Finding the Right Travel Watch


I wear very little jewelry and, what I do wear, I wear for function, while respecting form. That said, I have worn a watch since I was a kid. For a long time, I struggled to find the right watch to meet my needs at home and while traveling. Now, it’s time to summarize my journey to find the best travel watch. Hopefully my struggles will help you!

First, a bit about my watch preferences: In the past, I have worn either dive watches or field watches. I like the look of an analog face. I typically buy watches with a glow-in-the-dark face. In terms of complications (the term for the little added bits of info on a watch face), I mainly just want the date.

Back in 2013, I got tired of my Luminox dive watch. While it looked great and functioned very well, it was a pain to have any work done on it. You had to send the watch to a particular service center, the only one in the country, to have it worked on, even to just replace the battery. While I loved the rotating bezel and the tritium gas illumination, it was just too much hassle.

Updated March 2019

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Field Watch

When I gave up on the Luminox watch, I bought a Citizen Eco-Drive field watch. I liked the look and I really liked the solar cell which recharges the watch’s battery. All in all, it is very good watch for the money and would be a low hassle device going forward.

Pros: Simple, lightweight, easy to ready, battery will last 10 years or longer, cost efficient, waterproof

Cons: No fitness or heart rate tracking, no notifications

Fitbit Surge

Fast forward to early 2015 and I was getting concerned about my health. I was spending a long time at work on a regular basis and I could feel my health was suffering. So, I decided to be proactive about getting in shape and bought a Fitbit Surge.

I bought the Fitbit, knowing Apple was coming out with a watch, but what I really wanted was a good fitness tracker with a heartbeat sensor and GPS. I wanted to be able to leave my phone at the condo and go for a walk and track my progress.

As a fitness tracker and basic watch, it was very good. While it was not as comfortable as my Citizen watch, it was reasonable for what it did. The charge would last me several days, depending on how much I used the GPS.

The watch face is somewhat customizable and is on (but not backlit) all the time.

The band, however, was not that durable. Three months after buying the Surge, the band started to tear. I contacted Fitbit customer service and they sent me a new one fairly quickly, without any hassle on my end.

Fast forward to July 2015, when I had my heart attack. It was a relatively minor, but it certainly changed my outlook on life and, suddenly, that heart rate sensor became a lot more important. Unfortunately, it also became a lot more inaccurate.

One of the things that affects the heart rate sensor is blood thinners, which I am on. Previously, I could typically count on the sensor to be about 90-95% accurate. On blood thinners, it was down to 75% and often would either display very funky readings (way too high or way too low) or, after a while, stop displaying the heart rate at all.

One of the things I figured out about the heart rate sensor was 1) it had to be cleaned fairly often due to sweat and grime building up on it and 2) the plastic cover for the sensor starting becoming more and more cloudy with age.

Another thing I was interested in from the Fitbit was sleep tracking. The Fitbit did a good job of automatically tracking my sleep, but, due to its bulk, was uncomfortable to wear to bed. The other flaw of the Surge was its band. The rubber watch band does not breath and, eventually, I started to get a bit of a rash.

After a while, I just started taking it off before I went to bed, thus negating one of the important features of the watch.

One other minor gripe about the Fitbit: Bonnie bought a Charge HR, a smaller tracker. The charging cables for the Surge and the Charge HR are different, meaning we had to travel with two chargers. Annoying.

The watch band again started to tear  and I decided that I would replace it when the band finally gave out. Between the band and the heart rate sensor, it seems the Fitbit Surge is only designed to last about a year before it needs replacing.

When it finally did wear out, I switched back to my Citizen watch until the Apple Watch arrived. I immediately missed the text and call notifications from the Surge. It was very nice to not feel like I had to carry my phone every where in the house.

Fitbit Surge Pros: Good fitness tracking for the price, moderate price, call and text notifications

Fitbit Surge Cons: No way to replace the band, band does not breathe, band wears out too quickly, device seems to be made to only last a year or so, not waterproof

Apple Watch

In the meantime, Apple had released the Apple Watch, released nylon bands for the watch and, finally, released a waterproof Apple Watch with GPS. I was sold.

I bought the space gray aluminum version of the Series 2 watch with the black nylon band. 

First, the band is great. I thought I would immediately replace it with a leather band, but the nylon is very comfortable and durable. But more importantly, I can replace the band at any time. I couldn’t on the Fitbit Surge. The new Fitbit Versa, yes.

As a fitness tracker, the Apple Watch is a bit different than Fitbit. Yes, it tracks steps, but active calorie burn interests me more. I set my active calorie burn at 750 calories, which is about double the default. When I take a five-mile walk, which would typically satisfy Fibit for the day, I still need to burn more calories according to the Apple Watch.

It also has reminders to stand up for at least a minute every hour of the day and to just breathe, which I like. I also like you can customize what information is displayed during exercise mode by exercise.

In terms of the heart rate sensor, I have found it sometimes cuts out, like the Fitbit did, when the sensor gets coated in sweat, but on the Apple Watch, the exterior is glass, not plastic, so it should not have a problem with getting cloudy.

In terms of the watch itself: it is great. There are several different faces you can choose from and you can create several variations of a particular face using different complications. I have one set up for work, which has my next calendar appointment easily viewable. I have one set up for home, which eliminates the calendar in favor of more detail on the weather and sunrise and sunset. There are so many possibilities. I have a couple set for travel… We will see which I end up liking better.

The biggest bonus to the Apple Watch is apps. There are all kinds of apps available for the watch. Most display simple information or notifications. Some allow you to really keep up with your life better.

The two I am most impressed with, thus far, are WaterMinder and Medisafe. WaterMinder simply allows a quick interface for me to record my water consumption and provides reminders to drink more water from time to time. In particular, I don’t drink as much water as I should on the weekends, so it is handy.

Medisafe is just a simple medication reminder, but it being on the Apple Watch is a lot better than just on my phone. I tend to ignore the phone’s vibrations at home, thinking all of my important notifications will come to my watch.

For travel, there are several good apps you can install. The Delta app will give you updates on your flight. The Hilton app will let you use your watch as a digital key. I am planning on taking a look at TripCase’s Apple Watch app to see how well it works. I also have iTranslate and Currency downloaded for my next international trip.

Admittedly, the navigation of bubbles of apps is a bit unwieldy. The watch does allow you to put your 10 most used apps in the dock for quick access, though. Additionally, the watch does have a bit of a learning curve. One of the first things you will want to do is turn off notifications for most of your apps and uninstall unnecessary apps.

One of my favorite apps on the Apple Watch is Apple Maps. The watch will vibrate to let you know when you should turn and which direction. I love using that with walking directions. I hate having to look down on my phone to make sure I am following the right path. Even when driving, the wrist notification is a nice reminder, in addition to the visual and auditory cues.

The two biggest drawbacks of the Apple Watch are its price and the fact you should charge it every night. I have found my watch still has around 50% of its battery at night if I don’t use GPS, so I am pretty sure I could get away with not charging it every day if I weren’t exercising. With GPS, I typically have 35-40% after 18 hours.

Apple Watch Pros: Very customizable, plenty of apps, replaceable bands along with a great woven nylon band, different (and dare I say better?) fitness metrics, swim-proof

Apple Watch Cons: Cost, must have an iPhone, generally have to recharge the device once a day, learning curve.

Bottom Line

Buying a watch is very much a personal decision, much like shoes. Everyone has different needs. My main conclusion from my multi-year watch saga: My needs have changed, therefore my choice in watch has changed. At first, a heart rate tracker was a luxury. Now, a necessity.  As the only thing I wear, jewelry-wise, other than my wedding ring, I want it to work for me.

Be sure to check out my review of using an Apple Watch for a travel watch here.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.

We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

A comparison between the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Surge, along with a Citizen Eco-Drive field watch to determine which is the best travel watch.
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