the folks who used quad-wheel bags — "Too good to drag them across the floor like the rest of us?!" — but it only took one trip to become an instant convert.)

There are other brands of luggage out there that you can spend more on, or you might prefer, but after a year of heavy travel, I'm a Travelpro advocate.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Amazon Packing Cubes

There are a ton of branded packing cubes out there, but I picked up Amazon's set early last year and have been very thankful for them throughout.

Like the aforementioned quad-wheel bags, I was initially skeptical of packing cubes, but they really do help organize and flatten an otherwise chaotic suitcase.

Best of all, the biggest packing cube works great as an impromptu laundry hamper.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Waterfield Staad

For most trips, my designated carry-on bag is the trusty Osprey Pixel Daypack (opens in new tab) — I'm pretty sure it's secretly a Bag of Holding, given how much stuff I can cram into it. But it's less of a practical bag for day-to-day work; given that I'm spending two weeks in California, I wanted to bring along a good café bag without sacrificing too much storage space.

Enter the Waterfield Staad: I used this bag for carrying my Emerson teaching gear this year, and it's been a champ for all that and more. Not only does the ballistic black nylon and chocolate leather flap make for a great-looking bag, but it's the kind of bag you can stuff with a MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, miscellaneous cords, portable chargers, and an iPhone 7 Plus — all without it looking overly bulky or awkward, the way some shoulder bags can get when stuffed full.

See at Waterfield Designs

Collapsible Beach Bag

I got this gigantic mesh beach bag from Target during my last visit to Florida, but pretty much any big tote or collapsible bag will do. I stole the idea from some of the frequent travelers on past flights who bring a big tote for coats, headphones, small blankets, and other miscellany you want readily accessible during a flight but don't want to bulk up your primary carry-on. Best of all, if you decide you don't need the bag, it packs flat in your luggage without taking up too much space.

I use the bag to carry my winter coats — a must for traveling in New England, but less so for southern California — as well as my Bont roller skates and a change of clothes in case of holiday delays. (I have a lifetime aversion to checking my skates — like jewelry or my wallet, they're among the few items I take on trips that aren't easily replaceable.)

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)


iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 7

Okay, preface: Most people don't travel with two phones, and if I had to choose one, it'd be the 7 Plus (Portrait mode, yo!). But as a technology writer, it's beneficial to have two iOS devices to test on — as well as one to take product photography of the other during my post-holidays work (a unique problem among most holiday travelers, I'm sure).

Since Portrait Mode's release, I've used the 7 Plus for both my photography work at iMore and for family gatherings; this is the first holiday I'm traveling without a DSLR, but surprisingly, I'm not nervous about it.

See at Apple (opens in new tab)

Serenity Caldwell typing on a MacBook Pro

Serenity Caldwell typing on a MacBook Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

13-inch MacBook Pro and 9.7-inch iPad Pro

I wrote about this dream team way back in January, and I am thrilled to have it at last be reality: The 13-inch Pro and the iPad make a wonderful companion travel pair. I can multitask and cut video on the MacBook Pro, draw and write on the iPad Pro (with the Logitech Create (opens in new tab) and Apple Pencil (opens in new tab), natch) and combine the two with second-screen software like Astropad (opens in new tab) or Duet Display (opens in new tab) to get a portable dual-monitor experience while on the road. Together, my bag weighs around what it did when I carried a 15-inch MacBook Pro around — not the lightest carrying experience in the world for the airport, but more than enough to get the job done.

See at Apple (opens in new tab)

Apple Watch and AirPods

Apple Watch and AirPods (Image credit: iMore)

38mm Steel Apple Watch

I've accidentally left the Apple Watch home during trips before, and it's been a miserable experience. Not because I couldn't do without the Apple Watch, but I've gotten so used to having it around that I felt rather lost without the little smartwatch.

Sure, I could do tasks like water and workout tracking, checking the time, paying with Apple Pay, sending texts, and checking the weather without an Apple Watch. But it's more convenient, and when you're traveling for the holidays, convenience is king.

See at Apple (opens in new tab)

Bose QC35

This probably comes as no surprise to those who have followed my Bluetooth headphone reviews this year, but the Bose QC35s are still a must-pack in my travel bag. There are headphones with fancier features and headphones with better sound, but I've yet to find a pair that matches the QC35 in price, comfort, battery life, and noise-cancellation — and when you're traveling for potentially hours on end, those last three become especially important.

Apogee MiC

My favorite travel mic of the year continues its streak — and its rightful place in my bag. I love the flexibility of my job and my ability to work anywhere, but my pre-amp XLR microphone and boom arm are less travel-friendly. To record a podcast, I need a good flexible microphone — and this delivers.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)


Twelve South Journal

Last year, I had my wallet stolen over the holidays. While it likely made some LA pickpocket's Christmas, it wasn't so much fun on my side; this holiday, I'm consolidating by combining my phone and wallet in Twelve South's Journal case for iPhone 7 Plus. While it has the same basic folio shape as the company's BookBook case line, the Journal offers a classier, simple brown or black leather look, all while providing a hardshell case for your iPhone, slots for four credit cards, and a pocket for cash.

I've only been testing the Journal for a few days, so this trip will truly put it through the holiday test — but so far, I've really enjoyed the simplicity of having one item to remember when going about the house. (The Journal's landscape view also isn't half-bad for nighttime Netflix streaming, either.)

See at Twelve South (opens in new tab)

Anker USB-C Powerstation Wall Charger

Whether traveling to a hotel or my family's house, wall outlets are almost always at a premium — but for me, they're no longer a stress. I picked up the Anker charger early this year after a recommendation from the Wirecutter's Dan Frakes, and it's made charging while traveling an anxiety of the past.

One wall plug supplies you with four USB charging ports and one USB-C port — enough to charge my MacBook Pro, Apple Watch, iPad, and iPhone overnight. (There's also an even bigger one for traveling families, if you need even more ports.)

Mophie XXL PowerStation and Native Union Lightning-to-USB cord

After several years with a trusty Anker 7000mAh backup battery, I traded it in this vacation for a 20,000mAh Mophie model (mostly Rene Ritchie's fault). While a little heftier than my trusty Anker, the Mophie still fits in a purse and can charge the heck out of my iPhone or iPad, even if every outlet in my local café is occupied (which, knowing LA, is pretty likely).

I also sprung for a Native Union USB-to-Lightning cord (opens in new tab) to go with the charger; while I didn't necessarily need another Lightning cable, the braided USB cord is extra-durable and comes with a leather cable strap — a perfect corded travel accessory that can live with the Mophie rather than do double-duty elsewhere while on the go.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Twelve South Time Porter

Another Twelve South acquisition, the Time Porter is the primary reason traveling with my Apple Watch is all joy, no pain: It's both a case for extra Apple Watch bands and a portable charging stand. Since getting the Time Porter, I've never failed to keep my Apple Watch fully juiced — I keep it and the Anker in a small cloth "go" bag, which I can toss in a suitcase and be ready to go in moments.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)


Dongles (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

Dongles and cords

Not a ton of dongles, thankfully, but between the new MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro, are you really surprised? For this trip, I have a USB-C to USB-A converter, a USB-C to HDMI, a Lightning to HDMI, and a USB-C Camera Connector — because even though I didn't bring my DSLR, I still might want to grab photos off my sister's camera.

See at Apple (opens in new tab)

Holiday travel

Holiday travel

Your must-have travel gear?

This is my list, written to you on the train to the airport. What about you, iMore? Anything you consider a must-have when traveling home for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • NICE
  • Packing Cubes - rookie mistake. They have zero compression - you need compression sacks (not the transparent loud ones, the ones that look like sleeping bag bags) - that way you get 3x as much in the same space and can take a smaller, lighter, easier to carry bag. Replace the iPad and 13" MacBook with a single 12". 95% of people don't need more CPU power - and the 13" barely has more (20-50%), tasks just aren't CPU bound in 2016 with few exceptions. Going up to the 13" you lose a lot - the 13" is lighter, thinner, silent & cheaper - all make it a much better device. 1" screen difference is barely noticeable. The 13" is a worse product in almost every way. If you're plugging lots of things into your laptop in 2016 you're doing it wrong - use the cloud. You advocate taking big headphones travelling, srsly? This is insane, use in-ear monitors - I use Shure SE535 and now also AirPods. You add so much bulk & weight with full-size headphones. Audio wise if you're using closed back headphones you'll always get boomy bass too that isn't present on in-ear monitors. Open back headphones sound great but are totally impractical for use anywhere apart from alone in a quiet room (so not for travel). So big closed-back headphones sound worse (out of control bass) & are totally impractical for travel. Try some Shure SE535 - amazing & super tight controlled bass & will save you huge amounts of bulk & weight. AirPods cover your wireless needs. That Anker USB-C PSU does look promising but if you look on Amazon there are multiple reports of it not being very reliable and not charging even a 12" MacBook at full speed. The USB PD charger landscape will no doubt have lots of cool stuff in it in a couple of years, but it's still too early. Just get a Quick Charge 3 port USB-A Anker & take you original Type-C MacBook charger. I've tested around 20 USB batteries with a voltage meter and found the Anker PowerCore+ 13400 kicks out the most - about 12W - which is enough to keep the 12" MacBook from losing charge while you use it in most cases. What wattage can the Mophie reliably kick out? (I've found it varies wildly even in the same range).
  • You need to write your own article.
  • Compression sacks are nice, but I don't generally advocate for them on shorter trips (like the holidays) because they're pricier and you (usually) aren't taking that many clothes. As for the iPad + MB combo — a 12-inch could definitely be enough for some people, but I do a fair amount of video editing and photo manipulation as part of my job, neither of which I prefer to do on the 12-inch. The iPad/MBP combo is the best for my needs, but YMMV. And yup, over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are a blessing on planes. Shure's buds are nice — and I've since picked up the AirPods, which are also great — but you really can't beat big cushy cans for drowning out holiday travel drama. If you don't mind noise, by all means travel with a lighter, smaller set; for my needs, I can't just rock smaller buds. (Also, my ears are not shaped properly for most buds, either, and have issues with in-ear noise-cancellation.) I don't use the Anker to charge my laptop because the wattage isn't enough; 60W isn't bad, but really isn't going to hold a candle to the MBP's built-in charger. That said, that USB-C port does quick-charge the heck out of my iPad Pro, which makes it worth the addition. Love the Anker PowerCores; they're what I used for ages before picking up the Mophie. Believe the Mophie can quick charge one device and regular charge two simultaneously.
  • I agree, niico, with your assessment on the Shure in-ear monitors... I've got a set of SE530's and LOVE them... Just got my girlfriend a set of Beats Studios after comparing Beats and Bose QC35... As a huge Bose fan, I was surprised that I like the Beats better... But neither were a close comparison to the Shure SE530's... Although considerably more expensive ($500ish), they are the most comfortable ear buds anywhere, and you can't even feel them in your ears... Two woofers make big difference, and they are Sound Isolating, not Noise Cancelling, which is a HUGE difference... Sent from the iMore App
  • I got huge headache when comes to the MBP magnetic charger. It's bulky and seems not to fit into my Targus bag. Is there any special case for MPB charger? Or when do you place it when travel? Sent from the iMore App