50 Greatest Travel Gadgets: The Good, the Bad and the … Sweet Jesus, WTF is That?
by Mike Richard | January, 2009
It’s that time of year, fellow flashpackers and gearhead travelers! Just in time for your belated holiday shopping, we’ve rounded up the fifty greatest travel gadgets of 2008. The greatest breakthroughs and most miserable failures – they’re all here. Some are merely concepts, while some are (frighteningly) real.
Like a traditional gift guide, we’ve broken each gadgety group down by personality type. For purely gratuitous purposes, let’s start with the ugly – the very, very ugly. Enjoy!
The SkyMall Catalog Addict
Admit it: the SkyMaul SkyMall Catalog is the most entertaining, unintentionally funny piece of in-flight reading material ever created. From solar electric scissors, to automatic pasta sauce stirrers, to that combination space pen/microwave/cat litter box cleaner your Uncle Earl had his eye on last year, it’s a nonstop consumer’s parade of nonsensical, made-for-TV crapware.
Topping our list of greatest travel gadget (blunders) this year are these gems, perfect for the SkyMall Catalog Addict on your wishlist:
#1: Lost in Space Head-brella
Yes, this is real. No, seriously. We couldn’t make this up if we tried.
#2: George Foreman USB iGrill
Download recipes, enter in the type of food, weight and desired degree of doneness, and the iGrill handles the rest. Did you know that a medium rare 1/4 lb. hamburger made from 80% lean beef takes 1 minute and 45 seconds less cook time than an identical patty made from 95% lean prime Black Angus? The iGrill does. As your meal cooks, the subtle glow from under the unit increases brightness and pulses faster until your meal is perfectly done.
Seriously? No, seriously? Do we even need to comment on this? (Via)
#3: Travel Humidifier
If you’re not Bubble Boy or an allergy sufferer who shouldn’t be leaving the house (and, in both cases, why are you leaving the house?), is a travel humidifier really necessary? Can you not survive a weekend in a hotel without perfectly crisp, 68.5% relative humidity air?
This ain’t your grandpappy’s travel mug. This isn’t just a “time mug”. Or “timemug”. Or even “time-mug”. It’s TimeMug. See how clever and unique those two capitalized words look together, without the space in the middle? Genius!
According to SkyMall.com, “TimeMug [is] the world’s first and only 100% dishwasher-safe, time telling drinkware” … and the perfect example of a gadget that just didn’t need to be invented. Gadling’s Mike Barish sums it up perfectly:
The TimeMug finally puts a clock face where you’ve always needed it: on the side of your insulated travel mug. How many times has this happened to you: You’re sipping your cup of coffee, realize you need to know the time, check your watch and spill your coffee all over your trousers? If you said, “at least seven times,” then I’m amazed that you have the motor skills to access this website. Regardless, who needs the time and their coffee separated? By combining their powers, there’s literally nothing that can stop you from being on-time and alert.
#5: The Ear Pressure Equalizer
The Ear Pressure Equalizer sucks air from the outer ear canal creating a slight vacuum which gently pushes the eardrum back into its original position.
Not having personally used this, I won’t comment on its effectiveness. But this reeks of another useless gadget that didn’t need to be invented. Not to mention the potential damage you could do to your hearing if you either use it wrong, or the alleged “gentle” eardrum sucking goes awry. (Via)
#6: Taxi Hailer Device
The Taxi Hailer is a device that helps you … er .. hail taxis. Right?
The site claims:
The most common method of hailing a taxi in the street is by raising a hand, however it only works if the driver sees you.
Okay, I’m with you so far.
Using a energy efficient super bright LED flashing light, the Taxi Hailer is an inexpensive, credit card size and a simple to operate product that will assist you in quickly hailing a taxi.
If only there was some ubiquitous, relatively inexpensive, credit card sized electronic device with a brightly lit screen that billions of people around the world already have? Hmm … hold on. It’ll come to me in a minute.
At $50,000, the 13-foot tall, Dutch-designed Treetent is no doubt the most expensive and useless camping device ever created. Plush with hardwood floors and a deluxe round mattress, even Paris Hilton wouldn’t bat her pretty little eyes at “roughing it” in this bad boy.
#8: Solar Powered Shaver
A solar powered shaver? Really? You’re man enough to be wandering the woods or some other far-flung locale without access to an electrical outlet. But you’re not man enough to do so without an electric razor? Pack a Mach 3 and be done with it, fella.
#9: iDive 300 Underwater iPod Case
If you’re looking for the ultimate weatherproof iPod case, look no further than the h20Audio’s iDive 300.
Originally marketed to diver’s battling countless hours of boredom in a decompression chamber, it’s also touted as “waterproof down to 300ft/90m underwater”. As a diver myself, I can honestly say that the last thing I want to be thinking about at 150 feet underwater is remembering the words to China Girl. (Via)
The Survivalist / Outdoorsman
#10: Emergency Cocoon Travel Shelter
In the event of an emergency, the Cocoon is designed to protect you in extreme environments. Just suspend it from a tree, rock face or anywhere off the ground, and get inside, where warming colors and materials retain your body heat while keeping the elements out.
This reminds me of those insane videos the U.S. government released during the cold war explaining how children need only hide under their school desks to avoid the fallout of a nuclear bomb attack. Just climb the nearest tree and quietly rock yourself to sleep in fetal position inside this day-glo orange survival womb while sucking your thumb. Trust us: everything will be juuust fiiiiine. (Via)
#11: Walking-Powered Backpack
At the moment, this backpack is only a concept, but a brilliant green one at that. Via Treehugger.com:
All that rubbing of your backpack straps on your shoulders may now be put to good use, thanks to straps made of piezoelectric fabric that can convert the friction on your shoulders to electric energy. If solar-powered bags aren’t your thing, engineers from Michigan Technological University, Arizona State University and NanoSonic Inc. have you covered, having developed a concept backpack that “harvests” the energy created by the friction of a bouncing backpack.
#12: GerberGear KICK Axe
#13: LIFESAVER 6000 Bottle
It seems every six months, portable water filtration devices improve substantially over the previous technology. At roughly $300 US, the LIFESAVER Bottle 6000 ain’t cheap, but with an insanely small filter size of just 15 nanometers, it’s also ludicrously effective. (Via)
#14: iStraw Emergency Water Filter
… and for the ultimate in portable water filtration devices, there’s iStraw – an ultra-portable (wait for it …) water filtration straw.
iStraw is suitable for personal use to help protect you, your family and friends against waterborne bacteria and protozoa that are present in the drinking water and ice of many countries abroad; helping to prevent illness, sickness and diarrhoea.
The iStraw means you don’t have to worry about using local tap water or ice cubes.
At roughly $40 US, it’s perhaps the most compact and affordable solution of its kind.
#15: HYmini Portable Power Generator
Sure, it looks a little bizarre, but the HYMini portable power solution is:
… a handheld, universal charger/adapter device that harnesses renewable wind power / solar power and conventional wall plug power to recharge almost all your 5V digital gadgets.
Though we haven’t field-tested it (yet), this could well be the perfect backpacker/camper’s on-the-go power solution.
#16: Sigg Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Plastic and Nalgene water bottles are so last year. Enter Swiss-engineered Sigg Stainless Steel water bottles. Priced between $15-30 (US), these environmentally friendly containers eliminate that funky, plastic taste often imparted by their plastic counterparts. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the potential dangers of Lexan, bisphenol A and other chemical plastics you can’t possibly pronounce.
#17: Lippi Selk Sleeping Bag
As positively ridiculous as the Lippi Selk Wearable Sleeping Bag/Suit looks, I have to admit it’s actually a pretty damn good idea. And judging by the fact that half their products are completely sold out, a good many other outdoor enthusiasts agree. (Via)
#18: Firefly Water Bottle Light
The $15 Firefly (without packaging) instantly turns your trusty Nalgene bottle into a camping lantern. I’ve used this on camping trips for two years and can’t recommend it more highly.
#19: LightCap 300 – Solar Powered LED Water Bottle / Lamp
Of course, if you really want to ramp it up, there’s always the SolLight LightCap 300. Like a Nalgene on steroids:
The LightCap is not only an unbreakable one-liter water bottle, it’s also a floating, water-tight storage container (cell phone, keys, camera, wallet), and the coolest solar-powered LED lantern you’ve ever used. Powered by clean, green solar, the lightweight cap will provide up to 6 hours of useful light with just an 8 hour charge of sunshine. Switch to the red LED for a vision-saving nightlight that will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.
Think of it as the Firefly’s, cooler, greener, older brother.
#20: Sonim Toughphone
Extreme weather? The line-up will be submersible and certified to withstand salt, fog, and humidity. Rock climbing? You won’t be afraid to lose your grip; the phones will withstand a 1.6-metre drop. Eco-friendly? Casing will be made of post-consumer plastic created mostly from recycled materials. They even managed to cram Bluetooth under the hood.
Minimalists love compact, lightweight, multi-functional gear that either pulls double duty (or quadruple duty like the iPhone 3G) or gets an old job done in a new and clever way (like the unbreakable, ultra-compact Squish-ware).
#21: Sheet, Shower and Shave
Not necessarily in that order. Nowadays its practically imperative to leave your liquids, gels and flowery scented (wo)man lotions at home. This includes shaving gel/cream. Enter the next step in solid travel: SpoonSisters.com’s Paper Shaving Cream travel sheets. At just $6 for a 30-pack, they’re a steal.
#22: Flip Video HDMino
The original Flip Mino camcorder was a big hit when it was released a couple of years ago, offering users a small and easy way to record their favorite memories. Evolution of the little recorder finds a sleeker, smaller model and records in full HD; enter the Flip MinoHD.
With recording resolution up to 720p and a full 4GB of internal memory there is no shortage of room for your own HD movies. All menu navigation takes place via touch-sensitive buttons and a USB connector and related software are included to help you to easily edit, save and upload your videos. (Via)
#23: Amazon Kindle eBook Reader
Naysayers will argue that paperback travel guides will never die. And perhaps they won’t. But for minimalist travelers, an eBook reader like the Amazon Kindle is no doubt the quickest, most effective way to save substantial weight and space in your pack. Imagine a travel guide for every country in the world in the palm of your hand.
#24: Coghlan’s LED Micro Lantern
At 2″ tall, this micro lantern from Coghlan is about as small a “lantern” as you’re going to find anywhere. It’s water resistant and reportedly illuminates anything in a 6.5 foot radius.
#25: Scott eVest: The Ultimate Travel Vest
No self-respecting flashpacker should travel without a Scott eVest. Seriously, look how happy and confident this guy is:
… more pockets, more style and more features than any other vest on the market. We’ve eliminated the traditional, clunky exterior pockets – not only do they look dorky, they reveal that you are carrying valuables. Our stealthy, streamlined Travel Vest is great looking and incredibly comfortable without drawing unwanted attention.
Short of lugging a garbage bag full of gear around with you, there’s no better way to keep your travel gadgets close to the … er … vest.
Or if you happen to be a flashpacker without any self-respect (or a man who’s very, very confident with his sexuality), there’s the Utili-Kilt.
If you’re a rugged traveler or just an outdoor enthusiast, we recommend Utilikit’s Survival model:
If you fend off crocodiles for a living, spend most of your time trapped on desert islands or are planning on climbing a few mountains over the summer, the Survival is the Utilikilt you’ve been dreaming of.
Requested by adventurer and tattoo historian Vince Hemingson and worn by the original “Survivor” contestant Richard Hatch (O.K., he was naked most of the time, but he totally wore it on TV), the Survival is the most advanced Utilikilt we offer. Whether you’re climbing a mountain, planning a three-week sojourn into the back woods or just looking for a way to carry 20 bottles of beer, the Survival is the kilt for you.
Regardless of what you think of it, passing through customs would be a breeze. Literally. Get it, guys? Because … you know … with the … alright, you got it.
#27: Apple iPhone 3G
I’m sure I’ll catch a fair amount of flak for recommending this one. Love it or hate it, no gadget combines more functionality, fun, flair and overall usefulness into a single package than Apple’s iPhone 3G. It’s an MP3 player, digital camera, GPS navigation device and … oh yeah … a phone. Not to mention the billion or so applications available allowing complete customization and flexibility (a few recommendations).
#28: Light My Fire Spork
Whether you’re camping or hoofing it around the world, sooner or later, you’re going to need eating utensils. What better utensil than a spork? At just $2.99US, the Light My Fire Spork is the perfect addition to your backpacking essentials list.
#30: Google Health
As the Google juggernaut moves towards total world domination, one little known free application currently on offer is Google Health. The ability to store all your critical medical and health records online, all in one place – for free – is a minimalist’s dream. And a conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare. As with any Google product, Google Health uses industry standard encryption to transmit and store your data.
#31: Whoomp! Earbud Enhancers
For flashpackers’ sake, most earbuds are (thankfully) small. But they’re also terrible at blocking out background noise. Comply’s Whoomp! Earbud Enhancers seek to remedy that. Tim Leffel of Practical Travel Gear notes:
Sure, those Bose noise-canceling headphones are nice, but they’re the size of a football helmet. I just stick these puppies over my iPod earbuds and suddenly everything sounds fantastic.
#32: Raveboy Leather Wrist Wallet
#33: Super Ultra-Portable Netbooks
Ultra, ultra-portable netbook laptops were all the rage in 2008 and it’s easy to see why. Insanely small form factors packed with some of the best and latest computing technology are a dream for minimalists. 2009 should see marked improvements in weight, battery life and tech. Hard pressed to pick a favorite, we’d choose the Asus Eee PC.
The Flashpacker / Traveling Professional
A vast subculture of permanently mobile/location-independent professionals is increasing in numbers around the world and with it, the demand for tough, no-nonsense, utilitarian gadgets.
The napBook is only a concept at the moment. It’s a little strange, a little quirky in a SkyMall kind of way, but it’s not such a bad idea.
#35: Chargepod – Uber Power Adapter
Flashpackers, initiate drooling sequence. At a mere 3-inches wide and compatible with over 1,000 popular mobile electronic devices, the Chargepod is a travel power adapter to end all power adapters. (Via)
Chargepod is a 6-way charging device that allows you to charge multiple cell phones, PDAs, headsets, and most other mobile electronics with a single power cord. Just pick out the manufacturer-specific adapters for your devices and throw away the dozens of power cords and wall warts that are cluttering your office and home. Chargepod uses voltage regulator technology and interchangeable power adapters to safely charge all of your mobile devices regardless of manufacturer or model.
#36: Waterproof SD Memory Card
Not quite as bulletproof, but rugged nonetheless, is Elecom’s New SDHC Waterproof Memory Card. Don’t let an inadvertent dip in the hotel hot tub ruin your last three weeks of travel photos. (Via)
#37: Nokia MD-8 Portable Audio System
Portable, travel speakers … well … suck. Not so with Nokia’s MD-8, which “are multi-compatible, so you can plug and play from more than your mobile. Battery-powered, slick design, clever cable management, and awesome audio.” (Via)
#38: RoboForm2Go Pro USB key
Perpetual vagabonds and location independent professionals often make their living online. That means a lot of website subscriptions and, thus, a lot of password and login info to remember. Enter the RoboForm2Go Pro USB key:
… a handy little device that stores all your passwords to all your favorite sites. Simply plug it into that computer at the cyber café, enter a singular password to unlock it, and bingo! your cache of cleverly chosen passwords automatically unlocks the sites you’re seeking to access.
#39: iHound Software: Track Your USB Device’s Every Move
Of course, should your USB device – MP3 player, flash drive, etc. – decide to “take a walk”, you’ll need a fast, convenient way to get it back. Enter iHound which:
… aims to make it easy to locate your items and report their theft if they’ve fallen into the wrong hands. The program places a small “MyPasswords” file that looks like a text document in a device’s root folder, and if that file is opened, the iHound website can report the approximate location, IP address, computer name, and more and print a formatted police report. (Via)
#40: Noon Solar Logan Bag
The problem with solar backpacks/laptop bags is they’re not 007 covert enough. You stick out like a sore, green thumb. Enter the Noon Solar Logan Bag:
Two sided design allows solar panel to face the sun or your body, side collar-stud closures, 3 interior zipper pockets – 1 for lithium-ion storage battery and electronics, leather zipper pulls, box pleat front pocket with pen holder, and antiqued brass hardware.
Plus, it just looks so very, very cool.
#41: Monster Outlets to Go
Perhaps the most frustrating part about traveling with so many electronic gadgets is the challenge of finding public outlets. Monster’s Outlets to Go Power Strip is the perfect work around for this problem. Tim Leffel of Practical Travel Gear notes:
With a compact, flat design, these outlet strips enable you to use your laptop, charge your phone, and still have one space to share with that guy walking around looking behind all the tables for an outlet. Or when you’re in a cheap hotel room that is stingy with the outlets (or hides them behind heavy furniture), this will save some crawling and cursing.
The 3-outlet model I tried out is a mere 8.9 inches (22.6 cm) and it wraps around itself for easy packing. All the 3-prong outlets lie flat, so it’s very compact and weighs about as much as your average cell phone.
If the inside of your travel gear bag looks like a bowl of overcooked pasta, whip that mass of power cables into shape. Enter the Cableyoyo: a simple, effective, cable-organizing device. And, at less than $5 (US), it’s a must-have for flashpackers.
The Cableyoyo’s cool design is ultra-thin so the cord cannot overlap when coiled. This neat coiling ensures that you can pack the most cord into the smallest amount of space and still keep it truly untangled and untwisted when extended. The ultra thin design also means it packs easily into those narrow pockets in a laptop bag or your pocket, with little bulging.
#43: Mobile Hotspot
Novatel’s new, ultra-thin MiFi Intelligent Mobile Hotspot lets you share a 3G broadband connection with anyone, anywhere. (Via)
#44: Flexible Skype Keyboard
#45: Flexible Jumpdrive
Forget lugging around multiple card readers and flash drives. IOGear‘s Flexible Jumpdrive is a:
5-n-1 Pocket Drive Reader/Writer [that] looks like your typical USB 2.0 flash drive, until you flip up the back flap and expose the hidden port. This is where you slide your Secure Digital (SD) or Multimedia Card (MMC) from your camera, PDA or MP3 player, or any other compatible electronic device.
Once the card is in the port you can transfer data or images to and from the card and your computer at speeds up to 480 mbs. There’s no driver necessary, and it works with both PC and Mac platforms. And swapping out cards eliminates the need for multiple flash drives. Great for inexpensive (and temporary) back up, or for taking large files along on business trips.
Via The Bachelor Guy
#46: Wi-Fi Range Extender
I was in a remote Alabama campground and their little access point was perhaps a few hundred feet away. With the internal Wi-Fi adapter in my Thinkpad (it’s Mac/PC compatible), no go. With the Wi-Fire aimed carefully I got a solid, workable signal. I just rotate it around until I get the best signal.
The Traveling Conspiracy Theorist
For that tin foil hat-wearing, conspiracy theory-loving “friend” of yours who can’t get far enough off the grid, there’s an endless parade of over-the-top personal security devices and gadgets.
#47: Counterfeit Cash Detector Keyring
If you’re the kind of traveler who thinks every tout and street vendor is out to get him, this compact UV counterfeit cash detector keyring might be for you.
… the UV Key Ring offers an easy to carry device for calling counterfeiters on the carpet. The miniature key ring has a lithium battery powered ultraviolet light. It’s ideal for joining your keys, detecting UV marks and identifying counterfeit currency and credit cards.
The UV Key Ring retails for approximately $10, but remember, lithium batteries are not cheap. However, if you find that you are living so many questionable currency exchange situations that you’re running through batteries at the speed of UV light, this little invention might just pay for itself in fake twenties and fifties.
#48: Foot-Powered Portable Power Source
If you’re a rubber tramping traveler or looking to get really off the grid, there’s Freeplay’s Weza Portable Energy Source. It’s a foot-powered device, offering “absolute independence from all conventional power sources – no grid or batteries required ever.” Take that, electric company! (Via)
#49: Stainless Steel RFID Blocking Passport Sleeve
Stop the gub’mint from stealing all your personal data and such with this Stainless Steel RFID-Blocking Passport Sleeve. Plus, you can use it to shield your noggin’ from the mind control rays of hovering black helicopters.
#50: IronKey Military Strength Flash Drives
We could easily file this under “essentials for traveling professionals” and maybe we should. Flash drives are such a critically important tool in the flashpacker’s arsenal, that only the best, most reliable and secure drive will do. Up to $250 for the 8GB model but worth every penny, the IronKey gets the job done:
Like you, the US Military wanted portable but secure storage, and the guys at IronKey stepped up. They’ve developed the perfect solution that’s one-part thumb-drive, and two parts Mission: Impossible. Their thumb drives hold up to 8 Gigabytes of data, but includes a hardware encryption chip that scrambles the data so as to be completely unreadable without a password.
Passwords can be hacked, but not the IronKey. It’s built to withstand attacks both virtual and physical. 10 incorrect password attempts, and the encryption chip self-destructs, making the contents of the flash drive totally unreadable. The contents of the drive are filled with epoxy, so if a hacker tries to physically access the chips, he’d more likely damage them instead. Even if he did get access to the memory chips, they’d be worthless without the encryption chip. Electron-shielded, even a scanning electron microscope can’t get inside.
What’s your pick for Greatest Travel Gadget of 2008? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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About the Author
Vagabondish founding editor, Mike Richard, is a Rhode Island native, professional web designer and travel junkie with an unhealthy addiction to backpacking, hiking and seeing the world. He enjoys knit hats, small, declarative sentences and speaking in the third person. His professional credits include "Woman's World magazine contributor" and having once been interviewed by Tyra Banks (seriously).