With travel habits like ours, AFAR’s editors and contributors are constantly on the lookout for gear that can make our time on the road more comfortable, convenient, and yes, more stylish. In 2023, we tried out hundreds of pieces of travel gear. Since we’re not in the business of gatekeeping, here are a few of our favorite discoveries that improved the way we traveled in 2023. From accessories under $25 that make road trips and long flights more comfortable to pricier totes and cross-body bags that will last a lifetime, we hope you love these pieces of travel gear as much as we do.
Filson Rugged Twill Zippered Tote Bag
- Buy now: $295, filson.com
My ideal personal item needs to check many boxes: It has to fit a 13-inch MacBook Air laptop, have a side pocket for easy water bottle access, a zip-top to keep everything safe inside, and also look cool enough to use every day. After exhaustive research, I invested in the Rugged Zippered Twill Tote Bag from the Seattle-based brand Filson. At 15 x 7 x 14 inches, it easily fits underneath airplane seats but is roomy enough to fit the aforementioned laptop and water bottle, plus a travel pillow, a book, my chargers, some essential toiletries, and an oversize scarf. The twill material is super durable without being heavy and is also lightly waxed so I don’t have to worry about my valuables getting drenched in a surprise rainstorm. I can tell this piece will last a very long time. The only thing it’s missing is a way to attach it securely to the top of my carry-on—but that’s where the Cincha Travel Belt comes in. I just slip the elastic loop of the belt over the handle of my carry-on and snap its buckle around the front of my Filson for a no-slip airport experience. —Lyndsey Matthews, senior commerce editor
Rimowa Personal Aluminum Cross-Body Bag
- Buy now: $1,600–$1,700, rimowa.com
A few months after getting a Rimowa suitcase, I decided to go all-in on the luggage brand with one of its smallest cases: the Personal Cross-Body Bag. As someone who constantly struggles with overstuffed pockets—bursting with an iPhone 14 Pro Max in one, a wallet in another, with a sleeve of Dentyne Ice, Airpods, a USB cord, and sometimes a passport shoved in between—this small unisex bag seemed a smart choice for me.
The aluminum shell and the case’s finishings mirror those of Rimowa’s Original suitcase collection, making it an ideal travel companion to my checked bag but also a sturdy stand-alone mini case. The case is roughly the same size as a paperback book and snaps open to reveal a leather-lined interior with two open compartments, one zipped pocket, and three credit card slots—big enough to fit all my pocket essentials (and then some).
The case, available in “Arctic Blue,” silver, or black, can be carried in your hands or worn as a cross-strap bag thanks to an adjustable and removable Italian leather or webbed nylon strap that hooks onto two side D-rings. (Rimowa also sells additional colors of the webbed nylon straps separately for $220.) While I use the case as a cross-body bag for travel and work, my best girlfriends love borrowing the case sans strap as a stylish clutch for a night on the town. While I do think a price tag on par with my suitcase seems awfully high, my friends remind me this is no different than their splurges on designer purses. —Paul Rubio, points and loyalty special correspondent
- Buy now: $22, amazon.com
It’s not glamorous, fancy, or stylish, but this small piece of travel gear feels like a hack to make flying much more comfortable. I’m 4’11” on a good day and that means that even when my feet rest flat on the floor (and they don’t always), the bottom of the seat digs into my thighs and causes my legs to fall asleep. In addition to wearing compression socks, obvi, I now take this little footrest contraption on my long flights. Picture a big looped strap; at the bottom is a wide, thick, hard-plastic rectangle covered in memory foam. The strap hangs over the tray table (which can be open or closed) and then I prop my feet up onto the memory foam section. The hard plastic keeps the footrest open (rather than folding up from the weight of my feet), and I can easily adjust the length of the strap so that my feet float lower or higher depending on what’s most comfortable at the moment. I learned about the footrest from a stranger in a middle seat earlier in the year—she swore by it. I never got her name, but I am indebted to her. And so are my legs. —Billie Cohen, executive editor
Allbirds Wool Runner 2 Sneakers
There are just some products that the Internet and podcasts and Instagram ads really want me to buy, and I always resist. This year, I finally gave in and bought a pair of Allbird sneakers, and they actually live up to the hype: The Merino wool makes them surprisingly warm in the winter, the bouncy soles are great support for urban exploration, and they’re actually as water-resistant as advertised. I went with a black-on-black design and though they’re far from dressy, they’re also unshowy enough that you could wear them into a wine bar or a nice-ish restaurant without anyone batting an eye—or frankly even noticing them. I’ve watched enough seasons of Project Runway to know the power of a little black dress that can go from day to night, and these are stealthily the sneaker equivalent. —Nicholas DeRenzo, contributing editor
The Pluto Pod Travel Pillow
- Buy now: $145, plutopillow.com
As a person who has trouble falling asleep in a normal bed, I can count the times I’ve managed to catch a snooze on a plane on one hand. I’ve tried and experimented with (seemingly) every type of travel pillow that’s out there, from hidden internal neck support pillows to ergonomic memory foam contraptions that are supposed to keep your head still and rigid, like a neck brace. But I finally found one that withstood the ultimate test: On a recent flight from Taiwan to the United States, I was able to catch a solid eight hours of sleep with the Pluto Pod while sitting in the middle (that’s right, the middle) seat.
Like other travel pillows, the Pluto Pod has a snug, wraparound neck component. But what distinguishes it is its pillowy, black-out hood element with a built-in eye mask. Sure, this helmet-like look may draw curious looks from fellow passengers, but it’s a small price to pay for protection from those glaring overhead lights. (I find it works best in combination with a traditional eye mask, but I’m extremely sensitive to light.)
As an added bonus, the Pluto Pod also folds up compactly into itself, making it easy to travel with. Simply roll up the hood portion of the pod, fold in the arms of the neck portion, and use the snaps to secure it to your luggage handle. And when it gets dirty, the Pluto Pod can be easily disassembled and the outer fabric thrown into the wash on a cold cycle. —Mae Hamilton, associate editor
Yeti Rambler 12-Oz. Colster Can Cooler
- Buy now: $25, yeti.com
On long, hot California family road trips, the kind where you need a bevy of snacks and drinks to keep everyone in the car quiet and happy, I love my Yeti can insulator. It fits around the most common size of can, whether you’re into LaCroix, Coke, or Spindrift, and slips easily into the car’s drink holder. It keeps drinks cool seemingly forever, looks great, withstands any number of drops on the ground, and can be thrown in the dishwasher when you get home. It also has a clever little screw-on ring to keep the can snug and safe inside. It’s an essential companion at the beach, in hot tubs, and on boats, too. Mine is navy, but they currently have some cool limited-edition colors like Cosmic Lilac, Camp Green, and Rescue Red. —Tim Chester, deputy editor
Purist 10-Oz. Maker Mug
- Buy now: $38, rei.com
With other travel coffee mugs, I’ve struggled with the lingering scent of the previous beverage as I switched between coffee, tea, water—and yes, wine—on the road. Earlier this year, I invested in this Purist Maker Mug, which looks like other stainless steel bottles but is lined with an ultra-thin layer of nonporous glass that allows for even the most pungent beverages to wash right off. This 10-ounce model comes with a leakproof scope top that allows for sipping from any side, so I don’t have to worry about spills. —L.M.