This is the Travel Take, where Matador’s writers and editors make the case for their favorite travel hacks, tips, and personal tics.
I have a reputation for being a tad forgetful. I misplace my keys, walk out of the door without my wallet, and, most of all, I hardly ever remember to charge my phone. I could be sitting in my apartment all day, and then when it’s time to leave for dinner, I’ll finally plug my phone into the charger for 10 minutes while I’m getting dressed.
My goldfish-like inability to focus on simple tasks usually only causes minor inconveniences, but when I began traveling extensively for work, I knew I would need my phone to navigate new cities, take pictures, and communicate with my hosts abroad and my family at home — especially in emergencies. I knew I would have to change my habits to avoid putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation. Luckily, technology stepped in.
In 2015, I began working as an assistant, and one day while rummaging through piles of old office supplies, I found a heavy silver block connected to a black USB cord. This magical little device, I learned, is an external charger, and it would sustain my phone’s battery from anywhere. This revelation, though basic, changed my life.
I went out and bought my own external charger immediately. At first, it simply saved me when I absentmindedly neglected to charge my phone before meeting friends in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Then, I quit my assistant job and started working as a travel writer full time. To say the charger became indispensable would be an understatement.
As I was shuttled from tours to restaurants on work trips, I snapped endless battery-draining pictures and sent Whatsapp messages to the folks waiting for me at home. Normally, my phone battery, which hovers around 50 percent on the best of days, would not be able to take the strain. Because I’m on the move so much during these trips, there’s simply no time to sit down near an outlet and charge my phone. The external charger erases that problem, and with it, my anxiety (I just need to remember to charge the charger for at least 12 hours before a big trip — and yes, sometimes I forget, but usually not).
The concept of buying an external charger is not the most groundbreaking tip, but there are still plenty of seasoned travelers who stubbornly refuse to get one, not wanting to carry yet another piece of gear around. Or they just use a super cheap one they got as a stocking stuffer that is only good for one full charge and breaks after a few uses. So I’m here to say: Yes, you need an external charger. Yes, it’s worth adding it to your packing list. Yes, you should spring for a quality one that will last years and offer enough juice to charge your device a few times before needing to be recharged itself.
You don’t need to be a travel writer (or even prone to forgetfulness) to find an external charger useful. Anyone who is away from home for work or play is likely to encounter the following situations: driving long distances, stuck on an old airplane with no outlets, out to sea on a boat, or visiting historical monuments on hours-long walking tours. You need to be able to record videos, snap pictures, text your loved ones about your adventures, and search for directions without worrying about a failing phone battery. Let’s face it: In our modern world, a dead phone battery can ruin your entire day. You can’t rely on power outlets always being available.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the external charger is the feeling of safety it provides. When I’m wandering the streets of an unfamiliar city alone, that silver rectangle reassures me that I am not going to get lost, left out in the cold after dark, or without a way to reach safety if I’m in danger.
There have been moments abroad when I couldn’t find any empty hotel rooms after wandering town for what felt like hours, or when I needed to find a taxi in a hurry — tasks that require a cellphone (if a computer isn’t readily available) in the modern world. If my phone had died, and I couldn’t find a spot friendly enough to charge my phone, I would have ended up stranded. In dire moments, my external charger is a literal lifesaver.