Many travelers have a favorite item or gadget they can't leave home without — the equivalent of a teddy bear for grown-ups. Maybe it's the GPS, or the inflatable neck pillow, or the Kindle, or the wheeled bag. At holiday time, as we struggle to come up with the perfect present for everyone on our list, it's worth considering which of our treasured travel bring-alongs might make a good gift for someone else.
Here are some favorites from folks who spend a lot of time away from home, as well as a look at a few new and interesting items from retailers that just might become tomorrow's must-haves.
Caroline Costello of IndependentTraveler.com recommends the Sittin' Bag, which she describes as "a wonderful gift for an older traveler or someone with an injury or disability." It's a carry-on-size rolling suitcase with a fold-out seat attached to the side. Costello says it "provides a convenient place to rest in long airport security lines or busy train stations," available at http://www.magellans.com/ for $155.
"I love my XShot, an extender rod to take self-photos/video, which I do often on my portable video camera," says Robert Reid, U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. "Everytime I use it, I get comments. 'Hey what is THAT?' So it's an ice-breaker too." XShot — http://xshot.com/, $30 — is a telescopic rod that attaches to digital cameras or handheld video cameras, allowing the shooter to be in the frame without stretching an arm out or asking a stranger to take the picture.
Pauline Frommer, travel guidebook writer and founding editor of Frommers.com, says one of the "best travel gifts" she ever got was a Tumi plug adaptor that came from fellow travel writer and editor Adrien Glover. "It comes in a little black case and it has prongs that can be pushed in and out, so it works everywhere!" she said. "Really great when you're traveling to two parts of the world in one trip, as I did recently. I used one setting for Ireland and another one for Poland." The electric adaptor is $50 from http://www.tumi.com and offers four different plug configurations in one unit, good for 150 countries for powering devices like MP3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, who spends about as much time on ships and planes as she does at home, is an unabashed fan of J. Peterman's Counterfeit Mailbag — http://www.jpeterman.com/Counterfeit-Mailbag, $349, leather. "There's plenty of room for my laptop, iPad and other assorted key items" and it can "easily fit everything I need for a long-haul flight," she said in an email from her latest destination, New Zealand.
George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com identifies the popular Bose Quiet Comfort Noise-Cancelling headphones, $300, http://www.bose.com, as "the only gadget I can't live without ... drowns out screaming babies and screaming cell phone users."
Bags and gadgets are also among the items retailers are recommending this season. The "Pan Am" TV show has gotten a mixed reception, but whether or not you like the show, it's hard not to love the retro style of a blue and white Pan Am airline bag, $74, from http://www.wayfair.com.
Wayfair.com also sells Smart Tubes, $19 for a set of two two-ounce containers in pretty pastel colors. They're the perfect solution for travelers who want to decant a small amount of a favorite liquid or gel product for hair or skin from a large bottle at home into a small portable container that meets Transportation Security Administration regulations for air travel. The light bulb-shaped containers are extremely well-designed, with a tight closing cap that prevents spills and offers a wide mouth for filling up as well as a small squeeze hole for dispensing.
Practical and stylish, Safe Skies Locks is selling TSA-approved luggage locks that turn any generic black bag on a luggage carousel into an instantly recognizable fashion statement. The locks come in a variety of patterns and colors, including zebra stripes, leopard spots, and colorful floral prints, $13-$15, http://www.safeskieslocks.com/store/.
Here's a clever gift idea from the B&B industry: The Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, available for $25 to $1,000 and good at more than 4,000 B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada. The website promises that the card won't expire or reduce in value and has no blackout dates or hidden fees. It's free to customize the card with your own photo and is ideal as a last-minute gift that can be delivered instantly online via email or printed out at home for presentation in person. You can also have it shipped to the recipient for free. Now through Nov. 22, when you buy a gift card of $250 or more, you get an additional free $50 gift card with the promo code GCBELLS50 at checkout.
Flight 001, the fun and trendy travel retailer with stores in California, Chicago and New York as well as online at http://www.flight001.com, offers a colorful variety of luggage, gadgets and many other travel goodies for the holidays in wide range of prices and styles, but one of its best offerings this season makes a great gift for travelers who vacation in wine country and like to bring home a bottle. The VinniBag, $30, is a reusable bag with inflatable air chambers designed to protect and insulate fragile items. Wine bottles are a perfect fit but the bag can accommodate many other shapes and sizes, and it's covered with transparent material for visual inspection without opening.
Anne Banas at SmarterTravelMedia.com says she's hoping Santa brings her a Solio Bolt charger. "I tried it out a couple of weeks ago," she said. "It's cute, seems to be well made, is compact and it works as described," and is eco-friendly, versatile and packable. The charger has an on-board battery and rotating solar panels, and it can juice up from the sun, a USB port or the wall to power your phone, MP3 player, e-reader, GPS or camera, $70 from http://www.store.solio.com.
They're not solar-powered, but Duracell also has a variety of portable chargers — the Instant Charger, Powerhouse Charger and Pocket Charger — to provide hours of extra power when the battery runs out on an iPhone, BlackBerry or iPod. They connect via USB cords to the devices, and recharge via USB cord from a computer. They're compact, lightweight and starting at $20, may be cheaper than extra batteries for gadgets. They're also getting rave consumer reviews online from folks who are on the go all day or are facing long trips and dreading the prospect of an iPod or cell phone that's run out of juice.