Expert Advice: Travel Gadgets Absolutely Worth Buying

With the exception of fancy travel accessories, there are simple products that make a traveler’s trip much easier.

The Stuff trip The team has rounded up some of our favorite purchases that have stood the test of time. These are some of the products without which we will never travel.

Two-prong aviation headset adapter

I thought I could avoid using flimsy and almost always broken airplane headphones by bringing my own hi-res cans. It wasn’t until on board that I encountered a two-pin headphone jack, forcing my long-haul to be a tiny or one-ear listening experience.

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Airlines are said to be using the dual 3.5mm stereo jacks on board to deter passengers from leaving with their headsets on.

I discovered years ago that a simple solution, without splashing out on Bluetooth headphones and a transmitter to connect to the system in flight, is to simply buy the lightweight adapter that converts your regular plug into two. You can pick them up for around $5 at electronics stores and airports. – Stephen Heard, Travel Publications Coordinator

An airline headset adapter allows travelers to plug their own headphones into the aircraft's audio system.


An airline headset adapter allows travelers to plug their own headphones into the aircraft’s audio system.

An eternal backpack

There are some things in life where paying that extra bit is worth spending in the bank account in the long run.

A good pair of jeans is one, a coffee machine is another, and in my case, the extra expense for a sturdy backpack was a decades-long investment.

The trusty backpack that saw travel journalist Alan Granville move freely around the world.

Alain Granville

The trusty backpack that saw travel journalist Alan Granville move freely around the world.

In 1998, I decided to go on a working holiday for a year in Australia. As I was living in London at the time, I went to the nearest outdoor gear store and bought a beautiful backpack for the princely sum of £150. In today’s money, that’s over £250 or almost NZ$500, which, with a journalist’s meager salary, was a huge investment. But the boy paid him back. He has traveled with me twice around the world, taken in the sights of Japan, Europe and the United States, and been to every nook and cranny of New Zealand.

Surprisingly, apart from some minor patchwork, the backpack is still in great condition. – Alan Granville, travel journalist

A convertible travel pillow

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that there is simply no good way to sleep on a plane unless you have the privilege of a business class cabin. In economics, you’d need about three of those pathetic excuses from a pillow just to create some padding, but they never stay put where you position them anyway.

A comfortable travel pillow and an eye mask can make all the difference on a long-haul flight.


A comfortable travel pillow and an eye mask can make all the difference on a long-haul flight.

Sick of the drooping head and subsequent vertical jerk, I tried numerous travel pillows to see if any of them prevented the dreaded crook in the neck. Whatever you do, don’t buy an inflatable pillow. They’re not comfortable, and just like an airbed, you might wake up to find air leaking out after a short nap.

The best? A $50 convertible pillow bought spontaneously at a San Francisco airport. It folds on itself so you can choose the U-shaped neck support or turn it into a real mini pillow. It didn’t transform my sleep, but I certainly had more rest in the air with this baby than anything else. Add a comfortable eye mask and you might be able to arrive at your destination a little refreshed. – Juliette Sivertsen, director of travel news

On-ear headphones

For a long time, I was perfectly happy to accept the free headphones the airline gives you on a plane.

But my partner had been touting the virtues of his Bose noise canceling headphones, and so ahead of a trip to Ireland in 2019, I decided to get my own pair to see what the fuss was about.

At the time, I was too stingy to splurge on proper noise-cancelling headphones, so I ended up opting for the much cheaper Sennheiser HD 300 over-ear model, which you can now get for just over $100.

Over-ear headphones will transform your in-flight entertainment.


Over-ear headphones will transform your in-flight entertainment.

The difference they made was huge. They were so much more comfortable than the airline-supplied ones (I even fell asleep wearing them), and while they weren’t noise-canceling, they still blocked out a lot of airplane noise.

They made me a real fan of BYO earphones. In fact, I’m considering upgrading to a noise-canceling model for my next trip. – Siobhan Downes, senior travel journalist

Packing Cubes

I’m a type A personality, so when I can put things neatly into little compartments, it totally puts my brain at ease. Frustratingly though, I’m also a chronic overpacker – taking things I haven’t worn in years but might suddenly need. I take sweaters to tropical destinations just in case, and I take summer dresses to Europe in the winter because you never know!

Enter the packing cubes – my saviour. I bought the $15 Kmart set, as well as the more expensive type you find in places like Kathmandu. The result is the same – I’m more considered in my package. I end up taking less, even though I feel like there is room for more.

And because there’s a place for everything, I always know where to find it when I’m on the road. Use the smaller ones for socks, togs, and underwear and the larger ones for pants or dresses, tops, activewear, or day wear versus special occasion wear. Everything is neat and contained and makes packing so much easier.

Pro Tip – I also use these at home to organize my closet. – Trupti Biradar, travel editor

What are the best travel purchases you’ve made? Let us know in the comments or email us at [email protected]

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