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Toys, tools and technology for travelers

Twelve gift ideas that  can add a little joy to your true love’s next trip. Not only are they more affordable than six geese a layin’ or 10 lords a leapin’, but they’re a lot easier to get through security.
Image: Umbrella
Automatically receiving local weather data (U.S. only) from, the Ambient Umbrella's handle glows when precipitation is expected within the next 12 hours.Ambient Devices

Still looking for that special gift for the traveler on your list?

You could take your cue from the old Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but it’ll cost you.

According to the annual PNC Christmas Price Index compiled by PNC Wealth Management, buying each item once — i.e., without making repeat purchases day after day — will run you $19,507, up 3.1 percent from last year. Sure, the two turtle doves are a bargain ($40), but at $4,759, those nine ladies dancin’ are probably out of your price range.

So, in the spirit of the season, here are 12 alternatives, all of which can add a little joy to your true love’s next trip. Not only are they more affordable than six geese a layin’ or 10 lords a leapin’, but they’re a lot easier to get through security.

Avid readers can pursue their passion — without disturbing seatmates or sleeping partners — with the Spike Light ($13) from Great Point Light. Featuring a “spike,” flexible neck and new color schemes, the unit clips into the spine of a book and provides 20 hours of hands-free illumination from 2 LED lights and one AAA battery.

Kit Bottles ($18–$25) from Nalgene Outdoors combine the company’s popular 32-ounce bottles with a variety of situation-specific safety and first-aid items. There are versions for cars (with a distress flag, accident report form, etc.), survival situations (light stick, whistle, food bar, etc.) and even pets (dog food and water pouch).

Take the sting out of complying with TSA regulations with the Verbena Getaway Travel Treasures toiletries kit ($35) from L’Occitane en Provence. Made with invigorating verbena, moisturizing shea butter and other natural ingredients, the company’s products provide refreshing relief after extended travel (although you’ll still have to put them in a zip-top bag).

Anyone who has forgotten how to reprogram their alarm clock for foreign time zones will appreciate the Worldwide Atomic Projection Clock ($50) from Oregon Scientific. The unit automatically syncs with atomic clocks in the U.S., U.K., Europe and Asia and features a projection display that will beam the current time onto any flat surface.

Got a globe-trotter on your list? About the size of a paperback book, the Leather Travel Atlas ($50) from Travelsmith is a classy compendium of international information. Its 320 gold-edged pages feature a plethora of maps, along with facts and figures on everything from local temperatures and calling codes to conversion charts for weights and measures.

On-the-go gadget freaks will appreciate the Solio Hybrid 1000 ($70), a new “hybrid” charger  that can charge cell phones, MP3 players and other hand-held electronics. It can be charged via its compact solar panel — one hour of sunshine equals 15 minutes of talk time or 40 minutes of music — or through the USB port of any computer.

Speaking of power in remote places, the Portable Power Generator ($120) from National Geographic could be your favorite road-tripper’s new best friend. It combines a 12-volt rechargeable battery with a removable LED flashlight, fluorescent lantern and AC/DC outlets for charging portable electronics, along with a clock, compass, AM/FM/NOAA radio and 250-psi air compressor.

Any good umbrella will protect you from bad weather; the Ambient Umbrella ($125) from Ambient Devices will actually predict it. Automatically receiving local weather data (U.S. only) from, the unit’s handle glows when precipitation is expected within the next 12 hours. If the light blinks intermittently, expect showers; if it flashes intensely, bring your galoshes.

Forget the three-pound, 87-tool Swiss Army knife that was recently awarded a Guinness World Record — the SwissMemory multi-tool ($140–$148) is probably more practical. The latest version features a red laser light, retractable pen and 2 GB removable flash drive and is available in both flight (no blades) and non-flight (knife, nail file and scissors) models.

Automotive GPS units are becoming increasingly affordable with several companies offering units in the $200 range. Designed for entry-level users, the new Drive GPS 150 ($200) from Pharos features a 3.5-inch LCD screen, text-to-speech directions and automatic route recalculation when you go astray. It also features a pedestrian mode when it’s time to get out and walk.

Flight delays may be inevitable, but the i1155 portable multimedia player ($249) from iLuv can make them a whole lot more pleasant. Featuring an 8.4-inch LCD screen and integrated iPod dock, this slim, cordless unit will play DVDs, CDs and up to four hours of iPod video. A DC adapter for car use is also included.

Finally, if there’s a beach or a pool in your giftee’s future, consider the Xacti E1 waterproof camcorder ($425) from Sanyo. This palm-sized unit captures both video (640 x 480) and six-megapixel photos on land or in the water. Alas, it’s only waterproof to five feet, so it’s a much better gift for snorkelers than scuba divers.