Since I travel to at least 20 countries and log 150,000 miles each year, people always ask what products and gadgets I travel with. So, this holiday season, if you're shopping for a frequent flier or looking for ideas to add to your own Christmas wish list, check out these great gift ideas.
NOISE-CANCELING HEADSETS The most seasoned travelers carry noise-canceling headsets. Why? Because they block out the annoying airplane hum and, most important, muffle the sound of crying babies. Bose is the industry leader but they're also the most expensive at $300 a pop. There are less expensive ones, like Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 QuietPoint headphones, available at Amazon.com for $79.
Travel Journal: The moment I take my seat, I open up my black leather travel journal and write down my destination, the date, the airline, the type of plane, seat number, the listed departure time, the actual departure time, flight time, and miles. I know it's kind of Rain Man-esque of me, but I used to do it back when I was afraid to fly, to focus my mind on something other than, well, flying. And now it helps me with my story details. I also jot down what I did, where I ate, how much I spent, transportation modes, weather and so on. And on the last page, I put stamps of all the countries I visit. You can get a journal like the one I use online at Graphic Image or at Barney's New York ($55).
Wireless Card: This is perfect for Internet junkies like me who don't want to pay the outrageous broadband fees in hotels or $9.99 for just an hour's worth of Wi-Fi in an airport. Most of the cell phone providers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon) offer them but they come with long contracts. To avoid that and still fulfill your need for speed on the information highway, check out RovAir. They target the occasional business traveler, and just like the other cards, their service is good for Internet access wherever domestic cell service is available. Renters get a wireless card from either Sprint or Verizon and prices vary from $5.95 per day (for 30-60 days) to $14.95 per day (for 3-6 days).
Mini Surge Protector: I bring Belkin's Mini Surge Protector whenever I travel overseas or go on a cruise since most of those rooms don't have multiple outlets; this way I don't have to bring a pocket of electrical adapters, just a universal one. Belkin's three-outlet surge protector and built-in two-port USB charger allows me to power up and/or charge my laptop, camera, cell phone, iPod -- all at one time. It weighs less than seven ounces and is about five inches long. Not only is this much smaller than the power strips you normally find in stores, but it doesn't come with a clumsy cord.
International Electrical Adapter: With the International Electrical Adapter, you won't need to keep a bag full of adapters for every country you're traveling to. The International Electrical Adapter has four different electrical adapters built into the surge protector and it works almost everywhere. It's also small and lightweight. I bought mine at Radio Shack for around $24 but I see them on Amazon.com for under $4.
Small Laptop: People are always surprised to learn that I only have one computer, but I've always operated that way. It used to be an oversized laptop that was a huge pain to lug around in my carry-on and most of the time, there wasn't enough room to work in coach. If you want more functions than a netbook, then look into computers from Toshiba. I have a Toshiba Portege R600-S4211, which is the same size as a single sheet of legal size paper and weighs under two and a half pounds so it's perfect for travel. Additionally, I can still get XP instead of Vista and it has all the old amenities my other laptop had, including a DVD player.
Extra Laptop Battery: If your loved one is always complaining that their battery died before their flight landed, then find out what kind of laptop they have and buy them an extra battery. It makes all the difference in the world, especially on long flights that don't have power ports.
3M Privacy Shield: I can't believe more business travelers don't have a privacy shield ($55). This allows me to work on my laptop on planes and in cafés without having to worry about seatmates or passersby peeking over my shoulder and reading my personal information. 3M recently came out with a new version that is clearer, and now instead of those wandering eyes seeing a black screen, they see gold.
External Hard Drive: I keep external hard drives all around the country since most of my life is documented digitally. Plus, I always carry a lightweight one in my bag so I can download the photos and videos from my trip while I'm still away and keep it in a separate location, so if -- God forbid -- my computer gets stolen, I still have my pictures, emails, and banking backed up. Seagate's 320 GB hard drive costs $59.
Ear Plugs & Eye Mask: I never, ever leave home without earplugs and an eye mask. I can't sleep on planes without either and sometimes they come in handy if my hotel room is loud or if it doesn't have blackout curtains. I don't like the cheap scratchy eye masks that the international airlines tend to pass out; I'd recommend spending $10 or less to buy a fluffy Lewis N. Clark one that will make you look silly but feel fresh. They're available on Amazon.com and in most travel stores.
Antibacterial Wipes: I have a bag full of individual packets of antibacterial wipes ($3) that I get from Target or CVS. They are the best way to prevent sickness, besides washing your hands often and keeping your fingers away from your face. It takes less than a minute to use antibacterial wipes to disinfect your airline seat, hotel room, rental car, etc. Just wipe down everything you're going to touch: seatbelt, tray table, remote controls, steering wheel, handles and light switches, etc.
Jacket With Hidden Pockets: Someone I know was recently mugged in Barcelona. The incident made me look into travel gear that conceals valuables. I found that there's nothing better or more fashionable to keep your valuables hidden away in than the Scottevest clothing line. Their clothes are designed for both men and women and their state-of-the-art website makes it easy to peruse and choose which products fit you best. No wonder so many celebrities wear them. Most jackets have removable sleeves so they turn into vests and all of them, including the pants, have multiple pockets. And I'm talking multiple ... as in between 13 and 52 pockets! That's right! Imagine going through airport security without a bag? With Scottevest, you'll basically be wearing your carry-on.
Camera: No matter if you travel once a week or once a year, it's always a good idea to carry a good camera in your bag. I invested in a Nikon D90 ($895) which takes incredible pictures and HD video. But there are plenty of cheaper options on the market including underwater cameras, which are perfect for those tropical vacations. If you just like to take video, look into getting The Flip. The Flip is perfect for those who don't want to fork over a huge chunk of change and/or want the simplest video camera ever. It's a little device that shoots nothing but video and is so easy to use, even my father can figure it out. Prices range from $149.99 to $249.99.
Smartphone: If you're walking around with one of those ancient cell phones that do nothing but call and text, then it's time to get connected with the 21st century. A smartphone is the only way to travel as you can stay current with emails, surf the net to find information and share photos and videos. I use a Blackberry but an iPhone or Android deviceare just as good. It all depends on your needs. TIP: If you are going out of the country be sure to get an international travel plan before leaving.
iPod: If you don't have a smartphone then you'll want to at least get an iPod. Sometimes the noise cancelation headsets aren't good enough to drown out an out of control screaming baby so when that happens, it's time to turn on the music. iPods come in all shapes and sizes and you can also watch videos on them so you will never be bored on a flight.
Box of Chocolates: It doesn't matter which brand of chocolates you buy; Godiva is always better than Hershey, but the latter will do. Remember, it's the thought that counts and giving a treat to the gate agents or the flight attendants goes a long way. They can make or break your trip.
So there you have it! If you ever take a peek into my carry-on bag you'll be sure to find all of the above - and then some! But for now, these 16 products are sure to keep practically any traveler happy.
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