Like many other things these days, travel can be expensive. And after dropping hundreds of dollars on plane tickets and hotel rooms to visit with friends and family this season, let’s face it… Chances are you won’t have a lot of money left floating around to spend on SkyMall fare like portable foot massagers and universal talking translators that will be met with confused glares from locals. (Who knew the difference between saying “where’s the bathroom” and “your sister is very lovely… for a Chihuahua” was just one misplaced syllable?)
But chin up – the good news is that there are still plenty of great gadgets that can make any road warrior’s life easier, and go for a song as well. Beyond the obligatory netbook (love the low cost, convenient styling and insane battery life on Asus’ 1000HE) and personal media player (iPod Touch, please), we humbly offer a few suggestions for the next carry-on-friendly gadgets on your list. Besides making your trips easier, they won’t tack much onto your expenses, leaving you a little extra cash for that Louvre admission, fancy meal, or hotel upgrade to the room with a view.
Frankly, we’re not sure why you would ever want to take gadgets on the road without one of these. An inverter converts the cigarette lighter in your car into a standard household outlet pumping out 120V of standard AC current, meaning you no longer need to keep a stable of expensive car chargers to power all your electronics in the car. Just use the home chargers you already own. This model delivers an impressive 175 watts (more than enough for most laptops) and includes a USB port for all the devices that charge directly off of them. Just leave the toaster at home.
Remove yourself from the hubbub of a frantic airport or alleviate the horror of a snoring hotel roommate with a nice pair of in-ear headphones, which will seal out the noise and put you in your own private amphitheater. These models don’t offer active noise cancellation like a bigger and pricier pair of cans would, but the included silicon ear tips form an excellent barrier to the outside world, and sound quality (especially the solid bass) is top-notch in this price category. The included tin makes a great protective case to stash them in before cramming them into a backpack, too.
Kodak Zx1, $150
Choosing between all the different cost-conscious handheld digital HD camcorders out there can be tricky considering the wealth of nearly identical models on offer, but we think Kodak’s Zx1 is ideal for the budget traveler. It’s $50 cheaper than the nearest competitor from Flip, uses standard SD cards for storage so you can share memory with a camera (and swap them out when you fill them), and runs on rechargeable AA batteries, so you can pop a new pair in and keep on shooting. Quality is also outstanding for the unit’s size, it’s dead-simple for even amateurs to use, and it will resist rain, snow sand and dirt, so a spill won’t prove fatal for all your recorded memories.
Finding the right balance of size and quality in a camera is a balancing act. Panasonic strikes a healthy balance between both factors in the FS7 though, which offers a respectable 10.1-megapixel sensor, 4x zoom, 2.7-inch LCD display, and optical image stabilization, all in a sturdy metal package you can drop into your back pocket. And for the price tag, you won’t be out a mint if it’s dropped or stolen, either.
We prefer the heavy-duty lithium-ion batteries inside Callpod’s Fueltank battery extender for mobile devices, but at $70, plus another $10 for each device adapter, it’s a bit spendy too. Kensington’s Rechargeable Pocket Booster instead pulls off the same trick for $25, channeling the power from two NiMH AAA batteries into a mini USB connector so you can nurse another three hours of talk time from your cell phone. You can also plug it into any powered USB jack (like the one on your laptop) to charge them back up, and remove the batteries to power other devices in a pinch.
QuikPod Pro+ Kit, $30
Tired of having to stop a sketchy-looking stranger and ask them to snap a photo for you every time you want to shoot a picture of yourself in a foreign destination? Try the QuickPod. This inexpensive collapsible arm fits any standard tripod fitting and gives you another 18 inches of reach to pose naturally, saving you the embarrassment of trying to communicate in what passes amongst clueless tourists the world over for sign language.
TomTom ONE 140, $180
A GPS navigation unit is a road trip essential, providing turn-by-turn directions to nearly any destination. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on one to stay on track. We’ve long recommended TomTom’s old ONE Third Edition, which can be had for around under $100, for buyers on a really strict budget. But at only about $80 more, the ONE 140 makes an upgrade worth considering. It includes an upgraded EasyMount cradle for keeping the device up on your windshield, advanced lane guidance to ease highway navigation, and IQ Routes for super-accurate drive-time estimates.
JanSport Double, $50
Most people immediately picture messenger-style bags when it comes to laptop storage, but we think backpacks are more practical for two reasons. For one, they’re just more comfortable over the long haul due to the better distribution of weight over two shoulders. What’s more, it’s also less obvious that you have hundreds of dollars of gadgetry inside, so you’re not inviting thieves to pull a snatch-and-grab. JanSport’s Double is one of the few options out there that will fit a full 17-inch notebook in its padded sleeve, while still leaving plenty of space left over for chargers, MP3 players, phones, and whatever other gizmos you care to fill it with. Oh, and clothes, if you must.
Given that you can easily spend $10 on an adapter that will only work in one country, spending $20 for one that works in 150 countries just seems like common sense. A series of slide-out prongs will allow you to plug in your electronics anywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe via a single pocket-friendly unit. Just keep in mind that different voltage standards in different countries mean you won’t be able to use every device you can plug in – usually just the ones with power transformers, like laptops and cell phones.
You don’t need to be a long-haul backpacker to appreciate this little electronic wonder. After all, just drinking tap water a few hundred miles south of the border can easily land you a nice case of Montezuma’s Revenge if you’re not careful. Swishing the SteriPEN around in water for under a minute will be enough for its UV light to kill off any viruses, bacteria or protozoa, rendering even contaminated water safe for drinking. We’ll toast to that.
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