Is Dad a frequent traveler? Or does he just enjoy a good road trip? Either way, we are living in a Golden Age of technology improving our travel experience, and since I spend 100+ days on the road each year, I get a lot of chances to try all this stuff out. I’ve been fine tuning my travel gear for a quarter of a century, and if it makes my travel better, it will likely work great for your Dad or Father-in-law as well.
Quiet Not Quiet: For years the single most indispensable item in my airline carry-on has been top-shelf noise cancelling headphones. If you enjoy in-flight entertainment, the sound quality is way better than what the airline gives you - even in first or business class - and more like a high-quality movie theater experience. But even if you don’t watch anything, blocking out incessant chatter, screaming babies, and mechanical noise is a blessing. It also ends attempts at conversation from your neighbors if that’s not something you are into. They also put in overtime as excellent phone call headphones when you are working from your hotel room, doing double duty on business trips.
The three features you need for great travel are active noise cancelling (not passive, it hardly does anything), cushy over the ear models (more comfortable on long flights, better sound quality, better cancellation) and enough battery life to get where you are going, even with today’s common flight delays. There are several top choices in this category but for spoiling Dad in 2023 I’m going with the superb new Bowers & Wilkins Px8 ($699), a luxury pair that is the renowned British audiophile specialist’s new flagship model. They are built right, with diecast aluminum arms and Napa leather trim, and inside are all new ultra-high resolution carbon cones inspired by their benchmark 700 Series speakers, for refence-quality audio with the lowest distortion they’ve ever offered. They are true wireless, using Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive wireless technology for the best sound from your phone or tablet. They also take USB-C and 3.5mm wired connections. The company’s proprietary 24-bit Digital Signal Processing was designed specifically to get the best high-resolution sound when streaming. There are six individual microphones: noise cancellation employs four, two of which measure the audio output, two handle ambient noise and the last two are just for the clearest voice quality, all so the noise cancellation cancels what it is supposed to without affecting the sound quality.
Value is important and not everything in this Gift Guide is the most expensive in its class, and in fact, most are not. These noise-cancelling headphones are (with the notable exception of the odd new $950 Dyson models, a combination headphone and air purifier). Why? Because Dad deserves the amazing sound. Reviews? Engadget said “the Px8 sounds incredible. The Px7 S2 already had great audio quality, but Bowers & Wilkins somehow manages to take things a step further with this model.” Tech Hive: “Steak and sizzle, too. These impeccably luxurious cans offer superb sonic performance with very good active noise cancellation.” Gear Patrol: “The B&W PX8 sound elite, truly.” There are physical controls on the headphones as well as an app with full sound quality controls like an equalizer. They have Bluetooth 5.2 audio and especially important for travelers, run 30 hours on a single charge - far longer than the world’s longest flight.
Fast But Stealthy: We hear a lot about flying these days, but way more travel is still done behind the wheel. I have three high-end radar detectors of varying ages in my cars, and I’ve noticed in just the last few years that older models - not that old and from the best manufacturers - now get frequent false alarms from all the new blind spot and lane detection radar on the roads. It can get so bad in congested areas that I’ve had to shut the device just to shut up the incessant beeping, which totally defeats the purpose, to keep you from getting expensive tickets, which can cost more in terms of insurance. It’s taken the industry a while to catch up to all the safety and communication advances on our roads, and that’s why I recently switched to a new Escort Max 360 MKII ($550), and that’s why your Dad should too.
Escort has been among the tiny handful of best brands since radar detectors came into existence, but this one is an all-new platform with advanced false alert filtering, a 50% range increase and extras such as alerting you of red lights and construction zones. Autolearn intelligence uses GPS-based software to learn your frequent routes and eliminate what false alarms make it through the filters. Many radar detectors only look forward, but the 360 is just what it sounds like, every direction. If price is no object there is a higher model, the Max360c MKII, for a hundred and fifty bucks more ($700). The difference is that it adds dual-band WiFi connectivity, which can connect it directly to the nationwide alert “community” system, but on the non-c version you do this through the app and Bluetooth. To me it’s such a minor point that I would choose to save the money, but it’s a free country. The important thing is that the key tech is the same, and when you do your research - like I did - the 360c wins Best Radar Detector 2023 from Car & Driver magazine and the original Max 360 won an earlier Popular Mechanics test.
Not Sexy: A power bank is the least fascinating item on this list, but for travelers, one of the most increasingly important ones. CBS News recently reported a warning from the FBI to “avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.” When traveling Dad has enough to worry about without malware or monitoring software, but until he checks into a hotel, actual power outlets can be scarce. The solution is to carry a power bank, travel tech speak for a battery.
I’ll keep this simple: a powerbank is a portable charging station with USB ports - you charge it and it can charge your other devices. There are tons on the market, including some really cheap no-name ones, and while it’s not as big an issue as choosing a new car or computer or noise cancelling headphones, your electronics are expensive and important, and you should be wary what you plug them into. When I saw the FBI alert, I did my research and it quickly pointed me to the easy-to-use Einova Ultra-Fast Power Bank 63W. It can charge three devices simultaneously - including a power-hungry laptop, supports fast charging and has ports for USB-C, USB-A and USB-A Quick Charge 30.0. That covers all the modern gear your Dad might have, older stuff too, in a compact size with LCD display. It gets rave reviews at a great price ($70). PC World: “Plenty of power in a svelte design. This portable battery pack looks as good as it performs.” And “Our Verdict: If you’re looking for a power bank with multiple ports, a sleek design, and fast charging capabilities, this is it.” Good enough for me.
Worth A Thousand Words: If Dad likes taking picture or does big time vacations that are image driven, like African wildlife safaris, polar cruises, visits colorful markets in Morocco or explores National Parks, he deserves better pictures than his smartphone can take. Yes, the optics of camera phones have improved a lot, but so have real cameras, and they still have the edge for creating lasting memories - and a big edge in video. The latest and greatest iteration of real cameras is mirrorless models with interchangeable lenses, a smaller, lighter take on the classic DSLR. Now to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a good DSLR and there is still debate in the serious photographer community, where for shooting live action sports and certain other things, pros still prefer them. But a lot of that has to do with how they are used to looking through the viewfinder and the feel and heft of the camera and its controls.
Dad is probably going to let the camera do more of the heavy lifting and while I still shoot DSLR because I have all the gear, if I was buying today, I’d go mirrorless, especially for travel, where again, size and weight matter. But there are several other key advantages, especially these two: mirrorless tends to have better autofocus, probably the single most used feature for amateurs, and they shoot video better, key to capturing travel experiences. One other factor to consider is longevity. While there are more DSLR lenses on the market because of their long history, major manufacturers are putting new advances into the next generation of lenses, which means mirrorless is getting the improvements and selection moving forward.
I suggest something like the Canon EOS R50 starter kit with RF-S 15-45mm lens ($800). I’ve used Canons for years, they have a great history and reputation, and this is the smallest and lightest in the EOS R lineup (the R is the latest upgrade to the previous M series). It has an excellent 24.2-megapixel sensor, can shoot 4K movies at up to 30 frames per second, can shoot continuously at 15fps and can record video for more than half an hour. If you want to splurge, it is also available as a two-lens kit ($1029), adding a very handy telephoto RF-S 55-210mm model, and between the two, Dad is covered from wide angle to normal to long distance. If you Google reviews of the R50 you will get lots that include “Best Budget Camera” or “Best Budget Mirrorless” in the headline. Digital Camera World put it like this: “Carrying over the incredibly small and compact size of the M50 and improving on its specs in every way, with the excellent sensor and processor from the R10, the R50 makes a serious play to be one of the best pocket-friendly cameras today. With a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, capable of full-width 4K with a wealth of social media-friendly shooting modes, this camera might be the content creator's new best friend.” BTW, it’s smaller than it looks in the picture, which is a good thing.
It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere: I know what you’re thinking: Wait, why is he putting a flask in this Travel Tech Gift Guide? Well, first of all, flasks are meant entirely for travel - you never need one at home. Secondly, the technology of flasks has greatly improved lately. For centuries the basic model has been terribly flawed - the classic styles are hard to fill, nearly impossible to clean thoroughly and not very good to drink out of. That has changed with next gen flasks that are built better, designed better and made out of use better materials. There are two brands in particular that I love, but only VSSL qualifies as “Travel Tech” because only VSSL has combined a great 21st century flask with a wireless Bluetooth speaker ($150). And there you have it: Dad’s personal mobile travel party, all in one indestructible tube.
It’s double-wall insulated 304 stainless steel, for clean taste that keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for many hours. The shape fits easily in a coat pocket or bag, and the full width, leakproof screw-off cap with flip up cover makes for easy filling and cleaning. It is super durable, holds 8-ounces, and adds a detachable weatherproof premium Spequa Bluetooth speaker at the bottom, which runs for up to 5-hours on a USB charge. VSSL also has a “Build Your Own” option where you can add the speaker but change sizes of the flask and fill it with extras in form fitting tins containing things like first aid supplies, fire starter and more.
Reading Material: I have a Kindle, but I don’t use it because I’m still a fan of paper. But I also typically watch a lot of my in-flight entertainment, do my own work-related reading and writing on a laptop, and leave pleasure reading for the beach - and I rarely go to the beach. So for me, I typically pack one thick paperback and I’m good. But I totally get the appeal of the Kindle, and mine is loaded with books and other reading materials, even though it sits at home. If Dad is a reader, the ability to put an entire library of books onto a super portable, light, extremely easy to read device that works well for all eyesight and lighting conditions, with incredible battery life and without ever worrying about running out of books, well all that is what makes the Kindle so popular. There are other e-readers, and you can use your tablet, but if Dad is a book guy, Amazon’s Kindle kills this category.
Wired Magazine put it best in its recent review of all the 2023 models: “WE LOVE KINDLES here at WIRED. They’re simple, reliable, and perfect at what they do - in one palm-sized device, you can bring thousands of books with you to the park or mountain, and they get a month of battery life per charge.” Like Wired, I’d pick the Paperwhite Signature Edition as the best choice for most people. There’s a smaller model, but when reading, smaller is not better, and the size difference won’t affect portability. The Signature is the only Paperwhite model with a screen that auto-adjusts to light conditions, and that’s a big plus. And it’s just $190.
On Time: When it comes to digital travel accessories such as smart watches, earbuds, trackers and tablets, you are either Apple or you are not. I am not. From the annoying cords to the interconnectivity, Apple products are designed to keep you in the family for better or worse (in my opinion more often the latter). I first left the Apple lineup when Microsoft released the Surface laptop with touch screen, a Godsend for working on the road, and I haven’t looked back since I closed my MacBook. But if Dad is Team Apple, just buy him something in a white box. My picks in these next few areas are for those looking for great tech choices period, without brand loyalty, though they all come from highly regarded brands. So, for a non-Apple travel smartwatch, I like the Garmin Venu 2 Plus.
For starters, travel means being on the move, and no company has more experience with GPS than Garmin, which supplies the commercial aviation and seafaring industries, as well as long being the top choice for backcountry adventures, bike computers and so on. If I’m traveling, I want my watch to know where. The Venu 2 Plus is rated for 9 days on a single charge, which decreases if you use GPS a lot, but it’s still longer than the typical American weeklong vacation. And once you get off the plane and arrive, it’s not like it’s hard to charge it.
But what really hooked me was the combination of looks and features. I don’t want to wear a fitness tracker just because I also like to sport a nice mechanical watch, or carry multiples to swap because I’m going to a dressy event or fancy dinner. Most smartwatches look like devices, not watches, and most fitness/action sports watches look right at home on the wrists of Navy Seals. Give Dad a watch that looks like a dressy watch when you choose a virtual face with hands, yet has all the features you could want in terms of GPS, fitness, health tracking and connectivity. As CNN’s review put it: “The Venu 2 Plus, Garmin’s upscale offering, looks good. It successfully combines the style of a smartwatch with the toughness and long battery life of a sports tracker. I tested a stainless-steel black model with a fantastic OLED display with deep blacks and vibrant colors, which especially helped me see it clearly on a bright, sunny day,” and concluded that “Overall, the watch is sleek and sexy, and if it weren’t for the silicone strap, you could wear this in a formal setting. (In fairness, you can change the bands. I’d recommend the Ritche Quick Release Leather Watch Band or a Ldfas steel link band if you want to get fancy.)”
It's the first from Garmin’s lineup with speaker, mic and voice assistant, supporting Google’s Assistant, Samsung’s Bixby, and yes, Apple’s Siri. If dad goes for a run without earbuds, it can play music directly from the watch, and make and receive calls. Garmin is especially big in the fitness and activity realm, with more than two dozen sport specific apps (running, biking, swimming, etc.), and this watch does everything the best fitness trackers do and more, with optical sensor on the back that measures your heart rate 24/7, blood oxygen levels, and respiration. An upgrade in early 2023 gave it Garmin’s first ECG capabilities, and all the heart data can be shared via PDF with a physician. It tracks steps, sleep, stairs, stress, can go in the water and is on sale for $400.
Private Screening: I love watching movies and television shows on planes, and in addition to noise cancelling headphones, the other key is great video. A tablet is almost always bigger and better than the airline’s screen - when they have one - plus you can bring your own shows even when streaming is not available. This was an easy pick for me because Samsung does screens right, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 routinely wins Best Android Tablet from pretty much every credible source (like CNET, Engadget, etc.). It’s all about the display, but the S8 family also has a lot more tech that drives the price up. It has a great camera and S Pen for creative work. These tablets are meant to double as wireless monitors, do video editing or be used with an optional keyboard for real work, and have a lot of speed and power for that. But I bring a laptop (Surface) for work and a tablet for play, so image quality is the most important thing, and Samsung excels at that. As Engadget said when picking it as Best Android Tablet, “Samsung’s tablet displays are also some of the best in the business, with support for 120Hz refresh rates and vibrant colors from their OLED panels.”
They have armored aluminum casing guards to protect against the bumps and drops inevitable in travel, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that is Galaxy’s fastest ever, superfast Wifi 6E and fast charging. In Tom’s Guide real world testing, it ran for just shy of 13 hours, which is a lot of movies, and the fast charge got it back to 45% in just half an hour. They concluded the S8 was “A new standard for Android tablets.”
To me the 11-inch S8 is plenty of tablet for flying, and runs a not insignificant $699. If you want to save a lot of money and Dad is just going to watch movies or shows, the Galaxy A8 still has an awesome picture and almost the same size screen (10.4) and you can get it for just $200. If money is no object and a bigger screen is better, the 12.4-inch S8+ can be found from $899 and the whopping14.6-inch S8 Ultra is $1100.
Better Earbuds: While I prefer over ear headphones for flights, I always carry earbuds on trips, because they are what I use in the gym or for outdoor workouts. They are also handy for phone calls, in rental cars, or any time you want to listen on the go. But I still want the active noise cancellation I love in full blown headphones, and I still want audiophile sound quality for music, and I still want to be able to work and communicate clearly. So, for all those reasons I choose the first-class Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.
Sennheiser is a longtime, well-established leader in high end audio technology, and these are their flagship top of the line earbuds. They have the aptX Adaptive wireless technology you want, an app that lets you use an equalizer and dial in the sound, adaptive noise cancellation that adapts to your surroundings, and three mics on each bud for topnotch audio and noise cancellation. They have a really good fit kit, which is important for workouts, and for travel, are IPX4 water resist, run for up to 28 hours, come with a charging case and offer wireless charging. Dad deserves the best! ($280)
Found Luggage: Last year when airlines had record breaking struggles to deliver and keep track of luggage, I started putting a Samsung Smart Tag in each of my checked bags. Fortunately, since I’ve been doing this my bags have never gone astray, but I get peace of mind as soon as I turn my phone on upon landing and see that they are in the same airport as me.
I have a friend who flew from California to Hawaii and arrived in Kauai without his luggage. Because he had put an Apple Airtag tracker in his bag, he could see that his clubs were in the Honolulu airport, not having made the connection. But the airline could not locate them on their own, so he showed them his phone, and they were able to find them in some storage room where they potentially could have languished for days, weeks, or forever. Instead, he got them sent over on the next flight. In this vein, Stephanie Reynolds, spokesperson for Tile, an Airtag and Smart Tag competitor, told me, “We’ve had customers tell us that airport officials often don’t have any info about their luggage, until they show them its location on the Tile app and then they are able to retrieve it for them.” These tiny little devices, the size of a key fob, make great gifts for travelers, you can use them to track anything, checked luggage, stolen luggage, carry-ons, high price electronics, keys, whatever.
They are also inexpensive, around $18-$28 each depending on whether you buy one or a multi-pack. The only choice here is what kind of phone Dad uses. If he does Apple, get Airtag. If he does Android go Smart Tag. If you don’t know, Tile works with any phone. Tile also makes ultrathin and ultra small models for wallets and other smaller valuables.