One of the many reasons travel can be so tedious is that it often feels like the way we get from place to place hasn’t improved much over the past few decades, particularly when compared to technological advances in other areas. Commercial planes aren’t much faster than they were in the 1970s, but they’re certainly less comfortable and airports are less efficient. Cars can technically go faster than they used to, and maybe soon you won’t have to steer them the whole way, but a drive from Toronto to Vancouver today is exactly as boring as it was when highways were first constructed.
What this means is that unless you’re the sort of rich where you can charter a plane to Banff, it’s really up to each of us individually to try and make our traveling experience as pleasant as possible. Fortunately, consumer electronics is one area where things really have improved in recent years, and there’s nothing they’re better suited for than leisure time. With that in mind, here’s our list of essential gadgets and gizmos for year-round smarter travel.
Sony 1000XM2 Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Whether you’re flying on a noisy plane or looking for an opportunity to shut out the stressful world around you, a solid, comfortable pair of noise-cancelling is a must-have for get-aways. Sony’s WH-1000XM2 headphones are the new luxury standard. These over-ear headsets take the concept of “active cancellation” to a new level by introducing a number of features, like Ambient Sound and Quick Attention modes. When the former is on, the headphones automatically allow important sounds, like traffic and voice announcements, to filter through the noise cancellation. With the latter, you can cup your hand in the universal “I can’t hear you” motion, which temporarily turns off the noise-cancellation. And with Smart Listening by Adaptive Sound Control on your Sony Headphones Connect app, the noise cancelling levels adjust accordingly whether you are on an airplane, walking on a busy street, or sitting in a quiet coffee shop. When you put all of it together, the WH-1000XM2 headphones become the top-performing noise-canceling headphones – whether they’re playing audio wirelessly or wired – both in terms of noise-cancellation capabilities and audio quality. And all of that’s to say nothing of their beautifully sculpted design and cushiony pads.
There’s no shortage of smart suitcases on the market today, although the most widely known is perhaps Away, founded by two Warby Parker alums. Stylish and utilitarian with built-in charging ports, Away set the tone for modern suitcases designed for the tech-savvy traveler, but is light on features. Other companies, like BlueSmart, Raden, and Néit, have since expanded the offerings of “smart” suitcases with features like a self-weighing handles, e-ink displays for luggage tags, GPS location, Bluetooth-activated locks and alerts, and even autopilot modes that allow your suitcase to follow you along like a luggage-carrying drone.
Be careful, as some of these extra features add weight to luggage, a precious resource when you’re trying to avoid hidden fees on a budget airline or just save your arms a rest. Earlier this year, Digital Trends put together a guide on the best smart luggage to help you make the smart decision.
A Drone, like the DJI Mavic Pro
Travel is all about getting away, experiencing new sensations, and expanding your point of view. There’s no better way to accomplish all three than to take to the skies. The DJI Mavic Pro is ultra-portable, yet doesn’t sacrifice any of the stability or image quality inherent to larger, bulkier drones. In fact, the Mavic Pro can fit in a backpack, records 4K footage with a 12MP camera and almost 30 minutes of battery life, and is feature-packed with automatic tracking and obstacle-avoidance, image-stabilization, a four-mile range, and more. Sure, it doesn’t boast the most pro-level feature-set and exceptionally strong winds can drain the battery as it works to stabilize, but if you’re looking for the perfect drone to document your getaway or just mess around, this is the one you want.
Mobile Hotspot, like the Huawei Rocket
If you’re one of those people who breaks into an anxious sweat at the thought of losing your connection to the grid, you’ll be happy to learn about these a little hockey puck-sized devices that can turn data service from a cell tower into robust Wi-Fi. Mobile hotspots can turn a data signal into a Wi-Fi signal, allowing you to maintain access to the web on a computer, mobile device, phone, or whatever. You can purchase them directly from networks like Rogers and Bell, but there are also network-agnostic options as well, such as the Huawei Rocket. For something more heavy-duty, look up the Ground Control MCD-4800, which shares its nickname “the Football” with the briefcase that carries nuclear launch codes. Although, at almost $15,000, the MCD-4800 is probably only worth it if your summer vacation consists of sailing across the Atlantic.
Hotspots are especially helpful those of us without unlimited data plans, who don’t want to disrupt the peace of our vacations with an $800 phone bill. However, if you’re content to turn your existing data plan into a Wi-Fi connection for your tablet or computer, any iPhone and most Androids can be used to tether a second device.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes, you can never know when the next opportunity to charge up will come, and there’s no point to traveling smart if everything dies halfway through your trip. Scratch that—even “dumb” devices like UV water purifiers and camp lights could use a backup supply of juice. Luckily, we have a guide to the 25 best external batteries. If you’re heading off the grid, pair it with a compact Goal Zero Boulder solar panel, which will allow you to recharge the batteries wherever you end up catching some sun.