Imagine you’re strolling down the crowded streets of a beautiful, if sometimes unsafe, foreign city famous for its pickpockets. You’re enjoying the scenery but you have an uneasy feeling because you are, quite literally, a walking target. But what if there was a way to keep your wallet and passport on your person and safe from sticky fingers? Well, there is. The Doberman Mini Mobile Alert pickpocket alarm sounds off at a startling 95 decibels the moment a thief grabs the goods.
These days, it seems there’s a quirky product for every type of traveler: the germaphobe, the security freak, the easily bored, and many, many more. “Odd gadgets have always been with us,” says Carol Mangis, senior editor at techie PCMag.com. “But since consumer electronics of all sorts are booming, manufacturers work at standing outside the norm just to grab a piece of the attention.”
New York City–based Hammacher Schlemmer has been selling quirky products to the American public since 1848, and many that were initially perceived as wacko are now commonplace (the pop-up toaster, steam iron, and microwave oven, to name a few).
And with approximately 20 million copies of SkyMall catalogue tucked into seat pockets on 13 airlines and Amtrak trains, it’s clear that people are not only perusing the countless odd gadgets, tools, and contraptions that fill its pages but purchasing them too.
In fact, the catalogue is so popular it’s developed a cultlike following by passengers who read it more for entertainment than for retail therapy. There’s even a send-up spoof of the publication; Kasper Hauser’s SkyMaul features such hilarious and ludicrous products as a Llamacycle and Pepper Self-Spray.
So what are some of the weirdest real travel gadgets and gizmos on the market today? Try metal-detecting sandals—the perfect gift for treasure-hunting beachcombers. They may or may not be a guaranteed hit for visitors to, say, the sugary sand beaches of the Caribbean, but they would potentially alert the wearer to any razor blades underfoot.
And only the smuggest of light packers wouldn’t be tempted by the allure of a self-propelled suitcase. Created by Hammacher Schlemmer, the luggage has a nifty sensor that starts an electric motor that moves it along at three miles per hour—just enough to take the edge off.
It’s possible that many of these items will one day be as widespread as the once-oddball toaster, but we wouldn’t bet on it.