Once upon a time, I used to write TechCrunch’s Travel Gift Roundup. It was a fun story to piece together, and I was more than happy to do the honors – and play around with some fun gadgets in the process.
We hit the big red pause button on the summary during the 2020 holiday season, for what should be obvious reasons. Instead, I switched to a work from home guide. Last year was more of the same. Like many of you, though, I (with some caution) returned to travel in 2022.
After more than two years away from the road, this holiday season offers a great opportunity to dust off some of those old cobwebs and freshen up that old carry-on. Finding the right gear for the road is a delicate balancing act. Thin and light are at the top of the list, as are battery life and comfort.
With those qualifiers in mind, here are some of the products TechCrunch plans to take on its own vacation trips.
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1. MacBook Air
There’s no such thing as a perfect laptop, of course. But after years of questionable design choices, Apple has started to embrace consumer feedback again. That, coupled with the debut of blazingly fast top-of-the-line silicon and excellent battery life, and you’re starting to stumble upon thin-and-light notebook perfection.
I reviewed the new M2 MacBook Air over the summer and the product hasn’t left my side since. It’s the perfect airline companion and easily carried on layovers without doing a number on your lower back. It’s great for just about everything from simple word processing to light creative work (those editing in 8K should check out the Pro) and it does away with unnecessary additions like the Touch Bar.
The only major complaint I have is that while the webcam has been improved, it still leaves a lot to be desired. However, if you have an iPhone and the proper setup, the Continuity Camera can make conference calls a whole lot better. Starting at $1,199, this is easily the priciest entrant on this list, but it could be a totally life-changing addition to life on the road.
Price: Starting at $1,199 from Apple
2. Sony headphones
I test a lot of headphones for my job. Many of them are very good. I often recommend people buy a pair from the same company that made the phone. It just makes things easier. But at the end of the day, I’m using a Sony pair. Whether it’s the fantastic-sounding WH-1000XM5 headphones or the extremely comfortable Link Bud S headphones, I don’t leave my apartment at night without taking one (or both). For the person who spends a lot of time on planes, I’d recommend the former for battery life (indicated 24 hours with ANC on), noise cancellation, comfort and physical connection capability – a must-have for the seatback entertainment system.
The LinkBuds S, on the other hand, cost half the price (certainly something worth taking into account when giving as a gift) and are more versatile for everyday use. The music lover or podcast fanatic in your life wouldn’t turn up their noses at any of these excellent additions.
Price: WH-1000XM5, $399 from Amazon | Linkbuds S, $199 from Best Buy
3. Nintendo Switch Lite
The Switch Lite isn’t perfect. Screen resolution is not great. The battery type stinks. I played mine so much recovering from a long illness that I broke the left joystick. Like, it just doesn’t work anymore. I bought a repair kit and plan to open it over the weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.
All that said, I love the damn thing. Nintendo reduced its popular convertible console to something purely portable. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles in the aptly named Switch Lite – but then, that’s not the point. Nintendo has always been about games, and the platform is home to some of the best titles – and most beloved franchises – around.
There’s no better way to take Mario and Link with you on a long flight.
Price: $199 from Amazon
4. Anker accessories
Listen to me. Plugs. Do not wait. Plugs. Batteries and plugs. If you’re looking for a genuinely useful gift for a frequent traveler that won’t break the bank, you could do a lot worse than picking up something from one of these categories. They’re arguably the least exciting entry on this list, but they could be a real life saver – so to speak.
Anker generally makes good, smart accessories at a good price, making them a perfect option for affordable gifts. My picks this time are the super-small 65-watt GaN 715 wall charger, the 727 power strip, and the 622 magnetic battery. The first is a super-compact plug that should even work with those awful under-seat outlets on airplanes. The second is a small battery that fits into the back of an iPhone via MagSafe.
As for the third, well, no one should leave the house without a power strip. Maybe you’ll get lucky and book a hotel room with lots of USB ports. But even so, are we talking about USB-A or USB-C? What about non-US travel adapters? Pack a surge protector and you’ll only need the single adapter for the trip.
Price: Anker 727 Charging Station, $95 from Amazon | Anker 715 Charger, $50 From Amazon | Anker 622 Magnetic Battery, $60 from Amazon
5. Endel Signature
You cannot buy peace of mind. But for a monthly fee, maybe you could rent it out. In years past, I’ve recommended meditation services like Calm and Headspace. This year, however, I’m all about Endel. After a long time away, I’m finally at a place where I’m back on a daily meditation schedule, and this algorithmically generated soundscape app has been a huge piece of the puzzle.
As for gifts, it’s much cheaper and less presumptuous than buying someone some therapy sensations. When work and life get a little too complicated, popping one of these over your headphones will help get you out of your head for a while. And with offline functionality, it will also work during particularly stressful flights.
Price: 12 months for $60 from Endel
6. Nest Cam
A home security camera? In a summary of “frequent traveler”? A little counterintuitive, but if you’re like me, your home can be a frequent source of anxiety when you’re on the road. Indeed, $130 seems like a small price to pay for the ability to make sure everything is safe and sound at home, so you can focus on whatever you’re traveling with. This could be the greatest gift you can give a frequent traveler.
Google’s Nest Cam is a straightforward solution to staying in control of your location, inside and out.
Price: $129 from Google
7. Apple AirTags
I suspect they will appear in many gift guides this year. I own precisely one AirTag, but it is doing double duty. I have it in my house key, which I throw in my backpack. Suddenly you have instant tracking for both. Before the end of the year, I’ll probably get one for my suitcase, just for a little more peace of mind.
Price: $29 each or $99 for four from Apple
8. Six-month Clear Membership
Let them know you really care by helping them avoid one of the most annoying elements of travel. For $89 for six months, you can ensure that the frequent traveler in your life gets through annoying TSA checks a lot faster — and spends less time stressed out on the way to the airport.
Price: $89 for six months of Clear
9. Missing sleep mask
Here’s my low-tech pick.
I became a true believer in the importance of a good sleep mask when TechCrunch started shipping me to Asia. Your sleep schedule will be wildly out of sync with a 12 hour difference. This is unavoidable, but those of us who find it nearly impossible to sleep even on the longest flight will take all the help we can get.
Away’s take on the category is effectively a great headband with an elastic holder for different head sizes. There are a couple of contoured curves at the front to avoid squishing your eyes, and a pocket to stash some ear plugs. Best of all, it folds nicely for quick packing.
Price: $45 from Outside