If you Google “most useful travel gadgets” and click on a few of the resulting links, you’ll be treated to an extraordinary array of crap that you should not only NOT bring on a trip, you shouldn’t buy this stuff under any circumstances.

Think I’m being harsh? How about an inflatable travel washing machine?


If you’re interested, the manufacturer is Astone and it costs $70.  Or perhaps a solar powered cooling-fan-equipped pith hat strikes you as incredibly useful:


I don’t know about you, but I like to travel light – and something like this (forgive me, solar-powered-cooling-pith-company!) strikes me as way too large, too impractical and altogether too dumb.  Would you wear this?  These items appeared on lists of “useful travel gadgets.” Go figure.

So…  what items have made it on to my short list of essential travel gadgets?


1. Noise canceling headphones. Screaming infants. Noisy commuter planes.  Long flights with droning jet engines.  Need I say more?  You can screen out a great deal of ambient noise with a quality pair of noise canceling headphones – plus really enjoy quality sounds from your music player.  Although a bit large, I prefer the over the ear Bose Quiet Comfort 2 model; I leave the case home and toss the included hook-and-loop equipped zippered pocket with adapters and extra AAA batteries in my bag.  The headphones themselves fold flat and don’t take up too much room:

Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones

Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones folded flat in my daily bag

If the Bose units are too high price-wise, check out the Phillips HN 110 – a solid value at around $35! (Although they don’t fold flat and take up a bit more room as a result.)

An alternative you may wish to consider is a pair of quality in-ear ear buds – like Etymotic ER6i Isolators – or similar models. Although these do not feature active noise cancellation, they will block out a good deal of background noise by virtue of their in-ear design.

By the way – I have no relationship with any of the companies mentioned in this post.  I do happen to own (and paid for!) the Bose Q.C. 2’s and the Etymotic ear buds mentioned above, as well as a few other poducts mentioned here.  I mention these products because I use and like them…  and only for that reason.

2. iPod or other music player. You’ve got the headphones or earbuds, now you need some tunes!  Listening to music on planes or late at night in a hotel room is a great way to relax.  Whether you’re using an iPod Touch, a Sandisk mp3 player, or some other player, I can’t imagine heading out on the road without a source of music I love.  Personally, I travel with an iPod Shuffle. It’s tiny, weighs practically nothing and can store 240 songs.  Music:  don’t leave home without it!

3. Ziploc® bags.  I always throw a few Ziploc bags in my travel bag – at least one extra one quart bag, a one gallon bag, and occasionally a 3 gallon “large” bag.  Ziplocs are handy for storing all manner of things –  small items like mp3 players, loose change and the like, for instance.  If I’m traveling with one bag, I’ll put the items I’ll want to have access to on the plane in a one gallon bag – paperback, iPod, earbuds, and so forth.  The 3 gallon+ sized bags are great for bringing dirty clothes home – just fold the stuff somewhat flat, squeeze out all the excess air, and zip the bag closed!  Following these tips will help you bag sail through the TSA’s x-ray machine, as an added benefit.

51ueoqn0bzl_aa280_4. Washable socks and underwear. If you’re backpacking through Europe or are just trying to travel as light as possible, please give some consideration to trying washable items.  Washables generally take up less space when dry than plain old cotton, can be quickly washed in a sink, and dry overnight.  Quality brands include Wickers and Terramar for boxers or briefs, and Tilley for socks.  Underwear of this sort is typically treated with anti-microbial material, by the way; the Tilley socks linked to here dry overnight and have a 3 year “All Holes Barred” guarantee.

NOTE: The Tilley socks shown here are $16 per pair – not cheap, but I tend to believe you get what you pay for.  One thing to be aware of: these really are travel socks: the manufacturer recommends against machine drying as they contain Spandex®. Wash them in the sink, wring them out, wrap them in a dry towel and twist the towel and hold for 15 seconds.  They’ll be dry in the morning. In a hurry? Hit them with some heat from a hair dryer and you’re good to go.

5. Small flashlight.  Particularly handy if you’re backpacking or hiking, but also useful in a dark hotel room, a small flashlight is a great item to bring along.  Whichever type you bring along, check its batteries before leaving home.  And remember that in a pinch your Blackberry can throw a fair amount of light…

Canon SD 1100IS

6. Point and shoot digital camera.  You really ought to have a small camera with you at all times, whether you’re on the road or not.  Who knows when an unexpected photo op will happen?  Equipped with a macro lens, your camera will also enable you to take pictures of documents.  Check online reviews before purchasing; Canon makes a number of terrific point and shoot digital cameras.

7.  Horribly obvious, but:  cell phoneI mention this only for one reasonuse your cell phone as a storage device for critical information – driver’s license number, credit card information, and the like.  I explain this fully in this post – “Critical information and numbers to store in your cell phone.”  And…  it’s a phone, too!  If your phone is web enabled, you can check flight status with FlightStats or Google.

8.  Small medical emergency kit.  Put together a small med kit with band aids, extra prescription meds, antihistamines, aspirin, and so forth.  The entire thing can fit in a small ziploc bag and might come in very handy some day. This is from an old post on essential items to carry in your daily bag:

…a quart ziplock bag containing the following: a small bottle containing 3-4 days worth of the prescription med I take each day, 20 aspirin or so, a few Pepcid AC®, some multivitamins, Benadryl®, and a couple of decongestants. In addition, I always have a few band aids and a styptic pencil in the bag. A styptic pencil, if you’re not familiar with it, is a small stick which contains aluminum sulfate or titanium dioxide and which will stop a small cut from bleeding, should you nick yourself shaving or get a nasty paper cut. You can find them in the shaving section at your drugstore; they cost less than $2. In addition, as a contact lens wearer, I always have an extra set of lenses in this bag as well. I don’t bother with a toothbrush or toothpaste, as hotels will typically have emergency toiletries available, should you be stranded.

Garmin Nuvi 350

9. Optional:  GPS.  Depending upon where I’m traveling and how well I know my way around (or not,) I’ll occasionally bring my Garmin Nuvi 350 & its windshield mount with me.  It’s incredibly handy and the battery lasts about 4 hours. If needed, I can pack the power cord as well.

If traveling internationally, maps are available for Europe, all of North America and  City Navigator maps for cities on all continents are available for certain models – check the Garmin website.

That’s my short list.  No multitools or knives (TSA objects,) no alarm clocks (use your cell phone’s alarm feature or a wake-up call @ your hotel,) and sorry – no solar powered cooling pith helmet.

One other thing:  if you’re traveling internationally, buy yourself a quality universal power adapter.  Another item which is very handy is an illustrated translation guide – pictures of common objects along with the translation – in practice, it’s much easier than an electronic translator.

What have I missed?  Let me know by commenting!

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3 Comments on The no BS list of essential travel gadgets

  1. Good list! One really needs so much less than most people realize.

    I don’t think you really need the head phones and none of us have ipods,we prefer a little headlight for our flashlight and we never have used our emergency kit in 3 years of our open ended world tour as a family. Well, few band aids for kidlet…mostly for fun.

    We have a top of the line global phone, but hardly use it. We do everything on our laptops which we do find essential for extended travel…even took one to the Sahara. We end up using Skype often for local or long distance calls.

    We easily travel for a month or more ( often in 3 season climates) with a small day pack each and that includes at least one laptop and homeschooling supplies & books for our kidlet.

    You are right…pack light..the only way to go.


  2. Kevin says:

    Thanks for commenting. I spent a few minutes on your blog and must say you are on an extraordinary journey – congrats!

    Your comment about the med kit made me smile, as I use it infrequently at most… but having said that, I cleverly cut myself shaving while in NY a few days ago and actually used the styptic pencil. Wonder of wonders.

    As for the headphones, most trips I opt for the Shuffle and earbuds – but if I’ll be on a turboprop/commuter or regional jet, I’ll bring the headphones as long as their size/weight won’t be too much of a hassle.

    Thanks again for a great comment and safe travels to you and your family!


  3. Gina says:

    this is great, thanks for sharing your tips! Just reading it gave me a dose of the travel bug!


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