The Best Travel Watches at Every Budget

And yes, we're aware you don't actually need one. But we still think you should get one.

January 5, 2023 11:15 am
The Best Travel Watches at Every Budget
Courtesy of brands/Getty Images

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, shall we? You don’t really need a dedicated travel watch. 

Actually, scratch that: You don’t really need a watch at all. Your phone tells the time for you, and it’s on your person at all times. (Except perhaps while swimming. Don’t take your phone swimming.)

But we’re not here to point out the obvious to the detriment of fun. (Also — watches are dope.)

Historically, however, there’s certainly a precedent for a dedicated traveler’s watch, which we’ll get to in a moment. Also, travel is a broad category — it might include a relaxing trip to a tropical, oceanside locale, or it might be an adventurous romp up a mountain, or it might be to a busy city for a series of meetings. In each case, a different type of watch fits the proverbial bill better. (Or, alternatively, there are a few watches that work well in all of these situations. Stay tuned for our take on that type of watch.)

What we’re going to do here is present you with a range of horological options that are particularly well suited for different types of travel, as well as what to look for in a potential travel watch. Hopefully one (or more) of these timepieces catches your eye and integrates well into your lifestyle — and if not, maybe you’ll get some ideas about other types of watches that will better suit your particular travel needs.

But first, let’s consider some terminology…

Travel Watch Terms

GMT: For “Greenwich Mean Time,” a “GMT” watch is one that displays a second time zone, generally via the addition of a fourth hand and a 24-hour bezel. 1954’s Rolex GMT-Master reference 6542 — which was developed so that Pan Am air crews could keep track of both local and GMT time while in flight — is generally considered the progenitor of the contemporary GMT watch.

“Caller” GMT: A term from veteran watch journalist James Stacey referring to a GMT in which the GMT hand is independently adjustable. This system makes it a cinch to track a second time zone, but by design, makes it less simple to quickly adjust the local time. (Hence “caller,” i.e, keeping track of someone else’s time zone, to which you are going to place a call.) 

“Flyer” GMT: Stacey’s term for a GMT in which the local hour hand is independently adjustable — such as that of a Rolex GMT-Master II. This system makes it easy to change the local time, hence “flyer” — when one touches down in a new time zone, one can quickly and easily make the adjustment. (This system is sometimes referred to as a “true GMT.”)

World Timer: A type of watch that displays the time — generally via a rotating bezel, though many different types exist — in multiple cities around the world simultaneously. These can be mechanical or digital.

12-Hour Bezel: A rotating bezel inscribed with numbers 1-12 that allows the wearer to calculate time in a second time zone by simple offset. (For example, if one is in Los Angeles and wants to know the time in New York, moving the bezel three clicks to the right, so that “3” is displayed above the watch’s 12 o’clock index, will do the trick.) 

Water Resistance: The ability to withstand immersion in water is important in a travel watch. To that end: ISO 6245 is a standard for dive watches specifying 100m of water resistance, while ISO 22810 is a much vaguer standard that doesn’t specify a particular depth rating. If you’re going to be spending time in the watch with your watch, we recommend one that adheres to the ISO 6245 standard and is water resistant to at least 100m. 

Quartz Watch: A watch powered by a battery. Why do we bring this up? In particular situations, it may prove advantageous to travel with an inexpensive backup watch — especially if you’re traveling somewhere remote, or doing something particularly adventurous. A trusty, affordable Casio, for example, is a perfect quartz-powered backup. 

Great Travel Watches


The Classic Option: Rolex GMT-Master II

When someone thinks of a “travel watch,” this is often the one that comes to mind. Since 1954, the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II have captured the imagination of the public, and have been seen on famous wrists the world over. The latest version boasts a bulletproof automatic movement, an independently adjustable local hour hand, a 24-hour Cerachrom bezel, and multiple color options, including classic “Pepsi” (blue and red) and other configurations. (It even comes in a special “left-handed” green-and-black version.) Developed for PanAM air crews, the GMT-Master II makes it a cinch to track local and home time — plus it boasts 100m of water resistance, and is built like a tank. Its one downside? Everyone knows what a GMT-Master is, making it a prime candidate for theft. 

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Rolex Calibre 3285
  • Travel Features: GMT 

The Baron/Baroness-of-Industry Option: Patek Philippe 5231G-001 World Timer 

In the 1930s, Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier developed a mechanism that tracked the time in various cities around the world simultaneously. This “world time” mechanism was subsequently developed by several different prominent watch companies, none more famous or prestigious among them than Patek Philippe. In the early 1940s, the maison debuted the reference 1415, which included a spectacular cloisonné enamel dial. Today, the reference 5231G-001 builds upon the legacy of this famously complicated travel watch, and includes a Grand Feu cloisonné enamel depiction of Oceania and Southeast Asia housed in a white gold case and powered by an in-house movement with a 24-hour ring and 24-city ring. Certainly this is not a timepiece to climb a mountain or take SCUBA diving — but if you happen to tool around the world in a G650, this is probably the watch for you! 

  • Diameter: 38.5
  • Water Resistance: 30m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Patek Philippe Caliber 240 HU
  • Travel Features: World time

The Beat-the-Hell-Out-of-It Option: Casio World Time AE1200

Looking for something a bit more down to Earth? Look no further than this handy digital world timer from Casio. Available in several configurations and colors, each is less than the cost of a pizza and beers. Of course, being a Casio watch, it’s packed with more functionality than you can shake a stick at, including alarms, stopwatches, a calendar, timers, etc. But the most salient feature for world travelers is of course the world time indicator, which takes the form of the time on the main LCD screen in addition to a map-shaped LCD indicator that highlights your current time zone. Pretty damn cool for under $30! Additionally, you’re getting 100m of water resistance and some pretty great shock resistance, to boot. (I’ve got a journalist friend who’s worn one of these things for years while riding motorcycles at high speed in dangerous situations. He swears by his.)

  • Diameter: 42.1mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Winding: Quartz
  • Movement: Casio quartz 
  • Travel Features: World time, multiple alarms, calendar, stopwatches, etc.

The Adventurer’s Travel Watch: Tudor Black Bay Pro

Rolex’s sister company has been hitting it out of the park with its watch releases for the better part of a decade now. One of its latest, the Tudor Black Bay Pro, combines features and aesthetics from multiple Tudor and Rolex timepieces into a highly functional tool watch that’s simply impossible to argue with. Well sized and comfortable at 39mm wide, it packs an in-house “flyer”-style GMT movement, multiple strap options (which include an awesome, riveted steel bracelet), 200m of water resistance, and an impressive “weekend-proof” 70-hour power reserve. A bit thick at roughly 14.6mm tall, it nevertheless wears beautifully, and manages to straddle the line between luxury product and function-first, military-grade hardware. TL;DR — this could be a one-and-done travel watch, or one-and-done watch, period

  • Diameter: 39mm
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Tudor Calibre MT5652 
  • Travel Features: GMT 

The Affordable World Timer: Zodiac Super Sea Wolf ‘Pan Am’ World Time GMT 

Many world timers work on a similar principle as that of a GMT-equipped watch: a fourth hand indicates a second time zone as read against a 24-hour ring or bezel, but is also accompanied by a 24-city ring, allowing one to reference the time in 24 locations simultaneously. This handsome tribute to Pan Am from Zodiac is an outgrowth of that company’s world timers from the 1960s — housed in a contemporary-feeling 40mm case and paired to a killer “rivet-style” stainless steel bracelet, it boasts a Swiss-made automatic movement, 200m of water resistance, and gorgeous looks, but comes in under the $2,000 mark. (How does Zodiac manage this, you might ask? The brand is currently owned by Fossil, the enormous American watch company.) Looking for something that works just as well under the water as it does out to dinner? Here you go!

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Water Resistance: 200m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Soprod C125
  • Travel Features: World timer 

The Watch Guy/Gal’s Travel Watch: Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante 

If you’re really into the nerdy weeds of haute horlogerie, there are fewer more attractive propositions than the new Tonda PF GMT Rapprapante from Parmigiani Fleurier. What looks at first glance like a simple — albeit highly futuristic and elegant — time-only watch has a trick up its stainless steel sleeve: engage the pusher at 8 o’clock, and the white gold hour hand begins to jump in one-hour increments, revealing a rose gold local hour hand beneath it. And presto: instant GMT! When you’re no longer traveling — or no longer have use for the travel functionality — simply depress the button on the watch’s crown, and the dual hours hands will line up with one another again. Simple, genius, and highly elegant, this watch is perfect for someone with an appreciation for the horologically avant garde. 

  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Water Resistance: 60m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Parmigiani Fleurier PF051
  • Travel Features: Flyback-style GMT (the world’s first!) 

The Ludicrously Affordable GMT: Seiko 5 Sports GMT

The modern Seiko 5 Sports family takes over from the recently departed SKX family of dive watches and builds upon the heritage of the Seiko 5 line, which has been around since the late 1960s. The new GMT model — available in several colorways — is simply a dream: Priced at $475, its automatic Seiko movement allows one to track a second time zone using a fourth hand, an inner 24-hour scale, and a rotating 24-hour bezel. But wait, there’s more: Because of the presence of both an inner 24-hour scale on the rehaut and a 24-hour bezel, it’s actually possible to track a third time zone without having to calculate any complicated hour offsets in yo’ brain. Add in the SKX’s awesome Jubilee-style bracelet, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a traveling value. 

  • Diameter: 42.5mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Seiko Caliber 4R34
  • Travel Features: GMT (three time zones) 

The Best Travel Watch for Techies: Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch was already an incredible travel timepiece before the Cupertino Fruit Co. debuted the new Ultra. But this thing is truly-next level — you can even SCUBA dive in it! Machined from titanium and boasting a dual-frequency GPS antenna, an 86-decibel emergency siren, dual speakers, the new Action Button, and much more, the Ultra is designed for adventure. Unlike the mechanical offerings listed earlier, this 100m-water resistant mini-computer includes access to countless apps, many of which are designed for travelers. In fact, considering its versatility, excellent design, and ease of integration into a digital life, we say that its $799 price tag is a true bargain. 

  • Diameter: 49mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Winding: Digital
  • Movement: Apple S8 dual-core processor 
  • Travel Features: Depth gauge; emergency siren; fitness tracking; apps galore 

The Best Travel Watch for Fitness Junkies: Suunto 9 Peak Pro

Suunto has long been a favorite of hikers, runners, divers and adventurers in general. Though the Finnish brand offers numerous products specific to different types of sports, its 9 Peak Pro is well suited to travel given its more compact dimensions (43mm x 10.8mm) and wide feature set. Boasting a super-fast interface powered by an advanced chipset, rugged construction, 100m of water resistance, and proprietary fitness apps, the 9 Peak Pro’s battery will hold a charge for 40 hours in GPS mode, or an incredible 21 days in standard mode. So whether you’re off-grid adventuring, navigating an unfamiliar town halfway across the world, or exercising in a hotel gym, this is a watch that will rise to the occasion. (An added bonus? It’s available in numerous colors, including an all-black version.)

  • Diameter: 43mm
  • Water Resistance: 100m
  • Winding: Digital
  • Movement: Suunto processor 
  • Travel Features: Excellent battery life, built-in fitness apps, advanced GPS, depth meter
Monta Watch

The Perfect-for-Business-Travel Option: Monta Atlas 

Ever since this thin, unobtrusive GMT watch came out in 2019, it’s topped lists of the best travel timepieces available. Why? It integrates many of the features that make a watch wearable in any situation — good looks, an awesome bracelet, a comfortable case, excellent proportions, wonderful build quality — and simply adds GMT functionality. The Atlas, which is available in several colors, can be worn with a suit and tie; can be worn in the ocean; can be worn exploring the farthest reaches of Scotland (as I have done with one), can be worn in (insert any situation here). Doing away with a rotating bezel and placing the 24-hour scale on the rehaut makes for a dresser appearance, and with its thin case depth of just 10.2mm, there’s no reason why you couldn’t make one your everyday watch. 

  • Diameter: 38.5mm
  • Water Resistance: 150m
  • Winding: Automatic 
  • Movement: Monta Caliber M-23 (Sellita SW330 base) 
  • Travel Features: GMT


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.