10 gifts for frequent travelers in 2023, from backpacks to portable power

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been traveling a lot this year. I’m actually back to my 2019 travel levels, which has been a breath of fresh air after being stuck for a few years by a pandemic.

I like to come back to this list every time TechCrunch publishes a gift guide. This is a good opportunity for me to evaluate whether I’m packing as efficiently as possible. I’d like to think it’s a science, but the beauty of being a hardware editor is that there are always new things to try.

If you have a frequent traveler in your life, here’s a list of travel gifts ranging from under $20 to over $1,000, many of which are now available at a discount for holiday and Black Friday deals. There’s something here for every tech-obsessed travel type.

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Tom Bihn Synik 30 Backpack

Price: $330 at Tom Bihn

Image credits: Tom Bihn

If you’ve seen me in recent years, chances are my Timbuk2 backpack has been nearby. I still love the thing (the ability to increase its internal volume is a must), but this seemed like a good time to shake things up and try something new.

Tom Bihn is one of those companies that I have heard about over the years, but had never actually tried the products. The 51-year-old company seems to have cultivated a following just as devoted as Filson, another Seattle brand (if you ever see Devin Coldewey in person, ask him what he thinks of oilcloth). Neither are exactly household names outside of the PNW, but those who know them seem to like them.

When I told CEO Cindy Guan that I was working on a travel roundup, she recommended the Synik 30, and I think it’s the right choice for my needs. For starters, it can accommodate laptops up to 16 inches – ideal for the 15-inch MacBook Air that has been my travel companion for the past few years.

Beyond that, it’s just a well-thought-out, good-looking product (digging the deep green Wilderness Ballistic color) with plenty of space, a ton of pockets, and removable/customizable elements. It’s not cheap, though. The company offers more affordable options, but the Synik is very durable and suitable for travel and everyday commuting, so you’ll get plenty of mileage out of the bag. This is easily one of the best backpacks I’ve ever tested.

Anker 3-in-1 Cube with MagSafe

Price: $150 at Anker

Image credits: Anker

Anker products are generally a safe bet. They are high quality, without the same premium tax as a company like Mophie. The brand has also innovated a lot in terms of shape. This 3-in-1 charger is extremely compact and well suited to suitcases. It comes in the form of a cube that unfolds to charge a MagSafe-enabled iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods simultaneously.

The system supports 15-watt fast charging, while the MagSafe pad features an adjustable angle, allowing it to double its function in sleep mode. No need to rely on the hotel alarm clock with this one sitting next to your bedside.

At $150, it’s a lot more than just buying a USB cable and a wall adapter, but you’re effectively getting three chargers in one portable form factor that will free up a lot of travel space.

Apple MacBook Air 15 inch

Price: $1,049 at Amazon

Apple MacBook Air M2 15 inch

Image credits: Brian Heating

The M1 and M2 chips have been a big game changer when it comes to travel. When I’m feeling particularly nostalgic for my old struggles, I remember my days of live blogging for Engadget, when I had to carry around a huge power bank to make sure my laptop would survive it all.

These days, however, I travel across the country without worrying about charging my Air. Let’s be honest, the outlets under the seats on Delta are complete bullshit anyway. It’s the laptop we always wanted the Air to be, but the constraints on processing power and battery life always fell short.

As for gifts, they are expensive. But more than anything else on this list, it’s an investment. If you can’t sleep on planes, at least you can finally get some real work done.

Ozlo earbuds

Price: $229 at Indiegogo

COO Brian Mulcahey models Ozlo's Sleepbuds

Image credits: Brian Heating

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and recommend a product I haven’t had a chance to try yet. I have some confidence in the team behind the Ozlo Sleepbuds, given their pedigrees that played a vital role in creating Bose’s version. The company is also determined to fix some of the biggest problems with the original headphones, including their inability to stream music.

I always felt like Bose’s two product innovations fell short. It’s a shame, because I’m a historically terrible sleeper and I really wanted to like things. Trying to sleep with regular headphones and over-ear headphones is a bit of a nightmare scenario, so I really try for the product to be as good as it looks.

We will keep you informed of the inevitable revision. In the meantime, you can pre-order a pair on Indiegogo for $229, which is $20 less than the Bose Sleepbuds II. How much are you willing to pay for a better night’s sleep?

Nintendo Switch Lite

Price: $199 at Amazon

Nintendo Switch Lite

Image credits: Brian Heating

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild probably saved me from losing my mind during the first months of the pandemic. Tears of the Kingdom had a similar effect on me earlier this year. The Switch Lite is a great little portable system ideal for long plane rides and during downtime at the hotel.

The biggest differences between the Lite and the regular Switch are size, weight, and lack of TV connectivity. Because of the latter, the Joycons are not removable. If you expect the console to spend a lot of time on the road, these sacrifices will be well worth it, not to mention the lower price.

The Switch is getting a little long, six years after its release, but Nintendo has built a fantastic library of games in that time, not to mention access to older content through Switch Online. My biggest complaint remains the battery life, so don’t forget to pack that USB-C cable and enable Airplane mode when possible.

Apple AirTags 4-pack

Price: $79.99 at Amazon

Image credits: Apple

My advice? Buy the four-pack. I regret not having done it in the first place. I’ve since added AirTags to my keychain, wallet, and luggage tag. As someone who is almost comically forgetful and very anxious (a great combination!), these things are worth the price just for the peace of mind. Hell, I used the alert sound to find my keys in my messy apartment about an hour ago.

If you’re an Android user, there are also great alternatives like Tile, Chipolo, and Samsung. These are all great, relatively inexpensive gifts that almost anyone can use, especially frequent travelers.

Amazon Kindle Scribe

Price: $239 at Amazon

Image credits: Brian Heating

The original Kindle DX was a bit of a dud. I suspect that tying product success to people’s desire to read newspapers in their original format via slow-loading e-ink hasn’t captured the public imagination the way Amazon had hoped. Since then, there have been very few deviations from the standard six-inch screen.

The 10.2-inch screen was reason enough for me to check out the Scribe. I really like the larger format and the big Kindle has been a constant fixture in my backpack ever since. The overall experience opened up a bit with the arrival of Send-to-Kindle, a browser-based feature that lets you drag and drop content that will be sent to your device the next time you launch it.

Of course, the real selling point – as the name suggests – is the ability to scribble notes on the device. This is the first Kindle to offer this feature. I’ve been reminded to my cost that my typing is much smoother than my scripting, but the device’s handwriting detection is thankfully forgiving.

A year of light

Price: $189

Long lines at the United Airlines counter at Denver International Airport in 2015

Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It turns out that flying can be pretty nice, if you’re willing to pay. If you find yourself at multiple airports per year, this upgrade can definitely justify the cost. A Clear Pass will help you avoid the often hellish security lines at airports. This even gives you a leg up on people with TSA pre-check.

This is a great gift idea because it’s the kind of thing that many people would never think of buying for themselves. However, once you have it, it’s hard to know how you ever lived this long without it.

Beshon flat plug power strip

Price: $18 at Amazon

Image credits: Béchon

Several years ago, I started carrying a miniature power strip, and it was a game changer. While it’s true that more and more hotels are including ports in rooms, you never know what you’re going to find until you open that door. Save yourself the hassle of swapping shots all night with one of these.

There are a ton of options, most of them at pretty good prices. I like this one because it’s nice and compact, while still packing three outlets, a pair of USB-C ports, and one USB-A, because you never know. This is also a plus for international travel, as you only need one adapter.

Belkin iPhone Camera Holder

Price: $30 at Amazon

Apple Belkin Continuity Camera

Apple Belkin macOS Continuity Camera. Image credits: Brian Heating

My latest addition to the list was another game changer for me. While it’s true that Apple improved its laptop cameras a few years ago, the video quality still leaves a lot to be desired. If you have a Mac and an iPhone, the Continuity Camera feature opens the game up big time.

I use the iPhone 15 Pro Max for business calls on the road, and nothing short of connecting a DSLR to your computer comes close. This MagSafe accessory is a cheap addition to the arsenal that you can keep in your backpack and forget about until you need it.

This article was originally published on November 3 and has been updated to reflect updated prices and offers.

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