Articles by Shawn Forno

Shawn is a long haul travel specialist (trips +3 months), digital nomad, and surfer who’s lived, worked, and traveled to 30+ countries in the past decade. Big on surfing, climbing, scuba diving, and all things outdoors. Brooklyn misses him when he's on the road. Follow Shawn on Twitter. He'd like that.

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Travel bans be damned—portable devices are part of the way we travel. Odds are your carry on bag is just one merino shirt, some jorts, two pair of travel underwear, and a rat’s nest of cables, chargers, cases, and gizmos. Whether you’re a freelancer, a writer, travel videographer, a digital nomad, or a rising travel Instagram star, your bag includes at least one smartphone, laptop, camera, GoPro, iPad, or Kindle—and the cables that come along with them. The point is, we travel with a lot of tech, so a good external battery pack has increasingly become a must-have for today’s modern carry on traveler.

But which portable battery chargers is the best? Which one packs the most charge for the price (or the weight)? Evaluating your next portable battery charger isn’t rocket science. We looked at charging times, charging speed, charging capacity (mAh), weight, durability, water-resistance, multi-functionality (is the battery charger also a flashlight, for instance), and of course price to bring you our comprehensive list of the best external battery chargers for your next off the grid adventure. Get amped (see what I did there?).

Luggage with Built in Battery Packs

If you’re a bag geek at all you’ve been watching the trend towards “smart luggage” and bags with built in battery packs. On the surface this does seem smart, doesn’t it? Especially if you’ve ever spent your airport layover jockeying for a position at the one plug in your terminal instead of sipping a bloody mary at the airport bar. The ease and convenience of a piece of carry on luggage that is also your juice box is alluring. Until you actually think about it.

The names of the game in carry on travel are size and weight, right? Certain dimensions within which all bags must fit and a certain amount of weight that is allowable. The weight restrictions vary between 12.5 lbs to unlimited, averaging around 25 lbs. So, if your bag weighs about a third to half of your allowable carry on weight before you even pack it, that’s kind of a problem.

A quick search of carry on smart luggage turns up a number of Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaign babies that look sexy at first blush. Until you read the stats and consider the implications. Away is over seven pounds. Bluesmart tops nine. And of course they’re both wheeled luggage, which we already know could ruin your trip. Also, these bags are really friggin’ expensive.

The offerings in the backpack category aren’t meant as actual luggage. They’re actually daypacks. Here’s the thing about a daypack: You have to carry it. A lot. With stuff in it. Why, would you begin with an empty bag that is heavy? The Outbreaker travel daypack weighs 1.1 lbs. The lightest contender among the leaders with a built in charger is double the weight of our bag, the heaviest tips the scales at nearly five times the weight of Outbreaker daypack. So you could carry the heavy RAVPower 26,800 mAh beast that weighs just over a pound and still be lighter than the lightest “smart backpack.” Oh, and of course you’d have the option of NOT carrying it. That’s a detail. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be forced to carry extra weight built into my bag.

Of course the other factor that no one is talking about is that these battery packs become obsolete in no time flat. Remember what you were carrying for external power two years ago? How ’bout five? That’s what I thought. How long do you expect your luggage to last? Yeah. That’s a problem, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing: When a piece of luggage tries to do too many things, it ends up doing nothing well. Choose the best possible luggage for urban travel (because that’s what you’re doing) and then choose the best possible battery pack for your needs and budget. No need to spend a fortune. Then, upgrade when it makes sense.

Now that we’ve agreed not to buy smart luggage, here are the best options: Click to continue…

Whether you’re flitting off to Rome for a long weekend or cruising from Florence to Venice on a Vespa, packing for Italy is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is travel light and look fantastic all the time. No sweat, right?

In all seriousness, I lived in Rome for a year, and I’ve traveled back to Italy several times since then for extended trips from Sicily in the south, to Lago di Como in the north. I’ve driven a rental car through Tuscany, a Vespa across most of the country, I’ve ridden the rails to Pompei, hiked Vesuvius in Sicily, driven over the alps, waded through flooded streets in Venice, hiked Cinque Terra, and of course took my fair share of Leaning Tower of Pisa photo(bomb)s. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my many trips to Italy it’s this—less really is more.

Bring the bare minimum you think you’ll need. After a few days, you’ll be grateful you kept your packing list to a carry on.

What to Pack For Italy: Packing Rules

We all know there are no rules, right? Except those applied to the size of your carry on bag by the airline. But if there were rules, and I could write them, there would only be three:

Choose the Right Luggage

And what, pray tell, is the right luggage? I’m glad you ask. Nothing with wheels: Venice threatened to outlaw wheeled luggage a few years ago. They didn’t, but they should have. Nothing bigger than a carry on. I’ve you’ve stepped off a train in Termini Station with a big-ass roller bag, a carry on, and your daypack, you know what I’m talking about. No. Just no. Big, drag around style luggage is not for Italy. It’s just not. Leave it at home. Travel lighter.

A backpack is really the only way to travel in Italy. You’re going to be on and off of trains. You’ll be wandering streets of very beautiful but very roughly paved villages. Packing in a bag that is properly designed to make the weight you’re carrying comfortable, is made of waterproof fabric, and has a sleek, low profile design is going to improve your carry experience immensely. The Outbreaker 45 is perfect for a luxurious trip to Italy with plenty of space left over. If you’re planning to fly around Europe on budget airlines, then the Outbreaker 35 is a better choice.

Leave Room for Souvenirs

I’m not a “souvenir” kind of guy, yet every time I visit Italy I bring home a backpack that’s bursting at the seams. Why? Because Italy is amazing. You absolutely don’t want to cram your bag full of your own clothes, because you’re gonna bring stuff home with you. If you don’t, I’m not sure you did Italy right. Leave room in your bag for Italy to fill.

Worried about packing in a carry on and still having room for souvenirs? Pack the Outbreaker duffle flat and empty inside your carry on and use this as your overflow bag, it’s the perfect size for a personal item on your flight home, so you should still be able to get home without checking a bag.

If this is your first trip to Italy, you absolutely allocated space for cheesy souvenirs. Buy that apron that makes you look the statue of David. Get that “penne” pasta for your roommate (you know what I’m talking about). Bring back a few bottles of your favorite wine and open them at your next dinner party. You can regale your friends with your best Tuscan sunset story as you bury your nose in the bouquet of tannic flavors.

Even, if you’ve been to Italy a few times, you’ll still want to bring back mementos of your time there—in fact, you’ll likely bring back even more stuff than a first time tourist. And that’s ok. No matter what time of year you visit, why you’re there, or how many times you go back, Italy is always incredible. You will never get tired of this paradoxical country that’s both firmly rooted in the ancient world yet so hip it almost hurts. Click to continue…

Ah, the money belt. Emblem of the anxious, insecure traveler or lifesaving secret stash for your most precious valuables. Travelers are divided on the best way to keep your cash and cards safe while you travel, but the way we pay for trips, book accommodation, and even carry cash on the go have fundamentally changed in the past decade—and so has the need for money belts.

ATMs are everywhere, international credit card fees are practically zero, Venmo is a thing, and traveler’s cheques don’t even exist anymore. Cash is becoming both less important to travel, and easier to get on the go, making one of the staples of travel gear—the money belt—obsolete.

Is the money belt dead? Click to continue…