Smartphones have rapidly replaced many other gadgets for travelers, and as a result, have become as indispensable as a suitcase or spare pair of underwear on vacation.
Given we're taking them anywhere, are totally reliant on them and they cost anything up to $1000 to replace, though, we should really be taking much better care of our smartphones than we do. Protective cases are the simplest and cheapest way of keeping your phone safe and sound in even the most challenging travel conditions.
We've found the very best iPhone travel cases out there in 2016, all of which help keep water, sand, dirt and fumbling fingers from turning your dream vacation into an expensive nightmare. Note that listed cases are for the iPhone 6/6s, but many are available for other iPhone models as well.
Otterbox is a respected name in phone protection -- the company has been making rugged iPhone cases for years. There are several different models, but it's the Defender that's our pick for travelers.
Why? It's the only Otterbox case with three-layer protection, completely covering the phone to minimize damage no matter where it hits the ground.
As well as that drop protection, the case keeps dirt and dust at bay, and comes in a vast array of colors and styles. There's also a holster included in the packaging, which also doubles as a kickstand for watching movies on the plane.
The built-in screen protector ensure those inevitable scratches show up on the case, not the expensive phone glass -- although it's removable if you don't need it, or find it interferes with the touch screen.
It's a good compromise between super-thin cases that offer minimal drop protection, and the extreme versions that could handle being run over by a truck, but also weigh about as much as one.
The price has also dropped since the case was first released -- that, along with the solid one year warranty and reputation for quality customer service, was enough to push the Defender series over the line and make it our top overall pick.
If you want most of the protection with a little less weight and bulk, it's also worth checking out Otterbox's Commuter range.
Whether you're planning to spend time at the beach or swimming pool, or you're just concerned about getting caught in the rain with your expensive phone, a good waterproof case is an excellent travel investment.
Lifeproof has been making quality protective smartphone cases for years, and the Frē continues that trend. Unlike most of the competition, the Frē is slim and light enough to use as an everyday case, while still keeping the water out to a depth of over six feet for an hour. It'll also handle a drop of the same distance, and keep dust and dirt away from the sensitive internals of your phone.
Nobody wants to carry multiple phone cases around in their luggage, so being able to use this one case for most travel scenarios is a big benefit.
Ports are protected by flaps and screw-in plugs, while the screen and TouchID sensor remain sensitive to all but the lightest of touches.
The Frē comes in a wide range of colors, making it more appealing than the usual generic black options. Like most waterproof cases, there's a knack to getting it set up correctly, but the company includes instructions in the packaging and videos to help new users get the perfect fit.
All Lifeproof cases come with a one year warranty against defects but, as usual with waterproof cases, this doesn't cover the phone that's inside. As a result, if you plan to use your iPhone underwater, buy AppleCare+ or a similar warranty that covers liquid damage, just in case.
The big issue with most protective cases is that, well, they're big. Apple spends millions to shave a few fractions of an inch off the size of its latest model, only for a case to add it all back and then some.
The Cadabe Veil is smaller than almost any other case. At a mere 0.35mm (0.014") thick, the rubber frame is barely noticeable, so it doesn't detract from your phone's slim lines.
Despite its petite size, though, there are still tiny protective ridges above the screen and rear camera -- a nice touch, since they stop the glass from getting scratched when you place or drop the phone onto a flat surface.
Don't expect anything that thin to save your iPhone from being crushed or dropped from a significant height, though. It's clearly aimed at preventing scratches and scuffs, not being thrown down a mountainside.
Still, it's a lot more protection than having no case at all, and your phone will still fit just as easily in your hand and pocket as it did before. With a one-year warranty, a range of colors and a very affordable price, it's hard to go wrong with the Veil.
Of course, sometimes a little protection just isn't enough. If your vacation is of the adventurous kind, or you're just clumsy and prone to dropping things at the best of times, you need a case that is going to keep your phone safe no matter what gets thrown at it. Literally.
As the name suggests, the Ballistic Hardcore Tactical is a serious piece of kit. It's been drop-tested to 12 feet -- that's twice as much as most competing models -- and customers report being caught in rain storms and even dropping the phone in a lake, only for it to survive unscathed. We wouldn't recommend testing that last claim out, though -- while highly splash-resistant, the case isn't officially rated as waterproof..
Despite its bulk and protection, the case doesn't interfere with the TouchID sensor. The spring-loaded clip on the back keeps the phone locked firmly in place on a belt or waistband, meaning you can keep it accessible even if the extra size means it no longer fits in your pocket.
This case isn't for everyone, but if you need maximum protection for your iPhone without spending a fortune, the Ballistic Hardcore Tactical is our pick.
If you're prepared to sacrifice a little protection for a lot of battery life, without spending much money at all, take a look at Anker's Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case.
As the name suggests, it's quite svelte as far as battery cases go, adding around 2.5oz and a quarter-inch in bulk.
The biggest benefit, of course, is the extra time away from a power socket. The 2580mAh battery is bigger than the one in the phone itself, so you'll get around 120% more life out of your phone. That's more than enough to eliminate battery anxiety for all but the heaviest smartphone users, even on lengthy travel days.
When it comes to protection, you're not going to get waterproofing or keep your phone safe from extreme mistreatment with this case. The lip around the screen helps prevent screen breakage if you drop it, however, and the rubber enclosure keeps scratches at bay.
It's not the most beautiful of cases, but it's far from ugly. Let's go with "functional". It comes in any color you like, as long as it's black.
Plug in a standard micro-USB cable (there's a short one in the box if you need it), and both your phone and the case battery will charge up. Depending on what other gadgets you're carrying, that could mean one less cable to carry... or one more.
What's the best way of protecting your phone from getting damaged when you drop it? Not letting it hit the ground.
That's the approach that Kenu has been taking for years with its Highline range of iPhone leashes. The basic idea is simple: a coiled Kevlar tether attaches to both your phone and your person. If you drop your phone, rather than smashing on the ground, it'll merely swing a few times and come to rest somewhere around knee level.
While earlier versions attached directly to the charging port, more recent models include a clear polycarbonate case. This is a better approach, since it means your phone has some protection even when you're not using the tether.
We've tested an earlier version, and no matter how much hard we threw the phone, it never hit the ground, and the tether never came lose. Similarly, it'd be almost impossible to get pickpocketed when using this case.
The only downside is the need to remove the tether when you want to charge your phone. It's not a show-stopper, and unavoidable given the design, but it's a minor frustration nonetheless.
If you want to make sure you and your phone are never parted no matter where your travels take you, the Kenu Highline is the way to go.