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

After a busy year, these are the top travel gifts our hardware editor recommends after putting them to the test

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been traveling a lot this year. In fact, I’ve been back to my 2019 levels of travel, which has been a breath of fresh air after being pandemic-grounded for a couple of years.

I like to return to this list every time TechCrunch does a gift guide. It’s a good opportunity for me to assess whether I’m packing as efficiently as I could be. I would like to think I’ve got this thing down to a science, but the beauty of being a hardware editor is that there’s always new stuff to try out.

If you’ve got a frequent flier in your life, here’s a list of travel gifts running the gamut from less than $20 to more than $1,000, several of which are now available at a discount for holiday and Black Friday deals. There’s something on here for every kind of tech-obsessed travel.

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Tom Bihn Synik 30 Backpack

Price: $330 at Tom Bihn

Image Credits: Tom Bihn

If you’ve seen me in the past several years, odds are my Timbuk2 backpack was close by. I still love the thing (the ability to expand its internal volume is indispensable), but this seemed like a good time to shake things up and try something new.

Tom Bihn is one of those companies I’ve heard about over the years, but whose products I’d never actually tried. The 51-year-old firm seems to have cultivated a similarly devoted following as fellow Seattle brand Filson (if you ever see Devin Coldewey in person, ask him his thoughts on waxed canvas). Neither are exactly a household name outside the PNW, but those who know them seem to love them.

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

Beyond that, it’s just an all-around well-considered and good-looking product (digging the deep Wilderness Ballistic green color) with ample space, a ton of pockets and removable/customizable elements. It’s not cheap, though. The company offers some more affordable options, but the Synik is plenty durable and suitable for both travel and daily commutes, so you’ll get plenty of mileage out of the bag. It’s 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’re high quality, without the same premium tax as a company like Mophie. The brand has also been innovating form factors quite a bit. This 3-in-1 charger is wildly compact and well suited for suitcases. It ships as a cube that folds out to charge a MagSafe compatible iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all at the same time.

The system supports 15 watt fast charging, while the MagSafe pad features an adjustable angle, so it can double duty in standby mode. No need to rely on the hotel alarm clock with this sitting next to your bedside.

At $150, it’s a good deal more than just buying a USB cable and 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 15-inch M2 MacBook Air

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The M1 and M2 chips have been such massive gamechangers for travel. When I’m feeling particularly nostalgic for my older struggles, I’ll recall my days liveblogging for Engadget, when I had to bring along a massive power bank to make sure my laptop would survive the whole thing.

These days, however, I fly cross country without regard for charging up my Air. Let’s be honest, the outlets below the seats on Delta are a real crapshoot anyway. This is the laptop we always wanted the Air to be, but constraints on processing power and battery life always fell short.

As gifts go, it’s an expensive one. But more so than any other item on this list, this is an investment. If you’re not able to sleep on planes, at least you can finally get some real work done.

Ozlo Sleepbuds

Price: $229 at Indiegogo

COO Brian Mulcahey models Ozlo's Sleepbuds

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I’m going to do a thing I don’t usually do and recommend a product I’ve not had the chance to try yet. I’ve got some faith in the team behind the Ozlo Sleepbuds, given their pedigrees that played a critical role in the creation of Bose’s version. The company is also determined to fix some of the original ‘buds biggest issues, including their inability to stream music.

I always felt like Bose’s two swings at the product fell just short of greatness. That’s a bummer, as I’m a historically terrible sleeper and I really wanted to like the things. Attempting to sleep in regular earbuds and over-ear headphones is a bit of a nightmare scenario, so I’m really pulling for the product to be as good as it sounds.

We’ll keep you updated on the inevitable review. Meantime, you can preorder a pair over on Indiegogo for $229 — that’s $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 Heater

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild probably saved me from losing my mind during the early 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 that’s ideal for long plane rides and during downtime at the hotel.

The biggest differences between the Lite and normal Switch are size, weight and a lack of TV connectivity. Because of the latter, the Joycons aren’t removable. If you anticipate the console spending a lot of time on the road, those sacrifices are more than worth it — not to mention the lower price point.

The Switch is getting a bit long in the tooth, 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 definitely remember to pack that USB-C cable and turn on Airplane mode when able.

Apple AirTags 4-Pack

Price: $79.99 at Amazon

Image Credits: Apple

My advice? Buy the four-pack. I regret not doing that initially. I’ve since added AirTags to my keychain, wallet and luggage tag. As an almost comically absent-minded person with a lot of anxiety (great combination!), these things are worth the price for the peace of mind alone. Heck, I used the alert sound to find my keys inside my messy apartment about an hour ago.

If you’re an Android user, there are also some great alternatives out there from Tile, Chipolo and Samsung. They’re all great, relatively low-cost gifts that nearly anyone can find a use for — frequent travelers, in particular.

Amazon Kindle Scribe

Price: $239 at Amazon

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The original Kindle DX was a bit of a dud. I suspect tying a product’s successes to people’s desire to read newspapers in their original format via slow-loading e ink didn’t capture the public’s imagination as Amazon had hoped. Since then, there’s been very little in the way of deviation from the standard six-inch screen.

The 10.2-inch display was reason enough to make me 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 whole experience has opened up quite a bit with the arrival of Send-to-Kindle, a browser-based feature that let’s you drag and drop content that will be sent to your device the next time you fire it up.

Of course, the real selling point — as the name implies — is the ability to scrawl notes on the device. It’s the first Kindle to sport that functionality. I’ve been reminded the hard way that my typing is much smoother than my script, but the on-device handwriting detection is mercifully forgiving.

A year of Clear

Price: $189

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

Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Turns out air travel can actually be pretty nice — if you’re willing to pay. If you find yourself in several airports a year, this is one upgrade that can definitely justify the cost. A Clear pass will help you avoid the often hellish security lines at airports. It even gives you a leg up on folks with TSA Pre-Check.

It’s a great gift idea because it’s the kind of thing a lot of people would never think to buy for themselves. Once you’ve got it, however, it’s hard to know how you lived that long without it.

Beshon Flat Plug Power Strip

Price: $18 at Amazon

Image Credits: Beshon

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

There are a ton of options out there — mostly at pretty good prices. I like this one, because it’s nice and compact, while packing in three outlets, a pair of USB-C ports and one USB-A, because you never know. It’s also a bonus for international travel, because you only need a single adapter.

Belkin iPhone Camera Mount

Price: $30 at Amazon

Apple Belkin Continuity Camera

Apple Belkin Continuity Camera macOS. Image Credits: Brian Heater

My newest addition to the list has been another gamechanger for me. While it’s true that Apple improved its laptop cameras a couple of years back, the video quality still leaves much to be desired. If you have a Mac and an iPhone, the Continuity Camera feature breaks the game wide open.

I’ve been using the iPhone 15 Pro Max for work calls on the road, and nothing short of hooking up 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 until you need it.

This post originally published November 3, and has been updated to reflect updated pricing and deals.