Travel safely with these electronics packing tips
Don't break any gadgets.
Buy a dedicated bag
A well-designed carrier is one of the most effective ways to ensure your gear survives a trip. No matter what devices you’re toting, you can can find luggage dedicated to carrying that kind of gadget. Even if you plan to stuff your tech into another suitcase, a specialized case will add a layer of protection. We collected a few examples for different types of gadgets.
For a digital camera, and all the lenses you’ll carry with it, consider something like the Peak Design Everyday Messenger ($220 on Amazon). It includes removable dividers to prevent objects from shifting around and waxed outer layers to make the exterior weatherproof. If you plan to throw your camera into a suitcase, you’ll need a more compact option like the Thule Perspektiv Toploader ($100 on Amazon). A waterproof casing with welded and taped seams give it a sturdy structure, while the cushioned interior pads your DSLR.
Most laptop bags come in multiple sizes, so make sure to order one with the correct dimensions for your computer. For an affordable choice, the roomy Kroser Messenger Bag ($29 on Amazon) boasts a sturdy, water-repellent canvas exterior, and padded internal pockets can fit additional gear, such as a tablet and paper files. If you’d rather not opt for a full bag, the Grutti MacBook Pro case ($26 on Amazon) snaps directly onto your laptop. Its shock-absorbing ridges shield your device from bumps without adding too much bulk.
Smartphone and tablet cases also run the gamut of styles, from hard shells to soft sleeves. The lightweight Tech21 Pure Clear Case ($24 on Amazon, for the iPhone X version, but you can purchase the same case for other phone models) shelters a phone from scratches as well as drops from heights of more than six feet. For a tablet, we like the iPad-preserving Moko Smart Shell ($10 on Amazon), which also doubles as a stand when you want to watch Netflix.
If you’d prefer to take a less specialized, and generally cheaper, approach, packing cubes will both pad and organize your gear within a larger bag. This makes it easier to pull devices out of a suitcase if you need to use or inspect them on the road. Packing cubes can also organize your clothes, toiletries, shoes, and other items. Something like the AmazonBasics set ($20 on Amazon) will neatly arrange your stuff without breaking the bank.
Having a well-protected case or bag is a good first line of protection, but if you’re carrying the gadgets within a larger suitcase, you also need to pack them with care. Here are a few tips for swaddling your tech.
Before you load your bags, switch off your devices so that they’ll arrive at your destination with at least some charge. The best battery health practices dictate that you should leave electronics with a charge of around 50 percent if they’re going to be stored for a few days, so if your journey will take that long, aim to turn off your tech when it hits that 50 percent sweet spot.
While you’re tinkering with your gadgets, disassemble the complex ones a bit to avoid broken pieces. For example, you should remove the lens from a camera and the rotor arms from a drone. Although you don’t need to take a gadget entirely apart, you should try to reduce the number of stress points that could break.
As you go through your electronics, don’t forget the chargers, cables, and travel adapters you’ll need to juice them up. These can easily get tangled or stretched, so first coil or fold each one into a compact shape and secure it with a rubber band, twistie, or cable tie. We recommend that you keep these small objects in the same place to avoid losing them, but that doesn’t mean you need to invest in a brand-new cable case. Instead, stuff them in a zippered pencil pouch, a small dopp kit, or as a last resort, a resealable plastic bag.
If you plan to place your devices inside larger bags, you should provide padding. This not only guards against knocks and bumps, but also prevents gadgets from shifting around within a larger suitcase. Try wrapping your electronics in, or surrounding them with, clothing, scrunched-up balls of paper, or other soft materials. If you have room, you could bulk out your gear with specialized cushioning like bubble wrap or tissue paper.
Your other packing best-practices will depend on your mode of travel. For example, if you’re stashing luggage in the trunk of your car, you should avoid placing your gadgets under other heavy items, but also keep them out of direct sunlight to avoid overheating. If you plan to hop on a train or plane, you should avoiding putting expensive devices in checked suitcases, which you won’t be able to keep under your watchful eye. And you’ll also need to check their regulations to see whether they allow you to bring certain electronics. Speaking of that…
Review travel rules and restrictions
When you travel by rail, Amtrak insists that you keep electronic items in carry-on baggage only. But you shouldn’t check your expensive devices anyway, because you’ll want to keep them with you at all times. The only other Amtrak regulations that might worry you deal with the weight and the sizes of your luggage. So if you’re trying to cram several gadget bags in one suitcase, check the weight with a device like the Camry Luggage Scale ($11 on Amazon) to make sure your baggage doesn’t exceed the limit.
Of course, baggage size and weight is also important when you’re flying. To double-check that your bags don’t end up overweight, check the limits on the airline’s website. For example, you can find the size and weight regulations for Delta here. While you’re on the website, pay attention to the small print: The amount you’re allowed to carry may depend on your journey (domestic or international) and the type of ticket you purchased (coach or business class).
The TSA’s restrictions on electronics are fairly generous. According to them, you can carry devices like headphones, drones, and laptops in both carry-on and checked bags. The airlines themselves are more restrictive, and change their rules regularly, so check their websites: Some say portable electronic devices must stay in carry-on baggage only.
You’ll find more regulations about how to handle lithium-ion batteries and the gadgets that contain them. The TSA insists you keep spare lithium-ion batteries (those not fixed in a device or portable charger) in a carry-on bag. All of the airlines that we researched had the same rule, but it went further: If any of your devices contain removable lithium-ion batteries, you have to keep them in the cabin with you instead of checking them. You’ll also have limits to the number of spare lithium-ion batteries, above 100 watt-hours in capacity, that you can bring. However, the average traveler shouldn’t have a problem with this rule: The average laptop battery has half that capacity. Still, if you’re worried about it—say you have a professional-level movie camera with large spare batteries—then check with the individual airline before setting out.
Other batteries carry their own restrictions. They must stay in their original packaging, or you need to wrap them with another form of protection against metals that could cause short circuits. In addition, you must arrange them in a way that avoids putting them under pressure or puncturing them.
Make sure your baggage complies with these rules, and you won’t need to worry about delays or other problems at the airport. Happy travels!