Travel gear and gadgets for when you're on the go
This collection of gadgets, gear and apps helps travelers cope.
Charge Hub: Universal Charging Station(Credit: Charge Hub)
NAME Charge Hub: Universal Charging Station
WHAT IT IS A one-stop charger that can handle up to seven electronic devices simultaneously, at full speed, with just one plug.
THE GOOD The Charge Hub is a small, compact, beautifully designed disc-shaped charger with seven USB ports to quickly power iPhones, Androids, iPads and more with just one outlet. It's perfect for a plugged-in family on the road. An added bonus: You can custom design your Hub with a logo, photograph or art at no extra charge.
THE BAD t does not come with cords, so travelers must remember to bring the ones that come with each device.
COST $49.99, thegrommet.com
WHAT IT DOES This ad-free app lets you search for and book hostels, with more than 35,000 accommodations worldwide. Need a bed at the last minute? Same-day booking is available.
WHAT'S HOT Searching on your iPhone is much easier than using HostelRocket's website (hostelrocket.com). It's a visually appealing, quick-to-use app with hostel photos, reviews and pricing upfront. If you're looking for hostels that surprise and are easy on your wallet, you'll find them here, like Casa Alto Vidigal ($12 a night) in Rio de Janeiro.
WHAT'S NOT The review categories are extremely positive -- "It's clean!" "Awesome staff!" and "I love this place!" -- so if the hostel you're considering has only two out of five stars, be careful. You might be missing out on a different hostel with a better rating.
COST Free, iPhone, Android, web
Travel Money Tracker(Credit: iWitness)
NAME Travel Money Tracker
WHAT IT DOES This app converts a country's native currency to U.S. dollars. You also can set up an alert that tells you when you're overspending.
COST $1.99, iPhone only
WHAT IT DOES iWitness connects to emergency services and records your whereabouts. It is set up to work in 146 countries. International users can select the region, and the app automatically localizes to the emergency equivalent of 911.
WHAT'S HOT Arm the iWitness app, and at the touch of a button or the screen, or by shaking the phone, you can start recording your predicament (for five minutes) or call 911.
WHAT'S NOT Be careful with the 911 feature if you're testing the app. Once it's armed, all it takes is a touch of the screen to set off the "calling 911" alarm. You have five seconds to cancel.
COST $2.99 a month, $29.99 a year
WORTH IT Absolutely. Even if you use it only once, it could be a lifesaver.
5 Blades Travel Razor by eShave(Credit: MCT / Handout)
NAME 5 Blades Travel Razor by eShave
WHAT IT IS A sleek nickel-plated razor that breaks down for storing inside its own easily packable metal canister. The handle uses Gillette Fusion blades.
THE GOOD This thing looks a lot more like art than something as pedestrian as a men's razor. But appearance aside, this razor is so nicely balanced in the hand, it's actually fun to shave. Most important, it was designed to easily expel accumulated hair with a single run under the water. Why can't every manufacturer do this?
THE BAD Expense, plain and simple. This will appeal to guys who are financially comfortable or to generous families of more financially uncomfortable guys who really deserve something special as a gift that's going to make one of life's drudgeries a pleasure. Sometimes the splurge really is worth it.
AVAILABLE FROM eshave.com
WHAT IT DOES Acts as a virtual concierge to help you plan a day-to-day itinerary based on your travel style. Available for five U.S. cities and 28 in Europe.
WHAT'S HOT There are two ways to dive in. Begin at the Destinations page for a great overview of a city and 16 ways to see it -- through sports, entertainment, food, culture, history, etc. Even better: Type in your city and the dates, then check the Trip Profile selector for suggestions. You can toggle between "The First Timer," "The Returning Traveler," "The Luxury Traveler" and "The Backpacker." It's easy to refine the picks by using the scroll bar to indicate your activity interest level.
WHAT'S NOT More cities, please. And once the suggestions were in the day-to-day planner, it would be useful if you could manipulate their order throughout the day by clicking and dragging them in the itinerary planner. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES Scout is a recommendation and review site that covers 370 hotels, lodges and chalets as well as 48 ski resorts in North America, Japan, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
WHAT'S HOT All the website content (and the guidebook given to customers who book a multiday trip through Scout) is written by Sarah Plaskitt, a skier and writer who has visited every resort and property on the site and has hand-picked the destinations. Don't miss the "Scout Collections" if you're looking for the most "extreme steeps," the best family resorts or lodges with the best hot tubs.
WHAT'S NOT In the "Browse & Book" section, some of the pinned resorts led only to pop-up descriptions. For the full insider's point of view, you must scroll down to a list of the resorts that links to more info.
'Walt Disney World With Kids 2015'(Credit: Fodor)
NAME "Walt Disney World With Kids 2015"
WHAT IT IS A guide to planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando.
THE GOOD The book does a wonderful job of explaining the new MagicBand wristband ticketing system, the FastPass+ program and the My Disney Experience App. Families can pre-plot their days to spend the least amount of time possible on lines. The book includes maps of each Disney park, information on each ride, and tips and advice galore. This is the 25th edition of the book, and the writers have each visited the parks at least 60 times.
THE BAD The guide also covers Universal Orlando, SeaWorld & Aquatica but these parks are addressed in far less detail. And, when the book went to press, the newer Harry Potter offering at Universal Orlando hadn't yet opened, so that area is not covered in great detail.
NAME Storehouse app and Storehouse.co
AVAILABLE FOR iPhone and iPad
WHAT IT DOES Select photos from your iPhone or iPad and turn them into a magazine-like photo essay.
WHAT'S HOT It's quick. It's beautiful. And unlike most photo apps, it's not so much a place to store your photos as it is to tell a story. Use the Explore feature and hashtags to discover stories related to #travel or a specific destination, such as #london or #sanfrancisco. Push the "circle" button to import photos from your phone, Instagram, Dropbox, Flickr and a menu of your images categorized by time lapse, panoramas, recently added, videos and more. Once your images are loaded, edit the sizes and add text at will.
WHAT'S NOT It would be nice if Storehouse featured more stories from everyday people.
WHAT IT DOES Recommends neighborhoods and hotels best suited to you based on what you want to do on your trip. Destinations include Bangkok, Barcelona, San Francisco, Paris and Seoul, South Korea.
WHAT'S HOT Pick your city, then interests, such as restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, museums, sightseeing and shopping. Then, note who will be traveling and your per-night hotel budget, hit explore and a map of neighborhoods appears. A drop-down list of neighborhoods that have been scored for you and recommended hotels come up. The site is simple to use, and travelers can quickly fine-tune their results by altering star ratings, budget and activities.
WHAT'S NOT Recommendations were spot-on, but for the traveler new to the city, more travel descriptions about neighborhoods would be useful.
WHAT IT DOES Hazel Lane curates and ships boxes of treats that represent a city's spirit. Indulge in vibey, city-themed souvenirs after your journey, when you're feeling nostalgic.
WHAT'S HOT You can subscribe, or give the boxes as gifts, for one, three or six months, with five sizes to choose from and prices ranging from $24.99 to $179.99 a month. You won't know the contents of the box until it arrives. Individual items such as necklaces and art prints also can be purchased separately. The Brooklyn box was full of little-known hipster products in honor of the HBO show "Girls"; the Los Angeles-themed box included fun-in-the-sun items; and the San Francisco box had a foodie theme.
WHAT'S NOT It would be fun to see more single gifts offered by city.
"Cockpit Confidential"(Credit: Sourcebooks, Incorporated)
NAME "Cockpit Confidential," by Patrick Smith
WHAT IT IS An airline pilot's guide to airplane basics, flight and travel.
THE GOOD As a child, Patrick Smith, publisher-writer of AskThePilot.com, watched planes landing and taking off over Revere Beach in Massachusetts, fueling a lifelong passion for the mechanics and romance of flight. What makes this book worthwhile is the way Smith integrates great writing, humor and technical knowledge. He juxtaposes wide-eyed wonder (comparing the aurora borealis, "a quivering, horizon-wide curtain of fluorescence" to "G-d's laundry flapping in the night sky") with practical, fear-alleviating answers to questions such as "Why does a plane bump, jig and turn at steep angles during climbout?"
THE BAD Airplane buffs might find the material familiar.
INFO Amazon.com -- Malerie Yolen-Cohen
WHAT IT DOES This website lets you plan and book golf games in the United States and 47 countries from your desktop, tablet or mobile device. Make a wish list of courses you hope to play.
WHAT'S HOT It's a tempting site for the destination golfer. The home page features golfing destinations in Da Nang, Vietnam; Cape Town, South Africa; and Hua Hin, Thailand, to name a few. There are plenty of course photos, a map and lists of amenities and weather reports, plus golfers can rate and review the courses. Users can make instant bookings in California, Arizona and Nevada.
WHAT'S NOT You're getting just a sneak peek at features. By year's end you should be able to search by city or individual course rather than by just a list of destinations. Also, some tabs do not link to results yet, but they're working on it.
Jackery Giant Rechargeable Battery(Credit: Jackery)
WHAT IT IS A powerful portable and rechargeable external battery with two ports that can charge a smartphone and iPad at the same time.
THE GOOD The Jackery Giant can quickly charge two devices at once and is powerful enough to provide an extra 220 hours of operation. The Giant is great for camping, long flights and blackouts, and it's compatible with Apple products, Androids and most electronic devices. It also serves as an LED flashlight for up to 700 hours of illumination.
THE BAD Squat and thicker than an iPhone and weighing more than half a pound, the Jackery Giant is heftier than a "lipstick"-size charger, so it's best stowed in a glove compartment or large backpack rather than a small purse. (Jackery does offer a mini, less-powerful version.)
WHAT IT DOES The Jet-Smarter app lets you book a seat on a private plane from your smartphone for flights around the world. Find deals at a steep discount or book your own charter flight.
WHAT'S HOT If you're looking to charter a flight, plug in your dates and departure times, let the app search for planes, then review your options. For a weekend L.A.-San Francisco round-trip flight, there were five options for booking a turboprop, four for "entry-level" jets and dozens more options for bigger jets -- even airliners. The deals are marked with a green tag. Click on the price to get to plane information and pictures. The "tap for more info" link takes you to a list of amenities.
WHAT'S NOT The $6,999 annual membership fee. You would have to put this app to good use to make that fee worth it. And wouldn't that be fun.
NAME Picnic Plus Tandoor 4-person picnic
WHAT IT IS A durable polyester backpack outfitted with all you need for a picnic for four (except the food). The Tandoor Backpack includes a large thermal foil-insulated food compartment, two insulated wine or beverage bottle carriers, bottle opener, waiter's tool, stainless steel salt and pepper shakers, wooden cutting board, cheese knife, silver-toned bottle stopper and a dining set.
THE GOOD Travelers and hikers will appreciate this twist on the traditional, unwieldy picnic basket. With the Picnic Plus your hands are free to scramble up to your favorite mountaintop spots. The backpack is well-made with zippered closures.
THE BAD The backpack is roomy but has no space for a ground cloth. An external strap to secure a rolled-up tarp or blanket would be an easy fix.
WHAT IT IS A compartmentalized stuff sack that enables travelers and campers to pack more efficiently and access items more quickly. Five pie-shaped compartments inside the bag and drawstrings on both ends of the roll allow for easy access and organization. Straps along the body of the sack reduce volume by up to 50 percent.
THE GOOD This lightweight cylindrical bag fits more than you think it can and compresses down to almost football size. Watch the video on the website to see how Hoboroll users fit multiple pants, shirts, shoes, puffy jacket, raincoat and toiletries in one small sack. You can fit a Hoboroll in a larger backpack along with camping gear or wear it alone.
THE BAD If the Hoboroll is filled to capacity, the drawstrings at each end don't close completely, so it's not watertight.
INFO GobiGear.com. -- MALERIE YOLEN-COHENN
WHAT IT DOES Constructs an easy-to-use packing list, whether you're traveling for business or leisure, taking just the basics, bringing a baby or planning to do laundry.
WHAT'S HOT The lists made with Packpoint were smart and quick to create. You can choose items based on activities in your itinerary and add original items. After you create a list to your liking, you can save it and use it again for another trip. Do you make packing lists for others? You can share them by email, text message, Twitter and Facebook. It also lets you know what the weather will be like at your destination.
WHAT'S NOT You'll need to email your list to yourself to get a printable copy.
Urban Hybrid Briefcase(Credit: MCT / Handout)
NAME Solo 15.6-inch Urban Hybrid Briefcase
WHAT IT IS A roomy polyester briefcase that converts to a backpack or shoulder bag, all weighing less than 2 pounds. One large cargo area, with two padded dividers, can hold a laptop, iPad, Kindle, etc. Two exterior compartments can take smaller items, such as a passport and phone.
THE GOOD This is the perfect "personal bag," as the airlines call them. That means it's not a checked bag or even a carry-on. It can slide under an airline seat while easily holding all the clothes you might need for a few days, plus an iPad and other small electronics. And don't worry about smudges; the charcoal color hides a world of dirt.
THE BAD The buckles and connectors are made of plastic, but metal accoutrements on bags are heavier and pricier.
WHAT IT DOES Uses actual camping experiences and glorious photos of nature -- not to mention handy Google Maps -- to make camping more accessible to those who are not regulars. Have an RV, kids or need a pet-friendly campground? Search destinations using its amenities section.
WHAT'S HOT The tips section for each campground is excellent. Even the most hesitant camper will feel more confident strolling into his or her campsite with info such as this: "Remember to get a fire permit as well -- gathering driftwood is allowed, but toward the end of the summer it will likely be sparse, so bring a bundle!"
WHAT'S NOT The pictures of the general areas were beautiful, but they don't show actual campgrounds. If you need more info about individual campgrounds, the booking links lead to sites such as Reserve America, where you can book your campsite. -- Los Angeles Times
NAME TRS Ballistic Carry-On by Club Glove
WHAT IT IS A two-wheeled, tough, stylish carry-on that pairs nicely with its larger sibling, the Check-In, whose attachment strap slides over the telescoping handle of the carry-on to create a "weightless" combo that will glide through the airport.
THE GOOD The carry-on bag, like the larger versions, is almost square in width and depth at 13 by 9 inches. That means it's more linear (and seemingly easier to fit in an overhead bin). Even with the larger bags attached behind it, they will trail you neatly so you won't have to dodge travelers with fatter suitcases.
THE BAD The only thing you might miss are 360-degree wheels, but the slender design helps make up for more limited two-wheel maneuverability. It's pricey luggage, but built to last.
COST $699 for the carry-on. (Check-in is $750, and Check-in XL is $799.)
INFO clubglove.com -- The Chicago Tribune
NAME Pocket Poppet
WHAT IT IS A jersey women's cardigan that collapses into its own built-in nylon ripstop pocket, concealed on the interior back of the sweater. Designed for stowing in a handbag or glove box, it's like a fashion first-aid kit for frosty airplanes, icy cubicles or frozen-food aisles.
THE GOOD Folded into its pocket, the sweater can slide into a crowded midsize purse. The open-front waterfall cardigan flatters the figure, draping to the top of the thigh. Ruching on the sleeves keeps them at three-quarter length without constant re-scrunching. Sophisticated enough for a dress, casual enough for yoga, it's available in seven colors.
THE BAD When the cardigan is worn, the pocket's Velcro closure is exposed to the shirt you're wearing beneath, so there's a slight chance of snagging delicate fabrics.
COST $99 for the Classic (rayon and spandex) or Lotus (moisture-wicking bamboo, rayon, spandex).
AVAILABLE FROM thepocketpoppet.com. --Chicago Tribune
NAME OVVO Optics Phoenix polarized sunglasses
WHAT THEY ARE Sunglasses composed of a steel-titanium composite that makes them incredibly light (they weigh less than an ounce), yet seemingly indestructible. The glasses are made in Germany and Poland.
THE GOOD They seem indestructible -- drop them on the pavement, fold them, even stand on them and they still look brand new. The company claims the frames, when stretched out flat, can hold 90 pounds without breaking. Also, the screwless hinges mean you don't need to keep tightening them.
THE BAD Like umbrellas, sunglasses seem to get lost more easily than regular glasses, and these are just pricey enough to make such a loss really hurt.
WHAT IT DOES It's a bike-sharing service that lets you rent a bike or list one. To rent a bike, choose a date and time, message the owner and arrange to pick it up. For those who list their bikes, know that they are insured for up to $5,000.
WHAT'S HOT The geographic possibilities are impressive. U.S. cities with the biggest rental inventory include New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In Europe, there are listings for Rome, London, Barcelona and Paris, where a tandem bike can be rented for $6 an hour, or $26 a day.
WHAT'S NOT There are buttons for renting surf and paddleboards or ski and snowboard equipment. However, it was harder to find destinations that offered these rentals. -- Los Angeles Times
WHAT IT DOES It's a collection of YouTube videos pinned to a map by location. The video footage must be taken by a drone (nonmilitary) and show, in good quality, the area where the drone flew. The public can submit videos, which are reviewed by the website before being posted.
WHAT'S HOT There are lots of drone videos from all over the world. A column on the home page lets you know about the most recently published ones. You can zoom in and out of the global map to find where the videos are from. It's fun to view the aerial shots of the Serengeti in Kenya, the streets of London, and Kilauea and Maui in Hawaii.
WHAT'S NOT You might want to hit the mute button; the music that accompanies some of the videos is not for all tastes. -- Los Angeles Times