It was day 12 during a month-long trek in the mountains of Nepal, and Tim Neville was holding his satellite phone to the sky. "Our group just got down from Shipton Pass," he says. "We knew there were Maoist rebels nearby."
The year was 2003, and political turmoil in the kingdom had filtered through to the tourist trade. Trekking groups were being followed, with gun-toting militants demanding money for passage on trails. Neville, a writer on assignment for the Boston Globe, came equipped to remain in touch with the outside world. In addition to the sat-phone, Neville had packed a foldable solar panel and a battery made by an outdoors gear company. He had a laptop computer, a digital camera, and a watertight hard-shell case. "It all went in a duffel bag on my porter's head," he says.
International travelers have no shortage of products to pick from that aim to make life easier while on the go. In the past few years, a subgenre of gear—from UV-light water purifiers to satellite-connected emergency signalers—have emerged from the outdoors, technology and travel-goods industries to serve globetrotters who go far away and deep into new cultures on their own.
Ed Mapes of McKinney, Texas, owns an offshore sailing school and leads expeditions thousands of miles into waves away from land. His company, Voyager Ocean Passages, has stocked its 46-foot craft with spotlights, a satellite phone, a lightning static dissipater and a sextant. "You must be self-sufficient out there," he says, "as help could be days away."
Mapes spent $795 on the Marine 3000, a first-aid kit made by Adventure Medical Kits. It's designed for trips where adventurers might be several days from medical help, and comes stocked with dozens of tools and components to treat almost any malady—suture syringe and urinary catheter included.
Other over-the-top items are made less for emergencies, more for comfort. The iWear AV920 is a futuristic "video eyewear" product from Vuzix Corp. that positions a virtual 62-inch display screen on the bridge of your nose. Plug it to your iPod for instant, private eyelevel video. Somewhat more practical is Research in Motion's upcoming BlackBerry Bold, a satin-chrome smartphone that comes with integrated GPS to support location-based applications and services—no matter your location on the globe. A built-in two-megapixel camera gives your handheld photography a resolution boost.
While Neville is quick to say that safety trumps luxury when traveling internationally, he doesn't dismiss comfort altogether. Case in point: Last month, while traveling from northern Japan to the French Alps, Neville employed a custom collection of gadgets and tech toys to stay occupied and at peace through a whirlwind of trains, taxis, concourses, transfers and jet flights. "I call it my sleep kit," he says of the products, which includes a noise-canceling headset. "It keeps me sane."
On a 41-hour trans-Pacific-trans-Atlantic journey, Neville watched movies on his smartphone ("Napoleon Dynamite" and "Good Night, and Good Luck"); listened to old episodes of the radio program "This American Life"; and he snoozed in the deadened silence of a noise-cancelled headset cocoon—light and motion obscured by a simple old-fashioned eye mask.
"I emerged intact in Europe, and I barely felt the jetlag," he says.
Click here for our list of 12 high- and low-tech items that make international endeavors simpler, safer—and, yes, even more comfortable.