9 suitcase-friendly gifts for frequent flyers
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Once upon a time, I used to write TechCrunch’s travel gifts 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 roundup during the 2020 holiday season, for what ought to be obvious reasons. Instead, I pivoted to a work from home guide. Last year was more of the same. Like many of you, however, I (somewhat cautiously) began traveling again in 2022.
After two-plus years spent away from the road, this holiday season offers a great opportunity to dust off some of the old cobwebs and refresh the 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 holiday travels.
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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 began to again embrace consumer feedback. That, coupled with the debut of blazingly fast first-party silicon and terrific battery life, and you’re beginning to brush up against 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 plane companion and easily carried around 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 take a look at the Pro) and does away with unnecessary additions like the Touch Bar.
The one big complaint I’ve got is that, while the webcam has been improved, it still leaves a lot to be desired. If you’ve got an iPhone and the proper mount, however, Continuity Camera can make teleconferences look a lot better. Starting at $1,199, this is easily the priciest entrant on the list, but it could be a downright transformative 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. Often times I’ll recommend people pick up a pair from the same company that made their phone. It just makes things easier. But at the end of the day, I’m rocking a pair of Sony. Whether it’s the terrific-sounding WH-1000XM5 over-ears or the wildly comfortable Link Bud S earbuds, I’m not leaving my apartment overnight without packing one (or both). For the person who spends a lot of time on planes, I’m recommending the former for battery life (stated 24 hours with ANC on), noise canceling, comfort and the ability to hardwire — a must-have for the seatback entertainment system.
The LinkBuds S, meanwhile, are half the price (certainly something worth taking into consideration when gift giving) and more versatile for day to day life. The music lover or podcast fanatic in your life wouldn’t turn their nose up at either of these excellent additions.
Price: WH-1000XM5, $399 from Amazon | Linkbuds S, $199 from Best Buy
3. Nintendo Switch Lite
The Switch Lite is not perfect. The screen resolution isn’t great. The battery kind of stinks. I played mine so much recovering from a long illness that I busted the left joystick. Like, it just straight doesn’t work anymore. I purchased a repair kit and intend to open it up over the weekend. I’ll let you know how that goes.
All of that said, I love the damn thing. Nintendo pared down its wildly popular convertible console into something purely portable. There isn’t much in the way of bells and whistles on the aptly-named Switch Lite — but then, that’s not the point. Nintendo’s always been about the 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
Hear me out. Plugs. No, wait. Plugs. Batteries and plugs. If you’re looking for a genuinely useful gift for a frequent traveler that doesn’t break the bank, you could do much worse than nabbing something from one of these categories. They’re arguably the least exciting entry on the list, but they can be real life savers — so to speak.
Anker generally makes good and clever accessories at a nice price, making them a perfect option for affordable gifts. My picks this time out are the super small 715 65-watt GaN wall charger, the 727 power strip and the 622 Magnetic Battery. The first is a super compact plug that should even work with those terrible under-seat outlets on planes. The second is a nice small battery pack that snaps on the back of an iPhone via MagSafe.
As for the third, well, no one should leave home without a power strip. Maybe you’ll get lucky and book a hotel room with a bunch of USB ports. But even then, are we talking USB-A or USB-C? What about travel adapters for outside the U.S.? Pack a power strip, and you’ll just need the singe 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 subscription
You can’t buy peace of mind. But for a monthly fee, perhaps you can rent it. In previous years, I’ve recommended meditation services like Calm and Headspace. This year, however, I’m all about the 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 big piece of the puzzle.
As gifts go, it’s a lot cheaper and less presumptuous than buying someone a couple of therapy sensations. When work and life get to be a bit much, popping one of these on the headphones will help you get out of your own head for a moment. And with offline functionality, it will also do the trick during particularly stressful flights.
Price: 12 months for $60 from Endel
6. Nest Cam
A home security camera? In a “frequent traveler” roundup? A little counterintuitive, but if you’re anything 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 on the home front, so you can focus on whatever it is you’re traveling for in the first place. That may be the greatest gift you can give a frequent traveler.
Google’s Nest Cam is a straightforward solution to keeping tabs on your place both inside and out.
Price: $129 from Google
7. Apple AirTags
I suspect these are going to be showing up in a lot of gift guides this year. I own precisely one AirTag, but it’s doing double duty. I’ve got it on my house keys, which I throw into my backpack. Suddenly you’ve got instant tracking for both. Before the end of the year, I’ll probably pick one up 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 side-step one of the most annoying elements of travel. For $89 for six months, you can make sure the frequent traveler in your life gets through annoying TSA checks a heck of a lot faster — and spends less time stressing on the way to the airport.
Price: $89 for six months from Clear
9. Away Sleep Mask
Here’s my low-tech pick.
I became a true believer in the importance of a good sleep mask when TechCrunch started sending me to Asia. Your sleep schedule is going to get extremely out of sync with a 12-hour time difference. That’s unavoidable, but those of us who find it next to impossible to sleep on even the longest flight will take all of the help we can get.
Away’s take on the category is effectively one big band with an elastic backing for different head sizes. There are a pair of contoured curves in the front so as to avoid smashing your eyes, and a pocket to stash some earplugs. Best of all, it folds up nicely for quick packing.
Price: $45 from Away