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Take the stress out of holiday travel with these gadgets, apps, and tips

According to a recent survey conducted by the travel-planning website TripIt, 94 percent of Americans plan to travel during the 2014 holiday season, with 76 percent of those respondents saying they plan to fly. The AAA says Thanksgiving travel will be 10-percent higher than in 2013. With those kinds of figures, you can already imagine the maddening scenario that will unfold at airports, train stations, and highways, before you even leave your home.

The holiday-travel spectacular will test jetsetters’ nerves, for sure, but you can minimize the headaches – hell, maybe even make it enjoyable – with our holiday-travel survival guide. From hardware to software and services, we have compiled a list of recommendations to help you make the most of non-festive travel. 

Bring a surge protector, multi-connector cable, and portable battery

Many airports are making more power outlets available, but there won’t be enough to accommodate the extra throng of fliers. Be a local hero and bring a surge protector (bonus points if there are USB ports). You are more likely to convince people to share their outlets with you, and if you’re traveling with several family members, everyone’s devices can stay juiced up. Surge protectors are also great if you’re staying at a hotel; we’ve stayed at plenty where it was nearly impossible to find an available outlet.

Calamari 3-in-1 USB cable ($15)

Outdoor Tech Calamari

When there are truly nowhere to plug and recharge, or if the plane, train, or bus you’re riding in lack any outlets, a portable battery is a godsend. We recommend you get one with a 5,000-mAh battery or higher, or 10,000-mAh if you have a tablet. Also, we like multi-connector cables like the Calamari from Outdoor Tech. This three-in-one USB cable has a 30-pin, Lightning, and MicroUSB connector (covers pretty much all smartphone and tablets), and at $15 (MSRP) each, get a few if you’re traveling with others.

Kodiak – 6,000mAh USB power bank ($50)

Outdoor Tech KODIAK power bank

Pair the Calamari with Outdoor Tech’s 6,000-mAh Kodiak power bank ($50 MSRP), a super-durable external battery that’s waterproof.

One other item to consider is a security lock for your computer or bag. With so many people traveling and moving around the terminals, having your gadgets out in the open could lead to theft. It’s also handy if you’re staying in a hotel, and a safe isn’t big enough to hold your stuff.

Back it up

We don’t recommend bringing your work laptop when on holiday, but these days work never stops. If you must, bring along a portable hard drive to back your stuff up.

Western Digital My Passport Wireless ($220)

Western Digital My Passport Wireless

We have been using Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless and really like it. It’s easy to use, and it’s wireless, so you can back up data from mobile devices. The best part is that you can turn the device into a hotspot, when it’s connected to the Internet.

Even if you don’t plan to bring along a computer, we like the My Passport Wireless’s SD card slot for photography. Simply insert the SD card from your camera, and the portable drive automatically pulls all the photos and videos off the card for backup – ensuring that your vacation memories are intact.

Regardless of the brand, having a backup drive is peace of mind, in case your gear goes missing (but hopefully not the drive!).

Get a prepaid wireless hotspot

Even when an airport isn’t terribly busy, the free Wi-Fi networks aren’t the fastest, so imagine how much slower they’ll be when you’re sharing with other holiday travelers. And at many airports, Wi-Fi is still a for-pay service (call us cheap, but we hate paying for so-so Wi-Fi).

Netgear Mingle ($79.76) or Karma Go ($149)

Consider picking up a portable prepaid wireless hotspot like those from Virgin Mobile or Karma. These don’t require a contract and you pay for only what you need, and when you need it. If you’re traveling by car, or if the destination you’re heading to doesn’t have Wi-Fi, a mobile hotspot gives you an Internet connection wherever you are.

Next page: Booking last-minute flights and reserving the best seat

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