Travel gadgets

This item appears on page 44 of the March 2013 issue.

We asked ITN subscribers for recommendations of travel gadgets, that is, any devices or implements that help make traveling more convenient, safe or pleasurable. A number of responses were printed in last month’s issue, and a few more appear below. Have a gadget to recommend? 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.

We would not be able to sleep without our white noise machine. It masks a lot of background sound (although perhaps not your partner’s snoring!) and can be adjusted both for volume and type of noise. Ours is a Marpac Marsona International Sound Conditioner, which we purchased quite a few years ago at Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943) for approximately $35. It does not show up in their catalog now, however. (Note: it’s available on for $79.95.)

Now, instead, you can use an app on your smartphone to generate white noise. There’s one for iPhone and Android called White Noise; you can choose from among several different sounds and adjust the volume. (The White Noise app with 40 sounds costs $1.99, while White Noise Lite has 10 sounds and is free.)

I really want to put in a plug (pun intended) for EarPlanes, which my ear, nose and throat doctor recommended. I have very narrow eustachian tubes, and flying has been painful for me, especially the descents. EarPlanes relieve the pain or discomfort felt when the air pressure changes (they are even suggested for mountain driving), and they also filter out loud ambient noise.

I bought the children’s size and have become a true believer. These are available at Magellan’s for $11.85 for two pairs, but I bought 10 pairs for $49.90 from (free shipping) once I realized what a difference they made.

Nancy Davidson
Santa Barbara, CA

I have a Travel Tranquil Moments Alarm Clock Sound Therapy Machine from Brookstone (866/576-7337) which cost $99. With this sound machine/alarm, I can sleep anywhere with the “rainfall” sound it makes (one of eight choices). It runs on AA batteries or I can plug it in.

As I get older, sometimes I have trouble hearing an alarm clock alarm, but the sound machine shuts off the selected sound when its alarm starts, so that usually wakes me up. (Actually, sometimes I don’t hear the sound machine alarm either, but I’ve found I can always hear the alarm on my international phone, so now I always take that along, too.)

Used with earphones, the sound machine is wonderful in a hotel room when your husband wants to watch his sports, and it’s also handy on a plane if you are seated in proximity to any loud persons.

These machines stop producing sounds after a couple of years. For the comfort they give me, I happily replace them. I probably bought the first one 25 years ago.

The other thing I rely on is a set of elbow pads, which I made on my sewing machine from heavy silk. I work on a laptop on all my flights, and my elbows dodn’t like the hard armrest surfaces, so I made 4-inch-square pads and connected them with a long ribbon (like little kids’ mittens have) so as not to lose them in flight. I just set them on the armrests with the ribbon running behind my back.

I’ve had them for years. Recently, I left them at home by mistake and found out that not having them REALLY made a difference!

Judy Nagy
San Jose, CA

Want to earn a million dollars? Invent a wine bottle cork puller that is acceptable to go through security in carry-on luggage at airports.

My husband and I travel the world with only one carry-on bag each. We like to buy a bottle of wine to have a glass before dinner. I’m so tired of having to buy a cork puller every time we arrive by plane somewhere, only to discard it when we leave. I’m sure other travelers have had the same problem.

Sandy Lawrence
El Sobrante, CA

In addition to my cell phone, iPod, laptop, digital camera and a small LED flashlight, my air-travel gadgets include an inflatable neck pillow, an inflatable back pillow, an eye mask, several sets of earplugs (in case one falls out and rolls out of reach) and a NIRVANA Seat-Back Travel Organizer (a discontinued item from Zen Class, LLC; was $39.99).

The organizer slides over the tray table and contains pockets for my cell phone, iPod, flashlight, pillows (until I inflate them), earphones, water bottle, reading material, note pad and pen and pencil.

I carry two sets of earphones: a bud-type set (the kind the airlines sell these days) for short flights, which I use with my iPod, and an over-the-ear, noise-reduction headset that I use with in-flight entertainment.

I have two brands of noise-reduction headsets: Bose, which I use on overnight flights, and a smaller Sony pair that I use on day flights. The Sony case fits in the NIRVANA, while the larger Bose case has to be carried in my laptop bag, so I don’t always travel with the Bose headset when my trips include a lot of short flights.

For my long, overnight flights in a coach seat, I carry the 1st Class Sleeper by Travelon ($29.85 at Magellan’s, SkyMall [800/759-6255] or other online sites). It’s a sort of inflatable mattress that provides a very comfortable “bed” in a coach seat.

In the laptop carry-on bag, I have an Ethernet cable and a laptop cable lock. I still find some hotels that don’t have WiFi in all the rooms but do have Ethernet outlets.

In my laptop bag, I also carry spare camera and flashlight batteries and a combination flashlight and luggage scale that I purchased from Magellan’s.

Since I suffer from sleep apnea, in my checked bag I carry a small CPAP pump with a battery pack (to use in camps and villages in Africa where there can be nightly blackouts) and a CPAP hose plus a kit of electrical items, including a small 6-outlet power strip, an international adapter device, my cell phone charger, my iPod charger and my camera charger.

In my checked bag, I also carry an extension cord along with three-prong/two-prong electrical adapters, a Swiss Army knife and a small roll of duct tape. Finally, I pack a compact duffel bag that unzips to carry all those tourist items that I buy for my relatives that don’t fit into my suitcase.

Ed Reynolds
Woodland Hills, CA

Something I never travel without is the RESTOP 1 disposable “travel toilet.”

Each package has four disposable plastic bags for liquid waste. You open up the top of the plastic bag and there are little pellets at the bottom of it. Liquid turns the pellets into an odorless gel; close the bag and dispose of it. Toilet paper and antiseptic wipes are included.

It is spill-proof, slash-proof, trash-container safe and easy to use. It’s handy when there is no place to go or when the facilities look less than clean. It’s also great for camping, hiking, boating and car trips or during bouts of sea- or air-sickness.

I have been traveling with these for 10 years and reorder them from When Nature Calls (760/741-6600) — $8.80 per package of four.

Claudia Reed
Las Vegas, NV

We use a little night-light that’s about two inches square to avoid stumbles while going to the bathroom in a strange hotel room. It plugs into a 110-volt socket and gives off a low, soft-green glow. I got ours for under $5 at Home Depot (800/466-3337).

We have one in each bathroom at home as well as in the guest bedroom for our visitors’ safety. They last practically forever. No more tripping the night fantastic!

Charles Cameron
Morgan Hill, CA

I have used an air purifier on airplanes for over 20 years. I have never had any colds after flying when using it. Who knows if I have just been lucky or there is something to it!

I’m actually on my third one, as they have been getting smaller and more practical. The latest is the Mini-Mate Millennium Air Supply ($149 from WeinProducts; 213/749-6049).

On a 2010 United Airlines flight from Beijing to San Francisco, however, I was asked by the flight attendant to turn it off. The attendant said it was illegal to use on board United. When I arrived home, I talked to Wein and they were aware of this prohibition but were not sure if all airlines prohibited it.* I will continue to use it on other airlines and ask each their policy.

A fun thing to take on a cruise is the Stellarscope Star Finder. (One seller is the National Geographic Store; 800/437-5521 — $49). It looks like a 9-inch-long, 3-inch-diameter telescope and actually provides a star map that identifies over 1,500 stars between 20 and 60 degrees north or south latitude, every day of the year.

Along with one of the three location adapters, you simply use the dials to set the date and hour, then look through the finder. The stars you see will be identified by name.

I have had this for years. It’s great for after dinner on a lounge chair on the top deck!

Phyllis Mueller
San Jose, CA

*Although the Transportation Security Administration allows personal air purifiers to be used in flight, each airline may set its own rules regarding these devices. Many have chosen to prohibit their use in the wake of an incident, investigated by the NTSB in 2006, in which the lithium batteries in an air purifier caught fire during flight. If you wish to use an air purifier on board, check the airline’s policy before booking your flight.