Whether you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an epic road trip across the United States, or just a quiet weekend getaway, you’ll want the best camera to document your adventure. The best camera can elevate your photos and videos from the vacation with higher quality. It can also help you capture amazing slow-motion footage and, most especially, rugged waterproofing so your phone stays safely in your pocket. You don’t need to spend a fortune on high-end cameras either. Often a GoPro can do the trick.
I travel a lot, and I’ll be the first to admit I bring more camera gear than I need to. However, there are only a few I use all the time, and those are what I recommend here. One of them will probably be all you need for your next road trip.
You can’t go wrong with a GoPro. They have excellent image quality, are quite rugged and their app is pretty solid in letting you edit your photos and footage to look its best. The main reason I’m recommending the Hero 10 over one of the less expensive options is because of the Max Lens Mod. This lens swaps in and records an even wider angle of view. Plus, it improves the already excellent stabilization.
I’ve been using it not only to capture scenic vistas, but also as a dash camera, as you can see in the video below.
The newer GoPro Hero 11 has a few improvements, but for most people the Hero 10 will look pretty much the same and will save you some money.
Read our GoPro Hero 10 Black review.
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I’ve used 360 cameras for years. They’ve come a long way. This is the first I’d consider using without a backup action camera. 360 cameras capture everything in a sphere around the camera. Later, with the app, you can pick and choose what to show and how. So basically you record everything, and then crop to show just the interesting parts.
One of the coolest tricks a 360 camera can do is automatically remove the selfie stick, so it looks like you have a drone following you. For more, check out:
Insta360 X3 Action Cam Uses 5.7K 360 Video, AI Smarts to Get All the Social Shots.
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This is a unique and tiny action camera that I’ve been using a lot. It’s not really a main camera, but definitely an excellent secondary camera. It’s about the size of your thumb — and magnetic. You can hang it on your shirt while wearing an included magnetic pendant, or attach it to anything metal, or use one of the myriad clever mounts. The case that recharges and controls the camera even has a built-in tripod. The footage is wonderfully stabilized and looks far better than you’d expect for something so small.
Because of its size, it can record perspectives other cameras can’t, like the model train POV in the video below.
Read our Insta360 Go 2 review.
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For most people the GoPro Hero 10 Black is all the action camera they’ll need. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, the newer Hero 11 improves on the 10 in a few minor ways. For one, there’s a new image sensor. The primary difference is it’s more square. So if you often post vertical content for, say, TikTok or Instagram, but still want to be able to post standard horizontal content to YouTube, this allows you to more easily do both without a significant loss in quality.
You can read more about it here:
GoPro Hero 11 Black Hands-On: A Super-Sized Sensor Adds Value for Everyone.
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If you don’t want to invest in a new camera, or don’t want the bulk of one (fair), consider a gimbal. You can really improve the quality of your videos with a gimbal. They smooth out your hand’s movements while you’re walking around, and can do slick, professional-looking pans and tilts. They’re an absolute must-have if you’re primarily using your phone. I have the OM 3, but the 5 is the current model and is easier to connect to your phone.
Read our DJI OM 5 review.
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If you’re recording a lot of video, your camera and phone’s storage are going to fill up fast. Cloud storage is one option, but if you’re bringing a laptop, consider a tiny portable hard drive. I have one of these and they seem impossibly small for how much they can store. They’re also reasonably rugged.
Read our list of the best external hard drive and SSDs.
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I don’t have a strong recommendation for this one, other than to say selfie sticks are great (when you’re not in crowds, that is) and you should find one you like. Even I, who has what one friend describes as “freakishly long arms,” find great use in a selfie stick. They let me capture photos and videos that would be impossible any other way, especially with a 360 camera that automatically deletes the stick from the final image or video.
I recommend getting one with tripod-mount screws on both ends, which gives you more options on what you can mount and how you can mount the stick itself. Similarly, make sure you get one that can hold all your cameras and phones.
I find these to be super handy, though depending how you’re recording, it might not be. It’s a simple Bluetooth remote that lets you control when the camera starts and stops recording along with changing modes, settings, and so on. True, you can use the camera’s app on your phone instead, but I feel like I spend half my life trying to get cameras to connect to their apps, so sometimes a remote is easier. Sometimes the remote won’t connect either. It’s a hassle either way. Oh well.
Tripods and other mounts
One last thing. Tripods and mounts. You probably don’t need a full-size tripod, few people do. A small bendable model can be super handy though, letting you mount the camera to just about anything and get a great shot with you in it. I’ve had good luck with Joby GorillaPods. I have an older version of this one.
Also check out suction-cup and dash mounts. I have a tiny dashboard and tiny windshield, so it was a lot harder to find something that worked. So what I’m using probably won’t work for you. Generally I’d recommend mounting the camera as high as possible, if you can, for a better view.
I’ll end with my favorite, an antenna mount. Unscrew your antenna and install this mount. When paired with a 360 camera, it lets you get an exciting and unique view of your adventure. I got one of these and put a selfie stick on top of it, plus a 360 camera, to get the drone-like footage of me and my car in Grand Teton National Park. How well this works is going to depend on your particular vehicle, however.
Read more: Best Tripod for Photography and Video in 2023
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000-mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines and a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.