Gadling Travelers On Their Favorite Gear

Gadling contributors are, by occupation, a well traveled lot and they’re hard on their kit. They want stuff that works – stuff that lasts, stuff that’s genuinely useful, stuff they’re never sorry they packed. While you’re hunting little extras to gift your favorite traveler, consider this list of favorites from some of the most traveled people on the Internet.

McLean Robbins: As a traveler who can’t manage to ever get comfortable on an airplane or with hotel pillows, I can’t leave home without this Brookstone accessory. I purchased it on a whim before a long-haul European flight where I thought I’d be stuck in a middle coach seat, and have used it on even short domestic flights ever since. The pillow is great in its U-shaped form, but I place it under those flimsy hotel pillows for extra support too. Best of all? It compacts nicely into my carry-on bag as well.

Jessica Marati
: Melatonin. This natural sleep aid is the best way to get rest on redeye flights and combat jet lag. I don’t travel without it.

Chris Owen: I usually pack specifically for each trip but one thing that always makes it is my bag full of cords, plugs, power converters and backup battery power. It’s called a Flex Pack and made by Victorinox.

Dave Seminara: I travel with a Princeton Tec headlamp so I can read in hotel rooms (or tents) after my sons go to bed! [Note: There’s always a headlamp in my pack too. And if you get one that’s got a red light mode, you can dig around in your bag or find your way to your bunk in the hostel without waking and/or blinding your roomies.Kyle Ellison: The two things I never travel without are duct tape and nylon cord, both available at your local hardware store. With the tape you can fix a rip in your backpack, seal a cut on your foot, create a waterproof barrier on anything, make labels, bookmarks, a lid for your food … anything really. With the cord you can make a clothesline, tie a tent down, fix a backpack, make a tourniquet, a belt, shoelaces … again, it’s a life saver.

Mix these in with a Leatherman multi-tool (opening cans, getting out splinters, cutting your tape and cord, opening wine bottles, sawing through wood, unscrewing air ducts in hotels, which are vibrating, fixing your glasses, hammering in tent stakes, etc.) Unfortunately, your multi-tool can only travel with you via land travel or checked baggage.

Laurel Miller: This small, rip-stop compact folding duffel bag. It has zippered side pockets so you can stuff it into itself, and it compacts to the size of a sandwich. I keep it in the bottom of my backpack and use it to bring home the inevitable souvenirs or press materials that accumulate on my travels. It also makes a great overnight bag, especially if I’m on a big trip that has some side trips where I can leave my backpack behind.

Meg Nesterov: I love the TotSeat portable high chair. It fits in a purse/bag, weighs almost nothing, and is handy anytime I want to put my baby in a regular chair and have her stay there. It is way superior to the other “travel” high chairs that are as big as phone books (if that reference even makes sense anymore), though it is essentially like tying your child to a chair!

Alex Robertson Textor: It’s super un-techy but I don’t like to travel without my Moleskine Classic Large Ruled Notebook. Notes feel more substantial in a paper notebook.

What do you want to add to your travel kit this year? What are you giving your favorite traveler?

[Images courtesy of Brookstone and Leatherman]

How To Replace Anything (Anything) Lost On A Business Trip

What’s the independent business traveler’s worst enemy? It’s not hotel Wi-Fi. It’s Radio Shack. Have you seen how much they charge for a micro-usb cable? Twenty bucks. Same cable at monoprice? About a dollar.

Forgetting simple things like power bricks and phone adapters is one of the most frustrating side effects about business travel. Often the frustration doesn’t even come from the inconvenience – it’s always nice to have a backup phone charger – the problem comes when the charger is four times the cost that it should be. Case in point? That combo meal at the Burger King in LAX isn’t supposed to be $12. Captive audiences breed captive prices.

It’s happened to all of us, but there are a few ways around the frustrations of shopping on the road.

If you’re staying at a hotel, it’s always handy to check the lost and found. Travelers leave all sorts of things behind, and according to the Sheraton staff in Philadelphia, what’s not picked up at lost and found gets donated or distributed among the workers. It’s not just electrical widgets either. Lost contact lens case? Forgot your tennis shoes? Check downstairs. And in case you have any issues with stealing something that might eventually be claimed, you can always bring it back.Airport and airline lost and found is also a great place to find lost trinkets, just bear in mind that most repositories are outside of security, so arrive early and with plenty of patience.

If you’re hell bent on buying your replacement though, make sure to stay away from chain stores like Radio Shack or even Best Buy. Discount box stores like Marshalls and TJ Max are a great alternative source of small electronics. The headphones that I picked up in the San Juan Marshalls last Saturday for $5.99 were $14 cheaper than the ones at the airport – and the quality was just the same.

It’s also a decent idea to keep an eye out for a local Salvation Army or Goodwill, similar in concept to the discount box store but with a more random, used assortment of goods.

Not interested in making the capital investment? It’s easier than you think to rent a wide range of electronics while in transit. Cameras are a great example. Here in Chicago you can walk into a Calumet Photo and walk out with either lenses or a full rig for shooting all weekend. In New York there’s Adorama. Online, you can even use lensrentals. And the costs are fairly modest. For a five-day rental of a $1600 16-35mm Canon Lens over Labor Day, I only had to shell out $100. Shipping was included.

But what if you’re stuck in meetings all day? There are actually a few neat services that will outsource your shopping. Zaarly is a great example. Need a new power supply? Post a note in Zaarly asking for someone to pick up your electronics at the local best buy, shell out the cash and offer an extra ten bucks to have it delivered. There’s a decent chance that some poor college student is willing to help out for the beer money. Barring the new fancy Zaarly, Craigslist is always a backup.

[Flickr image via Magic Madzik]

Why I Buy Travel Gear From REI: You Can Return Old Underwear

There are a million and one places to buy travel gear, but I think there’s only one that will take back year-old pairs of used underwear: REI. This might read like a paid endorsement, but it isn’t. I almost never write about products or stores that I like but I’ve got to give props to REI, my one-stop shop for travel.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of positive experiences buying, and sometimes returning, travel gear – luggage, camping equipment, clothing and the like, from REI, but a recent experience I had at one of their stores in Virginia absolutely floored me.

More than a year ago, I purchased three pairs of $20 ExOfficio briefs before going on a trip and immediately hated them. Twenty dollars is expensive for a pair of underwear, but when you’re traveling with only a handful of pairs, high quality underwear is worth its weight in gold. Without going into much detail here, let’s just say that these pairs of underwear were constantly riding up on me, leaving body parts exposed.I found myself constantly having to make adjustments, and doing that in public makes one look like a pervert or worse. I resolved to send the underwear back to the manufacturer with a nasty note but never got around to it. But then one day a few weeks ago when I was forced to wear a pair of the horrible underwear because everything else was dirty, I resolved to go back to the REI where I bought them and make a complaint.

I had no expectation that they would actually take the things back, but I wanted to vent my frustration. Perhaps this seems ridiculous to you, dear reader, but I grew in a household where returning things was par for the course. My dad is an expert returner. He’ll eat half a meal at a restaurant and decide he doesn’t like it, so he can send it back and get something else. And there is no product or store that he won’t try to return something at, no matter how long ago he bought the product or whether he has a receipt. The man is unstoppable, and, amazingly, no one ever questions him.

When I was about 12 year old, I smashed my tennis racket in a rage after losing a match. It was one of those black, wooden Bjorn Borg Donnay models, and after my fit, the entire top of it was warped so the head looked oblong rather than round. Undeterred, my dad marched us to K-Mart, warped racket in hand, and managed to return it, claiming the thing was defective.

To my horror, the store employee put the darn thing right back up on the shelf, even though my name was written in magic marker on the cover. At that age, no one wants their name advertised at K-Mart.

All of this is to say that in returning items, I’ve learned from the best, though I am not nearly as brazen as my father. Still, I have expected the customer service person at REI to grab the pile of used underwear I unfurled onto the desk and throw it back at me. But he didn’t.

“Do you want to return these?” he asked, after listening sympathetically to my complaint.

“Can I?” I asked, a bit in shock.

“Absolutely,” he said. “All of our products are guaranteed for as long you have them and if you’re not satisfied you can return them.”

“You don’t have a receipt do you?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “But I am an REI member.”

He tapped my name into the computer and found my membership.

“Ok,” he said. “I see that you bought two pairs of these a little over a year ago, does that sound right?”

“Um, yeah,” I said sheepishly.

The young man couldn’t find a record of the third pair but gave me a store credit anyway. He was ready to give me my money back for the two pairs he did find in the system, but I felt too guilty to take it. They were horrible underwear, but I had purchased them more than a year ago!

You might think that this was just one fluky experience but I don’t think it was. A few years ago, I bought a pair of hiking shoes that turned out to be very poorly constructed and I returned those too – no questions asked – a good six months after purchase.

The truth is that I buy a lot of gear from REI and I love most of it, so there is usually no need to return items. But it’s awfully nice to know you can bring things back – even old underwear – if you need to. And unlike K-Mart, I’m pretty sure they didn’t put my used underwear right back on the shelf.

[Photo by Seansie on Flickr]

Charge Your Electronics On The Go With Your T-Shirt

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly on the go when traveling, never having time to charge your electronics? You won’t have to worry about missing that snapshot because of a dead camera battery again, as researchers from the University of South Carolina have discovered a way to turn everyday T-shirts into chargeable power packs.

The way it works is fluoride chemicals are baked into the material of the shirt in an oxygen-less atmosphere with high temperatures. This allows the shirt to hold electric energy, turning it into a portable charger. The research is being lead by engineering professor Xiaodong Li and post-doctorate researcher Lihong Bao, who says the process doesn’t change the shirts’ texture, and enables them to charge items thousands of times. Additionally, the charging method is eco-friendly.

“Previous methods used oil or environmentally unfriendly chemicals as starting materials,” said Li. “Those processes are complicated and produce harmful side products. Our method is a very inexpensive, green process.

The Next Must-Have Adventure Gear? The ‘Invisible’ Bike Helmet

Hate traveling with a bulky, plastic bike helmet? Say hello to the Hövding Bike Helmet, an ingenious invention out of Sweden that takes up only a sliver of space in your luggage and activates only upon impact, much like a car’s airbag.

Reminiscent of the zippered collar of an athletic jacket, the scarf-like Hövding contains a folded-up “invisible” nylon hood whose trigger mechanisms are controlled by sensors that pick up on the abnormal movements of the bike rider wearing it. The sensors are charged via USB port.Admittedly, the inflated hood does look a bit dorky, despite the lovely Swedish model wearing it. Then again, helmet head could become a thing of the past once the Hövding takes off. Another stylish aspect of this space-saving design is that its shell is interchangeable, allowing bikers to match the collar with their outfits.

I would run out and get a Hövding immediately, but there are two problems. One: it’s sold only in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Two: it currently retails for around $560.

Once the price comes down for the Hövding, do you think you’d buy it to augment or replace your travel gear? Tell us in the comments!