Five Electronics Essentials for Traveling in Europe

In my last post, I took you on a tour of the 10 practical little items I won’t go to Europe without. But there are a few more electronics-related items you’ll find in my bag anytime I hit the road.

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1. Extra-Long Phone/Tablet Charging Cable. Europe’s characteristic old hotels were designed decades — or centuries — before everyone needed to plug in a phone at bedtime. I use my phone as an alarm clock, so I want it on my nightstand — not charging on the desk, halfway across the room. An extra-long, 6-foot cable doubles your flexibility and takes up only a little more space and weight than a standard 3-foot cable. (Bonus tip: If the outlet is juuuust out of reach of my nightstand, I plug in my laptop, then plug my phone into the laptop — using my MacBook to daisy-chain my way to a few extra feet.)

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2. Slide-on Euro Adapter Plug. If you have an Apple device or laptop, notice that you can slide off the American-style two-flat-prong plug, and slide on a plug for Europe (or wherever). This reduces the odds of leaving your plug adapter behind in the socket when you’re packing in a hurry.

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3. Car Phone Charger and Windshield Holder. The first one’s a no-brainer — you never know when your phone’s battery will flatline at the worst possible time. Packing along a little charger helps tide you over on long journeys. The second item — a suction-cup windshield holder for my phone — may be bulky, but it’s worth it. Now that I’ve used one, I can’t imagine how I got by without it. (Quite dangerously, probably.) My trips to Europe often include long road trips where I’m the driver, navigator, and sole passenger. And I navigate almost entirely with Google Maps on my phone. With this combo, I can plug in my phone to charge, then affix it to the windshield — letting me navigate my way safely anywhere in Europe, all day long. (By the way, more and more European rental cars now have USB outlets, which let you not only charge your phone while you drive, but listen to your own music or podcasts on the car’s sound system.)

UPDATE (August 2018): Since I first wrote this list, I discovered the perfect solution for safely using GPS while driving: The Kenu Portable Vent Mount. It grips your phone tightly, and you insert its prongs into the car’s vents. And, since it doesn’t rely on bulky suction cups, it’s impressively compact — about the size of a cigarette lighter. The vent mount takes up a fraction of the bag space of a suction-cup model, and works even better…easily my favorite travel gizmo find of the last few years.

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4. Headphone Splitter. My wife will be joining me for part of my upcoming trip. And she always packs along this handy little device, which lets us share iPad videos without bothering fellow passengers on a plane or train. This model has independent volume controls for each headset — handy if one person is using a premium headset, and the other an airline freebie. A splitter can also cut your museum audioguide rental costs in half. (Bonus tip: Even when I’m alone at a museum, I look for a headphone jack on the audioguide handset. This frees up my hands to take notes, snap photos, or stroke my chin appreciatively.)

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5. Camera Gear. I carry a bigger camera than most people do (Nikon D750), but that doesn’t mean I want to lug around a lot of dead weight. In my camera bag, you’ll find just the basics: an extra memory card and battery (I learned my lesson last summer, when my battery died just after I’d hiked up to a hilltop viewpoint over Rocamadour at “magic hour”); a spare viewfinder eye cup (mine tends to pop off easily when I slide my camera in and out of my bag, so I stocked up on a few cheap replacements); and a microfiber dust cloth (this one tucks up inside a little pouch). I don’t haul a full-size tripod, but every so often you want to be able to shoot in low light. After going through several, the best mini-tripod I’ve found is by Manfrotto — it’s sturdily built and can support a heavy camera, but still lightweight. And what about that little wooden fork? I don’t carry a day bag — just my camera bag. And I often eat a quick lunch on the run…like a salad from a mini-market that doesn’t stock plastic cutlery. This wooden fork has allowed me to eat several healthy salads…without using my hands.

One “caveat emptor” note: Online — even at some of the big vendors — you can find suspiciously inexpensive versions of some of these items. But I’d stick with a mainstream brand. I’ve bought a few extremely cheap camera batteries that turned out to be exactly that, not to mention off-brand Euro adapters that broke the first time I used them. When surveying your options, read the reviews carefully.

This wraps up my little tour of what’s in my bag. Speaking of which, I’d better get packing — I head for the airport in a few hours. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Poland. See you there!

13 Replies to “Five Electronics Essentials for Traveling in Europe”

  1. We like to carry a portable battery charger. The one we have was $10 at Aldi, is light, and has USB cables built in that tuck away neatly. Great for long coach rides or when you don’t want to lug out a cord (you will need cords for apple products and many cameras though).

    Another great item is noise cancelling headphones (Bose QC25 is what I use). They are amazing at blocking airplane engine noise (classical music is amazing for falling asleep on planes) and do wonders for blocking out backround noise on trains, coaches, etc..).

    I used to bring my Macbook Air, but its just as easy (and lighter) to communicate with a iPad Mini. FaceTime is amazing for communication and you can pretty much do as much on a tablet that you can on a computer. Plus, computers are abundant between hotels and internet cafes.

    Another neat trick for communicating is using Google Dialler. For calling landlines, and non Apple devices, You can use to make free of charge telephone calls (into US and Canada) and is much easier than dealing with telephone cards or swapping SIM cards. I don’t even bring my cell phone to Europe anymore.

    1. To all those who asked: I shoot with a Nikon D750. For lenses, I’m usually using the Tamron SP 15-30mm, which has a fun “fisheye” effect. I also carry a more conventional Nikon 24-120mm lens with a polarizer, to switch out when I don’t want the fisheye effect or need more of a zoom. Most of the images you see here are edited using Google’s Nik Collection (especially the Color Efex Pro 4), which you can download for free.

      As for the camera bag question: I use a soft-sided shoulder bag model by Tamrac (the Velocity 7x), which has one big interior compartment with two velcro dividers. I use the dividers to create three zones: one for the lens attached to my camera, one for my second lens, and a tiny third one for my mini-tripod. This leaves virtually zero extra room for anything else, though there is one small zippered pouch on t the front for all of those little odds and ends I mentioned (extra battery, etc). I don’t see it on the Tamrac website, but it’s on Amazon.

      1. Hi Cameron,
        Do you travel with your laptop and alternate storage device for downloading photos as you go? I carry about the same amount of camera gear as you have noted, but also my laptop and external drive. Feels like way too much!

        1. Good question–yes, I carry a high-capacity (1 TB) external hard drive for backing up photos. This is important for me because my MacBook, while delightfully thin and lightweight, has limited storage. I also carry a couple of high-capacity thumb drives, and I never upload photos to my computer without backing them up in two places. It does feel like a lot, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind.

  2. Speaking of Google Maps, they have made it very easy now to download maps ahead of time (they call it off-line maps). If you are unsure about your data connectivity when travelling, download areas you will be visiting ahead of time, while on wifi. Nothing worse than trying to use Google Maps, only to find out that you are “offline” (no data).

    1. I bought one on Amazon–search for “european plug adapter for apple products.” For example, here’s a two-pack they are selling currently: http://a.co/d/7B6t3QY
      You may see other options there, too, but I usually stay away form suspiciously cheap ones; I find that sort of thing breaks quickly. However, the official Apple-made one is much more expensive, so it may be worth the risk to try a cheapo first.

      1. So, do you still need to use the voltage converter? I don’t have good luck with hair dryers or curling iron in England, I use the watts converter and plug adapter and still end up frying these two appliances? Any suggestions?

        1. Some hairdryers have a tiny switch on the plug “block” to switch from 120V to 240V. Others do it automatically, but clearly not the kind you have. I have not traveled in England but have found that in virtually every B&B I’ve ever stayed in, hair dryers are provided. I’ve traveled in France 1 – 2 times/ yr since 2006, and never wished I’d brought my own. I don’t use a curling iron, so I can’t speak to that one.

  3. I don’t bring a long charging cord. The extra length seems to slow down the charging. Instead I bring a short cord and an extension cord, which I can use for lots of things, including the charger.

  4. what are the really best noise cancelling headphones to block out airplane noise in the cabin? I bought a Sony pair that was useless.

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