Electronics play a big role in my travels: smartphone, laptop, serious camera. This post isn’t about those big items, but the smaller “support” items that help me get the most out of my gear. In the spirit of my 10 practical little items I won’t go to Europe without, here are five more electronics-related items that you’ll find in my bag anytime I hit the road.
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- or even 10-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.)
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.
3. Phone Car 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, in all likelihood.) My travels in 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.
4. Headphone Splitter
My wife often joins me on my trips. 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.)
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 (they died after just a few uses), and some off-brand Euro adapters that broke the first time I used them. When surveying your options, read the reviews carefully.
What am I missing? Do you have any favorite electronics or related accessories?
This list is focused on electronics. But don’t miss my companion list of 10 Little Things I Won’t Go to Europe Without. Or, for a wealth of packing advice and information, check out the Packing Light section of our website.