Along for the ride, an entourage of gadgets — from portable hard drives to outlet adapters — allows Joe Wolfe to instantly plug in and boot up to get a gig going any place on the planet.
"I bring more than enough gadgets to make the TSA guys nuts," he says, referring to his frequent Transportation Security Administration run-ins while revealing the dozen gizmos and gadgets he's told to unpack in an airport security line.
Travelers like Wolfe depend on high-tech products while on the road. Comfort, entertainment, productivity and connection to someone back home are the goals. The gadgets are myriad, ranging from programmable alarm clocks and luggage scales to wristwatches with integrated GPS.
Here we look at a dozen new products designed to make life on the road easier, more productive and, yes, more fun.
We polled travelers like Wolfe for ideas on high-end items. For more down-to-earth options, Benjamin Higginbotham, a self-professed gadget geek and the director of technology at a real estate Web site, provided a workaday perspective. "I don't go anywhere now without my noise-isolating ear buds," he says. His favorites are the $99 V-Moda Vibe In-Ear Earphones, which he plugs into an iPhone for watching movies on planes.
Higginbotham, 30, of Eden Prairie, Minn., travels to trade shows across the United States and Canada. For years, he carried a small black briefcase stocked with gadgets. But he's begun to cut down, as technology now allows him to do more with less.
An Amazon Kindle reader and the aforementioned Apple iPhone — two items he never travels without — can do the job of six separate gadgets Higginbotham used to carry. "I have my e-mail, music, movies, games, Internet and books all on these two screens," he says.
Miniaturization is the standard reason to upgrade a gadget. The new products this year — from mini hard drives to keychain digital-photo viewers — may tempt you to ditch even your most beloved piece of gear.
At Brookstone stores — a nationwide chain known for its stock of oddball gadgetry — a novel new item is the Steam Bug Travel Iron. This five-by-three-by-three-inch steam iron packs its wrinkle-smoothing power into a product not much larger than an apple. It costs $29.95 at Brookstone.com.
Another mini device, the Pocket Album OLED 1.5 from Digital Foci Inc. provides a small screen mounted on a keychain to view digital photos. The $49 product has a 1.5-inch screen on which dozens of loaded photos play randomly in a slideshow mode.
In the oddities file, ThinkGeek.com has a Travel & Power section with solar chargers for laptops, waterproof gadget cases and a light-up, L.E.D.-powered umbrella inspired by the movie "Blade Runner." A selection of power adapters and Wi-Fi network detectors round out the offerings with more pragmatic gadget ideas.
On the high-end, a new $459 workout watch from Polar, the FT80, provides customized cardio and strength training programs on your wrist, letting you stay fit away from home and the gym. A bonus is the FT80's integrated GPS capability, which lets wearers track their speed on foot or their distance traveled — be it while working out or during a sightseeing day meandering in a foreign place.
For Wolfe — who this month heads back on tour with the '70s funk band Earth, Wind & Fire — a stock of gadgets is necessary for the job. Higginbotham has work tools and entertainment items for long flights and long days away from home. For a dozen gadgets you can give away — or use on your own — to make life on the road more enjoyable and sane, check out the slideshow.