Our favorite gear: TPG and CNET staffers share their must-haves for travel

Sep 13, 2021

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Last year, TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures, acquired CNET.

I had an opportunity to work with many members of the CNET team during my last job, at tech site Engadget, and I’ve been eager to bring a TPG and CNET collaboration to life ever since the acquisition in October 2020.

I hope this is the first of many gear guides created in partnership with our friends at CNET, and that this peek inside our bags will inspire your upcoming gear purchases and help you find exactly what you need for your own return to travel.

Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter.

(Photo courtesy of Apple)

Personally, there’s one piece of gear I’ve recently found indispensable: a 13-inch MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 chip ($999). This next-generation processor is especially efficient. While I haven’t managed to eke out the 18 hours of battery life Apple promises, the Air has gotten me through several long flights. It’s a remarkable improvement, especially considering the sub-$1,000 price tag.

On my “great to have” list, DJI’s Air 2S ($999) has quickly become my favorite drone — it’s small enough to fit in a backpack, but snaps outstanding photos and can fly for roughly 30 minutes on a single battery pack. On the phone front, I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G, which costs a whopping $1,800 but unfolds to reveal a super-sharp 7.6-inch screen.

Below, you’ll hear from a handful of CNET staffers about their favorites, with some TPG picks mixed in along the way.

(Photo courtesy of Amazon)

“The Anker PowerCore+ has enough oomph to power a standard laptop like a MacBook Air, a Dell XPS or any other device. It’s heavy (1.3 pounds) and expensive ($130), but it’s a worthy trade-off for never running out of juice or scrambling for a power outlet.” — Jason Hiner, editorial director, CNET Advice.

“I’ve been using Insta360 products since the Insta360 camera launched in 2017. I brought this camera [on] trips to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines. I’ve since upgraded to Insta360 Go 2 and Insta360 One X2 to capture incredible video from the photographer’s point of view and everything else around you. They are compact but pack a punch … and (are a) great way to capture your trip, literally full circle.” — Leezel Tanglao, director of audience insights and innovation at TPG

“I’ve apparently purchased at least seven Anker PowerPort Cubes ($20) to date, according to my Amazon history. Not because I lose them, but because they’re great for use both at home (you’ll end up wanting one for every room) and when you travel. There’s a great economy of space built into this design — the cube shape allows for five of its six sides to have A/C or USB ports — and the long cable rolls up easily around the stout body for very compact travel.” — Dan Ackerman, senior managing editor, computers and gaming

(Photo courtesy of Apple)

“I personally love the Apple AirPods Max ($549).” — Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of TPG

Hyper’s stackable 100-watt USB charger ($99) can top up batteries in your laptop, phone, headphones and portable battery at the same time. It has three USB-C ports that reach 100 watts total and one fast-charge 18-watt USB-A port for older devices. A pass-through plug lets you stack multiple chargers to accommodate more gadgets, coworkers or family members (it’s particularly handy for outlet-scarce Airbnbs), and the compact design has flip-out plug prongs.” — Stephen Shankland, senior reporter, CNET News

“With a Google Fi SIM card, you can roam in nearly every country worldwide for affordable rates — that can be substantially lower than major U.S. carriers — with high-speed data that can be shared across multiple devices. Better yet, most new phones support Dual SIM technology, allowing you to add a Google connection without turning off or reconfiguring your primary network. In some cases, you won’t even need a physical Google SIM — you can just download one electronically to your device days before your trip to stay connected from the road.” — Zach Griff, senior reporter at TPG

“Whether I need to connect my laptop to my hotel room TV or to a presentation system at a business meeting, the long, thin Cable Matters Ultra Thin HDMI cable ($20) is a real problem solver and rock-solid alternative to fussy wireless technologies. Much smaller than outlet strips with a snarly cord, the Belkin Wall Mount Surge Protector ($20) also has three outlets with surge protection and two USB ports in a compact and durable little package. It’s the first thing I unpack when I get to my hotel room.” — Brian Cooley, editor at large, CNET Roadshow

(Photo courtesy of Skyroam)

“I always pack my SkyRoam Solis Lite Wi-Fi hotspot ($120) when I travel. I’ve gone around the globe with it. It has LTE speed, you can charge your phone, the battery lasts for 12-plus hours and up to five people can share your Solis. It comes with flexible data plans that start as low as $6 a day in the U.S. and $9 a day internationally.” — Benét Wilson, senior editor at TPG

(Photo courtesy of AWAY)

“The Away Weekender bag ($215) is one of my favorite pieces since it comes with a trolley sleeve that slides on seamlessly to your checked bag. It fits my 15-inch MacBook, has a shoe compartment and thoughtful zippered pockets for all your devices and cords. {And} the Lululemon everywhere belt bag ($38) is a fanny pack that is durable and affordable. You can wear it cross-body or as a belt. It’s great for international travel as it fits your phone, passport, keys and other important documents. Plus, it’s water-repellant and washable.” — Stella Shon, writer at TPG

“When I get to my hotel or Airbnb, I want to feel at home. For that, I bring a Google Chromecast with Android TV ($50). I get access to my streaming accounts without having to log into other people’s devices. A Roku Streaming Stick ($40) is also a fine choice. You’ll need to have access to Wi-Fi to make either work, but I find it very relaxing when everything is running smoothly. I also bring an HDMI extension cable to make hooking things up easier. You never know how closely a TV is going to be mounted to a wall or where its HDMI port is going to be.” — Iyaz Akhtar, senior editor, CNET Video

“I’m a big fan of the Move Shoot Move star tracker ($199). You point an incredibly powerful laser pointer at the North Star, mount your camera to it, and the star tracker rotates at the speed of (the) earth. This allows for incredibly long exposures that would normally result in star trails that ruin your shot. This means you can get incredible shots of the Milky Way or even deep space objects on a mirrorless DSLR, without the need to lug out a telescope. It weighs 450 grams and is about the size of a bagel. It’s a must-have for anyone getting into astral photography that wants to step up their game.” — Tom Grahsler, director of video at TPG

(Photo courtesy of Bose)

“I’ve been a Bose Sleepbuds 2 ($250) user since the first, ill-fated generation and panicked when those were discontinued (I even bought a spare off eBay). Luckily, (generation two) solves the battery problems from the first model, and I don’t travel anywhere without them. The small earbuds do only one thing: Play sounds — like waves or a campfire — that mask other noises and help you sleep. You also can set an alarm that will ring in only your ears, which is nice if you don’t want to wake up a partner or worry about not hearing your regular alarm through the Bose Sleepbud noise.” — Shara Tibken, managing editor, CNET News

“I received the Nomatic 30-liter Travel Bag ($270) as a gift shortly before COVID-19. It’s a great weekender backpack that opens like a normal suitcase, making it much more functional than a normal top-loading backpack. It also has great outer pockets to make things like headphones, hand sanitizer, (disinfecting) wipes and other necessities super accessible. I love the separate pouch for shoes to keep your footwear separated from the rest of your clothes.” — Taylor Jenkins, director of earned media at TPG

(Photo courtesy of GEN4)

“A lot of my trips involve hiking and camping, sometimes in the backcountry. In addition to letting people know where I’m going and when I expect to be back, I also bring backup forms of communication (and backup batteries!). I have an older version of the Spot GEN4 Satellite GPS Messenger ($150)  that I activate and bring on any trip that’s a bit off the beaten path.” — Megan Wollerton, senior editor, CNET Home

“The Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth Speaker ($99) is the perfect travel companion. It’s rugged enough to handle being tossed into my backpack every few days as I move cities. And at 10.24 ounces, it’s easy to justify taking on every trip. It has an over six-hour battery life, but also charges easily through a micro-B USB port — and best of all, it will continue to play while charging.” — Katie Genter, senior writer at TPG

“Since swapping to an iPhone 12 Pro Max earlier in the summer, I’ve been making use of the PopSocket for MagSafe ($30) that just snaps onto the back of my phone’s case. While I use it the most to prop up the phone to watch videos, it’s also a great iPhone accessory delivering a firmer grip when I’m using my phone with one hand — including for taking photos. And unlike the original PopSocket that uses adhesive to stay stuck to a phone’s case, this one is easy to pop off for wireless charging.” — Mike Sorrentino, senior editor, CNET Advice

(Photo courtesy of Amazon)

Both Sarah Tew, senior photographer at CNET Advice, and Madison Blancaflor, travel editor at TPG, recommend the Kindle Paperwhite ($130). “I find reading on the Kindle Paperwhite so much easier on the eyes than a phone. It takes up less space in a bag than a physical book while delivering a huge array of reading options on hand to fit my mood while traveling, says Tew.

“For all the book-lovers out there, I’d highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite. As much as I love the feeling of physical books, it’s just not feasible to carry a library with me when I’m traveling — but I can bring a Kindle,” says Blancaflor. “The Paperwhite specifically is a favorite of mine to recommend because it’s front-lit (which means it’s easier on the eyes and doesn’t have that annoying glare). The newest version of the Paperwhite is also waterproof, perfect for reading by the pool, the beach or in the tub.”

“If you are a solo traveler or your trip partners just suck at getting the right angle(s), a tripod with a LuMee phone case ($70) is a must. When I’m on vacation, I always feel like those people who ask, ‘Do you want me to take your photo?’ don’t have the proper Instagram vision in mind. That’s why I prefer to take photos myself using a Bluetooth remote or the camera remote on my Apple Watches. Personally, I like to use my mini tripod that came with my ring light kit and I only use my LuMee case for photos at night.” — Ashley Jolicoeur, assistant platforms manager, CNET Audience Support

(Photo courtesy of TwelveSouth)

“I’m a huge fan of the TwelveSouth PlugBug Duo ($50). It adds two USB ports to your MacBook charger and has plug adapters for all international regions. It’s powerful enough to charge my older iPad Pro, Apple Watch and other accessories, albeit slower than on a fast charger. The MagSafe Duo ($129) is one of my favorite travel accessories for wirelessly charging my iPhone and Apple Watch. It folds down to a compact size, which is great for light travel. Plus, it makes for a great nightstand charger at home.” — Andrew Kunesh, senior reporter at TPG

“My favorite headphones for traveling are the same headphones I prefer for running: the Powerbeats High-Performance Wireless Earphones ($150). I take active holidays, so it makes sense to take these wherever I go. I like the fact that there’s a cable connecting them — when I travel I’m forever taking one out to listen for announcements or speak to people, and I can leave it hanging around my shoulder rather than looking for somewhere to temporarily put a spare bud. It also helps that they charge using the same cable as my iPhone, so I can guarantee I’ll always have the right one on me at all times.” — Katie Collins, senior European correspondent, CNET News

(Photo courtesy of Manfrotto)

“I love to photograph at sunset and sometimes into the night. There are fewer people around and the light is always more interesting whether it’s from the fading sun or the floodlights illuminating a monument. That’s why I always carry a Manfrotto Befree travel tripod ($189) when I travel. Though it extends as high as 4.75 feet, the sturdy aluminum construction is lightweight (3 pounds) and it’s just 16 inches long when it’s collapsed. The included carrying bag also is convenient for fitting in your suitcase of the overhead bin of an airplane.” — Kent German, senior managing editor, CNET Features

“I don’t have kids, but I still use a diaper bag as a carry-on. Hear me out. Dagne Dover’s durable, stain-resistant Indi Diaper Backpack ($155) has an extra zipper opening that’s perfect for easy access to disinfecting wipes, and the insulated neoprene bottle holder keeps grown-up beverages cool, too. Plus, it has detachable key leashes, removable pouches that are great for stashing toiletries, interior pockets perfect for books, laptops and tablets; a luggage sleeve and a water-resistant, washable bag I use for spare shoes or dirty laundry. OK, so I don’t need the changing mat, but I’ll use it as an impromptu sit pad the next time I go camping.” — Melanie Lieberman, senior travel editor at TPG

“As a new mom of two, I rarely have my hands free, let alone time to sit next to a power outlet, especially while traveling. You may wonder where I’m going with a baby, but having my family spread across two continents means a lot of time traveling by air. I wouldn’t leave on any trip without my Willow Wearable Breast Pump ($500). It’s small enough to fit in your carry-on, it’s rechargeable and easy to use. It might be on the expensive side, but the freedom it gives you is worth every penny.” — Sally Neiman, senior producer, CNET Video

Planning to purchase some pricey gear? Be sure to check out TPG’s list of the best credit cards for purchase protection to make sure you’re covered if something goes wrong.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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