Travel Tips

Holiday Travel Gadgets for Geeks for Under $100

Locations in this article:  San Diego, CA

Guy with bluetoothThink you can’t afford to buy any travel gadgets this Christmas? Think again.

This year’s holiday product picks are a little more practical than usual, but might save you time, and even money – something to welcome these days.

With one “special” exception, all these gizmos cost less than $100.

External drives are vital for backing up your photos, music and documents. Each year they offer more memory for less money in a more compact package. The ultra-thin, ultra-sleek Seagate FreeAgentGo portable hard drive is so small it can fit easily in the palm of your hand, yet it has a whopping 250GB of memory. And it’s not only functional, it’s fashionable. The brushed metal exterior and funky colors make it look like a piece of candy rather than a piece of electronic wizardry. It’s powered from the USB port and comes with a carry case and cables. Available for both PC and Mac, the drive costs about $99.


Plantronics 925 bluetoothThe Plantronics 925 Bluetooth is one of the most innovative headsets to appear this year. Don’t be fooled by the slick black-and-silver v-frame design – this little earpiece offers superior performance, with a 33-foot range, multi-phone capability and background noise reduction.

The engineers also managed to make it tiny while at the same time giving it the battery life of a much larger unit. The battery is built into the storage case, so when it’s not being used it’s constantly being charged. It uses a standard USB plug so there’s no need to worry about having a special cable, and it only costs about $65 if you buy it on (normally $150)


The Casio World Time and Auto-Setting Watch (Model GWM5600) runs on solar power and has five-band atomic timekeeping technology that adjusts the watch several times a day, whether you’re in the U.S., Asia or Europe. It is absolutely packed with features: shock resistance, water resistance to 200 meters, a power-saving function, backlighting, a countdown timer, a stopwatch, five alarms, a calendar – and it can tell you what time it is in 29 time zones around the world. Even better, this James Bond-ish gizmo costs from $99-$130, depending where you buy it.


Black Incase for iphoneThe lack of a removable battery has sent iPhone owners into fits. Nearly everyone I talk to tells me they can’t get through the day without having to recharge it at least once; I often need to recharge by 2:00 p.m. after just moderate use. I’ve been using a Kensington external battery to recharge the primary battery, and while it works well, I am not thrilled about having to carry what amounts to an extra piece of equipment (and a cable) around with me at all times.

But now there appears to be a better solution: the Power Slider from Incase. This product is basically a phone case which contains an integrated battery that more than doubles the life of your iPhone’s internal battery. I’ve tried many Incase products and they’re well-designed and well-made, a cut above many of their competitors. Even better, the superslim hard-shell case only costs $99.


CC ObserverThe CC Observer is a nifty three-in-one gadget: it contains an emergency radio, a flashlight, and can also be used to charge your cell phone. You can run the CC Observer off the built-in rechargeable batteries or you can use with 3 “AA” alkaline batteries (not included) if you prefer.

Of course, if you have no batteries, you can just wind up the radio to generate your own electricity, and it will keep running for as long as you keep winding. Built-in radio frequencies include AM, FM and weather band – which comes in real handy if you need a radio during a weather-induced power failure. In addition to connectors to hook up your cell phone, it also has a stereo headphone jack for private listening. The CC Observer weighs one pound, and it’s dimensions are 7.25″ W x 5.5″ H x 2″ D. It costs around $50.


If you are looking for a way to organize your trip, or keep a diary of it, the Moleskine City Notebook may be just what you need. Available for 44 cities in North America, Europe and Asia, each pocket-sized 3 ½ x 5 ½” notebook has 228 pages. Up to 44 of them offer color maps and other logistical city information, while the other 76 pages are left blank for your to write you own notes and impressions. There’s also an inside accordion pocket to store receipts, business cards, ticket stubs and other memorabilia from your trip. This low-tech notebook costs $18 and can be used over and over every time you revisit the city.


Microsoft Arc MouseThe Microsoft Arc Mouse is a cleverly-designed wireless optical mouse that provides the comfort of a desktop mouse with the portability of a notebook mouse. Travelers concerned with economizing on luggage space will be thrilled to learn that the Arc folds up to 60 percent of its fully-expanded size, and its gentle arch shaped (with scrolling wheel) is gentle on the hands. It comes in a choice of black or red and costs about $50.


Leatherman’s Skeletool CX claims to be the only multi-tool you’ll ever need. It makes sense for travelers because it packs a lot of functionality into a mere five ounce package. It contains a various steel blades and knife tools, two kinds of pliers, a bit driver, wire cutters, a carabiner clip and a bottle opener – all for just $55.


Balanzza scaleThe Balanzza Digital Luggage Scale lets you pack smart to avoid overweight luggage fees at the airport. Simple to use, the scale includes a built-in strap that you hook onto your bag’s handle, then lift. It’ll tell you the weight of your bag up to 100 pounds. The ergonomically-designed hand-hold and large digital read-out make it very user-friendly. And at only $24.99 it will quickly pay for itself by letting you avoid unexpected excess-weight fees.


And now for the “special” gadget I alluded to at the beginning of this article (drumroll please…)

Livescribe Pen and computerThe LiveScribe Pulse is a computer-in-a-pen device which lets you take notes that can then be transferred to your computer. It can also simultaneously record audio and link it to the notes – when you touch the pen to your notes, it plays back the audio that was recorded at the same time. Think of it as a bridge between hand-written notes and your computer.

Though this amounts to an amazing technical achievement, it’s surprisingly simple to use and very practical, particularly for students and business people. I’ve used the Pulse to take and share lecture and meeting notes, to create diagrams to send to others, and to archive meetings.

Originally developed for PCs, the company just announced compatibility for the Mac and is currently offering a beta Mac version. In my opinion it’s one of this year’s best gadgets, and it costs $149.


By Phil Baker. Originally published in the San Diego Transcript. Check out Phil’s blog at

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