Travel gadgets

This item appears on page 38 of the February 2013 issue.

In his “Departure Lounge” column, ITN’s publisher, the late Armond Noble, asked subscribers for recommendations of travel gadgets, that is, any devices or implements that help make traveling more convenient, safe or pleasurable. He printed a few responses in his October ’11 column, and after we repeated the info request in the August ’12 issue, several more e-mails and letters came in. Some of those responses appear below, with more to come.

Do you know of a gadget travelers might appreciate? Write to Travel Gadgets, c/o ITN, 2120 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail Include the complete address at which you receive ITN (ITN prints letters from subscribers only). Photos are always welcome; include captions.

I use the Bose noise-canceling headphones that are provided in business class on American Airlines transatlantic flights. The headphones make it possible to listen to either the in-flight entertainment system or music from my Sony Walkman. At the same time, I wear a pair of disposable foam earplugs. With earplugs in, you do have to turn up the volume on the sound source.

The Bose headphones eliminate the sounds of the engines, the A/C system and the air rushing by outside the airframe. However, the headphones do not eliminate the sounds of other passengers or flight attendants conversing during the flight or of a kid crying for the entire flight. The earplugs help reduce but do not eliminate those sounds.

The earplugs are on a cord, which makes it easy to remove one earplug and not lose it when you need to converse with a flight attendant.

I do own my own pair of Bose headphones, but their case takes up too much valuable space in a carry-on bag.

When we are out and about, I carry a Bushnell Original Backtrack GPS unit ($79.99 from Gander Mountain; 888/542-6337).

It has three set points. I set one for whatever hotel we are at, one for the train station and one for whatever bus or tram stop or zoo entrance we need to find our way back to.

The Original model uses one AAA battery. An Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery I used with it lasted over three years.

One device I always wear when traveling is a watchband compass. This you can get at a dive shop or order online.

Richard Milberg
Easton, PA

My wife and I purchased two sets of QC2 QuietComfort headsets from Bose (order at 800/869-1855 or check website for store locations) over the phone in January ’05. These were expensive; the first set cost $299 plus tax, and we got a 10 percent reduction on the second set. However, included with each set was a free Bose portable CD player. The sound reproduction is superb and the earpieces are comfortable.

These headsets served us well until a year or so ago when one broke after being stepped on and the other suffered separated wires at a connection. Bose was most sympathetic when I called; they replaced the headsets with their latest model, the QC15, for only $99 each. They only wanted the broken sets returned; we could keep the cases, adapters, etc.

We would not travel without them now. The noise cancellation is first rate, with 90% of the engine noise of a Boeing 747 subdued for the wearer, even when we’re seated over the wing. This has occasionally caused a minor problem, since we do not hear in-flight announcements!

We also take our headsets camping. And for a peaceful listening session, even with noisy neighbors, we can “close the door” simply by flicking the tiny power switch.

Of late, the Bose CD players have been retired in favor of iPods. The combination of headset and iPod (there are jacks in the headset to plug the iPod into) produces the high quality of music we want to hear.

We have tended to eschew entertainment programs on airliners, except for movie soundtracks, because of the poor content and sound quality.

In summation, we would not dream of traveling without our faithful Bose headsets. They have been worth every penny!

Christopher Hartley
Ormond Beach, FL

We have Able Planet Clear Harmony Foldable Active Noise Canceling Headphones that were purchased from Costco in April ’10 for $49.99 a pair.

We have used these headphones on many flights and are very happy with them. On short flights, usually on a turboprop plane, the noise cancellation really reduces the fatigue caused by the engine noise.

We also use them with a portable DVD player purchased at Costco. The DVD player came with headphones, but the Able Planet headphones are much superior since they also have a volume control. Since the DVD player has two headphone jacks, we both can listen at the same time at different volumes using the volume control on each set of headphones.

We also use the DVD player in hotel rooms and on cruise ships, when the TV has a suitable plug-in.

Nancy Schwab
St. George, UT

I purchased a Dual Voltage Heating Coil from Magellan’s Travel Supplies ($15 — 800/962-4943) in 2007 and have used it on three trips to Switzerland and one each to Austria and Italy.

With it, I boil water for instant coffee, tea, soup or hot chocolate. It’s wonderful!

Margaret Eaton
Palm Coast, FL

My favorite gadget is a luggage scale from Travelon ($10); I bought mine at Target. It weighs objects up to about 75 pounds and includes a tape measure.

After having an overweight suitcase one time, I learned my lesson. Not only was the fine high ($50-$60), paying it was very inconvenient, as I was not able to get a boarding pass until I went to a customer service desk, some distance away, and brought proof of payment back to the ticket counter.

I’ve had the scale forever. It’s the old-fashioned dial type, so it doesn’t need batteries. I often loan it to others. (I wonder why cruise ships and hotels don’t offer weighing stations?)

I also like eBooks. They don’t take up much space and help keep the luggage weight down.

Audrey Bowden
DeKalb, IL

I have traveled around the world twice by myself, without using travel agents, and have found a few things that really make a difference in both comfort and weight.

Among things that go into my overnight case whether I’m going 70 or 7,000 miles are two Fold-A-Cups ($5 from The Savvy Traveler; 877/225-1994), one for my dentures and one to heat coffee in using a dual-voltage, immersion water-heating coil ($5-$20 — available at many travel stores and airport shops).

Flexoline clothesline, made of medical tubing, is available at or from Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door ($7.99).

I add a Black Diamond Jive Wire Plastic Biner to one end of the clothesline for hooking around towel bars. This carabiner is available at many sporting goods and hiking stores. I bought several at REI for about $2 each. They’re very handy for attaching anything to your backpack.

Depending on the trip I’m taking, I may take EarPlanes ($7 at many travel shops), great for people who get earaches on airplane landings or while driving over mountain ranges.

I also take a Lewis N. Clark retractable cable lock with a 24-inch cable. I bought mine so many years ago I don’t remember where, but it is currently available for $17 at I use it not only to attach my suitcase and luggage cart to a pole or bench while in the restroom but also to secure my laptop (through its hinge opening) in libraries and archives.

For packing, I get compression bags (at least one each for clean and dirty laundry), packing cubes (so TSA inspectors don’t have to handle my undies) and Eagle Creek packing systems (boards and covers for folding blouses and shirts, resulting in fewer wrinkles). All are available at many places.

Finally, I have an Executive Sport Seat (a combination cane and chair) that I purchased from Sport Seat (800/567-1898 or 972/485-8300) about 10 years ago for about $30; the current price is $33.95.

Other than replacing a rubber tip that somebody ruined by forcing his luggage across it in the overhead bin, the Sport Seat is still fine. It’s great when you’re stuck in long lines or when the wheelchair doesn’t show up and there’s no place to sit.

Kit Stewart
Sequim, WA

What do I take on my travels? My laptop, which allows me to check in via e-mail; talk to others at home via Skype; look at, organize and tag my pictures during the trip while they’re fresh on my mind; make reservations on the road, and find places and do research in general.

Bose noise-canceling headphones: I wouldn’t leave home without them. My first flight using them, in 1996, was a 29-hour to South Korea; I arrived much more rested than I expected and have religiously used them for all flights ever since. I’m hard of hearing, and, with the headphones plugged into the armrest, I can hear the in-flight movies.

Don’s wife, Mary, demonstrates their Travelon luggage scale. Photo: Don Edmands, Jr.

I bought a handheld language translator in 1996 and carried it all over the world. I’ve used it ONE time! My rule now — look for a young adult; they all take English in school and are happy to practice their language skills.

I went through a couple of cheap luggage scales and then finally got a good one, an Ergonomic Digital Luggage Scale from Travelon ($30 — 800/537-5544). It’s worth its weight in gold!

Two years ago I was on a trip to Italy. When we checked in with Delta Air Lines in Rome, the lady in front of me paid a fee of $175 for an overweight bag. That’s why you need a good scale.

I carry a 6-foot extension cord with multiple plug-ins. I find that in many hotel rooms the plug is behind the bed, so this makes power access quicker.

I carry a cheap, small carabiner (a clip used by mountain climbers) for my hat. When I take my hat off, I clip it to my backpack, belt loop or whatever so I don’t lose it.

I also use a pocket-sized notebook to make brief notes (date, time, place, etc.) as I travel. The information has been valuable on some occasions‚ especially when the memory has gotten confused.

Before leaving home, on my laptop I also “build” a notebook of my trip. I enter all the reservations and directions in order and notate each date at the top of the page. When I’m traveling, I just look for the date, and the information is at my fingertips.

I also load all of my stops onto a GPS, then I’ve got all the addresses I need in front of me. In a foreign country, it sure is nice when I can just click on the next destination.

Don Edmands, Jr.
Vonore, TN