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Ah, the holidays—a season meant for quality time with loved ones, rest and relaxation at home and plenty of gifts to go around. The one caveat to the most wonderful time of the year, however, is the travel that comes with it.
With traveling becoming a safer activity for vaccinated Americans, holiday travel is sure to be busy. And, on top of an already bustling holiday season, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-contagious omicron variant is leaving travelers feeling concerned about their holiday travel plans.
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To help smooth over what is historically a stressful time to fly, the experts at Reviewed have compiled a list of some of the best products we've ever tested that'll help make your travels less stressful, more organized and safer. Here are 14 products that'll keep you feeling comfortable throughout your holiday travels.
1. A carry-on travel backpack you can explore with
No matter if your flight is 2 hours or 12 hours, it’s great to have a travel backpack or similar carry-on bag that can fit all your necessary belongings. If you can fit all your belongings in a carry-on, you can save time by skipping the line for checking a bag and avoiding the luggage carousel after your flight.
There are plenty of stellar options for backpacks depending on your needs. The large Osprey Ozone Duplex 65 backpack—our best overall choice for a travel backpack—is perfect for the flight cabin, but it also doubles as a carry-all when you're exploring your destination. It’s durable yet comfortable and can accommodate a solid amount of personal items, such as a few changes of clothing and room for toiletry bags.
If you're looking for something a little less rugged, Melissa Cooper, Reviewed’s senior director of marketing, recommends this stylish and professional Kenneth Cole backpack. It has plenty of room for your travel necessities, including a padded laptop pocket and a front organizer that holds chargers, tablets and notebooks in place. It even has an extra strap on the back to conveniently attach it to a rolling suitcase.
2. A travel pillow to snooze on the plane
Don’t let your neck suffer through a long day of travel without the necessary support. To make resting on a long flight (or train or car ride) more comfortable, a solid neck pillow is non-negotiable.
If you’re generally a side sleeper, the J-Pillow Travel Pillow might be a better choice. As its name suggests, this pillow is shaped like the letter "J," and is extremely comfortable for those who prefer to rest their heads to the side. Bonus: It's easier to carry around than a typical neck pillow.
3. High-quality luggage that stands the test of time
After the past year, it's safe to say you deserve an upgrade to your old suitcase. At Reviewed, we've tested plenty of suitcases, carry-ons and more must-have luggage from tons of brands to judge durability, ease of use and overall quality at its price point.
The Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 made its debut as a standout checked bag choice considering its rugged, high-quality construction. The suitcase makes organization easy with expandable pockets for last-minute packed items. For a carry-on, we ranked the Osprey Transporter Wheeled Carry-On as our top pick—this bag is sturdy, featuring quality wheels and a retractable handle that feels built to last. It also boasts plenty of organizational space and storage, making it a must-have for any kind of travel.
4. Protective yet comfortable face masks for the plane and beyond
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires travelers to wear a face mask throughout their journey. For a long-haul flight, you’ll want to bring a few sets of masks that you can comfortably wear for consecutive hours—this may include some medical-grade masks like surgical masks or N95 masks, along with reusable cloth masks that can be washed after the flight.
When choosing a fabric mask, we recommend one with adjustable ear loops or one that ties around your head for maximum comfort. Our favorite face masks, the Athleta Everyday Non-Medical Face Masks, have adjustable ear loops to help avoid discomfort when wearing them for extended periods of time.
For masks for the kids, our top choices are from Happy Masks. Designed by a retired chief scientist with a doctoral degree in filtration, these masks are protective choices that kids won't complain about wearing.
5. A meditation app to stay relaxed
Traveling can be stressful, especially if you haven't flown in a while. And, with a busy holiday season ahead, the stress of long lines and crowds of travelers is enough to leave you feeling anxious about flying.
To keep nerves and stress at bay, we'd recommend Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app that we ranked as the best meditation app out there. This app features a wide variety of meditations to help relax, destress or even cope with specific emotions along with sleep- and exercise-specific content. Even if you've never meditated before, Reviewed's senior sleep writer Lindsey Vickers found the app is beginner-friendly and easy to navigate, explore and experiment with.
Headspace is free if you want to access the more basic content like a few meditations and one nighttime guided session. But, to access all of Headspace's content, the annual membership costs $69.99, which breaks down to about $6 a month (which, for reference, is a little less than a basic Netflix subscription).
6. Disinfecting wipes to clean your seat on the plane
We now know that COVID-19 doesn’t predominantly spread through contact with surfaces, however, it doesn’t hurt to give your space a good wipe down to disinfect the area you'll be spending the next few hours in.
These wipes are much more readily available than they were at the beginning of the pandemic—you can purchase Clorox Disinfecting Wipes on Amazon. Be sure you’re using them correctly by following the instructions on the label—you may need to ensure a surface stays wet for a certain amount of time to properly disinfect.
7. A large (or travel) size of hand sanitizer
TSA is currently allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container—up to 12 ounces per passenger—in carry-on bags. The agency does warn that this may slow down your checkpoint screening process.
If you want to ensure you never run out of sanitizer on your trip, we recommend bringing that 12-ounce hand sanitizer. If you want to cut down on space and prefer to purchase more at your destination, stick with a travel-size sanitizer.
8. A pair of noise-canceling headphones to drown out planes
If you're really seeking peace and quiet during your travels, noise-canceling headphones are just about a necessity. There's plenty to consider with this technology before buying—Do you prefer an in-ear, on-ear, or over-ear fit? What type of noise cancellation does this model use: active or passive? After testing over a dozen noise-canceling headphones, we recommend a pair like the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones. They provide excellent audio quality, long-lasting battery life and perhaps most importantly, top-notch active noise canceling.
If you're firmly entrenched in the Apple product universe, then you may prefer the Apple AirPods Pro for convenience and compatibility. While they aren't the best earbuds in terms of sound quality, they're easy to use, have great battery life and offer an incredible noise cancellation experience.
9. A reusable water bottle to stay hydrated
Skip the airport lines for an over-priced water bottle and bring in a reusable airport to use along the journey (just make sure it's empty when you bring it through TSA).
While any reusable water bottle will do, a good reusable water bottle can help keep your water extra cold all day long, which is essential when you may not have access to a water source while traveling. Out of all the reusable water bottles Reviewed has tested, the Brita Stainless Steel Water Filter Bottle can keep water cold for hours and even features a filtering straw to help reduce the taste and odor of chlorine found in tap water.
Your kids will appreciate a reusable water bottle, too, which is why we recommend the Kids' Hydroflask Wide Mouth Bottle after plenty of water bottle testing. It features a convenient straw lid and is conveniently lightweight to store in a kids' backpack or personal item.
10. A face shield for extra protection and peace of mind
Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, tells Reviewed that “many viruses infect by entering mucus membranes,” which includes the eyes. “Therefore, the combination of a mask and eye protection are best to avoid getting the [coronavirus].”
For extra protection in airport terminals or mid-flight, you can wear a face shield along with your mask. This shield with built-in glasses may be a more comfortable option than the typical face shield with an elastic headband. You may also want to apply an anti-fog spray on your shield to avoid any steam from accumulating on the inside.
11. A portable charger for charging your electronics on the go
Nothing is worse than opening an electronic when traveling and finding out it's actually dead—especially if it's your cell phone when you need to check important information or stay in contact with friends and family. To prevent this scenario, we recommend keeping a portable power bank on you—and remember to charge it up before leaving the hotel or for the airport.
For tablets and laptops, we recommend the Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD—with a 25,000 mAh battery, several charging ports, Qi wireless charging pad and tough build quality, you really can't go wrong with this choice for charging up your must-have electronics. For keeping your smartphone charged up, a portable battery pack is an absolute necessity, especially if all the airport outlets are being used or there are no outlets in sight. Our top pick for a battery pack is the Mophie Powerstation PD—this powerful little device stays compact without compromising performance, charging your smartphone with speed.
12. Compression socks for the long flight
If you're susceptible to swelling legs on long-haul flights, don't forget to pack a pair of compression socks. Even if your legs don't swell during flights, you may find comfort in the stretchy, snug material regardless.
Out of all the compression socks Reviewed has tested, we recommend a pair from Figs, a direct-to-consumer brand targeted at medical professionals. Their socks are ultra-comfortable and easy to pull on.
13. A Kindle to avoid packing heavy books
What is a vacation to the beach without the perfect beach read? If you've been looking forward to diving into a novel on your next vacation, bring along an E-reader like the beloved Kindle Paperwhite. With a battery charge that can last weeks and no screen glare in bright sunlight, you can enjoy a relaxing read without adding extra weight. Let's face it, paying extra for an overweight checked bag is never fun.
14. A compact toy to keep kids entertained
If you're traveling with toddlers or younger kids this busy holiday season, you'll want to make sure they're comfortable and entertained through what could be a long and busy travel day. That's why you'll want to bring along some top-rated compact toys to keep morale high.
Enter: Pop-its, the overnight toy sensation that's become one of the hottest toys of 2021, is perfect for keeping kids busy, especially if they're feeling fidgety or nervous. Reviewed's parenting staff writer Janelle Randazza writes that Pop-its are must-haves for the "sensory satisfaction of popping bubble wrap, without the jarring noise factor".
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Christmas, New Year's Eve holiday travel: Comfortable travel products