May 25, 2012 -- intro: Like a lot of guys, I'm a sucker for gadgets. I've got all the usual suspects (what did we do before iPads?) yet I still salivate over travel gizmos I really don't need like the Vuzix iWear AV920 'ultimate mobile movie experience' ($350). You probably don't "need" it either (though it looks like fun). What should you pack?
Simple stuff. Ordinary, everyday items. But I'll throw in a gadget or two to make it interesting. And I'm going to keep it cheap because why spend a penny more than you have to - on airfare, or anything else?
10 Cheap Gizmos and Ordinary Items Every Traveler Needs
Let's start with an easy one.
quicklist: title: Hand-held baggage scale. media: 16413717 text:Would you pay ten bucks to save $100? How about $200? If you fly American or United, a checked-bag that weighs just 51 pounds will cost you an extra one hundred dollars on top of the checked-bag fee or $200 for bags over 70 pounds (and that's just one-way). Amazon sells a $10 hand-held Samsonite luggage scale that doesn't take up much space, and big box stores advertise any number of brands. Choose your favorite and take it to the airport.
quicklist: title: Plastic zip bags. media: 16413915 text: Yes, Ziploc bags but your Safeway generics will work just fine. You already know you need these for the personal stuff (and small liquids) when going through security and you probably know they're great for toting wet bathing suits, but did you know they may prevent illness?
Don't worry about germs from your hotel room's well-used TV remote if you stick the channel changer in one of these bags and punch the buttons through the plastic.
Zip bags are handy for a zillion other things, too: Separate coins and currency on multi-country jaunts; keep phones or watches dry during unexpected deluges; make sure earrings stay together; protect receipts and business-related papers; stuff aromatic gym socks and dirty laundry in a zip bag to avoid contaminating the rest of your clothes; save space by packing bulky sweaters in these then squeezing out all the air like a vacuum bag; prevent spills from wine bottles, home-made food stuffs or other messy items; hold wet washcloths or wipes for quick clean-ups on planes; and on and on.
quicklist: title: Duct tape. media: 16413704 text:
A small roll can be a life saver for the darnedest things. Decorating a standard black travel bag so it's identifiably yours? Check. Repairing a child's broken flip flop so you don't have to tote 40 pounds of weight around Disneyland - or shell out $17 for Little Mermaid shoes? Check. Securely wrap newspaper or whatever around precious souvenirs so the clumsiest baggage handler can't break them? Check.
quicklist: title: Noise canceling headphones. media: 16413314 text: I have a pair of Bose and for me they're well worth the money but there is a wide range of prices and brands out there (I've seen a pair of Sony's for $29 and AKG's for $350). What would you pay to silence the screams of the cranky kid in the seat next to you? Now if only they had kicking-the-back-of-the-seat canceling headphones - sign me up.
quicklist: title: Refillable drug store toiletry bottles. media: 16413775 text: These 3 ounce containers can hold a lot more than trial-size shampoos and lotions available at your local CVS, plus you get to use your own products instead of settling for hotel freebie brands.
quicklist: title: iPod. media: 16413750 text: We've all got one. Cheap entertainment with no WiFi required. Get your Gotye on.
quicklist: title: TSA-approved bag lock. media: 16413808 text: Yes, TSA officers can and do get into your bags whenever they want, and as we've learned from thefts at Newark and elsewhere, there have been some bad apples in the bunch. However, if you must pack valuables (my advice: don't), use a TSA-approved lock as a little extra layer of security. Although I haven't tried it, I like the idea of the BoomerangIt ($15); if a security officer misplaces his or her universal key (or is too lazy to look for it) and snips off your lock, the company will replace it free.
Or do what one of the folks over at FlyTalk suggests: Wrap your bag in enough duct tape (see #3) and no one will bother to mess with it.
quicklist: title: Loaded phone. media: 16304837 text: Load up your phone with apps - for your airline, hotel, favorite travel site and anything else you think you might need. Most airlines including American, Delta and Southwest have a wide variety of apps that allow you to check-in, monitor rewards, track bags and more. Best of all, they're free.
quicklist: title: Laptop security gizmos. media: 16413763 text: There are physical locks with sturdy cables and automatic shutdown programs - both of which can emit earsplitting alarms - for under $40 (Targus locks and Notebak Anti-Theft are two popular choices). That said, the smart move is to never ever leave a laptop unattended.
quicklist: title: Wrist or ankle belts. media: 16413792 text: You won't make any best-dressed lists but bracelet-like pocketed-body belts can be great beach accessories for cash, keys, credit cards, rings and other small necessities. The SPIbelt line offers several models for around $10 a piece.
Everyone has a special must-have packing or trip essential. I'd love to hear about yours.