By Charles Leocha Travel columnist
updated 11/29/2006 2:51:23 PM ET 2006-11-29T19:51:23

With Christmas coming, many friends have been asking about great gifts for travel junkies. This year, instead of laying out a list of useful gadgets, I want to tell you about five brand names that I have come to trust during my years of traveling, trekking and exploring. These are the designers and manufacturers you can trust to perform and do the right thing when problems arise on the road.

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Whenever I need a rental car in Europe, I don’t hesitate to call 1-800-223-5555 or log in to AutoEurope’s Web site. This company has never failed to provide the best price, and it guarantees the exchange rate. The customer service is excellent, too. I once arrived at the rental desk in Frankfurt and found my reservation had been lost, but a simple call to the toll-free number quickly set things right.

GarminGPS systems
I have tested several brands of these direction-finding gizmos, and have used others in rental cars, and have usually encountered some minor glitches. With one brand I could never figure out how to enter a numbered street name. Another one told me I had arrived at my destination, when in fact I was in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. Garmin is the one exception. I love Garmin’s small, baseball-size StreetPilot GPS systems and the systems that are loaded into Palm Pilots for easy take-along when traveling.

Bose hooked me years ago, when I was stationed in Europe with the Army and shopping at the stereo clubs that sold deep-discount receivers, amplifiers and speakers. All Bose products are excellent, including their radios and sound-canceling headsets. The new QuietComfort3 headsets are the best I have tested over the past two years and are worth every penny if you fly a lot.

Every traveler faces the prospect of being stuck in the rain, and all experienced travelers try to pack clothing that will serve in all weather conditions and can be layered to keep out the cold. Breathable Gore-Tex fabric has never failed to keep out the rain, even in downpours. I have a Gore-Tex hat, gloves, raincoat and several jackets. Though the garments seem to be advertised mainly to sportsmen, and are especially popular among skiers, they are perfect for any traveler. I buy most of my Gore-Tex clothing from L.L. Bean, which has an unconditional guarantee on everything it sells.

Travelpro luggage
More than 400,000 flight attendants and pilots can’t be wrong. They put their luggage through grueling schedules day after day and virtually all of them can be seen dragging Travelpro luggage behind them through airport terminals. These pieces of luggage meet airline specifications for carry-on, have handy pockets and zippers tucked here and there, and will last for a lifetime, I expect, if you are an average once-in-a-while traveler.

Those are my top brands for a wide range of gifts. But let’s not forget the stocking stuffers:

Scanner Bag is a luggage tag with a folded pouch inside. It is the perfect place to tuck a cell phone, iPod, Blackberry, pens, change and keys when going through airport security.

A Pocket Peepers reading lens, which is the size of a credit card, is easier to carry than a pair of reading glasses and makes checking out menus and reading the occasional fine print easy. They come in handy at the least expected times.

Belkin adapters and mobile accessories are perfect for anyone with a computer, iPod or PDA. Just make sure you are buying the correct connectors for your friend’s computer. Better yet, get a gift card from Best Buy or Circuit City so your traveler can pick out the right adapters himself.

Finally, you can’t go wrong buying any traveler a money pouch, travel alarms, luggage locks that can be opened by airport security, inflatable neck pillows (especially today, when many airlines have eliminated onboard pillows) or small flashlights that attach to a key ring. Magellan’s Travel Supply Catalog has an extensive collection of these items and is a good place to start.

Have a merry Christmas.


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