Traveling can be more convenient and enjoyable with the right phone at your side. Here are CNET's top picks for the best travel phones of 2023.
Updated Nov. 16, 2023 5:00 a.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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Sareena DayaramSenior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Are you looking for a new phone to accompany you on a trip or your daily adventures?
From the brand-new iPhone 15 lineup to the foldable Galaxy Z Fold 5, there's no shortage of options for smartphone shoppers hunting for the perfect travel companion. But with so many options, figuring out which one is actually best for your needs can be less than straightforward. Do you want an all-round travel phone? Or is the camera the most important factor for you? Perhaps you value durability the most? Everyone has their own sets of needs and criteria.
To simplify the decision, we've rounded up our top picks for the best travel phone of 2023 across various categories. Each phone on this list has been thoroughly reviewed and tested, and you'll find iPhone and Android options that fit different needs and different budgets.
Some key criteria for a solid travel phone include long battery life, water and dust protection, multiple SIM card support and versatile cameras for capturing those special moments. We believe these features are important for travelers who need a phone that can withstand different environments and situations while still providing them with the necessary tools to navigate, communicate and document.
What's the best travel phone for most people?
Apple's iPhone 15 is our pick for the best travel smartphone for most people. For $799 (or less depending on your deals), you get one of the best camera systems money can buy with dust- and water-resistance, a decent battery life, a new USB-C port for convenient charging and eSIM support. The iPhone 15 supports eight eSIM cards or more making it convenient for travelers who need to use a temporary local eSIM in addition to their regular one.
On the Android side, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy S23, a fundamentally excellent phone. It has a long battery life, water- and dust-resistance and four cameras. One of the cameras has a telephoto lens for zooming into faraway subjects (handy if you spot a wild animal and don't want to get up close) or simply for capturing local foods you might be enjoying. The Galaxy S23 can accommodate two physical sim cards as well as eSIMs.
With the Dynamic Island, a USB-C port for more convenient charging and an upgraded camera with a higher resolution and a crisper zoom, the iPhone 15 is a significant upgrade for those with older iPhones. It feels like a scaled back version of the iPhone 14 Pro, making Apple's entry-level iPhone 15 feel like a bigger leap forward than last year's.
The iPhone 15 is available in two sizes. If you're looking for something on the small side there's the 6.1-inch iPhone 15. But if you value a big screen there's the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Plus. They run on the A16 Bionic chip which should bring notable performance upgrades to those who've had an iPhone that's now several years old. These phones also have Apple's second-gen ultrawideband chip, enabling a new feature that makes it easier to find friends or family members in a crowd. This will definitely help when traveling to an unfamiliar locale.
Android fans looking for a petite phone for on the go don't have much to choose from. But the $800 Galaxy S23 and its 6.1-inch display provides a compelling option for those who want a phone that feels compact but still provides enough screen space.
The Galaxy S23 comes with routine upgrades like a fresh processor (a version of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 that's been optimized for Samsung's phones), a slightly refined design and a high-resolution selfie camera. But it's the Galaxy S23's larger battery that makes it worth recommending. Read our Samsung Galaxy S23 review.
After taking a big leap forward in 2023, the $499 Google Pixel 7A is our top pick for a travel phone that won't break the bank. Since it runs on the same Tensor G2 chipset as the Pixel 7, it has many of the same photo editing and language translation features which could come in handy during your travels. Apart from that, the Pixel 7A's 64-megapixel takes great photos that rival the Pixel 7's quality. The Pixel 7A is also durable with an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance and dependable battery life that lasts you a full day on just a single charge. Here's our full Google Pixel 7A review in case you want more information.
We chose Google's budget phone over Apple's cheaper iPhone SE since it has more cameras and a larger screen among other features, which should make navigation and watching your shows on the go a more pleasant experience. If you get the 7A on GoogleFi, Google's cellular service, you also get benefits such as no roaming fees when traveling internationally.
Many of the same features as the Pixel 7 at a cheaper price
IP67 rating for water and dust resistance
Screen still looks dim outdoors
Only three generations of Android OS updates less than competitors
With its souped up AI features, we recommend the $699 Pixel 8 if you want to travel and create content for the 'gram. Apart from its slim design, durability rating, and dependable battery life, it can also capture solid night time images and has a suite of editing tools to help you take the best possible photos. Best Take, for instance, allows you to take a few consecutive photos of a person or group of people, and then swap out a person's head with a different version from another image from the series to get their best facial expression. On the video side, there's Audio Eraser, among other tools, is another useful feature for video that helps you remove unwanted noise from the background.
Although flip phones aren't necessarily the ideal choice for traveling (due to subpar durability and cameras), if you're dead set on taking one along with you, then bring along Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 5. Flip phones definitely win in the portability category. If that's your main consideration and if you're not fussed about taking the best possible photos for instance, the supremely portable and lightweight Galaxy Z Flip 5 could be a good option. However, at $1,000 it doesn't come cheap, so make sure to get a case before you venture off into a new locale.
Expensive compared to travel phone rivals, the iPhone 15 and Galaxy S23
Cameras and durability are subpar compared to slab phone counterparts
Show expert takeShow less
Other travel phones we tested
The iPhone SE 2022 is also a worthy contender for a budget-friendly travel phone. It has a smaller 4.7-inch screen and just one rear camera, but you get Apple's A15 Bionic chip and 5G support, for $429.
The $600 Galaxy S23 FE is an solid phone that gets you access to Samsung's higher-end features without the higher price.
How to buy a new travel phone
Look for local SIM and eSIM cards: Some countries might not have a roaming agreement with your carrier, in which case opt for buying a local SIM card or eSIM. Check with your carrier before you travel and look into what's offered at your destination.
Consider last year's models: When a new phone gets launched, stores and carriers discount their older phones to sell off existing stock.
Buy a case and screen protector: Phones sold today are more durable than ones from even a few years ago. It's a good idea to protect your phone with a case when you travel because if you damage it, you might not have any option to get it repaired quickly.
How we test phones
We test every phone in real-world scenarios, focusing on its features, design, performance, cameras, battery life and overall value. We document our findings in an initial review that is periodically updated when there are new software updates, or to compare it against new phones from competitors such as Apple, Samsung, Google and OnePlus.
Photography is a major focus for most phones these days, so we take pictures and videos of various subjects in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. We try out any new camera modes, such as Action mode that debuted with the iPhone 14 line, or the Unblur photo tool that launched with the Google Pixel 7 series.
Battery testing is conducted in a variety of ways. We assess how long a phone lasts during a typical day of use and note how it performs during more focused sessions of video calls, media streaming and gaming. We also conduct a video playback test, as a simple, replicable measure of pure battery life, which isn't always included in the initial review but sometimes added later in an update.
We use benchmarking apps to measure each phone's performance, alongside our own anecdotal experiences using the phone for our review. Of note are how graphics and animations look. Are they smooth? Or do they lag or stutter? We also look at how quickly the phone switches between horizontal and vertical orientations, and how fast the camera app opens and is ready to take a photo.
We perform processor-heavy tasks like editing photos, exporting videos and playing games. We evaluate whether a newer version of a particular phone includes enough features to make it worth upgrading from older models.